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.

Oink! / Daddy Fartypants

In your face or subtle, toilet humour books are always winners with young children: here are a couple of recent, contrasting examples:

Oink!
David Elliot
Gecko Press

David Elliot tells this hilarious tale entirely through delicate watery scenes of a pig’s bathtime along with onomatopoeic sound effects, mostly animal but punctuated by ‘Knock! Knock! (s)

It starts with pig climbing into his, one assumes, eagerly anticipated steaming bath-tub; but he’s no sooner sat back for a relaxing soak when ‘ Knock! Knock!’ “Maaa?” a sheep clad in pink frilly skirt and clutching a toy boat enters and proceeds to climb into the tub. (Her utterance, one assumes is a polite request).

Further knocks see more unruly creatures, first a horned bovine character …

followed by an ungulate (donkey/horse?) ensconcing themselves in pig’s increasingly noisy bath.

Pig though utters not a sound but then … One tub-emptying action later

 

things – or actually animals – start to move …

Peace at last! Time to top up the hot water and relax. Ahhhh! Bliss.

No telling – just showing – and absolutely brilliantly done in Elliott’s subtly comic, brilliantly expressive pencil and watercolour scenes.

An absolutely smashing pre-bedtime sharing book for which your little humans will delight in supplying the various noises. If I was in an early years setting I’d set up a small world play scene complete with tub and animals for the children to act out the tale.

Daddy Fartypants
Emer Stamp and Matt Hunt
Orchard Books

Meet dad bear, farty bum extraordinaire. The trouble is no matter how clear it is that’s he’s the culprit when it comes to noxious rear end emissions, he never never owns up to his trumps and parps. Instead he blames others, no matter who, no matter where, no matter when.

Not a single apology or pardon so much as reaches his lips, no not ever.

One day when collecting his forbearing son from school, Daddy Fartypants encounters an attractive new teacher, Miss Lovelybear and as he eagerly approaches, she lets loose a gargantuan gust from her derrière. And does that teacher issue an excuse? Oh dear me, no she does not: instead she points the paw at guess who … Outrageous!

Game, set and match to Miss L. Her terrible toot triggers a realisation on Daddy F’s part. Repentant, he promises to become a changed character when it comes to rear end rumbles and so far as we know he’s been true to his word.

Totally terrific fun, Emer Stamp has come up trumps with this thoroughly moral tale, and Matt Hunt’s splendid, sonic blast, pant-ripping illustrations speak volumes – quite literally. PHOOAW! Your little ones will relish this book as did this reviewer whose partner could give Daddy Fartypants a run for his money when it comes to windy issuances – he does own up though, I hasten to add.

Board Book Gathering: Jump! / Hello House / Hello Garage / Meeko and the Big Red Potty

Jump!
Tatsuhide Matsuoka
Gecko Press

This is such a cool board book; it made me want to go out, find the nearest toddler, share the book and do some joyful, very noisy celebratory jumping about together.

The idea is so simple yet SO effective: a patterned text accompanies a statement going over two vertically opening spreads, starting with ‘A frog jumps. // Boing!’
It then proceeds to introduce other agile jumping creatures – a kitten, a dog, a grasshopper …

a rabbit, a snail – although that one just cannot get airborn,

a mother hen and chick, a fish and finally the small girl narrator of Tatsuhide Matsuoka’s cracking little book.

Ready to jump? Everybody ready? 1, 2, 3 … BOING!

Hello House
Hello Garage

Nicola Slater
Nosy Crow

In Hello House little Ludo is out and about in search of some friends to play with. He calls first at the home of Milly and Dylan who are busy cooking in their kitchen. Next stop is at the rabbits’ residence where he invites the bunnies to join him. Ludo and entourage then proceed to Ruby and Ned’s house and ask the pups to leave the TV and play outside.

Their final port of call is Bruno Bear’s and there they discover a sleeping friend who needs a spot of nose tickling to wake him from his slumbers. Then with all the friends assembled it’s time for some fun …

Little fingers will enjoy lifting the house-shaped flaps to assist Ludo as he rounds up his pals.

Equally enjoyable is Hello Garage and again Ludo is on the hunt for playmates only now his search takes him to the garage where he looks in various vehicles in the hope that he’ll find some not too busy animals with time to play.

With Leo, Mabel, Olaf, Daisy, George, and finally (after a tummy tickling rousing) Lucy duly invited, let playtime begin on the ‘soft, green grass’

Toddler fun through a pleasing repeat pattern text, and bright illustrations with plenty of detail to peruse and discuss.

Meeko and the Big Red Potty
Camilla Reid and Nicola Slater
Nosy Crow

Little ones just at the potty training stage will love that you can orchestrate Camilla Reid’s story by means of the strategically placed sound buttons as they hear how now a big bear, Meeko recently has graduated from nappies to big bear pants. However there are still times like this one when he just can’t manage to hold it and so does a wee, soaking his pants and the floor.
Happily next time though he remembers he needs to run to his red potty before it’s too late

and the simple story ends with a proud Meeko and equally proud parents and animal friends. Splendidly expressive illustrations from Nicola Slater make this down-to-earth board book a winner.