Tiny T. Rex and the Very Dark Dark

Tiny T. Rex and the Very Very Dark
Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck
Chronicle Books

Tiny T. Rex and his buddy Pointy are spending their very first night under the stars, and the adorable dinosaur narrator, all the while clutching tight his squishy bear Bob, regales us with their nocturnal experiences. When outside, we hear, ‘the dark is VERY dark’ and with no ‘nighty-lights to turn on’ there may very well be Grumbles and Nom-bies at large.

Mum assures her little one that even in the dark, there will always be a light shining somewhere. He though is far from convinced. He and Pointy however, have a secret being brave plan. This means building a hiding fort

to contain snacks and themselves but even then, feeling hidden isn’t what happens. So, brain-protecting helmets are necessary although a proper fit is a requisite

as are the lamps from indoors and the strings of coloured lights with which they deck the trees and their tent. At last everything is ready; now let those Crawly creeps and Nom-bies come …

That brightness however, lasts only briefly for a fuse blows and they’re plunged into total ‘very dark dark’ blackness.

Now what can they do: everyone is scared but can they summon up all their courage, open their eyes and look hard – very, very hard …

There’s plenty to see and delight in here in this reassuring tale, not least what those Grumbles and Nom-bies actually are.

What’s needed for dark-fearful little ones is a super story bedtime tale such as this one, then a big hug, followed by lights out and imaginations temporarily switched off. Most definitely, it’s another winner from the Stutzman and Fleck team.

Lenny Makes a Wish

Lenny Makes a Wish
Paula Metcalf
Oxford University Press

I wonder how far into this heartwarming story it will be before youngsters guess the identity of the ‘fish’ Lenny rabbit comes upon while out picking flowers for his mum one spring day.

Needing a little rest from his activity, Lenny sits down beneath a tree and spots a ‘funny little fish / as black as black an be’

That the little creature is all alone makes the young rabbit feel sad and he inquires about the whereabouts of the fish’s parents. What he learns is that a storm has separated her from her family.

Having pondered upon what to do, Lenny offers himself as a friend but then realises that a fish out of water is unable to breathe. Back into the water goes Fishy rapidly followed by Lenny but what is immediately evident is 

Happily his mum arrives in the nick of time to rescue her little one and give him a warning. Then it’s a very sad Lenny that bids farewell to his fishy friend and so she doesn’t forget him, he presents her with his blue scarf.

Time passes; Fishy appreciates her gift but suddenly tears start  welling up.

Lenny meanwhile also misses Fishy and one bright, clear night he makes a wish upon the biggest star in the sky.

The sunny summer days come around and all of a sudden while Lenny and Mum are having their lunch,

they receive a surprise visitor wearing a blue scarf.

Has Lenny’s wish perhaps been granted?

The combination of Paula Metcalf’s rhythmic, rhyming text and gently humorous illustrations with their wealth of of wonderful details, makes for a great read aloud. It’s a lovely celebration of kindness, and friendship against the odds as well as offering an unobtrusive lesson in natural history.

The Caveman Next Door / Twelve Days of Kindness

The Caveman Next Door
Tom Tinn-Disbury
New Frontier Publishing

Penny’s street is perfectly ordinary until a caveman moves in next door to her. He does little but grunt by way of communication, is scantily clad and his only furniture is made from sticks or stones.
Thinking he seems a little lost, Penny decides to befriend him and takes him on a tour of the town starting with the library where he receives a less than welcoming reception.

No matter where they go Ogg seems to manage to annoy somebody or embarrass Penny; seemingly he just doesn’t fit in.

But then, having seen inside Ogg’s cave with its wonderful mural documenting all their adventures, Penny has a great idea;

Ogg will visit her school.
After an initial setback, the headteacher recognises that in Ogg he has not only an interesting artist but someone who can educate his pupils about the natural world.

Tom Didsbury’s fanciful story of friendship and finding a place to fit in, with its wonderfully quirky illustrations will delight and amuse young listeners.

Twelve Days of Kindness
Cori Brooke and Fiona Burrows
New Frontier Publishing

When Holly realises that new girl Nabila is having trouble making friends among her classmates she decides something needs to be done to help her.

Both girls are picked for the school soccer team but despite this her fellow team- mates are not showing any signs of welcoming Nabila. With just twelve days left before the first match, the girls still haven’t gelled as a team.

Nabila and Holly devise a plan: for every remaining day they will do something good and kind for the team and gradually not only does the team come together

but the “Twelve Days of Kindness’ is a winning formula.

An effective lesson about acceptance, welcoming strangers, friendship and of course, kindness, beautifully delivered in Cori Brookes’ straightforward narrative and Fiona Burrows’ powerful pictures of the girls is one to share and discuss in lower classrooms especially.

Madame Badobedah / A Sea of Stories / Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost

Madame Badobedah
Sophie Dahl and Lauren O’Hara
Walker Books

This is a rather longer than usual picture book story of an unusual older woman and the young narrator, Mabel.

Mabel lives at The Mermaid Hotel an establishment managed by her parents. She’s an only child with a fertile imagination and a thirst for adventure and here she acts as narrator of the tale of what happens when a certain rather unusual guest arrives. Not only does the woman have twenty-three bags, two large trunks, lots of jewels and a dressing table but also two cats, two dogs and a tortoise, oh! and a penchant for toffees too.

So high-handed is her manner that Mabel takes an instant dislike to her, naming her Madame Badobedah and deciding she’s a villain. Donning her large raincoat, hat and sunglasses the girl becomes Mabel the Spy.

One Saturday morning the strange guest invites Mabel into her room for tea.

We learn that Madame Badobedah had long ago come across the sea on a big ship to escape war and had once been a ballerina – hence the jewelled tiara.

Gradually as this rather unlikely friendship blossoms we learn more about Madame Badobedah – she’s ready to apologise when she thinks it’s due, enjoys visiting the mermaids,

and also has some secrets that she wants to keep to herself. I love the way Sophie Dahl’s narrative gradually reveals things about the lonely Irena (as we discover is her real name) but leaves plenty of gaps for readers to fill in for themselves.

Lauren O’Hara captures the inherent warmth of the story in her deliciously whimsical illustrations that are just perfect for the quirky telling.

Another story about an intergenerational friendship is:

A Sea of Stories
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly
Stripes Publishing

Young Roo loves to visit her grandpa who lives in a cottage beside the sea with Bathsheba, his ancient cat and a large collection of Bits-and-Pieces he’s accumulated over the years.

Grandpa has a garden that has become overgrown and wild, the ideal place for a game of hide-and-seek when she goes to stay for a few days. When he gets tired there’s nothing he likes better than to sit in his favourite armchair and tell stories to Roo; stories inspired by the objects in his collection.

They all relate to the hidden cove at the bottom of the cliff, a place that Grandpa’s legs won’t carry him to any longer on account of the ‘rambly-scrambly path’ that leads down there.

On her final night at Grandpa’s Roo turns her wish for a way to bring Grandpa and his favourite cove back together into a plan; a plan that the following day is brought to fruition.

Highlighting the importance of sharing stories, this unusual story is both warm and infused with a delightful quirkiness.

Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost
Alex Rühle, trans. Rachel Ward, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Andersen Press

One day after the holidays Paul returns home from school and gets the surprise of his life: a voice comes from the keyhole when he inserts his key and it turns out to be a tiny ghost claiming he lives in the keyhole.

He names the being Zippel; but later on that same day he learns that the lock on the front door is to be replaced in just three days.

Later that evening Paul’s parents leave him alone and go to a meeting. Immediately the lad informs Zippel and the race is on to find the enormously inquisitive ghost (with an interest in everything including toilets) a new home before the three days are out.

With smashing Axel Scheffler colour illustrations and absolutely full of delicious wordplay and puns, not to mention Zippel’s rhymes, this warm-hearted story about discovering friends in the strangest of places is fun around Halloween especially, but worth reading any time.

Two for Me, One for You / Otto Goes North / Cornelia and the Jungle Machine

Here are three recent picture books from Gecko Press each of which has friendship at its heart

Two for Me, One for You
Jörg Mühle
Gecko Press

In this fable-like tale two hungry friends, Bear and Weasel find themselves disagreeing over how to share the three mushrooms the former discovers on her way home through the forest.

Weasel cooks them for dinner

but at the table, Bear lays claim to the extra one on account of her bulk; Weasel counters that with a demand for mushroom number three saying, “I’m small, and I still have to grow”

From that small beginning grows a fully-blown fight: Bear found the mushrooms, Weasel cooked them perfectly; it was Bear’s recipe but Weasel’s favourite food and his tummy is rumbling; Bear’s stomach is bigger and with it her hunger; Weasel mentioned a rumbly tummy first; Bear wanted the extra mushroom first, she says and insults start flying. This prompts Weasel to procure mushroom number three and wave it aloft just as a fox happens to be passing by with its eye on the tasty tidbit.

Shared shock horror on the part of Bear and Weasel after which the two wish one another ‘bon appetit’ and tuck in.
Then comes dessert – uh-oh!

Comic timing combined with droll mixed media scenes of the escalating situation (I love the forest setting with the kitchen set-up) make for a fun way to introduce youngsters to the notion of sharing: how might they solve the ‘afters’ issue?

Otto Goes North
Ulrika Kestere
Gecko Press

Otto is a lemur friend of Lisa the lynx and Nils, a little bear. He has cycled many months, years perhaps, to visit the two northerners and to paint the famous northern lights to hang on his wall back home in the south.

But when he sallies forth with paints and brushes he quickly discovers that it’s so freezing cold that painting anything but zigzags is well nigh impossible. His friends are surprised since he like them is covered with fur, but they take him to the sauna along with a bowl of warming soup, instructing him to spend the night there.

Lisa and Nils consult their books – all two of them – and as luck would have it one is about wool. Even more fortunate is that the book is illustrated, for Lisa has forgotten how to read. The two make use of the pictures, together with initiative and set about combing their own fur, spinning it into wool, using vegetable leftovers to dye it and knitting a wonderful sweater – a true work of art. (Followers of a certain Scandi detective series will know of the Scandinavian predilection for fancy sweaters).

When Otto eventually emerges, somewhat recovered, from the sauna, they present him with the splendid gift.

Then, snugly clad in same, he is able to spend several hours painting outside.

The three then pass many contented days together before their visitor sets off home with happy memories and a wonderful item to add to the arty pieces already hanging on his wall.

A wonderfully heart warming story portraying the spirit of friendship that goes the extra mile, some amusing banter between the main characters and whimsical illustrations of the chilly Nordic setting (love the green roof) make for a satisfying book to share.

Cornelia and the Jungle Machine
Nora Brech
Gecko Press

Cornelia dislikes the large, gloomy home she’s moved into. There’s nobody to play with and since it’s clear she’s not going to help unpack, her parents send her outside to look around.

She sallies forth into the surrounding forest accompanied by her scruffy-looking dog and thus begins an incredible adventure.
Up, up, up a ladder that descends from one of the trees she climbs and encounters a boy named Fredrik who invites her into his treetop abode to view his many inventions, in particular his jungle machine.

Wheels are turned and buttons pressed whereupon tropical plants appear from what look like vintage gramophone horns and morph into a fully-fledged tropical jungle wherein lush fruits abound. A huge bird descends to take the children flying before dropping them beside a winding river where a sailing boat awaits.

After an incredible adventure, Cornelia bids her new friend farewell, knowing that henceforward, she’ll have any number of further rendezvous to look forward to.

This gothic style fantasy unfolds in little over a hundred words of dialogue and intricately detailed sequences of Edward Gorey-like illustrated spreads showing Cornelia’s magical mystery experiences that will draw in readers, helping to ensure that like the girl, they will be eager to immerse themselves in the make believe world of the imagination. The vertical orientation of the pages heightens the aerial nature of the tree top story.

Rabbit and the Motorbike

Rabbit and the Motorbike
Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacoby
Chronicle Books

Rabbit lives in a field and dreams of leaving his safe haven one day, but this home-lover gets his adventures vicariously thanks to his friend Dog, an erstwhile motorcycle enthusiast who has spent much of his life riding his cycle all over the countryside.

One day though, Dog is gone and with it Rabbit’s daily adventure.

Dog has bequeathed his vehicle to his friend and it lies for many days abandoned in the field.

Then one night Rabbit decides to bring the bike inside and in the absence of a story, they listen to the sounds of the highway.

Summer comes bringing with it not only new blooms but also for rabbit, a newfound courage that allows him to admit to his fears and to suggest to the bike, “Just down the road.” But as we know, and Rabbit discovers, roads have a way of going on and on and …

It’s an independent, greatly enriched Rabbit that eventually returns to his field, with his head full of memories and stories, ready for new friends and with a feel for the pull of the open road.

Lyrically told by Kate Hoefler and gorgeously illustrated in pastels and watercolour by Sarah Jacoby, whose delicate scenes bring out Rabbit’s changing emotions while also capturing the power of the profound silences surrounding his loss, and the contrasting roar of the bike when he finally takes to the road.

An exhilarating tale of friendship, loss and finding the courage to step outside your comfort zone.

Baz & Benz / Mannie and the Long Brave Day

Baz & Benz
Heidi McKinnon
Allen & Unwin

Owls Baz and Benz are best friends: Baz is small and blue; Benz is big and green.

One day while sitting together Baz decides to check if their friendship really is for ever and ever.

He puts forward a series of possibilities – a colour change; a colour change with a spotty pattern? So far so good.

Constant ‘Meeping’? – not at all a good idea.

A scary bat with sharp claws? Err! Rather frightening, but the friendship bond would remain intact … no matter what.

Little humans will delight in Baz’s ability to annoy, and to push the boundaries but remain loved, and they’ll especially relish the way he gets the last “Meep!’

Comforting and reassuring; Heidi McKinnon gets right to the heart of true friendship in this simple, enormously enjoyable story for the very young. The bold, bright illustrations are captivating and the characters with their matching coloured lines immediately endearing.

A book I envisage being demanded over and over.

An altogether different celebration of friendship is:

Mannie and the Long Brave Day
Martine Murray and Sally Rippin
Allen & Unwin

This is a sweet story about a little girl Mannie, her toy elephant, Lilliput and her doll, Strawberry Luca.

Together with a special box of useful things, Mannie takes her friends on an exciting adventure … down the rocky road, through the tall, tall trees, across the winding river

and up the high hill for a picnic.

Suddenly the sun disappears, the sky darkens, thunder starts to rumble and Mannie feels scared.

Now it’s Lilliput’s turn to say the words, “What’s in the box?’

and before long all is well once more.

A truly magical book  that celebrates the boundless imagination of young children. Both author and artist capture the way in which the very young can transform almost anything and everything into the ingredients for their fantasy play.
Sally Rippin’s gorgeous illustrations took me right into the nursery classroom where I taught for a number of years, as did the ‘special box’ in the narrative. We too had a similar item not pink but battered and brown with a hole cut in the top, into which I’d put various items and we’d all sit around it and sing, “What’s in the box, what’s in the box, let’s think, let’s see … what’s in the box” before somebody would put in their hand and extract an item as the starting point for storying.

Through the Eyes of Us / In Every House, on Every Street

Through the Eyes of Us
Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding
Graffeg

This is the second book written by the father of a child on the autism spectrum.

Herein as well as Kya from Through the Eyes of Me, we meet her best friend Martha.

Kya, now at school, talks about her experiences there, sometimes contrasting her thoughts, behaviour and preferences with Martha’s.

I know from experience of children I’ve taught that school can be a very confusing place for neurodiverse children, but both girls have their own ways of navigating through lessons, playtimes and lunchtimes, all of which are illustrated in colourful, detailed, sometimes funny scenes.

Kya also describes how she and Martha enjoy different tactile experiences,

and activities in their free time; and their routines are also different.

Martha knows when she feels tired, unlike our narrator whose energy seems boundless; although once asleep after a soothing bath and massage, she sleeps soundly.

Enlivened by Hannah Rounding’s expressive illustrations, this is a smashing celebration of every child’s uniqueness as well as providing an insightful picture of the world of an autistic child.

The book concludes with a list of relevant websites.

Put Through the Eyes of Us in your class collection and whether or not you have children on the autism spectrum therein, read it together, talk about it and lend it to individuals for home sharing too.

In Every House, on Every Street
Jess Hitchman and Lili La Baleine
Little Tiger

The girl narrator of this book invites readers into her house to see what goes on in its various rooms.

What we discover is a happy family engaging in seemingly ordinary everyday activities, but nothing they do is dull or mundane.

The cake baking in the kitchen becomes an opportunity for the family to dance and sing together.

The dining room might be the place for eating a meal, but that meal can turn into a fun piratical party,

while the living room is a great spot for rest and relaxation but also for dancing and singing, mulling things over and talking about feelings.

Yes the bathroom is for getting clean but there are opportunities for some artistic endeavours too.

And the bedroom? Yes sleep happens therein, but so too does play.

Full of warmth, this is a lovely demonstration of what makes a house a home delivered through Jess Hitchman’s upbeat rhyming narrative and Lili La Baleine’s views of the everyday incidents of family life that make it special but different for everyone in the street, as the final fold out spread reveals.

My Friends

My Friends
Max Low
Otter-Barry Books

We don’t actually meet the narrator of this book until the final endpapers but that’s getting ahead of things, so let’s be content and accept the invitation to meet ‘My Friends’.

An interesting and diverse lot they definitely are, starting with Mossy, the perfect friend for some quiet interchange or silent contemplation.
Then comes lion-loving Archibald …

followed by cloud watching Ezra who points out all manner of interesting shapes drifting across the sky.

There’s Pepper who cooks tasty food; Olga, the music lover;

Herman the knitter (or should that be, tangler); the inventive Lina ; Bert who cares for minibeasts on account of their smallness and his bigness

as well as Plim and an imaginary friend, Klaus.
Each is unique, special and loved; but occasionally it’s good to be on your own.

And as for the narrator, I’m not revealing the identity of same – you’ll have to get hold of a copy of the book to find that out.

This quirky, playful look at friendship offers a great starting point for exploring the topic with young listeners who will readily relate to rising star, Max Low’s bold bright images.

Why not treat your friend to a copy to celebrate International Friendship Day on 30th July?

Harry in a Hurry

Harry in a Hurry
Timothy Knapman and Gemma Merino
Macmillan Children’s Books

Harry the hare is always in a frantic rush to do everything and go everywhere, so much so that he’s apt to cause chaos wherever he goes.

He makes some pretty perilous moves as he speeds around on his scooter until he suddenly finds himself hurtling through the air and into a pond.

Happily Tom Tortoise is there to fish him out, scooter and all and is even good enough to offer to mend Harry’s battered scooter.
Being a tortoise however, means that whatever Tom does, it’s at an extremely slow speed and inevitably it will be so with the task he’s kindly undertaken.

The badly bruised Harry has no choice but to wait and accept his friend’s offer of lunch.

As he does so, something strange starts to happen.

After their lunch Tom suggests a walk and more of Harry’s grumpiness dissipates as he pauses and takes notice of his surroundings.

Tom slips quietly back to finish his task, returning several hours later with the job done, to discover a decidedly more composed Harry, now mindful of his previous bad manners, and appreciative of both his friend’s efforts and the beauty all around.

Timothy’s tale, funny though it may be, has serious messages about kindness, friendship and the importance of taking time to enjoy everything that slowing down offers, not the least being good-natured interactions with others and the beauty of the natural world.

Gemma Merino’s expressive illustrations orchestrate the action brilliantly, bringing out the contrasts between the characters with gentle humour, and providing lots of amusing touches, not the least being the activities of the little mouse and other unmentioned creatures – an extra reward for those who read the book slowly.

Flock

Flock
Gemma Koomen
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seemingly, Sylvia will never be a loner again.

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

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

How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees

How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees
Vincent X. Kirsch
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Saying goodbye to a close friend is always hard especially when they’re moving away as Adelia is in this story.

She however, has planned a special farewell gift for Roger, which she delivers before she departs. It’s a lesson in how to climb a tree and, since Roger is a worrier, how to fall out safely.

She starts by collecting all kinds of memorabilia: leaves, feathers, abandoned nests,

rugs and cushions, favourite toys,

boxes and clothing.

All these memory-laden articles are shown on the verso of the spreads while on each recto, we see the two sharing their remaining time together with Amelia instructing her friend and demonstrating how to get up into the tree’s branches: “Shimmy up the trunk and don’t turn back” … “Hang on tight with both hands” … “take it one branch at a time” and as we’d expect, finally, “Letting go will be the hardest part!’

When the time comes for Roger to make that solo climb just after his friend’s departure, he scales up easily

but then inevitably … falls.

Thanks to Amelia’s carefully and lovingly compiled construction though, he does so beaming from ear to ear.

Kirsh’s story is as carefully constructed as Amelia’s landing pile while the expressive illustrations are nicely detailed: and the girl’s instructions to her friend could equally well be what she needs to tell herself too.

Lula and the Sea Monster

Lula and the Sea Monster
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

A new highway is due to be constructed and as a result, despite their protestations, Lula and her family are soon to be forced out of their family home, an old house on the beach.
One morning just before their move out date, Lula takes a walk along the beach armed with sandwiches and her bucket and spade. Suddenly she comes upon a tiny creature that looks as though it’s about to become a seagull’s tasty breakfast snack.

Lula however sees off the seagull, scoops up the little creature in her bucket and decides – on account of its size – to name it Bean.

She takes him to a suitable sized rock pool and frees him there, feeding him a sandwich, which the creature soon demolishes.
Promising to return next day, she goes home and in the morning makes extra sandwiches for her new friend, Bean.

Overnight however, Bean has grown considerably and now won’t fit in the rock pool. Lula takes him to a larger one, feeds him generous amounts of sandwiches and they spend some time playing together.

The following day she returns with a veritable Bean feast.

Bean meanwhile has grown enormously and using the food as bait, she lures him to a very large pool where he gobbles up everything.

By now Lula’s attachment to Bean is considerable, so much so that she cannot bear to visit him next morning. Come lunchtime though, she’s feeling braver and off she goes again but there’s no sign of Bean in the rock pool.

All too soon it’s moving day and as the bulldozers arrive, Lula stages one final protest. Can she possibly prevent the demolition squad from getting to work?

Perhaps not single handed, or even with the help of her human friends; but what about Bean? …

I could see little Luna becoming a member of the young guardians of the environment movement that has been so much in the news recently with their protests and marches. Good on her and on them. In Alex’s magical, heart-warming story, as in life, it’s down to children to make a difference and his portrayal of little Lula as a determined, don’t mess with me character is terrific.

With its seaside setting, this is a great book to share and discuss with youngsters especially during the summer time, but its message is an important one no matter the season.

The Suitcase


The Suitcase

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Nosy Crow

One day there comes a weary, wan and dusty looking stranger dragging behind him a large suitcase. Challenged by a watching bird as to the contents of his suitcase, the creature answers, ’Well, there’s a teacup.’

Another animal arrives on the scene expressing surprise at the size of the case in relation to a teacup and is told that it also contains a table for the cup and a wooden chair for the stranger to sit on. Up rocks a fox and on hearing what’s being said, implies the stranger is lying.

This prompts him to fill in further details about a wooden cabin with a kitchen or making tea and to describe its surrounding landscape too.

By now the creature is so exhausted he begs to be left alone to rest and falls asleep right away.

The other three creatures discuss things and fox is determined to discover the veracity or not of the information the stranger has given. His friends are less sure that breaking into the case is acceptable but fox goes ahead and the contents of the suitcase is revealed …

The damage is done: still fox insists the stranger lied to them whereas the other two are showing concern.

Meanwhile the slumberer dreams …

And when he wakes up he’s totally surprised at what the others have done …

Audiences will go through the whole gamut of emotions when this heart-rending story is shared, as did this reviewer.

It’s a totally brilliant, brilliantly simple and compelling way of opening up and discussing with little ones the idea of kindness and how we should treat those in need. I love the way the animals and what they say are colour matched and Chris’s portrayal of the characters is superb.

What better book could there be to share with a nursery or foundation stage class during refugee week than this one, offering as it does, hope and the possibility of new friendship.

Paper Planes

Paper Planes
Jim Helmore and Richard Jones
Simon & Schuster

Following his The Snow Lion, Jim Helmore has written another  beautifully observed, enormously moving story.
Mia and Ben are best friends; they do everything together, their favourite activity being making paper planes. In winter, they race them against the geese and hope one day to make a plane that will fly right across the lake.

Then comes some devastating news: Ben and his family are moving to a new home in the city. How will they sustain their friendship when they’re so far apart?

The two exchange planes and vow never to forget one another.

Winter comes; the days are hard for both of them and in her frustration and anger, Mia smashes the plane Ben’s given her.

That night something stirs Mia during her slumbers. The plane in the garden, appears whole once more; and then she’s flying with the geese, high in the sky. Suddenly she spies another plane: could it possibly be?

The next morning she receives a parcel from Ben. Inside is a model plane but it isn’t complete: Ben knows of only one person who can add the wings …

The friendship isn’t broken after all; the connection is still there, and the hope.

Richard Jones’ captures the changing emotions to perfection in his richly textured illustrations. They contain plenty of details, and like the words, a powerful poignancy that is impossible to forget. I love the subtlety of the STEM element especially the way Mia uses both her knowledge from her observations and her creativity to complete her task.

Readers and listeners too will need to use their observational skills to read Richard’s pictures carefully to get the most from this quietly powerful picture book.

Brave Molly

Brave Molly
Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Chronicle Books

This virtually wordless picture book follows young Molly from her window seat where she sits reading and observing three young passers by, out from her house and down the street. But what is constantly lurking close by, sometimes waiting, sometimes following, sometimes stopping to watch?

It’s the monster that bears a strong resemblance to her own drawing tossed into the rubbish bin before she left home. Said monster, so we assume, is a representation of Molly’s own fear of interacting with others.

The three children leave behind a book on the seat they’d stopped on; Molly puts it in her backpack and sets off after them, with the monster not far behind.

Her shyness escalates and with it the number of monsters as she runs, crawls through a tunnel

and climbs trees until she feels almost completely overwhelmed. Somehow though, she summons up the courage to confront the terrors and seemingly they vanish, or almost.

One returns as she attempts to overcome her shyness and return the book: can she manage to get the better of it?

Could a simple word perhaps be all that’s required?

Make sure to check out the endpapers – this moving, empowering story starts and concludes thereon. It’s a great book to open up discussions with youngsters, about overcoming shyness or other fears.

Wordless books leave room for readers’ own interpretations – to ask and answer their own questions, and perhaps draw their own conclusions. Brooke Boynton-Hughes’ softly coloured pencil, ink and watercolour illustrations leave plenty of space for them to do just that, not least just how much inner courage Molly had to summon up to step outside and make that journey into the anxiety-inducing world beyond the safety of her home.

Field Trip to the Moon

Field Trip to the Moon
John Hare and Jeanne Willis
Macmillan Children’s Books

A class goes on a field trip to the moon and almost all the visitors follow their teacher, one particularly curious member of the group lags behind. This student is carrying drawing materials and decides to sit down and make use of them, watched by the residents, one of which narrates the rhyming story.

The student ‘Earthling’ drops off to sleep and wakes up to discover that the spaceship on which the party came has departed. I don’t know what the irresponsible person in charge was thinking of, not doing a head count first. The now sad-looking Earthling starts drawing again as the lunar inhabitants cautiously approach.

The initial surprise of a face-to-face encounter rapidly gives way to a creative session with human and lunar dwellers brightening up each other,

sheets of paper and the moonscape with colourful designs.

 

Meanwhile back comes the spaceship prompting the lunarians to hide themselves away though they re-emerge to wave a fond farewell to the departing young earthling who has been rather unfairly chastised, I think, by the group leader.
An experience neither side will forget, for sure.

The child’s body language, and that of the host populace in Jeanne Willis’ lunar scenes speak as loud as Hare’s verbal narrative of this expedition. Were the illustrations created using 3d models one wonders; they’re highly effective and likely to inspire children’s own creative efforts – perhaps to create their own group lunar landscape. There’s much potential for classroom activities, as well as for individuals after a sharing of this unusual book.

If you missed it the first time around, coming in June from Macmillan, is a special 50th Anniversary Moon Landing paperback edition of a book previously reviewed on this blog:

The Darkest Dark
Chris Hadfield and The Fan Brothers

Humperdink Our Elephant Friend

Humperdink Our Elephant Friend
Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander
Words & Pictures

Storyteller Sean gives the impression he’s spent time standing behind the heads of young children, observing carefully, so he knows what they’d do should a playful pachyderm burst through the door of their playgroup.
That is just what happens in this book and straightaway the children attempt to accommodate him in their play, be it dressing up, hairstylists …

hide and seek or something more energetic. No matter how hard they try though, things keep ending in disaster.

The children then change tack asking Humperdink what he likes to play and before you can say, ‘come outside’ he’s led the little ones outside for some exceedingly satisfying elephant-stomping, stamping and stumping,

followed by elephant riding right into a jungly place that’s perfect for …

After all that romping Humbert is ready to settle down into something equally creative but rather less energetic; though of course, he and his new friends are always up for a jungle foray.

The joyful exuberance inherent in Sean’s telling is wonderfully echoed in Claire Alexander’s scenes of the characters’ imaginative play. Clearly she too spends time observing little ones – their joie de vivre, their intense concentration on whatever they’re engaged in, and the way their open hearts are sensitive to the feelings of one another, empathetic and full of love.

Perfect for story time in a playgroup or nursery and at home with little ones, this is a book that’s bound to be requested over and over.

Mouse & Mole

Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

First published over 25 years ago, it’s wonderful to see what was a favourite book among new solo readers in primary classes I was teaching at the time, brought back in print by Graffeg.

Mouse and Mole are great friends (somewhat similar to Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad to whom there’s a dedication of sorts before the five tales herein).

All five of the stories are adorable but I think my favourite remains Talk to Me. Here the two chat together about the possibilities of ‘tomorrow’ be it fine – then a picnic with cheese and cucumber sandwiches is the order of the day. If however the day isn’t fine, then an apple wood fire, cosy armchairs, roast chestnuts, toasted muffins and hot chocolate (mmm!) are on the agenda. Should it be ‘an in-between sort of day’, Mouse suggests ‘we will do something in-between’ … We will tidy up.’ I hope for their sake it isn’t the third option. I doubt we have in-between days in our house!

Salad is the title of story number two and the day is, so Mouse informs his still in bed pal, ‘wild and wintry’. Who can blame Mole for wanting to stay snuggled up in a cosy, warm bed, even with the offer from Mouse of huddling by the fire to consume toasted muffins and roast chestnuts.

Those particular items appear to be favourites with the two characters, one of which consumes large quantities of both.

I won’t divulge what happens in the other three stories – Tidying Up

Stuff

and The Picnic – yes they do finally go –

rather I’ll urge you to get yourself a copy of this new edition that still has as much charm – both Joyce’s deliciously comic tellings and James wonderful illustrations – as I remember from back in the day. Read alone or read aloud, it’s great either way.

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map / Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map
Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Max Low
Graffeg

These are the latest titles featuring best friends Deri the Dog and Ceri the cat that introduce young children to specific concepts/skills through fun stories. (Here it’s orientation and design.)

The Treasure Map in the former is an old one that once belonged to Ceri’s nan, an erstwhile pirate, so the stripy feline claims. Ceri’s story of said nan sailing the high seas inspires Deri and the two set off excitedly, map in paws, to find treasure.

En route they are joined by the equally enthusiastic Gardener Glesni, Owain the Optician and Farmer Ffion who are more than willing to leave their respective allotment, spectacle selling, and vegetables to join the search.

Eventually the map leads them within smelling distance of the sea.

But is that treasure buried on the sandy beach as they’d been led to believe by the X, and if so just what will they discover when they dig?

The Bird House tells how the friends come upon a curious little bird while out walking together in town. Clearly it cannot remain on Deri’s head so the two decide to build it a house.

They think carefully about the design – a hallway with telephone for making ‘bird calls’ and ‘a place for all its shoes,” they decide; a kitchen with a plethora of bird seed, flowers, a sink; a balloon-filled dining room , amazing tree-patterned wallpaper, a record player (for listening to bird songs) a bathroom complete with bird bath entered by waterslide

and (obviously) a wave machine. The friends get even more carried away with their elaborate plans; but, tools and materials assembled, can they actually put them into action: I wonder?

This one made me laugh out loud a couple of times, it’s so sweetly silly and I’m happy to report that despite Ceri’s feline-ness, the bird has found two new friends.

If you’re yet to meet Ceri and Deri, I suggest you start here. The friends are a delight and Max Low’s stories are full of charm and engagingly illustrated.

Slow Samson

Slow Samson
Bethany Christou
Templar Books

Samson’s favourite activity is spreading happiness as a consequence of which he has lots of friends and many party invitations.

However this is problematic as he frequently stops on route to a venue to help a fellow animal or merely for a friendly chat.

This tardiness causes him to miss out on all the fun, not to mention the cake at Terry’s birthday bash.

Samson resolves to do better and hurry to the next party. True to his word, he dashes past all those in need but still when he arrives, the party is over; worse though without his help, others had suffered. Poor Samson sobs, despairing he’ll ever be on time on account of his slowness.

Unbeknown to the sloth, Samson’s friends are concerned and after considerable thought, come up with a plan. An invitation is sent and Samson decides that despite his lack of speed, he just cannot disappoint his pals.

Next day, off he sets but he doesn’t rush – his friends do however, causing him to feel bad; but on he goes – slowly, slowly, convinced he’ll be very late. But is he?

For fear of being a party pooper, I’ll leave the little creature dangling and you deciding for yourself.

What I will say is that with its rainforest setting, debut picture book creator Bethany Christou’s warm-hearted tale of altruism, friendship, determination, kindness (and the odd piece of cake – oops!) is a great read aloud and a perfect starting point for discussions with young listeners.

I love the expressively portrayed animals especially Samson, and there’s plenty of gently humorous detail to enjoy in every scene as well as in the playful endpapers.

Stick & Fetch Investigate: The Wrong End of the Stick / The Naughtiest Unicorn

Stick & Fetch Investigate: The Wrong End of the Stick
Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Top-notch undercover detective duo Sally Stick and her canine pal Fetch return in another set of gigglesome episodes.
In the first, Glass Half Full, we learn that the friends have had to shift their operation to a temporary HQ on account of their stay at artist Uncle Bob’s residence for the duration of Granny Stick’s hospital sojourn.

It’s not long before the detectives have a case: Uncle Bob has lost his glasses and there’s a tasty reward on offer for finding them. But there are glasses, and there are glasses. The particular ones in question have gold rims and although there are glasses aplenty in the house, none have gold rims – or do they.

This is a case of can’t see for looking; but can Sally and Fetch solve it ?

Hmmm! What’s that smell – could it be sausages? …

Bothersome beavers are at the heart of the next case, or so the detectives surmise when they come across a snapped-in-two lamppost on their way back from the library where they’d read about the tree chomping creatures. They find  clues in the form and aroma of baked beans; and see a sign indicating the location of a swimming pool. Sally puts two and one together and off they head to the pool.

Time to go undercover, but will they find a beaver on arrival and if so, can a damming crisis be averted?

Two further cases, equally zany are concerned first with, assisting the police when a spate of bag-snatching breaks out –

there’s a frog and a whiffy man involved here; and the second, a bit of bed-digging that might just happen to yield treasure, of a sort.

Delectably silly, enormously engaging and very importantly, celebrating the imagination, (or maybe just the wrong end of the stick), with its plenitude of comical illustrations by Eliissa Elwick, this smashing little book is perfect just flying solo reading.

The Naughtiest Unicorn
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Egmont

The particular Unicorn School in this story runs during the holidays and young Mira is overjoyed when she receives an invitation to join, especially as her sister is also a pupil and her mum had been too.

Having successfully entered the portal with another newcomer Raheem, Mira meets her teacher and classmates, then enters the hall to learn of the principles on which the school prides itself. She can hardly wait to be paired with her unicorn and at last it’s her turn.

However, the squat, pot-bellied creature, Dave, that is eventually coaxed through the door is somewhat lacking in sparkles, although he does have a twinkle in his eye.

Once in the classroom, Mira hears that there are only two days before they must go out on their first magical quest.

Can she possibly get ready when the recalcitrant creature objects even to being groomed? Do they actually have a totally magic bond?

Things don’t look promising especially as Dave’s penchants seem to be for doughnuts and falling asleep in lessons. Will Mira’s ambitions to go on that quest ever be fulfilled? Perhaps her friends Darcy and Raheem can help …

Just right for newly independent readers, this is a sparky tale that focuses as much on friendship as the glittery world of unicorns, showing that magic comes both from the former and the latter. Humour runs throughout Pip Bird’s telling and is brought out further in David O’Connell’s zany illustrations clearly drawn with a twinkle in his eye. Add to all that a quiz to help readers identify their unicorn type, and some jokes; and those who enjoy the book will be excited to learn that there’s a promise of more to come.

Nell & the Circus of Dreams

Nell & the Circus of Dreams
Nell Gifford and Briony May Smith
Oxford University Press

Circuses hold a tremendous fascination for many children and so it is with young Nell although she doesn’t know it when the story begins. What she does know though is that she feels sad on account of her mother being ill and then, when she discovers a tiny chick in the farmyard, very happy.

Nell and the lost chick – she names it Rosebud – become almost inseparable.

One night Rosebud disappears from the end of her bed and when Nell wakes next morning her feathered friend is nowhere to be seen. Dashing outside she leaves the farmyard and heads through the still dewy meadows till she finds herself surrounded by enormous wooden wheels.

There’s an intoxicating aroma of coffee, toast and hedgerow flora, and she hears hammers striking metal. Lo and behold, she’s walked right into a circus.

Up goes the huge tent and Nell sees girls busy adding adornments inside and out. She helps and is invited into one of the wheeled homes where she joins a large family meal. She endeavours to communicate that she’s searching for her lost chick but suddenly the music starts and everyone rushes out and into the big tent.

Nell is mesmerised by the performances she sees …

but even better a wonderful surprise awaits her in the ring: there’s something feathery standing in a circle of light.
From then on, although sadly the circus has to depart, remembering doesn’t;

Nell carries the memories always in her heart and relives them in her own way.

Beautifully and movingly told by Nell, founder of Giffords Circus that has its home on the outskirts of Stroud, near to where I currently live much of the time, her words really capture the magic of all things wonderful about a circus community such as theirs.

I can think of nobody better than Briony to illustrate the story. Her jewel-like scenes are out-of-this-world wonderful, be they of Nell’s farmhouse home and yard, the temporary homes of the circus community or of the performance.

A must have picture book, this.

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? / I’m Not Grumpy!

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep?
Anna Kang & Christpoher Weyant
Hodder Children’s Books

Little Frog is anxious to fall asleep and asks readers to help him for if he doesn’t get sufficient sleep his mother won’t allow him to participate in the Frogatta boat races the following day; in other words he’ll be in BIG, big trouble and there’s no fooling his observant mum.

He tries our (supposed) suggested counting sheep, a bedtime book – definitely not the best idea – and a chat with last year’s prize caterpillar toy all of which fail and then he recalls his teacher, Miss Chon’s advice to breathe long and deep then mind travel to his ‘happy place …

and joy of joys, zzzzzzzz.

Whether the final wordless spread is Monty’s blissful dream or the young frog’s elated presence (along with his parents) at the next day’s Frogatta is left open to readers to decide: no matter which, one cannot help but root for little amphibious Monty in this frog-a-licious bedtime tale.

With Christpher Weyant’s super, lively, cartoonish scenes of Anna Kang’s dramatic telling, the book is enormous fun for pre-sleep sharing, especially for little ones with a touch of insomnia.

I’m Not Grumpy!
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger

Waking up to discover a huge furry bottom blocking your door might put most of us in a bad mood; it certainly does Mouse whose mood further deteriorates when he’s splatted on the nose by – so he thinks – a splashy raindrop.

In fact it’s a tear shed by a distraught little badger just outside his window wailing, “Where’s my Mummy?”

Together the two animals set off in search of the Mummy Badger only to find themselves lost.

Encounters with Squirrel and Owl both of which recognise Mouse as ‘that grumpy mouse”, (hotly denied by said Mouse), are willing to help in the search and off they all go deep into the forest.

There they come upon a large bear. On learning that Mouse is in fact helping Little Badger get home, the bear changes his grumpy accusation to “a kind friend”; a first for Mouse.

They travel deeper into the forest until Mouse becomes overwrought

which results in Owl giving him a cheer-up hug – another unusual event for the little creature. Suddenly out of the bushes emerges a very scary, very hungry predator.

Does that mean Squirrel, Badger, Owl and Mouse become a lupine’s evening meal?

Happily not. I won’t divulge the ending, but what ensues will certainly bring a happy smile to the faces of young listeners.

With opportunities for audience participation, Steve’s warm-hearted story with Caroline Pedler’s expressively portrayed woodland animals provides a good starting point for circle time discussion with early years children on themes of friendship, kindness, and on how their moods might affect other people.

Grumpycorn

Grumpycorn
Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic

We all use displacement activities to avoid things we ought to get on with, like writing, as those of us who write for whatever purpose know all too well; and these are what we find Unicorn employing as he starts his session ensconced in his special writing house intent on writing ‘the most fabulous story in the world’.

Inspiration is lacking though and he just cannot get going. Up he jumps reaching for his special fluffy pen – still nothing comes. He makes himself a cup of ‘special moonberry tea.’ Surely that will help bring ideas flooding in; but no.

His wish for an idea to knock at his door isn’t fulfilled; instead Narwhal comes a-knocking. Rather than inviting him in or indeed granting his request to be in the story, Unicorn insults Narwhal and sends him packing.

When Narwhal meets Mermaid he tells her what’s happened and she too goes to see the writer, inquiring how the writing is going. Unicorn’s response that he needs cookies to get his genius working gives Mermaid an idea and she offers a deal: cookies in return for being in his story. So long as those cookies provide inspiration is his response and off goes Mermaid to start baking.

Despite scoffing the entire plate full of delicious-looking delicacies, Unicorn deems Mermaid’s efforts uninspiring.

Next to try their luck is Jellyfish but Unicorn’s reaction to her visit is to lose his temper completely and hurl his writing accoutrements into the sea.
Is that to be the end of his creativity or can his would-be story characters save the situation for everyone?

Funny, reassuring in its demonstration that everyone – even a unicorn- suffers from writer’s block (why don’t all teachers make allowance for that in school?); and that friendship rules; and deliciously illustrated in wonderful rainbow hues, this story is a great one to share – perhaps accompanied by some pizza.

Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea / Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt

Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea
Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt

Ben Clanton
Egmont

In Unicorn of the Sea. Ben Clanton introduces readers to Narwhal, a self-aggrandising creature.

In the first of three sub-aquatic adventures, while cruising in ‘new waters’ Narwhal encounters a jellyfish and despite doubting each other’s realness, the two interrogate one another, forge a friendship and eat waffles together.

The second tale sees the two involved in forming their very own ‘podtastic’ pod of awesomeness that includes other ocean buddies – shark, turtle, blowfish, octopus and of course – though he’s very nearly left out – Jelly, each of which receives a tusk tooth in honour of the occasion.

My favourite of the three stories is the book’s final one wherein Narwhal introduces Jelly to his ‘favourite book in the whole wide water and probably the rest of the universe too!’ It’s a book without any words or pictures and Clanton provides two blank pages for maximum effect here. Narwhal tells his pal that ‘it’s an imagination book … you’ve got to pretend.’ Brilliant! And so thinks Jelly too for having tried it out, he wants to borrow it right away.

With its splendid dialogue, this is irresistible, sub-aquatic bonkersness of the first order delivered in graphic novel style for young readers. There’s even a silly narwhal song so sing and clap along to.
This twosome is up there with Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, and Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggy.

In Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt, Narwhal swathes himself in superhero-ness assuming a secret identity and appointing a sidekick (Jelly Jolt) but despite this, he seems to lack the necessary superpowers, so he thinks. Nonetheless fuelled by waffles – the friends’ ‘super weakness’ – he sets about helping a star(fish) to become a cosmic being. This involves cannon blasting and wishing (I won’t say which, if either, works).

There’s also a comic – no prizes for guessing it’s a waffle-themed one, created by none other than Narwhal and Jelly themselves.

And then in the final tale here, Narwhal finally does discover his very own superpower; it’s a super-important one too, discovered by an act of altruism towards crab.

Once again the whole thing – super sea creature facts and all – is super-brilliant and full of heart. I just love how it effortlessly demonstrates the importance of friendship, of encouragement and that all of us – if we look hard enough –possess a world-improving superpower. With laughs aplenty and the most adorable illustrations, this book is an unmissable gem, not only for young readers, but adults too.

Fabio: Mystery of the Ostrich Express / Ariana and Whisper / Princess of Pets: The Naughty Kitten

Fabio: Mystery of the Ostrich Express
Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Fabio, flamingo detective and resident of a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee, returns to solve his second case and it involves a stolen necklace.

Fabio and his trusty associate Gilbert giraffe are about to depart on the Ostrich Express for a much-needed holiday at Coconut Palm Resort when something, or rather someone, catches Fabio’s eye.

Once on the train, a desert fox who introduces herself as Zazie – appears in the dining car sporting a fur stole and enormous ruby pendant – the legendary, -very valuable so she tells Fabio and Gilbert – Lalooze Ruby.

As the train speeds across the desert, unexpected happenings take place, the first being that Gilbert is knocked unconscious when he hits his head against the window as the train is suddenly brought to a full-stop. Leaving his friend in the care of Zazie, Fabio leaves the train and discovers a baby elephant lying beneath the stars tied to the tracks. Fabio unties him and learns that a gang of bandits – hyenas and a leopard – had tied him down.

That though is only the beginning. Soon a scream pierces the dark followed by hyena’s laugh and as Fabio climbs back aboard the train he spots a leopard silhouette and learns that the ruby has vanished from around Zazie’s neck – pulled off by a thief so she says.

Never fear, Fabio is hot on the case; he merely needs to enlist the aid of the train crew to help power his refurbished handcar,

let loose the tied-together table cloths , … cavort across a few train carriages, execute a deft flick of Gilbert’s cane and … and … that would be telling way too much of this exciting, fast-paced, perfect for just flying solo readers tale.

And with Emily Fox’s dayglo bright, pink and orange powered illustrations and occasional text backgrounds, plus Fabio-patterned chapter breaks, what more can any young reader want?

Ariana and Whisper
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Unicorn Academy is ‘where magic happens’ and now in story number 8, arachnid-fearing  Ariana is finding it hard to make friends. She does however love her special unicorn Whisper and enjoys spending time in the stables bonding with him and helping him discover his magic power.

Things improve somewhat when she starts to bond with untidy Matilda and then Ms Nettles announces that the day’s lessons are to be replaced by a field trip to the edges of the woods to find out which animals are leaving and why. An adventure is set to begin: something is very wrong in the woods and Ariana can feel it.

Not long after, Whisper discovers his special power: perhaps with its help, together with the courage of Ariana, her unicorn and the other students, the mystery of what has been happening with the animals can be solved.

Fans of the sparkling series will lap this up with its short, bite-size chapters and Lucy Truman’s enchanting black and white drawings.

Princess of Pets: The Naughty Kitten
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

Princess Bea is an animal lover but her father King George tells her time and again that Ruby Palace is ‘no place for a pet’. However, the nine-year-old princess isn’t one to be deterred by royal rules when it comes to taking care of animals needing help.

While she’s at the kite festival with her teacher Mr Wells, Bea climbs up a tree to free her kite and there comes upon a ginger kitten; and of course, she just has to rescue it.

Determined to keep it safe until they can find its owner she manages to sneak it in to the palace but discovers that Tiger as she calls it, is rather excitable. Moreover when her father discovers the creature, he’s far from pleased and gives Bea just 24 hours to get rid of it.

At night the kitten decides to go exploring and Bea needs to summon up all her courage to hunt around the palace in the pitch dark, especially when she hears a noise that doesn’t sound like Tiger …

Young animal lovers just flying solo as readers will enjoy this addition to the series illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller.

My Pet Star / Little Fish

My Pet Star
Corrinne Averiss and Rosalind Beardshaw
Orchard Books

Beneath a tree one night, a little girl discovers a star. The star has been hurt by its fall and its glow has gone, so she takes him home.

There she acts as a ‘cosmic super vet’ tenderly nurturing her ‘pet’ star, sharing books with him

and cuddling up with him at bedtime.

The days go by and the young narrator finds out a great deal about her star and his habits and all the while, the star glows brighter. She misses him during the day when he sleeps a lot; and he eschews her games merely looking on silently and benevolently.

At night though, he comes to life, his sparkle preventing the girl from sleeping as he twinkles above her bed – until she makes a decision.

Leaping from her bed she opens wide her window and … whoosh! Away flies her astral friend, fully restored, back into the dark sky where he belongs, from there to brighten up the sky and his new friend’s life from afar.

Corrinne’s magical story demonstrates the importance of kindness, altruism and friendship; it’s beautifully illuminated by Ros. Beardshaw in her mixed media scenes. Her narrator is shown as an adorable child who seems to live alone in a shepherd’s hut or travellers’ caravan.

Little Fish
Emily Rand
Thames & Hudson

Five vibrant, layered neon scenes of life beneath the ocean waves pop out of this book, the covers of which can be tied back to create a standing carousel.

A short rhyming narrative introduces two orange goby fish playing among the corals. The duo become separated when a large shoal swims past sweeping one of them with it, into a dark patch of kelp in which rests a friendly-looking turtle.

Less friendly though is the hungry grouper that lurks in the cave nearby eyeing the little goby. Then, even more scarifying are the white teeth of a marauding shark that appears on the scene snapping its jaws threateningly.

Happily though, the little fish finally makes it back home where it re-joins its playmate on the reef.

A lovely way to introduce your little ones to marine life, but equally this would be great as part of an early years display for a sea-related theme.

The Climbers

The Climbers
Ali Standish, illustrated by Alette Straathof
Stripes Publishing

This new title in Stripes full-colour fiction books for new solo readers stars young Alma who lives with her overbearing uncle in a town bordering a forest, a forest in and beyond which young Alma longs to explore. “The forest is full of fearsome beasts. That’s why only hunters are allowed there,” her uncle insists when he discovers she’s climbed a tree. And as for the mountains beyond, they are populated by settlers as bad as the beasts.

Nevertheless Alma feels drawn to the world beyond her narrow hometown and that night she ventures out into the darkness determined to see the forest for herself.

As she walks deeper among the trees, the bird song seems to be welcoming her and suddenly, hearing a cry, she comes upon a frightened – looking bear cub. Unable to leave it alone but unable to take it home, she carries him gently to a disused shed on the edge of town; then she creeps back indoors and falls fast asleep.

Every night thereafter, Alma and the cub – she calls it Star Bear – slip out and explore the forest together.

The cub as bear cubs do, grows bigger and one day rumours of a bear sighting are spreading in the town’s market square. Fears escalate: a giant sharp-toothed beast brought by the mountain settlers, they decide. Anna keeps her knowledge to herself, while the mayor decides a wall round the town is to be erected to keep outsiders from entering and a search for the ‘beast’ begun.

She takes Star Bear back into the forest, fearing that what the townsfolk are doing will shortly prevent them from meeting.

More and more trees are felled to build the stockade and lack of food in the dwindling forest results in empty-bellied townsfolk. Should Alma now reveal the truth? She does and soon finds herself on Star Bear’s back as they flee for safety into the deepest depths of the forest. Before them are the mountains. There’s only one way to go …

On the mountainside the two come upon a boy riding a tiger; the boy’s not scary or furry and introduces himself as Tully. The friendship that forms between them changes everything.

Without being a story spoiler I’ll say little more except that it’s a case of onwards and upwards, as the two children, and others they meet, (together with their animals) finally see the light: love and courage conquer and connect us all.

As in this powerful, moving story, so it is in our increasingly troubled times: it’s children who show the way when it comes to optimism, open minds and open hearts.

Beautifully told by Ali and dramatically illustrated by Alette Straathof, be it read alone or read aloud, this is a must read..

Bikes For Sale

Bikes For Sale
Carter Higgins and Zachariah OHora
Chronicle Books

Meet Maurice, seller of lemon drinks from his mobile stall: ‘No matter where he rode, he always had customers.’

Also meet hedgehog Lotta; she owns a red bicycle that she uses to collect sticks, which she gives away for stilts, swords and limbo bars: ‘Everyone loves sticks … They’re the best thing to collect.’

Both pedal all over town but thus far the two have never met. Then however both need to move on and all of a sudden a stick – just a small one – becomes caught in Maurice’s wheel spokes and …

Almost simultaneously Lotta’s bike skids on some petal-like peel and she too takes a tumble. That’s two ruined bikes, but the two characters are unhurt so they endeavour to make do without them, losing business all the while.

In the meantime Sid, local bike restorerer makes a find – two actually –

and before long signs appear in the town advertising his wares; signs that both Maurice and Lotta read and decide to pay a visit to Sid’s establishment.
Hip hip hurrah! Two bikes have become one – a splendiferous tandem.

Then it’s a case of four legs are better than two as the wheels of the bike go round and round, a new friendship is forged and business begins to flourish once more.

With gentle anti-consumerism messages about making do and mending, re-using and recycling, Carter Higgins’ enchanting story is a celebration of friendship, collaboration and much more. I love the alliteration and quirky poetic nature of her verbal narrative.

Equally I love OHora’s characterisation and chosen acrylic colours for his delightfully detailed, sunny scenes of the ups and downs of life animal style. Make sure you take time to look at the maps on both front and back endpapers when you share this super book.

Alone Together / A Number Slumber / The Bus For Us

Alone Together
A Number Slumber
The Bus For Us
Suzanne Bloom
Boyds Mills Press

Suzanne Bloom knows just what works for beginning readers; but much more important she knows what will help foster a love of books and reading in young children as these three books demonstrate.

Of the three my favourite is Alone Together, a Bear, Fox and Goose story wherein Bear endeavours to have some solitude.
Fox however doesn’t seem to appreciate what this means as he bounces up to bear demanding to know, ‘Why are you all by yourself, bear? /Are you sad? / Are you mad? ? Are you lonely?’

The humour mounts when, following Bear’s ‘Occasionally, I like some quiet time.’ response, Fox agrees and proceeds to Hmmmmmm repeatedly, twirl and whoosh! around an increasingly agitated Bear who looks as though he’s about to tear his fur out.

But covered ears and eyes and other signs of his ursine friend’s increasing agitation have no effect on Fox, so Bear has to spell it out explaining that hush means ‘No noise! Quiet! Please.’

It now appears as though Fox might have worn himself out as open-mouthed, he topples back into Bear’s snuggly fur just before Goose reappears. With a seeming truce between Bear and Fox now in place, Goose demands to know if Bear has had sufficient alone time.
Perhaps that truce was a little short-lived after all …

A smashing piece of picture book comic theatre, this delightful tale unravels rather like a silent movie.

A Number Slumber is a lovely count down to bedtime animal style that begins by asking readers, ‘What do you do to get ready for bed?’

It goes on to posit a series of likely pre-bed activities – tooth brushing, listening to a story and more before turning the focus to other sleepyhead creatures.
There follows a series of lovely alliterative examples as ‘Ten terribly tired tigers tiptoe to their beds. Nine normally nimble newts rest their sleepy heads.’ And so on …

until ‘One really weary wombat yawns …’ and the final page shows a sleeping bundle … ‘just like you.’ Now who might that be?

Readers will have to turn back to the title page to confirm if their guess is correct.

You can count on this soporific delight to help send your little humans off into slumberland, thanks to Suzanne Bloom’s soft focus scenes rendered in gorgeous dreamy colours that accompany her rhyming text.

For vehicle enthusiasts especially is The Bus For Us that introduces a variety of vehicles. By means of a question and answer text and accompanying sightings of the traffic that passes the bus-stop at which a brother Gus, and his questioning sister Tess wait. (Watch that bus-stop as you turn the pages).

There’s much more to it than that though: plenty of action, involving both humans and animals, takes place as the queue for the bus increases …

until at last a yellow school bus arrives to pick up all the waiting passengers.

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

Ada Twist returns with a high-flier of STEM adventure in the second of her chapter books series. As always her head is full of questions: why does her mother’s coffee smell stronger than her father’s? Why do her brother’s tennis shoes stink so badly?

Each of her questions leads to further questions, hypotheses and experiments, one of which links her involvement in the Great Backyard Bird Count activity with working out how to rescue Rosie’s Uncle Ned who, thanks to his helium-filled pantaloons, is floating around in the sky unable to get down.

Ada combines her ‘what if’ curiosity, brainpower, and knowledge of molecules, air pressure, temperature and forces, with that of friends Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to work out a plan to bring Uncle Ned back to earth.

Andrea Beaty’s amusing twisting, turning narrative is irresistible and sweeps readers along like the hot air that powers those pantaloons of Uncle Ned, while David Roberts’ detailed illustrations, be they full page or smaller, are full of humour and provide a great complement to the text.

With credible inspiring characters, believable relationships, information aplenty, including, after the story concludes, reasons for studying birds and the ‘think about this’ pages on the threat posed to rainforests by palm-oil plantations, a poem even, this book is a thoroughly engaging read, a super model of scientific questioning and thinking, and a demonstration that creative problem solvers and scientists don’t always get things right first time. Terrific!

Monsters

Monsters
Anna Fienberg, Kim Gamble and Stephen Axelsen
Allen & Unwin

I was knocked out by this beautiful book that celebrates the power of friendship and its role in finding the courage to overcome fears.

Many young children go through a night-time monster-fearing stage (under the bed or in a cupboard); and so it is with young Tildy. The little girl knows there are monsters; they’re brought in by moonlit, hiding themselves behind the curtains and so Tildy hates moonlight.

Her dad and mum assure her there are no such things, telling her to go to sleep; her aunts and uncles can’t see them so she writes to her cousins – all 23 of them – but she receives only one response telling her not to eat spicy food before bed.

So, Tildy gives up her talk of monsters but sleeps with one eye open, growing increasingly nervous as the sun goes down: nothing it seems can get rid of her fear.

Then a new boy Hendrik joins Tildy’s school. He draws monsters during maths time explaining to Tildy how he deals with them.

The two become friends and Hendrik invites Tildy to sleep at his house; the plan is to camp in the garden and despite her worries, she agrees, packs her bag including dad’s Oxford Dictionary to hurl at the first monster she sees, and her mum drives her over.

The children have a great time together but as the shadows engulf the afternoon sun, Tildy’s fears reawaken.

Can her friend help her to make the impending dark feel like a safe place so that they can spend that night together

and watch the moon sail like a ship across the starry sky?

Open to many interpretations, this book is superb in every way. Anna Fienberg’s prose narrative is brilliantly expressed and the illustrations both wonderfully whimsical and detailed. It was Kim Gamble’s final book (she died in 2016) with Anna, and her great friend, illustrator Stephen Axelsen took over after she died, helping to bring the project to fruition and to make this special book a celebration of her work.

An absolutely smashing book to share, especially with youngsters who themselves are challenged by and endeavouring to work with, their own fears.

Definitely one to add to a family collection or the class bookshelves.

Lubna and Pebble

Lubna and Pebble
Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus
Oxford University Press

Every pebble is different, some are special, others not: the pebble in this beautifully moving story is of the former kind. It’s smooth, shiny, grey and it’s Lubna’s best friend. She discovered it when she and her father arrived one night on the beach before falling fast asleep in her Daddy’s embrace.

These two people have landed in a tented world and with her pebble clutched in one hand and her Daddy’s hand in the other, the little girl feels protected.

In one of the tents she finds a felt-tip pen, which she uses to draw a smiling face on her pebble.

Lubna opens up to Pebble telling her now much loved new pal of the war, her home and her brothers.

Winter comes and with it chill winds that flap the tents. Daddy keeps his daughter warm and together they make a warm bed for Pebble.

Into this chilly camp comes a little boy, silent and afraid. Lubna introduces him to Pebble and the boy introduces himself to Pebble: Amir is his name.

A new friendship develops between Lubna and the newcomer although Pebble remains her best friend.

One day Daddy receives some wonderful news: he and Lubna are leaving for a new home.

Amir’s reaction means that Lubna now has mixed feelings and that night in bed she lies awake pondering. She consults Pebble but no answer is forthcoming.

By morning though, Lubna knows what she must do when she leaves …

This is a book that really tugs at your heartstrings. Wendy’s tale of love, hope, friendship, sacrifice and transcendence perfectly complemented by Daniel Egnéus’ powerful, sometimes sombre, scenes of the refugee camp dwellers left me with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

Definitely one to add to the growing number of beautiful picture books featuring people displaced from their own home country seeking safe refuge elsewhere.

Sticky

Sticky
Anna Doherty
Scholastic

When it comes to wrapping presents some of us are highly skilled and manage to make wonderfully inviting packages; others make a mess of things.

Badger, certainly on this occasion, is one of the latter. His efforts at wrapping Owl’s birthday gift are thwarted by a particularly sticky roll of tape that no matter how hard he tries, only becomes more and more entangled.

Along comes Deer with an offer of a helping hoof but things do not go well … and despite his claims, Rabbit’s eager assistance does not live up to his assertions.

So what about Mouse’s paw? Or the endeavours of Fox, Snake and Bear? All equally, sticklily, unsuccessful.

Enter Owl who is duly informed of his present. There follows a massive peeling, tugging, pulling, nibbling effort on the part of all the animals and finally hurrah!

The perfect present is revealed for which the recipient is duly thankful and thereafter Badger sets off home with an idea in his head …

Slapstick comedy from start to finish, Anna Doherty’s debut picture book will have young listeners chortling with delight over the animals’ antics and demanding an action replay as you close the book.

Anna is a new talent I shall watch with interest.

Terry and the Brilliant Book

Terry and the Brilliant Book
Nicola Kent
Macmillan Children’s Books

Meet best friends Sue and Terry. They absolutely love balls; balls to bat, bounce, bash and run and jump after.

Into their ball-filled life one day comes a book. It’s Sue’s surprising birthday present to Terry.

Initially neither knows what to do with it so Sue goes off to get yet another ball for Terry. When she returns however, Terry is lost in his book and just can’t put it down. (I know that feeling!)

The friendship is tested when things go wrong – first a cinema visit and then dinner.

That night Terry finishes his wonderful book and next morning the two resume their ball playing until …

Now it seems, Sue too has discovered the joys of reading

and it’s Terry’s turn to feel left out.

Can they get around this challenge to their friendship? Perhaps a visit into town might help …

This enchanting story about the delights of reading demonstrates that perhaps it’s not wise to become totally obsessed with one activity, especially when it damages something as important as friendship.

The splendid endpapers, indeed the entire book reminds me of a relation, his family and book-filled, ball-filled home. Herein the 3 year old boy is ball mad but now also loves books; and the 6 year old girl always seems to have her head in a book but finds time for lots of physical activities too.

A smashing book to open up discussion, at home or in school, about the story’s themes, which are highlighted in Nicola’s beautifully detailed illustrations; love her cheery colour palette too.

In Blossom

In Blossom
Yooju Cheon
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

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

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

Soon after, along comes Dog with his book.

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

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

and a ‘Poof!’

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

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

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

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

Amazing

Amazing
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

The boy narrator of this wonderful picture book has a pet dragon named Zibbo. Zibbo can fly thanks to the boy’s teaching; and our narrator, thanks to his pet, knows exactly how to …

The two are pretty much inseparable and a terrific hit with the boy’s friends. Zippo is ace at hide-and-seek though basketball is at times troublesome, depending on who is catching the ball.

A true party enthusiast, Zippo can on occasion get just a tad over-animated, or should that be over-heated …

No matter what though, as different as he may be, Zippo is the very bestest best friend a child could possibly have: it’s a case of ‘no holds barred’ when it comes to challenges in the company of the tiny dragon, who in the narrator’s closing words truly is AMAZING! Just the way he is. The boy though doesn’t actually have the final words – those are left to Zippo …

Amazing too is the book’s creator, Steve. His joyously inclusive portrayal of boy and pet is a cause for celebration: it’s rare to find a mainstream trade publication with a disabled child as its main character, let alone one so prominently portrayed on the front cover. Even more important though, is that the narrator’s disability is incidental with the celebration of friendship taking centre stage.

Having taught in both mainstream and special education, I know for sure that the likelihood of students who are different being picked on by ignorant or thoughtless individuals, increases the further through the system they go. Young children are in my experience far more open and accepting of differences of all kinds, just like those in this story. However it’s the place to start when it comes to developing those open-hearted attitudes.

A must for all nurseries, early years settings and primary schools as well as the family bookshelf.

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Little Tiger

What bear is anticipating as he snuggles up in his favourite chair before a warm fire is a calm cosy Christmas. Suddenly his peace is shattered by a loud horn sounding outside and at his front door he discovers a very excited frog clutching a hotel brochure. The little creature’s map reading skills leave a lot to be desired but kind-hearted Bear can hardly turn his distressed caller away. Instead he invites him in to spend Christmas at his home and then goes to bed worrying that what he has to offer won’t quite live up to the promises of the hotel brochure Frog’s brought with him.

Early next morning Frog can’t wait for the ‘Christmas Extravaganza” to begin.

Instead of the ‘all you can eat North Pole breakfast’ the pair bake biscuits together

and the promised singing Christmas tree is replaced with a huge outdoor one and yes it does sing – or rather the birds therein do.

Best of all though is the stunning sight of the Northern lights that totally eclipses the strings of flashing lights shown on Frog’s brochure.

The two characters, complete opposites in every way end up spending a wonderful time together and the best Christmas gift of all is really not the contents of the large parcel they discover on Christmas morning, rather it’s the friendship forged between the pair.

A lovely demonstration of the true spirit of Christmas; the inherent warmth of Tracey’s seasonal story is underscored in Tony Neal’s scenes of Bear and Frog’s joyful time together.

The Boy on the Bench

The Boy on the Bench
Corrinne Averiss and Gabriel Alborozo
Egmont

Observe young children in a playground, be that at school or in a park: there are many who love to be at the centre of the action and others who lack the confidence and linger on the sidelines watching and wondering how they might join in. That author Corrinne Averiss has done so is evident in her story of Tom, who is one of the watchers.

As the story opens he sits with his dad on a bench in the busy playground.

When Dad suggests that with dinnertime approaching he should take the opportunity to use the equipment, “In a minute …” is Tom’s response as he looks for somewhere he might find a space he can fit into.

One of the children starts playing at being a fireman, soaking the others as they come down the slide.

Tom is amused and clearly would like to join in the fun but still lacks the courage to do so.

It’s only when a little girl’s teddy is stranded atop the climbing frame as a result of the rescue game suddenly switching focus

that Tom leaves the bench and little by little, starts climbing until …

At last Tom has found a friend and that makes all the difference.

So much so that when his dad tells him it’s time to go home, he’s so comfortable in the Tom-shaped space he’s finally found, that his “In a minute!’ reply signifies something totally different.

Gabriel Alborozo too must have been an avid playground watcher judging from his beautifully observed scenes detailing Tom’s transition from nervous watcher to confident participant in the playground activities.

Emmett and Caleb

Emmett and Caleb
Karen Hottois and Delphine Renon
Book Island

Emmett and Caleb are neighbours and good friends. Despite having totally different morning rituals, they manage to spend much of their time together going for walks and enjoying nature.

Come summer late riser Caleb is unusually, awake early and he wants to give his pal a present to celebrate their long-standing friendship. Having pondered hard, he decides to write Emmett a poem: ‘Emmett, you look handsome in your hat and you’re not fat.’ and give it to him after they’ve consumed their meal. This however, doesn’t quite go as well as he hopes: Emmett focuses on the superficial errors rather than the content of the message and so finds Caleb’s effort funny, which upsets the writer who snatches back his work, taking drastic action.

Emmett ponders, gently admonishes himself and decides to make recompense. By sunset the two are reconciled

Autumn brings forest walks, damp earth and the harvesting of nature’s bounties – a truly golden time for the pair.

Then in the winter it’s time to celebrate Caleb’s birthday with a party, presents, a special cake and dancing;

it even snows as midnight strikes.

This celebration of friendship, life’s simple pleasures and the gifts of nature, translated from the author’s original French by Sarah Ardizzone, is enchanting. In her illustrations, Delphine Renon beautifully captures the warmth between the two characters as well as the inherent beauty of each season.

A quirky delight to read aloud or equally, a lovely book for those just taking off as independent readers.

Josie’s Lost Tooth

Josie’s Lost Tooth
Jennifer K. Mann
Walker Books

Josie shines at pretty much everything she turns her hand to at school, but when it comes to losing a tooth, she’s way behind all her classmates.

Her best friend Richard proudly tells of rewarding visits from the tooth fairy, which makes Josie determined to hasten the falling out of her slightly wobbly tooth. Despite her determined efforts – dangling upside down, chomping a particularly crunchy apple and chewy carrot sticks,

and the rather more drastic string pulling technique – the tooth remains lodged in her gum.

The prospect of having baby teeth for life makes Josie glum so Richard suggests a cheering-up game of sharks and squid chase.
The result is that Josie loses her tooth – literally – leaving her with nothing to hide under her pillow for the tooth fairy.

Richard kindly offers his shark tooth but it just won’t do. Instead Josie writes a note appealing to the Tooth Fairy, leaving it along with the shark tooth under her pillow.

Next morning what Josie discovers isn’t money but a very special surprise gift – a wonderful tribute to friendship, demonstrating the donor’s understanding of what is really important.

Jennifer Mann’s digitally worked pencil, pastel and collage illustrations have a delightful child-like quality and her dialogue is akin to that of children, making this an engaging tale of friendship run through with gentle humour. Those at the first tooth-losing stage in particular will love this.

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse
Mara Bergman and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

There are two residents of the tall house atop the tall hill; one human, the other a mouse. The tall man and the small mouse lead parallel lives, the man doing tall (and often caring) things that need doing, the mouse doing small things that need doing after which she falls fast asleep in a cosy, comfy place.

One day the man has a fixing task concerning the town’s clock – it’s no longer going tick or tock; but try as he might, the tall man cannot get inside that tickless, tockless timepiece and so, silent it remains.

Back home he researches but his books yield nothing so eventually he falls fast asleep.

The mouse meanwhile is up and about creeping hither and thither till she goes off to sleep inside a tall boot.

Next morning when the man discovers not only the mouse in his boot but also a all his missing things, he’s delighted and enlists the little creature’s help.

After searching high and low inside the clock, the mouse finally discovers the source of the problem.

With assorted bits and pieces, she soon has those bells ringing out once more making the two residents of the house on the hill (as well as the townsfolk) extremely happy.

Thus a new camaraderie is forged and a new partnership as well.

Told in rhyme, Mara Bergman’s fable of fixing and friendship is a quirky delight, made all the more so by Birgitta Sif’s adorable illustrations. Full of her wonderful whimsy every one, large or small, is an absolute treat; such a gorgeous colour palette too.

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
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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.