The Secret Life of Oceans

The Secret Life of Oceans
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Lineker
Happy Yak

In this book, which is a mix of science and traditional stories from various parts of the world, we’re in the company of Tia the green turtle, famous for her swimming prowess and beautiful shell. Having introduced herself and told the story of how she was born, Tia takes readers on an exploration of some of the secrets of marine flora and fauna starting with those relating to sea turtles like herself and other turtles that live in the world’s various oceans (there’s a map showing these).

Diving down through the zones of the ocean all the way to the abyss, we encounter marine inhabitants large and small from giant squids and blue whales

to microscopic zooplankton and phytoplankton and sea-horses, to mention just a few.

Other topics are included such as ways of communicating – did you know that bottlenose dolphins each have their own unique whistle sound or that blue whales make low rumbling sounds that can travel as far as 3200 km through the water? There’s a look at the ocean’s gardens, the chilly, slippery stormy spots formed of ice and snow, an encounter with fearsome creatures with ferocious-looking teeth. And, we find out something about ocean currents, some special coastal features, what it’s like living and working by, and with, the sea.

Many of the spreads have a ‘can you spot’ feature to encourage younger readers to use their powers of observation. The two final spreads are devoted to the endangerment of turtles and what we humans can do to help them. There are also five traditional stories from various parts of the world.

With bright, bold illustrations infused with humour, and a thoughtfully presented, engaging text, this is enjoyable learning for primary children.

Unicorn Not Wanted

Unicorn Not Wanted
Fred Blunt
Happy Yak

Acknowledging that there is already a plethora of unicorn picture books on the market, Fred Blunt offers something rather different: a cowboy story set of course, in the Wild West – or does he?

Unfortunately, despite the author having declared this book a unicorn-free zone, a one horned ungulate – a female one – and a pug in disguise have managed to sneak themselves in and once there make it their mission to find acceptance in the narrative, no matter what.

Little by little they wheedle themselves more and more into the limelight with stunts involving aerobatics,

wrestling and superhero-ing until the storyteller resorts to a costume cover-up.

But is it a success? Umm …

The main characters are an absolute hoot, their body language and facial expressions are superbly silly and brilliantly done, while the banter between the two and the narrator is highly entertaining.

All in all so much better that a run-of-the-mill unicorn story that will be enjoyed by young unicorn lovers, NOT unicorn lovers, and adult sharers, who can have enormous fun reading this aloud. This one certainly did. YEE HAW!

Monsters in Trucks / Tiny T.Rex and the Grand Ta-Da!

Monsters in Trucks
Laura Baker and Nina Dzyvulska
Happy Yak

Put together two subjects popular with young children – monsters and trucks – and you’re surely on to a winner.

That’s what we have in this picture book that takes us to a world populated by truck-driving monsters. They come in all shapes and sizes, some happy, others downright grumpy; there are more than forty kinds in all, many in one way or another engaged in the construction of a monster city. Some however, appear to have other things in mind such as partying and there’s one among their number that’s a thief on the loose; he needs to be apprehended and fast.

Can little humans pick a favourite: it might be grump monster (so busy being grumpy that he drives right into a big hole), roar monster, prickly monster, tickle monster, or perhaps jiggly monster who is in the queue for the loo.

I loved the snuggle and cuddle monsters.

Laura Baker’s rhyming romp of a text and Nina Dzyvulska’s vividly coloured scenes work well together, the fun details of the latter offer plenty to talk about. Further fun comes in the form of a ladybird that lurks in every scene.

A sharing of this book in an early years setting may well result in an outbreak of monster creativity.

Tiny T.Rex and the Grand Ta-Da!
Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck
Chronicle Books

Tiny R.Rex and Pointy, the delightful dinos. are back and having seen a poster for the school talent show, have decided to enter. Tiny is fairly confident but Pointy is more than a tad apprehensive. Then inspiration comes in the form of their hero the Amazing Presto whose book they turn to. ‘Magic is meant to be shared’ they read: that means their joint skills could carry them through.

First though they need to train, so they don top hats, wield wands, appoint an assistant – Bob the teddybear – and choose their special magic word.

Magic though, especially a disappearing trick, doesn’t just happen; mistakes are part of the learning process

and their confidence starts to wane. Time to go back to the drawing board. Then after some very careful planning and a creative boost, the two are ready to step forward and face the audience – well almost. Suddenly Pointy is overwhelmed by nerves: can he summon his inner courage and make an appearance after all?

Patience, perseverance and supporting one another are key in this latest outing for Tiny and Pointy, with the former taking centre stage in terms of the narration. There’s food for thought at the show’s finale.

As always this dino. duo are charmers and are likely to win new human friends after a sharing of the vibrantly illustrated story.

Ava Loves Rescuing Animals / Pedro Loves Saving the Planet

Ava Loves Rescuing Animals
Pedro Loves Saving the Planet

Jess French and Duncan Beedie
Happy Yak

These are additions to the Nature Heroes series where the focus is on a group of friends who love nature and being outdoors: essentially each one is a fact-filled picture book story.

In the first we meet Ava who lives with her grandparents They run an animal rescue centre that provides a temporary home for all kinds of animals, be they pets or wild creatures, large or small.
Accompanied by a tiny white mouse, Ava takes a walk around the centre and its environs as they head to the pet shop to buy hay for the animals soon to be cared for by her grandparents. On the way Ava stops at a pond containing frogs and lots of frogspawn and gives readers information on a frog’s life cycle and introduces some other amphibians.
We follow Ava on her ‘adventure’ during which she meets Pedro, the narrator of the next book,

and a lizard that narrowly escapes being run over by his cycle wheels. The entire walk turns into a fascinating learning journey for readers as they are introduced to various mammals – some of them record breakers, and find out about basic animal groups, ecosystems, habitats and more. Ava also meets another friend, Billy, who narrated Billy Loves Birds. Finally we discover the identity of the creatures that have just arrived at the rescue centre during their absence.

Pedro is an eco-warrior and in Pedro Loves Saving the Planet he and his older brother spend a day in the eco club’s new cabin. They choose to walk to their destination and encounter others who are using planet-friendly means of transport. Then once inside the cabin Pedro talks about renewable and non-renewable energy,

ways of saving water, points out that the cabin is built from sustainable materials, which leads on to a presentation of the 7 Rs (things that everyone should always keep in mind)) and other vital topics such as how to grow your own food, composting, the importance of trees, how to save energy at home, and the joys of being outside in green places.

Both books are illustrated by Duncan Beedie whose amusing art work underscores naturalist/vet Jess French’s informative, enjoyable texts. It’s never too early for young children to start learning about the importance of environmental care and the impact their actions have, both now and for the future. These books are spot on for foundation stage and KS1 class collections.

Our Beach / Walter the Wonder Snail

Our Beach
Rebecca Smith and Zoe Waring
Harper Collins Children’s Books

It’s wonderful what a collection of bits and pieces can lead to and that’s what we discover in this story of a little girl and her granddad who spend the day together.

As the book opens we see the two hand in hand, grandad carrying a large bag, making their way towards the sea shore.

They enjoy exploring rock pools, collecting seashells and pebbles and most important each other’s company.

Then comes a sudden change and a spread shows what is really happening before the flights of fancy recommence, and with them, the resurfacing of precious memories. It’s Gran’s “Time for our tea!” announcement that brings the two back to reality,

somewhat reluctantly perhaps as they eek out their imaginative experience for as long as they can before sitting down to share the tasty meal set out on the table.
A delightful celebration of the power of the imagination and a special intergenerational bond.

Walter the Wonder Snail
Neil Clark
Happy Yak

Tired of the tedium of leaves, Walter the Snail believes there must be more to life; he longs to escape the confines of his leafy existence and discover what the wider world offers. With hat atop his horns and shell packed, off he slides into the great unknown.

Our intrepid traveller faces challenges aplenty on his journey, but there are plenty of other creatures ready and willing to offer encouragement and help.

Nonetheless Walter is also able to adapt to a variety of terrains and weather conditions,

and to think outside the box, especially when it comes to making his way back home.

On his return Walter imparts some wise words to his fellow snails: “I know that anyone can do anything they put their mind to.You’ve just got to think big!” That’s a vital life lesson for young humans too and one they’ll learn subconsciously through Neil Clark’s wise words and his diverting, richly coloured, scenes of Walter’s travels. I love the variety of viewpoints and page layouts.

Rich in classroom potential but above all, a thoroughly enjoyable story.

Are You A Monster?

Are You A Monster?
Guilherme Karsten
Happy Yak

Essentially this is a fun interactive challenge wherein the ‘really bad’, bespectacled, reptilian monster protagonist speaks directly to readers informing us that this beastie wants a monster buddy to participate in doing scary things. Said monster however isn’t making things easy. It has a fair few characteristics on its necessities list for a companion and won’t tolerate anyone that doesn’t come up to the mark. End of story. What! Part way through the book? Or maybe beneath that rough skin, there lies a heart that might just be ready to change.

Little ones will love romping and stomping,

growling and galumphing to prove their worth in front of this demanding monster and they will certainly enjoy the final reveal too.

Guilherme Karsten’s illustrations are great fun as well. His monster practically leaps off the page at times and despite not trying to be, the monstrous character is highly endearing. Add to that the way the presentation of his monologue breaks into appropriately monstrous size print in places offering adult sharers a great opportunity to let rip along with their young audiences, you’re in for a lively story session when you read this one.

Oh, Armadillo! This Party’s All Wrong!

Oh, Armadillo! This Party’s All Wrong!
Ellie Irving and Robert Starling
Happy Yak

Kind, gentle Armadillo lives deep in the rainforest and longs to make friends: however he has a tendency to get everything wrong. One day he has an idea: perhaps if I throw a party I will make a few friends, after all everyone loves parties. Having made invitations off he goes to deliver them. The first goes to Jaguar who is hoping a large springy sponge cake will be on offer. Back home goes Armadillo, creating so he hopes, the perfect sponge cake.

Out he goes again, next stop the Apes: they want games especially musical chairs, pass the parcel and hide and seek. Armadillo rushes home and gets to work …

Then for the balloon loving Lemurs, Armadillo fashions what he hopes is the perfect balloon, sufficiently large for lots of passengers.

On party day our host eagerly awaits his guests and having welcomed them all, announces the fun and games. Seemingly though Armadillo’s ideas are rather different from what the other animals are anticipating: shock horror! He’s devastated by their reactions, so is this the end of his party and hoped-for friendships?

Happily not. An accidental trip that sends him hurtling onto the sponge cake and thence into the air and finally back to earth doesn’t just render the guests speechless but it makes Armadillo see things in a different light; he’s ready to acknowledge and even take pride in his divergent thinking and creativity.

Will he persuade the others to join him in some truly original ways of having fun? You bet … And as for finding friends, certainly, but Armadillo stays true to himself, muddled and different. Hurrah!

A smashing story to show children, especially those who like the protagonist think differently, that rather than a problem, it’s something to celebrate.

Beware the Blue Bagoo

Beware the Blue Bagoo
Karl Newson and Andrea Stegmaier
Happy Yak

Rumours are rife about the Blue Bagoo: a mean marauding monster to be feared, that is for certain. But wait a minute: has anyone actually met or even seen this beastie that supposedly likes to dine on humans. Now there’s a young detective determined to uncover the truth. She roams the streets finding plenty of people ready to make statements about the monstrosity but what she discovers is something of a surprise.

Can she convince her fearful fellow townsfolk that they’ve got it all wrong? Or is it her that’s wrong after all …

Rumours are nasty things, they spread rapidly causing people to jump to conclusions about all kinds of things rather than finding the truth for themselves. Nobody should make a judgement about another person based on hearsay or appearance. With its cleverly executed twist, Karl’s rhyming account of the escalating rumours in the seaside community of Rumourville, and one person’s resolve to find the truth, contains a crucial message for us all. It’s one that’s particularly pertinent in our troubled times of misinformation. Andrea Stegmaier’s illustrations are terrific fun

and the way she varies the layout of her spreads keeps the visual impact high; there’s a smashing portrait style close up and a fair degree of quirkiness throughout.

Add this to your list of must reads.

We Disagree About This Tree / The Big Christmas Bake / A Family Christmas

We Disagree About This Tree
Ross Collins
Nosy Crow

The duo from There’s a Bear on My Chair are back and as usual they are disagreeing: why break an established habit just because it’s the festive season?

Mouse is excited when Bear bursts through their front door clutching a large Christmas tree and urges him to relax and leave the adorning to him. Inevitably Bear soon begins making disparaging comments about Mouse’s efforts and this precipitates back and forth critical animosity, culminating in tree overload

and disaster. However, not everything is a cause for contention thanks to two neatly wrapped packages waiting to be opened. Have the two bickerers finally found a way to share a Merry Christmas?

The interplay between Ross Collins’ sparkling verse telling together and his superbly expressive illustrations that are simply bursting with humour, is wonderfully done and will appeal to both young listeners and adult readers aloud.

The Big Christmas Bake
Fiona Barker and Pippa Curnick
Happy Yak

Author Fiona and illustrator Pippa cook up a wonderful festive tale based on the structural rhythm of the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas.

On the first day of Christmas two children head to the kitchen and begin to make a Twelfth Night cake. The list of ingredients is long and they wonder where everything will come from. Happily however, day after day for the next eleven days animal friends of all shapes and sizes show up bringing in turn, dried fruit, flour, sugar, candied peel, eggs, spices

and all the other things needed, until on day ten, ten lords come leaping in ready to carry the cake to the stove for baking. All that’s left then is the piping pipers to show up on the eleventh day to add the finishing touches so that come Twelfth Night, the most incredible confection is set on the table ready for every single one of the contributors to enjoy. I wonder who finds the bean that was hidden in the mix …

A tasty treat indeed and don’t forget to check out the recipe after the story.

A Family Christmas
Alana Washington and Emily Nash
uclan publishing

With echoes of Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Alana Washington relates the events of a family’s Christmas day. There’s excitement about the arrival of guests and a kitchen of hot chocolate drinkers with cousins squeezing close together clutching their mugs.

Then at dinner time, dish after dish of delicious food is served up, an unexpected visitor turns up and when everyone is bursting with extra helpings of pudding, it’s time for a toast to the host.
In order to work off some of that food, family members go for a walk, followed by further indoor festivities: dancing and games, singing and the playful adornment of those who take a snooze.
With the washing up duly done, it’s present time at last. Darkness comes all too soon and some of the family must head for home, but there’s one final treat still to come: something big and extra bright high up in the sky. What better way to end the day than by sharing a special story and watching a sprinkling of snow fall before snuggling down in bed after a perfect family celebration.

With joyful scenes of togetherness, Emily Nash’s gently humorous art captures so well that magical feeling of the festive season described in the author’s text.

History’s Biggest Show-Offs

History’s Biggest Show-Offs
Andy Seed, illustrated by Sam Caldwell
Happy Yak

What is it about some people that makes them want to show off about their achievements? Have you ever wondered who the biggest braggers of all time might be? If so then Andy Seed has done the work for you, presenting in his lighthearted style, the flashiest boasters in the history of humankind.

The book is divided into three main parts entitled People in Charge, People Who Think Up Stuff and People Who Create Things; however if readers prefer they can look instead at different time periods: ancient (c.6000 BCE to 500 CE), post-classical (c.500-1500 CE), early modern (c1500 – 1800 CE) and modern (c. 1800 to the present).

We’re introduced to eleven rulers, five of whom were women. These include Hatshepsut, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, Tarabai who at just twenty five, took over the leadership of the Marathas after the death of her husband and proceeded to show off her military skills to overcome the Mughals; and Christina of Sweden, she who was super-brainy and loved to read. Among the men was Mansu Musa who when on Haj, took 12, 000 servants each with a bag of gold to give away en route to Mecca.

Those with a scientific or technological bent include the first ever computer programmer, Ada Lovelace

and Ynes Mexia, an intrepid plant collector from the early 20th C who discovered 500 new species and had fifty plants named after her. Having studied at Brunel University, I have to mention the ace engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel who, with help from his father, built the first ever tunnel beneath a river (The Thames) and who sadly died before his exceedingly costly Clifton Suspension Bridge was finished.
Finally come the creative types: Ustad Ahmad Lahori was asked by Shah Jahan to create a building in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz and that’s how the magnificent Taj Mahal came to be. Another show-off architect Antoni Gaudi is famous for Barcelona’s still unfinished Sagrada Familia.

There’s a wealth of bling too, as Andy Seed’s humorous writing brings all these and more back to life and he’s even included some quizzes to ramp up the fun. Talking of fun, Sam Caldwell’s zany illustrations certainly add more of that in abundance: even the timeline will make readers giggle.

Kitsy Bitsy’s Noisy Neighbours / Blue Badger and the Big Breakfast

Kitsy Bitsy’s Noisy Neighbours
Polly Faber and Melissa Crowton
Nosy Crow

Life is peaceful in Park View Rise until that is, the sounds of diva Honky Tonk practising her scales and weight lifter Hunky Dory’s exercise regime travels downwards to awaken Tippy Toes’ baby from a much-needed nap, whose wailing upsets Smart Alec hard at work on his latest book. He then resorts to a spot of cacophonous DIY instead and so on until there’s total chaos with flying cakes and other sweet confections.

However just as a fight is breaking out, ground floor resident, Kitsy Bitsy, senses something is amiss and up the stairs she goes to act as peacemaker and guide in how to move forward after the issues her fellow residents have unwittingly caused.

The combination of Polly Faber’s roll off the tongue rhyming text and Melissa Crowton’s comical scenes of the ever increasing chaos and its solution, make this a smashing read aloud to share at home or with a class. Listeners will love the funny names of the characters and their activities, as well as exploring the wealth of detailed illustrations in this celebration of community and high-rise living. 

Blue Badger and the Big Breakfast
Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders
Happy Yak

In this second story, despite a blue tinge around his rear Badger no longer feels blue; how could he when he has a delicious breakfast of blue berries to feast upon. 

His best pal Dog however is decidedly sad on account of his lost ball; but even when he discovers this, Badger continues consuming his berries. Has he though unknowingly consumed Dog’s ball too? Owl’s remark certainly makes him think it’s a possibility so Badger goes off and offers to play with Dog. Will he do anything else besides?

With a witty finale, this tale of friendship and putting right what you may however unintentionally have done wrong, will with its deadpan humour both verbal and visual, make child audiences and those who share it with them laugh. The observant among them will also long to shout out to Badger what they’ve noticed but he obviously hasn’t, so busy sating his appetite is he.

Valentine’s Guest House / We Are the Shapes

Valentine’s Guest House
Sam Sharland
Child’s Play

With its first rate service, Valentine’s guest house is a popular place to stay. When the owner’s daughter opens a storeroom and discovers a large tiger with a big smile inside asking for accommodation she is astonished. However despite her mum Valentine saying they don’t have a spare room, Elsie is determined to help. She offers to share her room with Emmet and she and her mum rearrange things in preparation for the new guest. 

Sadly however, the other guests are far less accommodating and leave as fast as they can.

As his hosts put up a ‘Vacancies’ sign, a grateful Emmet gets busy messaging all his friends and acquaintances about Valentine’s 

and after a long wait, the guest house is once again thriving, albeit with a different clientele. Then follow some imaginative modifications to the building: a lift is installed, the door is enlarged when a huge guest arrives, a rooftop hole provides a room with a wonderful view, there’s a cool spot for a pair that like to chill and underground spaces are created for those accustomed to a subterranean lifestyle.

Harmonious living is the way to go as is shown in Sam Sharland’s gently humorous scenes of the guests’ comings and goings and further comings; but there’s one guest who isn’t going anywhere: you can guess which one that is.

A delightful picture book debut with vital messages about acceptance, inclusivity and empowerment.

We Are the Shapes
Kevin Jenner
Happy Yak

There are the squares – honest, supportive even, and reliable, dislikers of difference; there are also the triangles – creative, edgy, odd and happy to be different. Triangles consider squares boring.
These two groups do not get on at all, in fact they have diametrically opposing views on everything and are positively hostile towards one another. 

Then there are circles: they know the issues existing between squares and triangles but believe that if they were prepared to ‘roll with their differences’, the two parties could get along.

Can they rectify things between these opposing factions? It’s worth a try: consider this equation – triangles + squares = rocket to the moon. So maybe … but then just when things seemed to be going well, a row breaks out. 

Is circle able to turn this situation around? Perhaps with a bit of creative thinking and a new and tasty notion.

How much better it is to accept and celebrate difference. Learning to get along with those who seem – superficially at least – to be different from ourselves is an important life lesson all young children need to learn, (though perhaps it’s their parents for whom difference is an issue not the youngsters themselves). So it’s appropriate to share this easy to relate to book with its satisfying solution at home as well as in the classroom. With its easy-to-read text, it’s also a book that KS1 readers might well be able to enjoy reading for themselves.

The World’s Most Ridiculous Animals

The World’s Most Ridiculous Animals
Philip Bunting
Happy Yak

This is another of Philip Bunting’s playful, punning but highly informative books about animals, some of which, with their unique adaptations, you may never have come across before. Those adaptations, in case you’ve not guessed, are what make them ridiculous.

That Wattle-cup caterpillar (courtesy of the author aka Oucheus ouches) almost leapt off the page at me. It’s fortunate that it didn’t however for it has eight branches covered in pin-sharp spikes and that’s an awful lot of potential ouches. The moth stage (we’re shown all four stages) is by comparison a pretty dull specimen.

Also new to this reviewer is the Zombie snail (Zombie discofaecum). Now any child bonkers enough to contemplate tasting a morsel of bird poop will dismiss the notion instantly having read the concise paragraph giving graphic details of this snail’s life-cycle. On the other hand some youngsters like to set up snail races and this species would make a good participant in such an event as, so we learn, zombie snails tend to crawl a little faster than healthy ones. The very notion of having those eyestalks invaded by Leucochloridium, (a parasitic flatworm) and then being mind-controlled is enough to turn anyone’s stomach.

Turning to a sea dweller, well maybe I wouldn’t relish turning to this one were I swimming in the shallows around Northern Australia, but anyhow this shaggy shark (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon, or Beardus weirdus if you prefer), has facial fronds that are thought to assist in camouflaging the creature and also sense its surroundings as the woebegone waits for its next meal.

No matter your preference among the world’s fauna – fish, insects, mammals, birds. molluscs or whatever, you’ll likely discover something new in this highly humorous book that makes learning terrific fun as well as an educational activity. With its funny but anatomically accurate illustrations, eyes notwithstanding, this is a book that will appeal to a wide age range and is definitely one to add to home and school collections.

Wild Summer: Life in the Heat

Wild Summer: Life in the Heat
Sean Taylor & Alex Morss, illustrated by Cinyee Chiu
Happy Yak

Like many of us, the little girl character in this narrative non-fiction book, is eagerly anticipating the summer. It’s coming, her nature-loving Grandpa tells her, mentioning some of the signs of seasonal change. He also says that close to his new abode is something exciting he wants to show his granddaughter, who acts as narrator.

Grandpa is right: summer with its blue skies and warmer days, does come. The girl reminds him of the thing he mentioned and together they pack a bag and set out along the track.

As they walk the girl notices the abundance of plants and minibeasts, wondering aloud if they want summer to last forever. Grandpa doesn’t supply an immediate answer but responds by suggesting they continue looking and then decide, although he does mention water as being a factor to consider.
Stopping by a stream Grandpa points out a golden-ringed dragonfly and tells his granddaughter a little about the insect. He also points out the mere trickle of water suggesting this could be a result of climate change, a topic the girl has learned about in school.

Further on in the increasing heat, the child expresses a wish to find some shade, and Grandpa likens her to many of the wild flora and fauna, explaining how some respond. They reach a place with trees blackened due to a fire the previous summer, talking of the pros and cons of such events.

Eventually they reach a spot at the edge of the seashore where they find what they’d come for.

Then they continue walking, on the beach now; Grandpa draws attention to some summer-loving Arctic terns, before with the ‘summer forever’ question duly answered, they cool off in the sea.

A companionable walk, and for the little girl, a wonderful learning journey with her Grandpa who educates her in the best possible way, never forcing, merely gently guiding.

Straightforward back-matter comprises an explanatory spread explaining “What is summer?, another giving facts relating to ways some land animals have adapted to better cope with heat. There’s one looking at the evolutionary changes of plants to cope with hot, dry summers and the final one looks at ocean life and how climate change is taking effect while the last page suggests some ways to get involved in wildlife protection.

With its wealth of ecological information and bright, detailed illustrations bursting with wonderful plants and animals to explore and enjoy. this is a terrific book to share either before or after a walk in nature, whether or not it ends on the beach. There’s lots to inspire awe and wonder here.

Never Brush A Bear

Never Brush A Bear
Sam Hearn
Happy Yak

Young Herschel is a budding hair stylist, a coiffeur of creatures; as yet though he’s not brushed the hair of a bear, but despite warnings of the possibility it could result in his demise, Herschel is determined so to do. So, brush in hand, he goes into the woods where he eventually approaches a cave. Could this be the place to find what he seeks?

GRRRR! A ginormous wild bear is within though despite his dishevelled state, he’s not really very wild at all, rather he looks as though he could be friendly. Definitely up for some tonsorial treatment thinks Herschel starting with the creature’s arms, followed by his chin.

With his brush Herschel continues working around the bear’s body, aware of the likelihood of the occasional stinky part. What our stylist isn’t expecting however is what happens when his brush comes in contact with the ursine’s hirsute armpit…

The result is that both parties find themselves cascading downhill at breakneck speed only to end up on their bums somewhere decidedly damp and gunky. Time to start again my friend.

Despite the slightly clunky rhyme at times, with its bold, bright cartoonish style illustrations this whimsical tale of ambition and determination is huge fun; requests for re-reads will be likely after you share it with young children.

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

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.