Perfect Presents / Let’s Play, Little Rabbit

These are two small books from Gecko Press – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Perfect Presents
Anke Kuhl

In this mini hardback wherein Kuhl uses crayon to great effect, a monstrous-looking creature sits in an armchair, waiting. He keeps looking at his watch until BRRING! goes the doorbell. Enter a skinny lizard pulling a trolley, who greets him with, “Best wishes for today!” Clearly the large creature is celebrating his birthday and the visitor holds out first a cake, then a bunch of flowers and finally, a gift-wrapped surprise, all of which the monstrous one devours with obvious relish.

He then grabs hold of his guest: surely the lizard isn’t going to be consumed too? The tension mounts … Anyone for tea? …

Hugely satisfying: I hope it’s to your taste; it certainly is to mine.

For younger children is

Let’s Play, Little Rabbit
Jörg Mühle

Herein we see Little Rabbit behaving in the same exuberant fashion as would his human toddler counterparts – playing peekaboo, enjoying a swing and wanting to go ever higher, splashing in a tub of water and having fun with a soft toy rabbit. “Can my little rabbit play too? One, two, three….” “Wheeee!” comes the request in Jöge Mühle’s simple first person text, which speaks directly to his intended audience.

A sweetly playful, vibrantly illustrated, interactive board book to share with the very youngest.

I Did See A Mammoth! / The Grizzled Grist Does Not Exist!

I Did See A Mammoth!
Alex Willmore
Farshore

A research team – three adults and a child – are in the Antarctic exploring. The adults are looking for penguins; not so the child narrator who insists: ‘But I’m going to see a MAMMOTH.’

Setting out alone the little protagonist comes upon a skateboarding mammoth. ‘Mammoths are extinct. And I’m pretty sure they’re not even from around here.’ is the response of one of the researchers. ‘Are you sure it wasn’t a wonderful … penguin?’
More determined than ever to prove it was a mammoth, the child sallies forth again and sees in turn the mammoth skateboarding wearing a frilly pink tutu doing ballet and the mammoth sporting a scuba mask submerged underwater.

Still no one believes the child and a shouting match ensues. Followed soon after by a full on tantrum by the youngster. This results in the ice cracking, an avalanche and a surprise revelation for some of the party. The final twist is huge fun and the book concludes with a brief note about both mammoths and penguins. Adult readers aloud will love sharing this humorous tale and listeners will relish shouting ‘Mammoth’ at every opportunity, as the child’s indignation turns to anger. Alex’s illustrations are superbly expressive, especially the penguins every one of which is a visual treat.

A super wintry book.

The Grizzled Grist Does Not Exist!
Juliette Maclver and Sarah Davis
Gecko Press

Ms Whiskersniff, Ms Whisk for short, having assessed her pupils’ forest skills, takes her class trekking up the Dismal Hills. When shy Liam announces that he’s good at hiding, he’s told, “You can’t call that a skill”. Really? Soon the group pass a sign announcing the Grizzled Grist; Liam attempts to draw Ms Whisk’s attention to it and is immediately given the titular response, “The Grizzled Grist does not exist.”

So what has made the very large footprints that Hider, Liam (now camouflaged) urges his teacher to take notice of? You can guess what he’s told, in no uncertain terms. Lunchtime comes and goes with the occasional near disaster and eventually after trudging for much of the day it’s time to think about wending their way back. Liam meanwhile has gone into hiding up a tree and from this vantage point he spots something alarming. Yet again, the teacher will have none of it and back they continue to trek until …

Catastrophe! Thank goodness Liam is so good at hiding; but can one small boy possibly save all of 2B and Ms Whisk from the clutches of the gruesome Grizzled Grist?

Juliette MacIver’s rhythmic rhyming text tells a witty, playful tale that is humorously illustrated in scenes that show much more than the words say, especially regarding the characters. I love the endpapers.

Gotcha!: A Funny Fairy Tale Hide-and-Seek

Gotcha!: A Funny Fairy Tale Hide-and-Seek
Clotilde Perrin (translated by Daniel Hahn)
Gecko Press

Between the covers of this large format book are three mock-scary monsters just waiting to give you the creeps and to catch the small character from the title page. First there’s a big yellow and decidedly nasty ‘hairball’. Fear not though, there is safety if you seek refuge within the brick house cleverly constructed by the third little pig and so our porcine pal says, this residence is built to withstand monsters.

He’s waiting within, cooking up something delicious and is willing to share it with little human visitors who want to hide from hairballs and the like.

Also on the prowl is the ‘fizzling stinkwort’; this monster uses its gaseous emanations to render you senseless and then consume you, unless you flee forthwith. Where better to hide than what looks like a deliciously welcoming abode with walls of gingerbread covered with confections of all kinds? Therein you will find the self-sufficient children, Hansel and Gretel – kind hosts who can help keep you safe once you’re within those walls.

Having recently consumed its breakfast, the tired-eyed creeper has its mind on the next meal and to ensure staying safe, it’s necessary to fight a way through the creepers covering the walls of Sleeping Beauty’s castle wherein lie sleeping fairytale characters.

However the three nasties don’t give up that easily so don’t think it’s safe just yet …

With the three residences full of amusing references to the stories they come from (and others), as well as flaps to explore and the satisfying disposal of the nasty monsters, this will keep youngsters entertained for ages, and returning for further forays into those favourite fairytale abodes.

Dragon Storm: Kai and Boneshadow / Duck’s Backyard

Dragon Storm: Kai and Boneshadow
Alastair Chisholm, illustrated by Eric Deschamps
Nosy Crow

This is the fifth book in Alastair Chisholm’s fantasy series for younger readers, set in the city of Rivven.

After dinner one night Kai and his fellow dragonseers are called to the office of Berin, Chancellor of the Dragonseer Guild. She informs them that at the king’s beset they have been summoned to the Royal Palace where trade negotiations are taking place. There they are to act as ‘apprentice clerks’ to assist Prince Harald by copying out various relevant documents because members of the clerical division at the palace have been struck down by a mysterious sickness. 

Following their first day’s work, the children are talking in their dormitory and Tom mentions seeing a dragon entering the palace. They decide to search in secret for this dragon and while so doing Kai picks up a leather pouch, containing a bottle holding a mysterious potion. This Kai has in his hand when he is rushing to get back to the dorm; it breaks and a shard of glass penetrates his palm and the liquid goes all over his hand. The result is that Kai starts feeling completely different – more confident and powerful.

Back home at the weekend Kai’s dragon Boneshadow notices a change in the boy. The dragonseers are also warned by Berin not to go exploring the castle on their return there the following week. During the weekend Kai’s actions cause consternation among his friends especially when he causes Erin to get injured. Back at the palace, when he starts following the call of that other dragon, Firedreamer, 

not only does he risk losing his human friends, it appears that he might lose Boneshadow too. Will Kai realise what is happening to him before it’s too late? Will Boneshadow discover what her power is? And what is the significance of that crest on the leather pouch …

Gripping reading and a cracking addition to the series.

Duck’s Backyard
Ulrich Hub, illustrated by Jörg Mühle
Gecko Press

A duck with a ‘wonky’ leg lives a lonely life in a backyard from which she’s never ventured. Then one day in wanders a chicken wearing dark glasses. The chicken is rather egocentric, determined and also blind, almost immediately deciding that the duck will be her guide on a journey to a place “where all our secret wishes come true” She knows not where this place is but is certain she’ll know when they reach there. Duck eventually accedes to Chicken’s wishes and off they go, taking it in turns to lead the way. 

They talk and they squabble and dance a fair bit as they conquer ‘the darkest forest in the world’, cross a huge ravine, on a plank placed there by duck, 

and climb the world’s highest mountain. Or do they? No matter, for they find themselves and each other; and they certainly find what matters most of all.

There’s a great deal to ponder upon in this superficially simple, philosophical tale, the drama of which is underscored by Jörg Mühle’s humorous depictions of the travellers. A small piece of thought-provoking brilliance this.

More Board Book Fun

These are recent board books from Gecko Press and Nosy Crow – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Lionel Eats All By Himself
Lionel Poops
Éric Veillé

Lionel is a lively little lion and in the first story he’s endeavouring to become an independent eater cheered on by a paternal voice as he consumes his peas, his pumpkin, a slice of cake, a banana and some kind of pudding, using either his paws or a spoon. After each food, although most of it has gone into Lionel’s mouth some has splattered onto his mane making it increasingly blobby 

until it’s almost entirely covered. Then after a hearty roaring burp that sends the blobs on his mane flying every which way, the little creature makes it known he wants to get down and as he walks away from his high chair we see a trail of food.
Doubtless little humans will enjoy seeing Lionel’s increasingly messy mane as he receives repeated praise for his eating.

In the second book Lionel is trying to get to grips with pooping in the appropriate place but as he bounces on his trampoline the urge comes upon him and he contemplates dumping elsewhere: on some passing cows, a pair of wild cats, tennis balls, a couple of polar bears, a bus, even the Eiffel Tower and the sun. However with each passing possibility he receives a loud ‘NO, LIONEL, NO!’ aside and it’s that which causes him to seek another possible place on which to poop. Eventually our infant lion bounces right onto his potty and there, not only does he drop his pile of poo but he also has a wee – hurrah! A rousing cheer comes from all the animals and landmarks Lionel very nearly pooped upon. 

Veilllé’s vibrant scenes of the mischievous Lionel in combination with the simple texts with their repeat refrains will delight young humans and will surely make adults laugh too.

Who’s Hiding?
Satoru Onishi

Those who play the Who’s Hiding? game with this book will meet eighteen different animals. For each of the double spreads Onishi uses alternately white or a brightly coloured background. On each of the coloured spreads readers are asked to work out the answer to the titular question with the missing animal(s) merging with the background, although the black and white facial features – eyes, nose and mouth – are still visible.
After the first, which introduces the named characters, on all the spreads with white backgrounds, a creature (or more than one) is in turn, crying, 

angry, with horns, facing backwards, sleeping, facing backwards (the answer is different this time). Finally out go the lights: this spread is black save for eighteen pairs of eyes and the question is “Who’s who?’
An engaging and entertaining alternative to the usual seek-and-find books through which little ones can sharpen their observation skills, for attention to detail is vital and memory is also important. Why does zebra appear to be suffering from the grumps on every spread, one wonders. Is that its normal nature or has something upset this particular animal?

National Trust: Big Outdoors for Little Explorers: Woods
Anne-Kathrin Behl
Nosy Crow

Young children will meet a multitude of creatures in the woodland habitat visited in this book. There’s a woodpecker that creates a loud tap, tap sound as it pecks at the tree trunk with its sharp beak (the slider really demonstrates this well), while among the trees lurks a fallow deer and a hedgehog scuttles by. Minibeasts aplenty are there too – munching caterpillars, ladybirds and a beautiful blue butterfly. Turn the page and a couple of moles have popped up from their tunnels and rabbits hop hither and thither.

Night has come on the final spread bringing out some foxes from their dens and owls are a hunting.

A lovely introduction to some of the fauna, and indeed flora, of a wood.

PESTS: Battle to the End / The Ape Star

PESTS: Battle to the End
Emer Stamp
Hodder Children’s Books

It’s now the summer term for P.E.S.T.S and when Dr Krapotkin announces the sports night competition, no pupil could be more surprised than Stix when his hyper-cautious Grandma signs the chit allowing him to participate, which means going Outside into the garden. Our favourite mouse is super-excited. Their opponents are to be local arch-rivals and sister school V.E.R.M.I.N and the teams will be vying for the Mexico World Cup 86 trophy (actually an old chipped mug).

Some rigorous training takes place before the big event, the result of which doesn’t leave the PESTS bursting with the confidence Dr Krapotkin had hoped, though she still remains confident her team will win. Perhaps sone positive affirmations might help.

On competition day the PESTS head off to the venue and meet their streetwise opponents and their waspish headteacher Sir Sting-a-lot. After two events the VERMIN have zoomed into the lead and a despondent Stix briefly considers quitting but decides against it and the PESTS pull back to make it 2:2. A tie-breaker is the order of the day. Then suddenly something feels very wrong. Surely it couldn’t have anything to do with the dastardly Professor Armageddon, could it? Perhaps now it’s time for co-operation rather than competition.

With creepy cockroaches, a few smatterings of poo (of various shapes and sizes), an injured Batz, and a singing toy phone, it’s going to be a close call in more ways than one. Never mind the trophy, there’s a very big surprise for Stix when he finally reports back to Grandma.

I found myself laughing out load frequently as I read this hilarious, third PESTS romp and I’m sure the target audience of primary school age readers will do likewise. Love the mischief, love the characters – most of them – and love the droll drawings.

The Ape Star
Frida Nilsson
Gecko Press

Originating in Sweden, this is a story about love of an unconventional kind and being an outsider. It begins with a group of children, freshly washed and adorned, lining up in an orphanage in the hope that one of them will be chosen to be adopted and move to a home of their own. Who though is the visitor that arrives? It’s not a caring mother, nor a rich, charitable person; rather it’s a gorilla standing before the children and the one chosen to accompany the adopter is the narrator, nine year old Jonna who has always dreamed of being part of a loving family.

Now she has to go with this huge creature and goodness knows what might happen, for her adopter lives in a junkyard; but the papers are duly signed and so Jonna has no choice but to climb into the old Volvo with the gorilla whose head is like an overgrown pear.

At the gorilla’s residence Jonna is given a hammock to sleep in and Gorilla sits in her battered armchair reading Dickens. Seemingly the two have more in common than you might imagine; a bond forms between them. Just when the two are getting along just fine a man from the council turns up threatening to send Jonna back to the orphanage.

There’s near heart-break and a surprising discovery but can the combination of Jonna’s courage, perseverance and empathy combined with Gorilla’s compassion, and teamwork prevail over prejudice, greed and dishonesty? Long live books and the power of love.

A Perfect Wonderful Day with Friends / Wooolf!

A Perfect Wonderful Day with Friends
Philip Waechter
Gecko Press

Alone in his house, Racoon decides that baking an apple cake will alleviate his boredom, but then he discovers he has no eggs. Oh bother! Maybe his chicken-owning friend Fox can help out, so off he pops to see her, only to find her precariously balanced and attempting unsucessfully to mend a leaky roof as the hole’s out of reach. The two set out to Badger’s in the hope he might have a ladder. Badger too needs help with a crossword and Fox suggests asking Bear to solve the clue. On route to Bear’s home the friends pause for a blackberry picnic but on arrival they discover Bear is not at home. Happily Crow can assist and leads them down to the river bank where eventually they find Bear fishing.
Unfortunately though the fish aren’t biting… not even a nibble.

Not wanting to waste a moment the five pals decide to dive into the river and have fun together. It feels great to cool off on such a hot day and equally pleasurable to dry off in the warm sun. They also solve the crossword clues, then as evening approaches they head off home

pausing whenever appropriate to complete each of the other tasks in turn, finally reaching Racoon’s residence. Once indoors, Raccoon bakes not one but TWO CAKES: one to be shared by Fox, Badger, Crow. and himself. Fortunate Bear however has a cake all for himself. I wonder why that could be …

Willingness to embrace new and unexpected situations, and whole-hearted participation therein, is key to a happy life, as are friends and teamwork. Philip Waechter’s intricately detailed illustrations of bucolic contentment brought about by these elements work harmoniously with his heartwarming story; it’s one children will definitely warm to as they share in the day’s events of the five friends.

Wooolf!
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

Stephanie Blake’s little rabbit, Simon, certainly gets his come uppance in this fun take on the cry wolf classic as he plays the wolf card at home and school in order to get his own way. Eventually though he tries it one time too many, the occasion being the use – or not – of his potty.

Has he learned his lesson once and for all though? What do you think? …
With its funny final twist and illustrations that leap off the page little rabbit style, this will certainly amuse little humans and might just deter them from emulating a certain little leporine creature.

Thanks to Gecko Press for sending copies of these books for review.

Free Kid to Good Home

Free Kid to Good Home
Hiroshi Ito
Gecko Press

A new baby brother Daichan who looks like a potato, who cries the whole time and who demands a mother’s undivided attention does not impress our narrator sister. Far from it. She decides to run away and find a new home and a family who love and appreciate her and only her.

Coming upon a cardboard box gives her an idea: she writes Free Kid on the side, climbs in and waits for those perfect parents, contemplating her wonderful new life as people come and go. Her effort to attract attention don’t provide what she seeks so she continues her wait.

Soon along comes a dog; it joins her in the box as in turn does a cat,; both for reasons of their own are seeking new homes.

Shifting their pitch to the outside of the railway station they each put on their best face and wait. Up comes a turtle and that too joins the waiting home-seekers. One by one the animals are taken until only the little girl remains.

After what feels like a very long time along come two people searching for a ‘perfect sister for – guess who …

An absolute delight: the deadpan humour works really well and I suspect many older siblings will relate to the narrator’s situation. The author’s slightly quirky line drawings with pops of red complement the telling well: the facial expressions of the characters – human and animal – are splendid and those of the narrator really convey her mounting frustration as she waits.

This is a great read aloud story but equally, it’s ideal for new solo readers.

The Consequence Girl / The Secrets of Cricket Karlsson

The Consequence Girl
Alastair Chisholm
Nosy Crow

The only writing of Alastair Chisholm I’m familiar with is the super Dragon Storm series for younger readers on account of which, I came to this novel for older readers with high expectations; I definitely wasn’t disappointed. It’s a brilliant fantasy adventure that starts with a prologue introducing Lilith, a mercenary on a mission to rescue a stolen child. With nothing to lose since her soulmate was killed in battle, she’ll stop at nothing to get baby Cora back.

Forward thirteen years, Lilith now goes under the name Seleen. She lives in an isolated mountainside cabin having brought up Cora out of the sight of civilisation. What are they hiding from? Life is hard and there’s often the need to forage for food to add to that Seleen gets from Recon, the nearest settlement.
Cora possesses a gift she’s forbidden to use by Seleen: if she concentrates really hard she can alter outcomes.
One day though Seleen goes alone to Recon, instructing Cora not to let herself be seen; but she hears a cry for help seemingly close by. Disobeying orders Cora comes upon an injured boy, Kai. Why he’s there she knows not. However after running away at first, she resolves to help him, little realising that it’s a life-changing decision. Later as he recuperates in the cabin, Kai tells Cora things about the world that come as a huge surprise. He also tricks Cora into revealing her secret power to him.

As the story continues to unfold we watch Cora develop her powers as she discovers herself, why she was brought up in isolation, and considers the importance of friendship with someone her own age. She also learns about the township system, the powerful people from whom she has been kept hidden and much more. With his observations on power and prejudice that are so relevant to Britain in 2022, the author’s portrayal of government, church, the resistance movement and the use of technology are spot on.

Showing the importance of the choices we make and their consequences, this is a gripping read from beginning to end.

The Secrets of Cricket Karlsson
Kristina Sigunsdotter (translated by Julia Marshall), illustrated by Ester Eriksson
Gecko Press

At the start of this delightfully quirky novel Cricket Karlsson rates her life as pretty good – chickenpox notwithstanding. However after her one hundred and three chicken pox spots, on her return to school a fortnight later, Cricket downgrades her life to a catastrophe for she discovers that her best friend Noa is totally ignoring her, and is now hanging out with the cliquey ‘horse girls’. To make matters even worse, not long after, her much loved Aunt Frannie (an artist as Cricket aspires to be too) has lost her zest for life and is institutionalised in Adult Psychiatric Ward 84.

This means Cricket now has much to cope with and her way of so doing includes hiding in the school bathroom, 

taking every opportunity to pay secret visits to her aunt, spending sleepless nights – the wolf hour, as her Aunt calls this – outside, standing on a bridge tossing jelly-filled water balloons or even cucumbers over the rail. In addition she has to adjust to having only one person at school who wants to have anything to do with her and that’s the extremely boring sweaty boy, Mitten who has decided he’s in love with her.

The narrator tells it exactly like it is from her life currently in turmoil viewpoint, and includes some revealing lists, for instance ‘Secrets I have told only Noa’, one being “ I sometimes shove a sock in my pants and pretend I’m a boy’; and among ‘Presents I’ve had from Mitten’ – ‘Oven mitts he made in sewing’.

Adding to the impact of the writing are Ester Eriksson’s slightly wacky black and white illustrations giving the entire book a journal-like feeling. I love a quirky book and along with the pre-teen uneasiness, this shortish one, expertly translated by Julia Marshall, has quirkiness in abundance.

Pops / Make Tracks: Trucks

Pops
Gavin Bishop
Gecko Press

With a straightforward, minimal text and close up illustrations, Gavin Bishop zooms right in to the important elements of an activity while highlighting too, the close bond between a child and grandfather (Pops). We see clasped hands – one large one small, as they meet; a single boot and two small bare feet walking, and so on as the two gather together the essentials (some from the garden), for making their sandwiches – one each. They then tell stories to one another and fall asleep side by side. The love they share is palpable in such actions as the tender manner in which Pops extends a supportive hand just in case the little child drops the egg.

Interestingly we are never shown the whole body of either person as they engage in life’s simple pleasures made all the more enjoyable by their close connection. Full of warmth, this is a lovely book for a grandfather to share with a very young child and a good starting point for conversations about special times shared with individual’s own grandparents.

Make Tracks: Trucks
Johnny Dyrander
Nosy Crow

This is a real treat for truck loving young children. In addition to the cover, it introduces five kinds of truck: a forklift, a lorry, a car transporter,

a ‘monster’ truck and a dustbin lorry. The parts of each one are clearly labelled in a large illustration on the verso beneath a two sentence introduction. On each recto is a more detailed scene around which little fingers can manipulate the counter bearing a tiny illustration matching the one opposite. So, for instance in response to ‘Can you drive this forklift around the warehouse?’ children can follow the instruction “Drive up and down the aisles in straight lines.’ and in so doing develop their fine motor skills. On this particular spread there’s also the question “How many lorries are waiting to be loaded?’

Each of the other spreads is equally interactive with a simple counting activity and another question set into the scene. Bright and alluring with the potential for hours of fun learning, what more can one ask from a non fiction board book?

Leilong’s Too Long! / Albert Supersize / Rita Wants a Genie

Leilong’s Too Long!
Julia Liu and Bei Lynn
Gecko Press

The endearing brontosaurus Leilong is acting as school bus for Max, Maggie, Mo and their friends, taking care where he puts his massive feet and sometimes pausing to fill up on grass cakes on the way. Despite him always looking out for those he might help 

too many accidents are happening on account of his enormousness and with them, numerous complaints and even fines. Consequently the school has to drop the dino-bus and poor Leilong is devastated. He goes off and hides away. Or so he thinks. Not for long though; perhaps with the help and kindness of his little human friends, there’s a new role for Leilong just waiting to be discovered.
Julia Liu’s text (translated by Helen Wang) and Bei Lynn’s child-like, cartoon style illustrations work in perfect harmony. The details in every spread are a delight – wonderfully expressive and playful. Whether or not you’ve encountered Leilong before, I’m sure he’ll win your heart.

Albert Supersize
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke
Graffeg

Tortoise, Albert has big dreams – massive ones sometimes like the time he dreamt he came to the aid of roaring dinosaurs threatened by erupting volcanic action (no, not the type Albert is prone to emit from his rear end). On this occasion though, when he’s aroused from dreamland by his minibeast friends, Albert discovers he must come to their aid too: the roof of their flowerpot shelter is damaged and in need of repair.
Drawing upon his dream, slowly and carefully Albert does the necessary, making his friends very happy. 

“You might have BIG dreams, Albert, but you’re just the right size to help us,” a worm comments.
Full of gentle humour, kindness and creatures, this latest Albert episode told in Ian Brown’s dramatic style and with Eoin Clarke’s hilarious illustrations is every bit as entertaining as ever.

If you’ve yet to meet Albert, I recommend you do so; at the back of the book you can even find out about the real Albert that inspired the author to tell these stories.

Rita wants a Genie
Máire Zeph and Mr Ando
Graffeg

Young Rita’s at it again with those big ideas of hers. Now she wants a being that will, unquestioningly, carry out her every command. Uh-oh! Having contemplated all the possibilities that having a genie at her beck and call would bring, she realises that her latest flight of fancy might not be her wisest after all. For isn’t it so that a genie must obey the wishes of whomsoever rubs the lamp where it lives? …
Andrew Whitson aka Mr Ando transports readers along with Rita to a magical eastern land of golden palaces, peacocks, lush fruits and swirling sand in his scenes for this latest story in the series he co-creates with author Máire Zeph. It’s an important learning journey for the small protagonist and another fun fantasy to share with those around Rita’s age.

Elephant Island

Elephant Island
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press

As the result of a boisterous wave, seafarer Arnold elephant’s boat is destroyed. Hours later he reaches a tiny island upon which he lands and calls for help. There’s no response although his captain’s hat does float by, and with it back on his head, Arnold is able to spy a small ship in the distance. Said ship belongs to a mouse. Rescued at last – hurrah! But then …

Fortunately Arnold is familiar with a fair few knots, some of which he uses to effect, only to sabotage things when he steps aboard the next craft of a would-be rescuer. Once again it’s operation salvage as the pachyderm fashions an ever more unlikely intricate structure from the fragments, sufficiently large to accommodate everyone whose boat he’s inadvertently incapacitated.

It’s not long before Elephant Island (complete with waffle maker) becomes a ‘go to’ destination and thanks to Arnold’s welcoming attitude an ever expanding one.

Where will all this end?

Then another storm blows up; should everyone now go home, or not …

With a deliciously un-self aware, but hugely adept constructor as its main character and a splendidly silly story to star in, Leo Timmers’ illustrations steal the show. Every one is a testament to creative play and collaborative construction, increasingly full of wacky detail to pore over and giggle at. I can see Arnold’s tale becoming a storytime favourite.

A Quartet of Board Books

Bumblebee Grumblebee
David Elliot
Gecko Press

Brilliantly playful is David Elliot’s sequence of rhyming scenarios. We see, among others, an elephant donning dance gear, hence elephant balletphant; there’s a rhinoceros dropping a yummy ice cream cone and becoming crynocerus; pelican rushing to put its botty on a potty – pelican smellican; and when the bumblebee breaks its pull-along toy it becomes grumblebee. Last of all comes turtle – now what could the grinning creature be about to do …
This is just the kind of book to encourage very young children to delight in hearing and creating language and adult sharers will have fun as they read it aloud be that at home or in an early years setting.

How To Say Hello
Sophie Beer
Little Tiger

At the start of the pandemic people had to look for alternative ways to greet one another rather than with a hug or a kiss. Those are two of the ways illustrated in this board book; however some of the others – elbow bumping, smiling, fist bumping, waving would have been acceptable even before restrictions were lifted. How lovely it is to be able once again to give somebody a high five, a cuddle, to greet somebody with the offer of a snack, all of which Sophie Beer portrays in her latest inclusive book for adults to share with toddlers: there’s plenty of fun detail to enjoy in each inviting spread, while so doing.

Sing A Song Of Kindness
Becky Davies and Ciara Ni Dhuinn
Little Tiger

‘Sing a song of kindness, / a pocket full of joy. / Share a slice of friendship /with every girl and boy.’ That’s the first verse of the title song in this board book for which Becky Davies has adapted the words of ten favourite nursery rhymes and songs so that each one offers ideas of friendship, kindness, consideration or compassion.
Each one is illustrated by Ciara Ni Dhuinn who uses images of plants and animals to create gorgeous scenes that offer adult sharers and their little ones plenty to pause and talk about as they sing their way through this book, which is best kept until children are familiar with the originals.

Thank You, Little Rabbit
illustrated by Michelle Carlslund
Happy Yak

It looks as though Little Rabbit is going to have a busy day. As she wanders in the woods she notices her friend Little Squirrel is distressed. He’s hungry and unable to find food but Little Rabbit directs him to search in just the right place (little ones can assist by pulling the ribbon tab) to find a rich source of nuts. She also comes to the aid of Mama Goose and her little ones; they’re lost on their way to warmer climes for the winter. Little Frog has become separated from his friends and Little Rabbit offers a comforting hug and points them out. The result of all that helping is a lot of happy friends and a Little Rabbit who receives a big hug from a parent rabbit.

Little humans should certainly feel part of the action as they manipulate the tabs to reveal the outcomes of Little Rabbit’s helpfulness depicted in Michelle Carlslund’s empathetic illustrations as the story is read aloud.

Ebb and Flo and Their New Friend / The Tale of the Tiny Man

Ebb and Flo and Their New Friend
Jane Simmons
Graffeg

Jane Simmons’ books with their gorgeous, soft focus, painterly illustrations, were very popular with foundation stage classes in my early teaching days and it’s good to see Graffeg reintroducing Ebb and Flo to a new generation of young children.

For those unfamiliar with the characters and their adventures, Ebb is a dog and Flo a young girl. They live near the sea and are constant companions. As this story opens the two of them are sitting in their boat with Ebb in her favourite spot in the bow when suddenly her place is usurped by a large bird. Flo urges Ebb to accept the visitor as a friend but Ebb is anything but accepting of the newcomer with its frequent ‘beep, beep, beep’ sounds. 

As the days pass even Granny takes to Bird, giving it some of Ebb’s favourite snacks. 

Ebb wishes Bird gone and the following morning, to Flo’s disappointment, the wish has come true.

However, it quickly becomes an instance of you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, for Ebb finds herself missing Bird and that beeping, especially when as the summer days pass, they see reminders on their journeys along the river. 

Then one day, Ebb hears a familiar sound: could it be …

This gentle exploration of change, jealousy and the challenges of accepting a new friend into an established group, will resonate with many young listeners who will likely look forward to hearing more about Ebb and Flo in the other titles Graffeg will also publish.

The Tale of the Tiny Man
Barbro Lindgren (translated by Julia Marshall), illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

This is a re-illustrated classic tale from Sweden originally published over thirty years ago. It tells of a tiny and sad man who lives a very lonely life ignored and sometimes mistreated by other people perhaps because ‘he was too small and possibly a bit slow.’
One day as spring approaches he attaches a note to a tree ‘Friend Wanted’ and giving his name and address. For ten days he waits, sitting on his doorstep by day, and crying at night on account of the blackbirds’ song. Then on the tenth night he’s dozed off only to be awakened by a large and playful stray dog.
Little by little over the next few days, the tiny man’s kind actions gain the animal’s friendship and trust. It moves in to share the man’s house, his food and even his bedroom. 

When they’re out and about, the dog protects the tiny man from bullies.

By summer life together is happy for both tiny man and big dog. Come the following spring however, a cheerful little girl comes along and she too makes friends with the dog causing the tiny man to feel left out and hurt. 

Convinced he can’t compete with the little girl, full of sorrow the tiny man wanders off into the woods. For seven days he roams alone; meanwhile dog and child sit on the steps wondering where the man has gone. On the eighth day the tiny man returns to find on his doorstep, a dejected dog and an equally dejected little girl. Can it be that this friendship can accommodate three? Is there room in dog’s heart for two human friends and in the tiny man’s heart for the dog and the girl?

With its themes of loneliness and friendship, this beautifully told and illustrated story looks at various emotions including empathy, loneliness and prejudice. Whether read alone or aloud, there’s much to think about and one hopes, talk about with family members and/or classmates.

Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest

Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest
Ole Könnecke (translated by Shelley Tanaka)
Gecko Press

Dulcinea lives happily with her father in a house on the edge of a large forest. They have a cow for milk, chickens for eggs, and grow much of their own food. Assuredly this is the stuff of fairytales;:all the more so when we read slightly further on that in the forest is a castle, wherein dwells a witch; a singing witch who sometimes roams in the forest. I guess she has no worries about being attacked by the monsters said to lurk in the moat surrounding her residence.

Now on the day of Dulcinea’s birthday, the girl’s chosen breakfast is blueberry pancakes; but oh woe! neither father nor daughter has remembered to buy blueberries at the market. Off goes her father but not as the girl thinks, to the market; rather he enters the forest where the desired berries grow in abundance.


Therein however, an encounter with the witch results in him being turned into a tree.

Now generally speaking, young Dulcinea is an obedient child, but fuelled by determination, the desire to celebrate her birthday with the specified pancakes (and one assumes, a love for her father), accompanied by her ever-present goose, she too enters the forest to look for her pa. There she (as will readers) instantly recognises him on account of his moustache, cap and basket.

Then it’s down to her wits to save her father,

herself and her birthday. Each of these she does with aplomb, in best fairy tale fashion.

Brilliantly comedic, both verbally (‘the witch always found young children exhausting’ … ‘besides nothing bad could happen to you on your birthday, could it?’) and visually -superb linework with minimal colour – and the contrast between the expressions of child and witch. In combination, these elements make this a neo-fairytale that will delight both solo readers and readers aloud.

Inside the Suitcase

Inside the Suitcase
Clotilde Perrin
Gecko Press

Right from the epigraph inside the front cover, we know we’re in for something special with this book: “A good traveller has no set plans and no destination.’ Lao-tzu and so it seems is the case with Clotilde Perrin’s young boy traveller.

We first encounter the boy inside a delightful little house tucked away behind the hills wherein he stands packing his red suitcase. We’re invited to open this case and view its contents – a seemingly random selection of items. But wait, read on and the importance of each one will be revealed as the journey progresses; a journey that takes the lad across the ocean in a small boat to land on an unknown beach whereon rests a large rock. Behind this stands a small house somewhat similar to the one the boy has left, but how will he gain entrance? How good is the reader’s memory, for this is now a game involving memory.

Once within, the boy makes a discovery; but what will he do with the tempting object? With a decision made and the item stowed safely in his case, the boy consumes one of the things he’d packed and continues his journey. Now he climbs tall, icy mountains – shiver shiver – is there anything in that suitcase to alleviate the cold he’s feeling? At the top of the mountain glowing in the ice is a hole wherein a host of luminous jellyfish swim. How lovely it would be to join them.

Time to check the contents of that suitcase again …

Strangely, having taken the plunge, there beneath the water stands something totally surprising; what could possibly be inside? … A rarity indeed! And definitely something to stow into that suitcase.

Jiggle, jiggle goes the object as the boy continues on his way until there before him is a dark forest wherein lurks – oh no!

Quick, the suitcase might just hold something useful …

Phew, a narrow escape for sure but so deep and black is the darkness that now the boy requires something to help him find his way: saved by a resource from the case again.

Once the night has gone the boy discovers yet another house but there’s nothing much within except a single seed; but a seed of what?

Best to pop it in the case and move on, and so he does, stopping briefly to remove the last item collected from his case before moving through a dense fog cloud behind which stands …

Yes, the boy’s journey has brought him full circle. Is there anything remaining in his suitcase.? I wonder … memories certainly.

Surprises aplenty await any reader in this cleverly designed book into which much has clearly been put, especially in the placing of images as well as the use of overlapping layers of large, shaped flaps and die-cuts. Features such as these make our discoveries as we follow the boy’s journey, all the more exciting. Then there are some touches of surrealism: that fish flying close to the boy’s home on the final spread for example; I’ll leave readers to discover others for themselves. The illustrations throughout are a delight, full of life and executed in a colour palette that enhances the mysterious fascination of the boy’s journey into the great unknown in this superb neo-fairytale.

Originally published in French, the story was translated by Daniel Hahn.

No One Is Angry Today

No One is Angry Today
Toon Tellegen and Marc Boutavant
Gecko Press

Herein (translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer) are ten philosophical short stories – kind of fables but without the morals – illustrated by Marc Boutavant, that explore anger using a cast of animal characters whose emotions are more than a little similar to those of humans, with anger taking various forms – fury, sadness, ridiculousness for instance.

There’s a firebelly toad whose anger is expressed through inflicting pain on other creatures by attacking them viciously, arousing the recipients’ extreme fury – so he hopes.

Then there’s a squirrel, sad that his ant friend has gone away almost definitely not to return; squirrel can’t be angry but waits patiently for his friend— strangely however his anger is displaced, showing itself by means of the walls of his home.

With his birthday imminent, Cricket sends Bear a strange invitation letter listing all the annoying things Bear does on such occasions, but concluding that he’d like it very much if the ursine creature came along. perhaps Bear will feel some anger too …

When Squirrel agrees to dance with Elephant one summer’s evening the former is already contemplating the possibility of having his toes trodden on, but agrees not to get angry if it happens, and almost inevitably, it does and Squirrel feels the pain, but keeps his word. After a series of toe treadings and even getting bashed against a tree, Squirrel’s anger remains quiet while Elephant is ecstatic.

Each of the brief tales is a small piece of drama however the anger is expressed, and interestingly it tends to be the male animals whose anger is aggressive while females show theirs in other ways.

Marc Boutavant’s illustrations are superb in the way he captures each animal’s expressions – facial and body language – as well as the detail of the woodland settings of the tales.

I’d suggest using these as starting points for community of inquiry discussions with primary children.

Seahorses Are Sold Out

Seahorses Are Sold Out
Katja Gehrmann and Constanze Spengler (translated by Shelley Tanaka)
Gecko Press

Mika is eager to go to the lake with her dad but he’s busy with his work telling her to go and play. However, quickly bored by playing alone she makes a deal with him: let me have a pet and I’ll let you work in peace. Her preoccupied Dad hands Mika his wallet and off she goes to the pet shop where she chooses a mouse. Not convinced that she should be making a purchase alone, the shop owner phones Mika’s Dad to check she’s allowed to buy the creature and Mika overhears Dad say, “Just sell the kid whatever, …”

Back home Mika has a fun time with her new acquisition but the following morning the mouse has gone missing. Dad suggests she go and seek help at the pet shop and while there Mika makes another purchase – a puppy. After all dogs have sensitive noses and can sniff out anything. The puppy does the job

but makes a mess in the bathroom. Off goes Mika again to the pet shop where she’s seen a seal – just the thing for solving the toilet problem and said seal can also act as a loo supervisor.

Several more trips to Pet Kingdom result in a penguin to teach the mouse how to swim in the bath,

a parrot to cheer up the penguin, grumpy on account of the TV being turned off, and a baby elephant to drown out the parrot’s squawking and chattering.

Totally oblivious to the menagerie his daughter has amassed,

Mika’s Dad finally completes his project and is ready for that promised lake visit. And the pets? They might enjoy it too …

This crazy concatenation caused by a bored but persistent child, her workaholic father and a pet-shop owner who knows when he’s on to a good thing, is presented in a sequence of hilarious double spreads by Katja Gehrmann, that lead towards a fun finale; and Mira’s delightfully droll first person narrative chronicling the events. Young listeners, pet lovers especially, will relish this.

Hattie + Olaf

Hattie + Olaf
Frida Nilsson, illustrated by Stina Wirsén
Gecko Press

Hattie is now in her second year at school and since her very first day has been best friends with Linda. They’re both chatterboxes but whereas Hattie, like almost all the girls in her class, is totally horse mad, Linda thinks the whole horse fever stupid.

Told in the present tense, we discover that although Hattie wants a horse more than anything else in the entire world, what her father gets her is far less expensive, though it does have hooves and he brings it in a horse trailer: it’s a mangy old donkey named Olaf. That’s what happens when you wish on a ‘tired old longhorn beetle instead of a ladybird’ thinks Hattie.

Does Hattie rush into school and tell her classmates about the creature: no way! Instead she invents a tale about a new neighbour, owner of three white horses that she’s allowed to ride whenever she wants. Inevitably, she’s eventually found out and Hattie is ridiculed by her fellow horse enthusiasts. Moreover she has a punch up with Alfie getting her into BIG trouble,

and also falls out with Linda.

The days pass and by the time the Christmas holiday draws near, Hattie is anticipating a break without Olaf. But where has he gone and will he ever come back?

Splendidly funny, this quirky story showing how young Hattie navigates school and relationships, discovering what loyalty means, as well as those things that are of real importance, is a delight through and through; made all the more so by the scattering throughout of Stina Wirsén’s black and white illustrations.

It works equally well as a read aloud for those around Hattie’s age or, for slightly older, confident readers who will be amused by the protagonist’s innocent intensity.

The Tiny Woman’s Coat

The Tiny Woman’s Coat
Joy Cowley and Giselle Clarkson
Gecko Press

This is a heart-warming autumnal tale of need and kindness.

A tiny woman shivering in the chilly wind wants a coat, a coat she resolves to make herself. There might be something of a problem though, for she lacks the necessary tools and materials with which to do the job.

However, happily for her, there are plenty of offers from things natural. The autumn trees provide leaves – ‘Rustle, rustle, rustle.’ Then a grey goose offers its beak in lieu of scissors and ‘Snip, snip, snip’ the leaves are cut into a body and sleeves.

A porcupine’s generosity takes the form of one of its quills

but then this needs to be threaded with something suitable.

A friendly horse provides the thread and then all that’s needed is a means of fastening the garment. The three buttons are seeds given by the ‘wild wet weeds’ and finally hurrah! Out to face the storm, ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ goes the tiny woman clad in her new warm coat of kindness.

Simply constructed and written, Joy Cowley’s folksy story is sheer delight to share and also, with its repeat patterned text, ideal for beginning readers. sheer delight too, and the perfect complement for the text, are Giselle Clarkson’s detailed illustrations with their gentle humour, autumnal hues and close observation of the natural world.

Pablo

Pablo
Rascal (translated by Antony Shugaar)
Gecko Press

This story of the hatching of chick, Pablo is sheer delight. It begins with Pablo fast asleep spending his last night encased in his shell.

Come morning, he needs to gather his strength for the job of breaking free from the confines of his shell and how better than with some delicious breakfast of hot chocolate and a croissant?

That done, the creature within is justifiably feeling a tad apprehensive, though he’s eager to see what the world around has to offer. Best to start small he decides, making a tiny hole through which to peep. This is followed, after a glance all around, by a second hole. 

He continues his task making a hole for each ear, one for his beak so he can hear the wind and smell the perfume of flowers, a sixth and seventh for his legs. Now Pablo has all his senses and is able to hop. Then with holes eight and nine duly made, his wings are freed and whey-hey, he takes to the air – ‘not scared now!’

All that’s left to do is to get rid of that shell but you never know when you might need to take cover and so, Pablo saves a small piece …

I absolutely love this little character and the way the artist gradually reveals through stylised images, his anything but simple personality: Pablo stands out stark against the white background and it’s not until the final spread that we’re shown his yellow fluffiness. 

Visually arresting yes, but the text is cleverly constructed too: little humans will love joining Pablo in hearing the buzzing fly, caaawww of the crows and the whoooo of the wind, as well as flapping their wings along with the hatchling at the appropriate point in the story.

Do Animals Fall in Love?

Do Animals Fall in Love?
Katharina von der Gathen and Anke Kuhl
Gecko Press

Katharina von der Gathen is a German sex-educator; her writing style is direct, packed with intriguing detail and infused with humour. This humour is reflected throughout in Anke Kuhl’s amusing cartoonish illustrations.
The author divides this book on animal reproduction into three main parts – courting (The Art of Seduction), Mating

and The Babies Arrive; but within each are lots of sub-divisions. For instance within seduction we find flashy appearance, dances, smells to attract, songs and physical fighting (sometimes head to head).

Choosing examples from a wide variety of creatures – vertebrate and invertebrate – Katharina von der Gathen uses biological terminology throughout her descriptions (normally one or two paragraphs) of the various activities while also maintaining a chatty tone.

For example, a male cabbage white butterfly ‘seems intent on being, and remaining, the only partner for his mate. The others can push off! So during mating, he sprays the female with a very special perfume. From then on, she is no longer attractive to other males. To them, for some reason, she stinks!’

At one time or many, children will ask ‘how do animals do it?’ questions. This book provides fascinating answers while taking readers on a journey through the incredible animal kingdom in so doing. It’s definitely one to add to book collections be that at home, public library or school. (Children at the younger end of the intended readership may need some further explanations)

Fossils From Lost Worlds

Fossils From Lost Worlds

Fossils From Lost Worlds
Hélène Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt
Gecko Press

Immerse yourself in the world of palaentology with this large format book that provides youngsters with an accessible way to learn about fossils and geological periods.

The first spread is devoted to the diagrammatic representation of the geological periods after which readers travel through time from the very beginnings of animal life looking at the likely first organisms with each spread featuring a different prehistoric creature selected for its special contribution to scientists’ learning of palaeontology.

Yes, there are some of the expected familiar favourites including Archaeopteryx the oldest bird, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus and the iconic Tyrannosaurus; but many of the less well-known species are new to me and probably many other readers. There’s the invertebrate Anomalocaris: since 1978 palaeontologists agree on what it looked like, but its behaviour is still the subject of discussion.
Another creature – Hallucigenia – has been the topic of much dispute in particular which end was the tail and which the head 

and there was also confusion as to what were tentacles and what were legs. Happily now thanks to electron microscopy these mysteries have been resolved.

The fossilised footprints found in Thuringia (Germany) were a mystery to scientists for over 130 years and it’s since the 1960s that it was decided that these were made by the reptilian Ticinosuchus. 

The last animal we encounter is possibly the largest ever land mammal Paraceratherium, the hornless cousin of the rhino thought to have a flexible upper lip which it used to pluck leaves and grass in similar fashion to rhinos of today.

Every one of the animals represented is allocated either one full page depiction or a full page illustration opposite which is a sequence of smaller panels adding to the overall visual appeal of the book. Each is also accompanied by a written description as well as helpful bullet points setting out where the fossil remains were found, crucially, its size and when it lived.

Alongside the animals, we also meet some of the associated palaeontologists including Georges Cuvier, Othniel Charles Marsh, Clive Forster-Cooper and the person whose name is familiar to most readers, Mary Anning, each of whom is introduced in amusing graphic style comic strip format.

The final two double spreads comprise a time line of palaeontology from the 5th century to 2017.

Most young children are dinosaur and prehistoric animal mad; this book will take those with an abiding interest in the topic, deeper in and further back in time.

Where is the Dragon?

Where is the Dragon?
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press

Oh dear me! The king is having dreadful dragon nightmares, so much so that he’s scared to got to bed. He dispatches his three trusty knights, One, Two and Three out into the dark night to save the realm, and more crucially, him.

The three have a slight problem however, they’ve never actually set eyes on a dragon, although the king has given them a few clues as to what such a creature might be like. As they venture forth Knight One and Knight Two take turns to share snippets of information, each of which seemingly appears in shadowy form. Then when Knight Three (the small one) illuminates the scene, something completely other is revealed. In the first instance it’s a harmless group of long-eared rabbits munching on carrots.

However Knight Two then drops in ‘Well the king alleged their teeth aren’t used for fruit and veg!”

but again Knight Three shines his trusty candle.

Knight One’s third comment talks of long necks and flaring nostrils as they approach another dark dragon-like form, and so it continues with each silhouette being a close fit for the king’s description and the revelation being something innocuous and wonderfully daft.

What about the last shape though? Following another tumble, all three knights are ready to return and inform his highness that there’s no such thing as dragons.

No cause for alarm at all. But are they correct? I wonder …

Translated from the original Dutch by James Brown, the rhyming text has an occasional blip, but for me it’s the illustrations with the superb characters, skillful use of dark and light, clever details (small and large), textures and rich colour palette, that are the real show stealers. Zimmers has a wacky sense of humour that is evident at every page turn, especially the final one.

Little ones will relish this as a storytime read aloud, delighting both in guessing and knowing. Ensure you give your audience time to look closely at the revelatory spreads so they can appreciate Zimmers’ transformations of the imagined into the real.

Can You Whistle, Johanna? / Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls

Can You Whistle, Johanna?
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund
Gecko Press

Here’s a book from Swedish author Ulf Stark that will surely touch your heart.
The boy narrator of the story, Ulf has a grandfather he visits regularly. His friend Berra doesn’t have a grandfather but wishes he did so he could enjoy a similar relationship, so Ulf tells him that he knows just the place to find one.

The following day, he takes Berra to visit an old people’s home and there they find an elderly man, Ned

who although initially surprised, is more than happy to accept Berra as his grandson.“There I was, just sitting and feeling a bit lonely, and then you came along!”

A wonderful connectedness develops between the two with Ned remembering his wife, Johanna, and things about his world – the smells, colours and simple joys, as well as those that are now too much of a challenge. The boys learn from Ned new skills and they have tremendous fun

including sharing special ‘birthday’ celebrations …

although there is one particular skill that Berra finds difficult to master – hence the book’s title.
This leads to the boys’ visits to Ned becoming less and less frequent but not before the boys give him a very special birthday celebration.

Finally, after several weeks Berra is ready to demonstrate to Ned his whistling prowess but when he boys get to the home they learn that Ned has died. Berra is devastated.

Despite being profoundly affected by his loss, Berra wants to go and say a final farewell at Ned’s funeral and it’s then that he whistles the old man’s tune.

We see how this special relationship has enriched the lives of both Berra and Ned, and that’s what shines through this sensitively told story despite the boys’ loss. Equally moving are Anna Höglund’s wonderful droll illustrations that support the text splendidly.

Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls
Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Walker Books

This is the second enchanting book of three short tales starring Tola, the youngest of three siblings who live with their grandmother in a crowded, run-down flat in Lagos.What she lacks in stature, Tola makes up for in spirit and determination. Money is short and so Grandmummy spends almost all her time selling groundnuts at the roadside to earn sufficient for the children’s schooling but little else.

The first story takes place on a Saturday with all three siblings indoors but only Tola doing the chores. As she squats picking out the stones from the rice, her brother Dapo is using his knees to play with his football (strictly forbidden inside) while big sister Moji is studying on a computer on loan from her school.
Ignoring her warnings to stop or incur Grandmummy’s wrath, Dapo dislodges the contents of a shelf with a wild ball sending her gold earrings flying into the air. One is quickly retrieved but can they manage to find the other one before Grandmummy returns?

In the second episode Grandmummy falls ill with malaria and the siblings resort to desperate measures to buy her the vital medicine she needs; and Dapo surprises everyone by using his skill to make money.

The three fine girls of the title are cool, indulged young misses in their fancy gear that Tola notices when she’s out and about. The same three posh ones that she manages to impress later on when she accompanies Mr Abdul to the masquerade.

There are so many things to love about young Tola especially her resourcefulness and ability to think on her feet; but her entire family are a delight. Onyinye Iwu’s black and white illustrations are a delight too, filling in some of the details about the life of this Nigerian urban family.

Pablo the Rescue Cat / Stupid Baby

Pablo the Rescue Cat
Charlotte Williams and Angela Perrini
Little Steps Publishing

What would you do if you were feeling just a little bit lonely? You might think of getting a pet and that is just what the little girl in this sweet story does. Off she goes with her mum to the animal shelter with the intention of finding something suitable.

As they walk around the shelter, she immediately falls for the pooches but quickly realises that leaving a dog home alone is a bad idea, so the helpful staff member moves on to the cat section and there, to her delight, the little girl finds the perfect moggy.

His name is Pablo and his previous owner has died.

WIth the adoption formalities done, Pablo can begin his new life and it’s not long before he’s starting to feel like one of the family. And so he remains; as the little girls grows up the friendship continues to flourish. No matter what mischief the animal gets up to, he’s won the heart of his adopter. for as she says, … “you rescued me too.”

Told through a rhyming text that occasionally creaks and scenes of feline felicity and domestic contentment, this gentle tale is a good introduction to what’s entailed in adopting a new pet. A percentage of profits from sales of the book will be donated to UK animal shelters.

Stupid Baby
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

Stephanie Blake’s rabbit Simon stars in a funny, somewhat anarchic take on new sibling jealousy.

Simon is far from pleased at being told to play quietly on account of the ‘tiny tiny little baby’ that’s been present in his home for a whole three days. Suppose he stays forever, worries big bro. who feels his own needs are being compromised.
When is the stupid baby going back to the hospital, is what he wants to know. But shock horror! The infant is there to stay forever.

That’s bad enough but come bedtime, Simon’s insecurity is evident. Suppose those big bad wolves lurking outside his window come in to attack him. He needs parental comfort in his hour of need but a rejection is all he receives from that quarter.

Suddenly though he discovers a most surprising source of succour/support …

Great for sharing with the very young around the time of a new baby’s arrival. Despite his bad-mouthing of the babe, Simon is an endearing character whose charms endure no matter what. Stephanie’s bold, bright illustrations are hilarious and splendidly expressive.

Who’s Driving? / What a Ship Sees

Who’s Driving?
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press

Toddlers and pre-schoolers will absolutely love playing this matching /prediction game wherein Leo Timmers invites them to guess ‘Who’s driving …’ – in the first instance the fire-engine – from the animal character line up on the verso each clutching a key and hastening towards the vehicle shown on the recto. Turn the page ‘wheeooh wheeooh wheeooh’ and the answer is revealed along with the vehicle’s destination. (Sharp-eyed youngsters will likely have spotted some of the clues as to the driver on the first spread.)

A different four animals appear as possible drivers for each of the new vehicles depicted – the limousine, the racing car,

the tractor, the convertible, the jeep and finally, the aeroplane.

There’s an element of the Hare and the Tortoise fable here too, though probably only appreciated by adults. Little ones will love the explosive onomatopoeic, sound-making opportunities that seemingly make the vehicles whizz right off the pages; and the unlikely drivers depicted in Timmers’ acrylic illustrations. Both visual skills and observation skills will certainly have been stretched too after sharing this.

What a wealth of learning potential there is in this fun little book: it’s a must for nursery/preschool settings and enormous fun for home too.

What A Ship Sees
Laura Knowles and Vivian Mineker
Welbeck Publishing

In this cleverly designed concertina book, we follow the journey of a little red ship as it sets out from the jetty on a voyage across the sea. This is no smooth journey though as a storm blows up shortly after the boat has passed a desert island, but all is well and the sailors pause for a while to help remove some of the floating plastic litter before continuing to move north to chilly waters and finally reaching home shores once more.

During the unfolding trip guided by Laura Knowles chatty style narrative, youngsters can enjoy spotting in Vivian Mineker’s illustrations, various sea craft – fishing vessels, a tanker and an enormous cruise ship, as well as dancing dolphins, a shoal of flying fish,

and the changing weather.

There’s a wealth of talk and story-telling potential in the 2.5 metre long unfolding drama, on the reverse side of which is a cutaway of the little red boat, as well as individual elements of the journey along with further information about each one be that ocean fauna, nautical communication,

safety, or ships and boats.

Timeline: Science & Technology

Timeline: Science & Technology
Peter Goes
Gecko Press

If you’re looking for a book that presents the scientific accomplishments of humankind, from Paleolithic times to the present day, then this large format offering should fit the bill. Concisely written, it’s absolutely packed with exciting information starting right back in the Stone Ages when mankind learned how to make fire, moving on to the Copper or Chalcolithic Age (copper being the first metal humans made use of) when people were starting to develop farming techniques such as crop-growing, and when towns began.

Then come the first civilisations and Peter Goes shows the contribution of each to the evolution of technology and science. There’s Mesopotamia with a medical manual from ancient Babylon,

the Americas, the Indus Valley civilisation or Harrapan Culture – when there were some large cities with brick houses and sophisticated sanitation and drainage systems. (I was pleased to see this having once visited and written about, the Lothal site in India’s Gujarat state.)

There’s a look at Ancient Egypt, the first Chinese, Greek, Roman and Byzantine empires with both general information and some closer detail about each era.

By now some readers might be thinking, surely technology is about computers, mobile phones and satellites? But the roots of all these technological wonders lies way back in the Stone Age.

Each double spread displays an era, century or, once we get to the 20th/21st centuries, a decade,

ending up with a look at the development of artificial intelligence (AI).

With each spread having a different colour background, Peter Goes’ graphic art is alluring and playfully immersive, making it overall more of a visual history presentation. It’s good to see a fair number of women included such as German astronomer Maria Margaretha Kirch (18th C), mathematician and first computer programmer Ada Lovelace (early 19th C), Rachel Carson, Rosalind Franklin (1950s) and Stephanie Kwolek (1960s). (Wish there’d been an index.)

Recommended for home and school use. Browse for hours: You’re sure to learn something wherever, whenever you stop.

The Kiosk

The Kiosk
Anete Melece (translated by Elīna Braslina)
Gecko Press

Imagine living and working your entire life in a small kiosk – impossible you might be thinking – but so it is for Olga the protagonist of Anete Melece’s picture book. She has customers aplenty and lots of friends among them as she spends her time selling, chatting, assisting others and generally being a good, kindly person going about her daily routine. Come evening when the crowds have gone, Olga remains stuck inside her small domain, reading of faraway places and dreaming of distant sunsets.

One morning though, after a chain of unfortunate incidents, disaster strikes and the kiosk topples right over taking Olga with it. Physically unhurt, up she gets and off she goes walking within her erstwhile fixed abode and for a while all is well. But then comes a canine encounter which precipitates a fall –

and Olga, kiosk and all are pitched off the bridge and into the river.
After several days afloat in her mobile home,

Olga arrives at the seaside where enterprisingly she sets herself up in a new business … and each evening from her beach vantage point she enjoys the sun setting – ‘splendidly’.

Yes it’s hard sometimes to make changes, but sometimes it’s good to step right out of your comfort zone and just to “go with the flow” seeing what life brings and embracing new things with an open heart. It’s never impossible if you really want to find a way …
That’s what Anete Melece shows us with humour and heart.

The Inkberg Enigma

The Inkberg Enigma
Jonathan King
Gecko Press

Meet Miro and Zia, residents of the small fishing town, Aurora, nestled in the shadow of a mysterious castle.

Miro is an avid reader; school acquaintance Zia takes her camera everywhere. A chance encounter between the two characters sets them off on an adventure with Miro reluctant at first to get involved.

Zia’s response to Miro’s comments about Jules Verne and the term adventure, ‘What do you think this is? This is an adventure. This is how you have adventures. You find cool things and you do them … You don’t just READ books about them!’ still don’t persuade him yet somehow Miro finds himself sucked into attempting to unravel a mystery that involves historic corruption, some extremely shady characters currently running the town, not least the somewhat sinister mayor, and some decidedly weird sea creatures.

Something very odd is going on but what?

Driven by a powerful narrative, exciting, humorous and scary in parts, this plot twisting page-turner is skilfully delivered in graphic novel style by Jonathan King who has a background in filmmaking; indeed it would make a smashing film.

What’s not to love, especially since, for one of the characters, books play a vital role in the story. KS2 readers and beyond, especially those with a preference for visual story-telling will simply gobble it up.

How Do You Make A Baby?

How Do You Make a Baby?
Anna Fiske
Gecko Press

‘You were a baby once.’ But how do you make a baby? That’s what this wittily presented, forthright, highly informative, graphic book details. No words were minced in the making of this one!

But it does more than merely provide the facts; it’s also a celebration of life and of difference.

Twins, IVF (for ‘couples who can’t make babies when they have sex’) and the unpredictability of fertilisation after coitus, are all presented before the descriptions of pregnancy,

preparations for, and the actual birth.

Value judgements are never made; same sex couples are presented in both words and pictures, but it’s a pity they’re not in the very brief mention of adoption near the end of the book. ‘Children born to parents who can’t look after them can be adopted. Parents who adopt a child have been waiting a very long time.’

Anna Fiske’s book offers a great starting place for conversations about birth, sex, and families with children from around 4+.

However the final two spreads that include the words, ‘A new baby in the world is one of the most brilliant and beautiful things there is. Every child is different. There’s only one like you.’ move it beyond mere biology to the uniqueness of every individual.

I was reminded of this when the arrival of this book for review coincided with a brief stay of my nephew who brought his baby daughter, Faith, born just before the pandemic restrictions. I watched her very closely over the time she was visiting, realising how truly amazing she is at this preverbal stage when she’s just about to start propelling herself across the floor.

Migrants

Migrants
Issa Watanabe
Gecko Press

Just when we’re hearing of more and more migrants attempting to reach our shores in unsafe boats, arrived this timely book.

With its striking images it snares the attention right from the start as we’re shown the journey of a disparate group of migrants who plod through a dark forest with just a few belongings in bundles.
Behind them stalks the grim reaper accompanied by a huge blue ibis.

En route to the next stage of their journey, the travellers stop to rest and share food

before moving on towards the coast where a boat is waiting.

Everyone crowds on board with Death flying above on the ibis.

But the vessel is no match for the powerful waves that destroy it long before they reach land leaving those that are able, to swim to the shore.

There, they realise that one of their number has died and having gathered around to bid a final farewell,

on they trudge, still pursued by death with more falling by the wayside as their arduous, grief stricken journey continues.

Finally the depleted group arrives at a place where tree life blossoms and maybe, … a little hope.

Issa Watanabe has created without a single word, one of the most harrowing portrayals of migration I’ve seen in a book.

With her characters standing out starkly against the constant black backdrop, each illustration captures the determination and dignified demeanour of the travellers; yet, she leaves space for readers to do some of the interpretation themselves.

Truly a visual tour-de force, albeit one that leaves us feeling raw and tearful.

All’s Happy that Ends Happy

All’s Happy that Ends Happy
Rose Lagercranz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

I suspect that a great many young readers will be sad to learn that this, the 7th book, concludes the My Happy Life series featuring Dani, her family and friends, in particular, her bestie Ella.

The story opens at the start of the Easter holiday without Dani. She’s been off school for seven weeks. But where is she?

Certainly not at home, as visiting classmates discover; nor has she as others assume, gone to stay with Ella. Even she doesn’t know where Dani is, though she’s determined to find out. To that end, Ella writes a letter which she puts in a bottle and despite having been left in charge of little sister Miranda, runs to the cliff to toss her message into the sea. Having done so she goes back to the house but there’s no Miranda.

Frightened of the consequences when her mother returns, Ella goes into hiding too.

Dani herself eventually appears in the seventh chapter; she’s in hospital still recovering from the pheumonia that was a result of her failed attempt to visit Ella in the previous book.

In the eighth chapter there’s a lovely proposal attempt from Danis’ dad to Sadie, leading into much ado about a wedding in Dani’s head.

The real thing does happen though not quite in the same way as she’d imagined but still in Rome; it’s only to be a small affair and without Ella as a guest.

Meanwhile the Italian side of Dani’s family are eager to introduce her to the sights of the city

Once the wedding celebrations are over, there’s more exciting news. But will Dani ever get to see Ella; that always seems to be uppermost in her mind, no matter what.

There are more surprises in store before the end, but as readers know, Dani is determined, resilient and has a firm belief in happiness.

This book is longer than any of the previous ones but Rose Lagercrantz’s terrific, gently humorous text is conveniently broken up into seven parts, each comprising short chapters with plenty of Eva Eriksson’s utterly charming, splendidly expressive black-and-white illustrations throughout.

A smashing solo read, but also a lovely read aloud.

Bibbit Jumps

Bibbit Jumps
Bei Lynn
Gecko Press

Meet energetic young frog Bibbit who loves to jump and does so at every opportunity, often with his friends; but when it comes to water that’s another matter altogether – he’s forgotten how to swim. Something that becomes evident in the first episode wherein he and his friends build a frog pyramid and then he tries to assist his little tadpole sister and her friends in making a pyramid too.

The second chapter sees Bibbit receiving swimming lessons from his froggy fellows after which it’s time to celebrate his younger sister becoming Little Frog with a special picnic. This ‘outing’ gives Bibbit the ideal opportunity to demonstrate his exceptional jumping talent as well as his determination in picking a banana.

A birthday is celebrated in the next chapter, not a froggy one but that of Little Rabbit and Bibbit manages to deliver the perfect present – just!

Bibbit’s perseverance comes to the fore in Not giving up, an episode about the consumption of a rather unpleasant tasting apple.

Jumping occupies most of the next two chapters; no, make that three, as in the third, Bibbit refrains from his favourite activity on account of an experiment he undertakes that concerns saving up energy for, guess what – jumping, and also making lots of mental leaps.

Finally, thanks to Little Frog, Bibbit is able to confront his fears about leaving home to explore the city. To do so though and find his sister, he has to cross a river and ascend to new heights.

A delightful first chapter book (translated by Helen Wang) with short episodes that are perfect for new solo readers.. Equally they read aloud beautifully too. The watercolour and ink illustrations embody the spirit of the narrative beautifully and they too are enchanting.

Lisette’s Green Sock

Lisette’s Green Sock
Catharina Valckx
Gecko Press

One bright sunny day while out for a walk, Lisette comes upon a single green sock, puts it on and continues walking happily along until a pair of cat brothers make fun of her for wearing just one sock.

Having searched unsuccessfully for its pair, she returns home where her mum is none too impressed at the one sock and its dirty state, but she washes it all the same.

As Lisette waits for it to dry, along comes her friend Bert

who mistaking it for a hat, asks to try it on.

Up come the bullying cat brothers with the matching sock but instead of giving it to Lisette they lead her and Bert a merry dance before throwing the sock into the water.

Disappointed Lisette and Bert return home to Lisette’s house and there, joy of joys, Lisette’s mother has knitted a new green sock and everyone is happy.

Not least the fish that discovers a sock in the pond and finds a wonderful use for it.

Which all goes to show how an odd sock, a pair of bullying cats, a good friend and a change of viewpoint can turn a dismal expression into one of delight (or several!). Long live individuality.

A charmer of a book with lively, expressive watercolour illustrations; it’s just right for sharing with a nursery or reception class, or with one child.

A Bear Named Bjorn

A Bear Named Bjorn
Delphine Perret
Gecko Press

This delightfully whimsical book has six episodes telling the everyday adventures of cave dwelling bear Bjorn and his forest friends including Rabbit, Badger, Squirrel, Weasel, Fox and Chickadee.

In the first Bjorn wins a sofa, which his friends think is great but not so the bear; he considers it too soft and way too big. Then Rabbit comes up with an idea that turns out to be perfect for everybody.

The Carnival sees Bjorn and Fox perusing clothing catalogues – yes really – and one day the latter has a fantastic idea “What if we dress up as humans? What if we have a carnival!” And so they do. Great fun is had by all as they sing, dance and feast the night away before returning all the ‘borrowed’ items to the owners.

Nothing much happens in a certain bear’s life but he’s never bored. The thing is, he’s a contemplative soul and is perfectly happy sitting watching life, playing the odd game of cards with a pal, eating, napping, reading (of course) and doing an occasional drawing in the mud.

Further human intrusion occurs in The Present. It takes the form of a shiny fork sent as a gift to Bjorn by a little girl named Ramona. But what can he give her in return? Happily his friends are ready and willing to help him find the perfect present.

In Glasses, Owl’s latest idea is to hold medical check-ups and it’s discovered that Bjorn is very shortsighted. Fortunately Magpie has several pairs of specs stashed away but will the bear actually wear the pair he receives?

In the final episode, seasonal changes are evident; It’s Time for Bjorn to think about hibernating but first there are preparations to be made before he’s ready to bid his friends a pleasant winter and snuggle down in his cave.

Beautifully simple and imbued with a gentle whimsical humour, both visual and verbal, Delphine Perret’s book is ideal for readers just flying solo, as well as for sharing with small groups or individuals.

The Stone Giant

The Stone Giant
Anna Höglund
Gecko Press

This rather dark tale was inspired by a Swedish fairy tale by Elsa Beckstow and tells of a father and daughter who live on an island. The father is a knight and one day he tells his daughter that he’s going off to fight a terrifying giant who turns people to stone.

The girl is left alone and she waits and waits for his boat to return. Come evening as she bids herself goodnight in the mirror she wonders what would happen if the giant looked in a mirror.

Days later, when her father still isn’t back, the child sets off alone in the pitch dark taking nothing but a knife and a mirror.

After a long swim

her feet finally touch land again and having walked till nightfall she comes upon a house. Therein lives an old woman who gives her a meal, a bed for the night, and an umbrella as protection from the giant’s dangerous eyes.

When the girl eventually encounters the giant, it’s these everyday items that in true fairytale fashion, work the magic that is the salvation of everyone, except the giant.

She becomes stone and happiness and peace are restored.

There is SO much to love about this neo fairy story. The child’s bravery and determination; that the reader, like the child feels frissons of fear throughout; the slightly but not too scary, etched/ watercolour illustrations; the fact that magic doesn’t always have to be flashy – the quiet thoughtful approach shown here can work wonders; the joyful reunion that takes place, the excellent translation by Julia Marshall, and the beautiful production of the entire book.

My Mama

My Mama
Annemarie van Haeringen
Gecko Press

‘I’ve known my mama for a long time. For my whole life, actually.’ So says the little elephant narrator, going on to tell us of all the ways his mama cares for him, playing, gently guiding and on the very rare occasion when she’s cross, taking care to explain why.

I’m sure she wasn’t too impressed by her offspring’s creativity in this dress prettifying incident …

Annemarie’s adorable illustrations and little elephant’s words however, don’t always quite marry up: “When the weather’s good, we go on the swings. Who can go the highest? Of course I help mama a bit, otherwise she’d never win.’ …

The same is true here: is  baby elephant or Mama really in charge as they go ‘CLIPPITY-CLOP, CLIPPITY-CLOP!’

Who can fail to laugh at the plant watering incident where little elephant describes his enthusiasm for so doing commenting ‘ I like watering the plants. The funny thing is when I do, it always starts to rain’.

Equally a good giggle must surely come too over the way he helps carrying things and ‘tidying up things’ on the way back from their shopping trip. To discover what he does though, you’ll need to get hold of a copy of this lovely book for yourself.

Let me just finish by saying, that I love Mama’s positive assertion, ‘you can do anything if you really want to.’ and despite that applying to her letting go at bedtime, we see our narrator safely tucked in to bed on the final spread, stargazing.

Gently humorous and super sweet, but never sentimental, this is perfect for sharing with little humans.

Hattie

Hattie
Frida Nilsson, illustrated by Stina Wirsén
Gecko Press

Six year old Hattie is shall we say, something of a mischief. She lives in a small country town in Sweden with her hard working parents and there’s little to keep her amused so she’s been eagerly anticipating starting school. That, she thinks, will surely bring plenty of adventures, and so it does.

Right on the very first day she makes a new friend, Linda who despite initial appearances is full of fun. She makes other friends too and manages to get herself into all kinds of trouble, sometimes solo, at other times along with her bestie, each escapade being related in a chapter. Every one however, results in new learning on Hattie’s part.

There’s the incident when on the eve of the school photographs, she gets her haircut

and ends up with a style that’s way too tufty, but guess who looks the most funky when the photo comes out.

Not everything goes wrong though: Hattie turns seven, becomes besotted with a hermit crab which results in Dad having to do some quick thinking; she gets her very first swimming badge – eventually – after some warty trouble;

and before you can possibly say, ‘where’s all that time gone,’ a whole school year has passed and it’s the summer holiday.

Youngsters around Hattie’s age will surely love reading about, or hearing of, her escapades; this is a girl with a thirst for fun, a total charmer who just doesn’t stop and think about the consequences of her actions before plunging straight in. She does though pause for thought, reflect and take on board the lessons learned.

The occasional line drawings by Stina Wirsén are a sheer delight too.

It’s Rhyme Time with Big Green Crocodile and Seagull Seagull

Two exciting books that celebrate rhyme and encourage a love of same:

Big Green Crocodile
Jane Newberry, illustrated by Carolina Rabei
Otter-Barry Books

This collection of original play-rhymes for the very young comes complete with how to ‘act out’ instructions for adult readers aloud. Wearing my foundation stage teacher and advisory teacher for language hats, I know that it’s never too early to start sharing rhymes with little ones, first and foremost for the sheer pleasure they afford, but also for enjoyment of the inherent 3Rs (rhythm, rhyme and repetition) and here’s a book with sixteen new ones to enjoy.

Several of the rhymes feature aspects of the natural world – Five Buzzy Bees, a tree to tap, a Tickle Beetle, fishes, a Big Green Crocodile, while others are about things little ones adore hearing about (or will once you’ve read them a rhyme on the topic) such as monsters, a Wibble-Wobble Clown,

a Moon Rocket a dinosaur (Brontosaurus Ride), and sharing baking and sharing yummy ‘ICE-CREAM, COOKIES / AND CHOCOLATE CAKE!’ when The Queen Comes to Tea.

Whether your children are babies, soon to start reading at school, or somewhere in between, this is for you.

Caroline Rabei’s wonderful illustrations showing enthusiastic young child participants in all the action make this an even more delightful sharing experience for both children and adults.

So, jump up, shout for joy and move that body.

Seagull Seagull
James K. Baxter, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
Gecko Press

Opening this book on the page opposite the contents, I read ‘Grasshopper green, / Grasshopper grey, / Why do you sit and fiddle all day? // Grasshopper grey, / Grasshopper Green. / Tell me of the wonderful things that you’ve seen.’
I know that poem I thought to myself and then realised why.
This is a new edition of New Zealand poet, James K. Baxter’s classic poetry – a selection of 20 poems from his book The Tree House, written for his class when he was a primary school teacher. The Tree House first published I think in the 1970s, is a book I had in my collection of poetry books at one time and his poems have been frequently anthologised by people such as myself.

Equally, I can recall reading Jack Frost to some of my classes way back in the 1980/90s. That’s the one that begins, ‘Look out, look out, / Jack Frost’s about! / He’ll nip your ears / And bite your snout!’ How well I remember those lines and my infants shouting it when the frost set in.

The more I read, the more excited I became: it was a real trip down memory lane to come upon Andy Dandy again, as well as meeting again The Old Owl as it sits on the branch of a gum tree telling listeners and readers, ‘There’s nobody here / But the moon and me:’ …
‘I’m as old as old, / And wise as wise, / And I see in the dark / With my great round eyes. // “So hurry and scurry,’ / The old owl said – / Pack up your toys / And get ready for bed.’
What wonderful images these words conjure up: and they surely have for Kieran Rynhart whose lovely illustrations grace the pages of this book.

I have no idea what happened to my copy of The Tree House but I shall most definitely enjoy sharing Seagull Seagull with children at every opportunity.

Two Terrific Board Books

Here are two very different but both smashing board books to explore with little ones.

The Wolf and the Fly
Antje Damm
Gecko Press

What a totally delicious book this is, and it’s one where readers, young and not so young, can polish up their observation and memory skills as they follow the tale of a hungry wolf.

On the first spread we see the lupine contemplating his shelves of objects – a duck, an apple, a fish, a cactus, a car, a fly, a bird and a cat and the words, “The wolf is feeling a bit peckish today. So he eats the …’

Each subsequent spread shows a gap on one of the shelves indicating where the missing item was and readers have to remember what that item is.

He keeps on chomping until he’s fit to burst and has to head to the bathroom.

On his return he’s ready for afters and consumes another item. Once inside said item tickles his tum; you can guess what happens next.

Antje’s illustrations are superbly expressive and the entire experience of sharing this story with a little one is absolutely yummy.

Tim Hopgood’s ABC
Oxford University Press

Author/illustrator Tim Hopgood has created a gorgeous alphabetical introduction to the natural world for the very youngest.

No matter where the book is opened, little ones will be treated to a beautiful image that celebrates an aspect of wildlife and/or the elements, that can be found somewhere on the planet.

We have Aa for acorn, a butterfly represents Bb;

a scene of a child relaxing atop a hill gazing skywards while a bird perches on her foot, butterflies flit and a bee drifts by, that’s Cc for cloud, and opposite is a scorching desert – Dd.

So it goes on – it’s hard to pick favourites though I especially like the owl –

through to Yy . Hereon it’s not nature but the toddler’s own image that will be reflected back by the mirror forming the centre of, I think, a sun.

Alphabetical it may be, but in the first instance, I’d just enjoy talking with a tiny about the illustrations for their own sake, and perhaps focus more on the alphabetical element later on.

All the Dear Little Animals

All the Dear Little Animals
Ulf Nilsson (trans. Julia Marshall) and Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

Told without a vestige of sentimentality is All the Dear Little Animals, a story from Swedish author Ulf Nilsson and illustrator Eva Eriksson. The first person narrative voice is that of one of the participant founders of an unlikely and short-lived enterprise.

It all begins when Esther, another of the founders, discovers a dead bumblebee. Having nothing better to do, she decides to dig a grave for it. Her companion – the narrator – offers to compose an appropriate death poem and they bury the bee in a secret clearing in the woods.

The team of two becomes three when Puttie, Esther’s little brother gets involved. He finds the whole procedure of the next burial – that of a mouse – extremely sad, but soon overcomes his greatest concerns and thus Funerals Ltd. is up and running. Esther digs, the narrator pens poems and Puttie cries.

A suitcase containing a shovel, various sized boxes and other funeral accoutrements (including ‘’ice-cream sticks for small crosses/ Big sticks for big crosses) is packed and the three spend the day providing a service for the pets and domestic animals of family and friends.

By the time darkness falls, all manner of creatures including finally a blackbird

have been duly interred before he children decide to call it a day.

‘Another blackbird sang a beautiful song. I got a frog in my throat when I read. Esther cried. We all felt very reverent. Sadness lay like a black quilt over the clearing. And Puttie went to sleep.’

That’s not quite all though, for after the closing verse of the narrator’s poem comes an absolutely wonderful throw away finale: ‘The next day we found something else to do. Something completely different.’

Both playful and sad, with a touch of whimsy, the combination of text and illustration is just right for those starting out as solo readers, as well as for sharing. More importantly though, the book offers a way to talk about death with young children from any faith tradition or none, that should help them transcend feelings of sadness.

Although written from a child with a Christian world view’s perspective of death, if shared in an education setting, the book could open up a whole topic on religious rituals.

The House of Madame M

The House of Madame M
Clotilde Perrin (translated by Daniel Hann)
Gecko Press

Following on from Clotilde Perrin’s super-sized Inside the Villains comes another large format lift-the-flap picture book.
Once again this one immediately snares the reader’s attention as they’re invited to enter and explore the residence of Madame B by an extremely strange-looking being.

Enter if you dare for she doesn’t, so we’re told, live alone in this strange house. There too dwell creepy creatures aplenty, hiding in unexpected places to fill you with the frights.

As you peek inside each room you’ll likely be brushed by cobwebs, scuttled over by spiders, grimaced at by alarming monsters and your nostrils will be assaulted by smells of mould and decay; you’ll feel icy winds and hear creaks as you open doors, lift flaps, and come upon jokes of the weirdest kinds.

Hilariously creepy details abound – lurking in the cupboards, in the pots and pans, even beneath the loo seat, in this veritable treasure trove of frights and giggles for chilly nights.

Assuredly a book to relish far beyond the night of Halloween; this is one to enjoy snuggled in a warm place with a comforting hot chocolate and cosy slippers.

I still have a much treasured copy of Jan Pieńkowski’s awesome Haunted House on my shelves. This slightly more macabre offering will sit alongside it as a 21st century complement.

The Gobbledegook Book

The Gobbledegook Book
Joy Cowley illustrated by Giselle Clarkson
Gecko Press

This is an a smashing anthology that brings together twenty of New Zealand author Joy Cowley’s much-loved stories, poems and nonsense rhymes, newly illustrated by Giselle Clarkson whose witty, energetic art is full of fun – a kind of visual poetry.

Open the book anywhere and you’ll find something to love be it the bizarre Nicketty-Nacketty, Noo-Noo-Noo that begins thus;
‘There once was an ogre called Gobbler Magoo / who lived in a swamp where the wild weeds grew. Nicketty-naketty, noo-noo-noo.’

It continues in this sing-song fashion for a further 13 verses, each spread with a splendid illustration.

Or perhaps The Tiny Woman’s Coat about an old woman in need of a coat who is helped by the kindly animals she encounters will tickle your fancy: I love the swirl of rustling autumn leaves and the happy snug-as-a-bug final scene.

How many young listeners will know what a singlet is but they surely will having encountered Uncle Andy and his multi-purpose garment.’Uncle Andy bought the singlet / from an army surplus store. It was the only upper garment / Uncle Andy ever wore. That’s as maybe but it also doubles as a foot warmer, a carrying pouch, a wire substitute, a fire extinguisher and a tea towel. This item has one snag though but to discover what, you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of the book for book yourself.

You’ll also meet several felines including Greedy Cat,

Grandma who owns not spectacles but Goggly Gookers and gives other crazy answers to children’s questions, an exploding pumpkin

and The Jumbaroo that gets a pain in its woggly and more.

Everything about this book is perfect. For those who love to read aloud and those who listen, it’s an absolute cracker: utter zany joyfulness – a treasure for family and school collections. Buy it to keep and buy it to give.

Read it here, read it there, read it pretty much anywhere.

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.

The Runaways

The Runaways
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Kitty Crowther
Gecko Press

As a result of a fall, Gottfried Junior’s much loved, curmudgeonly grandfather is in hospital with a broken leg. His son hates visiting him but in his grandson Grandpa has a kindred spirit.

Pretending to be at football training Gottfried Junior visits Grandpa and suggests running away.

The following week having told his parents he has a football camp requiring an overnight stay, Gottfried, armed with meatballs his mother has made, persuades Adam aka Ronny to help with transport and thus begins operation breakout.

The destination is Grandpa’s island home where he’d lived with Grandma till she died. It takes Grandpa two hours to walk up the hill to the front door but it’s worth every laborious step

and once there the old man dons his old clothes, resumes his place at the table and savours some of grandma’s last ever jar of lingonberry jam. (The remainder has to last the rest of his life and part of Grandma “is still in it.”).

The next morning it’s time to leave but first Grandpa needs to do one or two things. Finally they do though, young Gottfried with his head full of questions about what his parents, especially his dad, will say when they discover his deception as well as others about whether or not Grandpa can keep his promise about no longer swearing in preparation for a possible meeting with Grandma in another life.

Eventually, acceptance and peace come for all, Grandpa, his son, and the young narrator Gottfried; and the end is powerfully affecting.

With occasional touches of musicality, Ulf Stark’s gently humorous story is told, for the most part, in a straightforward manner that adds to its impact while Kitty Crowther’s colour pencil illustrations have their own power that perfectly complements the honesty of the first person narration.

Zanzibar

Zanzibar
Catharina Valckx
Gecko Press

Zanzibar the crow wants to be in the newspaper but can he impress special correspondent Achille LeBlab who comes knocking on his door? Seemingly not, for his talk of mushroom omelettes does nothing to inspire The Voice of the Forest lizard reporter, who leaves him his business card, just in case.

Dented though his ego might be, Zanzibar isn’t entirely deflated when he retires to bed that night. The lizard’s visit has set him thinking and the crow’s thoughts turn to a rather bizarre possibility. “I’m going to lift a camel in the air with just one wing!” he resolves.

Then comes the task of locating a camel but thanks to seagull mail deliverer, Zanzibar is soon on his way, heading south to find the desert and therein hopefully, a small skinny dromedary.

Further help comes courtesy of Sidi, a fennec fox that leads our traveller to a tent wherein resides the object of his desire.

When the task seems doomed, Zanzibar’s new friends come up trumps and then it’s back to the forest for the crow.

His mole pal, Paulette believes his astonishing story but what about Achille LeBlab?

Let’s just say that the power of friendship (not forgetting that of mushroom omelette) works wonders in this enormously engaging story that demonstrates that within us all lies something extraordinary. Also working wonders are Catharina Valckx’s charmingly droll, three colour drawings.

Song of the River

Song of the River
Joy Cowley and Kimberly Andrews
Gecko Press

In this new illustrated Joy Cowley story first published 25 years ago, Kimberly Andrews re-imagines a journey of a little boy, Cam and his adventure as he follows a river from its trickling source all the way to the sea.

One spring morning the lad decides not to wait for his grandfather’s promise to take him to the sea but instead he listens to the watery voice of the first trickle, the waterfall, the leaping trout, the green and gold frogs as the stream becomes a river

that widens, deepens and joins other rivers. Then its voice is that of ‘big brass engines soaked in oil’,

growing louder at the wharves to become ‘the voice of salty wind and crying birds and deep, secret places where whales swim with their young.’ And all the while the river urges Cam to continue his journey until eventually there before him, ‘wild and blue and beautiful … and going on forever’ is …

A sea whose song is deep and wide and truly wonderful.

Back home again, the boy tells his grandfather of his adventure and once again receives the ‘One day we will go there,” response.

No matter whether the boy’s travels were real or imagined, his journey was filled with wonder.

Joy Cowley’s poetic narrative truly sings throughout and is made all the more powerful in the company of Kimberly Andrews’ superb landscapes executed in muted, natural earthy hues.

An awe-inspiring tribute to the natural world and to storytelling itself.

Nits! / Encyclopedia of Grannies

Here are two picture books from New Zealand publisher Gecko Press

Nits!
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

In the latest Simon story, Sephanie Blake brings her own brand of humour to nits, the dreaded little creatures that make your scalp itch.

Simon decides he loves his classmate Lou, but she loves another named Mamadou.

Then Lou gets nits.  Where might they have come from?

Now Simon is in with a chance … The outpouring of affection he receives from Lou isn’t the only thing she bestows upon her new love however.

Nits are part and parcel of foundation stage classrooms nowadays, so much so that the mere mention of them from a parent or carer gives we teachers itchy heads too; (even reading this book made me start scratching).

This simple, funny story provides a good opportunity to reassure everyone how it’s not shameful to have those ‘little visitors’ and to talk about how they can be treated.

Share at home or at nursery or playgroup.

Encyclopedia of Grannies
Eric Veillé (translated by Daniel Hahn)
Gecko Press

Here’s a modern and amusing take on grannies that starts with a focus on the different kinds of grannies you might come across, followed by a look at age: ‘Some grannies are 58 … some are 69 … and some are even 87!’ (Perhaps it should span an even wider age range. I once taught a five year old whose granny was 35 although she called her ‘mummy’; her actual birth mother was then 18 but the child had been told she was her big sister.)

Veillé employs questions to explore inside a granny;

and out: ‘Why do grannies have creases?’; the mystery of why grannies travel on buses –we don’t learn the answers to the last two however; and ‘Do grannies only knit cardigans? – definitely not.

Other scenarios look at flexibility; time – grannies appear to have more of it at their disposal than others;

what a good rummage in a granny’s bed might yield, hairstyles, travels and more.

In reference book style, the book includes a contents page (of sorts), a glossary and a list of suggested further reading (all tongue in cheek of course) and the illustrations are a quirky delight. There’s one snag though, apart from the “Green Gran’ included in the reading list, every single one is white.

Sturdily built to withstand the frequent reads this book might have; but don’t be deceived into thinking it’s for the very young; the droll humour requires a degree of sophistication.

Monkey On the Run

Monkey on the Run
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press

This wordless picture book starts with a father monkey collecting his little one from school and right away their funky motorbike is in a nose-to-tail traffic jam.

Rather than sit frustratedly in the side car, Little Monkey gets out and starts wending his own way home.

Every spread offers potential stories aplenty so this definitely is not a book to hurry through. Rather one needs to slow the pace and relish the on-the-move fire fighting scenario; Little Monkey’s cake-lifting episode from the royal ‘feastmobile’…

cake he subsequently consumes in the crow’s nest of a wheeled boat.

There follow a confrontation with a rooster; a circus-like dangling act from a very bendy drinking straw

and later on Dad monkey gets an ice-cream surprise from above.

Then our inventive traveller secures a wonderful gift box

that he presents to his mum when father and son finally reach home.

Timmers’ vehicles are veritable inventive wonders, every one; and the way in which the interaction on each spread occurs is sheer comic genius. I’m sure readers will discover new things to relish on every re-reading, of which I’m sure there will be many.