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.

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.

Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows / Snow Sisters: The Enchanted Waterfall / Unicorn Academy: Rosa and Crystal

Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows
Rose Lagerercrantz and Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

This is my first encounter with the delightful Dani whose adventures began with My Happy Life.In this, her sixth instalment the girl is spending the winter break staying with her grandparents because her father has again become sad and is now spending time with his mother and brother in his home city, Rome to ‘think about his life’.

While out ski-ing, the normally cheerful Dani gets that gloomy feeling but then she suddenly thinks of her best friend Ella and remembers that it’s almost her birthday. What better birthday present than an experience – a surprise visit from Dani?

There’s a slight snag though: Ella lives miles away in Northbrook. Of course, being the positive child she is Dani’s sure one of her grandparents will drive her: maybe she doesn’t have a problem after all.

After consideration Grandma asks her if she dares go from Stockholm to Northbrook on the train by herself so long as Ella’s mum collects her at the station. Granpa needs a fair bit of convincing but eventually Dani is on the train bound for her destination.

When she arrives at Northbrook however things start to go wrong; the station is covered in snow and there’s nobody there to meet her. That however is only the first bad thing that happens …

With her near indomitable spirit, Dani is an adorable character. In this book, in a very short space of time she emerges with a lot more understanding of the adult world with its ramifications and frailties.

With its bitter-sweetness, Rose Lagererantz’s writing really rings true and her characterisation is superb.

Eva Eriksson’s splendidly empathetic black and white illustrations are a delight and add an extra touch of piquancy to the book.I will definitely seek out the earlier titles in this series.

Wholeheartedly recommended for solo reading and as a class read aloud for KS1 and early KS2.

Snow Sisters: The Enchanted Waterfall
Astrid Foss, illustrated by Monique Dong
Nosy Crow

This is the 4th and final magical adventure of the three sisters, with special powers to enchant, who reside in a castle on the mystical island of Nordovia.

Now Magda, Hanna and Ida must draw on all their strength and bravery to undertake their final quest in this battle of good versus evil, for it’s the Day of the Midnight Sun and the nefarious Shadow Witch is absolutely determined to do whatever she must to obtain the power of the Everchanging Lights and make the skies forever dark.

As always the combination of magical fantasy, highly engaging characters (some animal), a powerful plot with just the right amount of darkness, and plenty of Monique Dong’s lovely black and white illustrations will ensure that early chapter book readers will lose themselves in the adventure.

And do the sisters succeed in ensuring that the Everchanging Lights are in their rightful place by the time the clock strikes the midnight hour? Let’s just say that where’s there’s light and love, there is hope.

For roughly the same age group, there’s more magic in:

Unicorn Academy: Rosa and Crystal
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

This series for the countless young unicorn lovers out there takes us yet again to Lakeside Unicorn Academy for another instalment of magical unicorn delight.

The pupil in question herein is Rose and her unicorn partner is Crystal and after just a month at the school the two are off on a rule-breaking adventure in search of the magical map. It’s not all down to the twosome however, teamwork is involved and they both have to learn what being a member of a team entails.

Engaging, undemanding fun.

Everyone Walks Away

Everyone Walks Away
Eva Lindström
Gecko Press

There are four characters in this story; three of them walk away leaving Frank all alone.

The others, Tilly, Paul and Milan have lots of fun but as always, Frank is left alone.

He goes home and cries buckets, or rather pots, one to be precise.To his tears he adds sugar and boils the liquid.  He’s very tearful and works hard to get his special jam mixture just right – not too thick, not too runny.

When done he leaves it to cool in a breezy spot, then pours it into a jar.

Somewhat later the other three characters reappear and having made careful preparations, Frank invites them to a tea party.

The softly spoken story ends with a gap for readers to fill. It’s a case of showing not telling; we decide or even perhaps, we don’t make up our minds.

Eva Lindström’s quirky gouache and fine pencil line illustrations have a flattened look that reminded me a little of some of Maira Kalman’s work.

Quiet though it may be, the book’s impact is considerable; one cannot help but feel sympathy for left out Frank and hope he finally gets what he wants.

I Am So Clever

I Am So Clever
Mario Ramos
Gecko Press

Oohh! If there’s one thing I do love it’s a new take on the Red Riding Hood story, after all this blog takes it’s name from a play on the story’s name.

The wolf in question herein has an enormous thirst for power, not to mention an insatiable hunger for meals of the human kind.

On this particular morning the lupine creature is in jovial mood as he converses with Little Red Riding Hood complimenting her on her appearance and warning her of the dangers of walking alone in the woods.

Now the little girl may be small of stature but she most definitely isn’t short of brains. She takes no time in demolishing the wolf’s “You could meet some ferocious creature … like a shark!” with an immediate riposte, “Oh, come on Mr Wolf, everyone knows there are no sharks in the woods,”.

Despite the put down, the wolf is already anticipating his feast as he rushes off ahead of Red Reading Hood to Grandma’s house.

Discovering in the bedroom only her nightie,

he hastily dons it as a disguise but then, rather than leaping into bed and hiding to await Red Riding Hood, he manages to shut himself the wrong side of the cottage door.

Now instead, it’s the woods he attempts to hide in. The disguise though works pretty well and he manages to dupe the hunter:“Gadzooks and dogs’ droppings!” said a voice. “Oh good morning Grandmother. Excuse the bad language but I’ve dropped my glasses. Would you please help me find them?”

And not just him: Baby Bear, the three little pigs, the seven dwarves, and one of the gentry searching for Sleeping Beauty are also hoodwinked.

There follows a desperate struggle on the wolf’s part to extricate himself from the nightie but he fails and finds himself face to face with his planned first course.

The girl’s reaction however throws the creature completely – quite literally.

“No iff not funny!” he whimpers. “I’ve broken all my teeff! And I’m twapped in diff terrible dweff!” Pride definitely came before a fall here.

The ending comes as something of a surprise: I won’t reveal what happens but Ramos’ final scene is one that might provoke some pathos on your audience’s part.

Thanks to deliciously droll illustrations throughout, an enormously satisfying story full of comic tension and wonderful dialogue, Ramos’ wolf goes ever on: I for one hope to see him again.

When the Whales Walked / Rivers

 

When the Whales Walked
Dougal Dixon and Hannah Bailey
Words & Pictures

By means of thirteen case studies, readers can discover how for example, dinosaurs evolved into birds and how whales were once four-legged creatures that walked on the land. These are just two of the fascinating evolutionary journeys told through a mix of annotated illustrations by Hanna Bailey, superbly illustrated scenes and family trees.

Did you know that way back in time snakes too had legs and crocodiles were warm blooded?

Written by evolution and earth sciences specialist, Dougal Dixon, this is a book that will broaden the horizons of dinosaur mad readers and, with evolution now a topic in the KS2 science curriculum, it’s one to add to primary school collections.

Rivers
Peter Goes
Gecko Press

In his follow up to Timeline, Belgian illustrator Peter Goes takes readers by means of a series of large size maps, on a continent-by-continent tour of all the world’s great rivers.

Those featured flow across  predominantly monochromic double spreads that are illustrated with images of iconic structures – bridges and buildings, vehicles, people, deities, monsters, wildlife and physical features.

Factual information – historical, geographical, biological, mythical, cultural – is provided in snippets (the book is translated from the original text by Bill Nagelkerke) through and around which each river meanders from source to sea.

I’ve visited relatively few of the rivers featured (though various parts the River Thames have always been part and parcel of my life and I’ve visited locations along the Ganges). Some including the River Onxy in Antarctica that flows only in summer, I’d never heard of.

This super-sized book has made me want to do some more river exploring; perhaps, like its creator I’ll start closest to home, in Europe.

A fascinating book for young would-be travellers and school libraries in particular.

Short Fiction Roundup: A Case for Buffy / Dear Professor Whale / Corey’s Rock

A Case for Buffy
Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee
Gecko Press

Detective Gordon (a philosophical elderly toad) returns with a final case to solve. This, the most important one in his whole career, sees him and young detective, cake-loving mouse Buffy attempting to solve a mystery that takes them to the very edge of the forest as they endeavour to discover the whereabouts of Buffy’s missing mother. In their search, they’re aided by two very new recruits,

who accompany the detectives, as they follow clues across a mountain and over water, all the way to Cave Island.

There’s an encounter with Gordon’s arch-enemy, a wicked fox who might or might not make a meal of one of the detectives.
All ends satisfactorily and there’s a sharing of cake – hurrah!

I’ve not encountered this charming series before but this one is a gentle little gem made all the more so by Gitte Spee’s whimsical illustrations.

Read aloud or read alone, either way it’s a delight.

Dear Professor Whale
Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Gecko Press

Professor Whale is now the only whale remaining at Whale Point and thus feels more than a little bit lonely. He remembers the days when he was surrounded by friends and they participated in the Whale Point Olympics.
In an attempt to find some new friends the Prof. sends out letters to ‘Dear You, Whoever You Are, Who Lives on the Other Side of the Horizon’ His only reply comes from Wally, grandson of an old friend. After getting over his initial disappointment, Professor Whale is inspired, to organise, with Wally’s help another Whale Point Olympics. It’s full of exciting events such as The Seal Swimming Race and The Penguin Walking race and there’s also a Whale Spouting Contest.

Friendship and kindness abound in this gentle tale, a follow-up to Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, which I’m not familiar with. However after enjoying this warm-hearted story, I will seek it out. With it’s abundance of amusing black and white illustrations,

It’s just right for those just flying solo as readers.

Corey’s Rock
Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray
Otter-Barry Books

After the death of her young brother Corey, ten year old Isla and her parents leave their Edinburgh home and start a new life in the Orkney islands.
So begins a heart-wrenching story narrated by Isla wherein she discovers an ancient Orcadian selkie legend.

This becomes significant in her coming to terms with her loss and adjusting to her new life.

It’s beautifully, at times poetically written, interweaving elements of Isla’s dual heritage, folklore, the Hindu belief in reincarnation, coming to terms with loss, making new friends, family love, rebuilding lives and more.

Equally beautiful are Jane Ray’s illustrations that eloquently capture the tenderness, beauty and the magic of the telling.

This is a treasure of a book that deserves a wide audience and at the right time, could help grieving families come to terms with their own loss.

Inside the Villains

Inside the Villains
Clotilde Perrin
Gecko Press

Wow! This is a BIG book; it’s also a pop-up, lift-the-flap, pull-the-tab volume wherein we meet three of the biggest villains of fairy tale.

If you’ve ever wondered what really lies behind the three characters, this larger-than-life volume supplies the information. It takes readers deep within and around on a tour of discovery that reveals what’s hidden beneath their clothing, what lurks in their pockets and even behind their ears; and be prepared for a peep at stomach contents.

Each character is immaculately constructed with layers to peel back and investigate. For instance in the wolf (my favourite) we’re shown the working of his grey matter and when you pull a tiny thread, the contents of his stomach – see if you can guess what lies therein – the creature’s been pretty busy of late; either that or he digests his food very slowly.
On the opposite page is a self-written profile of the lupine creature wherein he recounts his dietary preferences and describes himself as having ‘highly developed intelligence, natural cunning and exceptional athletic gifts.’

Unfold the left-hand page and you’ll discover a terrific ‘More About Me’ section with story references aplenty as well as a list of other related tales. Opposite all this is the story of The wolf and the seven little goats.

The giant clearly has several layers of adipose tissue – not surprising as he talks of his ‘insatiable appetite’. Beware his beguiling banter “I’m opening my heart to you’. Hmm! Unfasten his belt and take a look beneath that waistcoat, then have a peek behind his hat.

As for the witch, she sports a feathery cape, perfect for ensuring that the contents of her pocket stays toasty warm. Under her dress and petticoat she has a stash of terrible treasures, so ignore what she says about those pockets full of sweets, if you value your life, her gnashers look evil indeed.
Her hidden story is Alyoshka and Baba Yaga.

Brilliantly conceived and equally brilliantly constructed, Clotilde Perrin takes interactive novelty books to a whole new level.

Stories of the Night

Stories of the Night
Kitty Crowther
Gecko Press

Here’s a gorgeous little book to share at bedtime that reminded me a tad of one of Arnold Lobel’s stories in Mouse Tales. It begins with Little Bear requesting three stories from his Mother as she tucks him into bed and she’s happy to oblige; seemingly this is part and parcel of their usual bedtime routine.

The first tale is “The one that says it’s time to go to sleep,” as Little Bear describes it and features a Night Guardian – an oldish, long haired woman who goes about the forest banging her gong and announcing to all the forest animals that they must cease what they’re doing for bedtime has arrived and they must sleep.

Then having put all the creatures to bed, she returns home and she too sleeps, but not before she’s banged her gong (very gently) just one more time.

The second story is of a sword-carrying child, Zhora who gets lost in the forest while out picking blackberries and is given shelter for the night by her bat friend, Jacko Mollo.

The third is also seemingly a familiar story, “The one with the man in a big coat who never sleeps!” as Little Bear describes it. This character, Bo, keeps his coat on all the time and has in exchange for his silver watch, been allowed to take up residence in a nest that once belonged to a grumpy old owl. An absolute delight, this tells how the sleepless Bo is persuaded by Otto otter to go for a swim in his overcoat, gives away his hat and finally gets himself a wonderful night’s sleep.

Kitty Crowther uses some beautiful sleep inducing recitations such as “The sky is all black now. But we can count on the stars to lead us into tomorrow.” and “Choose a star to lead you into tomorrow” that I can envisage being used with little humans as well as Little Bear.

Crowther’s pink glowing, textured scenes are an absolute delight, infused as they are with warmth and love, be that between Mother Bear and her infant, or the other characters in the tales she tells.

Quirky, quietly beautiful, and a wonderful demonstration of the power of stories, this is a small gem.

Valdemar’s Peas / Sports are Fantastic Fun!

Valdemar’s Peas
Maria Jōnsson
Gecko Press

This deliciously funny tale of fussy eating lupine style stars young Valdemar, devourer of fish-fingers; hater of peas.

When Papa strikes a bargain: “The peas go in the tummy. Then ice cream. Chocolate ice cream!” the wily little wolf comes up with a clever ruse that gets the peas into a tummy without a single one of the wretched spherical objects passing his lips.

When he eventually fesses up to which particular tum the peas actually found their way into, Papa’s response is more than a little unexpected, which is fortunate for the young trickster.

Perhaps next time however, his pa might be a little more specific with respect to whose tummy he has in mind.

I love the interactions between father and son that will surely resonate with both young pea-protesters and other anti-veggie littles and their parents.

Maria Jönsson’s black and white illustrations with touches of yellow, red, green and of course, brown, are as playful and humorous as her words.

One to devour avidly and I’m sure second servings will be on order right away. Like those peas, this book is small but perfectly formed.

Sports are Fantastic Fun!
Ole Kōnnecke
Gecko Press

I received this book for review having spent the weekend with a very lively 5-year-old girl who proudly informed me at every opportunity, “I’m a sporty girl!”
I suspect she would feel a little under-represented in this sporting celebration.

It features a host of cartoon style animals of all kinds demonstrating a wide variety of sporting activities both of the individual and team kind; from sprinting to soccer, cricket

to climbing, fishing to cycle racing,

pole vaulting to rowing,

billiards to boxing and rhythmic gymnastics to ice-hockey.

Not only well-known sports are showcased; unlikely ones like  arm wrestling, skipping and unicycling and caber tossing also get a mention.

Each activity is described, sometimes with tongue-in-cheek irony, and illustrated in a style slightly reminiscent of Richard Scarry, with watercolour and pen drawings that are replete with visual humour.

Lack of gender equality and recognition of the differently abled notwithstanding, it’s all very entertaining and there’s a wealth of factual information relating to the featured sports.

A big thank you to Gecko Press for sending these and renewing their acquaintance with Red Reading Hub.

The Yark / The Island of Horses

The Yark
Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard
Gecko Press

Meet the Yark, a voracious child-guzzling monster that restricts his consumption to the flesh of ‘very good’ children on account of his delicate digestive system. Consequently it doesn’t do, if you’re a child, to be good or even compliant
The creature has a problem though, for in our modern times, the supply of such well-behaved, and thus gobblable youngsters, has become increasingly hard to come by. The present crop yields virtually no nutritional value so far as this particular monster is concerned and Yarks as a species are on the verge of extinction.

Yark is now wandering the forest in the dead of night, hungry, weary and seeking shelter when an idea pops into his head. Santa Claus has a list of all the well-behaved children in the entire world.

Donning a polar bear disguise, the creature pays Santa a visit:

Santa however sees through the disguise but still the dastardly Yark escapes the North Pole with the list in his clutches.

His first port of call thereafter is France where in Provence resides the altogether desirable little Charlotte. Surprisingly instead of being petrified of the marauding intruder, the child is positively thrilled to find this thing she’s read of staring down at her. Seemingly at this particular moment she no longer wants to be on that list of good children; rather she intends to be the complete opposite. And so she is; thus putting paid to the Yark’s anticipated meal.

Lewis is next on his list, a London dweller; will he too thwart the creature’s plan to make a meal of him? If so who, or what next? …

Suffice it to say that our Yark does finally redeem himself thanks to a doting little girl, Madeleine.

Laurent Gapaillard’s fine gothic style drawings of the shaggy, toothy Yark complete with his ridiculously diminutive wings set in richly detailed landscapes, against murky cityscapes or intricately rendered interiors are sometimes scary or shocking, at other times comical or endearing. Rich language, dark humour and equally rich art combine to make an enormously enjoyable read.

The Island of Horses
Eilís Dillon
NYRB Kids

This is a re-issue of a novel by respected Irish author Eilis Dillon that focuses on two teenage boys, Danny MacDonagh, 15, and Pat Conroy, a year older, residents of Inishrone, an island three miles off the coast of Connemara, near the mouth of Galway Bay and offers a view of village life in the first half of the 20th century.

The two boys take off in a boat on an adventure to the forbidden Island of Horses. Thereon they need to hone their survival skills and are thrilled to discover in a valley, a herd of beautiful wild horses.

What happens thereafter is an exciting tale, eloquently told, of colt-capture, kidnapping and more that may well still grip some readers as much as it did me when I first read a Puffin Books edition as a child many years back.

The Old Man

The Old Man
Sarah V. and Claude K. Dubois
Gecko Press

Softly spoken and compassionate, this little book has amazing power to move.

In the city, morning has come; it’s time for everyone to begin the day. The children set off for school and beneath a blanket, an oldish man, a rough sleeper stirs, slowly and reluctantly. Anonymous, he’s freezing cold, in need of coffee and very hungry. He walks and as he does so his hunger increases.

As he grows wearier, he slows and stops for a rest and watches the passers by; memories of his past drift into his mind until he’s suddenly awoken and told to move on.

Belly rumbling, he heads for the shelter in the hope of sustenance but when his turn comes he cannot even recall his name so leaves – empty.

A bus affords a brief shelter from the wet and cold but his sleep is interrupted by unkind words from which he flees as soon as possible.

His loneliness is pervasive as he wanders on and through a park until towards the end of the day, when he’s wrapped himself in his blanket once more, a little girl approaches him smiling; she offers him her sandwich

and likening him to a teddy bear, walks on. No sandwich has ever tasted so good.

Fuelled by her kindness the man heads back to the shelter once again. When asked his name this time, “Teddy” comes his response.

A wonderful demonstration of how it often takes a young child to take notice, to see beyond the surface, to show empathy, reach out and make that vital connection.

Claude Dubois’ soft watercolour pencil sketches with their loose imagery underline the mood and the chill of this drifting tale of our times. Entirely unsentimental yet enormously heart-warming, this is a book that needs to be shared and discussed everywhere, not least by policy makers in government who have, dare I say, been instrumental in creating the circumstances like those of this homeless man.

Cooks’s Cook: The Cook Who Cooked for Captain Cook

Cooks’s Cook: The Cook Who Cooked for Captain Cook
Gavin Bishop
Gecko Press

In 1768 Captain Cook and his crew set forth on a journey aboard H.M.S. Endeavour. In this wonderful book, published to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Endeavour’s voyage to Australia and New Zealand, the New Zealand author/illustrator Gavin Bishop takes readers along with the crew of 94 aboard, on an amazingly tough voyage full of hardships telling the story from the viewpoint of one-handed cook, John Thomson, a rather parsimonious chap.

He uses a chronological diary form along with recipes including some pretty unpleasant ones (especially if like me you’re a vegetarian,) such as stewed albatross with prune sauce.

Unsurprisingly, bad-health and such afflictions as scurvy in addition to the perils on the high seas are regaled with lots of grim details from one below deck, make for a truly fascinating and at times witty read.

We also learn something of the way the gentlemen explorers spent their time and of their encounters with the people whose lands they travelled to.

Clearly Bishop has researched his topic thoroughly, and no matter how one views historic colonisation, the delectable, sometimes troubling, tale of adventure he tells, is totally absorbing.

So too are his splendid painterly watercolour illustrations. Don’t miss the longitudinal section of the Endeavour on the front endpapers along with all who sailed; and a map (plus ‘Tidbits’) of its voyage, at the back.

I’m the Biggest / I Can’t Sleep!

I’m the Biggest
I Can’t Sleep!
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

Young rabbit, Simon has now grown considerably – he even stars in his own show on Milkshake 5 ,and here is engaged in a spot of sibling rivalry over the relative increase in height of the two brothers: Casper has grown a full 2 centimetres more than big brother Simon. Needless to say the latter is far from happy, exclaiming “No way,” in response to his Mum’s pronouncement. He even accuses her of giving Casper more food.

Having been chastised by both parents, he’s positively a-boil with fury and swearing revenge.

However, while engaged in a game of footie with his pals in the park later in the day, he spies Casper being bullied by a boy from his class.

‘Serves him right!’ is his initial reaction but then comes a change of heart. Perhaps he is still the BIG brother after all.

Good fun as all Simon titles are, especially for those grappling with being a big brother.

However, I prefer I Can’t Sleep! which I missed first time around. This story focuses on the positive – the comradeship between the two brothers.
Having both spent the day in the garden erecting a ‘MEGA GIGA-NORMOUS’ hut, when it’s bedtime Casper realises that he’s left his special blanket outside in the hut. Needless to say, he can’t possibly sleep without his blanky. It’s time for big brother to don his superhero gear and brave the dark.

It’s cold and damp as his little feet ‘pitter-pat’ run through the night, and pretty scary when he encounters a huge and hungry monster but he makes it back home clutching what he went for

and only too willing to regale his adventure to Casper till morning.

Stephanie Blake’s bold, bright illustrations are deliciously expressive showing just how the characters feel, her language too is enormously engaging and fun. Here she cleverly reveals the way in which big bro. is clearly in charge and little bro. eager to be his pupil.

Nature & Around the World / Look, a Butterfly! / Little Boat

Nature
Around the World

Nosy Crow

These are the two latest additions to the wonderful board book series produced in collaboration with The British Museum, each presenting and celebrating cultures the world over, and inspired by the enormous British Museum collection.
Nature celebrates both the flora and fauna of the world and the elements, from a shell to the sun; the squirrel to the sunflower and the butterfly to blossom.

It’s absolutely gorgeous and certain to engender curiosity about the natural world.
In Around the World fourteen cultures are represented through items from near and far: Egypt, France, Britain, America, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Korea, Mexico, Greece, China, Kenya and India each have a spread or page devoted to items including clothing,

musical instruments, buildings, jewellery, and much more.

Both are, like the rest of the series absolutely superb for developing language as well as being a brilliant way to introduce history and culture to your little ones, especially if you can combine it with a museum visit too.
If you can’t, worry not: each has an index as well as QR codes linking to additional information about each object featured.

Enormously worthwhile to add to bookshelves at home, or in an early years setting.

Look, a Butterfly!
Yasunari Murakami
Gecko Press

This lovely little board book is by award-winning Japanese artist/designer/author, Yasunari Murakami who is also an environmentalist and lover of wild-life. It begins with an irresistible invitation to notice, and then follow the journey of a butterfly as it explores what a flower garden has to offer.

We see the flower buds pop open and burst into a host of colours;

watch the little creature pause for a drink of nectar and revived, flit and flutter again before coming to rest upon a playful kitten.

This of course precipitates a game of flap and tease before the butterfly finally flies away.

Beautifully simple and attractively illustrated, it gives you an injection of joie-de-vivre and is perfectly honed  to be just right for sharing with tinies. Catch hold of this one before the butterflies disappear for the season.

Little Boat
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books

Life lessons Little Boat style will delight fans of Taro Gomi’s previous Little Truck especially.

Here we follow Little Boat as he determinedly manoeuvres his way through bigger boats including a snarling one, braves the rough seas and stormy weather

until after his testing adventures, he finally meets his parent boat once more in calm waters.

Short and sweet: splendid entertainment for little ones and a great demonstration of remaining positive no matter what.

Dinosaurs Don’t Have Bedtimes! / Super Rabbit

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Dinosaurs Don’t Have Bedtimes!
Timothy Knapman and Nikki Dyson
Walker Books
Children adopt all manner of delaying tactics when it comes to bedtimes. Mo, the small boy in this book has got that down to a fine art – that and avoiding all those other activities that his long-suffering Mum wants him to do – those everyday things such as eating supper “Dinosaurs don’t HAVE suppertimes!

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rather, they “eat whenever they like”, having a bath, putting on pyjamas, (dinosaurs don’t wear PJs),

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enjoying a bit of rough and tumble play with his mum before drinking that milky nightcap and as for bedtime – well, don’t even think about it: Dinosaurs certainly do no such thing. …
Having gobbled, growled, stomped, rampaged and generally created havoc throughout the evening, does the little dinosaur-boy finally run out of steam and bed down for the night? Well yes, despite what our young dinosaur says to the contrary but that’s before the sleepy boy persona eventually wins the day – or rather, the night …

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ROAR! …
That mother certainly deserves a stiff drink after all she’s gone through.
Terrific fun, this rollicking riot of a tale is certain to be relished by lively youngsters who will delight in the bold, action-packed illustrations, which show alternating scenes of child imaginings and reality.

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Super Rabbit
Stephanie Blake
Gekko Press
Meet pink gun wielding Super Rabbit as he leaps from his bed and announces his super hero status to passers by such as this one, whose response isn’t overly enthusiastic …

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From there, as he consumes his first meal of the day, he tells his mother of his intentions, then off he goes and by and by comes upon a likely looking hiding place for villains …

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Fearless, he jumps inside the cold, dark place and suddenly we hear cries of “Mummy!” Our superhero has been stabbed by no, not a sword but a splinter and dropping his weapon, off he charges all the way back to her where he tells of the “piece of sword” in his finger. Mum calmly removes the offending object with a sterile needle …

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thus providing the little rabbit with an altogether new experience … and goes on to proclaim him “the bravest little rabbit in the whole world.” And then, he’s up and ready for his next Super Rabbit encounter …
If you’ve not encountered Simon rabbit of Poo Bum fame then you might well start here. It’s just the thing for mini superheroes: I love his fertile imagination and playfulness; and Stephanie Blake’s rendering of the little rabbit on that splinter removal couch is superb.

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Have You Seen Elephant?

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Have you seen Elephant?
David Barrow
Gecko Press
Ever thought of playing a game with an elephant? If you do, just make sure it’s not hide and seek …

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or if there’s no option then don’t let the elephant be first to hide. That’s the mistake the boy makes in this debut, corker of a book from David Barrow. It’s one of those stories where children are in the know almost from the outset and relish so being: they, like the boy’s dog can see all elephant’s hiding places and good as he insists he is, that elephant does choose some pretty ridiculous, albeit creative spots.

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But that’s the fun of it for audiences.
There is visual hilarity in abundance: in some ways elephant is rather like a toddler when it comes to hiding places – if he can’t see the seeker then he can’t be seen. But then that’s the way this book works: we all have to suspend our disbelief and play along with elephant just like one does with a toddler.
Barrow comically times his painted visuals to perfection: every spread is bang on in this respect, as is his use of light and shade. I love the somewhat restrained/muted colour palette with those orange,

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pink and purple hues.
Great family portrait endpapers – make sure you compare front and back. Make sure too that you keep your eye on what the dog’s up to; oh, and watch out for this character:

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he also has a special talent when it comes to games … so he says.
Love it, love it, love it! Assuredly a book to enjoy over and over (and with its minimal text), one beginning readers can, after an initial sharing, try for themselves.
I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what’s next from this extremely talented newcomer who is incidentally, the winner of the Sebastian Walker Award for the most promising children’s illustrator 2015.

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BANG

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BANG
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press
I love quirky picture books and this near wordless one is certainly that. I also love that the leader of the pack (an executive deer sporting a bowler hat) is a writer and reader. The problem is, said deer is driving along in his BANG-mobile loaded with copies of his latest publication (this book) while reading one of the books, seemingly unaware of the fact that the vehicle in front has just shed part of its load right in front of him. BANG! – books in dustbin.

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The subsequent pages reveal the knock on effect as each following, tailgating vehicle runs into the back of the one in front:

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pig with his chickens, giraffe with her clothes shopping, crocodile with tyres, cat with his catch, goat with his fruit and vegetables and rabbit with her sextuplets. More observant chameleon with his load of paint, manages with an ‘eeeeeeeeeeeeee’ to stop just in time, only for penguin in his ice-cream van to plough into the back of him and shunt him into the multi-vehicle pile-up. Fortunately not a single animal is hurt.
The panoramic pull-out page reveals the whole shebang and the resulting, amazing interaction of drivers, passengers and loads.

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Ice-cream anyone?
Surprisingly everyone is happy save a single baby rabbit whose sibling has stolen his ice-cream.

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The sheer absurdity of the whole thing is irresistible.
Timmers’ wonderfully comic illustrations allow readers to fill in their own words. The amount of detail in every single vehicle, animal and load means that each double spread offers much to talk about – from the exaggerated animal features of the drivers and their snazzy attire, to the funky vehicles with their various loads and much more.

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