Tag Archives: friendship

Hello, Mister Cold

Hello, Mister Cold
Carles Porta
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boy and the Bear / This Book Just Stole My Cat!

The Boy and the Bear
Tracey Corderoy and Sarah Massini
Nosy Crow

It’s not much fun playing alone as the little boy in this story knows so well; he longs to have a friend to share in such games as hide-and-seek and catch.

One day as he sits alone, he spies a paper boat floating towards him; on it is the brief message, BOO! Could perhaps it be from the best friend he so longs for? Messages are exchanged and a meeting arranged.

Bear however isn’t exactly the kind of best friend he so desires. Nevertheless he does invite the bear to play hide-and-seek. The game is not a success, neither are the other activities they try.

Bear however does have other positive qualities that are revealed one morning in autumn. The two then embark upon a collaborative project –

one that once complete results in a special time together.Time doesn’t stand still though and as autumn gives way to winter, Bear has to depart leaving the boy with a realisation of all that he’s lost. But not lost forever: come the spring boy spies not one but three message carrying paper boats …

Tracey’s enchanting tale of the joys of establishing and maintaining a special friendship is illustrated in Sarah’s equally enchanting spreads that show how the friendship develops across the seasons.

A lovely book to be shared over and over.

This Book Just Stole My Cat!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

A certain book seems to have an insatiable desire for furry creatures (and other items on occasion): first it consumed a dog and here it’s become a cat thief. Poor Ben, for it’s his cat that’s gone missing, followed shortly after by Bella who has kindly offered to help in the search.
Along comes a rescue vehicle and guess what …

That leaves only Ben (and a tiny fluffy rodent) to proceed with the rescue mission: Ben however doesn’t last much longer.

Not long after, a message appears requesting the reader’s assistance: tickling seems to be a possible rescue facilitator for said book is bound to respond to a dose of tickly fingers by emitting a rather forceful sneeze.

Yeah! Success! There’s only a slight issue that needs to be sorted now …

Another fun, interactive tale of Ben and Bella for little ones; it’s great for beginning readers too.

Dave The Lonely Monster

Dave the Lonely Monster
Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Dave lives all alone in a retirement cave; his only companion is his guitar.

Back in the day – the bad old days to be precise – Dave had been a huge pest rampaging and roaring wherever he went.

Until that is, the townsfolk, tired of his mess making, exiled him to Echo Rock where he spends the next sixty years, just him, his knitting, the odd poetry book and his old instrument upon which he strummed the night away.
By day the local knights would taunt him and try to engage him in combat, but of fighting Dave would have no part.

One day his slumbers are disturbed, first by a flying cabbage that hits his nose, then a beetroot biffs him in the eye and an aubergine whizzes past.
Out from behind a bush emerges a tiny knight wielding a carrot. “Prepare to meet your doom!” he cries.

Somewhat nonplussed, Dave challenges this lad who calls him a fiendish monster, pointing out that proper knights do not speak so, and that monstrous beasts, like others, also have feelings.
Realising the error of his ways, Percy apologies, a pledge is taken and a firm friendship forged.
The two have the time of their lives

while back in town, on account of the lack of exciting action, boredom and grumpiness have set in. Monster-bashing is what they need, the townsfolk decide.

Can young Percy persuade them otherwise, armed as they are with fistfuls of mouldy fruit and veg.?
Surely there must be a better way to liven things up and bring fun back for those would-be assailants of Dave’s. He certainly thinks so …

Rollicking rhyme that beats out a heart-warming tale of music and friendship – that’s Anna Kemp’s – and delicious olde-worlde scenes of bygone times that might have been but never were, on account of the crazy mix of knights of yore, Dave’s 60s style bass guitar, mini-skirts and dance moves, not to mention a hells angels wooden Harley style bike complete with side car (those are all part and parcel the super scenes created by Sara Ogilvie)  – combine to make a super read-aloud romp with an important message.

Out with rebel-rousing and war; long live love and peace.

This book will have to be one of my ‘secret story-teller’ choices for the autumn term.

Norbert

Norbert
Joanna Boyle
Templar Books
Why would anyone with a whole lot of friends and family decide to uproot himself and set off for distant shores? That’s what penguin Norbert decides to do when he discovers one day, a flyer about a musical in the big city.
None of his fellow penguins shows the least bit of interest in joining him so, sad as he feels at their lack of enthusiasm, Norbert sets sail on a somewhat perilous voyage of rough waters and seasickness

that finally takes him to an enormous city.

Perhaps it’s time to write home, he thinks but the sight of the theatre sends the notion clean out of his head. Instead he heads straight inside where he is quickly spellbound by the performance.
Immediately, Norbert knows he too wants to be on the stage. He joins a long line of auditioners – singers, all.
The judges are seemingly, impressed; but the role they allocate Norbert isn’t exactly what he’d hoped for.

He does get a chance to try his flippers at various other jobs too; plenty to tell those at home, yet still he doesn’t write.

Then one day, the star of the show –something of a prima donna – quits and guess who is asked to step in.

Norbert wows the audience; he’s a star. Life as a famous singer comprises rounds of party going, being a passenger in a limousine and singing in every Broadway musical you can think of. Still he doesn’t write that letter home.

When he wins a prestigious award, the star penguin suddenly feels there is something he really must do – right away.
Letter of apology duly penned and posted he waits for a response.

Meanwhile back in the Antarctic his penguin pals have been busy organising something special to welcome him home.

What could it be? They’ve certainly been inspired by their friend and are eager that he return to their midst.

Joanna Boyle has created a super story of determination, difference, following and fulfilling your dreams and friendship. Imbued in turn with pathos and humour, her illustrations both large and small are staged with impressive style.

Big Digger Little Digger

Big Digger Little Digger
Timothy Knapman and Daron Parton
Walker Books

Little Digger is the hardest working machine on the building site.
One day he has a mammoth task: an especially big hole needs digging: is Little Digger up to it? He’ll definitely do his upmost, he thinks.

Suddenly along comes a new machine on the block: “Big Digger dig down DEEP,” he says roaring into action. Little Digger is out of a job but he still wants to find something useful to do.
Off he goes around the site, but he can’t dump, mix cement or move heavy things: seemingly he’s only good for getting in the way. Down in the dumps is how he feels.

By this time Big Digger has dug himself into the deepest hole anyone had ever seen.

There’s a snag though, it’s so deep he’s now stuck inside.

Little Digger hears his cry for help. Now it’s down to him to try and rescue the huge machine.
He certainly won’t be able to manage the job single-handed; but perhaps with teamwork the exceedingly heavy Big Digger can be extricated.

Destined, I suspect, to become a huge hit with construction vehicle-loving children, this tale has echoes of Watty Piper’s 1930’s The Little Engine That Could.

With themes of optimism, determination, teamwork and friendship, refrains (printed in bold) to join in with and just the right amount to tension in the telling, Timothy Knapman’s story makes a splendid read aloud.

Listeners will love Daron Parton’s construction vehicles particularly Little Digger and Big Digger as they trundle their way around the building site setting. Make sure your audience sees the end papers too.

Share with a nursery group, then leave the book, along with small world play construction vehicles on a play mat or rug and observe what happens.

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle
David Litchfield
Lincoln Children’s Books

In a glorious sequel to the  The Bear and the Piano, David Litchfield introduces two new characters, busker Hector and his best pal Hugo.

When we first meet the two, life is no longer what it used to be; Hector’s act is, so he says, “yesterday’s news” partly on account of that world-renowned piano-playing bear. The violinist decides it’s time to call it a day and pack away his fiddle not just for the night, but forever.

Now he spends much of his time watching TV, listening to music and sleeping – lots of sleeping.

Hector’s neighbours were prone to be noisy so the old man would keep his windows closed at night; but one night he forgets and his sleep is disturbed by an unusual sound. Out of bed he gets and following the sound, steps out onto his roof to discover …

Hector decides to pass on his wealth of musical know-how to Hugo and soon crowds gather to hear the fiddle-playing dog.
Then one day an extremely famous ursine pianist joins the watchers. He is eager to sign Hugo up for his new band and go on tour.

He gets Hector’s reluctant backing until it’s time for the dog to depart. Then however, jealous feelings strike and the old man says some unkind words. Words he quickly regrets but by then; it’s too late …

Time passes, Hugo’s tour is a sell-out success wherever they play and he’s the star of the show, being accompanied by some amazing animals – Bear on piano, Big G on drums and groovy Clint ‘The Wolfman’ Jones on double bass.

Hector watches them play on his TV and greatly misses not only playing the fiddle himself, but particularly his now famous pal.

Months later, the show comes to perform in his city; but what will Hugo think if his erstwhile best friend is in the audience?

As Hector sits spellbound by the awesome music, he’s suddenly seized by security guards. Is he to be thrown out?

What happens next will make your heart leap with joy: suffice it to say, it’s a maestro performance all round, for as the author so rightly says, there are two things that last a lifetime – good music and good friendship.

Like its predecessor, this story is brilliantly orchestrated throughout. Pitch-perfect, it reads aloud like a dream, is filled with poignant moments; it’s gloriously illustrated with spreads and vignettes that really make for pulse racing and pulse slowing moments of delight and poignancy.

Another show-stopping performance, not only from the musicians, but also from their creator, David Litchfield.

Ceri & Deri:No Time For Clocks / Ceri & Deri:Good To Be Sweet

Ceri & Deri:No Time For Clocks
Ceri & Deri:Good To Be Sweet

Max Low
Graffeg

I’ve not come across this series before but I was very happy to become acquainted with the inseparable cat Ceri and her best friend Deri the dog. The two are always on the lookout for new learning opportunities.

In No Time For Clocks, the two friends have arranged an afternoon meet up but although Ceri is on time, Deri is nowhere to be seen.
When the dog finally shows up there ensues a discussion about their differing lunch times and the problem of knowing when the other one is ready.
Then along comes Gwen Green and she offers the solution: a clock each for Deri and Ceri. Neither has a clue about clocks so a fair bit of puzzling and explaining follow.

Eventually Gwen disappears, returns with the objects in question and shows them how to work their new tools. When they still seem rather at sea with the whole notion of clock numbers, she produces her pen and proceeds to add little pictographs to the faces of each.

Hurrah! Job done. Now all that’s needed is a visit to Tomos’ Tea Room for a spot of tea, cake and chat, but there’s just one slight snag …

Good To Be Sweet finds the owner of Bryn’s Sweet Shop in generous mood when he notices the two friends with their noses pressed hopefully against his window.

He gives them a bag containing 11 sweets with instructions to share them. The problem starts when they realise that having taken five each, there’s a sweet remaining. Who should have that one since neither Ceri nor Deri likes that particular flavour?

This dilemma precipitates several more rounds of sweet giving generosity as Dai Duck expresses a love of certain kinds

until all that remains for the two friends is an empty bag. Oops!

Thank goodness then for Dai the Duck’s altruistic act …

A great way to introduce young children to the idea of telling the time and division respectively, these two books are great fun and educative without being overly so. They also portray the ups and downs of friendship with humour; all this through the amusing dialogue and bright, uncluttered illustrations.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz
L.Frank Baum adapted by Meg McLaren and Sam Hay
Egmont Publishing

This is a version of the Baum classic like you’ve never seen or heard before.

In Meg Mclaren’s 21st century retelling, Dorothy has become Little Dot, a pre-schooler and it’s she who is indoors when the tornado whisks her home with her and Toto inside, up and away, far, far away to a strange land.
It’s there where she meets all manner of unusual characters, one of the first being the Good Witch from the North, identifiable by her starry cloak (as opposed to sparkly silver boots – those are worn by The Bad Witch that Dot’s house has just squashed).

The Good Witch tells Little Dot to go home forthwith but when Dot tells her that she has no idea of the way, instructs her to “Follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and get help from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Donning the Bad Witch’s silver boots, the little girl sets off accompanied by Toto. Thus begins their big adventure.
Before long they meet first, Lion, looking very worried, and shortly after, the talking Scarecrow without a brain.

They both join Dot on her journey, the former hoping the Wizard will make him braver, the latter hoping to be given a brain.

Their next encounter is with Tin Can, a diminutive being in need of a heart; he joins the journeyers and they cross a bridge.

Suddenly “Boo!” Out jumps the Even Worse Witch who’s been lying low, waiting to ambush them. Fearless Dot soon deals with her, courtesy of a host of ginormous jelly snakes that emerge from beneath the surface of the road

and a yogurt that she whips from her backpack and squirts at their assailant just in the nick of time.

Having seen the evil witch off, the friends proceed to the Emerald City wherein waits The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Dot tells him their story and is surprised to hear the wizard’s response: they’ve done the job themselves, they don’t need his help after all. He even awards each of them a ‘good work’ sticker.

Now there’s just one remaining matter; that of getting Dot and Toto home. Apparently Dot herself is wearing the answer to that …

Highlighting the importance of friendship, kindness, bravery and home, this is ideal for early years audiences who will be enchanted from the sparkly front cover right through to the satisfying ending. Along the way they’ll thoroughly enjoy meeting the unusual, mainly endearing, cast of characters as portrayed in Sam Hay’s engaging scenes.

The Best Sound in the World

The Best Sound in the World
Cindy Wume
Lincoln Children’s Books

Most of us have a favourite sound, or perhaps several we really like. I love the sweet notes of a song thrush in the early morning; a cascading waterfall and the voice of Roberta Flack, to name just three.

For Roy, the little city dwelling lion in this enchanting picture book, music is his very favourite thing.

Being an urban dweller, Roy is surrounded by sound, particularly that of neighbour Jemmy lemur, another lover of music although Roy who has aspirations to become a great violinist merely regards his musical efforts as agitating.
So he sets out in search of beautiful sounds and those that please him, he puts into small bottles to take home. However, none of them seems to be beautiful enough when he plays them on his violin and those Jemmy offers are totally rejected.

Roy boards a train to go further afield seeking the most beautiful sound the world has to offer. (Observant readers/listeners will notice that someone else is also making the journey.) The rain in the forest yields ‘plip-plops’;

birds flying in the high mountain provide ‘twitter-tweets’ and the desert whistling wind gives him ‘woooos’. To these he adds tidal waves sounds and the chit-chat of the souk.

His confusion deepens with each new sound: which is THE most beautiful of all?

To add to this muddle in his head, Roy is struck by loneliness: it’s time to return.

Sadness surrounds him as he enters his home sans that elusive sound.

Perhaps however, that which he really sought is somewhere he’s never thought to look …

Friendship rules in this totally enchanting debut picture book: Cindy’s scenes be they urban or in the wilds, are wonderful, especially those where music flourishes thanks to the notes furnished by Roy’s violin and the various other harmonious sounds.

Sheer joie-de-vivre abounds in the final pages, though listeners could have fun looking for pleasant sound possibilities in every spread.

In Cindy Wume, an exciting new talent has emerged.

The Artists (Tales from the Hidden Valley book 1)

The Artists
Carles Porta
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually Ticky sadly decides he must leave without a farewell.

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

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

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

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

Me and My Fear

Me and My Fear
Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spectacular City

The Spectacular City
Teresa Heapy and David Litchfield
Puffin Books (Red Fox)

Safely back from their moon trip in The Marvellous Moon Map, friends Mouse and Bear are off on a new adventure.

Dazzled by the bright lights, sparkle, shine and glitter, Mouse is eager to leave the dark woods and head for Spectacular City. Ever loyal, Bear agrees to accompany him. “I’ve got you and you’ve got me,” he reminds Mouse as they sally forth.

It’s not long before there appears from an alleyway, a character introducing herself as Cat and offering to show them around the city.

With Cat in the lead, they roam all over the city, through its neon-lit alleys and kaleidoscope streets

but Mouse’s appetite for the bright lights seems insatiable; “More light!” he requests, whereupon Cat invites him to the Glitz – a restaurant atop a skyscraper.

It’s a place that doesn’t admit bears and so having checked with his best pal, Mouse leaves him at the door. Bear reminds him once again “… just call and I’ll come.”

As they sit admiring the glowing river of light down below, Mouse is ready to order his meal almost immediately: Cheese Special is his choice. But what perfectly seasoned meal, on or perhaps off the menu, does Cat have in mind?

Perhaps it’s time for Mouse to bring to mind those “ … just call, and I’ll come.” words of Bear’s before it’s too late …

One cannot help admiring both Mouse’s insatiable curiosity and sense of adventure as well as Bear’s unfailing friendship and warm-heartedness, both of which radiate from the pages of Teresa’s wonderful story and shine forth out of David’s dazzlingly gorgeous, expansive scenes and vignettes.

Having just spend the weekend with visitors including two enthusiastic paper-plane making boys, (I’m still finding their creations around the house), I’m somewhat glad they left before this smashing book arrived. I’m sure its final spread – courtesy of bear – would have prompted a whole lot more paper folding and planes whizzing about the place.

Scaredy Bear

Scaredy Bear
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger Press

What’s BIG and HAIRY and cause for alarm in the deep, dark forest? According to Little Bob’s mother (rabbit) one bedtime, it’s a terrible creature with a roar like thunder, huge scary teeth and long, equally scary, claws.

Little Bob however, wants to find out about this creature for himself and so waiting until his mum is fast asleep, he arms himself with an extra pointy carrot and creeps out into the forest: a forest that in the moonlight looks considerably more scary than it does by day.

Having narrowly dodged a hunting owl, he dives into a huge bush only to discover it isn’t a bush at all but an enormous ursine creature. He tells the creature about the BIG HAIRY; they introduce themselves to one another and having decided to become friends, the two Bobs Big and Little, continue the search together.

When Bear, now hungry, asks about Little Bob’s carrot, he’s told it isn’t for sharing but instead the little rabbit intends sticking it up the Big Hairy’s nose. Ouch!

This prompts Big Bob to comment on Little Bob’s unexpected bravery. “How can you be so brave when you are so small?” he wants to know. ‘Because,” comes the whispered response, “I’m big on the inside.” He also tells Big Bob that he too must have a big bear hiding within if only he could let it out.
By this time Little Bob too is feeling hunger pangs so his pal goes off in search of food. Suddenly from behind leaps a very hungry fox.

Now Big Bob needs to find that inner big bear in time to save his friend from becoming fox’s supper. He lets out an enormous …

and that gives the game away well and truly.

When Little Bob finally realises who his saviour is, can the two of them sort things out between them without the little rabbit having recourse to that carrot of his? Or could there perhaps be a better use for it …

Steve Smallman’s lovely story about finding your inner strength and making a special friend is a great reminder that we can all be brave no matter our shape or size so long as we have the confidence to draw on our inner resources.
Caroline Pedler’s moonlit woodland scenes are aglow with tension and she captures the animals’ changing feelings wonderfully.

Want To Play Trucks?

Want To Play Trucks?
Ann Stott and Bob Graham
Walker Books

It’s autumn: Alex and Jack meet at the playground sandpit nearly every morning.
Alex enjoys playing with dolls of the pink sparkly clothed variety; Jack enjoys playing with trucks, especially the wrecking kind.

So what happens when Jack invites Alex to play trucks? A compromise ensues as Alex suggests, “Let’s play dolls that drive trucks.”

While their carers – parents one presumes- sit chatting, the boys play amicably together until Jack’s “You can’t wear a tutu and drive a crane,” announcement, halts things.Tempers flare briefly

but fizzle out when Alex realises that all that’s required is a quick outfit change for the truck driver.

The wonderful details in Bob Graham’s watercolour scenes that pan in and out of the play action, add much to Ann Stott’s light, spare telling. The latter relies on the story’s premise resting on what, one hopes, is a completely out-dated sexist viewpoint about who should play with what.

Be sure to take time over the interaction between the two seated adults; there’s much to wonder about there too,

in addition to thinking about what’s going on between the two main characters, the denouement of which is based on their shared passion for large, dribblesome ice-cream cones.

With messages concerning the importance of allowing children free rein in their imaginative play, compromise and inclusivity, this is a book to share and discuss either at home or in an early years classroom.

Need more suggestions for your children’s reading? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Mr Pegg’s Post

Mr Pegg’s Post
Elena Topouzoglou
New Frontier Publishing

This is a really sweet story about a lonely girl who lives with her parents in a lighthouse just a little out to sea.
The only other ‘person’ she sees is Mr Pegg the postie pelican when he drops off her parents’ mail.
One day a terrible storm blows up and with it comes a loud THUMP! at the door Anna is safely behind. It’s poor Mr Pegg with a wing injured in the storm.
Kind-hearted Anna, tends his wound, makes him tea and as they chat, an offer: using her rowing boat she’ll help him deliver the mail.

Anna is a wonderful worker and Mr Pegg asks her to help until his wing heals.

During the course of her work Anna makes lots of new friends and that makes her feel happy;

but this happiness quickly starts to dissipate when Mr Pegg announces that his wing is healed sufficiently for him to deliver the post on his own again.

Back home, she feels more lonely than ever, but one morning not long after, a loud THUMP at the door announces Mr Pegg and with him two wonderful surprise deliveries both of which restore her feelings of happiness.

I love the way young Anna is instrumental in elevating her own sense of self worth, as well as the way the story gently reminds readers of the importance of face-to-face contact and real letters in this age of e-mails and social media. Elena Topouzoglou’s digitally finished watercolour and ink scenes really capture the inherent warmth and friendship of her story.

Sorrell and the Sleepover

Sorrell and the Sleepover
Corrinne Averiss and Susan Varley
Andersen Press

Have you ever kept something about yourself or family a secret from a best friend so as not to feel inferior? That’s what one  of the main characters in this lovely story decides to do.

It revolves around best friends Sage and Sorrel (squirrels). Pretty much everything about the two is the same: they like the same games, sing the same songs and say the same things at the same time. Even their tails have identical stripes.

Sorrel is thrilled when Sage invites her to stay at her house for a sleepover; rather than feeling nervous about her first night away from home, Sorrel is excited as she packs her overnight nutshell.

Sage’s home is impressive, a huge branching conifer that includes nests for her aunties and her cousins as well as Sage’s immediate family. But as the two friends snuggle up for the night, Sage’s comment about looking forward to a reciprocal visit causes Sorrel to worry so much about the difference between the two homes that she decides not to invite her friend back. Best friends don’t have differences, she tells herself.

Sage however is persistent and so Sorrel invents a series of excuses: a poorly mum, a burst pipe; the painting of their home resulting in the newly pink leaves being too wet for visitors to stay.

It’s this pinkness however that finally puts paid to further inventive excuses on Sorrel’s part. It also results in the truth being revealed about her home.

Sage, being a true and empathetic friend, isn’t at all concerned about their difference; to her it’s a cause for celebration.

Telling it with tenderness and understanding, Corrinne Averiss has created a story of two trees and two squirrels that will particularly resonate with under confident children who have done the same as Sorrel, but it’s a book that needs to be shared and discussed widely in schools and early years settings.

Susan Varley echoes the warmth of the telling in her beautiful illustrations. I’ve been a huge fan of her work ever since Badger’s Parting Gifts: her art never fails to delight and so it is here: delicate, detailed and utterly enchanting, every spread.

Help! I’m a Detective

Help! I’m a Detective
Jo Franklin, illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Troika

This is the 3rd story to feature middle in the family, Daniel Kendal, and his pals who are polar opposites of one another.

It starts badly with Dan being blamed for the fact that little Timmy has been wielding a stapler, and then just as he’s on the point of leaving for school, the police come knocking on the door. No, the officer hasn’t come to arrest Dan despite what his big sister says to the contrary.

However when he learns about the burglary at Miss Duffy’s residence and then tells his two best friends geeky Gordon and Freddo at school, it seems there’s nothing for it but to assume the role of detective and help the police apprehend the thieves.

Being the near victim of fratricide, a second burglary involving a stolen x-box – surely big sister Jess and boy friend Dazzer couldn’t be the thieves, or could they? Plus an almost ‘friendicide ‘with Dan on the receiving end, as well as a plethora of poo, of the pooch variety I hasten to add, will the boy detectives ever succeed in their task? Can Dan possibly emerge as a hero for once?

With hilarious dialogue, an action-packed, fast moving narrative and suitably zany illustrations from Aaron Blecha, the whole unlikely story is exceedingly silly but enormous fun.

The Only Way is Badger

The Only Way is Badger
Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña
Little Tiger Press

Which would you rather have, complete conformity or fabulous friendships? I know which I’d choose every time but not so the main character in Stella Jones’ super story. Badger is a separatist and has started posting ‘BE MORE BADGER’ type signs all over the forest causing consternation among the other woodland animals.

Supposedly to make matters easier for his so-called friends he presents a list of activities, badger-like digging being number one.
This immediately eliminates ungulate Deer, and Badger sends him packing most unceremoniously.

Requirement number two is fitting through the doorway of Badger’s sett. In go Racoon, Skunk, Squirrel and the other small creatures. Outcast, and over the wall are large bummed Bear and massive-antlered Moose.

So it continues with further ejections: those of Hedgehog, Bunny and Beaver for their badger-barking attempts.

Of the remainers Racoon and Skunk pass muster on account of their black and whiteness whereas the colourful birds, butterflies and bugs become persona non grata.

Badger is now revelling in his monotonously coloured surroundings; not so Racoon and Skunk especially as they hear  happy sounds issuing from behind that wall and spy Badger wielding a paint brush standing beside paint cans that match his colours.

By the end of the day Badger’s task is complete but as he stands solo among the trees a thought strikes him: what has he done?

There can only be one way forward here …

Hurrah for difference; long live divergence and inclusivity; oh and learning from your mistakes too as yes, Badger does finally see the error of his ways in this timely picture book.

There are just SO many ways this can be interpreted depending on what you bring to the story eloquently illustrated by Carmen Saldaña. The gentle humour of her scenes, in particular the expressions and body language of the animals speak volumes.

A book that’s absolutely perfect for a community of enquiry discussion in schools and should be shared and celebrated as widely as possible. I certainly intend to do both of those.
In addition pairs of children could co-create story boxes or dioramas using the book as a starting point; there are puppet possibilities, ditto hot-seating and MUCH more.

Wizarding for Beginners!

Wizarding for Beginners!
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

Dave the dragon spent his last tale honing his skills as a would-be knight and now returns, along with his best pal, Albrecht; he of story-telling prowess, the glossy-coated, somewhat noxiously smelling goat.
Now they’re going undercover as wizards in order to gain entrance to the decidedly shady Wizarding Guild with the aim of freeing their friends from the evils of dastardliest of all wizards, the hair-obsessive, tantrum throwing terrible Terence: he who has ambitions to take over the entire world.

But once inside this exceedingly strange rule-bound place,

No bums on the table especially on spaghetti night.

it isn’t many hours before Albrecht has managed to get himself kidnapped and shoved into a sack (on account of his glossy coat so we later learn) and it’s down to Dave to rescue him. In this enterprise he’s ably abetted by Brian who just happens to be a female wizard – something Dave discovers when he follows Brian into the loo, the ladies loo no less. But her gender isn’t Brian’s only secret; her magic so she admits is rather reliant upon porridge – yes porridge – but that does happen to be Dave’s favourite breakfast (mine too actually).

A deal is struck: the two team up and with additional assistance from an emotional wreck of a monster named Pansy who’s large, lonely, lacks self-confidence and is all ‘owie’ on account of having fought a tiger.

While all this is going on poor Albrecht is having a pretty terrible time. Terence is making him confront the magic mirror,  a thoroughly nasty piece of work that appears to have nothing good to say about anyone or anything.

Or does it?

If all these shenanigans haven’t whetted your appetite for this splendidly silly saga, then let me just throw into the mix a brand new dessert called Squirrel Parfait, some further great reveals in the gender department, rule rubbishing galore, a reunion and errr, that would be telling!

Hurray for porridge power, for the splendid plugs for books, reading and libraries, and the plethora of jokes herein.

Elys Dolan’s second Dave saga is as deliciously daft and enormously enjoyable as Knighthood for Beginners. This is a great read, especially for those who like their stories liberally sprinkled with crazy illustrations of the Dolan kind.

Need more help finding summer reading for your child? Try the Toppsta Summer Reading Guide

Cyril and Pat

Cyril and Pat
Emily Gravett
Two Hoots

The super-talent that is Emily Gravett adds another book to her roster of read aloud crackers.

It stars a squirrel named Cyril, a lonely creature until that is, he meets Pat, another ‘squirrel’.
Thereafter the two spend happy times together in Lake Park inventing fun games, putting on puppet shows, skate-boarding and playing Hide-and-seek and Pigeon Sneak.

Cyril is completely oblivious to the outward differences between them despite being told time and again that his friend is not like him.

So what, I can hear you thinking; it was certainly my reaction.
Eventually though, Cyril heeds the negative comments of the other animals and he and Pat part company.

Inevitably Cyril is lonely once more: those games are no fun when played all by himself and he leaves the park putting himself in great danger.

Will he now realise his mistake and find his erstwhile friend once more?

Worry not: the author in her inimitable way provides a wonderful resolution that is altogether satisfying for both her main characters and her audience, although not for pooch, Slim, pursuer of the friends throughout most of the book.

Yes, this fine friendship story is wonderfully funny and stunningly illustrated in lush colours, but like all good stories it raises questions for readers to ponder as well as an important unspoken environmental message. (Love the Tidy rubbish bin.)

Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees

Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees
Tony De Saulles
Oxford University Press

We’ve heard about the parasite infected ‘Zombie’ bees in the USA and now here they are in this, new Bee Boy book.

For those who have yet to meet Melvin Medley, he lives with his mum and keeps a hive of bees on the roof of his tower block. His secret power is that he can, when his beloved bees need him, become a bee himself.

This is his second story and at the start he walks to school with best pal Priti to discover at the gates a boy dressed in a hoodie with golden cuffs, golden trainers and boy band styled hair stepping from a Rolls Royce. It’s newcomer to St John’s Primary, Berty Crump, nephew of millionaire business tycoon Sir Crispin Crump. And, Melvin is charged with looking after him on his first day.

Eager to do anything for his favourite teacher, Melvin introduces himself to Berty who immediately announces that he hates bees. “Gross” he calls them. Things are not looking good.

Then when a peculiar sickness bug that turns people yellow suddenly hits the school, starting with his arch-enemy Norman Crudwell and Berty, both of whom have honey sponge at lunch time, Melvin knows he has to start investigating.

His first question is to Daisy who gave Melvin his bees. She talks of bees getting sick on account of feeding on plants treated with noxious chemicals, suggesting sick bees might make sick honey.

Further questions crop up when Mel and his own bees discover a factory on the edge of the woods, a field full of gigantic flowers, drones spraying nasty chemicals, metal-suited beekeepers and oh, my goodness, Zombees!

Could all this have anything to do with that dastardly-looking uncle of Berty’s?

Passionate bee advocate, Tony De Saulles has penned another funny, exciting, pacy story, with a vitally important conservation message. Liberally scattered throughout are his comical cartoon style illustrations.

Need more summer holiday recommendations for your children? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

The Night Dragon

The Night Dragon
Naomi Howarth
Lincoln Children’s Books

Let me introduce a totally awesome dragon by the name of Maud. I should say that at the start of the always awesome, Naomi Howarth’s story, said dragon doesn’t feel at all awesome. She’s shunned by fellow dragons on account, so they say, of her lack of strong wings, A “weedy wimp” is what Gar calls her, while Brimlad is sure she’s insufficiently tough to take on the sun.

Poor Maud despairs she’ll ever be a night dragon.

Her only friend, Mouse, is encouraging, telling her that to be dragon of the night she need only be herself. Maud has her doubts.

One afternoon, Brimlad decides to celebrate his 557th birthday by throwing a party, but there’s one dragon that doesn’t get an invite. Instead she watches from behind a rock as the others drink, fight and one after another, fall into a deep sleep.

Time passes and still the dragons slumber as Maud notices a complete lack of clouds in the sky, and of nightfall there isn’t a sign.

Maud is at a loss. Mouse however isn’t. He knows what Maud must do and all he needs to do is encourage and persuade her that with him alongside, or rather behind her, she can spread those gorgeous wings of hers and fly.

Slightly emboldened, Maud leaves the mountain edge, tumbling at first and then suddenly, soaring. Soaring and emitting the most amazing clouds of rainbow hued smoke from her nostrils.

Over the mountains and fields, above winding rivers, winging over cities they go, filling the entire sky with the most fabulous shades of many colours,

until finally, as they pause for a rest, the sun starts to sink and night begins to fall.

Mouse’s words of thanks also let his friend know that just by being herself, Maud has made everything beautiful.

Now both Mouse and Maud have a new and very important role to perform – every single day …

Friendship, self-belief and daring to be different shine through in this dazzlingly beautiful picture book fable that reads like a neo folk tale. For me at least, Naomi Howarth has outshone her previous bobby-dazzlers and that’s no mean feat.

Get it, celebrate it and share it wherever you can. From cover to cover, it’s a stunner.

The Worry Box

The Worry Box
Suzanne Chiew and Sean Julian
Little Tiger Press

It must surely be a symptom of our troubled times that there’s been a spate of recent picture books on the theme of anxiety, and the mental health of young people is constantly under discussion, due in no small part to the prevalent pressurised education regime, a legacy of a certain politician currently championing the dreaded BREXIT.

The most recent of such books to come my way is The Worry Box wherein we meet the worrisome Murray Bear along with his big sister, Milly.

It’s waterfalls with their potential for ‘bigness’ and loudness that present the first of Murray’s worrying possibilities. Fortunately though, his fears in this respect are allayed by Milly as they make their way home.

Back inside Milly introduces her coping tool, a worry box, to her sibling, explaining how it works. They make one for Murray and they head off to meet their friends at that waterfall.

Once there Murray remembers to use his special box when he starts feeling worried about climbing a tall tree.

After a fun-filled afternoon, the mislaying of Milly’s backpack delays the friends and they’re not ready to leave until sunset. It’s then that Lara reveals her worries about the dark. Now it’s Murray’s turn to offer reassurance, a helping paw and co-use of his special box until they’re safely home,

after which the sibling bears stand in the moonlight contemplating their amazing day together.

Enormously reassuring for all little worriers is Suzanne Chiew’s story while Sean Julian’s gorgeous illustrations of the verdant natural landscape setting make you want to pause on the dragonfly littered riverbank, refreshing waterfall and scale the tree along with the animal characters so beautifully portrayed herein.

When I taught KS1 children we’d often have a worry tree (branches standing in a container) in the classroom. Children wrote their worries on leaf-shaped coloured paper, hung them from the twigs and then every day or so, those that wanted to shared what they’d written with the class. A discussion could arise or the mere act of hanging up the leaf often worked on its own. After sharing this book, children might create their own worry box for use at home or the class could make a communal one that is used in a similar way.

No matter what, a shared reading will help listeners let go of their concerns and enjoy embracing new challenges.

The Dog that Ate the World

The Dog that Ate the World
Sandra Dieckmann
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

but they too end up inside the dog.

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Sky Garden

The Secret Sky Garden
Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers
Simon & Schuster

Funni loves to visit the disused rooftop airport cark park, coming almost every Saturday to fly her kite or play her recorder but always she feels a lack of something.

She can imitate the notes from the airport tannoy, the whine from the engines of landing planes and the music of the bells in City Square, but something else is needed. Something visual perhaps?

Funni decides on operation transformation and each week for the next three months she brings a sack of soil and collects up all the litter until eventually, the entire surface is covered with soil.

Then it’s time to plant seeds and wait …

Now in addition to flying her kite and making her music, Funni has the flowers to tend but even so, still she feels something is missing.

Then the very first visitor arrives …

What happens thereafter will make your heart sing: I won’t reveal what that is, but suffice it to say it involves a flourishing of flowers aplenty, and friendship, a city soundscape with beautiful music, kite flying and thanks to Fiona Lumbers’ glorious floral scenes, the most gorgeous colours you can imagine.

Linda Sarah’s Funni is an enchanting child and her story, although sparely told is pitch perfect for her themes and has touches of poetry.

With its inherent creativity motif this is altogether an uplifting book that will delight both children and adults alike.

How to be a Lion

How to be a Lion
Ed Vere
Puffin Books

‘This book is for those who daydream, and those who think for themselves’.
I love that. It’s written in Ed Vere’s inspiring ‘letter’ that accompanied my review copy; it’s also printed on the final page of his eloquent story: I hope it applies to myself, make that, to everyone. I wish everybody could read the entire letter, but instead I urge you to get yourself a copy of the book and share it widely.

It starts philosophically: ‘The world is full of ideas. /Big ones,/ small ones. / Good ones,/ bad ones. / Some think this … / others think that.’ before bringing us back to earth and in particular, lion territory on the African plains where the norm is to be FIERCE! But is that the only way to be?
Enter Leonard: thoughtful, prone to daydreams, something of a poet and above all, gentle.

Enter shortly after, a duck, Marianne by name. Being Leonard, it isn’t a case of ‘Crunch, crunch, CHOMP!’ Instead our lion, polite introductions over, requests her assistance and as luck would have it, Marianne is able to assist in freeing Leonard’s stuck muse and before long a firm friendship has been forged; one that involves stargazing, philosophical musings and above all, contentment and happiness.

Into their peaceable existence comes a pack of ferocious lions demanding to know why the duck has not met its demise.
True to himself, Leonard explains about their friendship and resists their loud growly admonishments.

Their instructions about becoming fierce make him pause and question however, but Marianne suggests a trip to their thinking hill to mull things over. Lo and behold, serious hums and serious quacks together are turned into an idea, and then, poetry that is finally ready to be presented to those fierce lions.

What Leonard says to them is heartfelt, provocative – “Why don’t you be you … And I will be I.” – and one hopes, a game changer.

Ed Vere’s timely fable is profound and intensely moving in the gentle way it offers words as tools of bridge building and change, as well as showing a different male role model. Don’t be pressurised into conforming, be yourself is what shines through both his words and oh, so eloquent, humorous illustrations.

A perfect read aloud with oodles of food for thought, and talk.

Ready to Ride

Ready to Ride
Sébastien Pelon
Words & Pictures

What can you do on a dull, stay- indoors kind of a day that’s already become boring? You might perhaps, like the small child narrator of this story, venture outside and see what unfolds.

Into view comes a large furry shape riding a tiny bike and sporting a luminous pink hat. They make eye contact and the boy hops on his own bike and off they go.

It isn’t long before the human is wanting rid of his stabilisers, which his new friend helpfully consumes leaving the lad struggling to cope with trying to ride his ‘big boy’s’ bike.

The learning curve is steep with the usual frights, falls and rallying,

along with the odd spot of relaxation,

until finally come success, speed and some over-confidence.

All the while though, the silent, white lumpy creature is there ready to offer succour and the occasional bit of provocation: then suddenly he’s gone.

Perhaps he was never there at all except in the boy’s mind.

Back home goes one small child, proud of himself and eager to tell his mum and dad about his adventure but when a “What did you do?’ comes from Mum his answer is let’s say, understated.

You can succeed so long as you show resilience, is what comes through in Pelon’s picture book.

Its graphic format is such that it works best as a one-to-one share and with that blank ‘Super Cyclist’ certificate on the back endpapers, is certainly one to offer a child at that same stage of readiness to fly solo on two wheels. I love the colour palette and the plethora of humorous details.

Magna Cow / A Campfire Tale

Magna Cow
Barry Hutchison and Cate James
Little Door Books

Brisket is a cow, an unusual one with especially curly horns, a particularly frizzy tail and, when it’s dark a faint glow emanates from her. Odd though these features might be, there is one that makes her even more extraordinary, she’s magnetic.

It’s this magnetism that causes Magna to create havoc at the cows’ camping trips,

bring about the dismantling of their treehouse and appropriate the cutlery at a party.

Consequently when the big day of the Moove to the Music dance competition comes around, Brisket is banished to the top of the hill while the other bovine beauties strut their stuff.

Suddenly disaster, in the form of a trundling tractor moving downhill, is about to strike. The dancing cows are too busy prancing and pirouetting to notice what’s happening. Only Brisket from her hilltop vantage point sees the danger: can she save the day?

Cate James daftly depicts this bonkers, but fun tale, about mooving metal, bovine bother and friendship from Barry Hutchison, with appropriately crazy-looking cattle and their shenanigans.

Specially written songs can be downloaded from the publisher’s website.

A Campfire Tale
Sarah Glenn Marsh and Ana Gómez
Sterling

The first night away from home, be it a sleep over or as in this story, a camping trip, can be a scary thought for some children and it appears so with Dragon too.

The child narrator though offers to act as his buddy. Assuming he’ll be a great companion, she takes him swimming, sailing and involves him in the whole gamut of camp-related activities,

even a puppet show; but all go pretty badly to say the least.

Perhaps it was a big mistake to take on the Dragon as her buddy especially as the other campers now seem to be avoiding them.

Come the evening, Dragon is a disaster when he attempts to help with the tent pitching and insists on listening to ghost stories, despite being scared stiff of same, but the last straw is his effort to get rid of a spider, which only serves to inflame the situation.

The narrator sends him packing and in the morning, there’s no sign of the scaly character.
The campers search for him in the woods but quickly get lost; what’s more they hear something growly in the distance.

Could this be an opportunity for Dragon to redeem himself perhaps?

The bold, bright illustrations by Ana Gómez are comical and engaging, showing the feelings of both Dragon and narrator.

Tropical Terry

Tropical Terry
Jarvis
Walker Books

Come with me to Coral Reef City, home to the most flashy, dashy array of fish you could imagine. It’s also home to Terry. Terry has no dazzling scales or funky fins to flaunt. He does however have two good friends, Cilla the crab and Steve the sea snail with whom he lives and plays.

The three and their games of Dodge-a-Dolphin, Shark Speed and Hide-a-Fish are shunned by the tropical fish on account of their drabness. Terry’s pals try to cheer him up but he still hankers after that dashing, flashing life.

A plan is needed and next day, with the help of his friends, operation transformation Terry is put into action.

Now he verily outshines everything else in Tropical City.
At last he’s one of the fishy dazzlers and much too busy with his new acquaintances to bother with Steve and Cilla.

One day however, Eddie the Eel arrives on the scene and Terry’s life in is great danger. What can he do to escape becoming an eel’s next meal?

There’s only one way to find out: get your fins on a copy of Jarvis’ tale of friendship and sea changes and read the rest of this piscine picture book.

Jarvis never fails to delight: his deep-sea adventure is certainly one to dive into.

But the Bear Came Back

But the Bear Came Back
Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor
Sterling

‘You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it’ is what the little boy protagonist in this story discovers when a large furry ursine character comes a-knocking.

It all starts quite politely on the boy narrator’s part; he’s disturbed from his reading and understandably a tad irritated but isn’t on this occasion rude. ‘And I said, “Go home, bear.” And that was that. ‘

However, this bear is persistent, returning over and over;

but time and again the boy sends him packing until things get just too much. He yells at the creature at the top of his voice, after which there are no further visits.

Peace ensues but the boy isn’t as happy as he’d expected; in fact, he really misses that hulking great irritating animal.

Can he ever find his friend again? The boy certainly goes to great lengths to do so …

but will he ever hear that longed for knock on his door?

There is much to discuss about the way the characters behave in Tammi Sauer’s gently humorous story – not the least being the lengths each goes to find a friend.

Day Taylor’s illustrations are captivating: the bear is adorable – decidedly huggable in fact; and there are lots of lovely details to spend time over.

Dylan the Baker

Dylan the Baker
Guy Parker Rees
Alison Green Books

Dylan the exuberant stripy dog is back once again and this time we join him as he dons a chef’s hat and apron ready to bake a birthday cake – his favourite extra special Choccy-Banana one for his pal Jolly Otter.

The trouble is that right from when those wonderful baking smells start wafting from the oven, Dylan’s tum starts to rumble.

Trying not to eat the yummy cake becomes Dylan’s major preoccupation as he removes it from the oven, leaves it on the table and dashes outside to distract himself.

It’s there that his friends Purple Puss and Titchy Chick find him and they too join Dylan in the not-eating-cake activities. First it’s head-standing, then spinning around in the woods,

followed by swinging and a host of other games; the problem being that before long Dylan isn’t the only one suffering from tummy rumbles and super salivation.

Will Jolly Otter get even so much as a sniff of his birthday cake when three friends all have an irresistible urge to sink their teeth into the delicious confection?

Look out for Dotty Bug, another of Dylan’s pals who pops up on every spread encouraging listeners to join in with this fun story. And fun it certainly is especially as the anticipation builds with those ‘Rumbly-tumbly- grumbly GRUM tummies, not to mention Dylan’s song to sing along with; and the final twist in the baking bonanza is entirely satisfying.

 

Moreover, if you fancy trying some of Dylan’s cake, he’s been kind enough to include a recipe at the end of his story.

Along Came A Different

Along Came A Different
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

What is a ‘Different’? Well that all depends on your perspective. If you’re a Red then it could be a Yellow and vice-versa.

Suppose however, quite unexpectedly, a Blue happens along into ‘your’ territory sporting a blue bow tie, twanging a blue guitar and slurping a blueberry shake, supremely happy in its blueness, then what? It might well mean trouble and dare I say, separatism. BIG TROUBLE indeed, and by the look of things, a complete loss of joie de vivre.

Maybe it’s time to come together and draw up some rules …

The resulting isolation of each group appears to be working – temporarily at least but then a whole host of ‘different’ differents appear on the scene – friendly ones; could that be the start of a change of heart?

It might, but wait for it: how about a ‘really different different’ with an all-embracing attitude to life and living, maybe that could really make a difference …

Time to tear up that rule book guys!

Tom McLaughlin has surely created a fable of our divisive times. How much better we’d all be to take notice of the message of this wonderful picture book that blows the horn for inclusivity, difference and friendship everywhere.

It should be read, pondered upon and discussed and then trumpeted by all who value positive relationships across the world.

Not My Hats! / The Great Big Book of Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendship is also explored in this non-fiction book:

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

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

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

Testing Friendships – Fox & Chick: The Party and other stories / Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury

Fox & Chick: The Party
Sergio Ruzzier
Chronicle Books

Let me introduce Chick and Fox. Fox is an equable character who enjoys reading, cooking and painting; Chick, in contrast, is totally irrepressible – a bit of a pain to say the least. Surprisingly these two are friends. They star in three comic style episodes aimed at those just taking off as readers.

The first story (which gives the book its title) is I think the funniest. Chick calls on Fox, gains entry asking to use the bathroom and then proceeds to throw a party for his pals therein.

In the second story, Good Soup, Chick gives Fox a hard time about his vegetarian predilection wondering why he eschews frogs, small furry creatures, grasshoppers and er, little birds as ingredients for his soup.

Finally, Sit Still focuses on Chick’s total inability to do just that , leaping up every few minutes for a cushion, food and a drink while Fox endeavours to paint his portrait.

How long-suffering Fox puts up with Chick is anybody’s guess: – shades of Lobel’s Frog and Toad here – but their interactions are highly amusing, the text very readable and the illustrations rendered in pen, ink and watercolour are wonderfully expressive and enormously engaging.

Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury
Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
Andersen Press

I’ve been a huge admirer of Stewart and Riddell’s Rabbit and Hedgehog since A Little Bit of Winter (one of the four tales included here) was published about twenty years ago. If you’ve not met these two enchanting characters then this book of four stories is a great opportunity to get to know these two and the challenging nature of their friendship: one is awake all day and the other all night.

In the first neither of the best friends knows the date of his own birthday let alone each other’s. To be on the safe side they decide to celebrate the very next day and each goes about finding a very special gift to give the other.

Rabbit’s Wish is the second story but when he wishes that hedgehog will stay awake so they can spend a whole day together, the outcome is not quite what was anticipated.

In the third episode a remembering game tests the friendship between the two protagonists but an accident serves to remind them of the strength of their bond.

The final A Little Bit of Winter sees the friends facing another challenge. As Hedgehog prepares to hibernate he carves a message on the bark of an oak tree asking the somewhat forgetful Rabbit to save him a little bit of winter so he can find out what the season he’ll sleep through is really like.

Despite the chilly nature of the season, it’s a truly heart-warming story and like the others, beautifully and sensitively illustrated.

Is it a Mermaid?

Is it a Mermaid?
Candy Gourlay and Francesca Chessa
Otter-Barry Books

When is a mermaid not a mermaid? That is the question explored in this enchanting picture book.

Bel and Benji are playing on the beach one morning when they spy something emerging from the sea: Bel wonders what it could be. Benji says it’s a Dugong, which the creature immediately denies, insisting she’s a ‘beautiful mermaid’ and pointing out her tail – a rather large one.

Benji is having none of it even when the Dugong bursts into song – not very tunefully.

Into the ocean plunges the ‘mermaid’ – not very elegantly – intent on demonstrating her graceful swimming, immediately followed by Bel and Benji,

the latter firmly pointing out the Dugongness of the creature’s anatomy and calling her a “SEA COW”.

This results in a tearful Dugong, an apology from Benji and the forging of a new friendship as children and sea creature spend a happy day frolicking in the ocean waves before bidding one another fond farewells.

Beautifully portrayed in richly coloured scenes and told with gentle humour, this slice of tropical life will delight and amuse young listeners – it’s a treat to read aloud.

There is however a serious side to the book: the final page gives factual information about Dugongs explaining how their seagrass habitat is being destroyed, thus placing the creatures on the list of vulnerable species.

The Knight Who Said “No!”

The Knight Who Said “No!”
Lucy Rowland and Kate Hindley
Nosy Crow

Ned had always been a biddable, obedient little knight complying with each and every one of his parents’ wishes,

and always come nightfall running indoors to hide from the dragon as she swept through the sky. One night as he watches the dragon from the safety of his bedroom window, Ned wonders if, like himself, the dragon is lonely.

Next morning – the day of the tournament – a change has come over the lad. A firm “No” is his response to every request from his parents and the townsfolk alike. When the dragon whooshes through the sky and lands at Ned’s feet, he accosts the creature, inquiring about her lack of roar.

The dragon’s response brings about a mood shift in Ned …

and thereafter, an unlikely new friendship is forged.

Lucy Rowlands’ rhyming text bounces merrily and faultlessly along, providing join-in ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ opportunities for listeners who will delight in Ned’s sudden attack of recalcitrance and its final outcome. Kate Hindley documents the whole saga with wonderful scenes of days of yore village life capturing not only Ned’s mood changes, but also the dragon’s and the bit part players’ characters, absolutely splendidly.

A potential storytime favourite, methinks.

Goat’s Coat

Goat’s Coat
Tom Percival and Christine Pym
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Alfonzo is a goat with a brand new, dapper coat; wearing it makes him feel on top of the world. He also has a kind heart so when out strutting his stuff in his stylish garment and he comes upon a family of homeless frogs in need of help Alfonzo is faced with a dilemma.

Altruism wins: the frogs sail off in a new blue boat; Alfonzo walks on in a cuffless coat.

But then he discovers a trembly cat, her tail in a trap. A bandage is required to stem the blood …

Soon the cat’s tail is covered: the goat’s nether regions anything but.

Further encounters with a panic-stricken hen …

and shivering hedgehogs leave the benevolent Alfonso alone and entirely coatless. Snow falls as night approaches.

Will the goat freeze without his coat?

Tom Percival’s rhyming cuddle of a tale is the perfect antidote to the current political climate demonstrating so beautifully that happiness lies not in possessions or self-interest but in friendship and selflessness. Christine Pym’s illustrations for his heart-warming story capture the feelings of helper and helped perfectly, injecting appropriate touches of humour along the way.

AdoraBULL

AdoraBULL
Alison Donald and Alex Willmore
Maverick Arts Publishing

Alison Donald and Alex Willmore have created a lovely book based on a misunderstanding by one of the main characters.

Tom and Alfred are the best of friends sharing everything and totally inseparable until Tom starts school, leaving Alfred with little to do but remain at home and wait for his pal’s return.

One day though Tom comes home announcing to his parents that he needs a pet – a cute, snuggly one and it has to be totally adorable.

Poor Alfred is worried: what on earth does the word mean, he wonders, and determined not to lose his place in Tom’s affections, sets about finding out.

Having done so he gets to work to make himself fit the bill.
Action plan A is anything but a success so Alfred decides it’s time for plan B – a make-over …

His new look is met with amusement not only by the barn animals, but also by Tom.

Plan C only serves to infuriate Tom: it seems as though being adorable just isn’t a bull thing. Alfred is miserable and in need of some time alone.

But that evening Tom appears carrying a large box, and what a wonderfully heart-winning and unexpected surprise peeps out at its recipient.

The outcome is, no more lonely days for Alfred.

Alison Donald’s funny, warm-hearted tale of friendship is beautifully illustrated by Alex Willmore whose scenes of Alfred and his antics are superbly expressive and like the book’s title, absolutely A-DOR-A-BLE!

Great Bunny Bakes

Great Bunny Bakes
Ellie Snowdon
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Always on the lookout for exciting debut picture books I was thrilled to receive this mouth-watering one by exciting new author/ illustrator, Ellie Snowdon whose illustrations are a real treat – every one of them full of hilarious detail.

Meet grey wolf Quentin with an unusual hobby: he loves to bake: buns, biscuits, fondant fancies and especially chocolate cake. Hmmm!
There’s a problem however; Quentin has nobody to share these yummy confections with.

Unexpectedly though, everything changes when he accidentally receives an invitation to participate in A Bunny Bake-Off.
Time for a spot of subterfuge thinks Quentin.…

Cleverly disguising his facial features he manages to get into the competitors’ tent where he sets about the five challenges.
With top marks in the first event, Quentin looks well set to secure the trophy although one of the other participants is determined to sabotage his chances.

Quentin continues gallantly but there are more dirty tricks, and as he makes his way to the judging table with his final offering, Quentin slips and …

Will all his efforts now be in vain? Fortunately not; in fact our lupine contestant ends up being on the receiving end of a double dose of good fortune.

Ellie Snowdon’s tasty tale of baking, bunnies, fairness and friendship will delight and amuse.

Juniper Jupiter

Juniper Jupiter
Lizzy Stewart
Lincoln Books
Lizzy Stewart’s debut picture book There’s a Tiger in the Garden was a Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize winner last year. Now she has created a super story with a friendship theme and a super-hero character..

A super-hero girl: that’s got to be a cause for celebration from the outset despite the fact that for Juniper Jupiter ‘It’s no big deal.’ This cool character has super powers in abundance: kindness, bravery, speed and guile, strength and she’s super-smart. She can fly too.

All in all it’s a pretty satisfying life but there are times when she feels lonely, so she decides to advertise for ‘side-kick’ and she’s pretty definite where her requirements are concerned …

There are plenty of people wanting the job but it doesn’t take too long for Juniper to rule them all out. Just when despair is setting in and a super sized sulk about to descend upon her, the final applicant makes her presence felt and guess what; she fits the bill perfectly.

Hooray! Now, with Peanut beside her, our young heroine is doubly super but that as you might expect, is ‘no big deal’.

The chatty matter of fact telling leaves the illustrations to do much of the talking and once again they’re absolutely splendid – vibrant, detailed, and beautifully observed, the feeling bored sequence in particular …

 

If superheroes are your thing then you might also enjoy:
Molly Mischief Saves the World
Adam Hargreaves
Pavilion
This young female is perhaps every parent’s worst nightmare and when she dons her super hero gear and assumes superpowers, well it’s anybody’s guess what she might get up to.
Find out more in this new adventure wherein the feisty miss discovers that being a superhero isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.

Baby Bird

Baby Bird
Andrew Gibbs and Zosienka
First Editions
First Editions is a new ‘sub-imprint’ of Lincoln Children’s Books that is entirely devoted to debuts and this book is one of its first.

‘Birds are born to fly’, thinks Baby Bird but this little bird was born with one misshapen wing that fails to develop fully and so when the other hatchlings are ready to leave the nest Baby watches them take flight but, try as s/he might, Baby’s efforts to follow them end in disaster.

Determined to learn to swoop and soar like the others, the little creature keeps practising, refusing to give up until suddenly a monstrous face appears from the shadows and there is, not a monster but another bird calling itself Cooter.

Cooter offers to assist Baby by becoming a buddy and the two spend the afternoon endeavouring to get Baby airborne, all to no avail and although Cooter tells Baby that he’s having fun, the fledgling most definitely is not.

The friendship is further tested when Cooter tells Baby something exceedingly distressing that precipitates a fall, a rescue and a revelation.

What follows changes the entire mood; it’s something called Coot Scooting and from then on, Baby’s outlook on life and flying is altogether different.

Baby Bird embodies the spirit of determination against all the odds in this tale of friendship, self-acceptance and inclusivity.
Both author (who sadly did not live to see the book’s publication) and illustrator’s portrayal of the fledgling is uplifting and inspiring.

I’ve signed the charter  

Swapsies / Say Sorry, Sidney!

Swapsies
Fiona Roberton
Hodder Children’s Books

There’s a delightful lesson in the importance of friendship and learning to share in this latest book from talented author/illustrator Fiona Roberton whose books have all been winners with me.
Fang has a favourite toy, an amazing yellow, stripey, squeezy, thing with an aroma of bananas; he loves Sock more than anything else.
Enter Philip with his magnificent shiny red train, which looks a whole lot more exciting than Sock. Being a good sharer, Philip agrees to a swap.

A similar thing happens with the bouncy toy belonging to Simon. But then disaster strikes …

and Fang is left toyless and missing his old favourite.
Is he to be without his beloved Sock forever more or is there perhaps a way they can be re-united.
Fiona’s characters are adorable; her dialogue superb: “What happened to Ball?” asked Simon. “Ball is no longer with us,” says Fang; and the finale (which I won’t divulge) leaves room for the children’s imaginations to take over and draw their own conclusions.

Say Sorry, Sidney!
Caryl Hart and Sarah Horne
Hodder Children’s Books

Resident of the zoo, rhino Sidney feels lonely so he decides to make a break for it and heads for the farm.
Once there, the creature starts helping himself to anything and everything that takes his fancy. First he scoffs Mr Potts lunch, then ruins all the washing on Aunt Ann’s clothes line. How wonderfully affronted she looks …

Not content with that he destroys young Emily’s den and smashes all her favourite toys. Even worse, despite their protests of innocence, everyone blames their loss on whichever farm animal happens to be on the scene at the time.
Rhino? What Rhino? / That cannot be true. / There’s only one rhino / and he’s in the zoo.” Is what the accusers all say to the accused.
Come the evening, those farm animals have had enough; time to confront that rhino and teach him a lesson they decide.

Will Sidney finally see the error of his ways, learn some manners and become a valued member of the farm community, or will it be back to the zoo for him?
With its join-in-able repeat refrain, the jaunty rhyme bounces along nicely and Sarah Horne’s wonderfully quirky characters, both animal and human, are quite splendid.

Ash Dresses Her Friends

Ash Dresses Her Friends
Fu Wenzheng
New Frontier Publishing

I’m always interested to discover new illustrators and authors and thanks to New Frontier Publishing I’m meeting Chinese author/illustrator Fu Wenzheng for the first time.
Having grown up in a temple in China she draws on her childhood experiences in her illustrative style employing an, Ink Wash Painting technique (known also as literati) using just three colours to create her multi-layered images.

Her story is simply told and features a shy, lonely, azure-winged magpie named Ash.

One day Ash finds herself face to face with a sad looking elephant. The reason for his sadness is that he wants a new shirt.

Ash decides to help and from a length of red material she fashions him a wonderfully patterned one.

Before long the news of her skill and generosity has spread and one by one, a whole host of other animals come calling hoping for something colourful from Ash’s material, and she’s happy to oblige.

She’s even willing to use her last tiny piece to create a cosy quilt for a baby snail.

Once the cloth has gone, so too seemingly, have all her friends and Ash is alone once more.
Surely that is no way to treat such a kind-hearted creature? Absolutely not; it’s now time for the animals to acknowledge her generosity …

Symbolising good luck, happiness and joy, red is an auspicious colour in Chinese culture and here the predominance of red in Fu Wenzheng’s illustrations emphasises Ash’s friendship and kindness in sharing what she has with others, as well as creating striking images throughout.

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands
Jonny Duddle
Templar Publishing

Just when you were thinking there couldn’t possibly be room on the high seas for another pirate, along comes young Matilda, friend of pirate boy Jim Lad. But can she really cut the mustard as a true pirate or is she the land-lubbing pretender that the other Scurvy Sanders suspect her to be when she goes a holidaying with the Jolley-Rogers?

Excited to be allowed to accompany her pirate pals on a visit to Scurvy Sands, Matilda bids her parents goodbye and three days later, is greeted by Cap’n Ollie Day at the pirate resort who tells them of lost gold buried long long ago by one Mad Jack McMuddle..

The pirate kids are highly doubtful about her pirate credentials, as are the adults,

all of whom are just waiting to expose the girl with her neat clothes, clean teeth, perfect table manners and lack of unwashed odours, wherever she goes and whatever she does.

Take the pirate test” is the command.

What can she do to prove herself?

Suddenly, inspired by a portrait of Mad Jack, Matilda has an idea. All she needs is Jack’s map, a compass and her own excellent sense of direction; oh and a spade carried by her pal Jim Lad.

You’ll certainly need your best array of pirate voices when you share this rollicking sequel to The Pirates Next Door, but don’t worry. I suspect your audience will be focussed on the filmic illustrations, which are absolutely brimming over with larger than life, roguish-looking characters and piratical paraphernalia. Do take a look at the superbly detailed end-papers too.
Whether or not children will on first hearing, notice the underlying theme concerning those who appear different having to prove themselves worthy to gain acceptance, I doubt, they’ll most likely just be carried along by the action.

Eric Makes a Splash

Eric Makes a Splash
Emily Mackenzie
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When it comes to trying new things, Eric is a real worrier. His best friend Flora on the other hand is virtually fearless and loves to help Eric to feel as brave as she does.
She helps him with his fear of getting his wellies dirty; with his worries about trying a new sandwich filling, and comes to his assistance on the tall climbing frame.

When Eric receives an invitation to a swimming party his mind is a whirl of worries: supposing his fur got wet or water went in his eyes; but even worse, what if he sank to the bottom of the pool?

Flora thinks the purchase of new swimming togs might allay his fears but even with his new attire, Eric worries.

Eventually though he’s suitably prepared and off they go to ‘Soggy Towel Swimming Pool’.

Soon all Eric’s friends are having a wonderful time splashing around but Eric is reluctant even to get his toes wet.

Thank goodness Flora is soon by his side offering some timely words of encouragement and finally one very proud panda is in the water…

That isn’t quite the end of the story though. A mishap on the diving board precipitates a disastrous chain of events:

Eric is left without any support other than that supplied by the water itself, and is about to make some very surprising discoveries …
As always, Emily Mackenzie’s illustrations are full of fun and feelings. Her two main characters are totally endearing and complement each other perfectly. We could all do with a Flora in our lives when we’re about to make a somewhat scary leap into the unknown.

Friends for a Day

Friends for a Day
Neal Layton
Hodder Children’s Books

Oh, oh, this is achingly adorable, a real treasure of a book that is both poignant and joyful by the absolute master of sublime, scribbly artwork, Neal Layton who is a self confessed lover of bears. As I started to read it I thought hey, this is a bit familiar and then realised it is actually a reincarnation of Bartholomew and the Bug published almost fifteen years ago. Nevertheless, those children I shared it with back then are all grown up now and it’s exciting to think it’s once again available to a whole new generation of listeners.

Bartholomew is a laid back bear who lives an undemanding existence atop a mountain although occasionally contemplating the world down in the valley with its twinkling lights: maybe one day, he thinks to himself.

However that day comes a lot sooner than he’d anticipated: enter Bug. This tiny creature is in urgent need of Bartholomew’s assistance. Whatever the reason for the hurry, it’s pretty clear that Bug cannot go it alone and so the bear and bug set off together for the bright lights.

What a truly epic adventure this turns out to be (117 miles of travelling)

and all the while Bartholomew’s tiny pal seems to grow ever more eager to reach their destination.

The two finally arrive at the big city in record-breaking time and it truly is a surprising sight but where are all those lights?

Before long Bartholomew discovers just what all the hurry was for as thousand upon thousand of wonderful bugs of all shapes and sizes wing their way into the neon lights that come on only when darkness falls.

An awesome time is had by all but then comes the moment –it’s full of poignancy – when Bartholomew realises that his job is done and it’s time to bid farewell to his tiny pal.

Yes, some days are never forgotten and some books likewise. This is one of those, and like all special stories, it leaves plenty of gaps for child audiences to fill.

Look Out, It’s a Dragon!

Look Out, It’s a Dragon!
Jonny Lambert
Little Tiger Press

It’s always a pleasure to open a package and discover a new Jonny Lambert picture book. This, his latest, is something of a departure in that it stars a mythical, rather than a ‘real’ animal although there are plenty of the latter herein too.

Without further ado let me introduce Saffi. She’s an atypical dragon who isn’t interested in capturing princesses, nor in crushing castles, and she’s had quite enough of bottom-bruising rocky mountains. So off she flies in search of a more hospitable environment in which to live.

That is just what she thinks she’s found when she lands rather ungracefully in a sunny woodland. The forest animals however, think otherwise and start fleeing for their lives.

Suddenly Saffi hears a squeaky “Oi! Knobbly knickers! You can’t stay here!” from behind her. It’s Mouse expressing an opinion held by all the forest inhabitants on account of her fiery dragon nature. The dragon does her best to persuade the little creature otherwise and has almost won him over when disaster strikes in the form of a twitchy nose that ends in a very forceful sneeze that scares Mouse …

and damages Warbler’s plumage.

Saffi sets off in pursuit only wreaking more havoc …

until the animals have had enough and the poor well-intentioned dragon is sent packing in no uncertain terms.

Later though, something happens that puts the forest animals and their habitat in real peril.

Who can save them now?

A drama that embodies themes of prejudice, friendship, the dangers of stereotyping and bravery.

Gentle humour pervades the dragon-dominated, mixed media illustrations although even the very tiny participants make their presence felt strongly in the unfolding drama. As always in Lambert’s books, body language is superbly done throughout.

Your heart really does go out to Saffi in her attempts to find a new home so you will be happy to learn that there’s a dragon template that can be used for children to create their very own Saffi character. I’d suggest making a whole diorama and suspending the dragon somewhere therein.

I’ve signed the charter  

Fiona’s Little Accident

Fiona’s Little Accident
Rosemary Wells
Walker Books

Years ago I was enchanted by Rosemary Wells’ Max and Ruby: more recently she has introduced another equally enchanting pair of characters, Fiona and her much quieter friend, Felix.

The guinea pig friends are eagerly anticipating demonstrating their volcano in show and tell. Fiona is so excited that she doesn’t go to the loo before leaving for school; nor does she visit the bathroom before going into class.

Show and tell begins and Fiona starts feeling rather desperate but now the bathroom is occupied. Fiona hears their turn being announced. She dashes back and she and Felix start the demonstration.

Suddenly disaster strikes. Fiona cannot hold on any longer: in full view of the class she wets herself. ‘Fiona knew everyone saw. She wanted never, ever to be seen again.’

Her teacher quickly deals with Fiona’s discomposure …

and Felix reassures her that everyone has accidents, even royalty and that within fifty seconds the whole thing will be forgotten.

Wells presents this embarrassing scenario with an empathetic understanding that must surely help children see that accidents such as Fiona’s are quickly forgotten, as well as being something pretty much universal.

One to include in KS1 classroom collections methinks.

Beyond the Fence

Beyond the Fence
Maria Gulemetova
Child’s Play

Thomas and Piggy live together in a large country house. Thomas always takes the lead when it comes to decision making, no matter what ‘He just knew.’

When Thomas’s cousin visits, the boy is preoccupied with her and that’s when Piggy decides to venture outside the confines of the house.

On his walk he encounters Wild Pig.

Wild Pig asks Piggy some thought-provoking questions about his way of life and Piggy returns home.

Thereafter he makes frequent visits to the great outdoors in the hope of seeing his new friend but he never appears.

One evening however, there he is full of apologies and an explanation. He invites Piggy to accompany him into the forest. Piggy declines on account of it being out of bounds although he promises to meet with Wild Pig the following evening.

Thomas’s cousin goes home the next day and the boy is surprised and scornful when he discovers that Piggy has chosen his own way of playing …

Not for long though, for Thomas soon has the upper hand (or trotter) once again.

Will Piggy ever make that decisive break for true freedom? I wonder …

Watch young children playing. There are lots of Thomases but happily there are also plenty of Piggys and that’s what makes life so fascinating.

Maria Gulemetova’s picture book is softly spoken but embodies strong messages about being your own person, standing up for yourself, and what true friendship really means. Her watercolour illustrations (which put me in mind somewhat of the work of Ron Brooks) echo the sparseness of her text and that is what makes the impact of the whole so strong.
It’s a lovely one to share and discuss with people of all ages.

The Very Long Sleep

The Very Long Sleep
Polly Noakes
Child’s Play

Polly Noakes’ latest picture book is essentially a delightful extended joke.

Meet four animal friends Fox, Chipmunk, Marmot and Bear who decide to set up home together. They enthusiastically set about so doing but there is a snag: three of said animals hibernate come the arrival of winter’s frost, something they fail to tell Fox.

Inevitably he is disappointed that none of the others stays awake to share his specially prepared food; he himself is unable to sleep and feels extremely lonely.

Then one day the deliveries start. First it’s a parcel for Chipmunk; next comes a package for Marmot;

and that is followed some weeks later, by a large item for Bear.

Fox is the only one not to receive something through the pigeon post. He waits; his boredom increases: surely a little peep wouldn’t hurt, he thinks.
All of a sudden …

Now what could all that noise mean? …

Illustrated with warmth and humour, this is lovely and potentially rather noisy read aloud to share snuggled up together, especially after a woodland walk. I’d suggest mugs of hot chocolate to sip along with it.