Lizzy and the Cloud

Lizzy and the Cloud
The Fan Brothers
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The Fan Brothers set their story in a bygone era when zeppelins hovered above the row of shops and people rode penny farthing cycles.

Every Saturday Lizzy and her parents go walking in the park. Most of the children visiting make straight for the roundabout or the puppet show but not Lizzy: despite clouds being ‘a bit out of fashion’ in those days, she makes for the Cloud Seller. From him she buys not one of the fancy animal clouds on a string, but an ordinary cloud. This she names Milo. (Naming your cloud was the first instruction in the accompanying manual.).

Lizzy takes great care of her cloud, following the instructions, watering it daily, taking it for walks and allowing it to go soaring out of her window while she held the string firmly in her hand.

Over the months, Milo grows … and grows until one day it covers the whole ceiling.

There’s no instruction in the book to help fix the growing problem, then one night there’s a thunderstorm. It’s this that steers her towards a vital realisation: Milo has outgrown her room; she can’t contain him any longer: her cloud needs a bigger sky. Lizzy must do what is best for Milo and so she sets it free.

This beautiful meditation on letting go is brilliantly imagined and by blending the ordinary everyday with the extraordinary, the Fan Brothers deliver a truly original fable. It gently shows children that sometimes one needs to allow somebody (or something) you love to move on and that in time, those raw memories will become something sweet to be cherished always.

The delicate, dreamy illustrations in soft greys and browns with muted colours, are perfect for showing the alternative reality in which the tale unfolds. Whimsical and wonderful.

A Pinch of Love

A Pinch of Love
Barry Timms and Tisha Lee
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

A little boy and his grandmother love to cook together and they especially like to make the titular pinch of love one of the ingredients no matter what they bake. Through Barry Timms’ rhyming text and Tisha Lee’s vibrant acrylic illustrations, that heartfelt love is shared throughout the local community. We see the empathetic little lad out offering fresh cookies to those in the neighbourhood; he seems to know just when there’s a need for a tasty treat that contains that vital ingredient.

Readers will enjoy the ‘sticky moments’ grandmother and grandson share in the kitchen as they too sometimes need a touch of tenderness especially as they prepare for that big neighbourhood fund raising bake sale at the community centre.

Choosing to be kind and loving isn’t always easy, but Tisha’s scenes of the wonderfully diverse community show just what a big difference it can make to be on the receiving end, as well as for the giver.

Love can be a power like no other: that message comes across in both the skilfully mixed text and the illustrations that add further heartwarming details to the words.

A lovely book to share with children and a smashing starting point for a class or local group event along the lines of the one shown in this story: baking/food is both a means and a metaphor for ‘paying it forward’.

Kid Christmas of the Claus Brothers Toy Shop

Kid Christmas of the Claus Brothers Toy Shop
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Everything David Litchfield does is a winner as far as I’m concerned and this one is no exception. It features young Nicky and his three uncles: Louis, Hans and Levi, aka the Claus Brothers, the finest toy makers in all the land.

Nicky is now old enough to work for his uncles in their emporium behind which is their workshop. There, Uncle Hanz was to be found making the toys, Uncle Louis would check them and Uncle Levi had a special role: he added the magic sparkle to every single toy making it perfect for the recipient. From time to time Nicky would notice less fortunate children outside the shop peering in and on Christmas Eve, with the shop closed early, Nicky decides to follow the children. What he discovers saddens the boy greatly and he vows to give every child in the city a present to make them happy, even if only for one day.

Back in the Toy Shop, his uncles are agreeable to the plan and with huge sacks full of gifts, Nicky suddenly realises that delivering them is going to be beyond his capabilities. Or maybe not, thanks to another of his uncles’ creations.

Off he sets but then faces other difficulties on his journey pulled by reindeer that require frequent supplies of carrots. Will Nicky ever bring his plan to fruition? Happily yes: how else would the story of Father Christmas have come to be?

David’s illustrations are out of this world brilliant. Full of Victorian details to pore over, and combined with a story brimming over with kindness that will fill anybody lucky enough to read the book, with a wonderful seasonal glow.

Board Books for Christmas

Cat Family Christmas
Lucy Brownridge and Eunyoung Seo
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There’s an olde world feel to this Christmas count down. We follow the Cat Family through the busy days in the run-up to the festival, right through to Christmas Eve in this lift-the-flap book.

With twelve days to go to the big day, after many hours working in town, Mummy Cat joins her kittens just back from school and Daddy Cat already there to welcome them, and then it’s all systems go. There’s so much to do: the first being putting up the decorations – a task for the kittens; then comes the baking of Christmas cake and mince pies – hmmm you can almost smell that lovely spicy aroma. While their parents write cards, the kittens write to Santa and the following day, the family go to meet Granny and Grandpa at the station. Next the Cat Family go out into the village to do some cat-a-carolling, “We fish you a meow Christmas and a tabby new year”. 

With six days to go, there’s a bit of garden harvesting needed of veggies for the Christmas feast and finally with all the last minute jobs done, it’s time for a snuggly Christmas Eve with the family and a regaling of Grandpa’s special story.

There’s seasonal cheer aplenty here with not a hint of a cross word or a tear and the family seemingly cruise through all the preparations. Eunyoung Seo’s scenes are bursting with detail and each spread has a plethora of small flaps to peep behind (careful handling required), where further details are revealed. This large format board book will last more than one season in contrast to the traditional advent calendar; moreover it’s something to share with your little ones.

Santa’s Christmas Countdown
Kath Jewitt and Sebastien Braun
Townhouse Publishing

Poor Santa! Having lost his list of jobs to do, he’s worked himself into such a state, till, lightbulb moment: he’s been doing them for so many years that surely he can now recall every single task. It’s surely worth a try so off he goes. First he checks the sleigh is clean and shiny; then there are all the presents to wrap and his own snacks to put in his food box. Singing jolly songs helps him get into the spirit of the season and of course, the reindeer must be well fed and their coats brushed. Good old elves, they’re at the ready for this job and more.

Then Santa works on himself: that entails donning his lucky socks and pants, some tonsorial treatment and then it’s time to get into his red outfit (heated of course). That done, he feeds his moggy, makes a hot chocolate, hitches the reindeer, loads the sleigh and Ho! Ho! Ho! off he jolly well goes on his round.

A touchy-feely, fun book for tinies with a rhyming text and Sebastien Braun’s bright, busy illustrations. It’s great to see a black, bespectacled Santa and a diverse team of elves too.

A World Full of Spooky Stories

A World Full of Spooky Stories
Angela McAllister, illustrated by Madalina Andronic
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This collection of fifty traditional tales from all over the world is organised thematically into eleven parts – by geographical feature or location – and celebrates things spooky (but not terribly so). Some are very familiar: Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood being two from the ‘Into the Woods’ section, which comes first.

One witch I wasn’t familiar with is the Water Witch. In this tale originally from France, William the hero goes to the bottom of an enchanted lake to find riches so he can afford to marry his beloved, a dairymaid, but is tricked by the witch, transformed into a frog and thrown into a fish tank. All ends happily I hasten to add, though maybe not for the witch.

Readers are more likely to know Baba Yaga who resides in the house that stands on a pair of chicken legs: she’s the one Vasilissa the Beautiful gets the better of when she goes into the forest, in a Russian tale of the same name.

If you follow a mountain path it might lead to a man-eating ogre. This fearsome being is found in the mountains of Tibet and he tricks a girl into believing he is her mother and thus is able to carry her off to his cave. Do you think he eats the girl? Possibly, but it’s also possible that a fox helps the girl’s mother and in so doing causes the demise of the old ogre. Also feared for consuming humans is the Chenoo that features in a North American Passamaquoddy story. This giant creature had once been a man but on account of his wickedness, his heart had turned to ice. Can that ice perhaps be melted again and with it the wickedness? …

Certainly there are spooky elements in all the stories, but very few are really spooky and one or two are even humorous. Helping to bring the tales to life are boldly coloured folk art style illustrations by Madalina Andronic. Yes, this could be a book for reading while snuggled up on chilly autumn and winter evenings, but equally, folk tales are entertaining whenever you encounter them.

Little People, Big Dreams: Marcus Rashford / Little People, Big Dreams: Laverne Cox

Little People, Big Dreams: Marcus Rashford
illustrated by Guilherme Karsten
Little People, Big Dreams: Laverne Cox
illustrated by Olivia Daisy Coles
both written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

World famous soccer player and campaigner against child poverty, Marcus Rashford is a truly inspiring person. Coming from a loving family in Manchester he spent much of his childhood practising with his football. His mother did everything within her power to ensure her children had enough to eat, though the family still had to rely on free school meals supplemented by food charities. Supported by his mother he followed his soccer dreams, was scouted and joined the academy at Manchester United where he worked hard to become a great forward, eventually becoming at just eighteen years old, the youngest player to score for his country in his debut match.

However, every single time he played he believed he was doing it not just for himself but for everyone who had shared his dream; and he never forgot where he came from. During the 2020 school closures on account of the Coronavirus pandemic children no longer had free school meals and Marcus’s social conscience led him to start a nationwide campaign so that no child would go hungry.

With powerful illustrations a timeline and additional information, this is an inspiring addition to the series.

One of twins, Laverne Cox experienced considerable bullying as she came to terms with her gender identity. She received no support from her mother, turning to dance to find some joy in her life.
Eventually she gained a scholarship to Alabama Academy of Fine Arts where youngsters were encouraged to be true to themselves. At last Laverne was able to express herself as she was and to make real friends. While studying ballet in New York she was offered a role in a play, discovered a love for acting, went into film and supported by friends who had already made the journey, developed sufficient confidence to start her gender transition.

A very useful book for younger primary age children to learn about the importance of acceptance and respect for others as well as being true to oneself.

An Unexpected Thing / Hello Autumn

An Unexpected Thing
Ashling Lindsay
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

On a similar theme is

Hello Autumn
Jo Lindley

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

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

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

Our Tower

Our Tower
Joesph Coelho and Richard Johnson
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is Joseph Coelho’s first book as Children’s Laureate and what a truly magical one it is. Inspired by Joseph’s childhood growing up with his sister in a tower block on an estate in Roehampton, close to Richmond Park it is deeply personal and exquisitely told. The story – a modern fable – follows three children who live in a high-rise block, ‘Boring, hard and grey.’ but with a view to greenness beyond the drab grey, as they venture away from the suburban streets in search of a special tree with big leafy brows.

Having found what they were seeking,

the children tumble through a gap in its trunk into a magical world deep down where all kinds of creatures lurk.

There too on a throne sits an old tree-grown green man with bushy brows and he holds out something to the three. It’s a circular stone with a hole in the middle; this he gives the children and it’s as though he’s given them a new lens through which to view the world. For when they peer through the hole ‘the world goes upside-a-diddle’ and they suddenly see their own tower in a completely new light. It’s full of the love and laughter that they’d really been seeking all along: a place where everyday magic can happen once you know how to look.

Looking is assuredly what the artist Richard Johnson has done for his powerfully atmospheric, evocative illustrations. It’s so brilliant how his colour palette changes as the children move between their mundane urban home environment, the fantasy world and the natural one; this adds to the feeling of poetry in motion in Jospeh’s lyrical words. Richard includes details of architecture and sculpture (a version of Lynn Chadwick’s The Watchers) that make several links for this reviewer as well as the author.

Full of hope and enchantment, this timely story is a glorious fusion of words and pictures that blends the mundane and the dark with the magical and the triumphant, the urban and the countryside: nature and magic are everywhere if you know how to look. Unmissable this.

This Book Will Save the Planet

This Book Will Save the Planet
Dany Sigwalt, illustrated by Aurélia Durand
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

As I sit reading my copy of this book, (it’s part of the Empower the Future series), much of the UK swelters in temperatures of 40 degrees C, wild fires are raging in various parts of the world and people are dying as a result of the heat: it’s clear our planet is in crisis. So Dany Sigwalt’s thought-provoking look at climate change couldn’t be more timely.

Herein she shows how it’s the marginalised communities across the world over that are most affected, stating that it’s those of us among the more privileged who need to use whatever privileges we have to help less fortunate and hence, less powerful people.

All is not quite lost. There is still just enough time for every single one of us to make a difference; by pulling together – mutual support and aid is paramount – and by using Dany’s framework we can all further the cause of climate justice. In order for this to succeed, people must come before profit.
Our precious planet will be protected if all its inhabitants are protected; the people will be protected if the planet is protected.

The vibrant illustrations by Aurélia Durand add to the impact of this hugely pertinent, powerfully presented book. Read it, make sure you do the activities at the end of each chapter and act – NOW! Make that crucial difference.

A New Friend

A New Friend
Lucy Menzies and Maddy Vian
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This truly heartwarming story is told from the perspectives of two children, Mae and Joe and it’s a terrific demonstration of there being two sides to every story. On the left side Mae introduces herself telling readers of her excitement about there being a new arrival in town for whom she has written a special letter to give him at school. At playtime though, she’s unable to find him anywhere.

Joe, the new boy tells his story on the right side explaining that he and his dad have just moved to a new home and now everything feels strangely different. He’s eager to make new friends like his dad says but Joe feels invisible in the playground, wishing he could be back playing space adventures with his old friends. Then suddenly …

Could this be the start of an exciting friendship, and further space adventures perhaps …

A smashing, cleverly conceived book that will help young children understand the importance of empathy and how sometimes being in an unsettling, worrying situation might lead to misunderstandings or misconstrual on a newcomer’s part. Both children however show courage: Mae for her persistence and determination to show kindness, Joe for facing up to his fears. Close perusal of Maddy Vian’s bright, inclusive illustrations will reveal lots of galactic theme details such as the sticker on Mae’s letter, toy rockets and Joe’s backpack.


Mariajo Ilustrajo
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (First Editions)

Full of water, wit and a little one’s bit of wisdom is this debut picture book from Mariajo Ilustrajo, about a city inhabited solely by animals. It happens one summer beginning on a day just like all the others except that the entire place is rather wet. Initially all the residents except one are happy to use the excess of water as a chance to splash about in wellies and carry on with life as normal, merely making it a topic of conversation and a source of fun.

As the water level keeps on rising there remains a lone voice that shows increasing concern as most others become further involved in their own issues, until that is, some of the smaller animals start having problems.

Eventually a small volume of water has become an enormous problem, impossible for anyone to ignore; but is there anybody that knows what should be done? Happily yes and at last that little creature is able to voice a simple (and we readers would think, obvious), solution. With the entire population working as a team …

the plug is extracted and the drowning of the city is finally halted. Yes, new problems arise and have to be dealt with, but happily now community collaboration rules and solves …

This tale of pulling together in times of need is wonderfully illustrated by an exciting newcomer using ink and graphite and digitally coloured. The text is kept to a minimum allowing the wealth of funny details in each scene to do much of the storytelling.

An Artist’s Eyes

An Artist’s Eyes
Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

As the story opens adult Mo and young Jo are out walking together. Readers are invited to notice their eyes – they have the same friendliness, shape and smallness but Mo’s eyes are different: she has artist’s eyes. As they walk through various different natural places Mo comments imaginatively on their surroundings: she sees the seascape as ‘a dazzling duck-egg blue, a swirl of peacocks and the inky, indigo of evening, whereas Jo says it’s “so blue!” As they continue Jo describes the forest literally as “green” whereas Mo sees “a shiny apple-green, the lime of gooseberries, and the spring zinginess of moss.”

The field of yellow flowers are “bright yellow” to Jo and Mo notices variations in shades. “Notice how light changes the colour. See the mellow yellow of melons and the pale pastel of primroses.” Jo’s response is despondent: he becomes angry and frustrated at not seeing like an artist.

Patiently, Mo encourages him to trust his own eyes and little by little Jo begins to see what they show him; and what they show him as he deploys his imaginative powers to the full are patterns, textures, shapes and more.

No, he doesn’t see as Mo sees but he does now see with artist’s eyes.

Assuredly, with Clémence Monnet’s gorgeous mixed media illustrations, and Frances Tosdevin’s empowering story, this is a book that, shared with the right adult, will encourage youngsters to accept, employ and make the most of the unique skills they have, as well as conveying the idea that everyone can see like an artist and describe imaginatively what they see.

This is the Way in Dog Town / Cheesed Off! / Blue Badger

This is the Way in Dog Town
Ya-Ling Huang
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Spend a day in Dog Town with little ones and you’ll soon be singing along to the tune of Here we go round the Mulberry Bush. Just like humans, the residents of this canines only town start by brushing their teeth, after which they get dressed (with a bit of adult assistance) as they ‘Pull, pull, pull!’ Then it’s off to school, hurrying of course as there’s so much there to enjoy be it drawing, playing outdoors and having lunch at midday. Duly sated, ‘Yum, yum, yum!’the afternoon is spent painting and swimming. Early in the evening, the young dogs, walk home and once indoors the way they eat their dinner is let’s say rather messy as they ‘Slurp, slurp, slurp! their way through plates full of spaghetti. So, it’s as well they have a jolly good scrub in the bath later in the evening before retiring to bed.

As they share this book with an adult, little humans will enjoy joining in with action words, as well as emulating the puppies’ actions and exploring the various busy scenes created by Ya-Ling Huang.

Cheesed Off!
Jake Hope and Genevieve Aspinall
uclan publishing

The humans are having a party and it’s time for the photos: on the count of three everyone say “Cheese!” but what about that warning sign at the start of this book – the one about a certain word bringing mice from their house. Too late! The partiers have uttered the word and it’s been heard behind the skirting board. Out come the mice but not a whiff of cheese can they detect. Not a single sighting of a sliver can they spy no matter how hard they try.
Then suddenly an announcement is made and something with candles atop is carried in. Now what might that be …

Huge fun for those in the early stages of becoming readers especially, is Jake Hope’s extended joke illustrated with lots of amusing details from the viewpoint of the mowses’ – oops, make that mice. Therein Genevieve Aspinall shows how humans don’t always realise what’s actually going on right under their noses – or, to be more accurate, beneath their feet.

Blue Badger
Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders
Happy Yak

Badger is having an identity crisis: is he black or is he white – albeit with a blue bottom having sat down beneath a bush to eat berries. Off he goes to ask the opinion of other creatures. Bird is unsure, Dog doesn’t know either although he admires Badger’s blue rear and invites him to play. Both Cow and Skunk are dismissive whereas Zebra is equally nonplussed about his own colour markings and Panda merely takes the opportunity for some self-flattery.
Whale sends Badger off to meet Penguin whose considered response is both helpful and constructive, making Badger feel much more positive about himself as well as perhaps, a tad hungry … Happiness at last.

Author Huw Lewis Jones adopts an almost detached tone to his gently humorous text that includes a repeat refrain, while Ben Sanders places his black and white characters on stark, coloured backgrounds in this story with its ‘You can be whatever you want to be’ message.

A World Full of Journeys & Migrations

A World Full of Journeys & Migrations
Martin Howard and Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Migration has been very much in the news for the past several years with stories of people fleeing wars in Syria and Afghanistan, overcrowded and flimsy craft undertaking hazardous crossings of the Mediterranean and the English Channel and refugees attempting to cross land borders of eastern European countries to reach the European Union. This book chronicles that migration is not a recent phenomenon but something that began 70,000 years ago when the first people started to spread out from Africa to inhabit the whole globe.

Author Martin Howard and illustrator Christopher Corr explore some fifty instances through history, continent by continent covering a large variety of relevant topics. These include navigational journeys of discovery by Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus, as well as Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki,

which emulated primitive vessels of ancient peoples; forced migration of slaves such as those of African peoples from their homelands to American colonies; colonial journeys for power and profit including those of the British to India and many European countries to Africa and various other parts of the world. Also included is an excellent example of what humans can do for those on whom great suffering is inflicted, the Kindertransport British people set up to bring Jewish children to Britain to prevent them being sent to concentration camps by the Nazi regime.

What is key no matter the reason, is that with the movement of people comes a wealth of new, potentially enriching ideas. The author acknowledges that in a book such as this it’s impossible to cover everything and it’s an amazing thought that as he says, inside everyone of us is a ‘kaleidoscope of human history and thousands of stories of travel and adventure.

Christopher Corr’s distinctive illustrative style is ideal for the book making what would otherwise be quite a demanding subject much more accessible.

Nen and the Lonely Fisherman / Love Grows Everywhere

Nen and the Lonely Fisherman
Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew
Owlet Press

Far out to sea lives Nen; he’s a merman who loves exploring but nonetheless has an empty feeling in his heart. Every night he sits beneath a starry sky singing to the sea whose waves carry his words of hope but Nen remains alone when he returns to the seabed.

Despite his father Pelagios’s warnings, Nen’s explorations of the world beyond his own lead him to discover fishing boats beyond which lives Ernest, a lonely fisherman who also feels something is lacking in his life.

One night Ernest hears Nen’s song and feeling something in his heart, he sets off in his boat to find the owner of this magical voice. So it is that a bond develops between Nen and Ernest. However Pelagios urges his son to stay away from the humans who are harming the oceans. Nen pays no heed however for he feels that the gentle, kind Ernest is special and their nightly meetings continue.

As Pelagios’ anger and sadness increase they unleash a terrible storm that puts Ernest’s life in danger as he’s thrown from his rickety boat into the foaming deep. Can Nen possibly come to his rescue

and if so, might it just change the mind of his father?

Washed through with an important conservation message, Ian Eagleton’s soft-spoken, lyrical tale of acceptance and love is compelling and perfectly paced, helped in no small part by James Mayhew’s powerfully atmospheric illustrations that include a wonderful full-length vertical scene of Nen searching the depths for Ernest, as well as small vignettes and double page spreads.

There’s love too in:

Love Grows Everywhere
Barry Timms and Tisha Lee
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

‘Love grows everywhere…
From country farm to city square
From desert village, hot and dry,
to mountain home where eagles fly
Through Barry Timms’ gentle rhyming text and Tisha Lee’s vibrant illustrations we share a family’s love, not only for one another but also for the plants they grow, nurture, sell, and give to members of their local community, newcomers especially. When reading this It’s impossible not to feel the various ways love is shown and shared

be it within the family, the richly diverse community or anywhere else: for love is a gift that helps to make the world a brighter, happier place; it keeps on growing and there’s sufficient for everyone, everywhere. It might just take some time for its magic to happen.

How wonderful it would be if this heartfelt book could show the way to everyone, in every place where such love is yet to manifest itself.

Rita Wants a Robot / The Toys’ Christmas

Rita Wants a Robot
Màire Zeph and Mr Ando

Rita is a small girl with a big imagination and a head full of ideas. Her latest is a ‘super-sorting’ robot: something that would tidy up the ginormous messes she creates in her bedroom thus putting paid to mum’s repeated chastisements. There is a stipulation however; said robot mustn’t spoil Rita’s fun by creating hyper tidiness, so he’d need to know when enough was enough or risk her wrath. Of course, said robot would need to be an appreciator of wildlife, as well as never overstepping the mark, for doing so would land Rita in big trouble.

Then there are special considerations at the approach of the festive season: who would want a Christmas saboteur robot, albeit a well-intentioned one? Definitely not Rita: maybe time to have another think about the whole robot-sorting idea …

This is another fun episode in the imagined life of Rita conjured by author Màire Zeph and illustrator Andrew Whitson (Mr Ando) that will be enjoyed by youngsters around the age of the protagonist. This adult reviewer wouldn’t mind a brief visit from Rita’s super-sorting robot to work on my partner’s super messes, although it would need to be kept a close eye on, I suspect.

The Toys’ Christmas
Claire Clément and Geneviève Godbout
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

It’s Christmas Eve but rather than feeling excited, little Noah is very worried and upset: his favourite cuddlesome toy elephant Fanfan is nowhere to be found. Despite his mum’s reassurances that his absence is only temporary, Noah isn’t convinced.

Meanwhile, outside in the snow Fanfan is on his way to an important meeting when he hears a voice asking for help. It’s toy rabbit Mr Long Ears with a bad foot, upset at the possibility of not getting to the meeting on time and of course the kindly elephant offers him a lift and they reach the clearing where the other toys have gathered just in time for the long journey.

Why are they, along with toys from all over the world, out on this chilly night when they could be snuggled up with their children? 

They’re on a special mission to see Santa to tell him what their owners want for Christmas, but they also need to make sure they get back home in time for the big day.. What will Noah discover when he wakes on Christmas morning?

An unusual story illustrated in soft focus pastel by Geneviève Godbout whose art here has an olde-worlde charm.

A Natural History of Magick

A Natural History of Magick
Poppy David and Jessica Roux
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

To provide an element of authenticity, a letter at the beginning of this book introduces it as a ‘precious scrapbook’ from 1925 by one Conrad Gessner, grandfather of Alfie to whom his opening letter is addressed.

There follows a first person narrative from the professor, purporting to be his research into magick practices starting with that in Ancient Egypt and going right through to modern magic in the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s a look at magick from the African continent, used still to this day for such purposes as healing the sick and helping crops to grow. However, magick knows no boundaries and respects no borders, so we’re told on the ley lines pages whereon there’s a world map showing how they all connect. Also referred to briefly on the same spread is Machu Picchu.

After the brief history come spreads devoted to overviews of single magickal forms including divination, cartomancy, numerology, alchemy and the making of potions. (Should you wish to try it, there’s even a recipe for a potion from one Guilla Tofanus who fled to France, said to conjure up fairies and sprites.)

Then you might need a wand, in which case the kind of wood from which it’s fashioned makes all the difference: for example if you happen to be a healing wizard, then a wand from a restorative tree is what’s required but so I read, it’s not entirely up to you for ‘in wand lore, it is magic that pulls a wand and its bearer together.’

It’s useful to have an amulet or talisman, an object containing magical power, to keep close at hand all the time, they’re popular even today; some examples are shown here …

Beautifully illustrated by Jessica Roux in pencil and watercolour, with a muted colour palette, this book is assuredly a fascinating read but I’m not sure who the target audience is. I suspect you might find it in the Hogwart’s lending library so fans of the Harry Potter stories may well go for it.

Journey to the Last River

Journey to the Last River
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Teddy Keen edits a spin-off from The Lost Book of Adventures, an Amazon adventure presented in the form of a scrap book journal belonging to ‘The Unknown Adventurer.’ Smudgy, apparently finger-marked pages and ‘handwritten’ text add authenticity.

Again the written account grips the reader from the start as you learn that the adventurers (the writer, and Bibi who grew up somewhere in the region) are staying in a wooden outhouse belonging to a local villager, preparing for their six week canoe trip into the rainforests. They’ve got the original map ‘borrowed’ from The Geographical Society to help them search for that Last River and discover its secret. The writer hasn’t mentioned this to his companion; instead he’s led her to believe that he’s an artist adventurer.

There’s certainly drama aplenty including an unexpected encounter with a man who draws the supposedly non-existent river in the sand with a stick and Bibi recognises a few of his words including ‘wait’, ’rains’ and ‘guide’ before disappearing again. The two travellers are heartened and eager to continue however.

Continue they do and just over two weeks into their journey they acquire a new crew member, a squirrel monkey that they name Nutkin.

The days pass and the two begin to despair of ever finding what they’re searching for; but then comes the lightning followed by torrential rain.

Suddenly a realisation dawns: perhaps their journey isn’t in vain after all …

Brilliantly illustrated with powerfully atmospheric scenes of the Amazon flora and fauna,

as well as the elemental spreads, there’s a lot to learn from this book with its important final conservation message. Readers will be enthralled by the detail included in both the words and visuals, as well as by seeing the transformative effect the trip has on the ‘writer’.

A superb book that offers huge potential to upper KS2 classes in particular.

My Beautiful Voice

My Beautiful Voice
Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

From the duo who created the hugely moving If All the World Were… comes an inspirational story about finding your voice, literally as well as metaphorically.

Joseph Coelho’s narrator is a shy child who doesn’t talk at school, that is until a flamboyant, understanding new teacher, poetry lover Miss Flotsam, wields her transformative magic in the classroom.

She starts by sharing stories of her adventures, then moves on to sharing stories from books

and then the very personal form of her own poetry; and little by little one shy child begins to unleash that inner creativity we all have if only there’s somebody to nurture it.

A poem begins to form on the page, line by line and eventually, judging when the time is right, Miss Flotsam proffers its author an invitation to share that poem with the class …

With poet and playwright Joseph’s heartwarming, highly empathetic text and Allison’s superb, powerful illustrations of creativity at work,

with their splashes of neon-bright colour that capture so well the feelings of the two main characters, this is a perfect book to foster empathy in children. They’ll surely respond to the inherent themes of courage, resilience and determination in this heartfelt story of unlocking a child’s potential.

Every youngster deserves to have at least one teacher like the one portrayed here, during their early years of education.

I Love my Bike

I Love my Bike
Simon Mole and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The little girl narrator of this story is the proud owner of a new red bike and with the help of her dad, she’s learning to ride it.

His encouragement enables her to get going and with confidence growing, ‘a tingle in her tummy’ and a ‘flame on the frame’ she soon loves the experience, even starting to take some risks as she rides.

Hills are a struggle (my bike gets lazy) but the walk up is well worth it as the view from the top is incredible.

Now for the downhill run, that’s sure to be fun, or is it?

Before long, exhilaration gives way to exasperation, the tingle in her tum turns to a tangle and …

Her response reminds me a a young relation who having taken her first tumble said, “Nincompoop bike”, threw hers down and walked away. Inevitably such falls hurt, probably both pride and limbs, but thanks to an understanding Dad and some beautiful natural surroundings to rest in, it isn’t too long before our novice cyclist is back on the saddle and feeling positive once more, off she goes again …

Both poet Simon Mole’s words and Sam Usher’s illustrations capture so well the lows and highs of learning to ride a bike as well as celebrating both a warm father/child relationship, and the sheer joy of being outdoors, especially in a green place.

Race Cars

Race Cars
Jenny Devenny ed. Charnaie Gordan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This book, is the result of a collaboration between author/illustrator Jenny Devenny who uses the metaphor of a car race to introduce institutional and systemic racism to children, and diversity and inclusion expert, Charnaie Gordon who edited the story. (Both have written an introductory note).

Meet best friends Chase and Ace. Chase is a black race car; Ace a white race car and they both love racing. Chase is super speedy and in his first year of entering, becomes the very first black car ever to win the ‘world-famous, annual race-car race.’ To his Ace friend who finishes fourth , it matters not: place is unimportant. However the race committee (all except the youngest, pink-tyred Grace, being white male autos) are anything but happy and resolve to alter some of the rules in favour of the white cars, thus disadvantaging the other cars in future races.

The route change they introduce for non-white cars

enables Ace to win the next race the following year and in the subsequent one, an official stops Chase before he enters the magic forest, demanding to be shown his ID. These two demonstrations of blatant discrimination result in Chase failing to qualify for the next year’s race. Now Ace starts to think perhaps something isn’t right: but even worse, Chase now feels inferior.

At a further committee meeting, Grace quietly talks of making the race ‘fair and equal for all’, but only one or two others agree, while the rest, fearing change, keep quiet.

The following year Chase is there spectating and supporting his friend who starts off at super speed. But as Ace approaches the magic forest, he notices something he’d not previously been aware of

and decides to take the route intended for non-white cars. Consequently he gets lost.

Back at the track the committee are worried about their star race car Ace not having crossed the line. Now, Grace knows she must speak out and so she does, with the result that Chase agrees to search for his friend … and finally they finish the race together.

Designed to be accessible to a young audience, and intended as a starting point for opening up discussion, this book has been engineered to tackle a difficult and sensitive topic. To this end there are discussion notes after the story. Almost every time I turn on the news I hear something alarming and upsetting concerning the ill-treatment of a person or persons of colour, so it’s clear that opportunities such as this book offer to get children talking are much needed.

The Encyclopaedia of Unbelievable Facts

The Encyclopaedia of Unbelievable Facts
Jane Wilsher and Louise Lockhart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Many of us turn red in the face when feeling embarrassed but have you ever wondered about your insides? Embarrassment causes adrenaline to be produced and this helps increase blood flow, one consequence of which is that the stomach lining becomes red, so we blush both internally and externally.

Equally amazing is that our hair contains minute traces of gold, with babies having more than adults. Both are covered in the Human Body the opening part of this unusual encyclopaedia of trivia.

In case you’ve ever wondered what astronauts do with their dirty laundry, what happens to their wee, or what happens when an astronaut wants to scratch an itchy nose while wearing a space helmet, you’ll discover the answers along with those to over 45 more questions in the Space section of this book.

It’s not only STEM topics that are included herein though. There are sections entitled Customs & Culture, Our World and finally Arts & Entertainment. If you want to know Donald Duck’s middle name, you’ll find the answer there.

For each theme Louise Lockhart provides a wealth of offbeat, stylish illustrations, mostly small but some whole page ones too.

No matter whether you want to ask questions in a quiz with your friends or family, or just fancy dipping in to discover some new factual bits and pieces, then here’s a book for you; this reviewer certainly learned a fair bit.

The Dinosaur Awards

The Dinosaur Awards
Barbara Taylor, illustrated by Stephen Collins
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Here’s a novel way of presenting dinosaurs to youngsters, not that a good many of them wouldn’t devour almost any dino. related book they can get their hands on, such is the seemingly never ending enthusiasm for these prehistoric creatures.

This one uses a combination of quirky, almost cartoonish digitally created illustrations and a wealth of intriguing facts about lots of different dino. species, some well known, others less so. I met a few for the first time herein, one being Majungasaurus that receives the ‘Cunning Cannibal Award and lived on Madagascar during the Cretaceous Period between 84 and 71 million years ago – assuredly a VERY scary predator.

Almost all the winners, be they famous or lesser known, are allocated three or four paragraphs, a captioned framed portrait of the award receiver along with its trophy or medal and one or more larger illustrations. There’s also a databank with name pronunciation and meaning, where it came from, diet, and size, plus in some instances a short humorous cartoon strip, in others some additional trivia.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what might make Ouranosaurus so special, not only did it have a ‘Super Sail’ along its back and tail, but also a duck-like beak and two bony bumps in front of its eyes.

Whereas Troodon’s claim to fame was its enormous eyes (about 5cm across), so it received the “What Big Eyes You Have’ award.

There’s even a ‘King of Rock ’N’ Roll medal and that goes to Cryolophosaurus (aka Elvisaurus’ on account of its funky head crest thought to resemble that 1950s quiff of the rock legend).

With plenty here to amuse and inform, this works either as a dip in and out book, or a longish read straight through, in which case you’ll encounter around fifty incredible prehistoric creatures from our planet’s past – worthy winners all.

Gerald Needs a Friend

Gerald Needs a Friend
Robin Boyden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Guinea pig Gerald is a loner and fanatical about his routine. His entire world is his garden wherein he spends most of his days nurturing his flowers, fruit and vegetables.

Come 5 o’clock he goes indoors and has tea, reads twenty pages of his book and at 7pm he retires to bed: a risk-taker he most certainly is not.

One morning he heads off into town with his shopping bags and is surprised to discover a new stall run by two lively mice. The mice introduce themselves and for the rest of the day, after some initial hesitancy, Gerald experiences lots of fun exciting things

and thanks to Marcy and Marcel, has the time of his life until …

That night he lies awake in bed contemplating the day and next morning …

Robin Boyden’s Gerald most certainly discovered that by stepping out of the comfort zone of his hitherto fulfilling life, the world had a lot more to offer, the most important thing being friendship.

The illustrations are terrific – hugely expressive and full of amusing details to pore over. A book to share with KS1 classes (make sure you allow time to explore each spread), as well as individuals and small groups.

Once Upon A Mermaid’s Tail

Once Upon A Mermaid’s Tail
Beatrice Blue
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Beatrice Blue’s new story in her series of ‘Once Upon A … ‘ neo pourquoi tales makes an urgent environmental plea on behalf of the planet’s wildlife.

Herein we meet young Theodore, a passionate fish collector who loves nothing better than to go out once a week in his little boat searching for new fish to add to his aquaria. On one such expedition he nets something amazingly beautiful: a tiny creature encased in a clear shell. No sooner does he start handling it than a voice booms a warning, “Leave her, Theodore! She belongs to the ocean.”

Disregarding the voice he takes her home ignoring the same voice urging him to return the creature to the ocean. Convincing himself he can take great care of the tiny thing, he names it Oceanne and places her into a tank.

As the days go by, instead of thriving the little creature becomes weaker and weaker. Now Theodore is alarmed. What is wrong? The return of that booming voice makes him realise that he must return the creature to the lagoon; but will he be in time to save Oceanne?

Beautifully illustrated and skilfully told, this timely book is another reminder of the fragility of nature and the importance of doing our part in its preservation. It offers a starting point for discussion that young children will find easy to relate to.

Wolf Girl

Wolf Girl
Jo Loring-Fisher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Sophy tries her best to fit in at school, even wearing her wolf suit, that helps her to feel fierce and perhaps a bit brave, but no matter what she does, her shyness takes hold, she just cannot find her voice and the other children laugh at her.

Safe at home once more, she lets her tears flow and then something amazing happens. Sophy is transported to a magical snowy woodland world and there she finds herself face to face with a wolf and her pup. The pup and girl romp together in the snow becoming friends

but as the snow falls faster the three seek shelter in a cave.

Once inside, the roaring Sophy suddenly hears is both without and within, and there before her is a huge bear. She’s terrified but somehow finds her inner wolf and sends the bear packing.

However, on reflection, she has a change of heart and realises that there’s another way to show her bravery, one that’s more important than any other …

Through both words and pictures, Jo has created a totally credible child in urban-residing Sophy; (indeed I’ve taught many Sophys in my time in the classroom) though she leaves her sensitive, lyrical illustrations to do much of the talking, speaking powerfully of the importance of drawing on your inner strength, finding your voice and friendship.

Definitely a book to share and discuss – with individuals, in the classroom or foundation stage settings especially.

Little People, Big Dreams: Pelé / If You’re Going to a March!

Little People, Big Dreams: Pelé
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Camila Rosa
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This new addition to the best-selling series stars one of the world’s greatest ever soccer players, telling of both his awesome skills on the field and his sterling work off the pitch in helping children in need, not only in his home country Brazil, but the world over.

From modest beginnings in a poor neighbourhood in Brazil, young Edson aka, Pelé fashioned a ball from a sock stuffed with paper and tied with string and used it to work on his footie skills.

Fuelled with a determination to lead his country to a World Cup victory, he was selected at age sixteen to play for the national team in Sweden where he became known as the player of ‘Jogo Bonito’ (‘beautiful game’)

Pele went on to take his country to another two World Cup victories. He’s now recognised as the top footballer who ever lived as well as a voice for unity and for the most needy.

With additional facts at the back of the book, set out along a timeline, and Camila Rosa’s striking illustrations, this is a book to inform and inspire young sports enthusiasts especially.

If You’re Going to a March
Martha Freeman and Violet Kim
Sterling Children’s Books

Although this book originated in the USA, there are plenty of young activists and would-be activists in the UK and in many other countries too; this book with its reader-friendly advice and instructions, will speak to them all, whether their cause is civil rights, the environment, women’s rights, gay rights, peace or whatever. And, children start very young: during my participation in pro EU marches I encountered babes in slings accompanied by parents and young siblings.

There’s advice on such practicalities as making your own sign,

appropriate clothing (check the weather forecast), transport to starting point; plus warnings about such possibilities as getting a bit bored if lots of people want to make speeches; feeling free to let go and dance should the opportunity arise; how to interact with the media; even visiting the loo is covered; (perhaps the spread with the smiling police officers ‘their job is to keep people safe’ is probably more apt for the UK than that of the book’s origins).

The author and illustrator also present the ‘why’ behind marches, rallies and protesting – ‘they are showing they care about their country and want to make things better’, as well as pointing out the possibility of seeing people who disagree with your cause – ‘sometimes democracy looks like disagreement’ and advising politeness. With its focus on the practical and positive elements of activism, this book is a good starting point for adults wanting to introduce the possibilities of political involvement, peaceful protest and community action to youngsters.

I love the way Violet Kim conveys a community feel to her scenes throughout.

Mischief and Mayhem: Good Dog / Vampire Peter

Good Dog!
Sean Taylor and David Barrow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Our canine narrator lives with his human owner, Melvin, and they rub along pretty well together, with Melvin giving out a fair few affectionate, “Good Dog!” smiling affirmations that make the receiver go all over waggy and excited.
Then yesterday what should be left standing irresistibly, deliciously aromatic on the table but …

Needless to say, upon discovering the culprit consumer of a sizeable slice, here’s what was said …

Time to put an amazing smile-inducing plan into action, the only trouble being our narrator doesn’t choose the most suitable time to enact said plan; the consequence being a less than enthusiastic reception, and the ensuing of a ‘boo-hoo’ kind of a night.
So, what about plan B – that ‘genius idea’ as uttered straight from the pooch’s mouth? Could that perhaps result in the much-desired words from Melvin?

Or might yet another reparative plan be required? …
Even a cynophobic reviewer such as this one couldn’t help falling for the well-intentioned (mostly) narrator of Sean’s hilarious tale of the ups and downs of a canine’s life. David Barrow truly brings to life the waggish creature making it leap into life, almost right off the pages. Those expressions are utterly beguiling and likely to have readers eating right out if its paws, pizza or not. And make sure you follow the cat’s continued consternation throughout too.

Vampire Peter
Ben Manley and Hannah Peck
Andersen Press
With his black cape and frilly collar, wild hair and fangs, new to the class, Peter soon earns a reputation as ‘baddest boy’ in the school. Indeed, his behaviour is somewhat strange and his deeds land him in considerable trouble with the teachers,

as well as resulting in a distinct lack of friends among his classmates.
Inevitably when the class gerbil goes missing, the obvious assumption is that Peter is answerable.

However, there’s a mysterious somebody narrating who knows otherwise, not only about that particular incident but also about the reality of Peter’s ‘bad’ behaviour.
Can both parties exonerate themselves?

With a classroom setting, this is a really fun demonstration that being different doesn’t equate with being bad: we shouldn’t categorise anyone on account of looks or mere assumptions. Make your own judgements rather than following popular opinion.
I love the comical telling and memorable characters, especially Peter. A terrific read at Halloween or any time.

Once Upon A Dragon’s Fire

Once Upon A Dragon’s Fire
Beatrice Blue
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (First Editions)

In essence this fabulous follow-up to Beatrice’s Once Upon A Unicorn Horn is a neo-pourquoi tale telling how those mythical dragons came to breathe fire, or rather, one very particular dragon.

Now we all know that dragons with their snaggly teeth and huge wings, are truly terrifying creatures. Well maybe not actually; but that’s what comes of listening to hearsay and making up one’s mind before even setting eyes on such things.

And so it was in the village where reside young book-loving Freya and Sylas. All the other villagers lived in fear of their lives on account of the kitten-eating, storm-blowing creature responsible for the constant chill around; but these two are far from scared. In fact, they simply love to read dragon tales to one another; it’s their most favourite thing to do.

Now while the other villagers cower in their homes in the icy cold, the brave pair set out to find said ‘bad dragon’ and terminate its reign of terror once and for all.

What they discover having clambered up the wind-swept mountain though, is something entirely unexpected. No deafening roar, nor sharp teeth, just a sad, lonely-looking creature.

These two children however, know exactly the right remedy for the dragon’s blues …

This wonderfully heart-warming tale celebrates the power of love and kindness as well as the power of story; it’s about misconceptions, facing your fears, searching for truth and much more; I suspect new meanings will reveal themselves on subsequent readings. Beatrice’s illustrations wield their own breath-takingly powerful magic; little by little, they reveal the truth about the dragon, as she dramatically changes the hues of her colour palette with that special gatefold reveal and what follows.

Children and adults alike will relish this book.

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking / Little People Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking
Alex Woolf, illustrated by David Shephard
Little Tiger (Stripes Publishing)

‘Be inspired’ says the first line of the blurb of this book. Who could fail to be inspired by reading about Stephen Hawking, an incredible individual who refused to be defined by his illness and which he never allowed to hold him back from pursuing his awesome scientific dreams, and whose life story is told therein by historian Alex Woolf.

It’s both a biography and a science book – ‘A life beyond limits’ as the subtitle says. Alex Woolf explains by means of an informative narrative together with David Shephard’s illustrations and clear diagrams, Stephen Hawking’s scientific discoveries (panels giving theoretical summaries are provided)

and the challenges he faced through much of his life.

There’s just enough detail of the genius’s revolutionary theories and of the key questions cosmologists have sought answers for, to inspire but not overwhelm readers from the top of KS2 onwards.

The narrative begins with a summary of the history of black holes theory, a brief explanation of the space-time continuum and a mention of other mathematicians and physicists involved in the theory.

There’s also information about Stephen’s formative years: I was particularly interested and amused to read of his family’s trip to India when the car got caught in monsoon floods and had to be towed to safety. (Sounds to me like an almost familiar incident!).

Children will be interested to learn that during his under-grad. days Stephen was far from hard-working and later calculated that he’d spent on average just one hour a day studying, spending much of his time rowing or at the boat club; getting by on his utter brilliance and managing to talk his way into getting a first in his Oxford degree.

It was when he became a student at Cambridge that both Stephen’s clumsiness and his resulting focus on his intellect began to take hold. A diagnosis of the incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) might have overwhelmed even the most determined of people. Not so Stephen whose propensity to ask difficult questions and to put forward new theories without fear of being wrong is exemplary.

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. “ So says the final quote – truly inspiring and one hopes, motivating …

Strongly recommended reading for older children.

Little People, Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Olivia Holden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This addition to the popular series of biographical stories presents the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton from the time he was a child growing up in rural Ireland dreaming of wider horizons, when even at a young age, he showed the qualities of a good explorer – optimism, idealism, patience and courage.

We learn of his participation as a young man, in expeditions endeavouring to reach the South Pole. Then how, inspired by Roald Amundsen, he planned to cross Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole.

This expedition aboard Endurance, began in August 1914 with a crew of 28 enthusiastic, optimistic men and assorted animals. After months crossing the ocean, the ship became trapped in ice;

and so it remained for nine months with their calm leader doing his utmost to keep the spirits of his crew high, until the ice began to break up their ship.

Though there was scant hope of a rescue, Ernest never lost hope of saving his crew, and finally he and five of his men reached a whaling station. Then, having found help, he returned and brought his crew back home, Incredible though it may seem, every one of them survived.

With his unfailing optimism, Shackleton, a true inspiration to countless others, died at the young age of 48, as the final timeline shows. A true inspiration to young readers too, especially at this time when remaining optimistic is to say the least, challenging for us all.

Thank You

Thank You
Joseph Coelho and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Inspired by the NHS Thursday 8pm Clap for Carers earlier in the pandemic, award-winning performance poet Joseph Coelho wrote this gorgeous story, to demonstrate to children how they, like the child in this book can show appreciation for, and celebrate the key workers, in their own lives.

The story tells of Tatenda, a thankful child who says thank you whenever he gets an opportunity: thank you to mum and dad for making breakfast, thank you to the post lady for delivering his favourite comic, to the teacher for marking his work and to the shop staff who stack the shelves.

Of late though, nobody seems to hear his words of thanks, they’re too bogged down in their fears and worries.
Consequently, the boy decides that a much bigger thank you is needed: here’s what he does …

Suddenly this thank you turns into something colourful, full of energy and movement. Out the front door it whizzes and off down the road, followed by his parents, the post lady whose smile makes the thank you ‘grow and glow’, all the way to school where’s it’s given further sparkle from the teacher’s eyes. Then off into the market it goes, with everyone touched by it in pursuit, spreading joy and colour till it reaches a massive oak tree. And there among the branches it sticks.

Eventually after a massive team effort, Tatenda is able to reach  and liberate the thank you, whereupon it continues on its way spreading colour and joy throughout the community and helping everyone feel better!

This wonderful, lyrical celebration of Joseph’s, superbly illustrated by Sam Usher, is a brilliant manifestation of the power of gratitude and of community strength.

For every book sold 3% of the retail price goes to Groundwork, a charity that helps some of the UK’s most disadvantaged communities deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic: another great way of showing appreciation is to get your own copy.

The Bear, the Piano and Little Bear’s Concert

The Bear, the Piano and Little Bear’s Concert
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is truly a very special book but sadly, the final book in the outstanding Bear and the Piano trilogy. Having so said, it really is a sublime finale.

The book begins with a recap of Bear’s wonderful achievements in his musical career and telling how he’d found it hard at first to settle back into forest life after the buzz of the city, until along came his daughter, Little Bear.

We see the two having a wonderful time together with Little Bear learning so many new things.

One day she makes a discovery and asks Bear what the thing is that she’s come across.

Then little by little her father recounts all his adventures in the city, talking of his days in the band. Little Bear senses his sadness and that evening comes up with a plan that she hopes will cheer him up.

Will Little Bear’s idea succeed in enabling Bear to rediscover that magic of making music: perhaps with enthusiasm reignited he can even pass on that passion to his daughter?

David Litchfield’s illustrations are as always absolutely stunning, full of incredible detail and texture; and his colour palette is in places, appropriately dazzling.

The story too is pitch perfect for reading aloud at anytime, anywhere: I’d love to gather some youngsters together and share it in a forest setting. Indeed, the book is exquisite in every way and a must have.

Little People, Big Dreams: Captain Tom Moore

Little People, Big Dreams: Captain Tom Moore
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Christopher Jacques
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

We surely all know of the selfless fundraising achievement of national treasure, Captain Tom Moore, on behalf of NHS Charities Together and of his subsequent knighthood. How many of us though, know anything of the rest of his incredible life? Relatively few I suspect.

Now this new addition to the superb Little People, Big Dreams picture book biography series written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, children who followed him in the media , as he took his daily walk during lockdown, have the opportunity to read about the earlier life of this awe-inspiring veteran.

Tom was a Yorkshire lad who from a young age was passionate about engines of all sorts. At around twelve years of age he discovered an old, broken motorcycle, paid two and six for it, determined to repair and ride it on the road.

Having become an apprentice engineer he was called up to join the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and was sent to India, a country he found initially strange, but to which he quickly adapted. Determined and brave, he rose to become a Captain and a spirit raiser of his team.

A team that also became his friends for many years until only he remained.

A slip while on his daily walk resulted in a hospital stay, a hip replacement and two knee replacements.

Still his spirit never faltered: he bought himself a treadmill online to strengthen his legs, and installed it on his drive.

As he approached his century, Captain Tom decided to celebrate with a pre-birthday 100 laps walk around his garden. Then the global pandemic hit the UK and Captain Tom had a new goal … the result of which was not the £1000 pounds he’d hoped for but a whacking £30,000,000. A-MAZ-ING!

Dream big and never give up: that’s what he did and that’s what we must all try to do, today, tomorrow and …

3% of the cover price of every sale goes to NHS charities – another reason to get hold of this terrific tribute to an incredible person, sensitively portrayed in Christophe Jacques’ illustrations.

Welcome to Ballet School / Pop Art

Welcome to Ballet School
Ashley Bouder and Julia Bereciartu
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In this book, we follow a diverse group of beginners from their first day at ballet school where they excitedly don their colourful dance attire and ballet shoes before warming up.

They then learn the five basic positions for arms and feet ready to approach the barre.

With the basic steps mastered and key techniques acquired, the children are introduced to a special guest who helps them use their learning to tell a story (Sleeping Beauty) with costumes

and a surprise finale.

A firm believer that ballet is for everyone, the author, Ashley Bouder is a principal ballerina and in addition to the concise instructions in the lessons, she’s added a useful glossary of the terms used at the back of the book. But would a teacher, however welcoming s/he wanted to be, really greet children such as those entering the class, as “ little ones”?

Julia Bereciartu’s illustrations are beautifully done and will be a great help to new learners as they zoom in on the five positions and show details of the leg movements in the steps.

I especially like the assertion that ballet is ‘an art form but requires an athlete to perform the steps’ said as the children pause to look at the final gallery of great dancers from various parts of the world.

A book for aspiring dancers and those experiencing their first classes; could that be your child?

Pop Art
Emilie Dufresne
BookLife Publishing

Courtesy of art specialist Chloe, an employee of the gallery, readers are given a preview of a Pop Art Exhibition to be held in her place of work.

Before that though comes an explanation of what Pop Art actually is, when it became popular and why.

We meet several artists – Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein and Yayoi Kusama –

and as well as an introduction to their particular techniques, there are activity spreads.

These give instructions on, in turn, trying your hand at collage, creating a comic strip and captions; painting a portrait pop art style and painting a pumpkin after the fashion of Yayoi Kusama.

The book concludes with a quiz, encouragement to visit a gallery and a glossary.

Pop Art is a style less frequently explored with primary children; this title in the In My Gallery series provides a useful starting point for home or school.

The B on your Thumb

The B on your Thumb
Colette Hillier and Tor Freeman
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is a book of 60 poems, each of which aims to help youngsters learn a particular sound, spelling or rule, and each with a Tor Freeman illustration to make readers giggle.

The author passionately believes that ‘even very young children are receptive to the joys of wordplay’. She’s likely read Kornei Chukovsky’s From Two to Five (required reading when I was  studying the role of language in education under Margaret Meek/Spencer at London University Institute of Education). Here Colette’s clever use of wordplay and rhythm will help develop sound/symbol awareness as well as promote thinking skills, and  demonstrates that there’s pleasure aplenty to be derived from the foibles of the English language and its spelling rules.

Having read the author’s look at language right through, this reviewer, an ardent believer and promoter of the crucial importance of context and meaning as key factors in early reading, wonders how young children manage to learn to read the way it is currently taught in most UK schools. However, Colette’s book is full of loopy delights and she does provide meaning of a playful kind in her poems (many of which are nonsense verse) and I love it, especially as a means to help with spelling.

Deliciously daft from cover to cover (apart from the introduction for grown-ups) this volume is divided into four parts entitled First Sounds …

This ‘Enough of Uff’ is a tricky one: ‘Uff, uff. / Do your stuff. / You’re there in every / huff and puff. / But where are you/ when things get tough? / Perhaps you felt you’d / had enough!’

Then come Silent Letters and Secrets that includes these …

Spellings, and Words that Sound the Same.

Here’s an example from Spellings; it’s called The E on Your Shoe: ‘There is an E / on the tip of your shoe. / Just sitting there / with nothing to do. // Now take off your shoe / and what do you know? Another E / on the end of your toe!’

The book concludes with seven lively ideas for ‘Getting the most out of the rhyme’

A definite thumbs up to this one: get it if you’re a primary teacher, a family with young children or somebody who wants to promote the joy of language for its own sake.

The Grumpy Fairies

The Grumpy Fairies
Bethan Stevens
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

I suspect that most people, youngsters especially, are of the opinion that fairies are cute, kind little things, but that isn’t true of the entire fairy race. The smallest ones especially are grumpy, not just a little bit but grumpy in the extreme. They flatly refuse to do those helpful jobs expected of them by the adults of their kind

as well as being downright rude to the birds that request their assistance. And as for the goblin warning those same birds give them, they don’t even bother listening to it.

The grumpy fairies treat the bees and Mouse in similar fashion, ignoring their words about there being a hungry goblin on the wander looking for lunch; and they’re so busy with their grumps, that they fail to notice …

It’s fortunate that in addition to grumpiness, these particular fairies have cleverness as part of their constitution. Can they succeed in extricating themselves from a very tricky situation, or will they become a ‘sweet and sour’ midday repast for a certain goblin?

This is Bethan Stevens’ debut picture book. It’s full of visual humour; I love her portrayal of those Grumpy Fairies that are similar to grumpy little humans in so many ways, and her hirsute-limbed goblin is terrific fun.

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.

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.


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.