Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren

Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren
Ma. Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Linzie Hunter
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In the latest of this splendid biography series for youngsters Ma. Isabel Sánchez Vegara celebrates one of the world’s most favourite children’s authors, Astrid Lindgren, the creator of much loved character Pippi Longstocking.

Pippi Longstocking was the name given by Astrid’s daughter Karin who, when sick in bed asked her mother for a get-better story about a character whose name she had just thought up and those adventures are now children’s book classics that all readers should immerse themselves in.

Back now to Astrid: she had a happy childhood living on her parents’ farm in Vimmerby, Sweden and at a young age developed an insatiable appetite for books and reading, quickly working her way through the library’s entire collection.

She had a rather rebellious nature that became more evident as she began to grow up, getting her first job on a newspaper, and at age nineteen she became a single mother to her son, Lars.

Later she married and had another child, Karin. Always playful, Astrid frequently invented stories. As a 10th birthday present for Karin she put all the Pippi stories down on paper and before long the wise, wild character was famous the world over with Pippi being translated into over 100 languages and becoming a TV star too.

Astrid went on to create other popular characters including Lotta and Emil and was awarded two Hans Christian Andersen medals in recognition for her contribution to the book world.

There was even a planet – Planet 3204 – named in her honour by a Russian astronomer. Awesome! A legend indeed and now her stories live on inspiring new generations of young readers.

A time line and further information conclude this cracking book.

Linzie Hunter really captures the spirit of both Astrid and Pippi in her delightful, slightly wacky illustrations.

Just In Case You Want To Fly / Read to Your Toddler Every Day

Just In Case You Want To Fly
Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson
Walker Books

All parents and carers want to do their best to ensure that their little ones have what they need in any eventuality and so it is here in author Julie Fogliano and illustrator Christian Robinson’s second collaboration.

It begins ‘just in case you want to fly, here’s some wind / and here’s the sky’ going on in rhythmic rhyme to provide such uplifting words about potential needs as ‘here’s a cherry if you need a snack/ and if you get itchy / here’s a scratch on the back’

as readers and participants move through the day perhaps pausing and ‘just in case you want to sing / here’s a la la la’ and to pick up a book or two …

getting ever closer to bedtime,

while in the bedroom there awaits ‘a pillow, a song and a tissue’. Before that though come a warm bath and  a honey-sweetened drink.

Christian Robinson’s final collage and paint, bedtime tuck-in spread shows the young child safely snuggled beneath a cover patterned with most of the items mentioned in the text.

With its reassuring messages that no matter where you journey, or what you try to do, something or somebody will be there for you, this is a tale to share with youngsters at bedtime or any other time of the day,

Also just right for sharing with that same young audience is:

Read to Your Toddler Every Day
Lucy Brownridge and Chloe Giordano
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Following on from their nursery rhyme book Read to Your Baby Every Day, the same team have collaborated on a collection of twenty folk and fairy tales and fable retellings from around the world – from Scandinavia to Syria

and Cambodia to China to read to slightly older children.

Once again Chloe Giordano has created gorgeous hand-embroidered illustrations and there’s at least one for every story. You’ll find animals of all kinds, shapes and sizes including mice and elephants from India,

Anansi the spider and a turtle from the Caribbean, as well as humans such as the couple whose snow girl came to life in the Russian “Snowflake, the Snow Child’, and the Stonecutter named Haru from Japan.

Each of Lucy Brownridge’s retellings is just the right length for bedtime reading providing an enriching way to end the day with your little one (s).

The Story of Inventions / The Great Big Brain Book

Two new titles from Frances Lincoln each one part of an  excellent, established series:

The Story of Inventions
Catherine Barr & Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Have you ever wondered how some of the things we take for granted such as paper and books,

clocks and watches, computers, electricity, vaccinations, cars, planes, the current pollution-creating scourge – plastic, as well as the internet came about? If so then this book will supply the answers.

Written in a reader friendly, informative style that immediately engages but never overwhelms, the authors will fascinate and inspire youngsters. Add to that Amy Husband’s offbeat detailed illustrations that manage to be both accurate and amusing,

and the result is an introduction to inventions that may well motivate young readers to become the inventors of tomorrow.

Add to classroom collections and family bookshelves.

For all those incredible developments to happen, people needed to use their brains; now here’s a smashing look at how this wonderful organ of ours works:

The Great Big Brain Book
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There’s so much to like about this book, that is a great introduction to an amazing and incredibly complicated part of the body. How many youngsters will have thought about the notion that their brains are responsible for every single thing that they do, be it breathing, walking, chatting, eating, thinking, feeling, learning for instance. Moreover the brain enables us to feel happy, sad, powerful, and much more.

So how does this ‘control room’, this ‘miracle of organisation’ as Mary Hoffman describes the brain, actually function? She supplies the answer so clearly and so engagingly that young readers will be hooked in from the very first spread.

Each double spread looks at a different but related aspect such as the brain’s location and development;

another explains how the brain functions as a transmitter sending messages around the body by means of neurons. Readers can find out about how we’re able to move our muscles, do all sorts of tricky, fiddly things such as picking up tiny objects, a jigsaw piece for instance.

Lots of other topics are discussed including the two sides of the brain and what each is responsible for, as well that of neurodiversity. Some people’s brains develop differently, while others might have problems if something goes wrong with their brain.

Every spread has Ros Asquith’s smashing cartoon-style illustrations that unobtrusively celebrate diversity and make each one something to pore over.

A must have in my opinion.

Books to Give

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll illustrated by Minalima
Harper Design

Beautifully designed and arrestingly illustrated with interactive features is the award-winning design firm Mina Lima’s latest classic from Harper Design. It’s clear that Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima (best known for their visual graphics for the Harry Potter films), thoroughly enjoyed doing the visuals for this weird and wonderful world created by Lewis Carroll.

Some of their delights include Alice with extendable limbs for growing and shrinking; Tweedledum and Tweedledee have layers of interchangeable articles of attire – brilliant;

an unfolding chess board map to navigate one’s way through the world of the Looking Glass; the Cheshire Cat has a pull-tab so you can make it appear and disappear leaving only a grin.

Reading this story beloved from childhood in an interactive way, opens up new insights and every page turn brings fresh delight be it the tiny motifs surrounding the numbers, the ornate borders, the flamingo croquet club that swings to whack the hedgehog, or the richly patterned, deliciously quirky full page scenes – the portrayal of the card playing King and Queen of Hearts is out-of-this-world genius.

I could go on at length extolling its delights but let me just say, this is a book to treasure, to buy and to give; it deserves a place in everybody’s collection.

Seasons
Sam Usher
Templar Books

This super boxed set contains Sam Usher’s seasonal picture books Snow, Rain, Sun and Storm, all previously reviewed on this blog and now in a smaller format.

They portray the beautifully observed, very special relationship between a lively little boy and his Grandad (who likes to take his time), and the adventures they enjoy together

In each story Sam’s wonderful humorous ink and watercolour illustrations show the possibilities of the season to perfection.

What a cracking present this would make for any young child who doesn’t already own the full size editions of the tales.

The Story Orchestra: Swan Lake
illustrated by Jess Courtney-Tickle
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Here’s a short, look and listen retelling of a classic Tchaikovsky ballet, the listen element coming from the ten sound buttons – one per spread dropped into the scenes of the flock of swans as they fly past Siegfried; the lakeside at sunset where the four cygnets become dancers watched seemingly by deer, squirrels, birds, the trees even, and others. We see Odile dance with Prince Siegfried and dupe him into believing that she is Odette, the enchanted swan, watched we’re told by the wicked Rothbart who has placed the princess under a curse.

This version has a ‘happy ever after, on Earth’ ending.

At the back of the book, is a short biography of the composer, Tchaikovsky, with details about his composition of Swan Lake. Alongside you can replay the musical excerpts and read a discussion of each of the instruments, rhythms and musical techniques that make them so compellingly beautiful.
There’s also a glossary giving definitions of musical terms.

The Little Fir Tree

The Little Fir Tree
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Christopher Corr’s reworking of the Hans Christian Andersen classic story is a cautionary tale that ends rather differently from the original.

Christopher’s characteristic dazzling folk art style illustrations follow the little fir tree from its place deep in the forest where it stands feeling discontented with its lot, as other, bigger trees around are felled. Learning that they are to be used to build cabins and ships, the tree insists it too wants to “become a ship and sail on the sea.”

“Don’t wish your life away … Every moment is precious” is the sage advice from the birds that comment on its beauty, as do others – human and animals during the next couple of years.

But then comes the fir tree’s opportunity to have a sparkling adventure of its own. Having been cut down it’s taken into a grand house where children adorn its branches with festive decorations.

Its time of glory though is short-lived, although the fir tree does enjoy a sharing of The Snow Queen

before its branches are stripped of all its adornments by eager hands just before bedtime, leaving the tree eagerly anticipating their replacement the following day.

But it’s not to be, for next morning the tree is taken outside and put in the shed where it stays abandoned with nothing to do but reminisce about its life back in the forest – “It was the best place in the world … If only I’d known it then.”

Corr doesn’t leave the tree rueing its fate though, for come spring, the children drag it outside once more and there they give it a new persona; and thanks to its old friend Squirrel, there’s also an opportunity to create life anew.

Live in the moment and appreciate what you have is the gentle message that emerges from this fine book.

Greta and the Giants

Greta and the Giants
Zoë Tucker and Zoe Persico
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The impassioned 16 year old Swedish environment activist Greta Thunberg is often in the headlines and here we have an allegorical picture book tale of a forest-dwelling Greta and the troubled animals whose beautiful home environment is threatened by thoughtless greedy giants.

The importance of conscious interaction with both the land and the animals that make its various environments their home, comes across powerfully through both Zoê Tucker’s words and Zoe Persico’s spirited illustrations.

One can’t help but wish that the real world culprits were as responsive and had consciences that made them respond as positively as the giants who, in this heartfelt fable, change their ways for the better.

Yes, this inspiring story has a happy ending but as its creators acknowledge, the real Greta is still fighting the Giants (industry and governments).However there are things that everyone, no matter how young, can do to make a difference where climate change and the climate crisis is concerned; if we all work together ‘we can change the world’. That in itself makes the book a must for all families and classrooms where there are young children.

(Thanks to the publishers, 3% of the cover price of every copy of the book, which in the UK is printed on 100% recycled paper, will go to Greenpeace UK.)

Lights on Cotton Rock

Lights on Cotton Rock
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Totally out of this world, breathtakingly brilliant is this science fiction picture book by David Litchfield.

It begins with star-grazing Heather whose chosen place to contemplate the universe is Cotton Rock. Here she sits and with torch directed up, sets her sights towards the star spangled sky in the hope that someone in the inky black of space will see her light.

Believing that there are others somewhere in outer space she flashes her torch off on, off on … until lo and behold, it looks as though her wish has been answered for into the forest glade there appears …

Sadly the ensuing awesome encounter is over all too soon

and the spacecraft departs.

Is this to be a once in a lifetime experience?

Heather certainly hopes not for she goes back to Cotton Rock at intervals hoping that her alien friend will return and transport her far away.

As she grows older Heather’s visits to her rock become less and less frequent but she never loses that hope …Could it happen?

Or could it be that what we most yearn for isn’t in fact what will ultimately come to mean most to us; maybe what we are truly looking for is just so close we can’t see it …

With every book David creates, I think to myself, he just can’t better that, but then he goes and proves me wrong. I can think of very few illustrators whose use of dark and light comes anywhere near what is between the covers of this book, at every single turn of the page; it’s utter genius.

I keep on going back to it and gaining new insights but then that’s what happens with the very best picture books.

The Mole and the Hole

The Mole and the Hole
Brayden Kowalczuk
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

It’s kind of dark and boring being Mole if you’re stuck inside your dark hole, never seeing a fellow creature or the light of day.

Try as he might, our Mole narrator finds that however much he digs, there’s always something blocking his exit to the great outside.

“No moles above ground!” comes the cry from the rocks doing the blocking.

Mole muses on the problem: thus far his time spent above ground has always been devoted to playing with friends, basking in the sun and doing his business,

whereafter down he’d go again. A good neighbour most certainly – or is he?

No matter what clever ideas he comes up with – disguise, joke telling or downright lying – nothing succeeds in shifting the determination of those rocks to keep him down under..

Is he now destined to be forever sub terra, he wonders.

Suddenly though there is light at the end of the tunnel and Mole finds himself face to face with …

He beats a hasty retreat but not long after our friend is heard extolling the virtues of his new living place.

What about his new neighbours though: are they equally enthusiastic about their new neighbour? Um …

Disney character artist and now debut picture book author-illustrator Kowlaczuk’s digitally created scenes of Mole’s totally inappropriate, un-neighbourly behaviour and what his neighbours think of it, are depicted with a deliciously dry humour that will delight young listeners. Listeners who will enjoy the fact that no matter what, no matter where, Mole is always accompanied by his best friend and silent participant Grub..
At the same time, the story wherein showing not telling is key, wryly demonstrates the importance of being a good neighbour for all concerned.

A thought-provoking addition to the FL First Editions list.

Flock

Flock
Gemma Koomen
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is the latest in the Frances Lincoln First Editions series of debut picture books and introduces readers to thumb-sized people called the Treekeepers, and in particular one named Sylvia.

Sylvia is something of a loner and despite her role as a nurturer and mender, gatherer and tender, she is almost unnoticeable as she goes about searching for just the right twig or petal to take back to her special secret tree hollow to use in her play.

One spring day, a very windy one, Sylvia discovers a bird in her special hideaway and she decides to look after it. She names it Scruff and soon the creature has found its way into her affections.

She even wants to fly like Scruff and so mustering her courage, Sylvia holds on tightly as the two soar skywards on a journey of discovery.

They spend the day together exploring and encountering new things until as the light fades, Scruff suddenly takes to the wing again

for he’s spied a flock of birds looking just like him. Scruff is lost no longer.

Scruff and Sylvia return to the secret tree hole but Sylvia knows she must bid her new friend farewell.

That though isn’t the end of the story: rather it’s the start of a new chapter, for soon afterwards Sylvia accepts the invitation of another girl keeper to join her and her friends in their play; and as you would expect they love to hear her stories of her adventure in the sky.

Seemingly, Sylvia will never be a loner again.

Wonderfully whimsical and with a slightly Scandinavian feel, Gemma Koomen’s story is enchanting. I love discovering new authors and illustrators so was thrilled to receive a copy of this book. The wildlife details are a delight, making every spread something to become immersed in and I’m sure I’ll be discovering new quirky Tree Keeper activities on each re-reading. It’s certainly the case so far and I’m sure young listeners will want to spend ages pouring over the pages too.

‘A tree keeper adventure’ announces the cover so let’s hope further adventures are to come.

Cloud Forest

Cloud Forest
Victoria Turnbull
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is an absolutely beautiful, gentle but powerful story of love and of loss.

Umpa’s garden is the young child narrator’s favourite place, filled as it is with flowers and fruit trees. Umpa shows his grandchild how to plant seeds and watch them grow. He also plants stories in her mind, stories of imagined worlds – wonderful new places they can travel to together; places that, fuelled by the imagination can stay with you forever.

Time passes; Umpa grows older

and eventually he dies.

His distraught grandchild grieves, “The clouds had swallowed me whole’ she tells us.

Then one day, she remembers: his legacy lives on …

and he will always be there in her heart and in her memories of those treasured experiences they shared together.

Books and stories have transformative powers: Victoria’s new book is a wonderful reminder of that, showing some of the myriad ways those powers can help to heal, to bond people together, as well as to fuel the imagination. The softness of the story is evoked in her beautiful pastel colour palette, her graceful lines and the fluidity of her images. Do spend time on every spread; there is so much to see and feel.

A book to share and to cherish.

Read to Your Baby Every Day / Hickory Dickory Dock

Read to Your Baby Every Day
edited by Rachel Williams, illustrated by Chloe Giordano
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Editor Rachel Williams has chosen thirty classic Mother Goose nursery rhymes, favourite nursery songs along with the occasional action rhyme for this collection for adult carers to share with babies.

Chloe Giordana has crafted beautiful, intricately detailed sewn accompaniments to the words using a mix of stitching and fabrics that are hand-dyed.

It’s never and I mean never, too soon to introduce babies to rhymes and songs; there’s absolutely no better way not only to bond with a little one, but it’s proven that exposure to the world around through spoken words, rhymes and songs gives young children a head start in education, and not only with respect to language learning and communication skills.

This lovely collection will introduce tinies to the likes of Hey, Diddle Diddle, Hickory Dickory Dock, Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, Humpty Dumpty

and Little Miss Muffet along with Row, Row Row Your Boat, Hush Little Baby and I’m a Little Teapot,

and even both in English and French Are you sleeping?

A lovely gift to give a new parent.

Hickory Dickory Dock
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow

A favourite rhyme with all the nursery classes I ever taught is this one that’s now given the ‘Sing along with me!’ format characterised by sturdy sliders and peep-holes. However in addition to singing the song, little ones will love watching the escapades of the mice as the clock strikes one, then two, then three

and finally four, and discovering that by four o’clock there’s not just one but four mice tucked up in cosy beds ready for some shut-eye, having escaped the clutches of the moggy character that has been eyeing them during the past three hours.

Yu-hsuan Huang’s illustrations are a delight with plenty to interest child and adult as they share the book or perhaps listen to the recording from the scanned QR code.

This Way To Treasure Island

This Way to Treasure Island
Lizzy Stewart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Award winning author-illustrator Lizzy Stewart introduces us to two completely contrasting characters, young Matilda and her dad; he tends to be slow, messy and noisy whereas she is fast, tidy and quiet. No matter how different they are though, they almost always have fun together.

One day at the beach Matilda, in possession of a map, announces that she’s off to find treasure. Her dad, she tells him, can accompany her so long as he agrees to follow the map.

Off they go in an old wooden boat with Dad rowing and Matilda giving directions.

Sometimes, Dad becomes distracted and as a result the two drift far out to sea. Dad’s all for taking short cuts but Matilda isn’t sure. She’s even less sure when the nice big rock they’re circling does this …

Fortunately however, the turbulence takes the boat right close to the shore of their treasure island destination. Thereon more map reading is required and almost immediately the two agree to part company; “We’ll see who finds the treasure first!’ says Dad.

Inevitably without his daughter as guide, Dad is soon totally lost.

Matilda meanwhile, although she finds things a tad on the boring side, continues following the map. Eventually she finds the place where according to the map, she should find the treasure but despite looking under, over and inside things, she can’t find it. Time to return to the boat she thinks.

Dad however is still looking and wondering until …

In case you’re wondering, yes they do discover treasure although perhaps it’s not what they were expecting. And then it’s time to go home, maybe without taking any short-cuts however.

Yet again, Lizzy has created a winner with this. Her characters are convincingly portrayed and their treasure island with its rainbow hued flora and fauna, totally gorgeous.

Rich in classroom potential, this smashing book will be requested over and over.

The Dictionary of Difficult Words

The Dictionary of Difficult Words
Jane Solomon and Louise Lockhart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

American based lexicographer, Jane Solomon, and UK illustrator Louise Lockhart have collaborated on this compilation of over 400 words, the former providing the easily comprehendible definitions and the latter, the accompanying stylish graphics.

Before the alphabetic section itself are an explanation of what a dictionary is and how to use this particular one, and a spread on parts of speech that also mentions pronunciation.

Then comes the A to Z with two spreads allocated to each letter. Some of the words included are tricky to get your tongue around so the pronunciation guide for each one could prove invaluable, especially should readers come upon a word that’s new to them. I have to say having learnt Latin many years ago did help somewhat, as it did with working out the meaning of the occasional words I hadn’t come across before – yes there were one or two – as well as several, including borborygmus – a rumbling emanating from the stomach- I was glad to be reminded of.

The same is true of kakistrocracy, for obvious reasons.

Did you know that a person (such as this reviewer) who loves solving crosswords (or a compiler of same) is called a cruciverbalist? Now there’s a lovely word to get your tongue around. As is omphaloscopy (otherwise known as navel gazing) and ultracrepidarian (somebody who has big opinions relating to things about which they know nothing). I’m sure we can all think of a few such people.

You might be forgiven for thinking that vomitorium was something to do with throwing up; not so; it’s a passageway people used in ancient Roman times to enter or leave an amphitheatre.

Not all the words are long or tricky to say though: there’s yex, which refers to the act of hiccupping or crying.

I’ll conclude with a word that I absolutely love – lollapalooza – which might be used to describe this book. If you don’t know its meaning then I suggest rather than ‘googling’ it, you get a copy for yourself, your family, or your class. As well as being a celebration of words and the English language, it has the potential for increasing the vocabulary of youngsters who will love to impress others with their word power.

The Butterfly House

The Butterfly House
Katy Flint and Alice Pattullo
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Judging by the number of containers housing butterflies in the various stages of their development my partner has scattered about the place, I rather think my own home at present ought to have the same name as this book, although unlike Katy Flint’s ‘welcome’, it doesn’t have never-ending ceilings, nor does it contain the various habitats she names that provide homes for many of the world’s major butterfly and moth families. I was surprised to learn that these winged creatures make up 7% of all Earth’s forms of life.

We then visit the Hatchery, which explains the life cycle of a butterfly with reference to the Monarch as well as containing a number of unusual-looking caterpillars.

The next two spreads explain the differences between butterflies and moths,

what various adult butterflies like to eat and that caterpillars are fussy eaters usually preferring one particular host plant.

In the subsequent pages over 100 species of moths and butterflies from all over the world grouped in their various scientific families, are displayed in Alice Pattullo’s alluring, finely detailed brush and Indian ink illustrations. Some like the Small tortoiseshell

and the Orange-tip will be familiar to UK readers (and to me as their caterpillars are presently munching away on their food plants in our downstairs bathroom).

To see others such as the Crimson rose swallowtail, the Owl butterfly or the spectacular Luna moth,

you’ll have to visit a butterfly house like that at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire or the one in Stratford-upon-Avon.

No matter where you live or visit, this book is sure to whet your appetite to get to know more about these beautiful creatures.

Once Upon A Unicorn Horn

Once Upon A Unicorn Horn
Beatrice Blue
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This simply gorgeous book – a neo pourquoi tale -is Beatrice Blue’s debut picture book and what a smasher it is.
Meet June, a small girl with a wonderful imagination and a taste for all things magical. She knows ‘the woods were full of treasures waiting to be discovered’ and one day she finds the greatest possible treasure – magic horses learning to fly.
One little horse however isn’t whizzing through the air with the others, fluttering his sparkly tail and he’s very sad about the fact. June is anxious to help him but no matter what they try, nothing gets him airborne, so she decides to try a touch of magic. This too fails leaving both girl and horse even more sad.

Back home, June’s parents are sympathetic telling her not to worry, together they can fix things.

Next morning they all think hard and together come up with a possibility: something sweet, happy and to share. Ice-cream fits the bill thinks June; and having whispered sweetening formula over the cartons, she sets out eagerly and very fast, in search of her friend.

Oops! Disaster … or is it? Look at the trajectory of that cone …

Suddenly something magical really does happen …

Billed as the first of a new picture series about how magical creatures got their special features, this story will immediately be devoured by the countless young unicorn lovers out there.

Beatrice’s story is fantastically funny, and deliciously sweet, but thanks in part to the humour, not in a sickly way. Her illustrations are enchanting, quirky and, in the appropriate places, full of joy; and June is a delightful character.

A winning addition to the First Editions titles; I (along with masses of youngsters) look forward to more, both in the series and from Beatrice.

The Lost Book of Adventure

The Lost Book of Adventure
edited by Teddy Keen
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Those with a thirst for wild adventures in particular will be immediately attracted to this stupendous tome. Others of us will perhaps take a little more time to be enticed in, but will likely become equally immersed in this amazing collection of notes, sketches and factual snippets that have been drawn, so we’re told by the editor, from the notebooks of the Unknown Adventurer.

Whether or not the claim by Teddy Keen to have discovered these items in a metal container while exploring a remote part of the Amazon, is a beguiling means of interesting readers in the book, or a fact, is immaterial.

What he has produced is a veritable treasure trove detailing all you need to know to flourish living in the wild, be it how to construct a wikiup shelter like those of the Nenet people of Arctic Siberia;

how to make a bottle raft to navigate ancient waterways; or, what the best techniques are for ‘pooing in the great outdoors;

or crucially important, first aid.

Prepare to be conveyed to various parts of the globe as you read lyrical accounts of such adventures as a narrow escape from the jaws of a crocodile in Sri Lanka, surviving a roaring dust storm, or an eye-ball to eye-ball encounter with one of the planet’s most dangerous snakes, a venomous bushmaster. Each of these is gloriously illustrated in a coloured pencil drawing.

Keen certainly succeeded in arousing the spirit of adventure in this reviewer; I’m sure that will be the case for many readers of this totally immersive volume.

Scratch and Learn: Human Body / The Great Big Book of Life

Scratch and Learn: Human Body
Katy Flint and Ana Seixas
Wide Eyed Editions

I’ve loved some of the EtchArt books from Quarto but this is the first science title I’ve seen, essentially an introduction to how the human body works.

It comprises two main elements: ‘Scratch to Discover’ where the reader uses the stylus to find ten things on each of the seven spreads: the skeleton, muscles,

organs, eating and digestion, the senses, the brain

and, lungs and heart.

Then there are activities – one per spread – to demonstrate how different parts of the body function. For example the muscle-related one says, ‘With your palm facing up, touch your thumb and little finger together. This shows one of your flexor tendons working in your wrist.’

There’s also an invitation to play a search-and-find memory game.

Each topic has an introductory paragraph and some also include additional bite-size snippets of information.

Spencer investigating the skeleton

Graphic designer/illustrator Ana Seixas brings a gentle humour to the pages of this fun, interactive book to use at home that is relevant to the KS1 science curriculum.

The Great Big Book of Life
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The 6th in The Great Big Book of … series looks at life from conception and birth to death and memories.

The early years are allocated several spreads – infant physical development,

sleep, feeding, staying healthy, learning to use the loo and how language develops.

Subsequent topics are school (including home schooling), the teenage years, work, partners,

the middle years, old age, death and finally a spread advocating living life to the full no matter who we are, which includes thinking of other people as well as ourselves.

As in previous team Hoffman and Asquith titles, diversity is a key element. Mary’s light-hearted narrative style combined with Ros’s wonderfully witty illustrations make for an informal and explicit read.

A book to add to your home or school collection.

My Mum Always Looks After Me So Much!

My Mum Always Looks After Me So Much!
Sean Taylor and David Barrow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Like most youngsters, the little gorilla narrator of this story isn’t keen on injections. However mum insists she has to look after him and so off they go to see the doctor.

Things go smoothly enough – the doctor cracks jokes to distract from the prick and rewards the little gorilla with a special strawberry-smelling ‘stick thing’.

Off he goes feeling chuffed and on the bus home he experiments with his new acquisition.

When they get off though, a terrible realisation strikes our little hero.

Happily Mum knows exactly what to do; after all she always looks after little gorilla so much. Moreover, banana flavour tastes much better than strawberry.

Warm, funny and full of heart is Sean’s tale of maternal love and infant appreciation.

Embodying a variety of techniques and executed in a gorgeous colour palette the illustrations of award winning David Barroux are absolutely smashing: his characters are superbly expressive with the little gorilla displaying the full range of emotions, and his solicitous mother is adorable..

Young listeners (and adult sharers) will love this book.

One thing though, why do so many picture book titles have exclamation marks? It seems to be in vogue of late.

The Story of People

The Story of People
Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

I greatly enjoyed the two previous titles in The Story of … series and this new addition is another winner.

It’s a whistle-stop tour of the historical development of humankind that begins with the earliest humans – Homo erectus – two-legged hunter-gatherer apes that lived in Africa.
Did you know that the larger brained Homo sapiens also appeared first in Africa? Travelling out across Europe and Asia, these are the people we are descended from.

The account moves to early farmers, then the Bronze Age when cities grew; diseases were caught from animals and mark making in relation to harvests was used.
The Iron Age, trading voyages across oceans and land and decisions based on philosophy are also covered, taking readers to 1CE – 1000CE during which Islam in the Middle East and Christianity in Europe were growing.

Thereafter came religious wars, trade routes opened up and between 1700-1800CE Islamic science experiments inspired new discoveries in science and nature around the world.
Technology as well as science then started to change how people lived and continues to do so. At this point the author acknowledges that in addition to the numerous changes for the good, human actions are damaging our precious world.

The book ends with a consideration of what might happen in the future ending on an optimistic note: ‘By sharing, polluting less, respecting wild places and farming alongside wildlife, there is hope for the future. We can all live in harmony with nature on our beautiful blue planet.’ Let’s hope it’s so for the young children who are the book’s audience.

Amy Husband’s alluring naïve, cartoon style collage and crayon illustrations together with Catherine Barr and Steve Williams’ highly accessible narrative provide a lively introduction to a fascinating topic.

Your Mind is Like the Sky / The Go Yogi! Card Set

 

Your Mind is Like the Sky
Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Psychologist and mindfulness teacher, Bronwen Ballard has written a book to introduce children to mindfulness. She uses similes and metaphorical language to show that our difficult thoughts and feelings are an integral part of everyone’s life and demonstrating that we all have the power to deal with them.
Sometimes she says, the mind can be like a clear blue sky but at other times it might be ‘fizzy, stormy, black and crackly’; or perhaps a ‘bit grey’.
Thoughts come and go constantly; they’re likened to the clouds – sometimes positive, pleasant white ones but at other times they become dark and negative.

For example ‘raincloud’ thoughts may well make one feel sad, cross, irritated, confused perhaps.

However there are ways to deal with them, even those that seem at first to be overwhelming and this is what the second part of the narrative discusses. The important thing to do is to acknowledge the thought but realise it’s only one of many, many in the entire sky of your mind and that way you can let that dark thought slip gently away.

The more one practices being mindful, the easier it becomes to take control and choose which thoughts to attend to.

The main narrative ends on an upbeat note reminding the young reader that, like the sky, his/her mind is bursting with amazing thoughts each one different in shape, colour and size.

There are two final spreads aimed at adults explaining concisely what mindfulness is and offering some basic ideas to try together at home.

Award-wining illustrator Laura Carlin’s soft focus, smudgy, mixed media illustrations are the ideal complement to Bronwen’s gentle narrative. Together they offer parents and carers a really helpful book to help youngsters overcome their worries.

The Go Yogi! Card Set
Emma Hughes and John Smisson
Singing Dragon

Using little humans rather than animals this time, the author, very experienced yoga teacher, Emma Hughes and illustrator, John Smisson, of the Go Yogi! book have created a set of 50 cards of popular yoga poses; and Emma has written an accompanying explanatory booklet.

The latter briefly gives the benefits of yoga for children, sets some ground rules to use and talks about how to work with a group, the names of the poses, some words on pranayama and suggests ways the cards might be used in a session – in games or for storytelling being two ideas.

It’s concise and especially useful for those who aren’t practiced in teaching yoga to children. One proviso though, I was taught that young children (under 7) should not attempt headstands as the skull may not be fully hardened.

The ‘flash cards’ themselves have a child showing a yoga asana (pose), (or in the case of paired poses, two children) set against a brightly coloured background on one side, while the reverse side shows how to get into the pose. Each card has a coloured border that suggests a possible emotional or physical benefit doing the pose might bring. Orange signifies energising; green is for calming; red for strengthening and yellow for balancing.

All in all, and I speak from experience as a specialist early years teacher and teacher of yoga to children (and adults), this little box is a real treasure for those wanting to introduce yoga to young children. I thoroughly recommend it.

Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali & Little People, Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking

Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali
Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Brosmind
Little People, Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking
Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Matt Hunt
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Following the huge success of titles celebrating amazing and inspiring females, the publishers have decided to add positive male role models to their picture book biography series and these are the first two.

First on the list is Muhammad Ali who as a boy known as Cassius had his new bike stolen and was told by the police officer that if he wanted to face the thief as he’d said, he had better learn to fight. So begins his journey to becoming a champion boxer.

Having taken a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics he was determined to turn professional and win the world heavyweight championship,

which he did, defeating Sonny Liston in 1964.

Cassius however was not just a boxer; he was fierce defender of African-American rights speaking out against racial discrimination. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

His refusal to fight in the Vietnam war, a war he considered unjust, resulted in him being stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from boxing for three years.

However he came back and won three more heavyweight titles; and after his retirement spent his time in the service of others.

With their illustrations, the Mingarro brothers, aka Brosmind, bring a gentle humour to the account of this legendary man.

Published in March is a second title, Stephen Hawking, about the scientific genius who overcame THE most enormous odds and went on to become the most brilliant scientist of our time.

We read how while studying physics at Oxford University Stephen first began to be clumsy and then having moved to Cambridge University to do a PhD, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and told, aged 21, that he had just a few years left to live.

Rather than spending his time dwelling upon his lack of control over his body, he decided that in order to study the universe, he needed only his mind.

Black holes became the focus of his attention and Stephen proved that rather than being wholly black, there was a tiny light escaping from them; this was named ‘Hawking radiation’.

We’d all do well to remember Stephen’s words, “however difficult life may seem, there is always something that you can do and succeed at.” An inspiration he truly remains and this is what writer Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrator Matt Hunt convey so well herein.

Add these to your primary school collection.

A Story about Cancer (with a Happy Ending)

A Story about Cancer (with a Happy Ending)
India Desjardins and Marianne Ferrer (trans. Solange Ouellet)
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The story opens with the 15-year-old narrator telling us, as she and her parents walk down the hospital corridor, “In just a few minutes, they’re going to tell me how much time I have left to live.”

It’s five years since she was diagnosed with leukaemia and as she awaits her prognosis she shares with readers her years of treatment with the threat of death hanging over her. We hear of the sadness she feels over the death of her best friend Maxine which was “definitely not because she wasn’t strong enough or didn’t fight hard enough”; and are shown how her grief renders her temporarily limp limbed.

She talks of the hospital sounds, smells and colour scheme, how her parents react to her illness – her father’s jokes;

her mother’s insistence “that she had so much confidence in me, and she knew I’d get well …’ in contrast to her own it isn’t ‘ a battle…because there was nothing I could do to fight it. All I could do was let everything happen to me and try not to complain too much.”

There are high points too: she goes to a party, meets Victor and experiences her first love.

And finally, as we know from the title, the news the doctor gives is good; the narrator is going to live.

This no-holds-barred story is a real emotional roller coaster but the first person telling serves to bring a sense of calm to the whole sequence of events, be they dark or bright. Ferrer’s almost dreamlike, at times, surreal visuals, highlight the intensity of feeling, moving from predominantly grey to plum and claret when ardour prevails.

The author was asked by a ten year old cancer patient she met on a hospital visit to write a cancer story that ends happily. This is the result and serves to remind readers that 8 out of 10 children diagnosed with cancer are cured, and to give hope to any child who has cancer.

In Blossom

In Blossom
Yooju Cheon
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Spring is in the air. A gentle breeze is blowing and blossoms are blooming as Cat sits down on a bench beneath a tree with a picnic basket.

Singing a little song, she begins to eat her lunch.

Soon after, along comes Dog with his book.

Cat makes room for him; he sits down and starts reading.

Suddenly the breeze blows a singe petal onto Cat’s nose causing a tickle, a sniff,

and a ‘Poof!’

The petal drifts across onto Dog’s nose. Another tickle, a sniff and Poof! …

A little later, Cat’s offer to share her lunch is accepted and thus, one assumes a friendship begins to blossom.

Yooju Cheon’s telling is spare and it’s definitely her exquisite, delicate inky illustrations that steal the show here. Look out for another developing friendship between two little birds as well.

Short and sweet and beautifully expressive sums up this gentle offering from an author/illustrator who is new to me.

Not My Hats! / The Great Big Book of Friends

Not My Hats!
Tracy Gunaratnam and Alea Marley
Maverick Arts Publishing

Polar Bear Hettie has an absolute passion for hats, no matter their shape or size Hettie loves to wear them.

Imagine her reaction then as she sits fishing one day when Puffin happens along desirous of a hat. “I’ll share my lollies, my dollies, my books and my brollies, my flippers and my slippers and I’ll even share my kippers … but I’ll never, ever share my HATS,” she tells him in no uncertain terms.

On account of sudden hunger pangs, Puffin settles for the kippers and disappears.

She repeats this litany again when Puffin reappears and this time fobs him off with slippers on account of his chilly tootsies.

Before long Hettie has dozed off dreaming of hat heaven when who should wake her but a certain black and white bird.

On this occasion Puffin suggests swapsies proffering items from his backpack, each of which is resoundingly refused until he suggests a scarf.

Now there’s a possibility: perhaps Hettie could spare the odd titfa after all.

With its plethora of outrageous headwear, this delightfully daft tale that moves in and out of rhyme, demonstrates that language is fun, sharing is best and friendship better than standoffishness.

Friendship is also explored in this non-fiction book:

The Great Big Book of Friends
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Friendship is the theme of the fifth book in Hoffman and Asquith’s Great Big Book series. Herein the book’s creators explore many aspects of the topic starting by asking ‘What is a friend?’ They then go on to look at best friends, friendship groups, what might be shared, difference, pen friends, imaginary friends, objects that can act as friends such as a favourite toy or comforter,

More difficult ideas including falling out, and losing a friend, are also included, as is ‘How many friends?’
Each sub topic is given a double spread and is amusingly illustrated with Ros Asquith’s signature cartoon-style artwork.
With its chatty style and inclusive illustrations, this is a good book to explore with a class or group as part of a PSHE theme.

Animals with Tiny Cat / 15 things NOT to do with a Puppy

Animals with Tiny Cat
Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books

Viviane Schwarz’a Tiny Cat of There Are Cats in This Book and There Are No Cats in This Book fame is back and as always, is in a playful mood.

With the aid of a few simple props, our feline friend transforms first into a mouse, then an elephant, followed by a …

a horse, a porcupine …

a snake and a spider.

Suddenly though, the pile of discarded items takes on a life of its own …

Is there anything Tiny Cat can become that will send that fearsome beastie packing? …

Viviane Schawarz’s wonderfully playful imagination has, once again, produced a seemingly effortless performance for her moggy star.

Be ready for enthusiastic squeaking, tooting, neighing, hissing and more when you share this one.
Then, I’d suggest leaving the book in a suitable spot in your early years setting together with a few well-chosen items and see what your listeners turn themselves into.

15 things NOT to do with a Puppy
Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is the latest in Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling’s instruction manual series. Herein the topic is canine care and the two toddler presenters pretty much have the whole thing worked out. Presumably they speak from experience and if you’ve recently added a puppy to your household, then this book has some sound advice.

Hang-gliding, tuba lessons (as if), and getting its paws on the remote control are definite no-nos. So too are taking the pup to some of the children’s favourite places; and gardening is completely out of the question.

Football matches and the library are also definite no-go areas and for safety’s sake keep the animal from the driving seat of the car …

and well away from the sink too. Cafes are off limits as are shopping expeditions.

On the other hand, the dos are relatively straightforward: in a nutshell, love, play, food, drink and sleep work wonders.

The main characters, both human and canine are full of youthful exuberance as are the humorous possibilities of the scenarios presented in Holly Sterling’s illustrations of same.

I’ve singed the charter  

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

I was wowed by Christopher Corr’s Deep in the Woods and now he’s turned his amazing artistry to another folktale, the Chinese story of how the years were named.
It’s a fuller version than any I’ve seen and used in schools over the years and is in my view set to become the ‘go to’ book for celebrating Chinese New Year from now on. (16th February this year).
For those who don’t know the folktale it’s set in an ancient China when there was no way of knowing how much time had passed and consequently the Jade Emperor having no idea how old he was, decided it was about time he knew.
He called together all the animals of his kingdom and announced that on the next day a Great Race was to be held and the first twelve creatures to cross the river would each have a year named after them. Needless to say, all the animals were eager to win.
Two in particular were good friends and planned to become joint winners so long as the rat could wake his cat friend from sleep, that is.
Next day however, the rat did his utmost to rouse his slumbering pal but was forced to leave him to dream and head towards the river.
En route he met an ox and they team up – the rat as passenger and thankful singer on the ox’s back. The double-dealing rat though, jumped forwards at the last stroke to land first at the emperor’s feet and thus claim the first year, which henceforth became The Year of the Rat, with Ox giving his name to the second year.
Tiger …

and Rabbit claim the next two years and then in fifth place, comes a dazzling dragon with a tale to tell of how he assisted the rabbit on his journey.
Horse arrives to claim the next place and he too has a passenger – wily snake who sneakily claims sixth position instead.
In contrast, goat, monkey and rooster employ teamwork …

and the Emperor rewards them by assigning the next three years to Goat, Monkey and Rooster respectively.
Both dog and pig …

have  wasted time during the swim and thus are allocated the eleventh and twelfth years. Then it’s time to celebrate.
Suddenly though, a small cat makes his presence felt in no uncertain terms as he emerges from the water and proceeds to shout in fury at Rat for failing to wake him, causing the little creature to flee for his life, then and for ever on …
This finale adds a pourquoi element to the whole tale.
Everything, from the tactile cover is splendid. Steeped in folk art tradition, Corr’s beautifully patterned illustrations are truly captivating and offer a powerful stimulus for children’s own artistic creations.
His telling too is terrific, focusing on the animal characters themselves – some sneaky, some helpful and others co-operative.
Fab-ul-ous!

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.

The Glassmaker’s Daughter

The Glassmaker’s Daughter
Dianne Hofmeyr and Jane Ray
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Daniela is the daughter of a glassmaker living in Venice in the 16th century. So full of melancholy is she that her despairing father offers a glass palace as reward to the first person who can make his daughter smile. The palace is duly fashioned and people come from near and far to try and bring on that smile.
A flame swallower, a mask maker, a lion-tamer followed by ‘Glove makers, tart bakers, trumpet players, dragon slayers, monkey trickers, pocket pickers, bell ringers, opera singers, even sausage stringers‘ all fail miserably.

Then along comes young glassmaker, Angelo with the looking glass he’s carefully fashioned as a gift for Daniela. Now the girl has never seen such a thing before, nor has she seen the sight that meets her eyes when she looks into it as Angelo instructs. At first it’s her cross face that stares back, then as she begins to smile, so too does the mirror;

and when her smile gives way to laughter, the effect is truly dramatic in more ways than one …

And before long, the entire city of Venice is one laughing, dancing, ringing celebration of joyfulness.
Diane Hofmeyer takes a familiar fairytale theme and like Angelo in her story, fashions it into something new and special. We all know that true happiness lies within but it’s good to be reminded sometimes, especially in such a captivating way as this. (An introductory note gives some information about historic Venetian glassmaking.)
Jane Ray’s intricate images and vibrant scenes conjure up the fairy story-like Venice of the setting making every turn of the page both magical and memorable.

Balthazar the Great

Balthazar the Great
Kirsten Sims
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Balthazar, the polar bear is a violin player, the only remaining one left in all the circuses of the world. Until that is, he’s set free by a group of animal rights activists who leave him in the middle of he knows not where, to find his way home – so long as he can discover where to go.

On his journey he bids farewell to old friends …

and endeavours to make new ones.

He meets some kind-hearted souls but for much of his travels Balthazar is entirely alone – lonely, lost and overwhelmed by the enormity of what he’s attempting.
He even starts thinking about returning from whence he came;

but then all of a sudden he sees something. Could it possibly be who he thinks it is? The giver of Balthazar’s very first violin? …

In this, Kirsten Sims’ debut picture book, her spare text allows her eloquent gouache and ink  illustrations to carry much of the story, a story of the strength of family bonds and of journeying. Her colour palette is somewhat dark which seems to reflect the loneliness of the traveller.

The book’s creator resides in South Africa and that is where Balthazar starts his journey as is evident from the design on one of the mugs featured on the endpapers.

Do take a look at them all though.

Look for Ladybird in Plant City

Look for Ladybird in Plant City
Katherina Manolessou
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There seems to be an ever-increasing number of ‘search-and-find books’ of late: here’s one from rising star, Katherina Manolessou that really caught my eye for its zany, action-packed illustrations.
When Daisy’s pet ladybird – a rather cheeky little creature – goes missing, she enlists the help of Basil, Plant City’s best detective.
Then with notes duly written by Basil, and appropriate tools in hand, the two begin a frantic search for the lost minibeast.
It’s a search that takes them through the entire city starting at Big Bones School, then moving on to the station, the museum,

the funfair, restaurants, the plant nursery. That would seem a likely place with its abundance of insect life; but there’s no sign of Ladybird. Actually, there is, but Basil and Daisy fail to find him, as they do in all the other locations; though that is part of what makes the book such fun.

Readers however, will eventually discover Ladybird’s whereabouts on every spread; or if not, they can always look at the answers inside the back cover.
In addition to the missing pet, there are five bees, five grey mice, someone crying and someone sleeping, all of which are waiting to be discovered at each place the detectives search, plus all the items printed in capital letters in the narrative for each venue.
I say ‘detectives’ in the plural because, as well as recovering Ladybird at the end of the search, Basil makes Daisy an offer she can’t refuse and that, I suspect, means more cases are to follow.
I spent ages poring over the wealth of details in each of the ten locations: every one has signs to read, visual jokes

and a plethora of diverting happenings which I’m sure, young readers will enjoy as much as this reviewer did.
Between the covers of this book lies rich potential for language development, but more important, it’s enormous fun.

Imagine

Imagine
John Lennon, illustrated by Jean Jullien
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In this illustrated version of Lennon’s 1971 anthem to peace, published in partnership with Amnesty International, (royalties from the sale of the book go to the charity) illustrator Jean Jullien uses a pigeon instead of the usual peace dove to carry its message around the globe, asking readers to imagine a world without possessions, without greed or hunger a world where everyone is part of a universal brotherhood, sharing and caring for all; without countries or religion, with nothing to kill or die for.
We first see this feathered ambassador of peace emerging from the underground train, bag slung around its neck and then he takes off on his mission over land and sea …

The pigeon’s focus as it wings its way around the earth distributing olive branches to its fellow feathered friends, is on fairness and sharing …

and culminates in an uplifting embrace for all the birds seen on his flight. (They too have become peace messengers.)

The artist’s boldly outlined images, digitally coloured and set against backgrounds of eggshell blue, white, purple or orange have a simple, heartfelt poignancy that make this beautiful book the perfect starting point for introducing Lennon’s message of tolerance, understanding, inclusiveness, unity and peace to today’s children. It’s certainly as relevant as when it was written over 45 years ago: indeed, we desperately need it now even more than ever.
Published on 21st September, International Day of Peace, let’s all pause and … Imagine.

Toad has Talent

Toad has Talent
Richard Smythe
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Frozen ponds in the moonlit would, I suspect, normally have more allure for humans than forest animals; but not so in this story. Even those one might expect to be hibernating are willing to risk freezing paws, or tingling noses and toes, in the hope of winning the Moonlight Pond talent contest.
Not Toad however; he’s absolutely convinced he has nothing to offer this extravaganza. “It’s best if I keep myself out of sight,” he decides lest the other animals think he’s useless.
As he watches the glittering performances of the contestants …

further self-deprecatory comments pour forth from the amphibian, until, the competition draws to a close.
However, just as a winner is about to be announced, a snail halts the proceedings declaring, much to Toad’s displeasure, that one of their number is yet to perform.
Fully intending to resist, the hapless creature steps from the shadows and slips, trips, swirls, twirls and cartwheels across the ice, landing right in front of the judges.

Such a glittering ice-skating performance by a toad has never before been seen and so, by a unanimous decision, and to great applause, Toad is declared the winner. After all, to use Toad’s final words, “You never know what you can do until you try!
Hugely entertaining scenes are the real strength of the far-fetched tale so far as I’m concerned; and yes Toad (despite looking like a frog) may have won the prize; but for me, that yogic snake …

and the duckling troupe are the real show-stoppers.

It’s Time For School

               Here’s a handful of picture books, each with a school setting, albeit a somewhat unlikely one in the first three.

First Day at Skeleton School
Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Following on from First Day at Bug School, Sam Lloyd moves deep into the dark forest for her new school-based offering. (Some of my listeners recognised the illustrative style having spotted it on my table and eagerly pounced on the book demanding an immediate reading.)
Skeleton School doesn’t restrict its intake to skeletons though; all manner of creepy pupils are to be found here in this night-time educational establishment run by one, Mr Bones who stands ready and waiting to welcome newcomers (and readers).
I’m happy to see that there’s a school library, albeit a haunted one; but at least one of the pupils needs to learn some appropriate behaviour – maybe she just hasn’t learned to read yet.
The curriculum includes a jingle jangle dance class with the skeletons, how to float through walls, ghost style and spell making, which has some surprising outcomes, not least for Mr Bones.

Sam Lloyd gives full rein to her imagination and in addition to the zany storyline delivered in her rhyming text, provides a visual extravaganza for young listeners to explore and chuckle over.
The endpapers cutaway spread of the school interior will definitely illicit lots of giggles not least over the toilet humour.


More crazy happenings in:

School for Little Monsters
Michelle Robinson and Sarah Horne
Scholastic
Side by side stand two schools, one for monsters, the other for ‘nice boys and girls’. The question is which one is which? And if it’s your first day, how do you know you’re in the right school, especially when some little monsters have been up to a spot of mischief making?
No matter which door you enter, there are some rules to abide by – fourteen in all;

and the whole day is assuredly, a steep learning curve for both human and monster newcomers; and has more than a sprinkling of the kind of gently subversive humour (bums, poo, trumps and bottoms) that young children relish.
Riotous scenes from Sarah Horne showing the pupils’ interpretations of Michelle Robinson’s rhyming rules in this read aloud romp.

Old friends return in:

Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School
Simon Puttock and Ali Pye
Nosy Crow
Cat, Bat, Owl and Mouse are not newcomers to Miss Moon’s Moonlight School; they already know about the importance of sharing; but listening? Certainly Cat still has a lot to learn where this vital skill is concerned.
On this particular night Miss Moon is taking her class on a nature walk to look for ‘interesting things’. She issues instructions for the pupils to walk in twos and to stay together. “Nobody must wander off,” she warns.
Before long, it becomes apparent that Cat has done just that. She’s spied a firefly and follows it until it settles far from the others, on a flower.

Suddenly though her delight gives way to panic: where are her classmates and teacher?
All ends happily with Cat’s friends using their observation skills until they’ve tracked her down; and the importance of listening having been impressed upon Cat once again, they return to school with their findings.
Ali Pye’s digital illustrations are full of shadows brightened by the moon and stars and Miss Moon’s lantern, illuminating for listeners and readers, the delightful details of the natural world on every spread.
Puttock and Pye seem to have a winning formula here: my young listeners immediately recognised the characters and responded enthusiastically to the sweet story.

Now back to reality:

Going to School
Rose Blake
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The pupil here is a girl, Rose, who shares with readers a very busy day spent with friends in their primary school class. There’s certainly a lot to pack in for our narrator, her classmates and their teacher, Miss Balmer: geography, art, English, maths, PE, science, computing and drama.
Fortunately though, it appears to be an active curriculum …

and Miss Balmer reads a story to the children in the “Book Nook’. Hurray!
Seemingly all of the children have firm ideas about their future paths and what they want to become. This is reflected in their choice of activities at work and play: visual clues as to what these are occur throughout the book.
Rose Blakes’s digitally worked spreads are full of visual narratives offering much to interest and discuss, and though this certainly isn’t a first ever day at school book, she certainly makes school look an exciting place to be.

I’ve signed the charter  

10 Reasons to Love: an Elephant / a Turtle & Dolphin Baby

10 Reasons to Love an Elephant
10 Reasons to Love a Turtle

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Two titles published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum focus on what makes the particular animal special.
Each is sandwiched between two sturdy covers with a die cut of the animal through the front one and a double spread is devoted to each reason.
I didn’t need any persuasion to love elephants mainly because of frequent encounters with the Asian variety on my numerous visits to India. (I’ve never seen any with googly eyes however.) In addition to the reason that gives each spread its title, there is plenty more to enjoy. I was fascinated to learn that elephants ‘wrap their trucks around each other in warm greetings’ and that ‘they understand how other elephants feel.’ Here for example one can see a beautiful Indian swallowtail butterfly, a common rose butterfly and a common bluebottle butterfly among the flora.

Children will I’m sure be amused to learn that forest elephants eat seeds that pass through their bodies and out in their poo, and then the seeds start growing in their dung making them “good gardeners’ for their role in seed dispersal. Equally they might, having read the ‘Show You Love an Elephant’ badge, want to look online and find how to buy some paper made from recycled elephant poo.
Ecologist, Catherine Barr’s text is very reader friendly and Hanako Clulow’s illustrations offer plenty to observe and discuss.
10 Reasons to love a Turtle features the seven different sea turtle species and interestingly, ‘gardening’ features herein too,

with sea turtles acting like ‘underwater lawn movers’ grazing on the seagrass and keeping it the appropriate length for fish, crabs and seahorses to make their homes in.
At the end of the book, readers are reminded of the threat that pollution, fishing and hunting pose to these gentle animals.
With their environmental focus, these would be worthwhile additions to classroom libraries; as well as for interested individuals, who it is hoped, might turn into conservationists.

Dolphin Baby
Nicola Davies and Brita Granström
Walker Books
‘Tail first, head last, Dolphin POPS out into the blue.’ What could be a more engaging way to start a book of narrative non-fiction? But then this is zoologist Nicola Davies writing and she knows just how to grab the attention of young readers and listeners and keep them entranced throughout.
Here, through the story of Dolphin and Mum, she describes the first six months of a baby calf’s life as it learns to feed, to acquaint itself with and respond to her call, and to explore its world playing, making friends …

and all the while he’s growing and developing his very own whistle to communicate that he has at six months old, caught his very first fish.
The text uses two fonts: the large provides the narrative with additional facts given in smaller italics; and the final spread reminds readers that dolphins need protecting from pollution, from over-fishing and from the careless use of fishing nets.
Brita Granström’s superb acrylic illustrations grace every spread helping to make the book a winner for both early years and primary school audiences.

I’ve signed the charter  

Tug of War

Tug of War
Naomi Howarth
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Naomi Howarth has chosen to retell a West African myth for her follow up to The Crow’s Tale and once again it’s a visual stunner from beginning to end.
It recounts how Tortoise, having received rebuffs and insults from pompous Elephant and Hippo in his search for a friend, unleashes a battle of forces between the two large animals.
Encouraged by Bird, he racks his brains before coming up with his tricky plan.

Tortoise challenges both large beasts to hold onto the end of a vine and engage with him in a tug of war.
Unsurprisingly neither Elephant nor Hippo can turn down a dare, so the two find themselves unwittingly pitting their strength against one another until …

Upon realising that they’ve both been well and truly duped by such a small creature as Tortoise, the two pachyderms acknowledge their foolishness and make amends to their trickster by inviting him to become their friend.

With minute attention to detail, Naomi Howarth’s outstandingly beautiful illustrations (a combination of lithography and watercolour), executed in exquisite jewel colours on every page, underline the inherent mind over might, and the importance of friendship messages of the traditional tale.

I’ve signed the charter  

Sticker Art: Woodland; Savannah; Jungle; Ocean

Sticker Art: Woodland
Sticker Art: Savannah
Sticker Art: Jungle
Sticker Art Ocean

Craig & Karl
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

These four innovative books are published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum: and the illustrations are provided by Craig Redman and Karl Maier, who work in transatlantic partnership.
Each book features eight animals and users are invited to create their own ‘sticker-by-number’ portraits of say, for Ocean, a starfish, an octopus, an angelfish, a blue whale, a turtle, a walrus, a dolphin and a seahorse …

by using Craig and Karl’s designs as guidelines.
In addition to the animal images and stickers, each of the books has eight interesting facts per animal relating to lifespan, habitat, family, survival, diet, identification, special skill and behaviour.
Did you know for instance, that African elephants can use sticks and branches to swat insects and scratch itches? You’ll find that in Savannah.
Or that a pit viper can have as many as thirty snakes born at once? (This creature is featured in Jungle.)
An enjoyable, absorbing and satisfying way to introduce children to a wide range of creatures, especially during the holidays.
In addition, each book could be the starting point to a whole lot more investigation and creativity.

 

Fluffywuffy

Fluffywuffy
Simon Puttock and Matt Robertson
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Mr Moot and his much loved pet, Fluffywuffy live a happy, peaceful existence until Cousin Clarence arrives unexpectedly for a visit – a visit of indeterminate length, so he says.
Quick to make himself feel at home, the visitor takes over the sofa and falls fast asleep. “I don’t suppose he’ll be much bother,” Mr Moot says. His pet stays silent.

Little do they know how wrong that utterance will turn out to be, for, concealed within his cousin’s innocuous-looking luggage are some unlikely items destined to test the long-suffering Mr Moot to his accommodating limits.
The first night he’s subjected to a musical rendition; the second night it’s a chainsaw and the third – a Friday – is Cousin Clarence’s night to relax, and all the while Fluffywuffy remains shtum.

The following night it’s not a terrible noise that keeps Mr Moot from his slumbers, rather it’s the anticipation of one. When a noise does eventually come though, Mr M. feels compelled to go downstairs and investigate …

Hilariously anarchic, wonderfully tongue-in-cheek; and the final twist will leave you and your audience, (like a certain hairy pet), utterly speechless.
Puttock’s light-hearted text and Robertson’s jokey illustrative style, not to mention the cuddlesome appearance of the bow-sporting Fluffywuffy are deliciously at odds with what turns out to be a modern gothic horror story .
Not a book to be read at bedtime I would suggest.

I’ve signed the charter  

Lift-the-flap and Colour: Forest & African Animals / Drawing in Space

Lift-the-flap and Colour: Forest
Lift-the-flap and Colour: African Animals

Alice Bowsher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Pens and crayons ready? Alice Bowsher has added two new habitats to her activity books series, which are published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum.
In Forest we meet deer, squirrels busy collecting nuts, a family of dormice, owls and even howling grey wolves.
On the African savannah – elephants and their calves soak up the sun, springboks graze, lion cubs leap, a cheetah chases some ostriches, giraffes graze and as the sun sets, zebras stroll down to the waterhole …

Each book has five playful spreads to colour; and there’s a final information paragraph that gives some additional facts about each habitat.
Fun, interactive learning that might inspire children to go on to create their own natural world dioramas.
For slightly older readers is:

Drawing in Space
Harriet Russell
Princeton Architectural Press
Part activity book, part information book, this stylish and engaging offering takes readers through the solar system.
It begins, appropriately, with the Big Bang and proceeds to the planets, the moon, stars, galaxies and beyond, telling readers, ‘… there are many other solar systems besides our own.’
There’s a wide range of activities, (over thirty in all) one of my favourites being in part, a humorous dialogue between two stars, one round, the other with five points.
Equally amusing is an unhappy Pluto speech explaining how its status was downgraded from planet to dwarf planet; and then meeting with another dwarf planet and discovering it’s one of five known dwarves.
Other possibilities include games, puzzles and lots of drawing, including drawing a galaxy based on star-shaped objects – some examples are given …

and it might be fun to go out searching for suitable items, or perhaps, creating some in 3D.
Fun, educational in the broadest sense, and a jumping off point for further exploration of the topic.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Great Big Body Book

The Great Big Body Book
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Everybody has a body and every body is different: this fact is acknowledged and celebrated in the latest Great Big book from the Hoffman/Asquith team.
Starting from those of babies, they introduce young readers to the bodies of new- borns …

toddlers, children, teenagers and adults, young, middle aged and old.
Spreads focus on such topics as gender in ‘Boy or Girl’ wherein it’s good to see ‘… a few don’t feel completely comfortable in the body they were born in and not everybody fits neatly into a “boy” or “girl” box. That’s OK – just be yourself!’
No matter which of the seventeen spreads one explores, we encounter both visual and verbal examples of the overarching premise that ‘bodies are both similar and different:’ We are all more alike than different’ one speech bubble reminds us: moreover we all develop at different rates and some are better at doing one thing than others;

but we all learn an amazing amount throughout our lives.

Emotions, as well as the physical aspects of bodies without and within, are considered and there’s a feline intruder that appears in every spread comparing and contrasting humans and cats.
Ros Asquith’s cartoon style illustrations are amusing, empathetic and all encompassing.
You really couldn’t get more inclusive than this book when it comes to the topic of bodies. It’s just right for sharing and discussing at home or in school.

I’ve signed the charter  

9 Months

9 months
Courtney Adamo, Esther van de Paal & Lizzy Stewart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Designed for sharing between adult and child/children, this is a month-by-month explanatory account of the development of a human embryo from fertilisation until the delivery of the baby and just after. It draws on the experiences of the two authors who have between them, nine children.
Each month is given a double spread: the verso provides general information in the form of a factual ‘Did you know’ about animal baby development; two questions and answers about human foetal development and a comparison with a fruit or vegetable of similar size. For instance, ‘The baby is the size of a blueberry’ – that’s month 2 when, we’re told, the human baby still has a tail.
Or as here …

Small vignettes illustrate the facts beautifully.
Opposite, the recto relates how the mother is feeling, with a full page illustration by Lizzy Stewart …

So, sensitively written, packed with fascinating facts, diagrams and illustrations, (the final spreads provide additional information) this is an excellent book for any family preparing for a new baby; and for anyone wanting an accurate, euphemism-free starting point for discussions relating to pregnancy.

I’ve signed the charter  

All the Wild Wonders

All the Wild Wonders
edited by Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Piet Grobler
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
In her introduction to this diverse compilation, now in paperback, Wendy Cooling expresses the hope that ‘just one of the poems lingers in your mind long after the book has been put down’: I suspect more than just one of the thirty-five therein will do so.
Loosely grouped into subjects concerned with the natural world, there are different viewpoints that relate to the beauty of our world, and threats to the environment; and Elizabeth Honey’s opening poem which gives the book its name pretty much sums it up in these final lines:
All the wild wonders, / For you my sweet babe. // For this wish to come true /We have much work to do / All the wild wonders / For you my sweet babe.

Riad Nourallah’s An Alphabet for the Planet (beautifully bordered with letters from a variety of scripts) puts the case for much we hold dear; and is one that might well inspire children to try writing their own either individually, in small groups or perhaps, as a class.
The same is true of Brian Moses’ Dreamer, which has become a lovely picture book in its own right, albeit in a slightly different incarnation.
It’s possible to hit home using very few words as Andrew Fusek Peters does with his Man,the Mad Magician:
Said the money-man “We must have oil! / And that’s my final word!’ / How magical and tragical his final act / As the seagull became a blackbird.
The whole book is beautifully illustrated with Piet Grobler’s delicate watercolours: here’s one of my favourites …

Encompassing gentle and not so gentle lessons on taking care of our precious environment, this thought-provoking book is for families, for schools and for anyone who cares about the natural world; and that should be everyone.

I’ve signed the charter  

Towering Tree Puzzle / Lift-the-Flap and Colour:Jungle & Ocean

The Towering Tree Puzzle
illustrated by Teagan White
Chronicle Books
Essentially this is a sturdy box containing 17 large, easily manipulated, double-sided pieces depicting Spring/Summer scenes on one side and Autumn/Winter ones on the reverse. Each piece shows various woodland animals playing and working together; a whole tree community indeed and the puzzle when complete is over 130 centimetres long. Nothing special about that, you might be thinking but, the language potential is enormous, especially as there is no one right way of fitting the pieces together: this open-endedness also means that if more than one child plays with the pieces, there is a co-operative element too.

The artwork is splendid: each detailed piece, a delight.
Every branch of the tree generates a different story, or rather, many possibilities; ditto the completed tree. Some children like to story about the pieces as they put them into place, others prefer to complete the puzzle and then tell one or several stories which may or may not be connected. You could try a completely open-ended ‘take it in turns tell me about’ game with children sitting in a circle for starters, or perhaps choose a focus, say animals, plants or perhaps, events: the possibilities are many.
I’ve used this marvellous resource in several different settings and each time it’s been received with enormous enthusiasm and the users have shown great reluctance to part with it afterwards.

Lift-the-Flap and Colour Jungle
Lift-the-Flap and Colour Ocean

Alice Bowsher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/ Natural History Museum
In this collaborative publishing enterprise, children can choose from one of two locations to start their colouring in experience. The first is the South American Amazon jungle wherein jaguars hunt, slow sloths dangle, alligators lie in wait for a tasty meal, stick insects and parrots share the lush foliage, and swinging monkeys abound.
In the Ocean they can encounter diving dolphins, and shoals of fish, visit a coral reef with its abundance of sea creatures, notice the seaweed fronds that provide a safe hiding place for fish; and dive right down to the deepest dark depths.
A brief, rhyming text accompanies each adventure gently informing and guiding the young user as s/he explores the location, lifts the flaps and adds colour to the black and white pages – five spreads per book. And the final page of each book has an information paragraph that focuses on the importance of protecting the specific environment.
These will I’m sure be seized on by young enthusiasts, particularly those with an interest in wild life and will one hopes, leave them wanting to discover more about the inhabitants of each location.

If I Were a Whale
Shelley Gill and Erik Brooks
Little Bigfoot
This contemplative, charmer of a board book successfully mixes rhyme and science facts. It imagines the possibilities of being a minke, a beluga playing with icebergs, a pilot whale and then these beauties …

If those don’t suit there’s a tusked narwhal, a blue whale, or a humpback perhaps? There are eleven possibilities in all, each one beautifully illustrated by Erik Brooks who manages to capture the essence of each one in those watery worlds of his.
Yes, it’s a small introduction to a huge topic but this is a pleasure to read aloud, is likely to be demanded over and over, and to inspire tinies to want to know more about these amazing mammals.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Cave

The Cave
Rob Hodgson
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Inside a cave there is a ‘little creature’: the cave is his home. Outside the cave is another creature: the cave is not his home, but his heart is set on getting the troglodyte to come out and join him. “I’m sure we’d be VERY good friends.” he says encouragingly. The little creature refuses to budge.
This goes on day after day, after day. Boredom isn’t an issue for the little creature despite what the lupine outsider says. “Only boring creatures get bored” is the response of the cave-dweller. Time passes and with neither animal giving way…

come wind or rain … it’s situation impasse.

Then one day in desperation, the creature without lets slip the words, “I’m getting hungry now!” then quickly amends the ‘I’m’ to ‘YOU’. This results in an admission of slight hunger from the little creature within, whereupon a deliciously tempting doughnut, complete with sprinkles, is proffered. This confection proves irresistible and the ‘Little Creature’ emerges. To say what happens next would make me a story spoiler but I can reveal that the doughnut disappears and there’s a new resident in the cave.
An absolutely splendid debut for Rob Hodgson. There is just SO much to love about this book.
The illustrations are scrumptious with delectable details chronicling, in addition to the main action or rather lack of it for the most part, Wolf’s total disregard for little creatures such as worm, snail and slug, that play silent bit parts throughout.

Hodgson’s text in contrast, is spare, and plays in perfect harmony with his visuals. A super read aloud: you’ll have children squirming in eager anticipation throughout and they’re sure to demand at least one encore performance.

I’ve signed the charter  

All Aboard the London Bus / No, Nancy, No!

All Aboard the London Bus
Patricia Toht and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
It’s hard to resist the opening invitation of this book:
Come! / Board the double-decker bus / and see the London sights with us. / Any time, hop off. /Explore! / Then climb back on and ride some more.’ With its welcome aboard greeting in five languages, we’re off and heading for Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard.
From there, it’s on to Westminster Abbey with its amazing ceilings and tombstones and statues galore.

Big Ben is the next stop and then comes the London Eye so beautifully described as ‘A bracelet that hangs off the Arm of the Thames, / its pods filled with people, all dangle like gems.’ Then after pausing to look at the river itself snaking through a host of landmarks, the family heads for Trafalgar Square. Here readers are offered a busy ‘Seek and Find’ spread while they too pause for breath,

before heading via Speaker’s Corner down onto the tube and thence to Piccadilly Circus where they emerge into a sudden downpour. Seemingly there’s only one thing to do: stop for tea and a browse in a famous toyshop for a while.
The British Museum, Tate Modern and the Globe are some of the other destinations once family members have dried off; and no London visit would be complete without seeing Tower Bridge and the Tower itself so that is their final stop. Phew! It’s certainly been an exhausting day especially for the little ones. The adults are very brave to undertake such a huge itinerary in a single outing and still leave the bus with smiles on their faces.
Essentially a sequence of poems in celebration of London: you can either take the whole tour in one sitting or, take things more slowly just dipping into or revisiting favourite landmarks. No matter which way, Sam Usher’s gently humorous illustrations, whether the focus be a famous London site or its visitors,

are sheer delight.
It’s clear from this celebratory book that London means a lot to both author and artist.

No, Nancy, No!
Alice Tait
Walker Books
Join Nancy and best friend Roger for an exciting, action-packed visit to London. First stop is Buckingham Palace where Nancy is hoping for a glimpse of the Queen. Her dog however has his eyes on two children, one of whom drops a teddybear. Rather than remain at the palace, Nancy and Roger set off hot on the trail of the bear’s owners. A bus ride takes them to St Paul’s Cathedral

and thereafter various other famous London landmarks. Every time it seems they’re about to catch the teddy losers, Nancy’s proclivity for mischief diverts her attention.
Will they ever catch up with the children they’re chasing; and will Nancy ever get to see the Queen?
There are flaps on every detailed spread helping to move the action forwards as well as a surprise Nelson’s Column pop-up; and guess who cannot resist climbing right up to the top. Fun, fast and with its repeat “No, Nancy, No!” from Roger, fun to share, especially before a visit to London.

I’ve signed the charter 

Ella Queen of Jazz / The School of Music

Ella Queen of Jazz
Helen Hancocks
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
A super-stylish biographical story of the friendship between two iconic women: Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. It tells how rising star, Ella and her ‘Fellas’ experienced racial prejudice on the part of some club owners.

This treatment dented her confidence, but only temporarily, thanks to the magic of her music and the intervention of one very special woman who secretly used her powers of persuasion to get Ella an invitation to perform at the ‘biggest joint in town’, (The Mocambo,) the very same nightclub that had turned her away before.
And so it was that, just as her secret friend had predicted, Ella Fitzgerald became a huge hit with the audience

and subsequent shows drew in enormous, enthusiastic crowds for every performance, in part thanks to Marilyn Monroe’s presence. Like all good things though, this show had to come to an end; but Ella’s sadness was more than compensated for by the lasting friendship between herself and Marilyn .

Thanks to Marilyn too, Ella became a great film singer and even sang for the US president, eventually earning the name of ‘First Lady of Song – the Queen of Jazz’ and winning thirteen Grammys and many other awards.
Enormously empowering and pitch perfect for KS1 readers is this slice of 1950’s Hollywood razzle-dazzle.

Jazz is just one of the many music genres featured in another stylish presentation:

The School of Music
Meurig & Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost
Wide Eyed Editions
Readers are invited to enrol in the School of Music for a course of 40 lessons, presented over three terms. First we meet ‘The Boss’ aka Sergio Trunk aka, The Maestro, convincingly putting the case for having music in your life and explaining his role as Head of School. Next we meet other faculty members, six talented professors including the percussionist, Roxy Moto …

Now let lessons commence:
During the first term, there’s an introduction to a variety of musical instruments and a wide range of music.
Term two comprises a look at the essentials of melody, harmony, pitch and rhythm; and musical notation is explained in terms understandable to anyone, even those without any musical knowledge.

Students who make it through to Term 3 – and one hopes that’s everyone (no exams here), the final nine lessons encompass ways to enjoy the practical aspects of music. There’s a lesson on making music at home, another on singing and its benefits, and a brief consideration of which instrument to learn. Then comes the nitty gritty ‘Why do we have to practise?, followed by helpful ideas for combatting nerves and more. Many of the lessons have a practical activity for additional enrichment and enjoyment. There is even a QR code at the back of the book with which to stream  samples  of music to your phone or tablet.
I learned more from reading this, than I did during all my music lessons at grammar school (albeit only taken for the first four years and during which I spent a lot of time mucking around as the teacher was so boring). Meuirig and Rachel Bowen are infinitely better teachers and their lessons are made more accessible and further enlivened through Daniel Frost’s witty, contemporary illustrations.
Thoroughly recommended for KS2 readers at home or school.

I’ve signed the charter 

For Your Information Shelf: Books Books Books / Taking Flight

Books Books Books
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books
Award-winning team, Mick Manning and Brita Grandström takes readers on an exploratory journey around London’s British Library, a library that holds over 150 million items in all, going right back to the earliest printed books and coming bang up to date with some printed this year.
First stop is the St Cuthbert Gospel, an ancient hand-made volume that was found in the saint’s coffin at Lindisfarne Priory some time after he died in the 7th century and which was sold to the British Library in 2011 for £9,000,000.
We’re also shown the Lindisfarne Gospels; a copy of Beowulf written in Old English …

and eighteen other landmark publications from the Hound of the Baskervilles to Alice in Wonderland, including the gigantic Klencke Atlas, dating back to the time of Charles 11, that needs six people to lift it …

handwritten sheet music and newspapers.
Mick makes the whole place sound absolutely fascinating and Brita’s visuals really bring each and every entry to life. I haven’t visited this enormous library for many years but reading their book sent me first to its website, http://www.bl.uk and from there to planning my next visit in the near future.

Taking Flight
Adam Hancher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Adam Hancher tells in words and pictures , the amazing story of the Wright Brothers and how through determination and fearlessness, they brought their childhood dream to fruition.
From humble beginnings in Ohio, the boys, inspired by the gift of a toy helicopter from their father, worked tirelessly on project glider. Starting with observations of birds in flight, then working on designing and making, they built their first glider, which they then tested in one of the wildest parts of the US. The machine was a failure, so it was back to the drawing board to work on Mark 2.
Finally a powered machine was ready for testing and … yes, the first journey of a Wright flying machine took place.

It still needed perfecting however and patience was needed until in 1908, everything was ready but …

‘ … something was wrong.’

Fortunately the brothers had kept the promise they’d made to their sister never to fly together, so although Orville was badly injured, he recovered and meanwhile Wilbur had been hard at work flying and breaking records. Fame at last for the Wright Brothers and thoroughly deserved it was.
A mix of superb double page spreads of key scenes, single pages and small scenarios, Hancher’s illustrations really do evoke a sense of their late 19th century settings.
An inspiring, beautiful book for KS1/2 readers at school or at home.

I’ve signed the charter  

Grandad’s Secret Giant

Grandad’s Secret Giant
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Imagine having a giant in your town, one with “hands the size of tables, legs as long as drainpipes, and feet as big as rowing boats.” There is such a one residing where young Billy lives, or so his Grandad tells him: Billy however doesn’t believe it. Especially when Grandad claims he can fix anything such as mend the broken town clock; push the boat stranded in a storm to safety on the shore; and even help cars cross a bridge that’s partly fallen down.

Moreover, the reason Billy can’t see this wonderful being is, so Grandad says, that the giant keeps himself secret “because people are scared of things that are different”.
The trouble is that if nobody can reach to the top of the wall upon which the townsfolk are painting a mural, it will remain unfinished. So, Billy has a dilemma: should he get up at dawn, go to the mural, hope to see the giant and enlist his help, or continue in his disbelief and leave the wall as it is? The former wins out but only so the lad can prove Grandad wrong about the whole giant business. Off Billy goes accompanied by his dog, Murphy.
Who should be waiting right beside the mural but the …

real … HUMUNGOUS and … TERRIFYING!
Billy beats a hasty retreat but then, having put a considerable distance between himself and the giant, pauses for thought. Could Grandpa be right about people being scared of difference? Back he goes to tell Grandad about his experience. Was it a mistake to run away, he wonders?
Perhaps; but perhaps too, there is a way for Billy, with Grandad’s help, to show the giant he’s sorry. A plan is conceived and executed; then comes the waiting …

Will the giant accept the apologetic offering? Will he rescue Murphy for a second time, and … ?
I got home from a few days in London to find this book waiting for me. After the tragedy that had just happened there, its messages concerning reaching out, embracing difference and friendship resonated all the more.
Heart-wrenchingly beautiful and ultimately, uplifting, this stunning book for me, out- plays even The Bear and the Piano.

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The Ladybird / Make and Move Minibeasts / Build a Butterfly

The Ladybird
Bernadette Gervais
Laurence King Publishing
I knew that the ladybird season was about to burst upon us when I noticed several that had emerged, and died on a window-sill of one of the spare bedrooms of my house a few days back. Before disposing of them I took a close look: I think they were a variant of the invasive Harlequin species from Asia. My first go-to was this little book waiting for me to write a review. It’s a wonderful introduction to the little insects, beautifully produced and illustrated, biologically accurate with parts properly labelled; and with judiciously used flaps that add to the effectiveness of the information given.

Topics covered include the insect’s anatomy, defence, nutrition, hibernation and reproduction. The latter takes readers through the entire life-cycle from mating, via the larval stage to the emergence of the new spotless ladybird; the spots and red colour develop fully after about an hour.

There are also spreads devoted to the variety of ladybirds; and a ‘spot the difference’ observation game. The whole thing is printed on thick matt paper, which further adds to the quality of the whole. Altogether a class act; add it to your early years topic box or KS1 collection.

Make and Move Minibeasts
Sato Hisao
Laurence King Publishing
I’m not generally a great fan of ‘pop-out, create a whatever’ kind of books; they generally require way more manual dexterity and know how than the target age group indicated, but this one is definitely worth a look.
It’s the most recent of a Make and Move series by this artist and contains nine pre-coloured creatures; and a butterfly, a stag beetle and a dragonfly to which users of the book can add their own designs and colours. The coloured images are textured, and although texturing the uncoloured ones, while not impossible, might be something of a challenge that’s no bad thing and certainly something a six or seven year old could do.

Bee

They might need a little help with putting the animals together though and the projects increase in difficulty from first to last.
When completed the minibeasts do move easily, partly due to their being printed on thin card. Now while I don’t suggest buying a whole lot of these books, I know that many schools have a focus on minibeasts at some time during the summer term and a copy of this in the classroom could well prove inspiring for children to perhaps use as a source book, with an adult creating an example or two from the book itself. There’s a whole lot of mathematical learning potential as well as biological (and technological) learning herein.
Alternatively, it’s an interesting way to spend a few hours at the weekend or during say, a half term holiday.

Build a Butterfly
illustrated by Kiki Ljung
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, this is a board book and activity book combined.
Young readers are invited to find out about the Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) and to use the press-out pieces, following the step-by-step instructions to build a card model of the butterfly. Starting with its life-cycle, information is given about finding food including the role of the eyes in locating same, as well as finding a mate; the butterfly’s diet;

emergence from its chrysalis; habits; and how it migrates.
The names of the insect’s various body parts are supplied – these are crucial when constructing the butterfly model – as well as a simple explanation of the function of each part. Young fingers may require the assistance of an adult in fitting the eleven pieces together.
My knowledge of this butterfly species is that there’s a slight inaccuracy in the portrayal of the adult, which here has been given white markings to the upper surface of the hind-wings making it look like a Monarch butterfly. A curious slip considering the endorsement given by the Natural History Museum; ditto the use of a capital C in the specific name; the paragraph about the butterfly’s emergence from its chrysalis has inaccuracies too. These factors will not however detract from the enjoyment of creating the insect. This book, I suggest, is best seen as helping readers to understand the basic anatomy of the butterfly.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Story of Space / 100 Steps for Science

The Story of Space
Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘A first book about our universe’ this follow-up to The Story of Life is an equally fascinating exploration of another ‘big’ topic: what is thought to have happened 13.8 billion yeas ago when the Big Bang created our universe; and what followed in space thereafter going right up to the present time …

even projecting future possibilities. We’re told how the sun came into being; how, over billions of years, stars ‘are born, grow old and die’; how the planets – and hence our solar system – were formed. As well as that, there is a spread on comets and asteroids; another on how/why the seasons vary in different parts of the Earth; and one looking at oxygen and how it supports life.

This awesome journey is taken in the company of two young space investigators who comment and ask questions alongside the authors’ main narrative. Both Barr and Williams have a science background and manage perfectly, to avoid talking down to primary school aged readers. Amy Husband’s vibrant illustrations have an exuberance about them, making the whole book all the more inviting for the target audience.
I’d most certainly add this to a home collection or primary class library.
The same is true of:

100 Steps for Science
Lisa Jane Gillespie and Yukai Du
Wide Eyed Editions
Ten STEM topics are explored in this fascinating book (written by a doctor of chemistry), that offers thoroughly digestible, bite-sized introductions to Space, Wheels, Numbers, Light, Sound, Particles, Medicine, Materials, Energy, and Life.
Each one is allocated several spreads wherein its evolutionary story is explored and the key scientists are introduced. In this way, what might for some, seem formidable topics, are given a human element making them more easily engaged with and intriguing. Add to that Yukai Du’s detailed visuals, which include some amazing perspectives …

and science becomes exciting for everyone.

I’ve signed the charter 

Board Book Shelf 1

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Flip Flap Dogs
Nikki Dyson
Nosy Crow
There’s a newcomer to the Flip Flap series in Nikki Dyson who introduces readers to eleven breeds of dog in this split page pooch-lovers delight. In all though you can make 121 different combinations by manipulating the bissected cardboard pages..
There’s a descriptive, two verse rhyme for each breed in which, for example the Terrier, introduces itself
opposite a portrait of same, and a characteristic ‘Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!’ or whatever. And then, that might become with a deft flick of the flaps, say, a ‘Terrihuahua’ …

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or all manner of other crazy crossbreeds. Splendid stuff especially, if you’re canine crazy.

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Pairs! in the garden
Pairs! underwater

Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Lorna Scobie
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Pairs! is a new series which provides young children with an interactive information book, a memory game (via the flaps and a straightforward instruction such as ‘Find each matching pair of snails’, and an inviting, brightly illustrated board book all between the same two covers. In the Garden penned by Smriti, introduces, with a series of jolly rhymes, including some nice alliteration ‘swirly, sparkly silver trails’, all kinds of minibeasts scattered among a plethora of flowers.
One of my preschool testers has a great time ascribing names to the various creatures Lorna Scobie has illustrated: ‘buzzy fat bee’, ‘cuddly bee’, ‘grumpy bee’ ‘but this cross skinny bee doesn’t have a friend’.

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The grasshoppers became ‘dotty’, ‘spotty’ ‘stripey’ and ‘skinny striped’ while among the caterpillars were ‘hairy, scary blue’ and ‘red spotalot’. My favourite though I think, was ‘pinky purply underpants’ beetle’.
Underwater looks at marine life both on the shore (despite the title) and under the sea …

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and is equally attractive and involving.

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Baby Dinosaurs
Minibeasts

DK
These two larger than usual board books ask users to ‘Follow the Trail’ or trails, as there are several offered on some spreads to interact with Baby Dinosaurs or a variety of Minibeasts. The trails are glittery embossed lines that readers can trace across the pages with their fingers and at the same time find out something about the Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Styracosaurus and Tuojiangosaurus or alternatively butterflies, honeybees, ladybirds and dragonflies.
Digital illustrations of the baby dinosaurs are set against clean white backgrounds on which are digitally drawn flora to give a idea of their environments. Interactive instructions (‘Loop around’ or ‘Make an oval shape as you go round the dinosaur egg’), brief facts about the animals (‘Allosaurus walked on two legs’. ‘Mummy Allosaurus was about as tall as a giraffe‘),

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and die-cut holes through which to peep at what dinosaur is coming next add up to a playful, multilayered reading experience.
Similarly with the minibeasts (all four are winged insects), there are glittery trails – looping or zigzagging, going straight or curving up and down, to take the insects to the flowers containing nectar, honeycombs,

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aphids on a leaf, or a pond. All are illustrated by Charlotte Milner and the inclusion of a snail with its spiral shell to trace as the ladybird travels over a flowerpot, justifies the Minibeasts title.
One of my preschool testers seized on these and, after spending a considerable time enjoying sharing them, wanted to keep them; this had to be put on hold until I’d had a chance to reflect and write however. Beautifully done and certain to be read over and over.

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