A Quokka For the Queen

A Quokka For the Queen
Huw Lewis Jones and Fred Blunt
Happy Yak

Having read this madcap rhyming royal romp it’s difficult to decide who had more fun, author Huw Lewis Jones creating his alliterative animal gifts – 40+ possibilities, though only 21 in her majesty’s summing up list, or Fred Blunt illustrating same in his splendiferous playful pictures.

It’s her royal highness’s birthday and she’s already received a vast number of presents when one more is duly delivered, having come all the way from Australia. Imagine her surprise when from the parcel leaps a Quokka, a creature unfamiliar to her highness; but she quickly takes a shine to the animal, deciding that this particular birthday will be different. She and her new furry friend will be the givers of presents.

Now being who she is, the Queen has a lot of people whom she deems must be the receivers of their gifts, from the butler and the baker to soldiers and sailors, and from a poet to the prime minister (really?).

Fortunately for her, the Quokka is a superb suggester of suitable animals, including tarantulas for all those important teachers – hmm!

Mightily impressed by the efforts of the Quokka, she then realises that she’s forgotten about asking her helpful friend to choose something for itself. I wonder what the Quokka’s choice will be …

The perfect picture book to share in celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and at any time thereafter.

Lionel the Lonely Monster

Lionel the Lonely Monster
Fred Blunt
Oxford University Press

It will come as no surprise that despite his sign offering free hugs, with his dragon-like tail and large curly horns making him look like a cross between an overweight dragon and a jolly sheep that’s fallen in a vat of blackberry juice, monster Lionel alarms children. They flee in terror at the mere sight of him though grownups seem not to notice him at all.

Consequently, poor Lionel feels downcast and lonely; so lonely in fact that noticing his tears, a kindly dog stops and having bestowed upon him a friendly lick, brings a stick.

A game of fetch ensues with both characters having a whale (or monster) of a time. So much so that they proceed to play hide-and-seek and end up chasing one another all the way to a playground which, pretty soon they have all to themselves.

As they relax after a hugely enjoyable time, Lionel is concerned to see that his new friend has lost his earlier zippiness. And then he notices a poster pinned to the tree …

Now Lionel has a dilemma but he chooses to do the right thing. A joyful reunion ensues followed swiftly by …

Is it all over for Lionel’s new friendship?

The story demonstrates so well both the power of kindness, and that actions are key; you should never judge anyone (or any monster) by appearances.

Lionel is such an adorable monster, he’ll immediately endear himself to young children when you share this book: ensure you leave plenty of time to have a close look at the wonderful details in the illustrations. Fred’s distinctive style is as always, playful, and his wicked sense of humour shines out from every spread.

The Diddle That Dummed

The Diddle That Dummed
Kes Gray and Fred Blunt
Hodder Children’s Books

Oh my goodness, this book has given me the first really big laugh I’ve had since the lockdown, It’s utterly hilarious team Kes and Fred, and appealed most strongly to my sense of humour as well as to my divergent nature.

So let’s meet the cast: first is musician Flinty Bo Diddle who at the time our story starts is busy composing a tune to play upon his fiddle. Things go swimmingly at first with twenty nine diddles doing just as they ought but there has to be one doesn’t there, for the thirtieth note decides to make itself a dum.

How dare it – and half way through the tune at that.

A furious Flinty demands that the culprit confess. It does and the music starts up again with the dumming diddle consenting to another try. You can guess what happens with regard to Flinty,

and now all the other diddles turn on the dummer; the poor thing seems rather dumfounded but suggests being put first.

Diddles duly reshuffled, off they go again – err? Oops!

Maybe being placed as the final note might do the trick but …

What about changing the tune altogether suggests the dumming diddler. Flinty agrees though clearly a change of instrument is required.

The dums go well – for a while at least then …

Now those adults who happen to be teachers might recognise the sudden urge for a loo visit that is requested by our dear dumming diddle

especially as it precipitates a chain reaction.

The ending is beyond priceless and almost made my partner fall off his stool as I read it to him over coffee.

Brilliantly bonkers and a perfect antidote to lockdown blues.


Fred Blunt
Andersen Press

I was recently thinking I hadn’t seen anything new from Fred Blunt and then this cracker from Andersen Press arrived in my mail.

Mr Gnome is a naysayer if ever there was one. No matter how politely the requests made to him are proffered, his response is always in the negative.

So, it’s “No” to accompanying him on his fishing expedition

and a resounding “NO” to coming to the aid of Mr Hedgehog, even for a reward.

As for the plea from the witch who does assist Mr Hedgehog, our curmudgeonly Gnome may be about to get his comeuppance when he flatly refuses to stop fishing in her pond.

Deliciously silly, Fred Blunt’s cautionary tale will have readers and listeners spluttering in delight especially at the finale but not just that. Every spread is chuckleworthy – it’s impossible to choose a favourite – and Fred’s comic timing is spot on as it builds up to the wonderful climactic revelation.

Share it here, share it there, share it everywhere you can: I wouldn’t mind betting you’ll get the same immediate “read it again” demand (maybe with the odd ‘please’) as you close the covers as I did.

Santa Claus vs The Easter Bunny

Santa Claus vs The Easter Bunny
Fred Blunt
Andersen Press

When you see the name Fred Blunt you know you’re in for some deliciously silly nonsense and so it is in this holiday themed picture book.

How on earth have the Easter Bunny and Santa managed to get themselves into the same book was my immediate reaction to this one especially as neither of them seem particularly pleased to see one another.

Oddly enough though, the two are neighbours: Santa is inclined to jolliness, the Easter Bunny to the grumps. Grumps brought on by the fact that the Easter Bunny does the entire Easter egg job totally alone from chocolate making to delivering the eggs.
Moreover, nobody gives him so much as a thank you for his mammoth efforts. Can you blame the guy for feeling down?

In contrast Santa has a huge army of elf helpers in his toy factory and all those reindeer to whizz him around the globe when it comes to delivery time. And then there are all those wonderful gifts left for him by grateful children the world over. Fairness just doesn’t come into it.

Time for some strategic planning thinks Bunny and after a while into his furry head comes a spendid Santa-sabotaging plot.

Having set the plan in motion, our long-eared pal cannot wait for Christmas to come and on the all-important eve his head is awash with eager anticipation.

Next morning, yes, there’s some truly shocking news on the TV;

but what of the children’s reactions? And furthermore how will Santa respond?

It’s all yummily satisfying, not only for the characters concerned, but equally for readers who will relish this smashing story no matter the season.

Guaranteed giggles at every turn of the page with Fred’s crackingly comical illustrations.

Grandmas from Mars

Grandmas from Mars
Michelle Robinson and Fred Blunt
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When Fred and Nell’s mum and dad head off for a meeting leaving their offspring in the care of Grandma they issue strict instructions: ‘homework, a bath and in bed before eight.’ It’s a similar situation in most of the houses in Nell and Fred’s town: the grans have been left in temporary charge.

Little do those Grandmas know however that far off on the planet Mars, they’re under surveillance and there’s a plan being hatched for their capture.

Before you can say ‘Martian’, the grannies have been replaced by Martian carers resembling those they’ve kidnapped save for one thing, they look rather, well … green!

At first, despite having noticed their Gran’s sickly pallor, Fred and Nell relish the zany instructions she issues and the fun that ensues. But then they look at her a little more closely: something doesn’t appear quite as it should.
Nell shouts: the town’s children make a dash.

Chaos ensues with the Martian Grans rampaging all over the town wreaking havoc to left and right. Time for operation ‘treat them like real grans’ decide the children, but can they screw up all their courage, put Fred and Nell’s plan into action and save their kidnapped Grandmas?

Michelle Robinson’s zany rhyming narrative bounces along merrily and is given added craziness – not that it was lacking in same – by Fred Blunt’s scribblesome, exuberant scenes. Make sure to share this deliciously daft tale with your offspring before you next leave them in their Gran’s care.

I’ve signed the charter  

This is NOT a Fairy Tale

This is NOT a Fairy Tale
Will Mabbitt and Fred Blunt
Puffin Books

Dad and his story sabotaging daughter, Sophie, return in a sequel to This is NOT a Bedtime Story; now though, the time honoured fairy tale is under attack and all because Grandad couldn’t keep his eyes open long enough to finish the story.
No matter, Dad is on hand to take over, or rather attempt to; but he’s reckoned without the creative interjections of the opinionated subverter of narratives sitting right beside him.
Let the imagination roll… and roll it surely does.
Sophie’s having none of your pathetic princess stuff: her young royal female is the one wearing the armour and she’s all for using the latest mod cons – a combine harvester transformer for instance – to save time and perform heroic deeds involving dragons.

Fast paced, metafictive mayhem is the order of the day in this deliciously bonkers book.
Yes there IS a prince – a slumbering bald one whose fate it is to be rescued …

(although he does inadvertently have moments of less inert, even momentarily useful and agonisingly ROAR worthy activity, where dragon’s bums are concerned). YEOWCH!

Giggles aplenty guaranteed. The super-crazy team of Mabbitt and Blunt have scored another ace with this one.

I’ve signed the charter  

This is NOT a Bedtime Story

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This is NOT a Bedtime Story
Will Mabbit and Fred Blunt
Puffin Books
If you like your bedtime stories to be of the calming, wind-down variety then you might find yourself in agreement with the title of this book – it’s certainly not one of those, thanks to the determined efforts of young Sophie. This lively miss has just persuaded her dad to share one more story before she beds down for the night and Dad has her chosen book ready for a short one. That’s his plan; but from the outset, his daughter is unimpressed and ready to jazz up what appears to be one of those cutesie pink narratives: here she goes …

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Pretty soon – the fifth spread to be precise –things look a whole lot more exciting with Pink Kitten wielding a lightsabre, a ‘real lion’ on the scene (introduced earlier),

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a dinosaur on the loose and Barney in grave danger.
By now Sophie has completely subverted the plot and everyone including Dad and the household have been sucked in to the excitement –

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Tension builds as Pink Kitten has to rev up her helicopter; with built-in rocket launcher it’s crucial if they want to save Barney, now in the clutches of The Robot Dinosaur.

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Looks as though they’re heading for annihilation ,which is where we’ll leave them and cut to

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where we see once again the various toys that have fuelled Sophie’s runaway imagination in this humdinger of a metafiction.
Like Sophie (or should that be author, Will Mabbit?), illustrator, Fred Blunt has given full rein to his imagination (not to mention placing his first picture book, Captain Falsebeard strategically on Sophie’s bedroom floor in the opening scene.)
Particularly effective is the contrast between the artistic style he uses for the saccharine Pink Kitten story at the outset, and the zany ‘real’ characters in ‘our’ story. That, and the way the Pink Kitten story morphs into anarchy with the unfolding adventure that Sophie (and Dad) become engulfed in. Maybe not a bedtime story, but certainly one not to be missed.

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Captain Falsebeard in A Very Fishy Tale & another salty story

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Captain Falsebeard in a Very Fishy Tale
Fred Blunt
Puffin Books pbk
The fine detail in this one is awesome and truly hilarious in parts. Take for instance the sight of all those evil-looking parrots launching their aeronautical attack (of which more later).
The story tells of two pirates bold, fearsome and sworn deadly enemies, Captain Falsebeard and Admiral Swinetoes by name. For over a decade these pirates have searched the briny blue looking for the Crossbone Treasure and now finally, one of the pair, Falsebeard has it in his clutches and, when we meet him is about to stash the loot safely aboard his ship, the Pretty Polly and partake of a celebratory fishy supper. First though, there’s to be a fish-off competition to catch a creature worthy of the cap’n’s table.
Lines are duly cast and with the competitors concentrating on the task in hand, none of them notices the watchful parrot observer close by.

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This wily creature flies back to the Killjoy to report his discoveries to Admiral Swinetoes, who as you can imagine, is none too impressed. But a plan is quickly set in motion.
Not long after, back aboard the Pretty Polly a sizeable catch is landed and it’s something of a surprise

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and a totally beguiling one.
When Falsebeard discovers the nature of the hoodwinking, an even more cunning plan is ignominiously thrust upon him – or rather before him. One that involves the unleashing of a truly deadly weapon (which is where we came in).

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But does Captain Falsebeard retrieve his plunder?

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Well that would be telling wouldn’t it?
A wonderful rib-tickling yarn of the saltiest variety that will have your audiences calling out for more and demanding opportunities to pore over the individual frames and full pages scenes. Welcome to the REAL picture book scene Fred Blunt: a superbly swashbuckling debut.
Miss this at your peril me ’arties!

Also with a marine theme is

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Mr Benn Diver
Based on the TV series by David McKee
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
Herein Mr B. visits the costume shop and finds himself part of an adventure involving rival submarine crews searching for a sea monster, a mermaid seeking a special present for King Neptune’s birthday and a cunning trick to ensure the king is left in peace to enjoy his birthday celebrations with his pet monster. It certainly kept a lively group of 5s to 7s involved throughout and wanting more.

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