Johnny Ball International Football Genius / The Naughtiest Unicorn and the Firework Festival

Johnny Ball International Football Genius
Matt Oldfield, illustrated by Tim Wesson
Walker Books

In this third title in the hugely funny Johnny Ball series, the nine year old football manager has perhaps his biggest challenge yet: to take the Tissbury Tigers all the way to becoming winners of the WORLDIES (aka the World Youth Championships). Just imagine the headlines in the local paper. There’s a big problem though, Johhny’s elder brother, the mega-talented striker Daniel has been injured – a broken tibia – and has been instructed to rest for two months. 

However, with their victory in the play-off match, the Tigers are on their way to Capdevila in Spain. Next comes organising their coaching team and after that, the players. With four needed to make the squad complete, it’s time for a team trial. Job done, and with packing also complete, the journey begins.

Arrival means that Johnny’s brain must go into overdrive as the matches get under way. With three results in the group table, the Tigers reach the semi-finals and after a day of rest, must play the Lions. 

What happens thereafter, I will leave readers to find out and just assure them that so doing is definitely worth it.

Full of hilarious moments and some nail-biting ones, this story, with Tim Wesson’s rib-tickling black and white illustrations, will most certainly be a winner with young soccer enthusiasts.

The Naughtiest Unicorn and the Firework Festival
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Farshore

Having missed the Diwali extravaganza, Mira is really excited about the forthcoming firework festival at Unicorn School, especially as she’ll be watching with her unicorn Dave. Once there though, Mira finds out something upsetting: there are to be no fireworks. Surely that can’t be right?

Step forward DI Mira Desai to try and solve this mystery. It doesn’t help matters that Dave has already managed to get himself covered in sticky caramel after immersing himself in the toffee apple mixture in the cauldron; but the investigation must go ahead no matter what. That means Mira and Dave must track down the ‘Lightning Bugs’ that live in the Fearsome Forest. Said creatures love to put on magical light shows with their glowing bums and the key to getting the bugs to perform is to make them laugh. Off go Red Class plus unicorns into the forest … 

But what will make those bugs laugh? It’s certainly not going to be straightforward.

With a considerable number of rear end emanations from Dave, this latest episode starring Mira and Dave will provide plenty of fizzing fun and frolics for fans of the series whenever they read it.

Snow White and other Grimms’ Fairytales / A Fairytale for Everyone

Snow White and other Grimms’ Fairytales
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, illustrated by MinaLima
Harper 360

Twenty fairy tales are given the design team, MinaLima (Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima) treatment in this glorious collection. What this means in short is wonderfully imaginative artwork exquisitely detailed and engaging design with interactive elements (nine herein), bring to life timeless stories including, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood (Little Red-Cap),The Frog Prince and The Elves and the Shoemaker.

You will delight in such surprises as the awesomely intricate thicket surrounding the castle the prince must deal with to release Sleeping Beauty from her slumbers, a pop up tower that climbs right out of the book in Rapunzel, with a prince you can make climb up her golden hair – possibly my favourite.

A close contender though, is the pop-out house in Hansel and Gretel that opens into a diorama of the interior with a kitchen and a wicked witch waiting to lure the two children inside.
It’s good to see that ethnicity has also been a consideration in the portrayal of the characters, some of whom have brown or black skin: Red Riding Hood is shown as black, for example.

With vividly coloured illustrations, both large and small throughout, this book is one for keeping and for giving. With the festive season fast approaching, it would make a magical Christmas present.

A Fairytale for Everyone
edited by Boldizsár M. Nagy, illustrated by Lilla Bölecz
Farshore

This groundbreaking collection of seventeen re-imagined traditional stories was highly controversial when originally published in Hungary on account of its inclusive nature. However because LGBTQ+ characters are featured it rapidly became a symbol in the fight for equality and against discrimination in Hungary and received a great deal of support both in the country and outside.

You’ll find stories that push back the boundaries of traditional gender roles showing how heroes can be any shape or size, princesses enormously powerful such as Margaret the Giant Slayer. In the final story written in rhyme, a prince finds true love, not with the blonde princess presented to him, but with her equally fair brother.

I loved the reworking of the Thumbelina tale of Little Lina who discovers what being big really means when she meets a fairy prince, small in stature like herself.

A true celebration of diversity that will likely appeal most to those with an interest in traditional tales.

I Did See A Mammoth! / The Grizzled Grist Does Not Exist!

I Did See A Mammoth!
Alex Willmore
Farshore

A research team – three adults and a child – are in the Antarctic exploring. The adults are looking for penguins; not so the child narrator who insists: ‘But I’m going to see a MAMMOTH.’

Setting out alone the little protagonist comes upon a skateboarding mammoth. ‘Mammoths are extinct. And I’m pretty sure they’re not even from around here.’ is the response of one of the researchers. ‘Are you sure it wasn’t a wonderful … penguin?’
More determined than ever to prove it was a mammoth, the child sallies forth again and sees in turn the mammoth skateboarding wearing a frilly pink tutu doing ballet and the mammoth sporting a scuba mask submerged underwater.

Still no one believes the child and a shouting match ensues. Followed soon after by a full on tantrum by the youngster. This results in the ice cracking, an avalanche and a surprise revelation for some of the party. The final twist is huge fun and the book concludes with a brief note about both mammoths and penguins. Adult readers aloud will love sharing this humorous tale and listeners will relish shouting ‘Mammoth’ at every opportunity, as the child’s indignation turns to anger. Alex’s illustrations are superbly expressive, especially the penguins every one of which is a visual treat.

A super wintry book.

The Grizzled Grist Does Not Exist!
Juliette Maclver and Sarah Davis
Gecko Press

Ms Whiskersniff, Ms Whisk for short, having assessed her pupils’ forest skills, takes her class trekking up the Dismal Hills. When shy Liam announces that he’s good at hiding, he’s told, “You can’t call that a skill”. Really? Soon the group pass a sign announcing the Grizzled Grist; Liam attempts to draw Ms Whisk’s attention to it and is immediately given the titular response, “The Grizzled Grist does not exist.”

So what has made the very large footprints that Hider, Liam (now camouflaged) urges his teacher to take notice of? You can guess what he’s told, in no uncertain terms. Lunchtime comes and goes with the occasional near disaster and eventually after trudging for much of the day it’s time to think about wending their way back. Liam meanwhile has gone into hiding up a tree and from this vantage point he spots something alarming. Yet again, the teacher will have none of it and back they continue to trek until …

Catastrophe! Thank goodness Liam is so good at hiding; but can one small boy possibly save all of 2B and Ms Whisk from the clutches of the gruesome Grizzled Grist?

Juliette MacIver’s rhythmic rhyming text tells a witty, playful tale that is humorously illustrated in scenes that show much more than the words say, especially regarding the characters. I love the endpapers.

Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness / The Lola Bee Bop / The Snotty Dribbler

Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness
Ben Clanton
Farshore

School has never been so much fun as it is when having followed the fishy pupils (love their names) of the Aquatic Academy to their place of learning, Narwhal and Jelly find that lessons are cancelled on account of staff sickness and volunteer to become substitute educators – Narwhal as Professor Knowell and Jelly as his ‘sort of super teacher’.

The first subject the best friends offer is Wafflematics – a tasty way of learning about basic addition if you’re a fish

(and a splendid incidental vocabulary lesson for readers of this sixth Jelly and Narwhal book). Next up is a spot of science, which takes the form of a fact-finding scavenger hunt with the class split into two teams and a yummy surprise for the winners.

Break is spent playing a game of Tag and then, when it’s a toss up between Jelly’s art and Narwhal’s writing as the next lesson, what better way to settle their difference of opinion than with a comic, co-created by teachers and class members – a new episode of the Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick Comic series involving a teacher-eating mucus monster. Everybody has so much fun that the day whizzes by in the flash of a fin: assuredly the teaching is unconventional (something that often works well if you happen to be doing a bit of supply in an unknown school); and of course, each lesson is taught with Jelly and Narwhal’s own brand of humour and positivity (further requisites of supply teaching, I suggest). I wonder what grade Narwhal receives from his teacher – that you’ll have to find out from this fun-packed, fact-filled book.

Some of the fun comes from the way that when one fish says something, each of the others responds with a synonym or variation on the word – incidental learning of the memorable kind for young readers. A gigglesome delight from start to FIN!

The Lola Bee Bop
John Dougherty, illustrated by Pauline Gregory
The Snotty Dribbler
Effua Gleed, illustrated by Kamala Nair
Bloomsbury Education

These are additions to the Bloomsbury Young Readers series.
Told in rhyme the engaging jaunty The Lola Bee Bop tells of Lola, a bee that just can’t resist waggling her bottom in bee bop time as she works hard among the flowers. When distaster strikes in the form of their favourite flowers being mown, at the queen’s behest Lola joins her fellow bees in search of more blooms from which to collect nectar and pollen. Eventually they find just the ideal field, collect the necessary and return to the hive. But how will they ever find the way back to those flowers again?

Could this be where Lola’s waggling really comes into its own?

Lots of fun, some gentle scientific learning and splendidly expressive illustrations by Pauline Gregory.

The Snotty Dribbler is seven year old Blay’s name for his baby sister who at fifteen months old frequently annoys her brother intensely especially with her snot, dribbles and fits of crying just when it’s his TV watching time. Oh how Blay wishes for some time apart from this little person. But then when something happens causing baby Bethany to need to spend the night in hospital with his mother, he really starts to miss her; clearly he doesn’t mind her as much as he’d first thought.

A new sibling story, sweetly and simply related with Blay’s emotions evident throughout, made all the more so through Kamala Nair’s bold illustrations.

That’s Nice Love / Dare We Be Dragons?

That’s Nice, Love
Owen Gent
Book Island

We’ve all seen it many times and probably on occasion been guilty of what the adult in this book does when she accompanies her small child to the park. So distracted is the parent by her mobile that she fails to take a single scrap of notice of anything the excited child says about climbing the big tree.
As the boy ascends he has the most amazing adventures – or perhaps flights of fancy. First a multitude of butterflies dance before him as he gazes skywards; then comes an orchestral recital by a group of squirrels,

followed by a scary moment with snakes. To compensate for that though, a troop of monkeys crowns him king, he helps a super-sleek leopard and becomes its friend and finally, he flies with a bird. As he excitedly informs his parent of each event the child receives merely the response, ‘That’s nice, love.’

On the way home, the boy tells the parent that he sometimes feels distant despite their physical closeness and when the two eventually reach home, the child seems to have got through to the adult by revealing a few items he’s collected.
He’s then invited to regale the entire adventure again. Will that parent do what is promised on future excursions; I hope so …

Portable screens may seem amazing but are no match for the richness of a child’s imagination, stimulated by the wonders of the natural world that may be found in the branches of a single tree.
Owen Gent gives his imagination full rein in a series of sublime sequences that explore and expand the spare verbal narrative.

Also celebrating the imagination is

Dare We Be Dragons?
Barry Falls
Farshore

As a father prepares to bid his daughter goodnight, he embarks on an exciting sequence of flights of fancy, each of which arises out of seemingly ordinary everyday things or events. For when these two go adventuring together even such things as a grassy hill walk becomes a huge erupting volcano, tree trunks morph into giants’ legs and a playground swing is the means for launching them on a moon flight and a sandy shore becomes a place whereon lions play.

There’s a sequence of spreads where Barry Falls splits each one into two : the verso shows the everyday reality and the recto, a show-stoppingly imagined fantasy that occupies the entire page drawing the reader right into the adventure.

Along with a wealth of wonderful worlds to explore so vividly shown, there is a more understated portrayal of the loving bond between parent and child. For this is a playful, supportive father who promises always to be there through the years that constitute that wonderful adventure called life; and so he says in the rhyming narrative that complements those splendidly spirited illustrations.

An Unexpected Thing / Hello Autumn

An Unexpected Thing
Ashling Lindsay
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Little Fred is a fearful child. Unlike most of us who feel frightened from time to time, Fred is fearful almost always, so he spends his days and nights in fear of such things as unexpected loud noises and shadowy shapes
Surprisingly one day a spot appears and unsurprisingly Fred hides himself away, too afraid to look directly at it. Coco also sees the same spot when standing close by in the garden, but her reaction is quite different for what she sees is totally different.

She decides that she can help Fred by trying to get him to see things from her viewpoint. For instance if Fred sees a moon blasted from its orbit whereas Coco sees it as a wind born bubble bobbing along: Fred sees a catastrophic comet, Coco a balloon bearing a birthday wish. Eventually after some discussion, fearful Fred and fearless Coco agree that the spherical object could have been anything.

As a result Fred now feels ready to face his fear.
When something else unknown comes along Fred is able to do something he’d never have done without Coco’s support: he joins her in a voyage of discovery. A friend can make all the difference when it comes to facing things that make us feel unsure or frightened.

This smashing story about finding the courage to go out and explore the world is touching and empowering. Ashling’s use of different perspectives for her beautiful scenes underscores the different viewpoints of the two characters.

On a similar theme is

Hello Autumn
Jo Lindley
Farshore

This story (the second in a sequence) features four friends – the Little Seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in human form. As the book opens they realise that Summer must hand the weather crown to Autumn so the new season can begin. Doing so triggers changes such as the appearance of a chill mist and the heavens turning from green to golden yellow; the friends feel the call of adventure.
Some fun games ensue on the way to the Tick Tock Tree for a leaf romp but the sighting of ripe juicy blackberries causes them to pause and three friends start feasting. Not so Autumn: he worries about such possibilities as pricking a finger, or becoming entangled in the brambles.

A similar thing happens each time one of the others suggests trying something new: what his friends see as fun games, Autumn sees as worrying situations. His weather crown weighs heavy.
When the four reach the Tick Tock Tree with its abundance of fallen leaves, Autumn’s fear mounts even higher as a cascade of terrifying ‘what-ifs’ invade his thoughts. Suddenly there’s a cry for help. Summer is stuck on a branch. What happens after that involves teamwork, resulting in a jumbled tumble and a fear-releasing realisation for Autumn. What a relief; now he’s ready to face the world.

Vibrantly coloured scenes accompany an important message about facing your fears with the support of friends. A cute story and also some gentle learning about seasonal change that’s just right for sharing with foundation stage children.

Sona Sharma: A Friend Indeed / Barry Loser Worst School Trip Ever

Sona Sharma: A Friend Indeed
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun
Walker Books

Sona is in a state of emotional turmoil. Her family is busy planning a first birthday celebration for her little sister Minmini causing Sona to feel left out and her class teacher has just announced an election for their class leader. Sona puts herself forward to stand as she wants to prevent Pradeep from becoming their leader but this has caused her to be at odds with both of her best friends. Joy has also put herself up as a candidate and Renu seems to be taking her side. This is one of those instances when Sona has acted before thinking things through and now she must face fighting against her best friend whom she knows would be a great class leader.

Can her beloved stuffed toy Elephant and the President (Sona’s other grandmother) help her decide what to do so that the rift between the three girls can be healed allowing them all to enjoy doing something special for Minmini’s birthday?

Set in Tamil Nadu, as always with these stories warmth, loving relationships and gentle humour are key ingredients, and readers also learn something of the traditions and foods of Sona’s Hindu family. A delightful addition to this series of illustrated chapter books for younger readers.

Barry Loser Worst School Trip Ever
Jim Smith
Farshore

The Barry Loser series reaches its stupendously silly ninth book with this one. Now with baby brother Desmond most decidedly ruling the household at breakfast time, Barry sets out for school anticipating a dreadfully boring visit to a museum with his classmates; the aim being to find out about the history of television.

It seems as though Barry’s worst fears about the trip will be realised unless he and his mates can pull off their plan; the intention being to sneak out of the museum and onto the set of Future Ratboy

What unfolds is not quite what Barry hopes but there’s a plethora of daft pranks, one involving a gathering of grannies in a loo queue, a grossness of egg and cress sandwiches of the minuscule kind and a large spattering of jokes about bodily functions, as well as a crazy cartoonish drawing on each page, all of which fans of the stories will love.

Amari and the Great Game

Amari and the Great Game
B.B. Alston
Farshore

In this second book starring Amari Peters, the young magician turned thirteen and almost a year has passed since she proved that magicians can be good. Now as a Junior Agent at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, excited to be there for her summer internship, she has another mystery to solve. Following a time freeze that’s over in a moment, the Supernatural World Congress is trapped in time as are many of Georgia’s schools. Who can be responsible for such a terrible happening – a powerful magician? That is definitely the belief of the new temporary heads of the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs.

Turning to the secret League of Magicians in the hope of receiving help, Amari receives instead the
offer of the Crown of Count Vladimir. However she doesn’t feel ready to accept the powers that come with this and so turns it down. This allows another to step forward, someone with very dangerous plans. Nevertheless, in a determined attempt to save her brother from the curse he is under and to prevent war between the League and the Bureau, she agrees to face the other challenger in the Great Game, the winner of which takes the crown. So begins the deadly competition. Fortunately for Amari, her best friend Elsie (who, she has just learned, is heading off to Oxford for a year) and some other allies are there to help her save the world again.

Combining magic and realism, B.B. Alston’s superbly crafted first person narrative is a terrific sequel, adroitly interweaving magic with real-world issues of discrimination and mis-information. Exciting and hugely satisfying, this is a truly immersive read with some wonderful characters.

You need To Chill! / I Believe in Me

You Need to Chill!
Juno Dawson and Laura Hughes
Farshore

The narrator of this upbeat rhyming picture book has an older brother, Bill; but her friends haven’t seen him for a while and want to know what has happened: where is he? They put forward all manner of possibilities that could account for his absence but from our narrator come denials that all end “And, hun you need to chill.”

However these friends are persistent, caring and determined, till finally comes the revelation, “… The truth is that my brother Bill … is now my sister Lily.’ Yes it may have been something of a shock initially but despite her new name and looks, much remains the same: she’s still as kind, funny and clever as ever; her family all love her.

Both Juno Dawson’s words and Laura Hughes’ pictures are full of warmth and a gentle humour: with its themes of identity, kinship and acceptance this inclusive story beautifully conveys its message in a manner that allows young children to take what they need and ask questions if they want further explanations. Fiction books such as this one are a very good way of opening discussion with primary children in PSHE sessions: such discussions help children learn that differences make the world a much more interesting place.

I Believe In Me
Emma Dodd
Templar Books

In conversation as the two swim together through the swampy landscape, a little crocodile speaks of the self belief the Mother crocodile has instilled in her offspring. Knowing one can do anything if only you try; the importance of never giving up if something goes wrong, as well as telling yourself that those dark days are always followed by brighter ones if you keep reaching for the sky, are key for little humans as well as little crocodiles. That way keeps the entire world open for you to forge your path through life, optimistic and confident in yourself. So says this inspiring little book through Emma’s simple rhyming text and bold digital illustrations, some with gold foil, that perfectly capture the little croc’s sentiments. 

The Odd Fish / How to Spot a Dinosaur

Introducing two recent Farshore picture books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review.

The Odd Fish
Naomi Jones and James Jones

The inspiration for this eco-tale came from the author and illustrator’s then two year old son watching Blue Planet 11 and being unable to differentiate between the real fish and the plastic floating in the ocean. Equally unable to do so is the helpful Little Fish out swimming with her family who comes upon Odd Fish bob, bobbing along alone and assumes that he’s become separated from his family and must be lonely. She suggests she and her shoal help find them and while searching they come upon a seashorse who says that if they follow the current they will find others like Odd Fish. They swim on and come upon and untangle Octopus caught up in a fishing net, have a narrow escape, come to the aid of a turtle endeavouring to eat a plastic bag

and finally there in front of Little Fish is a whole school of odd fish of various shapes, sizes and colours: ‘There’s too many odd fish to count! Where did they all come from?’

The placing of text and images ensures this gentle story flows along beautifully and it’s impossible to avoid the fact that sadly we humans have to take responsibility for what Little Fish encounters – a huge mass of plastic that is a constant danger to the creatures of our oceans. Naomi reminds readers of this on a final spread stating that around 12,000,000 tonnes of plastic finds its way into the ocean every year and asks everyone at home and in school to help reduce this terrible, potentially deadly, pollution.

How to Spot a Dinosaur
Suzy Senior and Dan Taylor

In Suzy Senior’s bouncy rhyming tale of dinosaur hunting in the park we join two dino-enthusiasts, a sister, and her brother who acts as narrator,. Armed with a book of dino-facts and binoculars, the siblings are sure they’re going to find a fair few of these stomping, roarsome creatures. However after several incidences of mistaken identity,

their enthusiasm turns to disappointment and despair; but then the snack man suggests another location to try. Off they go again until they reach a huge building and lo and behold …

Suddenly a fearsome “ROAAAARRRR!” sends them fleeing for their lives, so they think, but perhaps this too is a case of mistaken identity that can only be relieved by slices of cake and cold drinks. Perhaps then the siblings could be persuaded to take another look inside that large building they dashed from.
After an exciting day it’s time to head for home, safe in the knowledge that there’s no need to bother looking out for dinosaurs as they died out long, long ago …

There’s a gentle nod to We’re Going on a Bear Hunt in this lively quest for prehistoric reptiles that continue to be many young children’s favourite storybook creatures. Such dino-fans will definitely love the various misidentifications shown in Dan Taylor’s humorous scenes of the determined dinosaur seekers.

Dead Good Detectives / The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger

These are exciting detective stories recently published by Farshore – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review.

Dead Good Detectives
Jenny McLachlan, illustrated by Chloe Dominique

Here is something completely different from the author of the fabulous ROAR series and it’s way more than ‘dead good’, this is dead fantastic. It features twelve year old Sid Jones who lives with her dad who runs the miniatures museum in the the town of Fathom. Sid has a terrific imagination, a liking for maps and spends a lot of time hanging out in the graveyard with her best friend, the clever, eccentric Zen. Sometimes though she gets embarrassed by his behaviour and slowly starts to avoid his company particularly when she accidentally calls forth a 300-year-old pirate ghost, Bones, by means of a Crunchie bar and a red gel pen as her town prepares for its annual Pirate Day extravaganza.

Bones starts to follow her around, calling her magical for releasing him from his imprisonment in Halfway House, and irritatingly talking of his lost treasure. The peculiar establishment is full of lost souls in limbo trapped by landlord Old Scratch, a truly menacing character and now Sid’s help is required to assist Bones in his search for the treasure, thus allowing him to leave the world of the living at long last.
Time is running out: can Sid and Zen help Ezekiel ‘Bones’ Kittow before it’s too late.

A super piratical adventure – in the words of Bones, ‘a rollicking caper’ it certainly is, but it’s also a tale of being strong enough to be your true self as you grow up, however unconventional that may be. The dead good news is that there’s more to come of the DGD soon, meanwhile chips with curry sauce are the order of the day.

The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger
J.T.Williams, illustrated by Simone Douglas

Set in London towards the end of the eighteenth century, this is a riveting tale from author J.T. Williams who is new to me,. It’s particularly unusual as the two main protagonists are black girls, Lizzie Sancho, age twelve, and her new friend from an aristocratic family, Dido Belle. We follow the girls as they try to discover who attempted to murder Lizzie’s father, Ignatius, as he was about to make his debut as Othello at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. (Both Dido Belle and Ignatius Sancho were real people.)

There’s high drama indeed as people they know start disappearing; it’s difficult for the girls to know who to trust but they do know there’s a tall shadowy figure lurking and watching them. There are surprises for Lizzie when she discovers things about some of her own family members she wasn’t previously aware of.

Through these enormously likeable, determined people we learn something of the experiences of Black British people in the 18th century, the British slave trade and how some people were striving towards the total emancipation of people of African descent.

A vivid, superbly told historical adventure that is fast paced, unpredictable and filled with genuine peril. With super black and white illustrations by Simone Douglas, I definitely recommend it for older primary readers and beyond. At the end of the book something happens that sets the scene for Lizzie and Belle’s next adventure: I look forward to it eagerly.

A Flash of Fireflies / Space Blasters: Suzie Saves the Universe

Two recent fiction titles from Farshore – thank you to the publisher for sending them for review.

A Flash of Fireflies
Aisha Bushby

We join twelve year old Hazel Al-Otaibi as she travels from Kuwait to England to stay with her great aunt (Grant as she calls her) in her fairy tale cottage in a village until her parents join her. She also has to attend summer school three days a week. Adjusting to her new, strange-seeming life triggers the return of Hazel’s fireflies that had constantly troubled her with demands and challenges when she was younger, leading her once again into compulsive, repetitive behaviours.

At summer school the project is fairytales and the teacher talks of the themes and typical tropes that go along with these popular tales and Hazel and her friend Ruby start their research into the deep dark forests, curses and enchantments contained therein. Hazel feels herself drawn into a frightening adventure of her own where she needs to fulfil increasingly challenging tasks and quests.

Adult readers see that this is the author’s brilliant and sensitive way of presenting what it’s like to live with the despair and compulsions of OCD, while younger readers are given the space to interpret what they are ready for as Hazel’s real and fantasy worlds intertwine. Hazel herself has support from Ruby, her teacher and Grant, who has ways of her own to deal with similar challenges.

By delving into the fairy tale world and exploring its tropes and patterns through new lenses, Hazel feels able to begin to take control and change her narrative: finding the inner strength to share her own story with Ruby and Grant is a vital step to challenging the hold the fireflies have on her.

Thought-provoking, magical, totally original and utterly compelling.

Space Blasters: Suzie Saves the Universe
Katie & Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Amy Nguyen

Meet young Suzie Wen with her head absolutely bursting with amazing ideas but feeling down because her best friend has recently moved right away and with a ban or supposed ban on building any new inventions, she is certainly not enjoying the school holidays. To liven things up she starts watching Space Blasters, her favourite TV series but before you can say ‘Super 3-D TV Gizmo’ she finds herself actually in the series aboard an actual spacecraft, TUBS. A surprise for Suzie but equally for the crew, Captain Jane, Spaceman Jack and Five-Eyed Frank the green alien. However they welcome her, with the exception of Frank who seems put out by the unexpected arrival of a small human, calling her a spy.

Before long though Suzie is feeling part of that crew and on an exciting mission, for it transpires that three moons have gone missing. This enables her to visit three planets, each with weird inhabitants. Then a situation occurs that means Suzie has to step up as Jack and Jane are unavailable for action, perhaps now she can win over Frank at last and play a vital part in finding those moons and saving the universe.

As the story concludes Suzie receives an invitation to remain aboard the spaceship for one more universe saving mission, which nicely sets us up for the next book.

Emphasising Suzie’s inventive talents, this is a fun story sprinkled with Amy Nguyen otherworldly black and white illustrations and with fact boxes of science information to spark readers’ interest.

Monster Hunting for Beginners

Monster Hunting for Beginners
Ian Mark, illustrated by Louis Ghibault
Farshore

Monster hunting is far from easy, so says Jack and he’s in a position to know, for a scary green ogre has appeared in his garden intent on eating his Aunt Prudence. Jack is no fan of this mean woman who has turned up telling the lad that his highly protective dad has gone off on a round-the-world voyage and asked her to look after him till he returns. Very suspicious and entirely out of character for his risk-averse dad. Hmm. However, Jack seemingly kills said ogre and then looking down as instructed by a sudden voice, finds it belongs to a tiny bearded man who introduces himself as Stoop, a monster hunter of two hundred years standing. This grumpy man hands him a strange book thus making Jack his apprentice, which is far from what Jack wants; he needs to find his father not go hunting monsters. 

Nonetheless he accepts the role, is kitted out and before you can say ‘King’s Nooze’ he’s off to Cornwall where there’s a ‘Category Four ‘ emergency. Now all he has to help is that Monster Hunting for Beginners book, his wits and his catapult. Is he the hero they’re all eagerly waiting for? Perhaps young Nancy can help and Humbert the bear – he may or may not have a magic harp.

With a fair amount of burping, flatulence and delicious silliness, author Ian Mark’s debut novel is packed with danger, mayhem, marvellous beasties such as crusted hairy snot nibblers, ogres galore, wonderful characters especially Jack who is essentially just a normal kid, plus its sprinkling of traditional fairytale twists, surprises too, and Louis Ghibault’s suitably outlandish illustrations, it’s not since Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels starring Tiffany Aching that I have loved a fantasy story so much. Book two can’t come soon enough.

The Last Monster / Dennis & Gnasher: Super Slime Spectacular

The Last Monster
Dan Walker
uclan publishing

When it comes to fighting monsters there are none better than the Light Hunters’ young Squad Juno. Lux, who is the Squad’s healer has stopped using his light-hunter powers to heal his teammates in case he accidentally hurts someone again with his strange purple light, a terrible twilight energy that comes from within.

When the team is sent on a new mission to gather information from a professor who is a former light-hunter, they are drawn into a dangerous adventure that is crucial for the fate of the entire world. If killing Monsters is the wrong approach to these creatures, it might mean that the war against them can end. However, their mission is under a terrible threat from Demios who has his own destructive ideas that are in total conflict with those of Luke and the squad. Fortunately though the Light Hunters make new allies as they strive to unearth an ancient secret that might be the key to stopping further monster attacks. So, can they succeed? And what of Luke’s power: after the journey he goes on – physical and mental -will be heal again?

It’s great to return to the Light Hunters’ world for this second adventure. Like the first, the story unfolds at a fast pace with lots of twists and turns, tension aplenty, great danger, dilemmas too; but the emphasis is on friendship, teamwork and trust.

Dennis & Gnasher: Super Slime Spectacular
I.P. Daley, Craig Graham and Mike Sterling, illustrated by Nigel Parkinson
Farshore

Little does class 3C’s teacher Miss Mistry realise just what she is about to unleash when she announces on the Thursday before the end of term that her pupils haven’t done their science module and consequently must do so on a science-related school trip the very next day,

On said outing Dennis and his partner Khadija, aka Sketch, decide to make their slime recipe one thousand times better than everybody else’s. What in the name of science experimentation could possibly go wrong?

The very next day sludgy slimy goop is ‘pranking’ the whole of Beanotown and in Dennis’s own words . ’at the same time it’s making endless fart noises. It’s like the Attack of the Fifty-Foot Whoopee Cushion!’ But is this all the doing of Dennis et al or could the town’s mayor Wilbur Brown have anything to do with mucous mayhem.

Delicious daftness in novel form that fans of the comic will relish as will chapter book readers who have a fondness for crazy capers.

Pick A Story / The Book that Kibo Wrote

Pick A Story
Sarah Coyle and Adam Walker-Parker
Farshore

Involving younger readers in the decision making in stories is a great way to get them interested in reading and to keep that interest, but whereas there are plenty of interactive choose your own adventure stories for the over eights, there are relatively few pick a path picture books. The creators of this Pirate + Alien + Jungle adventure put the reader firmly in the navigator’s seat in their picture book starring Vincent and his dog, appropriately named Trouble.

It all begins in the park where the two are enjoying a stroll when all of a sudden Trouble disappears; where has she gone? Now Vincent needs the help of the reader to help him find his pooch: there are three possibilities in the first instance. The first will lead Tom to a stinky pirate galleon; the second will send him to the depths of the jungle and if he chooses the third option, he’ll find himself on board an alien spaceship. The problem is none of these actually help in the search for the missing Trouble.
With judging a talent show,

exploding asteroids, sea monsters and whirlpools to contend with, not to mention a dozen pirates brandishing swords and the possibility of a pursuing zombie, 

Vincent has a tough time of it, but will he find the trophy and more importantly will he and the elusive Trouble ever be reunited?

Sarah Coyle plunges her protagonist and the reader headlong into an adventure with an abundance of possibilities shown in Adam Walker-Parker’s energetic, comic illustrations with their plethora of funny characters and decisions to be made on every spread.

The Book that Kibo Wrote
Mariana Ruiz Johnson
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

This book contains the story of a story that begins one evening under the setting sun of a warm savannah with Kibo a rhino who wants to capture the beauty of his surroundings. Before he knows it, Rhino has written a whole book under the watchful eye of Naki the crane who has read every word. She uses her beak to sew the written pages between two strong covers making a sturdy book.

Next morning, bidding farewell to Kibo, off she flies over land and sea, eventually dropping the book in a city. 

There it’s discovered by Camilo the lion and reading the book gives him a strong nostalgic longing for his savannah birthplace. Camilo passes the yellow book on to a friend and it passes from friend to friend until Kibo’s story of the African savanna has travelled all the way to the Arctic and into the paws of a resident polar bear. 

As night descends on the North Pole, polar bear Nanuk feels warmed by the savannah heat as he completes his reading of the book from a distant land.

The open-ended nature of the narrative encourages readers to become participants in the story and I love the use of patterning in the vivid illustrations, which creates a folklorish feeling about the tale. (translated by Lawrence Schimel).

Lifesize: Baby Animals / My First Book of Minibeasts

Lifesize: Baby Animals
Sophy Henn
Farshore

This is the third of Sophy Henn’s ingenious Lifesize series and right from the cover image, this slightly oversize book draws you in. The focus is on some of the world’s most amazing baby animals. We start by staring right into the eye of a baby blue whale, the world’s biggest baby, that when born is astonishingly about the same size as an ambulance and grows to be as long as two buses.

That’s just one of the wow moments Sophy provides along with the interesting facts and fun questions. Here’s an example relating to the baby flamingo: “What colour would you be if you turned the same colour as your favourite food?’ (not that humans are born grey like baby flamingoes)

Such questions are one of the interactive features of the book.

I had to look twice to spot the baby zebra seashores that at first glance looked like musical notes emanating from the adult’s pouch. Did you know it’s the male seahorses that give birth and there can be as many as 2000 born at one time. Alongside a wealth of other marine fauna including green turtles, these creatures live on Australia’s coral reefs.

An adorable-looking baby black bear stares straight at readers from another spread. Imagine a human baby growing to three times its birth size in three months – that’s something to consider. These bears are mostly found in the mountain forests of North America, a terrain they occupy along with wolves and raccoons.

Readers will also meet red panda cubs with their super-long tails, clouded leopards, golden snub-nosed monkey babies and then when they open a double spread showing an African waterhole and turn the book through 90% they’ll meet a baby African elephant that is likely to be taller than some younger child readers.

The final interactive element involves measurement: you can see, when measured in Lifesize books how large some of the babies are at birth and when fully grown. Readers are then invited to do the same kind of measurement with their own family members.

Cleverly designed, with stunning images at every page turn, this is a book to read and delight in over and over.

My First Book of Minibeasts
illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books


This new addition to the My First Book of series is, like its predecessors, a great place to start exploring the topic. Herein Zoē Ingram strikingly portrays twenty minibeasts, one per double spread. Each illustration is accompanied by a fact box containing its scientific name, lifespan, diet and habitat, another presents its size in silhouette form and in millimetres; there’s also a ‘did you know’ feature and a main paragraph giving basic facts.

Youngsters will meet the shade-loving garden snail and the gorgeous glow worm – did you know it’s only the females that have bioluminescent tail lights? There are among others, bluebottles, black garden ants that live in colonies,

the emperor dragonfly and the Red-tailed bumblebee. (0nce called a dumbledore, interestingly.)

An ideal book to share with young children before going out exploring be that in the garden, the park or further afield.

Rainbow Grey: Eye of the Storm / Princess Minna: The Unicorn Mix-Up

Rainbow Grey: Eye of the Storm
Laura Ellen Anderson
Farshore

Writing a sequel that’s as brilliant as the magical Rainbow Grey is no mean feat but Laura Ellen Anderson pulls it off and I think, out-dazzles the first of the series.

With those magical powers at her fingertips – more or less – Ray is now fairly used to her life as Rainbow Grey but she can’t resist a little bit of showing off, which is NOT a good idea. Especially when one of her little cousins asks her to demonstrate her rainbow magic to a friend. It’s baby Cloudiculus’ first birthday, which means a puff pod party is being held. Soon, things spiral out of control: the puff pods are all empty, so the infant can’t bond with a cloud-creature. Who or what is responsible for the disappearance of the cloud creatures, one of which is Rainbow’s own much loved cloud cat, Nim? Disaster.

Ray and her friends now have a mystery to solve; Ray is convinced dark magic is behind the vanishings: she really needs to work out this puzzle and clear her name before cloud magic is forever lost.

With a degree of turbulence, brilliant world-building, a superb cast of characters (some new),

Ray’s indomitable spirit and resilience, and an abundance of magic, along with loyal friendship and the importance of team work in the community, not forgetting wonderfully whimsical illustrations all expertly woven together, this is a shimmering triumph.

Princess Minna: The Unicorn Mix-Up
Kirsty Applebaum, illustrated by Sahar Haghgoo
Nosy Crow

With its vibrant colour illustrations, this new Princess Minna adventure will I know be eagerly devoured by many new solo readers, especially those who have read the first book in the funny and enchanting series.

After sleeping badly, (not she thinks on account of peas under her mattress) Minna wakes to screeching squawking seagull sounds she now knows signify all is not well in the kingdom. She dashes down the long windy staircase to report this to her parents who are already having breakfast. The queen is especially anxious her daughter can sort out whatever the problem is as she and the king are expecting guests that very afternoon.

Minna rushes from the castle, soon hearing a cry for help from the T shop. It’s little Tommy Turrett announcing a unicorn emergency, (pause for some amusing wordplay). Said unicorn is apparently trampling through the T shop presumably leaving a trail of trash in its wake. Conveniently, taming unicorns just happens to be one of Minna’s special talents. But with her trusty sword in her hand, things don’t go quite to plan and by now the young princess is terribly tired.

The next thing she hears is a ribbet, followed swiftly by a shout of ‘frog emergency’. It’s fortunate that another of Minna’s special skills is kissing frogs. Unfortunately though, her extreme tiredness leads to a mix-up, swiftly followed by yet another emergency. Where will all this lead?

Happily, this time the princess’s prowess wins her a friend for life;

but that’s not quite the end of the story. Let’s just say there’s not just one, but a plethora of peas awaiting Minna as she finally returns to the castle, peas that provide a reassuring answer to her sleepiness mix-ups and the means of helping to put everything back to rights in the entire kingdom.

Barry Loser Total Winner! / Dennis & Gnasher Attack of the Evil Veg

Barry Loser Total Winner!
Jim Smith
Farshore

In this latest of the graphic novel series starring Jim Smith’s ‘keel’ character, Barry Loser is full of the joys of spring as he walks to school in the first episode at least. Therein too are all kinds of Barryish shenanigans concerning his ‘ex-best friends’ Bunky and Nancy’s joint party, resulting in Barry declaring loud and clear that he’ll never speak to either again. There are also a fair few arachnids of the biting kind involved.

The next episode sees Barry with a new bestie, Snozzy, behaving even more weirdly than ever. It involves a dog poo incident, a damaged facial feature and further sniggersome scenes.

Episode three takes us to the supermarket along with Barry and Bunky and Nancy to make it less boring. It’s certainly anything but that on account of some walkie talkies and a sudden epidemic of yawning. 

I’ll say no more on that topic and move swiftly on to the Granny’s handbag episode at the start of which Barry receives from said grandparent, a new and terrible toy – one that kind of comes and goes. 

In the final incident (or several) Barry oversteps the mark when it comes to the ‘twiddler’ leaf-blowing game; is asked to try mindfulness in class, which is not an overwhelming success at the time, there’s a temporarily distraught Dad, not forgetting the odd surprise. And, it’s interesting to see the new character in the shape of French Fries.

Masses of mayhem and mischief, cringe making moments, and lots of the rolling about kind of laughs are assured when individuals embark on this tenth anniversary offering. Perhaps they’ll even discover that Barry isn’t always such a loser.

Dennis & Gnasher Attack of the Evil Veg
I.P. Daley, Craig Graham, Mike Stirling, illustrated by Nigel Parkinson
Farshore

Dennis’ pals have been bitten by the gardening bug and are now spending pretty much all their time at Beanotown’s allotments. Then comes an announcement from the town’s mayor: The Great Beanotown Grow Off and there’s to be a large money prize – a very large one – for the grower of the biggest, tastiest vegetable. No prizes though for guessing who has his eyes set on that: the problem is Dennis knows absolutely nothing about cultivating veggies. 

Dennis however, is not the only one intent on bagging the prize but he’s so desperate so to do that he visits Professor Von Screwtop who tells him of his own failed experiments when trying to make super-growth serums. “One day I’ll look into it again. Until that day, those three failed experiments will sit safely on that shelf by the door.”

No sooner has he uttered this than Dennis is out the door with them, endeavouring to make them work. They don’t, or rather he thinks they don’t until he returns to the allotments at night and sees a giant, evil veg (strictly speaking a fruit) destroying the place. The trouble is almost nobody believes his story and now Dennis is accused of being the culprit. Determined to prove his innocence, he embarks on a mission to do so. 

With a little assistance from Minnie and Gnasher, they’re determined to root out the army of mutant veggies before they take over the entire town.

Fast-moving silliness, full of jokes, with guest appearances from several Beano characters including Calamity James that will satisfy the comic lovers as well as lovers of chapter books of the zany kind. Don’t miss the fun facts, extra veggie jokes and further daftness at the end of the story.

The Enormous Morning

The Enormous Morning
Louise Greig and Lizzy Stewart
Farshore

‘Inside Day was Morning. It was a small morning. There was not much in it.’ However, there was Pia. And Rabbit.’ And Pia’s papa. But then after they’ve shared a morning enlarging breakfast, Morning keeps on getting bigger.

We accompany Pia and her father on a walk that is absolutely filled with wonder as we witness the glorious sights, sounds, shapes and colours that burst forth into young Pia’s quiet, small world. They cross a wheat field and notice a leaping hare

and from atop a hill, Pia is able to see ‘a whole garden,’ ‘a whole elephant with an elephant’s thought and an elephant’s wish.’ – what a wonderful lyrical and truly original narrative Louise Greig has created as she tells of toys, butterflies, cloud shapes in the blue sky, boats and ships in the sea far below.

Richly layered and richly described is this walk. But it’s not all walking: they stop for a picnic

before continuing their journey, Pia with her senses fully alive to all the amazing experiences and her imagination soaring. Like all mornings though, this one turns to afternoon and then to evening, this one that has become so filled with meaningful experience – just like the little girl’s heart that is full, full of love and a sense of being loved. ‘Inside Day was Morning. It was an enormous morning. There was everything in it. … And inside Pia and inside Pia’s papa was a world of love.’

Just as exquisite as Louise’s words are Lizzy Stewart’s joyful, idyllic scenes with their rich, jewel colours.
Louise and Lizzy’s creation, is wonderfully different: author and artist have captured one child’s delight in the world around, truly making this a book to remind us all to slow down, open our minds, our hearts and our senses and savour our world every Enormous Morning.

Llama on Holiday

Llama on Holiday
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan
Farshore

This is the third Llama extravaganza starring Yasmin and her toy best friend, Levi, as well as Yasmin’s human bestie, Ezra. It’s the May half-term holiday, an ideal time to have a break from Guardian Llama responsibilities especially when a week’s visit to the seaside is in the offing. The only snag is it means having to share a bedroom with cousin Omar who is let’s say, not at all their favourite person and exceedingly unwelcoming.

At breakfast on the first morning of their Whitehove stay there comes a beeping on the llama landline: it’s a message from Mama Llama regarding a new mission, the only other information being, it’s called Help Omar. Is it at all possible to get the boy to lighten up and have some fun? Team Yasmin, Levi and Ezra need to find out what is troubling Omar. A good place to start is the funfair but that proves to be a dodgem disaster.

So what about a beach party with all the activities Omar likes? That too ends in disaster in more ways that one. It now appears that what at first seemed like an easy mission might be turning into Yasmin and Levi’s toughest challenge so far, especially when the two fall out.

Could a visit to the arcade on the pier be a better bet?

Can Omar start to believe in himself and could it be that at the end of the day, being a bit weird is something to be celebrated.

I suspect a lot of primary school readers, along with this adult reviewer, will be sad that this story with its terrific black and white illustrations by Allen Fatimaharan, concludes the super series during which Yasmin has grown hugely in self-confidence, and happily as she transitions to secondary school with Ezra, she’s determined not to let go of all the fun and magic in her life.

Snowy White

Snowy White
Gareth P. Jones and Loretta Schauer
Farshore

This third twist on a classic fairy tale from the partnership of Gareth P. Jones and Loretta Schauer is set in Purry Tale Lane where, up on a roof top, is a cat kingdom ruled over by ginger tom, Kingsley.
He is the proud owner of a crystal ball, so the object says. It also responds to Kingsley’s nightly, “who’s the finest cat of all?” with an assurance, “Kingsley is the best of all, / as sure as I am a crystal ball … / And honestly, I am / a crystal ball.”

One night however, a newcomer, one Snowy White by name, zooms into town and Kingsley is horrified when he hears the Crystal Ball giving a different reply to his usual question. Needless to say he resolves to get rid of his rival, resorting to graffiti and bombardment to let her know she’s unwelcome.

As she flees, Snowy runs headlong into a litter-collecting mouse sending her rubbish bag flying. The mouse, surprised by Snowy’s offer to help pick up the contents of the sack, introduces herself as leader of the Mouse Cleaning Service. While Snowy spends the night with Penny and her crew collecting and sorting the rubbish, the cats continue with their mindless mess making.

At the end of the night, Kingsley is shocked to hear the Crystal Ball declaring Snowy White the finest once again and is more determined than ever to get rid of her. However he accidentally knocks the Crystal Ball off the wall and it splashes into a pond below.

This results in a face to face meeting of the rival cats, after which, something said by the Crystal Ball causes a big change, first in Kingsey and then in his cat pals. Said spherical object also makes a surprise revelation.

There’s a vital message, or several, in Gareth’s tale that, with its occasional breaks into rhyme, is a super read aloud. Equally super are Loretta’s dramatic, detailed illustrations that exude humour and energy at every turn of the page.

Monster Doughnuts: Cyclops on a Mission / Real Pigeons Nest Hard

Monster Doughnuts: Cyclops on a Mission
Gianna Pollero, illustrated by Sarah Horne
Piccadilly Press

The sequel to Monster Doughnuts sees crotchety cyclops, Mr Harris, back for another delectably daft mission with ten year old Grace and her family from Cake Hunters bakery.
(In case you haven’t read about fearless Grace in the first book, her special monster-destroying technique involves baking cakes with a large sprinkling of an explosive kind of baking powder.)
The 360 year old cyclops has become Grace’s partner in crime on this new assignment from the Secret Service – to rid the city of the dastardly Bottom Biter that is creating let’s say, extreme discomfort in the nether regions of anybody unfortunate enough to become its victim.

It’s possible that the one-eyed member of the team could be an asset but during training sessions all that Mr H seems interested in doing is consuming not only monsters but doughnuts from the bakery and any other delicacies he can lay his hands on too. He does however appear to have quite an aptitude for baking but then as well as gobbling up his own fairy cakes, his passion for the sweet stuff causes him to visit Monster World where a potentially useful encounter takes place and some ‘valuable evidence’ is acquired.
Time to head off to the Natural History Museum …

Then from HQ comes news of another development concerning those the BB has attacked. Catching the creature has just become even more crucial.

KS2 readers looking for something wacky, witty and wonderfully wild with lashings of laugh-out-loud moments need look no further. Once again Sarah Horne has done a smashing job illustrating the various monsters and there’s further fun provided in the monster glossary that follows Gianna Pollero’s tasty tale.

Real Pigeons Nest Hard
Andrew McDonald, illustrated by Ben Wood
Farshore

The city-protecting crime fighting pigeons Rock, Frillback, Grandpouter, Tumbler and Homey return in a third set of loosely linked cases.
First, Beardy Vulture persuades them to take on the search for his missing extra large nest, which he claims has been stolen by humans; it’s either that or, so they think, risk getting cursed by the bone eating bird. Disguises are definitely required for this.
Episode two sees Rock et al discovering a beastly human child but why is she roaming in the park without her humans? According to the little one she’s escaping from a horrible monster. Now all they need to do is to return Kid X to her family – almost all anyway.

Awoken by their rumbly tummies, our crime-busting birdies learn that Homey’s family is being held hostage – It’s a case of bird-knapping! Heroic as ever, the pigeons resolve to find the relations he’s not seen since he was a baby. Thus begins another rescue mission and it’s not long before they discover some of their previous adversaries.
Episode three of this fun book that’s ideal for new solo readers, ends on a cliff hanger that paves the way for book 4 so there’s more to look forward to.

Bursting with humour, and with a great cast of characters (COO-l and otherwise) brought to life in Ben Wood’s zany visuals that also up the pace, this graphic novel/ picture book hybrid is huge fun. The book concludes with some words of ecological wisdom and a couple of drawing activities.

Nursery? Not Today!

Nursery? Not Today!
Rebecca Patterson and Nikki Dyson
Farshore

Rosa starts nursery, so she tells us, on a Monday. Everything goes wonderfully well: she paints an ace picture, sings without any shouting, enjoys lunch and plays without any rough stuff.
At the end of the day, her teacher Miss Lewis deems her ‘an absolute star!” Seemingly Miss Lewis wasn’t quite as observant as she could have been.

Assuredly the newbie enjoyed the plentiful action the nursery offered and she’s even prepared to share her new song with her younger sibling on the way home.

However, come Tuesday, Ruby has other plans that keep her more than a tad busy. Daddy is not impressed, especially when the young narrator suggests sending little brother Alby in her place and even less so when she suggests if he won’t do, perhaps Bernard (the pet gerbil) might stand in.

Is there anything that might persuade Rosa to don her coat and shoes and set out? I wonder …

Well observed, Rebecca Patterson’s funny story with Nikki Dyson’s bold, splendidly expressive, illustrations will appeal both to preschoolers and adult sharers though for different reasons. Youngsters will love exploring the wealth of detail in the illustrations as well as Rosa’s antics whereas adults will particularly appreciate the child/father interactions.

A smashing story to share with those about to start nursery and those already happily settled in a preschool setting.

Dinosaurs on Kitten Island

Dinosaurs on Kitten Island
Michael Slack
Farshore

Despite there apparently being plenty to amuse them on their own island, the dinosaurs are bored with sandcastle construction, skeleton reassembling and the other possibilities at home, and so they decide to pay a visit to Kitten Island. After all those kittens look like friendly creatures so despite what the narrator says about them, the prehistoric creatures are having none of it and potential catastrophes notwithstanding, off they go.

Game 1 is Launch the Lizards (courtesy of a geyser) but was that sudden flight and soaking really what the visitors came for? Lesson learned: surely that’s enough. It doesn’t appear so and nor does the second game ‘Deflate the airship’.

However apparently undaunted, the dinos are daft enough to participate in some ‘hairball floaty’ racing. Hmm! this could be their worst experience to date … Or not?

Seemingly these three friends revel in a high level of risk taking or else they’ve left their dino-brains at home for even after another unsettling outcome they precede to game 4, Fall-o meow that begins with them plunging into a dark chasm.

However it ends with them all in Tiny Baby Kitty Playroom, which is absolutely full of even tinier kittens. Now this looks a pretty safe place where both kittens and dinosaurs can play happily together.

Um …

With its brightly hued scenes, this is huge fun and hugely silly. It’s sure to go down well with the countless young dinosaur story enthusiasts out there who will definitely relish joining the prehistoric creatures in some loud RAWR, RAW-ing at each opportunity.

Classic Inspirations: Once There Was a Bear / The Little Prince

Once There Was a Bear
Jane Riordan, illustrated by Mark Burgess
Farshore

To celebrate the 95th anniversary of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, having previously written two standalone Pooh books, Jane Riordan has created a prequel collection of ten stories, again in the style of Milne. It takes readers back to where it all began, when Pooh was bought in Harrods as a gift for baby Christopher Robin. Using a similar style to that of E.H. Shepard, Mark Burgess illustrates each episode with panache depicting Pooh and his friends Eeyore, Rabbit, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl and Tigger.
The original Pooh books have an enduring appeal for those who met them first as children; however this one has a charm of its own with many of the adventures taking place outside of Hundred Acre Wood. I loved the museum outing wherein dinosaur skeletons with their ‘bothersome long words’ for names prove unusual ladders for a bear to climb upon.

This is definitely worth getting hold of if, like this reviewer, you’re a fan of Pooh et al.

The Little Prince
Louise Greig and Sara Massini
Farshore

Award-winning author and poet Louise Greig has adapted Antoine de Saint- Exupéry’s classic as a picture book for a younger audience than the original novella: it’s illustrated by Sara Massini who has also won many awards. The result is a thing of beauty, mysterious and poetic both verbally and visually.

I’m not sure whether the stranded pilot’s encounter with a little prince who visits neighbouring planets will appeal to children; its enigmatic nature will certainly provoke much thought and lots of questions for, as the author says, ‘What is hidden is beautiful.’ That in itself is well worth exploring.

The Twelve Green Days of Christmas

The Twelve Green Days of Christmas
Barry Timms and Siân Roberts
Farshore

The sentiments are great but I did find when reading this timely rhyming story aloud that it didn’t always quite scan; though if you sing the words using the popular seasonal tune, it works fine, beginning on the first day of Christmas with Santa coming upon ‘A star that had broken in three.’

On the next four days, as we see in Siân Roberts’ humorous, wintry illustrations, he comes upon worn-out wings (five), four party hats,/ three crushed cups, / two tattered gloves ‘ and that shattered star. What a careless lot those forest creatures are.

On the sixth day an unhappy Santa decides something has to be done. He puts up a sign urging the forest dwellers to start recycling.


Day seven brings a snowstorm which results in his sign getting blown away and Santa catching such a bad chill that he has to take to his bed, the result being the rubbish continues to spread and accumulate in piles.

Will Santa ever get his wish for a green Christmas before the big day arrives?

Happily yes, for Owl catches the flying sign, spreads the word spurring the animals to take action and on the eleventh day Santa receives something in the mail that lifts his spirits.

Next day he ventures forth and finds …

as well as five new recycling bins and lots of the animals busily restoring the broken star and putting it where it should be – right at the top of the tree. A Merry Green Christmas at last!

The Christmas Carrolls

The Christmas Carrolls
Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu
Farshore

Nine year old Holly, daughter of Christmas crazy parents Nick and Snow Carroll has been home schooled until a house suddenly becomes available on Sleigh Ride Avenue. Thrilled to bits her parents decide to move the family there and she is enrolled at the local primary school.

However, when Holly goes to Lockerton Primary with the Backpack of Cheer her dad’s given her and first day Christmas cards (in hot September!), for her year five classmates she realises not everyone shares her enthusiasm for spreading seasonal cheer; and, there are all those school rules and regulations to contend with too. She desperately wants a friend.


Then she hears some of the things that have been said about her: ‘from another planet’, ‘weird’, ‘eccentric’ or was it ‘electric’, ‘that I didn’t know how to dress myself’. How much worse can things get?

Seemingly Holly is on a downward spiral. However, the new unChristmassy approach she tries doesn’t feel right either: her cheerometer rating plummets to zero and she tells her parents, “Nobody wants us here … Nobody wants to celebrate Christmas all year round … And I don’t think I want to either.”

But, could her burgeoning friendship with Archer (which has also taken a turn for the worse) help her out and restore that feel good factor, and not only for herself? Perhaps – for when she learns of some children who really need help, Holly decides that nothing is impossible when it comes to spreading good cheer.

Now I’m somebody who is anything but filled with festive delight when I see the Christmas lights put up and turned on early in November, so initially I wasn’t sure about Holly and her family. However, Mel Taylor-Bessent’s debut story, for all its seasonal trappings, is about so much more that Christmas. For Holly it’s a steep learning journey and one whereon she discovers the importance of real friendship, that not everyone lives in the same way, as well as that her mum hasn’t always had it good.
What emerges loud and clear from this wonderfully warm, humorous tale is that the essentials of Christmas are hope, inclusion and community; and these should be for every day of the year rather than being restricted to just a short time. The author has created some smashing characters (illustrated by Selom Sunu) that certainly will linger in the minds of readers and listeners. This would make a terrific KS2 class read aloud.

The Night Train / The Naughtiest Unicorn in a Winter Wonderland

The Night Train
Matilda Woods and Penny Neville-Lee
Little Tiger

This is a wintry addition to the Stripes series of stories for new solo readers that have beautiful full colour illustrations at every turn of the page.

Herein readers can take up the guard’s final call and board the non-stop express train to Sleepy Town Platform ZZZ. Charles is anxious to get his special passengers in on schedule so that they don’t lose the chance to shine in their dreams.

There’s Henri, about to perform in front of the Queen, Princess May on her way to meet the family of her dragon, then comes the yeti – a regular on the train – bound for the North Pole and now accompanying Lily who longs to be a great explorer.
Then one more passenger reveals itself – a huge green furry monster that hopes it has just the thing to stop its dreamer being scared any longer.

Suddenly the train comes to a halt and the driver announces that something is blocking the way. The princess leaves the train to investigate and discovers a tree has fallen across the line. But are any of the passengers willing to help her and the guard Charles to move the obstacle and allow the train to arrive on time? Perhaps if they draw on their yet to be discovered skills, together they can save the situation and enter their dreamer’s dreams.

It must be worth a try.

Despite it’s chilly setting, Matilda Woods tells a warm-hearted tale of teamwork and determination. Penny Neville-Lee’s snowy scenes capture beautifully, the sometimes tense atmosphere of the telling and her portrayal of the characters is charming – even the monster.

A smashing snuggle up in the warm book for youngsters just taking off as independent readers.

The Naughtiest Unicorn in a Winter Wonderland
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Farshore

Can it really be the ninth story featuring Mira and her exuberant unicorn Dave? As he tries his hoofs at some winter sports, it’s evident that the creature hasn’t lost his burping and farting habits or his tendency to gobble up ice-cream or pretty much anything edible he can get hold of.

Then comes the announcement: Unicorn School Winter Expedition. It’s to be Red Class’s very first time and in addition to the sporting activities there’s to be a special quest: The Unicorn School Art Project inspired by the Aurora Lights.

The excitement is high though there’s talk of Snow Beasts by pupils who have been on previous winter expeditions, and it’s even higher when they reach their destination. Armed with ‘snow tools’ just in case of any unwanted encounters, the pupils start to settle in and decide on their activities.

Then comes the real fun and for Mira and Dave that begins with sledging – watch out for a ginormous snow poo-ball.

Will they really meet a yeti though?

What about that art project: will everyone be having such a great time sledging that they miss those magical Aurora Lights? And could somebody discover a use for that Abominable Snow Poo? You’ll never know … unless of course you get hold of this hilarious episode in the life of Mira, Dave and their friends both old and new.

I know a fair number of young solo readers who will gobble it up – Dave fashion – all in one go, pausing to enjoy David O’Connell’s super black and white illustrations along the way.

Cindergorilla

Cindergorilla
Gareth P. Jones and Loretta Schauer
Farshore

Readers of this blog will probably know that I am a great enthusiast of fairy tale spin-offs so long as they’re done well, as is the case with Gareth P. Jones and Loretta Schauer’s follow-up to Rabunzel, another in The Fairytales for the Fearless series.

Star of the show in this story is jungle dwelling Cindergorilla. Cinder lives with her mean Aunt Linda and cousins Gertrude and Grace, who spend much of their time bossing her about.

Despite this Cinder manages to remain upbeat by turning her chores into funky dance moves: Her broom becomes an object with which to boogie, she moonwalks with her mop, twirling as she tidies and accompanying her washing up with her wiggliest waggles. Oh how she would love to go to the weekly Disco Ball, but her aunt vetoes her every chance.

Then one Saturday there’s much ado in their household as the cousins discuss their potential chances of becoming the next partner of Disco Prince Travis. Needless to say, they scoff at Cinder as they leave her alone with just a list of tasks to be done.

Enter with a RAZZA-MATANG an orangutan, her Hairy Godmother no less, who, with a deft wand flick, transforms Cinder into a sparkly disco diva, leaving her with a slightly different warning from the traditional midnight: “Be home before sunrise” she instructs.

Off goes Cinder, slightly on edge as she steps onto the dance floor but there’s no love at first sight episode when she and Travis meet. Said Disco Prince is egocentricity personified. Or should that be gorilla-ified? Impressed by her moves, he merely tells her she’s to dance with him for the rest of the ball.

Come the first rays of morning sun, Cinder remembers what she’s been told by her Hairy Godmother and tells her partner she must leave right away, his response being the self-centred, “But you haven’t seen my best move yet!”
Nonetheless Cinder makes a hasty exit leaving behind a single shoe and Travis determined to find it’s owner’s whereabouts.

Which he does – eventually, much to the surprise of Cinder’s relations. Seems that now, Travis is ready to offer a somewhat better deal. But is it one Cinder will accept?

Now that would be telling and I’ll leave it to the story creators, merely adding that like most fairytales, there is a happily ever after ending – of sorts – rendered in song.

This terrific tale of resilience and empowerment is huge fun and a smashing read aloud. I love the way Gareth’s narrative is sprinkled with alliterative phrases and breaks into rhyme from time to time. Equally good fun are Loretta’s funny, funky scenes of the action in which she portrays all the characters with real gorilla-alities.

Destined to become a story-time favourite for sure.

Daisy’s Dragons / Green

Daisy’s Dragons
Frances Stickley and Annabel Tempest
Studio Press

Here’s a picture book that encompasses dealing with your feelings, owning a pet (or several) and even perhaps coping with pandemic reds, greens and silvers, and sometimes blues, pinks, and purples too. These colours refer to the pet dragons that young Daisy has and only she knows they’re there, each playing its own particular role. That is until one day when everything goes haywire on a visit to the ice-cream shop

and the result is that three of Daisy’s dragon friends go missing, and Daisy herself gives vent to her own emotions as she becomes scared, angry and sad, sending the others away.

In an attempt to bring back the absent Happy dragon feelings, the little girl plays with her toys and as she does so she realises that it’s actually very important to have the entire range of emotions: “None of you are bad,” she says, confirming what an apologetic Sad has already articulated with “But all of us are part of you … and none of us are bad.”

Told in Frances Stickley’s rhyming narrative and with Annabel Tempest’s splendidly portrayed dragons, this is an engaging story that opens up opportunities to talk about the all important topic of emotions with young children. I suspect that by the time the story’s told, both adult sharers and young listeners will have developed a fondness for all six special dragons.

Green
Louise Greig and Hannah Peck
Farshore

There’s always a slight quirkiness to Louise Greig’s books that I love, and so it is with this one.
Ed becomes downhearted when he’s no longer the owner of the best sled of the slopes. Back to his shed he goes to build an outstanding one, spending many a wintry day and night to that end. Despite knowing that he’s missing out on lots of fun he just can’t bring himself to go out and join his friends who are eager to see him.

Unbeknown to the boy, during the time he’s been working away, the days have been growing longer and warmer, and when he finally emerges he fails to hear the song of the blackbird and see the blue flowers peeping through. Then unexpectedly after a shower, everything turns green, speckled with white daisies. Now what will he do with a sled, even if it is THE best?

Suddenly he hears his name being called: it’s his friends saying how much they’ve missed him. Now at last Ed feels the sun’s warmth and he’s filled with joy but feels somewhat foolish as he explains what he’s been doing. Soon he realises that he’s missed so much: the companionship and exhilaration he now experiences are the things that really matter; they’re way more important than having something biggest and best.

Told in Louise Greig’s poetic text with Hannah Peck’s scenes that perfectly capture the feelings of the characters and their movement, this is a thought-provoking story about emotions, showing how envy negates the pleasures of the here and now.

Rainbow Grey

Rainbow Grey
Laura Ellen Anderson
Farshore

Having hugely enjoyed Laura’s Amelia Fang series I couldn’t wait to get hold of her new story. and it certainly lived up to my expectations.

It’s set in the brilliantly imagined magical sky world of Weatherlands in the city of Celestia and features ten-year old Ray Grey. who lives with her family – mum Cloudia, Dad Haze and cloud-cat, Nim.

All the other Weatherlings have at their fingertips, amazing magical weather power – be it sun ( I love the glowing sunflower in the sky image giving light to Earth), 

snow or rain, cloud or wind; not so Ray who like her mother, has no weather magic of any kind, though she longs for such magic to appear suddenly one morning so she’s more like her friends Droplet Dewbells and Snowden Everfreeze.

Rumour has it though that until they were all wiped out by the worst tornado in history, there were also Weatherlings who had Rainbow magic, – although most people don’t believe this . 

When Ray attends her first festival for the Eclipse with her friends, it’s the start of an unlikely adventure triggered by a tatty old book. Adventure is something else Ray longs for, wanting to be like her hero, the famous, beautiful Earth Explorer La Blaze Delight whom she meets at the festival.

Young Ray is one determined character and so is prepared to be a rule breaker (hurrah!) leaving Celestia without a grown-up and setting off for earth on a ‘daring quest’ in search of treasures.

It’s a trip that changes her life: a transformation takes place making her not Ray Grey but Rainbow Grey. Now all that’s left to do is to gain control of her powers and save the earth from a mysterious, powerful destructive enemy. 

Can she succeed? Perhaps, with the help of her best pals (and Nim) – surely that isn’t asking too much …

Laura’s storytelling weaves a spell around you from the outset; it’s totally gripping throughout with tension building as the end draws nigh, full of splendid humorous detail (the pigeon named Coo La La, for example) with sprinklings of silliness such as that highly explosive farting cloud cat, and the eat them quick before they erupt, rumblebuns.

This book has all you can ask for and more: teamwork, friendship, an environmental message, being something of an outsider, there’s even a mention of reading problems ( Ray talks of letters being jumbled on the page and later, reading from coloured paper is mentioned). Magicalicious – bring on the next adventure please!

The Naughtiest Unicorn on Holiday / Super Cute: Fun in the Sun

These are two young fiction books both by Pip Bird, kindly sent for review by Farshore

The Naughtiest Unicorn on Holiday

The latest addition to The Naughtiest Unicorn series sees Mira and Dave off on an adventure holiday – their best ever adventure so Mira anticipates. Especially as there’s to be a secret quest to discover a special Golden Marshmallow. With sleeping bag rolled and rucksack packed with essentials (and a bit more too) she can hardly contain her excitement and Dave is going positively bananas or rather toffees. Having discussed the various poo possibilities for humans and unicorns, members of Red Class are finally ready to make that foray into the Wild Woods where they’ll be under the care , not of their teacher Miss Glitterhorn but of energetic leader, Ms Mustang, a stickler for teamwork.

Will the adventurers ever manage to put up their tents – that is the first challenge followed closely by, will Dave consume all the marshmallows stashed in the special snack box?

Then what about the raft-making activity? Readers will certainly get some laughs over this, but what of team Mira, Raheem and Jake and their unicorns?

With the first day’s adventures duly over it’s time to bed down for some shut-eye but that’s when the weird noises start up: what or who is making those, not to mention the scary shadowy shape? …

With the usual generous serving of farts of the unicorn variety, this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp for fans of Mira and Dave and I’m sure having induced lots of giggles, they’ll win a fair few new followers too.

Super Cute: Fun in the Sun

New to me is the author’s World of Cute where preparations are underway for the annual summer Friendship festival.

With Micky Pig in charge, delicious treats to share are baked in Micky’s outdoor kitchen Mudporium. The first taster will be a Special Guest. So will this be, as Cami declares, “The best Friendship ever!” ?

Not if one of the vital baking ingredients is missing … This is the first indication that a saboteur is at work; surely that couldn’t be so – could it?

I’m not sure if this series will gain as many fans as The Naughtiest Unicorn but it’s worth offering to young solo readers to taste for themselves: they’ll certainly find lots of yummy confectionery including a volcano cake that erupts strawberry jam, in this story that celebrates our differences.

1,2,3, Do the Shark / The Horse that Jumped

These are two picture books ideal for bedtime sharing kindly sent for review from Farshore

1,2,3, Do the Shark
Michelle Robinson and Rosalind Beardshaw

Get ready for a bit of funky action deep beneath the ocean where Bess’s fishy pals are somewhat disturbed by a storm. Not so Bess though; clad in her shark attire, she urges them all to join her in a bit of boogieing. “Copy me and do the shark!” she says performing the appropriate moves

until all the sea creatures are joining in with the stretching, fin waving, tail swishing and generally strutting their stuff.

That achieved, it’s time to take a dive down deeper, right to the ocean bed where something rather scary is peering out from the mouth of a cave.

Crab gives a Shark alert. Time to take evasive action suggests Bess and so they do.

But perhaps that shark isn’t as scary as they first thought? Has he another reason for watching them so closely perhaps …

With a lovely switch from imagined to real, the story has a perfect ending 1,2,3 zzzzz.
An ideal pre bedtime book for those around little Bess’s age told in Michelle’s splendidly readable rhyming text and through Rosalind’s delightful mainly subaquatic, scenes.

The Horse that Jumped
Thomas Docherty

This is a thoroughly enchanting tale of a little girl and a horse that jumps and keeps on jumping. It jumps over a flower, over a rock, over a fence, out of its field, across a steam, over a bench and through an open window right into the girl’s bedroom.

On jumps said girl and off they go right out into the world, galloping and then jumping through a series of richly illustrated scenes of mountains, sea

and skyscapes

until the girl falls fast asleep, is transported back to her own bed and thence into dreamland.

With mounting excitement, so evident in the eyes of girl and horse, as the journey moves from location to location, Thomas Docherty, tells this exhilarating story of freedom and friendship using relatively few well chosen words, leaving his gorgeous illustrations of a fabulous flight of fancy to do most of the talking. It’s impossible not to feel that joyful freeing sense of movement be you listener or reader aloud: what a splendid celebration of the power of the imagination.

The Battle for Roar / A Super Weird! Mystery: My pencil case is a time machine

Two recent fiction books from Farshore kindly sent for review

The Battle for Roar
Jenny McLachlan, illustrated by Ben Mantle

The superb Land of Roar fantasy series comes to a gripping conclusion in this utterly enchanting adventure that sees twins Rose and Arthur travelling to a group of islands far beyond everything they know: beyond The End.

There’s a storm, a shipwreck, you’ll meet fanged fairies, a possible dragon egg, there are secrets aplenty and prepare to be surprised, shocked even.

To say it’s action-packed is something of an understatement; it’s humorous in parts, pretty scary in others, a wonderful demonstration of the redemptive power of teamwork and a veritable ode to the power of the imagination.

Altogether an absolutely perfect ending to a brilliant trilogy. I gobbled it up in a single sitting, along with a few marshmallows (not magical ones) and a mug of hot chocolate.

A Super Weird! Mystery: My pencil case is a time machine
Jim Smith

Having coped with the Danger at Donut Diner and the Attack of the Haunted Lunch Box, Yoshi and his friends Melvin Pebble and Rhubarb Plonsky have another mystery to solve. If he can manage to tear himself away from his phone that is, for like most youngsters, Yoshi has of late, let his phone take up much of his time, particularly uploading his videos onto Donut Tube.

Enter Yoshi’s dad bringing a shoebox containing the ‘smelly eraser collection’ from his own childhood (we’ve all had them) and thus begin some seriously surreal happenings necessitating some serious sleuthing from the three young detectives.

But that’s getting a bit ahead of things so let’s go back to where the three are in HQ aka Brenda the Hut and Yoshi finds an ordinary non-smelly eraser on one of the shelves therein, names it Brenda too and adds it to other smelly erasers now in his pencil case. Then at Rhubarb’s behest he pulls out a dinosaur-shaped one for her to sniff. Uh-oh! Time slip alert!

Seems the pals have just whiffed themselves back to the age of the dinosaurs and that T-Rex doesn’t look too friendly.

All is not lost though for they’ve still got the rest of the smelly erasers. Perhaps one of those can get them back to their own time but then what? …

Well that would be telling, and I’ll leave Jim Smith’s young narrator to do that in his own inimitable way and merely say that what follows is seriously silly and huge fun especially with daft cartoon style drawings adorning every spread adding to the overall wackiness.

The World Awaits

The World Awaits
Tomos Roberts and Nomoco
Farshore

I received my review copy of this book on what is supposed to be ‘freedom day’ here in England at least. Assuredly this follow-up to The Great Realisation, is a book of our time. Herein poet Tomos Roberts offers a welcome rallying call to action to readers young and not so young asking us to embrace the challenges we still face and to do whatever we can individually and collectively to face the future with positivity and hope.

We see, and hear the voice of an adult rousing a child from slumbers and going on to try and persuade that reluctant young friend to accept the enormous potential within,

to do good spending time doing the things that make life better for others and ultimately perhaps, oneself. It might be planting a tree, calling grandparents for a chat, helping a creature in distress or smiling at a stranger – acts such as these will prevent apathy and negativity taking hold – something that’s all to easy to do, especially if one listens to the news every day or reads a daily paper.

This book with Nomoco’s gentle watercolour illustrations will surely resonate with us all: seize the day: help the world get better step by step, action by action …


                                       

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame adapted by Timothy Knapman with original E.H. Shepard illustrations
Farshore

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Kenneth Grahame’s classic, this is a picture book adaptation of the original story by Timothy Knapman with E.H.Shepard’s iconic illustrations.

All too often adaptations of children’s classics are at worst a huge disappointment and at best underwhelming; one certainly wouldn’t dream of reading them aloud to young children.

Does it read aloud well is key and in this instance the answer is a resounding yes. Herein, there’s a certain musicality to Timothy’s narrative (‘And there was the river itself, chasing and chuckling along, like a magical sparkling animal.’): it retains the essence of the original while also using 21st century phraseology such as ‘Then when their tummies started to rumble, they tied up at a perfect picnic spot.’ And, Mole to the intruder stoats and weasels in Toad Hall, ‘ “What a mess you’ve made! You don’t get to leave until you’ve tidied this whole place up.” ‘

Although we don’t have all the episodes from the original book, what’s included is a coherent story with plenty of Toad’s shenanigans …

that can be shared and enjoyed in a single session, or two if preferred.

Splash

Splash
Claire Cashmore and Sharon Davey
Farshore

Written by awesome Paralympic gold medallist Claire Cashmore, this, her debut book is a celebration of overcoming your fears and following your dream. The story is based on Claire’s own experience of having a can do attitude with almost everything, although being scared of the water keeps her out of the swimming pool.

That changes however one very hot day when the young girl Claire aka Bear decides to try just dipping a toe into the water. Then, because it feels so inviting those frissons of fear dissipate until … SPLASH! She’s loving how she feels and her siblings are almost as thrilled as Bear is.

Now in the water Bear is literally in her element and she has a new dream. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and determination but she never gives up and finally after her mammoth efforts Bear is ready to enter her very first swimming race …

As she ploughs through the water, Bear isn’t the only one wondering, Will today be the day? And …

Then up on the podium with her first ever gold medal around her neck, Claire dreams of the next time … and the next and … safe in the knowledge that ‘whatever she can’t do today … she knows she will conquer tomorrow!’
And what an inspiration is young Bear to us all. She had the courage to step right out of her comfort zone and then to prove to herself and everybody else that by holding fast to her dreams, being differently abled is just a part of who she is and that is INCREDIBLE.

Sharon Davey’s illustrations beautifully capture Bear’s emotional journey as, supported by her siblings, she moves from fearful to fearless.

The Lion on the Bus / All Aboard the Words Train & All Aboard the Sounds Train

The Lion on the Bus
Gareth P. Jones and Jeff Harter
Farshore

This is a really rumbustious version of the children’s nursery favourite The Wheels on the Bus. It starts with the usual verse but already there’s an anticipation of what’s to come in Jeff Harter’s opening illustration as a maned passenger carrying a bag crosses to get on board the vehicle heading for the park.

Almost instantly the driver is looking alarmed at the RAR-RAR-RAR!” that issues forth and the baby on the bus certainly isn’t happy …

On gets a panther at the next stop, a panther that insists on prowling, ‘PROWL–PROWL-PROWL, …’

By the time a SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-ing crocodile and a trio of H-O-W-O-O-O-O-L-ing wolves have also boarded and are adding to the din, the driver decides he’s had enough and makes a hasty exit,

leaving the passengers – humans (screaming) and animals (jaws gaping wide) to face each other out.

And that’s where we’ll leave them at the ready, perhaps to exit,

with readers and listeners eagerly anticipating a rousing finale …

Assuredly, with Jeff Harter’s hilarious illustrations, Gareth’s is a version to add to early years collections; it’s one that would be enormous fun to act out in a foundation stage setting.

All Aboard the Words Train
All Aboard the Sounds Train

illustrated by Sean Sims
Oxford Children’s Books

No ticket necessary to climb aboard the latest excursions into Oxford Children’s fun World of Learning.
Whichever train you decide to board, you’re sure to enjoy the ride and the destination.

With six lively children plus playful dog, the Words Train is heading for the seaside. Once there, appropriately hatted and sun creamed, the gang will start exploring. First behind rocks and in the cave, after which they’ll pause for play and ice-creams, followed by a swim in the chilly water, a spot of sailing on the sea, a dive under the water, perhaps even visiting a wrecked pirate ship. All this and more before night falls and it’s time to go home.

While most spreads focus on nouns, the focus of others is either verbs or adjectives: Sean Sims’ vibrant illustrations provide just the right amount of details in each one.

The Sounds Train journeys through the seasons and concentrates on environmental sounds be they created by animals, the elements, the children or the occasional machine.

Great for introducing or reinforcing sound/symbol associations.

Llama on a Mission / Waiting for Murder

Llama on a Mission
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan
Farshore

This is the second story featuring ten-year old Yasmin and her magical toy llama guardian Levi, and it’s every bit as daftly funny as the first.

Having found her voice with Levi’s help and a new friend, Ezra, she’s ready for year 6.

With her sights set on joining the art club, Yasmin is more than a tad perturbed when her teacher Miss Zainab informs her that she’s been selected to join the science team The Funsen Burners and participate in an inter-school competition. Just when what she really wants is to spend time getting Levi restored to his normal toy state. That, and get on with the new comic, LOUDMOUTH, she’s trying to create for another competition.

The very last thing she wants is for Levi to be sent all the way back to Peru but the way he starts behaving while engaged on his mission under the watchful eye of Mama Llama could result in just that. Then what? Yasmin just can’t let it happen. With Ezra’s assistance, perhaps there’s something that can be done; meanwhile she needs to learn the difference between talking and communicating.

Is it a case of mission accomplished? The only way too find out is to get hold of a copy of this tale of high drama and a whole lot of trouble. Allen Fatimaharan has done a terrific job with the illustrations, adding to the fun of the book.

For older readers is:

Waiting for Murder
Fleur Hitchcock
Nosy Crow

Daniel and his archaeologist mum are spending the summer in the country and a sweltering one it is. While his mum is engaged on her dig, (searching for the grave of Edith the Fair, King Harold’s wife) Dan too is observing and he also makes a discovery – a car with what looks like a body in the reservoir.

Next morning however, the body is no longer there, but Dan notices new scratches on the car. Seemingly, something strange is going on, something that needs investigating. Moreover somebody in the village is absolutely determined to stop Dan and his new friend, Florence from discovering the truth.

The climax of this terrific story more or less coincides with the weather finally breaking and pretty soon torrents of muddy water threaten to sweep everyone and everything away.

With an abundance of thrills and some surprises, this is a totally gripping, nail-biting, page-turner with a surprise finale. Crime drama for youngsters doesn’t come much better than this.