A Quokka For the Queen

A Quokka For the Queen
Huw Lewis Jones and Fred Blunt
Happy Yak

Having read this madcap rhyming royal romp it’s difficult to decide who had more fun, author Huw Lewis Jones creating his alliterative animal gifts – 40+ possibilities, though only 21 in her majesty’s summing up list, or Fred Blunt illustrating same in his splendiferous playful pictures.

It’s her royal highness’s birthday and she’s already received a vast number of presents when one more is duly delivered, having come all the way from Australia. Imagine her surprise when from the parcel leaps a Quokka, a creature unfamiliar to her highness; but she quickly takes a shine to the animal, deciding that this particular birthday will be different. She and her new furry friend will be the givers of presents.

Now being who she is, the Queen has a lot of people whom she deems must be the receivers of their gifts, from the butler and the baker to soldiers and sailors, and from a poet to the prime minister (really?).

Fortunately for her, the Quokka is a superb suggester of suitable animals, including tarantulas for all those important teachers – hmm!

Mightily impressed by the efforts of the Quokka, she then realises that she’s forgotten about asking her helpful friend to choose something for itself. I wonder what the Quokka’s choice will be …

The perfect picture book to share in celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and at any time thereafter.

The Secret Life of Birds

The Secret Life of Birds
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker
Happy Yak

Following The Secret Life of Trees and The Secret Life of Bees, the same author and illustrator bring us a book on the world of birds. Readers are in the hands or rather wings, of Speedy the swift, that acts as guide and narrator on this varied glimpse into the world of our feathered friends.

Did you know – well so Speedy says – swift chicks do press-ups on their wingtips to make themselves stronger. This is just one of the cool facts Moira includes herein, along with some stories and Vivian Mineker’s splendid illustrations that really help bring both information and folk tales to life. One of the latter comes from India and is called How the Peacock got his Colours. We read how one peacock, full of self-importance despite his plain, dull feathers was tricked into paying a visit to the sky goddess and in so doing acquired not only his stunning tail plumage, but also some kindness and humility.

There’s information relating to avian anatomy, growth and development, feathers and their functions, survival, a close up on beaks;

we meet some nocturnal hunters, find out about bird calls and bird song, visit a variety of nests – swifts return to the same one each year repairing it if necessary, look at the stages in the development of a chick from egg to fledgling, there’s a spread on journeys on the wing, are introduced to some record breakers and discover sadly, that all over the world there are endangered birds and finally are some tips on how to help the birds that live close to our homes.

There’s something for everybody here; it’s a good introduction to the topic and a book to add to family shelves and primary classroom collections.

A little bit of Respect

A Little Bit of Respect
Claire Alexander
Happy Yak

In this episode the Ploofers land their rainbow cloud on an island they’ve not visited before and start getting to know its residents. Initially things go well and all is amiable between visitors and residents but then one of the latter singles out Little One making him the centre of attention, which he finds very upsetting and demeaning.

Being called ‘cutie pie’ and told he looks ‘a bit peeky, weeky’ is the last straw; feeling frustrated and insignificant, Little One’s temper gets the better of him.

But then thankfully, he finds support and empowerment from an unexpected source with whom he shares how he’s feeling.

“Well, I don’t like it when you call me cute. It makes me feel small. I may be small but I still need a little bit of respect,” he tells the islander who caused his discomfiture. What will be the outcome of his new found assertiveness? Having stood up for himself, will Little One receive an apology?

With a surprise just before the end, Claire Alexander’s heartwarming tale of self-respect, respecting others and finding a friend to share your problem with, offers another important life lesson to young children, as well as lots of starting points for Foundation Stage circle-time discussion. I love the cutaway rainbow lettering on the front cover and the way Claire captures the feelings of Little One throughout.

How Rude! / How Selfish! / How Messy!

How Rude!
How Selfish
How Messy!

Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec
Happy Yak

How superb! are both Clare’s words and Olivier Tallec’s pictures for the books in this series, each being told mainly through Dot and Duck’s dialogue.
In How Rude! Duck arrives at Dot’s for a tea party. From the start his thoughtless behaviour sabotages Dot’s every effort as he complains about the food and the drink, while Dot does her upmost to keep calm: one can see her frustration mount as her cheeks grow redder and redder until she decides to retaliate.

However, after apologies from both sides, all ends happily with smiles and evidence of an important lesson learned.

Another vital life-lesson for young children is brilliantly delivered in How Selfish! and now it’s Dot who starts off behaving in a problematic manner. First she destroys the flowers Duck is holding. Then claiming it’s her sword, she snatches the stick Duck has found, hopefully for a flag,. A squabble ensues with yellings of “Flag” and “Sword” and grabbings of said stick. Duck then tries a spot of negotiating: “Swap the flag for a rabbit?” to which Dot responds “That’s MY toy!”
Duck then suggests sharing: but clearly Dot’s notion of sharing doesn’t quite fit Duck’s bill.

Is there a way out of this stand-off? Yes there is, for Duck now delivers the most devastatingly powerful of childhood intentions, “I’m telling on you …”
There’s a rapid acquiescence from Dot that means Duck then has all the toys. Dot though has the stick/ flag but that’s not quite the end of this selfish, crazy contretemps. There are grumps on both sides and pretty soon, boredom. A compromise perhaps? … Definitely one to provoke in depth discussion this.

What to do when one person’s messiness is another person’s creativity: that dilemma is at the heart of How Messy! Now Duck and Dot are at the seaside and after a pancake breakfast, sally forth onto the beach to play. While Dot is carefully crafting, placing each item with the utmost precision, Duck gathers flotsam and jetsam and proceeds to make an octopus, which he proudly shows Dot. Totally unimpressed, she tells Duck he’s messy.

“ … It’s not mess …it’s art! I made it for you!” he tells her about his next piece of work and this looks as though it might just win Dot over until …

Now things are indeed pretty messy. Time for a think … followed by a clever piece of collaborative work.

But the best laid creations of Dot and Duck cannot compete with the forces of nature. Could a dip save the day for them both …

Vive la difference! say I.

With oodles of empathy and delightful humour, these books are pitch perfect for foundation stage settings, nurseries and families with young siblings. They’re absolutely certain to result in giggles aplenty and reflections on best how to treat other people.

Bella Loves Bugs / Billy Loves Birds

Bella Loves Bugs
Billy Loves Birds

Jess French and Duncan Beedie
Happy Yak

These two narrative non-fiction picture books are written by zoologist, naturalist and vet, Jess French whose passion for wildlife shines through in both Nature Heroes titles wherein she uses the titular children as narrators.

Bella is an aspiring entomologist who shares a day in her life with readers and it’s certainly a very exciting one with lots of discoveries. Her first task is to collect garlic mustard to feed her caterpillars and then with a few useful bug hunting items she sets out to look for minibeasts and to meet up with some of her fellow nature hero friends.
By following Bella’s interactions with her friends and the additional facts this becomes a learning journey for readers who encounter social insects – ants in particular – a honey bee collecting nectar and others around their hives,

several jumping bugs and then a “fluttery butterfly” (why a non-native monarch?). Their next stop is at a pond, absolutely alive with water creatures on and below the surface; time for some pond-dipping (with an adult close by).
As they go into the forest Bella makes several discoveries – woodlice, a wolf spider with her eggs, and inside her trap she finds a stag beetle and a stag beetle grub. Down comes the rain bringing out the slugs and snails, and then it’s time to head home where something else exciting happens inside her vivarium.
Look out for the spider that makes occasional comments along the way.

Bird loving Billy (in the company of a talking tit) spends a day at forest school, sharing his observations with readers and his friends about the wealth of birds they encounter. There’s a woodpecker, a dunnock nest with several eggs including one of a different colour and there’s great excitement when Billy spies a kingfisher and comes across a beautiful feather to add to his collection.

Eventually he reaches the tit nest box located high in a tree where there are little chicks just preparing to leave the nest.

Bursting with information engagingly presented in the words and in Duncan Beedie’s amusing illustrations, both books should encourage youngsters to go outdoors to investigate and one hopes, appreciate the wonders of nature that’s all around us.

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.

Croc O’Clock

Croc O’Clock
Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders
Happy Yak

It’s feeding time for the crocodile with a seemingly insatiable appetite and goodness me does he love to boast about it as he keeps the zoo keepers busy all around the clock. “At one on the zoo clock, / the keepers give to me… / A MOUNTAIN OF MACARONI!” But that merely fills a small space in his tummy and the greedy beastie needs feeding on the dot of every hour. Moreover he has a cumulative song to tell readers what he eats.

At 2:00 there are two cups of tea and another mountain of macaroni; at 3:00 there are three french fries—and two cups of tea, and yet another mountain .…
And at 4:00? “4 pumpkin pies / 3 french fries / 2 cups of tea / And a mountain of macaroni!”
Five o’clock is time for some sweet stuff: 5 doughnut rings etc. More sweets at six in the form of 6 tasty toffees and as the clock strikes 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 our every growing creature consumes 7 creamy coffees,

8 mighty milkshakes, 9 cherry cheesecakes, 10 jumbo jellies and 11 lemon lollies. Does he never get tummy ache one wonders?
Twelve o’clock brings 12 syrup sundaes

but hello- no mountain of macaroni? Now those keepers have finally decided that the crocodile’s diet is sadly lacking in veggies. What will the narrator’s reaction be to the next offering? …

Youngsters will delight in singing to the tune of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas, Huw Lewis Jones’ satirical take on the popular seasonal song, as they watch the croc’s continuing overconsumption overseen by the zookeepers with the assistance of some visitors, shown in Ben Sanders bright, bold stylised illustrations.

Delightfully Different Dilly

Delightfully Different Dilly
Elizabeth Dale and Liam Darcy
Happy Yak.

Meet Dilly the adorable baby penguin that’s born with a difference: she has only one leg and so doesn’t do things quite the same way as the other little penguins. Instead of waddling she hops and revels in so doing, impressing the other little ones who try to emulate her with only a modicum of success. However they all have fun together

and Dilly’s difference is totally accepted by the young penguin generation as well as her parents.

Not so the other parents however: set in their ways and with a narrow view of life, they upset Dilly by thoughtlessly telling her to stop being different.

Then Dilly gets an opportunity to demonstrate to all the adult penguins just how awesome her difference makes her: indeed she becomes a superhero and in so doing shows the entire colony how much diversity should be valued.

Despite its chilly setting, with its theme of acceptance, Elizabeth Dale’s is a warm-hearted story to share and discuss with little humans. Liam Darcy’s illustrations are splendidly expressive and gently humorous perfectly complementing the text.

The Moose Fairy

The Moose Fairy
Steve Smallman
Happy Yak

Moose has always yearned to be a fairy so he’s over the moon when he spots a sign advertising for new members of the Secret Fairy Club.

Having put together what he thinks is the most suitable gear and donned same, he feels totally fabulous. Until that is, he arrives at the venue and realises that he dwarfs all the other potential members, some of which are anything but welcoming. Not so however the head fairy who invites him to do the tests along with the other would-be joiners.

With admission to the club gained Moose needs to use the secret knock to open the door of the clubhouse but although he succeeds in so doing, the door is so tiny, he can’t fit through and the others merely shun him.

Poor Moose walks sadly away and takes a dip in the river, hoping to shrink himself. There he encounters Fox with whom he shares his problem and rather too much other information.

Back inside the clubhouse, some of the other creatures are now seeing the error of their ways when suddenly an unwanted intruder arrives and just manages to squeeze himself through the door.

Perhaps now Moose has an opportunity to show he’s a true fairy no matter his size. A fairy that lives up to the oath: ‘Fairies are kind to all creatures, / Fairies are not mean or bitter, / Fairies help others in trouble or need …’

With its mix of humour, hope and determination, Steve’s heartwarming story about being yourself and accepting others unconditionally no matter their appearance is a delight to share. Moose is a smashing character splendidly portrayed by the author whose quirky, vibrant illustrations are a mix of suitable silliness and sparkling enchantment. And I absolutely love Steve’s wise words in the dedication to his grandchildren.

Animal Colours, Animal 123 and Animal ABC

Animal Colours, Animal 123, Animal ABC
Nikolas Ilic
Happy Yak

Three titles in a new First Concepts series feature some wonderfully wacky animal characters.

In the Colours book a twisty twirly snake and a grabbing crab introduce red, both fox and orangutan have orange fur, lion and a quacking duck are yellow, green is the skin of both a crocodile and a wide-mouthed frog, blue are the whale and a tweeting bird while other creatures are purple, pink, brown, grey, black or white. Then come multi-coloured chameleon and rainbow-beaked toucan, with the final spread showing all the animals featured.

123 has a different animal for each of the numbers 1 to 12 a double spread being allocated to a honey loving bear, 2 sharp toothed crocs, 3 racoons, 4 playful dogs, 5 staring black cats, six BAA-ing sheep, 7 grumpy frogs, 8 clucking chickens, 9 mucky pigs, 10 munching rabbits, 11 COO-ing pigeons and twelve toothy fish; and the final spread shows them numbering off with an invitation to count them one by one.

As well as being introduced to the alphabet in Animal ABC, little ones can discover an interesting fact about each of the featured creatures. For instance, did you know that a Gecko can’t blink so cleans its eyes by licking them with its long tongue?

Young children don’t acquire concepts from books but through a variety of experiences; these playful board books will help concept development but most important, they’re fun to share.

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons
Sara Hurst and Ana Seixas
Happy Yak

Authors are always looking for new ways to present dinosaurs to young enthusiasts who seem to have an insatiable appetite for these prehistoric creatures.

Herein Sara Hurst compares dinos. with vehicles, predators, humans and modern day foods among other things. With a body longer than a tennis court, Diplodocus needed to munch through around 33kg of ferns daily – that’s the equivalent of a human gobbling 66 boxes of cereal every single day – imagine that!

First though come an explanatory spread explaining comparisons, a pronunciation guide to dinosaur names and a time line.
The comparisons start on the Fossil Clues pages where readers learn for example, that one of the largest fossil poos ever found was around 70cm long and weighed more than a bowling ball.

I was fascinated to discover that a dinosaur’s age is calculated by counting the growth rings inside its bones (in a similar fashion to trees I imagine).
Other spreads look at the super skills of a variety of dinosaurs – Dromiceiomimus was about as speedy as an ostrich and twice as fast as the fastest man sprinter. Other spreads explore defence, food, weight

hunting ability, self defence and more, concluding with what was the likely cause of dinosaurs dying out.

In addition there’s a scattering of quizzes (answers at the back) and the entire book is brightly and dramatically illustrated by Ana Seixas.

The World’s Most Pointless Animals: Or Are They?

The World’s Most Pointless Animals: Or Are They?
Philip Bunting
Happy Yak

Author/illustrator Philip Bunting presents an irreverent look at some of the world’s most weird and wonderful creatures that we’re fortunate (or sometimes less so) to share our planet with. Take leeches for instance: I don’t consider myself particularly fortunate to have to live with those (despite their use by doctors) but like all the other animals from axolotls to zooplankton included herein, these hugely successful sucking parasites have undergone adaptations that have enabled them to survive, indeed to thrive. And as the author says in his introduction ‘Each creature is an illustration of Darwinian evolution, and, every animal has a unique yet important role to play on our precious planet. I was amazed to read that a leech has 32 brains. But what does it use them for?


Let’s get right up close to some of the others then starting with the capuchin monkey (Cebus imitator renamed here ‘Peepee stinkipawas). These particular primates – the most intelligent of all known New World simian species –
use simple tools to procure foods they want to sink their teeth into. You certainly wouldn’t want to share their seeds or insects though, for the males make a habit of peeing on their hands and washing their feet in their urine. Yuck!

Seemingly the only raison d’être for Daddy longlegs (other than to scare some people silly) is to act as a ‘valuable source of food for birds on every continent, except Antarctica. WIth more than 15,000 species of these spindly-legged insects, that amounts to a vast number of satisfied birds.

Turning to ocean dwellers, jellyfish are hugely successful medusozoa, sorry ‘wibblious wobblious ouchii’ that are about 95% water. Apparently of the possible 300,000 species estimated by scientists, so far only 2,000 have been found including moon jellyfish that can clone themselves, and immortal jelly fish. The latter can reverse its life cycle reabsorbing its tentacles becoming a blob-like cyst again which then begins over … Awesome!

Bursting with facts presented in a manner that’s huge fun and highly accessible including quirky labelled illustrations – Bunting clearly enjoyed creating these, not least inventing daft new names for every creature included – this book has a more serious mission too; To celebrate the diversity of the animal kingdom and to remind us of the fragility of the ecosystems that together make up Planet Earth.

Give a child this book to get immersed in and you could put them on the path to becoming a zoologist. I’m off to see how many Lumbricus terrestris (aka Squiggleous wriggleous) I can spot brought up after the recent rain shower – I might even be able to make a clew – that, I learned from the spread featuring same, is the collective name for a group of earthworms.

Ceri & Deri: Pudding for Desert / A Little Bit of Courage

Ceri & Deri: Pudding for Desert
Max Low
Graffeg

Best friends Ceri and Deri have a particular penchant for all things sweet. Their favourite shopping places to visit in town are Delwen’s Domain of Desserts and Peredur’s Pudding Parlour, each of which offers delicacies they can’t resist.

Strangely though the shops are next to each other and thus far, relations between the two vendors has been amicable. Not so today though: as Ceri and Deri approach they hear an argument in full flow.

At first it’s only insults that fly back and forth as the friends attempt to get served; but pretty soon it’s a case of flying puds and hurtling desserts. Moreover, the situation is exacerbated by various other individuals who show up – D.I Nigel, followed by the mayor

and several others each of whom takes a side in the escalating drama.

Horrified at the waste of good food, Ceri and Deri leap skywards to catch some treats to pop in their mouths.

Can there possibly be a truce between the two sides before both establishments completely run out of goodies? Perhaps, if somebody (or somebodies) can think of a compromise …

As always the cat and dog duo offer some gentle (or in this case somewhat less gentle) learning concerning different ways of seeing along the way, but it never gets in the way of the fun story, illustrated in Max Low’s characteristic expressive, gently humorous colourful small town scenes.

A Little Bit of Courage
Claire Alexander
Happy Yak

This is my first encounter with the Ploofers though it’s their second story, and they’re learning to fly.

There’s one of their number though, a little one, that is feeling fearful and too scared to become part of this exciting new adventure. So will the others leave Little One behind on the ground? Of course not; that isn’t what friends do.

Back comes Toasty to have a chat and offer some words of encouragement to help Little One lose those jelly wobbles. With Toasty’s support, can Little summon up sufficient courage to take that vital leap?

A gentle look at fear, finding the courage to step out of your comfort zone, the importance of teamwork, as well as a celebration of difference Ploofer style.

Simply illustrated and told in a suitably conversational voice, Claire Alexander provides an empowering message for little ones and adults too.