A Journey Through Greek Myths

A Journey Through Greek Myths
Marchella Ward, illustrated by Sander Berg
Flying Eye Books

Classics expert Marchella Ward, courtesy of Little Owl and her grandpa owl, takes readers on an exciting journey through Ancient Greece and the Greek myths from the beginnings of the Universe in Greek mythology, right through to the tale of Daedulus and Icarus, via the Labours of Heracles in her spellbinding sequence of stories awesomely illustrated by Sander Berg.

Perched atop the Parthenon in Athens, Little Owl listens to her Grandfather Night owl as he begins to regale her with stories of the ancient Greek world, stories that had so he says ‘taught the owls all of their wisdom’, the first being of events before Athens even existed and of whence came gods that first the Greeks and then, all humankind came to know.

The stories are divided into several parts: Athens, (where we hear of The Birth of Zeus and the incredible Birth of Athena), Mount Pellon, Mount Parnassus, where the owls encounter Pegasus, and we’re told the tale of his friendship with Bellerophon;

the city of Thebes, Across the sea, The city of Argos,

the Underworld (approaching which the two owls meet a third, White Owl that tells his favourite story Demeter and Persephone;

and finally, the ‘Land of the Living’, each of which acts as a stopping point on the journey we take with the two owls during a cool, dark night.

Be regaled by tales well known and less so, of gods and goddesses, and heroes as you tour the Mediterranean, learning too about the places where each story takes place and why it is important.

As well as the manner in which the myths unfold, I love the family tree at the start, the map of the stopping points and the end papers.

This book would make a smashing present for an older child (there’s a note before the title page that ‘some content may not be suitable for younger readers).

Mason Mooney Paranormal Investigator

Mason Mooney Paranormal Investigator
Seaerra Miller
Flying Eye Books

Aspiring paranormal investigator, Mason Mooney resident of the terrifying town of Grimbrook is determined to discover the cause of legendary freaky phenomena affecting the neighbourhood.

It all begins when he receives a letter from Iris a recent purchaser of Tanglewood Mansion telling of strange goings on in the old house and the threat of a curse written on her sister’s mirror.

Off he sets with his investigator’s gear on the allegedly fateful morning of 1st October; but his first impression of Iris is far from favourable and her big sister seems thoroughly unpleasant.

Luckily Mason is well prepared but things quickly ramp up a notch with the appearance of a new message.

Mason decides to hold a séance and is soon confronted by …

Then who should turn up but Mason’s worst nightmare, the cocky Trent Reilly and his Paranormal Society whose team Mason had failed to become part of.

The fact that Mason carries his heart around in a jar,

three cursed spirits to contend with and that deadline to beat, who will prove to have the real talent? Perhaps Iris herself with a single selfless action might just be able to break the heinous curse and save her sister?

But what of that involving Mason’s heart? A loophole maybe? But that’s for another time, for where one story closes, another one opens …

This graphic novel with its underlying theme of sibling jealousy, the combination of weird characters, lurid art, and an accursed setting, make for a decidedly spooky read,

All Sorts

All Sorts
Pippa Goodheart and Emily Rand
Flying Eye Books

Frankie, like many small children in nurseries and early years classrooms, loves the playful mathematical activity of sorting, separating her belongings by various different criteria such as colour, shape and size.

She does a similar thing making sets of flowers and trees,

vehicles and animals too.

Then she tries humans; that starts fairly easily and with a degree of clarity but then things get more tricky.

Thereafter things get even more problematic as she wonders “How am I going to sort myself?”

Eventually Frankie finds herself sitting in the middle of several intersecting sets as she draws a conclusion about her uniqueness …

– an exciting understanding that leads to a glorious musical rendition …

followed by a let’s mix-up together celebratory dance.

After which everything resumed its wonderfully mixed up, muddled-up normality – sorted at last!

I love how Pippa, with her straightforward narrative and Emily with her exuberant, beautifully patterned scenes of things unsorted and sorted, have created a warm-hearted, joyful acclamation of how individual uniqueness leads to a glorious mixture where differences are not only accepted but also celebrated.

Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch
Matt Ralphs and Núria Tamarit
Flying Eye Books

If you only ever think of witches in relation to Halloween, folktales, Macbeth’s ‘weird sisters’ or perhaps the ducking stools used to supposedly identity those who practised witchcraft in the 16th and 17 centuries, then Matt Ralphs and illustrator Núria Tamarit will most definitely enlarge your witchy horizons considerably.

It will most definitely do so where children are concerned.
Right from its alluring cover you’ll be held in its power, but make no mistake, author Matt has definitely done his homework when concocting this splendid brew of fact and fiction.

We start way, way back in 3100-500 BCE with Ancient Mesopotamian Magic as practised by the ‘ašipu’ as the scholars and doctors (male only) were called.

They tried to cure illness by fighting the evil magic they believed was the cause by a mixture of medicine, spells and prayers (to their god, Ea).

There’s also a look at the magic of Ancient Egypt, that of Ancient Greece, Slavic magic, Norse magic, the magic of the Middle Ages, of South Africa from prehistoric times until now, and Japanese magic.

Magical accoutrements of various kinds from wands

to potion ingredients, grimoires (spell books to you and me), charms and more are covered.

There is information about real people who used magic – the Russian monk Rasputin, Mother Shipton the seer from Yorkshire,

Marie Laveau, a healer and fortune teller from New Orleans and Gerald Gardner who developed Wicca in England are each given a double spread.

You can also find out about the Salem trials and the Witchfinder General and, read a brief version of the folktale about Baba Yaga who lived in a house that stood on chicken legs and supposedly ate children (cooked naturally).

All in all this is a veritable treasure trove of witchy enchantment, beautifully presented as one expects from Flying Eye, and you’ve plenty of time to get hold of a copy before Halloween.

Shy Ones

Shy Ones
Simona Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books

We first officially meet flapjack octopus Maurice, the story’s main character, on the front endpapers. Said creature is extremely shy, hiding behind his mum, under his desk at school and among the seaweed fronds in the playground. ‘Unless you were looking for him, you wouldn’t know he’s missing,’ says the narrator.

‘Right about now, you’re probably thinking “What a bore!” But I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions’ we read but then we see the little cephalopod on his way to Deep Blue Dance Hall where, surrounded by a host of glowing creatures and looking as though he’s blissfully happy, he performs a solo dance.

Then comes an invitation to a party, which Maurice somewhat reluctantly turns up to with a handy disguise; then the omniscient narrator steps in again with some revealing comments …

and a friendship is forged. Finally on the back endpapers we discover the narrator’s identity is Lucy the Box Fish another reclusive marine creature.

Observant readers/listeners may just have noticed that said fish has been lurking in the background in several of the early spreads and those who haven’t can enjoy looking back and discovering her whereabouts in Simona Ciraolo’s wryly humorous sub aquatic scenes full of charming, jewel bright sea creatures.

A gentle delight to share with many little humans – introverted or extroverted – or perhaps, just one little shy one.

Freedom, We Sing

Freedom, We Sing
Amyra León and Molly Mendoza
Flying Eye Books

Here’s an enormously powerful and empowering picture book that will surely motivate children to think deeply about freedom and what it means to be free.

The author is an activist whose work focuses on Black liberation and communal healing – ‘the art of listening and honest conversation are the primary tools for lasting change’ says her biographical paragraph inside the book’s cover.
(To that end, I can’t help but recall the wonderful recent channel 4 programmes The School That Tried to End Racism.)

As well as hope, the author’s story, which takes the form of a dynamic conversation between a mother and her small child as they talk about life and the world around them, is an embodiment of determination, wonder …

and mindfulness.

The two look at family photos, reflecting on the love between those close to us making the world seem small and safe; then move outwards to encompass others living under the same sky whose lives might appear different on the surface, some of whose lives are difficult, perhaps due to war or oppression; but nonetheless whose hearts beat like their own and whose parents will do their upmost to keep their children safe from harm.

The child cogitates on the very nature of freedom

before the mother states “Breath is freedom/ A sweet release / The right to be / A universal sign / Of life and peace”.

Both reflecting and radiating the feelings and emotions of the text, so stunning are Molly Mendoza’s richly coloured illustrations that they really take your breath away.

With all that’s been happening in the world recently it’s more important than ever to start sharing, pondering upon and talking about books such as this one with young children. Where better to start than here? …

Child of Galaxies

Child of Galaxies
Blake Nuto and Charlotte Ager
Flying Eye Books

Here’s a beautifully illustrated, rhyming book that encourages young children to explore some of the BIG questions of life. Why are we here? What is my place in the universe?

What is love? What does friendship mean? Where do I turn when things are going badly?

What are the most important things in the world?

It should help foster an attitude of being open to life’s adventures; to enjoy being in the moment,

to face the future boldly with a positive attitude; and to know that every experience offers a learning opportunity even though at the time it may not seem so. Resilience is key when times are tough and you feel overwhelmed.

As a classroom teacher, I always considered philosophy for children to be an important aspect of my work. This book offers a wealth of ideas for discussion with EYFS and KS1 children either in school or at home.

Charlotte Ager’s striking illustrations really do draw out the gamut of emotions in Blake Nuto’s poetic narrative while simultaneously helping to give a sense of universality to the whole thing.

My copy arrived at a time when most of us are struggling to remain positive; it felt as though the book had been created with foresight of what was to come.

Ancient Games

Ancient Games: A History of Sports and Gaming
Iris Volant and Avalon Nuovo
Flying Eye Books

Here’s an interesting book that was probably intended to act as a prelude to the Tokyo Olympics due to open in July.

Most of us were eagerly anticipating this summer’s Olympic Games but I doubt if so many are aware that competitive sport goes way back as far as 3000 BCE or even earlier in Sumer (now Southern Iraq) when towns held boxing and wrestling competitions. The evidence for this is found on ancient Sumerian clay vases and tablets …

Ancient sports in other parts of the world too were largely linked to warrior skills for instance moving to Ancient Egypt (3100 – 30 BCE) boxing and wrestling, along with archery and spear throwing and weightlifting, were practised; so too were swimming races and rowing contests.

Special places for spectator sports go back more than 3500 years. Aztecs played a ball game in stone courtyards specially built for the purpose; it was a deadly serious game as the losing side may have been beheaded. Horrendous thought!

Moving forward in time to Ancient Greece 776BCE. This was the year in which the first known Olympic Games took place at Olympia. Interestingly the very first Olympic winner on record was Koroibos, a cook who won a running race called the ‘stadion’ and from that comes the word ‘stadium’. A spread devoted to these Olympics includes information on the duration, events, the consequences of cheating, if discovered and the rewards for winning an event.

Another spread features the legendary Milo of Croton a young wrestling super star.

This is just a taste of what’s in this fascinating book that also includes information on the Ancient Roman Games, the Asian Games, the European Games from Medieval times on, Viking Games and how the Modern Olympics evolved from 1896 to now.

A spread showcases some truly inspiring Olympic Champions who overcame enormous odds and achieved the seemingly impossible.

The book concludes with a timeline showing significant dates.

Avalon Nuovo’s powerful images of the athletes, warriors and participants rendered in a colour palette predominated by shades of ochre, and from a variety of perspectives, serve to take us as spectators into the ancient world of games and follow its unfolding history as described in Iris Volant’s narrative.

One Day On Our Blue Planet … In the Outback

One Day on Our Blue Planet … In the Outback
Ella Bailey
Flying Eye Books

Wow! I was absolutely astonished at the wealth of creatures large and small that have their homes on the great Australian outback, the location of Ella Bailey’s latest visit in her One Day on Our Blue Planet series.

Readers are invited to spend twenty four hours viewing the diurnal and nocturnal activities of, in particular, one of the little red kangaroos.

These animals seem to be on the go from sunrise till well into the night and like other marsupials, the does have a particular role in caring for and protecting their offspring in the dusty desert terrain especially when little ones become a tad too adventurous.

As we follow these fascinating animals, learning something of their habits, through the day and across the spreads to the billabong for a much needed drink, they encounter a huge variety of birds, reptiles and mammals.

(The endpapers show and name all the animals depicted as the gentle narrative unfolds).

Like previous titles, with its engaging illustrations and chatty narrative style, this is a super way to introduce youngsters to a location most of them are unlikely to visit for real; it will surely engender that feeling of awe and respect for the wildlife that inhabits the vast, remote interior part of Australia.

Mrs Bibi’s Elephant

Mrs Bibi’s Elephant
Reza Dalvand
Flying Eye Books

Mrs Bibi has a rather unusual and very large pet, an elephant.

The town’s children have enormous fun creating a pachyderm playground every morning in the street

but the rest of the townsfolk are anything but enthusiastic about the enormous creature Mrs Bibi takes for a daily walk.

Too big, too noisy and a traffic hazard is their opinion; the woman’s time would be better spent on sensible activities such as reading the paper, checking the stock market and keeping up to date with economics.

Mrs Bibi however would rather have afternoon tea and cakes with her pet elephant, tell him tales to ensure he has pleasant dreams and laugh about the past.

Then comes an edict from the town judge: the elephant is to be taken to the zoo the following morning.

What can Mrs Bibi do?

Having followed her usual bedtime routine with her beloved pet, sadly for readers and indeed for the townsfolk, Mrs B. disappears next morning determined to stop the terrible event.
Only then do the close-minded, materialistic, townsfolk gradually come to understand what really matters in life …

Reza Dalvand’s gentle fable is verification of the importance of companionship and love. His illustrations are an absolute delight. With elaborate patterns adorning clothing, furnishings, and townscapes, every spread offers a wealth of detail to feast the eyes on. Artwork done with love for a tale of love and a tale to love.

Orchestra

Orchestra
Avalon Nuovo and David Doran
Flying Eye Books

Here’s a concise, engaging introduction to western music for young readers.

It’s divided into three parts, the first – The Orchestra – being the longest, and the parts are subdivided into double page sections.

The Orchestra looks at the arrangement of an orchestra, exploring its different sections (strings, woodwind, brass, percussion, guests – those instruments not always there such as the harp), and also looks at how representative instruments from each category work and how their sound is created. For instance of the clarinet representing the woodwind section, ‘When the player blows into the instrument it is the reed’s vibration against the mouthpiece that makes the sound.’

When we reach the percussion section we see how the author develops an idea when she says, ‘You may have started to see a pattern in how instruments work. Some use air, some are plucked or bowed, but all of them are doing the same thing to make sound: vibrating. With percussion, vibrations come from the force of a player striking the instrument.’

Part two Music and its Makers discusses music and composers. There’s a spread on reading music and one on musical composition after which the focus turns to individual composers with a look at Hildegard of Bingen, Vivaldi and the Four Seasons,

Amy Beach, Gustav Holst and The Planets, Duke Ellington, and six others – Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Ethel Smyth, William Grant Still and Michel Legrand are included in a Hall of Fame that spans the second half of the 18th century to the present.

The third part takes us Beyond the Concert Hall to look at the mythology of music, opera, there’s a look at music as the basis for dancing, in particular ballet (Orchestra and Dance) and then come pages talking about the differences between composing for musical theatre and cinema.

Orchestra and technology examines how digital technology has changed both the way music is performed and how it is written.

Encouraging young readers to learn music is the object of the last spread and the book concludes with a glossary and index.

David Doran’s stylised illustrations gracing every spread, reinforce the idea that music is cool, inclusive and fun: I love his colour palette.

Great for home or school use.

The Sleepy Pebble and other stories

The Sleepy Pebble and other stories
Doctor Alice Gregory, Christy Kirkpatrick and Eleanor Hardiman
Flying Eye Books

Alice Gregory, sleep researcher and writer Christy Kirkpatrick have collaborated on this book of stories to share at bedtime.

Adults, parents in particular, know how hard it can be to get little ones off to sleep and this collection of calming tales, together with the activities suggested, is specially designed to help children wind down and relax, allowing them to drift off into the land of nod.

There are five stories, each one soothing and an ideal length for bedtime. They feature in turn the sleepy pebble; a willow tree that wants to stay up late;

a giraffe that enjoys a long bath to relax her at night, a kind and careful snail and finally, a pig that loves to cook.

The same muscle relaxation routine is used during each one except that the child is asked to imagine holding and squeezing in the first, Pebble, in the second some soil, in the third big heavy clouds, in the fourth the listener becomes the snail curling into its shell and soft warm dough is the final item to squeeze.

The guided visualisation intended to engage all the senses uses imagery appropriate to each story and the mindfulness – the focus on body awareness – is repeated for concluding every story session.

Eleanor Hardiman’s exquisitely detailed illustrations executed in calming colours (different hues for each story) add to the book’s dreamy quality.
Also included are an explanatory introduction, tips for ‘relaxing bedtime and better sleep’ plus ten questions and answers.

Wearing my yoga teacher’s hat I fully endorse the techniques included in this beautifully produced storybook. It should prove invaluable to parents who struggle with getting their children to nod off and to sleep through so they wake next morning restored and full of energy.

The Immortal Jellyfish

The Immortal Jellyfish
Sang Miao
Flying Eye Books

‘A boy and his grandpa sat drawing one afternoon.’ So begins Sang Miao’s first book as both author and illustrator in which at the start we see the two together as they share a conversation about a special kind of jellyfish and immortality.

Not long after, the boy learns that his beloved grandfather has died and that night he feels lost.

In a dream his grandfather returns and takes him along on his very last journey, beneath the ocean to a yellow door.

Beyond the door is his destination, The Life Transfer City.

This dream world is a place where those who have died choose a spirit creature to become that will live on in memory. There, after meeting some of the other choosers, boy and old man must part company.

Miao’s dream world is alive with spirit animals and strange-looking fungi illustrated in an arresting colour palette giving a surreal feel to the whole place, a place wherein the end of life offers a new beginning as something or someone altogether different.

Whether or not reincarnation fits into your worldview, with its themes of death and rebirth, this is a powerful, uplifting story, told with the utmost sensitivity that should be of great help to grieving children and their families.

The Secret Lives of Unicorns

The Secret Lives of Unicorns
Dr Temisa Seraphini and Sophie Robin
Flying Eye Books

Most people consider those much loved unicorns, that are all the rage just now, are imaginary; Dr Temisa Seraphini, author of this book and ‘leading expert’ so she says, on unicornology, would like to persuade readers to think otherwise.

She divides her fanciful presentation into three parts: the first being “What is a Unicorn?; the second provides examples of unicorns from various parts of the world and the third looks at the relationship between humans and unicorns. Her over-arching aim in all this is to encourage those magical creatures of yore back into our technological world of today.

In her introduction to the first part we read that unicorns are herbivorous but unlike their horse cousins, have magical properties; the author places them in the order Artiodactyla that includes, giraffes and goats among other even-toed ungulate creatures, assigning them to a separate family: Unicornus.

Then on the first spread we’re shown the six different species of the legendary creatures on a evolutionary timeline.

This is followed by a page detailing which parts of the unicorn’s anatomy have magical properties: Did you know that unicorn tears can apparently heal the sick and that the drinking of unicorn blood provides unimaginable strength. Hmmm!

The Horn is the next topic and there are supposedly three varieties – ridged, smooth and pearlescent; the latter so loved by some recent picture book creators; and if you believe it, in 1858 someone unearthed a skull that had once borne a unicorn’s horn. Uh-huh!

The second section takes us to six different habitats (with accompanying atlas), from the regions around Mount Everest

to the sandy African dunes and the moorlands of northern Europe. We learn  how different adaptations to climate have occurred over time  There’s an introduction to the winged variety and flight.

The final part talks of legendary unicorns; those who found their way into the annals of history or became subjects of artistic representation, as well as introducing some other unicornologists, giving guidance on tracking and communicating with the creatures.

Tongue in cheek though all this may be, it’s fun and rather enchanting. So too are Sophie Robin’s detailed illustrations that will definitely make readers smile as they peruse the pages and get lost in the spellbinding silliness.

A Mouse Called Julian

A Mouse Called Julian
Joe Todd-Stanton
Flying Eye Books

This is the tale of a rather reclusive rodent, one Julian, a mouse who invests a considerable amount of his time dodging other tunnelling animals, avoiding the farmer and her dog, and evading the clutches of the barn owl. So much so that he’s completely unaware of the watchful beady eyes of a fox.

One particular night said fox – a particularly cunning creature – creeps up to Julian’s cosy residence and smashes through the window.

Fortunately for the little mouse however, he’s unable to reach his intended prey and gets himself well and truly stuck.

The wily devil then has the audacity to ask for Julian’s assistance in extricating himself, claiming to be just popping in for a friendly social visit.

Now Julian has no desire to be stuck with this vulpine visitor so he does his best to free the beast; but no amount of pulling and pushing makes any difference, so come dinner time, Julian decides to share his meal and some nocturnal conversation with the intruder. During this time both parties realise things of significance.

The following morning Julian succeeds in releasing the fox who disappears off into the woods once more.

Things go back to normal for Julian until on his ramblings he finds himself confronted by one of his arch enemies.

Its eyes aren’t the only pair watching our furry friend though; who should come creeping along but a certain fox and can you believe,  he swallows Julian right in front of the owl.

Is that the end for the little mouse?

Not quite for there’s a surprising twist in the tale of this cracking story, which is best summed up in the words of the fox himself – ‘Wow we ware weven.”

I’ll leave you to work that one out and to relish Joe’s delicious finale when you bag yourself a copy of this enormously satisfying saga. Full of suspense, it’s a veritable visual and verbal feast.

Fanatical About Frogs

Fanatical About Frogs
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

For this fifth book in the series Owen Davey has chosen to focus on our amphibian friends the frogs.

Frogs in all their glory (and here Owen includes toads) can be found on all continents except Antarctica. Thus far about 7000 species have been discovered but that number is not static especially since many are very small and well camouflaged. All this and more we learn on the first spread.

On the second spread, (Warts and All) focusing on the northern leopard frog, the author discusses the particular abilities and features of Anurans – their eyes and eyelids, the tympanum, legs, feet (sometimes with sticky pads) and where appropriate, their warty bumps.

Other topics each given a spread concern the skin; feeding;

colours, pattern camouflage and other means of self-protection; ectothermic regulation (the means by which frogs regulate their temperature).

Communication,

metamorphosis; a focus on the Red-eyed tree frog, some of the ‘weird and wonderful’ varieties each occupy a spread. Next there’s a look at size – the biggest and smallest species – and a gallery showing the actual shape and size of 19 different frogs, each one having its own unique beauty.

Then, as in all Owen’s titles in this series comes ‘And the award goes to …’ show-casing the most transparent frog, the loudest, the best impersonator, the creepiest, the best jumper and the most dangerous frog. Hmm, I wouldn’t like to encounter that golden poison arrow frog; it exudes a lethal poison 20 times more deadly than any other frog.

Also characteristic of the books, along with the playful topic and paragraph headings, is a spread of associated mythology that gives paragraphs on four folklore frogs. The vital topic of conservation is the final focus and there’s a concluding index.

Informative, fascinating, absorbing and as always, stupendously well illustrated and enormously enjoyable, is this excellent non-fiction book for home or school.

Monty and the Poodles

Monty and the Poodles
Katie Harnett
Flying Eye Books

Whether or not you’re a dog lover, you’ll find it hard not to be enchanted by Monty and Ginger, stars of Katie Harnett’s new picture book.

Monty is a stray living on the north side of town, Ginger a pampered poodle residing at Poodle Mansions on the opposite side.

One day the two meet in an art gallery, and thus begins an unlikely friendship.

When Monty sees Ginger’s home he really wants to live there too.

Ginger likes the idea but there’s a problem in the form of Miss Lillabet. This battle-axe enforces a strict ‘Poodles Only’ policy at the Mansions.

Ginger enlists her fellow poodles in operation transformation,

but will their crafty canine ruse have the desired effect?

Poodle Mansions certainly does gain a new resident …

but perhaps a rule governed life, albeit a peachy one, isn’t for everyone, or rather, every dog.

Is there maybe another way for the two friends to be together …

Told in a direct manner, celebrating difference and inclusiveness are at the heart of Katie Harnett’s humorous story.

Rich in pattern and with a flattened perspective, her playful pictures, which range from full double spread to vignette, give a cinematic feel to the book.

Katie has created another winner with this one.

Pip and the Bamboo Path

Pip and the Bamboo Path
Jesse Hodgson
Flying Eye Books

Thanks to deforestation, poaching, an illegal pet trade and accidental trapping the red panda population is critically endangered.

It’s on account of deforestation that little red panda Pip and her mother have to leave their Himalayan forest home and go in search of a new nesting place.

“Find the bamboo path on the other side of the mountain. It connects all the forests together and will lead you to safety.” So says an eagle, and the two pandas set off on a trek through the mountains in search of the path.

Their long, perilous journey takes them high into the cold shadowy mountain regions

and across a rocky ravine until eventually they reach the edge of a brightly lit city.

It’s a chaotic place but is it somewhere they can make a nest? And what of that bamboo path: do the fireflies know something about that? …

The spare telling of Jesse Hodgson’s story of endangered animals serves to highlight their plight and her illustrations are superb.

From the early scene of sinister silhouettes of the tools of destruction,

shadows and inky darkness powerfully amplify Jesse’s portrayal of Pip and her mother’s journey in search of safety.

Hello, Mister Cold

Hello, Mister Cold
Carles Porta
Flying Eye Books

The opening paragraph from The second in the Tales from the Hidden Valley sequence repeats that used in the first book before plunging readers into deepest winter. This one however starts not in the winter-engulfed valley but in a distant town.
Enter one Maximillan Cold, ‘child of the richest, most ambitious, coldest family in town.’ To his family’s shock horror, the lad wants to be a musician and so the family disowns the boy trumpeter who joins a band.
Its leader however doesn’t appreciate his TINC-BLIN-TUT improvisations and so fires him instantly.

Maxi boards a train but is soon ejected by some travelling musicians and thereafter lost, he finds shelter in a cave, the floor of which gives way sending him cascading down between precious stones and fossils.
The chilly world in which he finds himself is that inhabited by Yula, just off for her music practice with Sara, and the other assorted characters we met in The Artists.

It’s the tiny, onion-headed ballerina who finds Maximillan lying flat out in the snow. Concerned at his inappropriate garb she opens his suitcase and dresses him in swathes of clothes, making him look like a ‘giant’ Thing.

This Thing accidentally alarms the hurrying Sara, causing her to start and fall down in a faint.

Concerned, Maxi resolves to find a safe place to take her and thus allows himself to be led to a dead tree wherein he deposits her and wraps her up warmly. Meanwhile, a watching raven, alarmed by seeing the little wolf carried away, flies off to inform Sara, thereby starting a rumour that Yula has been kidnapped by a monster.

Sara and her friends then devise a decidedly crazy plan with the intention of hounding out monster Maxi.

After another monster encounter – not Maxi but a totally weird giant worm thing that he himself comes upon, some magical music, the unpacking of Maxi’s suitcase, a realisation on the trumpeter’s part and a further musical rendition,

all ends happily and readers are left to draw the satisfying conclusion that a new friend has been added to the residents of Hidden Valley just in time for the arrival of spring …

Delectably droll narrative drives the plot, which, together with Portas’s quirky portrayal of the fanciful friends in a wonderful mix of scenes large and small, makes for another enormously engaging Hidden Valley flight of fancy. Roll on Book 3.

These stories surely have the makings of a wonderful children’s TV series.

The Artists (Tales from the Hidden Valley book 1)

The Artists
Carles Porta
Flying Eye Books

This is the first of the Tales from the Hidden Valley series.

Summer is on its way out in the secret hidden valley and changes are afoot as the leaves take on their autumnal hues. As the birds start flying south to warmer climes, Sara with her drum stands atop the mountain watching and wondering. “What if all the leaves are flying to the same place?” she asks herself as they twirl and whirl from the trees.

Meanwhile, deep in the very deepest part of the forest Ticky prepares to leave his nest. He’s anticipating the arrival of his tardy best friend Yula who should be coming to bid him farewell.

She however is yet to leave home; she’s still engrossed in painting a farewell message for Ticky and has lost track of time. Suddenly though, her reverie is interrupted by a large gust of wind. “Careful of the giant wave!’ her two strange-looking grandmothers warn as the wind whisks her painting from her.

Yula chases after it to where is lands in a dark, damp, deserted part of the forest. The painting is now a soggy mess.

Eventually Ticky sadly decides he must leave without a farewell.

Back in the cave, a strange ballerina-like being rescues Yula’s painting adorning it with brightly coloured spatters.

But is it too late; or will she eventually be able to give Ticky his present?

The answer is: Ticky has left in the company of a little bird, called Yellow; Sara, still chasing those leaves sees them in flight; Ticky, concerned about Yula, has second thoughts and returns to check her home where he exchanges words with those grandmothers of hers. He then comes upon Sara who wants to help in the Yula hunt, which is eventually successful: the entire cast of characters minus those grans end up in a jumbled heap buried in an enormous pile of leaves, and happiness and friendship reign.

Wonderfully whimsical both visually and verbally; Carlos Porta’s telling twists and turns rather, so a second read is probably necessary to ensure all the fragments of her upbeat storyline fall into place. It’s sheer delight nonetheless.

Me and My Fear

Me and My Fear
Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books

Following on from her Amnesty Honour book The Journey, Francesca Sanna has created another beautiful, very topical companion picture book, Me and My Fear, with an integration theme. Herein she explores fear from the viewpoint of a little girl, a recent arrival from another part of the world.

Fear takes on a persona that accompanies the girl narrator all the time, everywhere she goes, whatever she does. It has stayed beside her, keeping her safe from harm.

Since she’s arrived in this new country though, Fear has just kept on getting bigger and bigger. So big that it prevents her from going out to explore her new neighbourhood.

Hating her new school, Fear also makes the narrator dread going at all and then find fault with things once she’s there. It isolates her; it, as much as the language difference, is a barrier to understanding.

Observant readers will notice that all the time the girl wrestles with her fear at school, there’s a little boy watching.

Once back home it’s all consuming; its dreams so loud they prevent the narrator sleeping.

Her loneliness increases: in short, Fear overwhelms and engulfs her completely.

Then one day in class, something happens to initiate a change.

In addition the narrator discovers that she isn’t the only person with a secret fear: her new companion is also afflicted.

Thereafter, both children’s fears start to shrink and in tandem, the girl and boy’s reassuring awareness that pretty well everyone is fearful about something …
Friendship grows and with it a sense of belonging.

Digitally painted illustrations in blue, pink and ochre hues soften the feelings of the characters without dampening its powerful impact; the curvaceousness of Fear makes it all the more enveloping in this memorable tale that shows how friendship, connectedness and empathy can overcome even the most overwhelming negative emotions.

Having spent almost all my teaching career working in and with schools in the London Borough of Hounslow where many asylum seekers and refugees arrive in the schools, often traumatised and overwhelmed with all things other, and watching how well they seemed to become a part of the community, this book is a stark reminder of what they must have been going through (and many still are) when they arrived from such war-torn places as Somalia, The Sudan, Afghanisthan, Sierra Leone, Iran, Bosnia, and now, Syria.
It needs to be in every primary school in the country and every other setting that has dealings with children of families who have experienced displacement trauma.

Professor Astro Cat’s Space Rockets

Professor Astro Cat’s Space Rockets
Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
Flying Eye Books

With Brian Cox-like charisma, Walliman and Newman’s Professor Astro Cat blasts off on a new adventure, launching us into space courtesy of the prof. It’s he that describes first, in easily comprehendible terms for young readers, the workings of rockets.

Next comes a brief (and selective) ‘History of Space Travel’ that begins in 1947 with fruit flies, and is followed by Laika (her reportedly ‘painless’ death in orbit is not mentioned), monkey Albert and then in 1961, Yuri Gagarin, the first human space traveller who managed to orbit the earth.

The huge Appollo 11 features thereafter with the famous first moon landing of two of the crew’s three astronauts in 1969.

Readers also hear of ‘Modern Space Shuttles’: Columbia, Discovery (that carried the Hubble Space telescope), Challenger that was especially memorable for carrying Sally Ride the first American woman, in space and the first African American, Guion Bluford.

Looking to the future, the final spreads are devoted to NASA’s work in progress, Orion and the Space Launch System; the possibilities of space tourism for ordinary mortals, a brief mention of star travel and on the last page, a short glossary.

In all this, the Prof. is accompanied in Ben Newman’s characteristically stylish retro looking illustrations, by his two pals, the similarly clad feline and sidekick mouse.

Sufficiently powerful to send the youngest of primary children rocketing on their way towards becoming ardent space enthusiasts, and into potential science careers I suspect.

The Dog that Ate the World

The Dog that Ate the World
Sandra Dieckmann
Flying Eye Books

Down in the valley the various animals live alongside each other peaceably, birds with birds, bears fishing with bears and fox playing his fiddle to other foxes.

Then, one fateful day across the pastures comes an unwanted canine intruder, large and greedy. He helps himself to whatever he wants in the way of food and drink, growing ever larger.
In an attempt to assuage the hunger of the beastly dog, the fox with his fiddle approaches him and plays a song.

He’s rewarded for his efforts by being consumed by the dog, but despite this the fox continues playing his song from within.

It’s heard without by a trio of brave bunnies that resolve to rescue the fox,

but they too end up inside the dog.

Peace-makers attempt to talk, trick and tire the beast, all to no avail; the dog swallows the lot.
Trapped within, the animals light a fire, talk and work, until eventually as life continues to flourish, so too does hope.

Nonetheless the gluttonous and now prodigious, dog continues stuffing himself until finally, down too, goes the sun and the entire sky. The beast has eaten his entire world.

And what of the other animals? Let’s just say that brightness surrounds them. In their world, there’s no place for such an animal as that voracious dog and all is peace, harmony and togetherness.

The forest animals in Sandra Dieckmann’s second picture book demonstrate so well to us humans, the importance of friendship and community when disaster strikes. Her striking colour palette, mixed-media, richly detailed scenes of flora and fauna, and slightly mystical landscapes draw one in and hold you while you ponder both composition and meaning.

Surely an allegory of our times and one that is open to many interpretations. However one sees that all consuming metaphorical dog, be it as consumerism, capitalism, or evil itself, this book is sure to engender discussion no matter the age of the audience.

Skyward: The Story of female Pilots in WW11

Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WW11
Sally Deng
Flying Eye Books

Here’s a beautifully produced, exciting book, based on real events, telling of three young women, Hazel, Marlene and Lilya, who pursue their dreams to become pilots and, countering gender stereotypes, go on to fly for their countries – the USA, England and Russia, in the Second World War.

First though they had to overcome, not only family ridicule but that of their governments and the armed forces.

“You’re taking all the jobs from our men!” Hazel was told by prejudiced people in powerful positions.

Even once they’d graduated it wasn’t all thrills; there were spills too …

and enormous risks.

But the three and the other female pilots did their utmost with little recognition and paltry pay, and in so doing paved the way for generations of young women.

Sally Deng, whose debut book this is, has, like her subjects herein, set the bar high for herself. Her carefully considered, inspiring telling coupled with her charismatic art style make for a powerful read.

A ‘must include’ for any World War Two topic in schools and a book I’d hope will be shared and celebrated, along with its subjects, by all who want to fly the flag for women’s achievements and for following your dreams.

Bonkers About Beetles

Bonkers About Beetles
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

After focussing on monkeys, sharks and cats, Owen Davey turns his attention to beetles, a particularly successful insect group.

I knew that that were a great many different beetle species, some very tiny, others around the size of a human hand, but I had no idea that already 400,000 different kinds have been found, nor that beetles account for a quarter of all the animal species in the world being found on every continent other that Antarctica. Awesome!

There are basically four different ways of life; there are predators, herbivores, omnivores and decomposers each of which Davey explains giving examples of each of these kinds.

Clearly beetles come in many different shapes and sizes, although as we see here, all have a similar basic design.

As always in this series, Owen Davey’s playful sense of humour comes across in his choice of titles for some of the spreads as well as paragraph headings; for instance ‘Love You and Leaf You’ heads up some information about leaf-rolling weevils that construct special rounded homes for their eggs, taking around two hours to do the job.
And, dung beetles shaping dung balls to enclose their eggs, (one per egg) is under the heading ‘Let the Good Times Roll’.

What tickled my quirky nature particularly was discovering there’s a beetle that practises yoga: the head-stander beetle lives in the southern African Namib desert where the lack of water means it’s often difficult to find a drink. In the early morning, head-stander beetles climb to the top of the dunes when there’s a fog laden with moisture. They put their heads down and lift their rear ends to the sky so water collects on their backs and runs down into their mouths:
amazingly clever creatures.

I was also especially taken with the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ spread showcasing the likes of the giraffe weevil, the violin beetle and the harlequin beetle.

I’ve loved all Davey’s brilliantly illustrated books in the series but this one has to be my favourite.
What next I wonder?

A Very Late Story

A Very Late Story
Mariana Coppo
Flying Eye Books

Imagine opening a book and discovering that the first spread is virtually blank, save for a single sentence. So it is in Mariana Coppo’s new picture book of which showing rather than telling is the essence.

Five creatures show up on the second spread and when one decides they’ve landed in a book, four are content to wait for the story to arrive.

Not so the little pink rabbit.

Having had its “Can we play?” suggestion turned down by the others who are willing to be patient and chat among themselves, the rabbit makes its way to the verso page of the book.
There, using the colour pencils from its backpack and a bit of imagination, the little pink animal populates the page with a tree, birds and much more besides.

The tree grows and with it and further colour pencil additions from rabbit, life on the verso becomes ever more exciting, spilling across the gutter

and attracting the attention of the passive quartet of story waiters.

Before long they are drawn into the action so that when the postman arrives with the mail, the story he delivers to them is surplus to requirements.

Cleverly conceived and SO brilliantly executed, this is a real joy of a book.

Out, Out, Away From Here

Out, Out, Away From Here
Rachel Woodworth and Sang Miao
Flying Eye Books

An exploration of emotions comes first hand from the red haired girl narrator of this picture book.

Sometimes she feels mad, sometimes she’s sad; on some days, ‘smiling-ear-to-ear GLAD’; on others ‘MAD SAD SMILING-EAR-TO-EAR GLAD.’ There are good and bad days, quiet ones and noisy ones. But on those ‘MAD SAD NOISY days’ she seeks solace in a place far off in the wild of her imagination.

That’s a place to watch the swishing, swooshing, rustling roaring trees with their whispery leaves, waving branches and grumbling trunks until both watched and watcher break into smiles and everything begins to change.

Finally it’s time to return, calm once more, to the everyday world of domestic reality.

Sang Miao’s superb illustrations show what is not said: there’s a baby sibling in the home that clearly puts the parents under strain at times. Here she uses dark silhouettes and dull hues …

in stark contrast to her richly coloured scenes of the narrator’s imaginary world, which are lush and fantastical with surreal images.

A fabulous book to start a primary classroom discussion on negative emotions – how they can affect us, and how we might respond to them.

Distinctly Different Chapter Books – Fabio: The Case of the Missing Hippo & Akissi: Tales of Mischief

Fabio: The Case of the Missing Hippo
Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Resident of a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee lives Fabio the world’s greatest flamingo detective: slender, pink and extremely clever.

When Fabio and his associate Gilbert the giraffe stop at the Hotel Royale for a cool glass of pink lemonade,

he allows himself to be persuaded to head judge the hotel’s talent competition, a competition intended to boost its business.

Disaster strikes however when Julia, the jazz-singing hippo and most promising of the contestants, takes to the stage and as she does so, the lights go out and Julia goes missing.

The police are called but it’s time for Fabio to put that thinking cap of his back on, hone his questioning skills and set about solving the mystery and one or two more that crop up along the way.

Delicious comic humour that will delight young readers and listeners, day-glo greens and pinks to dazzle in Emily Fox’s delicious illustrations and a layout that’s just right for newly confident readers, this comedy cum mystery looks – just like Julia – set fair to captivate its audience.

Akissi: Tales of Mischief
Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin
Flying Eye Books

This bumper graphic novel style edition contains 21 episodes featuring Akissi, a little girl who lives in a town on the Ivory Coast. This spirited miss is supremely self- confident and frequently finds herself getting into trouble for misdemeanours often involving her brother Fofana or her friends.

Her far from exemplary behaviour finds her engaging in such activities as ‘borrowing’ a neighbour’s baby for a game of “mums”; adopting as a pet a mouse that causes all manner of problems; barging her way into the boys’ football games and generally getting into fights and scraps.

During the course of all these mischievous scenarios and more, readers learn not only about the main protagonist, but also about her family and her life – in one story she gets tapeworm; another describes her being responsible for her nan getting knocked out by a falling coconut; there’s also a ‘head-lice’ episode and toilet humour too.

And if your stomach is feeling up to it, there are a couple of bonus recipes courtesy of Akissi, as well as instructions for hair braiding African style.

A comic book hero who could surely give Dennis the Menace a run for his money – memorable and for many I suspect, irresistible.

I’ve signed the charter  

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey
Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
Flying Eye Books

It’s time to join Professor Astro Cat and his crew on another amazing journey, no not a blast into the depths of outer space, rather a dive into a much more confined space, our very own bodies. Pretty awesome machines they are too; and one body in particular, that of test subject Dr Dominic Walliman. We join him and of course, Professor Astro Cat and his pals in a close up look at human biology.

First off they remind us of the seven characteristics of living things and we discover why we’re not robots!

Thereafter comes a look at our cellular structure, our skeleton, our muscles – did you know we have more than 640 intricately arranged skeletal muscles. Further investigations require the gang to become microscopic to check out our skin, our sensory organs; (our teeth as well as our tongue are inspected within the mouth).

Of course, without our brains we’d be pretty much unable to function, so next we take a look at that complex supercomputer-like mass– its composition, its functioning and how it operates in conjunction with the nervous system.

Other vital organs we learn about are the lungs, blood – not an organ but vital nonetheless, the heart, and those dealing with digestion and excretion.

There’s a page each on the lymphatic system,

the endocrine system and the immune system, all of which are crucial for a fully functioning body.

Reproduction, human development and genetics have a double spread each and since it’s vital to keep healthy, the Prof provides info. on that topic too, as well as touching upon medicine and what to do if we’re poorly.

The concluding topics are ‘Impairments’, which shows how incredibly adaptable both our bodies and minds are, and we even get a glimpse into how future technologies might change humankind – wow!

All this is presented in a splendidly visual format similar to Walliman and Newman’s previous Astro Cat science offerings. It’s packed with information, enormous fun and with a final index, this is altogether a terrific book on a topic that fascinates almost every child I’ve ever come across.

Under the Canopy

Under the Canopy
Iris Volant and Cynthia Alonso
Flying Eye Books

Often called the lungs of the world, as the largest plants on our planet, trees are vitally important to us all. Essential for life, they are the longest living species on earth and so link past, present and future.
Many of them are also incredibly beautiful whether covered in new leaves or stripped bare of all foliage.

Herein, fact and fiction are woven together in a celebration of trees of various kinds from all over the world.

We learn how, according to the Greek myth, Athena, the goddess of wisdom’s gift of an olive tree was chosen by the people over Poseidon’s salt spring and Athens was named in her honour.

Another tree featured in the book that has an associated legend is the Willow.
In order to boost sales of the blue and white willow pattern chinaware once popular in England a number of stories were invented based on that pattern.

One such tells of young forbidden love and of the ultimate transformation of the ill-fated lovers into doves.

From tropical regions including Africa and Australia is the acacia. The famous whistling acacias of Zimbabwe were so called because their long pointed thorns make a whistling sound when the wind blows.
A popular food of giraffes, these trees, in response to grazing, pump their leaves with organic chemicals which force the animals to stop feeding and in addition the tree under attack can communicate to other nearby acacias to do likewise.

Legend has it that the English mathematician and phycisist, Isaac Newton conceived his theory of gravity when he saw an apple falling while thinking about the forces of nature.

Elegantly produced, this diverting collection, which features over twenty tree species is one to dip into, to enjoy and savour Cynthia Alonso’s stylish artwork with its textures, patterns and standout splashes of luminous green.

Horses: Wild & Tame / Home Sweet Home

Horses: Wild & Tame
Iris Volant and Jarom Vogel
Flying Eye Books

My experience of and with horses is decidedly limited, or so I’ve always thought. Certainly my only riding experience was when  aged about twelve, I had gone to find my best friend who lived round the corner in a suburban road like mine. She wasn’t in but suddenly appeared round the corner on horseback. She dismounted and insisted I took her place. Now, never having ridden before I was reluctant but let her persuade me with ‘It’ll be fine, he only goes slowly.’ Next thing I knew the creature had taken off and was, so it felt, bolting up the road while I slid ungracefully down its back and off into the road, landing on my rear.
Having read the Horse Character page in this book however, I can look back and consider the character of that creature: was it a cold blood, a hot blood or a warmblood?

From Volant’s description it certainly wasn’t the first, and was most likely the last ‘strong and agile … perfect for riding’, despite thinking the best fit was ‘hotbloods … bold, spirited character’.
Flicking randomly through, I came across other spreads that particularly resonated. There’s one featuring Black Beauty, Anna Sewell’s classic novel; a book I loved as a voracious child reader. That story, as we’re reminded here, ‘encouraged people to be kinder towards horses, leading to many new laws in England and America’ concerned with the protection of horses.
However, it was the Royal Steed spread that came as an exciting surprise. It tells how in 1576 during the Battle of Haldighati, Rajput warriors made false trunks for their horses to wear, thus confusing the elephants ridden by their Mughal enemies so that they wouldn’t attack what looked to them like baby elephants. We also hear how Chetak, the badly injured horse belonging to the Rajput ruler carried his master to safety.

I’ve visited Haldighati on more than one occasion on trips to India and during my annual holidays in Udaipur am frequently reminded of the creature by an imposing statue of that particular horse in the centre of a roundabout in Udaipur city, aptly named Chetak Circle.
Author, Iris Volant, goes way back further than that though, right to horse evolution. Indeed there’s probably something for everyone in this fascinating book that has artistic references, literary ones, horses in legend, war horses, work horses, horses in sport and more. How fortunate that its illustrator, Jarom Vogel, decided to become an artist rather than pursuing his studies as a dentist; he’s certainly done these beasts proud.

Home Sweet Home
Mia Cassany and Paula Blumen
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Both author and illustrator of this book come from one of my favourite cities, Barcelona. We’re given a look at different homes from around the world from the viewpoint of the pets, mostly dogs and cats, with the occasional bird and even a tortoise, that live in them.
Readers can discover what it’s like to live in say, a waterside house in a Netherlands village;

a tiny apartment in Hong Kong, China; a cabin with a roof of grass in Iceland or a townhouse by the Thames in London.

Cleverly conceived with the animal narrators, in addition to what we’re told in the text, there’s a great deal of visual information about each of the homes and lifestyles packed into every one of the locations we visit. Every one is made to look exciting:

where would you choose to live?
A stylish and fascinating addition to a primary classroom library or topic box.

Marcy and the Riddle of the Sphinx

Marcy and the Riddle of the Sphinx
Joe Todd-Stanton
Flying Eye Books

Yay! A new addition to the Brownstone’s Mythical Collection series is certainly something to cheer about.
Herein the Prof. recounts the gripping tale of how young Marcy decides to try and prove herself a real adventurer by following her father, Arthur, to Egypt on his quest to find an ancient book trapped in the belly of the Sphinx.
It’s a journey that will surely test not only her fear of the dark, but much else besides.
Marcy’s first Egyptian encounter is Thoth who demands she bring him Ra’s magical moon eye in return for her father’s release.
Acting quickly …

she manages to haul herself aboard Ra’s sun boat and soon finds herself face to face with the great god himself and pouring out her story to him.
To reward her honesty Ra, offers his help in her rescue efforts and before they part, gives her his left eye to guide her through the darkness.
Still though, she has to solve the Sphinx’s riddle, gain entry to the tomb and attempt to complete her quest.

It’s going to test more than just her fear of the dark; and it’s as well she doesn’t suffer from ophidiophobia .

Even with her father safely outside once more, there’s still Thoth waiting for what he’s asked Marcy to bring him. …
The young girl really does prove herself a worthy daughter to Arthur, star of the Golden Rope adventure, demonstrating that by drawing on our inner reserves, we can achieve the seemingly impossible.
Gripping, fast-paced and illustrated with pizzazz, this is likely to win more fans for the series as well as pleasing existing ones.
Love the gentle humour and detail in this …

Halloween is Coming: Hugo Makes a Change / Pretty

Hugo Makes a Change
Scott Emmons and Mauro Gatti
Flying Eye Books

Hugo the vampire is a total carnivore: tucking into juicy meat, be it burgers, hot dogs, steak or lamb, is his idea of satisfaction and he doesn’t stop until he’s stuffed himself to bursting.
Then one night he starts to feel bloated, sluggish and downright grumpy. Time for a change of diet he decides and wings it away in search of something new to tempt his taste buds.
Landing in a vegetable garden, Hugo examines the crops and is totally unimpressed with wrinkly leaves, lumpy blobs and bumpy skins. But then he comes upon something red dangling from a tree and feeling those hunger pangs starting up, he sinks his fangs right into the object. Ahhh! the delight; the tang.

Before you can say ‘vegetables’, he’s munching away on crunchy carrots, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers; wisely though he passes on the garlic.
Back home he makes a decision: meat is fine in moderation but a healthy mix of veggies, fruit and nuts is much more satisfying.

Before long he starts to notice the changes in himself: it’s a stronger, happier Hugo who takes his regular evening flight and just cannot resist leaving his mark whenever he stops for a quick bite.

Emmons’ rhyming narrative and Gattis’ bold, engaging illustrations (look out for Hugo’s feline companion therein) make for an entertaining story. If like me you’re a confirmed veggie, you might find yourself heaving somewhat at the opening scenes of Hugo gorging himself on mounds of meaty morsels.
A fun read, and a clever way to demonstrate, without a hint of preachiness, the benefits of a balanced diet: the ideal fare for adults wanting to get across the notion of healthy eating to young children.

Pretty
Canizales
Templar Publishing

Is it better to have ‘a crooked back, a lumpy nose, a big pointy chin and wiry hair’ or have ‘a nice straight back, a neat little nose, a very dainty chin and sleek wavy hair’? That is the dilemma facing the witch when she’s invited for a picnic by the troll.
She starts out duly attired in her best black outfit as her normal self warts and all, but after encounters with Squirrel,

Rabbit, Fox and Mouse, she is persuaded to alter her appearance, with a few deft flicks of her wand, to their perceptions of prettiness.
So effective is her transformation that her date fails to recognise her …

and stomps off in disgust.
The following day the witch invites the troll to a picnic of her own making.
Troll deems the food delicious and it certainly is, in more ways than one, especially if you like your revenge served cold.

A tasty mix of humour, magic, whimsicality and revenge, sprinklings of cumulative narrative and a darkly toothsome final twist, all served up with flat, stylised illustrations in a subdued earthy colour palette: the perfect Halloween offering.

Mr Tweed and the Band in Need / The Case of the Stinky Stench

Mr Tweed and the Band in Need
Jim Stoten
Flying Eye Books
Prepare for a musical magical mystery tour.
The dapper dog with the super tall top hat returns to carry out further public-spirited acts. Now it’s the members of a band – the very one Mr T. has come to the zoo to hear perform – that have, so their leader Wollo walrus informs him, dispersed around the gardens.
The two begin their search with Pinky Jackson, the guitar playing flamingo; not an easy task on account to the large number of the species; but that of course is where readers come in. Once he’s been located, Pinky …

is more than willing to join the hunt and has an idea where trumpet player, toucan Jimmy Toots might be.

He in turn suggests a possible location for sax. player Mary Lou Lemur; so off they go to the Lost Forest. And so it goes on until Otis O’Rangutan trombonist, iguana, Cool Jules drummer and only reptile (he’s pretty tricky to spot), banjo strummer Jellyfish Jack and four other musicians have been found – just in time for the show. The location of the final missing performer happens conveniently, to be in the busy gift shop, which is also the space wherein the stage is set for the concert.
There the entire ensemble comes together to entertain the crowd and thereafter to bid Mr Tweed a rousing farewell.
There’s an interesting mix of human and animal visitors to the zoo, some scenes of which are presented in a kaleidoscope of psychedelic colours absolutely bursting with activity, while others, such as the arctic pool, are rather more restful on the eye, although equally intricate. Every one though, is absolutely brimming over with talk potential and storytelling material.

The Case of the Stinky Stench
Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney
Sterling
Hold your noses; something malodorous is emanating from a certain fridge, but worry not; Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have been called back while holidaying on Marshmallow Coast at the request of Inspector Croissant, Sir French Toast’s nephew. They’re on the case right away searching for what it is that’s causing shelves of food to turn bad and pong alarmingly.
Following clues, the three of them set about searching the fridge’s inner landscape: across Salsa Ravine, around smoggy Mount Everbean and through Applesauce River, but still all they discover are false alarms and red herrings. Will they ever get to the bottom of the mysterious stench: perhaps Casserole Cliff might yield the answer …

and if so, how will Inspector Croissant deal with the culprit?

Replete with a culinary vocabulary and served up in a saucy rhyming text and deliciously funny foody scenes, this tale of stinky sleuthing is satisfyingly silly, not least in its final resolution. There’s even a foldout map of the whole search at the end to feast your eyes on.

I’ve signed the charter  

Leaf

Leaf
Sandra Dieckmann
Flying Eye Books
Sandra Dieckmann’s love of the natural world shines right out at you from the arresting cover of her debut picture book.
It opens with a ‘strange white creature’ on an ice floe drifting shoreward upon dark and brooding waters, watched by a large black crow. Once ashore, the polar bear makes its home in a deserted hillside cave: an outsider watched and distrusted by the forest animals. It forages for leaves, watchful, wary; and the residents bestow upon it the name Leaf on account of its strange behaviour, but equally because they want rid of him. They all talk about Leaf but none dares talk to him.

And so it goes on until one day leaf- clad, the bear charges through the forest astonishing all that see, and launches himself, from the hillside and plunges into the lake below.
While the soaking creature hides once more in his cave, the other animals meet to discuss what to do. Conflicting opinions emerge, (only the crows speak for him) with the result that they do nothing.
Leaf meanwhile renews his determination to take flight, this time from a cliff …

and once he’s safely back on shore, the crows – intelligent beings that they are – finally allow him to speak. And speak he does – to them all – about melting ice and his desire to return to his family.
As conveyors of mood and movement, Sandra Dieckmann’s illustrations are impressive.

Executed in black, white, greys, blues and teals with occasional stand out splashes of red, orange, rust, yellow and the greens of the patterned leaves and flowering plants, the landscape portrayed is at once beautiful and at times, hostile.
It’s said in folklore that crows are harbingers of change: I’d like to think that those in Leaf’s story might act as symbols of a positive change in the way outsiders are viewed by too many of us. With themes that include global warming, outsiders, prejudice, loneliness and reaching out to others, this poignantly beautiful book is both topical and timely.

I’ve signed the charter  

Crazy About Cats

Crazy About Cats
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books
Owen Davey can make any subject a delight; even cats to this ailurophobic reviewer – actually though my phobia only applies to the domestic or the feral kind.
Following on from his magnificent Mad About Monkeys and superb Smart About Sharks, Davey delivers a third ace.
His fifteen spreads are again, cleverly named and playfully subtitled; so after the introductory, ‘What Are Cats?’ with its ‘Nom Nom’ consideration of diet, and ‘Hard Cat to Follow’ lines concerning locations, readers are asked to “Paws for Thought’ and focus for a while on felid evolution.

We then move on to food and the catching thereof, which looks at adaptations or what the author terms ‘super powers’ using as an example, the Asiatic golden cat.
Wildcat coat patterns and camouflage is the next topic; (the latter crops up again in ‘Making a Meal of Things’) and here Davey’s central band of patterned beasts is particularly striking in its effect.

Trees and other plants play an important role for some cat creatures such as the nocturnal Margays that lurk among their foliage, using their ‘super-powered eyes’ when hunting …

and leaping through the treetops and sprinting head first down tree trunks.
Territory, shape and size, mythology and weird features or characteristics are some of the other topics explored and the final index pages look at the lineage of eight cat families.
Another class act from Owen Davey and Flying Eye Books; awesome art, amazing design, and wonderful word wizardry; but then one has come to expect nothing less.

I’ve signed the charter  

Just Like Me! & A Handful of Playful Board Books

Just Like Me!
Joshua Seigal and Amélie Falière
Flying Eye Books
A joyful spin off from the favourite nursery game ‘Everybody Do This’ populated by adorably playful animals, a hairy, sluggy-looking quadruped, and one small girl, that simply cries out to be joined in with. There are instructions to ‘suck your thumbs’; ‘rub your tums’; ‘lick your lips’;

‘shake your hips’, ‘spin around’; ‘touch the ground’

and ‘stretch up high’.
I’m pretty sure your ‘littles’ still have plenty of oomph left to enjoy flapping their arms and trying to fly, tapping their toes, nose picking – not much energy required for that but the instruction will be greeted with relish; and then comes a final leap before snuggling down for a little nap zzzz …
If this book doesn’t fill your nursery group with exhilaration, then nothing will.
Perfect for letting off steam; but equally so for beginning readers.

Peek-a-Boo What?
Elliot Kreloff
Sterling Children’s Books
This title from the ‘Begin Smart’ series is just right for a game of peek-a-boo with a baby. Its rhyming text, bold, bright collage style, patterned artwork and die-cut peep holes, introduce in a playful manner some animals, a chain of rhyming words – boo, two, blue, shoe, moo, zoo and who’. Irresistible delight; and there’s even a ‘Dear Parents’ introduction explaining the rationale behind the game/book’s design.

What Do You Wear?
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books
Taro Gomi takes a playful look at the outermost layer of various animals including penguin’s classic suit, snake’s snug stocking – striped in this instance, and goldfish’s patterned ‘skirt’ …

Although perhaps the metaphors will go over the heads of toddlers, they will delight in the sheer silliness of animals supposedly wearing clothes; and sight of the small boy in his nuddies. Slightly older, beginning reader siblings can enjoy sharing the book with their younger brothers or sisters too and share in the whole joke.

Welcome to Pat-a-Cake Books, a new Hachette Children’s Group imprint focusing on the years from babyhood to preschool. Here are two of its first titles, both board books:

On the Move
illustrated by Mojca Dolinar
This is one of the ‘First Baby Days’ series and aims to stimulate a baby’s vision ‘with pull-tabs to help … focus’. With a carefully chosen, high contrast, colour palette, a sequence of animals – using different modes of transport – cars, a train, a space rocket, an air balloon, and a boat is illustrated. Every spread is beautifully patterned; the illustrations stand out clearly; there are transport sounds to encourage baby participation and of course, the sturdy pull-outs to enjoy.

Colours
illustrated by Villie Karabatzia
This title introduces the ‘Toddler’s World’ Talkative Toddler series with colour spreads for red, blue, orange, yellow, green, pink, brown, purple, grey, black and white; and then finally comes a multi-coloured fold-out spread with an invitation to name all the colours thereon. Each colour spread has at least nine labelled items and patterned side borders.
Each book is sturdily constructed to stand up to the enthusiastic handling it’s likely to get.

Bedtime with Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
This is one of a pair of enchanting, lift-the-flap board books from the amazing Sophy Henn. Herein the utterly adorable toddler fends off shouts of “Bedtime, Ted!” with a chain of wonderful deferral tactics: sploshing in the bath with flappy penguins; brushing “teeth with a snappy crocodile”; slurping milk with a big, stripy tiger; jumping “out the fidgets like a bouncy kangaroo”. Then it seems, young Ted is finally ready to bed down – along with a few snuggly pals of course.
Perfect bedtime sharing; make sure your toddler is already in bed first though …
Ted himself is a tiny tour-de-force.
The companion book is:
Playtime with Ted
Herein the little lad uses a cardboard box for all kinds of creative uses: racing car, digger, submarine, train; and space rocket bound for the moon – whoosh! And after all this imaginative play, he’ll make sure he’s back in time for his tea. Play is hard, appetite-stimulating work after all. Two must haves for your toddler’s collection.

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Big Hid

Big Hid
Roisin Swales
Flying Eye Books
Do you have days when you feel unaccountably sad? I know I do from time to time. It’s the same for one of the characters in this, Roisin Swales’ sweetly beautiful debut picture book.
Little and Big together are a terrific team so what is Little to do when Big doesn’t want to do any of the usual friends-together things?  It’s no to climbing trees,

chewing stuff, dressing up, and having races.
In fact all Big wants to do is hide away: Little is at a loss to know how to help.
Perhaps a slice of Big’s favourite cake might do the trick: Little duly bakes and delivers a large piece but Big stays firmly tucked in.

He consults his other friends but to no avail: Big remains hidden no matter what; and Little misses his pal SO much.

Suddenly out go his arms and around Big they go (as far as possible) into a great big hug and guess what …
So simple yet so utterly affecting: everybody needs a Little on hand to work some hugging magic at those hide-away times. If you’re not fortunate enough to have one such, then try giving someone in need a hug and see what happens.
The mostly warm earthy tones of Roisin Swales visuals are just perfect for this revivifying story; and those Testudinean eyes have just a touch of Klassen about them.
Perfect for sharing; and equally perfect for beginning readers: it knocks the rubbish they dish out in the name of teaching children in the early stages right out of the water.

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My Very Own Space

My Very Own Space
Pippa Goodhart and Rebecca Crane
Flying Eye Books
From the opening “SHUSH! I want to look at my book!” pronouncement from its adorable bunny narrator, Jack, I knew this was going to resonate with me. The little character has my sympathies surrounded as he is by sounds of sneezing, noisy play, instrumental practice and all manner of other noisy activities; who wouldn’t do exactly as he does …

Even then with space demarcated, there are intruders and a whole host of breathing-down-his-neckers. Totally infuriating and deserving of the desperate sounding “OI! ALL OF YOU! Go AWAY and play somewhere else! This is MY SPACE!” plea.

Later on though, objective achieved, young Jack starts to have thoughts about what he might be missing out on – cuddles and tasty treats for instance. Is it perhaps time to allow younger sister to cross that red line …

and even open the space to everybun once more. After all at the end of the day, there IS one place wherein he can be alone; in his very own snuggly bed – some of the time at least.

Most of the story is conveyed through Rebecca Crane’s delectable visuals: she, with minimal manipulation of line and facial features, eloquently captures little Jack’s emotions and thoughts; and her use of red  for the demarcation line, the space-rocket of his story and Jack’s polo-neck jumper, sends out clear warning signals to both his family and readers.
Little Jack is a character you just want to enfold in your arms and give him an enormous, snuggly cuddle; and this eloquent book is certainly one of my new favourites.

Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud

Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud
Katie Harnett
Flying Eye Books
There was once a raincloud.’ Nothing unusual about that: we frequently have plenty. This particular raincloud though has feelings, sad ones on account of being the only one remaining after the ‘horrible’ hot sun had chased off the others, leaving him all alone and without a pal to play with. Search as he might, the cloud’s friend-finding endeavours were fruitless. On the point of giving up however, the cloud notices a small person in the street beneath him – an extremely grumpy-looking lass, despite the sunshine.

Could she be the one he’s been looking for?
The cloud pursues the girl to the market, the underground and finally home; and all the while she remains grumpy VERY grumpy indeed. What could be the cause of all this ill-temper? The cloud ponders: is she lonely or just plain peevish?

After all, she has plenty to lift her mood.
Being a kind-hearted soul, the raincloud decides to ‘pay it forward’ in the very best way a raincloud can …
and guess what? A beautiful new friendship begins to form …

This entrancing follow-up to Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat caught me on a day when I, like Ivy, was feeling more than a little down. That raincloud had the same uplifting effect on me as it did on the girl character herein. Now that’s pretty amazing as rainclouds normally have the effect of dampening my spirits considerably … which all goes to show what a revivifying reaction a lovely picture book can bring about.

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Wild Animals of the South

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Wild Animals of the South
Dieter Braun
Flying Eye Books
This companion volume to Braun’s Wild Animals of the North takes readers to Africa, South America, Asia, Australia and finally, Antarctica: it’s equally stunningly beautifully illustrated and almost every page would make a wonderful poster. How does a reviewer choose just a few pictures to show; a pretty impossible choice in this case as every one is magnificent in its own way. I’m starting in Africa with these beauties …

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and I was surprised to discover that despite their necks being over two metres long, they have, like humans, only seven vertebrae. What a wonderful dusty, colour palette Braun has used here. Indeed each and every one of his poster-like images is strikingly composed of elegant, naturalistic detail and textural artistry.
Moving on to South America, this little Two-toed sloth is perfectly constructed …

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to allow rain water to run off it more easily.’ I was surprised once again here, to learn its fur hosts algal growth, which has a double use – as a food source and as camouflage.
Cubism is, I think, the influence for this magnificent Llama portrait–

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Indeed one can detect many artists styles herein. These incredible Indian peafowl (representing Asia)

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have a definite Art Deco look about them
From Australia we have among others, the Common spotted cuscus and the Echidna: I love the way the curved shaped backs are juxtaposed on this page, as well as the use of geometric shapes. …

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As with the ‘North’ volume, Braun allows his visuals of some of the animals to stand alone, such as this Kelp gull from Antarctica …

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the region from which unsurprisingly, fewest animals are portrayed.
This is a book to keep, to give, to share and to inspire.

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Cats, Dogs, Baby Animals and Their Parents

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The Cat Book
Silvia Borando
The Dog Book
Lorenzo Clerici
Walker Books
These two small pet manual Minibombo books, along with The Guinea Pig Book, now have a category all of their own ‘Paper Pets’. I’m no lover of furry creatures, especially cats and dogs, but I am an enthusiast where the Minibombo series is concerned and these two are full of interactive fun.
The former is all about keeping your cat ‘purrfectly’ happy from the moment he wakes up until he beds down for the night. That entails some flea squishing, behaving like a mini brolly when it rains, fluffing up – no not ruffling – and then smoothing, his fur; a spot of cheek squeezing bird releasing…

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followed by a gentle behind-the-ears scratching; then Shhh! Sleep time.
Canine care is pretty much taped in The Dog Book. All that entails is a little back scratching (while he performs his down dog asana),

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a spot of rebel rousing when he dozes off again, a belly rub, and  some rather intensive getting active training. Learning to respond appropriately to commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘fetch’ might well cause the odd challenge – to the trainer that is, but it’s all part and parcel of a dog’s day. Lorenzo Clerici adds his own brand of mischievous illustrative humour – including a blank page – to the series.

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Fly!
Xavier Deneux
Chronicle Books
This wonderfully playful, chunky board book is the latest addition to the Touch, Think Learn series. Two cute-looking birds meet, nest, mate and raise a family together. The fledglings eat, grow, and fly –eventually, to find their own tree…
Immersive fun with thick card removable pieces that can be taken from their places and moved to the recessed space on the opposite page to act out the narrative as an adult reads. (Or, a learner reader could enjoy its straightforward text as a solo experience). Either way, they’ll have lots of fun.

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Baby Goz
Steve Weatherill
Steve Weatherill Books
If you’re looking for an ideal picture book for a beginning reader, then look no further, Goz, with its playful patterned language, is your ‘gosling’ so to speak. It’s great to see the little character has re-incubated; he’s certainly lost none of his charm. I’d actually forgotten his wonderful ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there?’ entry into the world; that made me smile all over again, as it has the countless beginner readers I’ve taught since Goz burst onto the scene over 25 years ago, and set off around the countryside …

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in search of his mummy.

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Safe & Sound
Jean Roussen and Loris Lora
Flying Eye Books
Many baby animals, (many, but not all) … / whether very, very big or very, very small … / would not be safe all on their own and need some help unil they’re grown.’ So begins this classy picture book account from a father and mother’s perspective, as they tuck their child safely into bed for the night. They talk of the ways numerous animals  mothers especially, protect their offspring, whether it be in an underground burrow like the little chipmunks, a nest like the bluebird, snuggled at the side of a mother lion, close to a rhino, grizzly cubs huddled in a warm den,

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hiding inside their mother’s mouth as the crocodile hatchlings do, or …

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riding between fluffy wings …

Reassuring, informative and told through Jean Roussen’s gentle rhyming text and stylishly snugglesome retro illustrations from Loris Lora, this is a winner as a bedtime book or in an early years setting.

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day
Jim Stoten
Flying Eye Books
Mr Tweed is a dapper dog on his daily walk to town. En route he meets and comes to the aid of, all manner of members of his local community searching for various lost creatures or items. Little Colin Rocodile has lost his new kite.

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Turning the page reveals a park spread full of almost surreal scenery and all manner of animal characters depicted in purple, orange, green and blue hues.
Thus a pattern is established: one double spread presenting the problem followed by another with the scene to search for the lost items, a search readers will enthusiastically undertake in Stoten’s various whimsical locations.
Mrs Fluffycuddle has lost her 2 kittens, Mr McMeow’s 3 pet mice have escaped in – of all places – the library …

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After which there are 4 goldfish, 5 arrows – those shot by Big Bear Bob somewhere in the woods, 6 pineapples (a prickly matter) but of course Mr T. is quite up to finding those too; after all, they’ve just got to be in that busy market.
Oh my goodness, now what can be the matter with tearful Little Penny Paws?

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Oh no! The wind has whisked away the bunch of flowers she’s bought for her mum and 7 flowers are floating somewhere on the river …

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Young Billy Webber’s socks are also a victim of the wind so 8 of them need spotting, as do the 9 balloons belonging to Pingle located somewhere among the rides at the fair.
Job done, Mr T starts heading home. Then who should come running up but Pete Weasel and seemingly now the helpful dog himself has one more search to undertake – at the street party the grateful folk he’s assisted are throwing for him as a ‘thank you’; and there are 10 surprise presents all for him, to be located.
There’s a kind of ‘Where’s Wally?’ feel to this with an added counting element. Mr Tweed is an enthusiastic helper and of course his tasks are – ultimately, thanks to the reader – rewarding. Readers in turn are rewarded by the fun of the search and find aspects, as well as the sheer wackiness of the whole book.
Hours of visual exploration and further hours of potential talk herein, especially if groups of children together participate in the search.

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A Letter for Bear

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A Letter for Bear
David Lucas
Flying Eye Books
I make no apologies for reviewing this book again having first done so (as part of a seasonal roundup) when it was first published three years ago. That however didn’t really do justice to such a terrific book: I love it even more now, coming to it afresh.
Meet postman, Bear, meticulous in his delivery of other people’s mail but never himself the receiver of any letters. After each day’s work he’d retreat to his cave home, drink soup and ponder on the possibility of getting some mail of his own.

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One windy day while out on his round, his mailbag is whisked skywards and its contents are scattered all over the snowy ground.

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Bear collects every single letter but the addresses are smudged so he has to knock on all the doors to ensure correct delivery and thus gets to know the names of all the other animals. As expected every recipient appreciates his efforts but seeing all those families together only makes Bear feel more lonely than ever.

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Back in his cave that night, Bear decides he must take the initiative and gets busy writing Christmas party invitations and next morning he delivers ‘a whole snowstorm of letters’ to his new acquaintances. The same evening he decorates his cave and waits … and waits …
The disconsolate creature is on the point of giving up when he hears voices outside asking to come in. Then, after all, it’s a case of ‘let’s party’; but even better, the following morning all the letters in his sack are for a certain ursine postman. Hurray!

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An altogether uplifting seasonal story but for me, the book’s real strength lies in David Lucas’s intricately patterned illustrations. All but one of the double spreads has a geometric border of patterned triangles, rectangles, diamonds or scallops; and set into some of the scenes, we view Bear’s lonely world through circular peephole vignettes. His limited colour palette – – shades of blue, orange, purple, russet, pink and orange – and his use of geometric shapes for, or to pattern, trees, buildings, flowers and more, add to the impact. Add to all this angled viewpoints, interrupted borders, beautiful snowscapes and delectable endpapers, and what do you have? A small gem of a book, and a pattern-tastic treasure that is a masterpiece of design. The perfect present to tuck into the branches of a Christmas tree or to pop in the post.
If you work in a school and want to inspire some letter writing, sharing this story is a perfect starting point, and then you can set up a special “Bear Mail’ post box or perhaps let the writers peg their letters onto a Christmas tree.

The Land of Nod

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The Land of Nod
Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Hunter
Flying Eye Books
An altogether contemporary feel has been given to a classic Robert Louis Stevenson children’s poem through the fantastical artistry of illustrator Robert Hunter.
Herein we meet an injured boy who spends his days indoors at home with nothing but his toys for companions.

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Come night though, he’s transported beyond the confines of his room to a dream world, illuminated in eerie hues, predominantly of pinks and blues, where the familiar objects of the day – his toys, books and other ephemera from his bedroom- are transmogrified into the surreal.

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Every illustration provokes curiosity and speculation, and could lead to much additional storying

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from a new generation of young listeners whose parents will know the poem only by its words, or perhaps through Brian Wildsmith’s interpretation in A Child’s Garden of Verses.

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Boo!

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Boo!
Ben Newman
Flying Eye Books
No one is as brave as me and nothing scares me … you’ll see!” That’s the claim of the tiny stick-wielding character on the first spread of Ben Newman’s latest offering. (If you’re familiar with the awesome Professor Astro Cat books you’ll recognise him as their illustrator.)

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Turn the page and you’ll immediately see this is far from true …

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and then it’s a case of a series of claims to be the wearer of the ‘bravest’ mantle as an owl, a mischievous monkey, a toothsome, jaw -snapping croc, a leaping tiger …

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and finally, a stampeding elephant all BOO! the previous pretender clean off the page.
Abolutely no one is as brave as me and nothing scares me!” asserts the latter super-confidently. Make no mistake about it; he does NOT have the final word …
Such a satisfying circularity herein and part of the fun is in the anticipation of the next BOO and the hooting, giggling, growling, snorting opportunities presented as each animal introduces itself. Oh, and that ‘nothing scares me … you’ll see!’ is repeated by each claimant, making it ideal for beginning readers to join in with on subsequent sharings of which, I foresee, there will be many.
Stylish and oodles of fun!

Arthur and the Golden Rope

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Arthur and the Golden Rope
Joe Todd-Stanton
Flying Eye Books
From the trailing golden rope on the cover of this beautifully produced book (it is Flying Eye after all) you know you’re in for a treat. From the enormous beast snarling at you even before you start reading, you know there’s going to be much to excite. It’s a wondrous tale of myth and magic – the first of a series so I understand.
We begin in the family vault of one Professor Brownstone, who is a kind of custodian cum storyteller and indeed it’s he who acts as the narrator of the very first tale in his treasured collection, that of Arthur “the unlikeliest of heroes.”

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Arthur was an Icelandic boy independent, brave and always up for a challenge. Which is just as well, for having been accused of being a meddler and probably responsible for his town being terrorised by the monstrous black wolf Fenrir, the lad embarks on a dangerous quest to visit the hammer wielding Viking god Thor to enlist his help in saving the town from total freeze-up.
That’s only the beginning though. A deal is struck …

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and Thor dispatches Arthur on a challenging mission to secure two vital ingredients needed in the creation of the Golden Rope of the title, an object necessary to overcome Fenrir and rekindle the town’s fire.
Sumptuously illustrated, rich in detail and a fusion of graphic novel, picture book and comic, this is a true celebration of the power of story, the oral tradition and in particular myth to grip the reader and hold them spellbound. It’s so cleverly executed in the way it moves from wordless comic strip …

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to intricately detailed spread with Arthur teetering on ladders as he does his research, there’s even a spell emanating from an open book on the floor …

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It’s a book for pausing and losing oneself in the detail of the visual images and then letting the direct telling move us forward to what comes next.
For those readers wanting something sophisticated without too much text Arthur’s tale is pure gold. For those who enjoy a great story, ditto. Let’s just say, Joe Todd-Stanton and Flying Eye (yet again!) have struck gold with this one.

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Smart About Sharks

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Smart About Sharks
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books
If you want to be shark savvy, you need this for sure. If you love Owen Davey’s work, you need this for sure, so … what are you waiting for?
Here’s why this is a must have for natural history fans, particularly shark lovers; for anyone who is interested in top quality design, stupendously good detail or au courant artwork; this book embodies all of that and more.

Look at this amazing endpaper

What’s more it sparkles with wit – Davey must have had great fun concocting subtitles such as ‘ALL FINS CONSIDERED’, ‘’EAT, PREY, HUNT’, ‘A BITE TO EAT’, ‘HAMMER AND TAIL’ –

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to mention just a few.
During the course of his shark foray, Davey dives deep as he explores much and informs plenty. First off that sharks are cartilaginous fish, not boney ones: I seem to recall that from my zoological (dogfish dissection) learning EEEUUGH! We find out much more about their anatomy, their evolution, their diet …

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(have I seen that turtle elsewhere, perhaps in another book OD illustrated?), their social life – yes they do have one albeit no tweeting, or FBK-ing – and their reproduction as well as discovering some sharkish myths.

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There’s even an awards spread with rosettes for fastest through the water, best barker (mmm, a woofing shark), laziest – though why that deserves a rosette only Davey knows, and the pièce de résistance surely, is the epaulette shark that gets the award for developing ‘the astounding ability of walking out of water’. That clever so and so can also hold its breath for 60 times longer than one of us mere humans. Wow!

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Such amazing skills and what astonishing diversity among the superorder. There’s a very useful index at the back of the book setting out the various shark orders – eight detailed therein – with their Latin names: elasmobranchs all.
This is the way – or one certainly (deep sea diving would be another) – to make factual learning great fun, and to create a hunger for more. It’s enormously engaging both verbally and visually, with a level of sophistication that should ensure a wide interest range. What a way to get ‘SMART ABOUT SHARKS’. Do it, say I!

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Marcel

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Marcel
Eda Akaltun
Flying Eye Books
Meet Bulldog pup Marcel, a native New Yorker from downtown residing with ‘My Human’, his favourite person. Yes, the tale’s narrator is Marcel himself. He tells how he loves his daily walks on Hudson Street with said human …

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They call at Ruff and Sons for the best bagels in the city, stop off for a spot of pooch pampering at the spa …

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and drop in at the park to listen to some jazz. Downtown rocks, thinks Marcel. But uptown? That’s entirely another matter (although it is the location of the American Natural History Museum, which houses rather a lot of ‘scrumptious bones.’
However there appears to be something going on in Central Park of late: Marcel’s human has suddenly developed a particular penchant for jogging around there and, just by chance (of course), keeps running into the same male human. Hmmm?

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In fact Marcel’s whole life seems to be in utter turmoil, for this other human – a Frenchman – starts spending rather a lot of time at Marcel’s apartment, usurping his place on the couch if you please; change is NOT good in Marcel’s book.
Suddenly though, he begins to adapt and think that perhaps this different way of being is not so terrible after all. Could there possibly be room for another human in Marcel’s life …

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and even, peut être, new horizons …

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An unusual and interesting exploration of changing family relationships presented thus may well help young readers understand the confusion a seeming intruder into their close family world can cause. It’s certainly not that easy to accept and adjust to change for any of us, and children especially can feel vulnerable, so Eda Akaltun’s quirky style and light touch narrative are just the thing.
For the change averse, especially, Marcel is a winner. No make that, a winner for all.

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Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat

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Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat
Katie Harnett
Flying Eye Books
For an ailurophobic reviewer (the creatures make me wheezy and sneezy) to admit to being in love with a moggy means he must be something special; and Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius (I’ll henceforward call him ASOVCT), resident of Blossom Street, is surely that. The thing is this animal has a place in well nigh every residence on the street: belonging to everybody and nobody, he strolls from home to home, seemingly assuming a different guise for each friend he calls upon. Indeed this feline character has acquired a different name at each house: hence he’s Archie at breakfast time with Mr Green at number three …

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Snufflekins and more at number thirteen, Madame Betty’s residence …

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Moreover, he participates in a whole gamut of activities in one single busy day.

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However, there is one house ASOVCT never visits, in fact no one ever visits number eleven, residence of the lonely Mrs Murray. Her life is far from busy; she passes her time knitting, watching TV and warming her feet by the fire.
Then, one day our moggy decides to pay Mrs Murray a visit …

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and from that day on, everything begins to change on Blossom Street …

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Perfectly pitched and paced in its telling, inhabited by a host of wonderful characters, not least our enormously endearing hero ASOVCT; and warmly illustrated with gentle humour and touches of pathos, this is a book that will certainly resonate with children and adults – young or not so young. In addition to being a wonderful story, the book speaks volumes in this age of smartphones and social media about the importance of face-to-face human interactions, a sense of community and belonging.
Let’s hear it for Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius, his creator Katie Harnett, and for Flying Eye Books for yet another glorious picture book.

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