An Odd Dog Christmas

An Odd Dog Christmas
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

What joy! – a festive foray into the world of the wonderful divergent dachshund Odd Dog.
It’s Christmas Eve and said mutt is on a mission to find the perfect present for a special friend but after a day of shopping, time has almost run out. What on earth can I do, thinks Odd Dog wandering through the silent streets, when there in front of her eyes is a sign that calls.

In she walks to a true winter wonderland complete with gingerbread, candy canes and jolly elves; but there’s one creature that looks far from festive. It’s a very poorly reindeer admitting reluctantly, “I’m far too ill to pull the sleigh.”
There’s just one thing Odd Dog can do and before you can say ‘presents’ there before her is Santa. Of course, there’s the perfect solution.


With the night flight duly done, Odd Dog is still left without a present for her friend: Santa offers some words of advice. and then light bulb moment …

On Christmas morning our favourite pooch offers her pal something that reveals the true meaning of Christmas …

Wonderfully illustrated in gloriously rich hues and oodles of gentle cosy seasonal humour, this is one of those Christmas books that sends a warm tingle all through you.

When Fishes Flew

When Fishes Flew: the story of Elena’s war
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by George Butler
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The first novel for a couple of years from storyteller extraordinaire Michael Morpurgo is well worth the wait. With three time settings and two locations, the stories of Ellie and Nandi weave together ancient history and myth, contemporary life and World War Two experiences.

As the story opens Nandi, who lives with her parents in Melbourne, Australia, thinks of herself as Greek. Her father’s family came from Ithaca, the Greek island that is still home to her beloved great aunt Ellie.

Until fairly recently Aunt Ellie was a regular visitor to Melbourne but now she’s become too old (and troubled by the impact of flying on global warming) to make the journey. Nandi misses her greatly, especially those wonderful tales from Greek history and mythology she’d tell whenever she visited. Now Nandi must do the visiting, she resolves.

So, as soon as she’s left school and saved sufficient money, Nandi travels to Ithaca; (what happens is told in the form of her journal called ‘My Odyssey’).

However, when she finally reaches her aunt’s home, Ellie isn’t there, hasn’t been seen for a month and nobody, not even her special friend Maria, knows where she’s gone. We readers can’t help but share Nandi’s sadness but as she sits writing her diary one day she ‘hears’ a voice. A voice that seems to be calling her, beckoning her to take the plunge and dive into shoals of fish that spin around the end of the jetty. One fish though, isn’t like the others, this one is a silver flying fish and needs saving, so Nandi must take the plunge. Into the water she goes and rescues the fish.

It’s through this creature, (Proteus in another form) with which she forms a friendship, that she learns the amazing, unimaginable story of her great aunt: ‘a modern Greek hero, a hero of today and yesterday and tomorrow’ as the fish tells her.

Truly that fish was right: I felt tears welling up as I read the last entry in Nandi’s journal written ten years on from the main part.

Totally gripping (I read it a single sitting) is this tale of love, courage and rescue, of personal discovery and belonging, that will remain with readers long after they’ve put the book down.
George Butler’s black and white illustrations too will stay in your mind; it’s amazing how he imbues them with the spirit of myth, of mystery and of love.

Clock of Stars: Beyond the Mountains

Clock of Stars: Beyond the Mountains
Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Like the first story, sparkling with excitement is the second totally spellbinding adventure in the Clock of Stars series.

Herein Imogen and Marie, whose home life has changed due to their mum’s new man Mark, return through the door in the tree to the magical land of Yaroslav, where they find much has changed too. Miro has become king and hates it, while Anneshka is Queen no longer and is equally unhappy about it. So when she hears a prophecy that she will rule the Greatest Kingdom, she seizes Marie, believing her to be the key to its fulfilment, and heads off over the mountains pursued by Imogen who feels it’s her fault her sister is in this situation, and Miro. (Chris Ridell’s superb illustrations of the characters at the beginning of the book will remind readers of who’s who.)

As the story unfolds, unimaginable dangers are faced by both sisters and Imogen is beset by worry creatures that niggle at her feelings sometimes undermining her ability to function properly. Readers too feel frissons of fear at various points throughout (the very idea of those krootymosh be they real or not, is nightmarish as is the sight of that Yedleek) but the telling is funny too, as little by little, both sisters learn to navigate both the ups and downs of life in their own world and in Yaroslav.

Be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster as surprising events unfold and revelations are made both good and not so good, as inevitably both Imogen and Marie learn to look differently at things and in so doing undergo changes in themselves.

This particular adventure concludes satisfyingly but we know by what is said in the epilogue everything is not over quite yet. Bring on the third book say I.

The Burpee Bears

The Burpee Bears
Joe Wicks and Paul Howard
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Written in partnership with author Vivian French and illustrated by Paul Howard, this is PE teacher to the locked-down nation, Joe Wicks’ debut picture book. Here too he encourages youngsters to keep fit through the Burpee Bears, a modern ursine family who make every day exciting – a day for adventure.

We first meet the Burpees as Daddy Bear, wide awake already, rouses in turn Bella, Frankie and Baby Bear and having done a quick stretching sequence, off they all go to wake Mummy Bear from her slumbers, before leaping into playful action, zooming hither and thither while Daddy Bear prepares a delicious breakfast.

Then it’s off on an adventure in the woods to make the most of the sunshine that awaits; once Mummy Bear has persuaded Frankie that would-be astronauts benefit greatly from walking in the fresh air, and the others have got themselves organised.

En route Bella needs to recharge so Daddy Bear gets the little ones doing a small work out that helps them reach the top of the hill with sufficient energy to start building that rocket ship Frankie SO wants to make.

However it’s not all ups with this Burpee brigade, for no sooner have they finished building than down comes the rain.

Where better to shelter though, from all those drips, drops, whooshes and swishes than Frankie’s rocket. It’s a great place for preparing a healthy dinner too; one that’s eaten under the stars for the downpour stops just in time.

All fun days have to end though and so it is with this one;

so back they go more than ready for us to bid them goodnight as they close their eyes and perhaps dream of a trip into space courtesy of Frankie’s rocket.

As you might expect, after the story Joe provides warm-up and wind-down exercise routines, the latter being yoga based – just right for little humans.

As you might expect too, Joe’s story is suffused with that Wicks’ energy throughout and it’s a book that families with young children can share over and over, enjoying not only the telling but Paul Howard’s splendid illustrations. These are full of life and capture so well the general up-beat nature of the characters as well as the times when somebody needs a bit of a boost.

If you like the sound of the Burpee Bears’ meals, then you might want to try the recipes at the end of the book.

Pages & Co: The Book Smugglers

Pages & Co: The Book Smugglers
Anna James, illustrated by Marco Guadalupi
Harper Collins Children’s Books

As this 4th instalment of the wonderful series about Tilly Pages and her book wanderings opens, her grandfather Archibald unwraps a package from Italy and discovers an Italian edition of The Wizard of Oz;.But after handling it, looking at the card within, with its strange symbol, he falls fast asleep and two weeks later, still hasn’t woken from his deep slumbers.

Meanwhile Milo, who lives on board the Sesquipedalian, his Uncle Horatio’s magical train that uses the power of imagination to travel both through Story and the real world, book wanders into The Railway Children, meeting its three child protagonists and getting involved in the action therein. This happens while the train is en route to the Archive, from where his Uncle, who has undertaken a dangerous new job, wants to get his hands on some special Records that are in the care of Artemis, the Archive’s Bibliognost.

It’s there that Milo too ‘borrows’ a scrapbook of particular interest to himself. He also learns that his Uncle needs assistance from Tilly in securing the particular book he seeks: next stop Pages & Co, London. There, Horatio discovers that the reason Tilly’s grandfather is still asleep is that he’s been poisoned, something he can hopefully remedy but only in return for Tilly being allowed to go with him on her own. Moreover, the task she’s to perform is exceedingly dangerous. Next thing Milo knows is that having handled a copy of The Wizard of Oz, his Uncle too falls asleep.

Time to blow that whistle and get things moving. Amost immediately both Tilly and Milo are embarking on a desperate race against time to save two poisoned people.

Can they work out what on earth and in biblio-world, is going on? First comes hot chocolate,
then a journey that takes them to the Emerald City where they meet Dorothy.

Piece by piece they begin to assemble the puzzle that takes them ever closer to the Alchemist. Next stop on their mission is Venice.

Talk about stories within stories within … the story Anna James has woven is utterly enthralling. I love the wonderful booky comments in the exchanges between Milo and Tilly “that’s why all reading is magical’’ … “the books we read help us choose who we want to be” … “I guess we’re all built of stories”.
If this high drama doesn’t create even more young bibliophiles, then, along with some toasted marshmallows, I’ll eat my copy of The Book Smugglers, but then of course I’ve already devoured its contents.

What if, Pig?

What if, Pig?
Linzie Hunter
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The porcine character in this story is a thoroughly kind, endearing character that has endeared himself not only to his best pal Mouse, but also to a host of other animals. They all think themselves lucky to have him as a friend but what they don’t know is that he’s a panicker. So when he decides to plan a perfect party, it’s not long before he gets an attack of the ‘what ifs’. ‘What if a ferocious lion eats all the invitations or even the guests … ‘

What if nobody comes (or everyone does and has a dreadful time) or worst of all ‘What if no one really likes me at all?’

There’s only one thing to do – cancel the party, an idea in which he has his friend Mouse’s support.

Off go the two for a walk in the woods during which Mouse reassures his downhearted pal, ‘Things don’t stay grey for very long.’ And sure enough they don’t as what Pig doesn’t know is that Mouse has been instrumental in ensuring that they don’t, for Pig’s friends are more than ready to return the friendship they’ve been shown …and to share some secrets in response to Mouse’s ‘Maybe we’re more alike than we think.’

With its powerful themes, engagingly delivered, this is a terrific read aloud: the author/illustrator makes every single word count and her illustrations are a quirky delight – every one.

‘What if we all talked about our worries?’ provides the ideal starting point for a discussion on feelings, worries in particular, with youngsters either at home or in the primary classroom. If we want children to develop resilience, I suggest a copy in every foundation stage and KS1 class collection.

Genie and Teeny Make a Wish

Genie and Teeny Make a Wish
Steve Lenton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Steve Lenton has already earned a great reputation as an illustrator and now makes his first foray into early chapter books.

What a cracking little book he’s created in this first story of Grant a rather inept genie, and Teeny, a lost puppy. Teeny happens upon the teapot that’s become Grant’s place of residence since Queen Mizelda kicked him out of Genie World, lamp and all, on account of a birthday cake mishap.

Now on Earth, Grant wants to find a way to get back into the queen’s good books, but after his first night in his new terrestrial abode, he finds himself setting out on a ‘Teeny-owner finding mission’.

However as the two wander through the town, they are unexpectedly kidnapped (along with the teapot) by one Lavinia Lavender, a thoroughly nasty old woman with a penchant for purple and a cunning plan.

This female has her sights set on winning The Big Dancing Dog Show. Could this be a case of be careful what you wish for when Grant and his magic wishy-word are involved?

Perhaps the little genie can save the day one way or another …

With Steve’s smashing illustrations at every page turn

and his chatty narrative style with its reader-involving elements, what more can a young solo reader (or a class of eager listeners) ask? Maybe just the step-by-step ‘How to draw Grant the Genie’ tutorial at the back of the book.
Bring on the second instalment.

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Map of Stories / You Won’t Believe This

These are two immersive reads from Harper Collins Children’s Books – thanks for sending them for review

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Map of Stories
Anna James, illustrated by Paola Escobar

”I can’t quite remember the title, … Or the author … but I know that it has a blue cover”. Those words spoken by the man at the front desk of Pages & Co. on the opening page of this third book in Anna James’ wonderful series, sent me straight back to times when years ago during school holidays and on Saturdays I worked in a bookshop and often heard similar.

Tilly and her Grandad are puzzled by the customer’s words especially when Tilly says it’s happened previously; but for Tilly and her family a lot of things are changing, in particular, bookwandering (whereby children are able to enter the world of the book they’re reading) is no longer permitted; but why have the Underwood twins banned it?

Tilly is determined to find out although it means defying her Grandad, leaving the safety of the bookshop and jetting off along with best friend, Oskar, to the USA, destination The Library of Congress. There she hopes to find the long-lost Archivists – an institution that Tilly hopes will put things right once more.

It’s a search that sees them meeting several new characters including American bookwanderers and bookshop owners Orlando and Jorge, Horatio and his nephew Milo, visiting a flaming library, riding on a train named the Sesquipedalian and teaming up with a famous playwright from the 16th century.

Even though this cracking book brings the trilogy to a close, it’s not crucial to be familiar with the previous two adventures, it works as a stand alone novel that’s a veritable tribute to the power of stories, to reading and to the importance of the imagination. Paola Escobar’s occasional black and white illustrations …

help draw readers right inside Anna James amazing story world.

Completely different but equally wonderful in its own way is:

You Won’t Believe This
Adam Baron, illustrated by Benji Davies

Every bit as moving and funny, this captivating story is a sequel to Boy Underwater with Cymbeline Igloo as narrator in another story of family and friendship and events at school, interwoven with threads relating to loss, cultural identity and refugees.

We learn of the strange and terrible things at school happening to Cymbeline’s favourite teacher, Mrs Martin that the boy is determined to get to the bottom of, along with helping his friend Veronique find out why her beloved grandma Nanai is suddenly refusing to eat and making herself extremely ill by so doing.

With Cymbeline being the kind-hearted boy that he is, these two issues are taking up much of his time, time that could be a key factor if he is to prevent Nanai from starving herself to death.

It’s a story that truly tugs at the heartstrings especially when events of the past are revealed, but never does it feel heavy, such is Adam Baron’s lightness of touch as a storyteller.

With occasional strategically placed black and white illustrations by Benji Davies, this is an immersive book for individuals; it would make a smashing read aloud book to share with upper KS2 classes.

Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom / Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House

These are new additions to popular series both with strong, determined female protagonists

Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom
Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is the third instalment in the Starfell series, starring young witch Willow Moss and her kobold best friend, ‘not cat’ Oswin.

Now Willow has been enrolled in school – a normal school – and it’s the very first time the Brothers of Wol, the order newly headed by none other than Silas, have allowed Starfell’s magical children to be educated alongside their non-magical peers, and her parents think it’s now the right thing. Surely there’s an ulterior motive? Willow has her suspicions from the outset.

On the very first day of term Willow meets Twist, a forthright elf girl and they soon become firm friends. Also willing to accept Willow for who she is, there’s Peg, a human boy. When she learns of the new curriculum that students will study Willow finds it pretty alarming, but Peg speaks out firmly in support of ‘magic people’ and of diversity.

Before you can say ’broomstick’; though, the three of them have escaped the confines of the classroom and are heading to Lael, the elf city made entirely of marble wherein Twist’s aunts Tuppence, Griselda and Dot reside.

All they have to do thereafter is to find the vanished elvish kingdom of Llandunia and get hold of the elf staff before it gets into the wrong hands. Not much to ask then.

Dragons, trolls (including an old friend of Willow’s) and more – even Oswin’s cousin – appear in this terrific fantasy tale, but be warned: it ends on a cliff-hanger.

Somehow, despite Sarah Warburton’s illustrations, the cover apart, being in black and white, many readers will I suspect experience parts of this enormously engaging story in colour, such is the power of Dominique Valente’s writing. Bring on the next book.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Daniela Sosa
Little Tiger

Zaiba has a third case to solve and it’s set in the home of her new friend Olivia. Olivia’s parents have recently bought the run-down Oakwood Manor and Olivia tells Zaiba that her mum thinks the house is haunted. With its plethora of secret passages and hidden rooms it is certainly steeped in history and some strange things have happened but ghosts? Surely not.

Olivia invites Zaiba and Poppy her pal, to come to the house-warming party the following day and then sleepover, as that offers the ideal opportunity to begin their ‘ghost’ investigation. Zaiba has an unexpected offer of assistance from her brother Ali and with her backpack of detective paraphernalia, and fellow Snow Leopard Detective Agency UK members they’re ready to investigate.

Once the party is underway, things get increasingly weird

and sometimes, a tad dangerous. There are plenty of suspects, and in true detective story style, some red-herrings; but this isn’t merely a junior who-dunnit with all suspects present at the final reveal. Zaiba’s family dynamics and the diverse cast of characters add to the reader’s enjoyment of this fast-paced mystery. So too do Daniela Sosa’s black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout and it was good to see the police treating the crime-solving children with respect rather than dismissing them as interfering.

Young would-be sleuths can also enjoy the additional content after the story.

Noa and the Little Elephant

Noa and the Little Elephant
Michael Foreman
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Michael Foreman takes up the cause of wildlife protection in this lovely little book published in association with TUSK a charity that helps protect African wildlife, in support of which Ugandan ranger and wildlife authority, Julius Obwona, has written a forward.

Young Noa’s favourite animals are the elephants he watches every day after school as he returns home in the little boat built for him by his father. One day though, they aren’t in their favourite wallowing place in the river so a concerned Noa decides to follow their tracks into the jungle.

When he emerges on the far side he sees what he first thinks is a new game the little elephant is playing with his mother. On closer inspection though – horror of horrors – this is no game. The mother elephant is lying dead and her tusks have been removed.

After a while the baby elephant overcomes his fear and allows Noa to approach and comfort the creature. The boy makes a decision: he resolves to take the little tusker home and care for him in his village.

Back at home, his father tells Noa about the cruel poachers that shoot elephants for their valuable tusks and how the villages have grouped together to try and prevent such cruelty. Noa’s sister, Eva names the elephant Tembo and it’s not long before he’s part and parcel of village life. 

One night at the start of the rainy season a terrific storm arrives causing the river to overflow its banks so Noa rushes down to the water to secure his boat and in so doing is caught in the wild roaring current and is swept away. 

Fortunately however ‘something solid ‘is in the water that enables him to haul himself to safety.

Thereafter a beautiful rainbow appears over the village and a thankful Noa resolves that when he’s older, he’ll join his fellow villagers in protecting the elephants: “We are all one family living under the same sky and sharing the same world” he tells Tembo.

Superbly illustrated, and simply and movingly told, this tale of love and survival is most definitely a book for young animal lovers be they solo readers or listeners.

Create Your Own Kindness

Create Your Own Kindness
Becky Goddard-Hill, illustrated by Clare Forrest
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Kindness – especially towards other people, is something that we’ve all focussed on during this past pandemic year and I’m sure that with so much time spent away from school and friends it’s taken a toll on the mental health of many youngsters. Indeed, it’s likely that all children could benefit from knowing ways to be kind to themselves, in particular.

As well as being a well-being and lifestyle blogger and writer, the author of this book is a children’s therapist and mother, so she definitely knows the importance of children’s emotional well being.

This the third title in the Create Your Own series is absolutely bursting with practical ideas that will help youngsters to develop the life skills necessary to be kind to others, to the planet and crucially, to themselves.

The activities are wide-ranging and presented in an engaging style, the first section being devoted to self kindness. Herein readers can find out about such things as how to use the breath to calm the mind, how to make a kindness cake and I especially liked the idea of creating an emotional first aid box. Each of these would work equally well if used by children in the classroom or individuals at home. This is true of the ideas in the other sections and there’s even a great suggestion relating to World Kindness Day (13th November) and how it can be celebrated by schools as a whole.

If we want children to be resilient especially after all they’ve been through this last twelve months, then this book, invitingly illustrated by Clare Forrest, is well worth putting their way.

The Princess Rules: It’s a Prince Thing

The Princess Rules: It’s a Prince Thing
Philippa Gregory, illustrated by Chris Chatterton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

A princess who subverts all the established fairytale conventions is definitely one for me. I’ve not read her first three adventures but am pleased to make her acquaintance in the three in this second book of the series.

The rule flouting Princess Florizella acquires a baby brother unexpectedly when a stork makes a delivery to her parents’ palace one night. Shock horror! This infant, who grows to the size of a four year old in a single day and is christened Courier, is now first in line to the throne and he, not the rebellious princess will inherit the kingdom one day. Apparently, in addition to not being intended for Florizella parents (they were only acting as the safe place for delivery) the baby was meant to be a Baby Belling (cooker).

Off goes Florizella to see her best friend, Prince Bennett. He agrees to help her teach the babe not to use his ‘prince permit’ and thus almost immediately, begins the adventuring of the three – on horseback of course.

During adventure number one that involves a run-in with some would-be kidnappers, Florizella learns of her brother’s particular expertise in peppermints.

The second story starts innocently enough as a day trip to the seaside to which Florizella invites pretty much everybody in the kingdom, and on arrival turns into a rip-roaring adventure on the high seas that includes an encounter with a Sea Serpent,

three pirate ships and the discovery of the meaning of the word ‘recoil’. Courier learns something important too.

In the third episode Courier turns inventor with some interesting results, a Mammoth makes an appearance and an agreement is reached.

Philippa Gregory’s terrific storytelling sweeps readers along and Chris Chatterton’s illustrations too, are a treat. It’s a Prince Thing does work on its own although I’d suggest youngsters who haven’t read the first book start with that and then move on to this one, which is just out in paperback.

A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth

A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth
Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Harper Collins Children’s Books

I read this book in a single sitting and am now eagerly awaiting the second part of what is to be a trilogy.
Imogen (eleven) and her younger sister Marie are a quarrelsome pair with a tendency (particularly on Imogen’s part) for being rude to their mum, their gran and others too.

As the story opens the girls’ mum is about to go out with ‘friend’ Mark, somebody Imogen has taken an instant dislike to, especially when out of nowhere a beautiful silvery moth appears that Mark seems intent on destroying. All this just before Gran arrives to take the girls out to tea.

Imogen follows the moth but it disappears only to reappear while they’re out with Gran and of course, Imogen follows the creature which leads her into a deserted, overgrown garden. There she comes upon a door in a tree and she finds herself in a magical world only to discover that her sister has followed her too.

It’s a world where anything might happen, and there they encounter a boy who insists on calling them peasants and saying he’s Miro, prince of the castle. He does however offer them refuge in his castle and so begins both a friendship crucial to the tale and a terrific, exciting adventure quest wherein the children race against time, pitched against a deadly threat, aided and abetted not only by Miro, but a dancing bear, a hunter of the grumpy kind, the stars in the sky even.

All these characters are superbly brought to life by the author in her richly imagined world, a world made even more wonderful by Chris Riddell’s amazing, detailed illustrations.

Perfectly paced, sometimes chilling, sometimes funny, and including fairy tale elements such as a villainous stepmother a foolish king and stolen treasure, and a magical clock, this is truly a snuggle up under a blanket and relish story by an exciting new writer, that’s ideal for dark evenings and chilly days. Don’t be daunted by the length: the chapters are short and I guarantee you’ll keep telling yourself ‘just one more’ …

Bring on the sequel say I.

The Snowflake

The Snowflake
Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Benji Davies has created yet another heart-warming and absolutely beautiful picture book about on the one hand, a little snowflake and on the other, a little girl, named Noelle. The former, as the story opens, is in the process of falling, albeit rather reluctantly at first. Far below, the second is returning home through the city with her grandpa, Pappie, wondering as she walks about the possibility of snow that night.

As the snowflake falls, she wonders about where she will eventually land and where she truly belongs, but the choice isn’t hers to make as her fate is controlled by the wind that bears her drifting and swirling towards the bright lights as they get ever closer. Both child and snowflake are drawn by a wondrous sight – a large Christmas tree that glistens and sparkles in a window, the one wishing for such a tree for herself, the other wanting to be the star atop that tree.

Then close to home, Noelle finds the perfect little tree of her very own, while far above, the snowflake is still wondering where she might find to land.

Back home, Noelle’s mother gets out the decorations and together with Pappie, the child sets about adorning the little tree. 

Eventually Noelle puts it outside on her windowsill; but goes to bed feeling that the tree is lacking something special. But what? …

A magical, truly memorable, heart-warming Christmassy tale about finding your true purpose. It’s Benji’s art that really steals the show here: it’s full of glorious, festive details on the one hand and on the other, those wintry skyscapes are simply superb. When you share this, like the snowflake aglow on the final spread, everyone will be left with a wonderful glow within.

Lottie Luna and the Fang Fairy

Lottie Luna and the Fang Fairy
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Despite her pa, King Lupo’s initial reluctance, young werewolf extraordinaire. (Princess) Lottie Luna, she of the super-speed, super strength and X-ray vision, is allowed to join her classmates on a camping expedition. Also on the trip are Agatha Claws (Aggie) who’s a touch above herself, and Larry who announces on the coach that he’s got a very wobbly tooth and hopes to receive a silver coin from the fang fairy when it comes out so long as she can find where to leave it.

On arrival they have to agree on sleeping arrangements and once that’s done everyone gathers around the campfire for supper followed by a bedtime story telling session. Poor little Larry gets frightened by some of what he hears.


Next morning Lottie discovers footprints close to her tent and even more around Larry’s. Is somebody trying to scare the cub or is it something more sinister? Lottie is determined to find out; but of course, she doesn’t want any of her classmates to find out about her special skills.

After breakfast it’s time for a hike: everyone is put into groups. The aim is to get to the top of High Hill and en route the cubs are asked to find ten or more plant and animal varieties – a chance for Lottie to reveal one of her superpowers by accident if she isn’t careful. Then comes a realisation – Larry has gone missing; it’s time to tell the grown-ups.

They do; and Lottie, Wilf, Marjory and Aggie are sent as a search group sans teacher and as you’d expect, Aggie has equipment for every eventuality in her rucksack. On the way though she storms off after a tiff, so it’s two not one person the others have to look for. Then Marjory reveals something to Lottie which changes things somewhat, but this search is all about teamwork;

and there are footprints to follow. Where will they lead and what about that tooth of Larry’s?

Lottie Luna is a hugely loveable character – suitably dignified and princessy? errr … and this, with its themes of friendship, being true to yourself and forgiveness, is, as one expects of Vivian, another fangtastic story (book 3 in the spooktacular series). Adding to the delights are Nathan Reed’s splendidly atmospheric black and white illustrations that augment the gentle comic feel of the whole. (I love the tiny winged onlookers guarding the page numbers.) Looking forward to the Giant Gargoyle story …

Lottie Luna and the Twilight Party

Lottie Luna and the Twilight Party
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The little werewolf princess aka Lottie Luna has a special mission in this sparkling second story: she wants to give her friend Marjory a very special birthday surprise.

Lottie has only been at her school for a few weeks but already she’s loving it and managing to keep her powers under wraps except to her two real friends Wilf and Marjorie.

The problem is that another class member, the self-satisfied Agatha Claws, is always on the lookout for ways to cause trouble for Lottie and now Aggie’s cousin Kiki has just joined the class and is showing signs of being even more unpleasant than her relation.

When Kiki manages to get her hands on a note Lottie has passed to Wilf concerning the birthday plan, things start to get pretty tricky; especially as the success of the plan rests partly on Lottie’s irritating brother Boris doing his bit.

Despite her reluctance to reveal her special powers to others, it seems that there is no other way than to use her super speed,  super sight, super hearing and super strength if Marjory is to have a birthday she’ll never forget.

On this occasion pushing a stuck truck out of a very muddy very deep puddle

and rummaging in rubbish bins are just two of the unlikely activities Lottie has to perform if operation party is to succeed.

There’s at least one surprise action and one welcome departure before the end of this fantastical fun story but I’ll keep those to myself and just say young readers will be gripped as they read of one little werewolf’s unstoppable energy and resolve.

They’ll also be utterly enchanted by Nathan Reed’s blissfully funny illustrations liberally scattered throughout the tale.

Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe / Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day

Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe
Martin Howard, illustrated by Chris Mould
Oxford University Press

Holidays may seem like a distant dream at the present time but there’s no harm in looking forward and we all need something to keep us cheerful. This second Alfie Fleet story will certainly do just that and perhaps keep holiday dreams alive too.

If you’ve not encountered Alfie before, he has sandy coloured hair and awkward knees. In this adventure he and Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont are soon to open their enterprise the Unusual Travel Agency and are compiling the final few entries to the Guide to the Universe.

Pretty soon though, the two find themselves in trouble as they drop in on other planets that turn out to be anything but welcoming to the visitors.

In addition there’s that motley crew, members of the Unusual Cartography Club with their thoroughly nasty leader, Sir Willikin Nanbiter who is determined to sabotage the Unusual Travel Agency, to deal with.

A brief review cannot do justice to this utterly crazy, twisting-turning story with its wealth of Chris Mould’s brilliant illustrations portraying the fantastical cast of characters;

let’s just say that with its weird words and toilet humour and more, this is a total hoot from beginning to end. Just give it to children who have a particular penchant for unlikely quests and stand well back.

Now I’m off to try that ‘Stuttering Ferret’ pose at Guru Wobbli Rubbalegs Bindobendi yoga retreat way off on Planet Baldy and leave readers to discover for themselves whether Alfie finally succeeds in finding all those whom he seeks and bringing love and peace – well maybe just peace, to the universe.

Also full of fantastic characters but of a rather different kind is:

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day
Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

With her second adventure just published it’s time to get acquainted with Willow Moss. Young Willow comes from a family with magical powers. She too has a special power but hers is less impressive-seeming than other family members. Willow, has the power to find lost things.

Then the scariest, most powerful witch in the whole of Starfell appears on the scene and changes things, for none other than Moreg Vaine has chosen Willow to help in a crucial search,

Apparently last Tuesday has disappeared– nobody remembers a thing about it – and almost unbelievably Moreg needs the talents of a finder like her. How on earth can she possibly manage such a thing, especially as failure to track down and return Tuesday to the place it belongs, could have catastrophic consequences for the entire world?

Really, Willow has little choice but to get on board (rather broomstick) and accept the mission. If truth be told though she’s long harboured a desire for a bit of excitement, so it’s bag packed and off they go (accompanied – in Willow’s bag – by lie-detecting cat-like kobold Oswin, Willow’s only friend).

Magical writing of a magical tale – Dominique Valente’s debut has everything younger fantasy lovers could want: humour, fabulous characters including a dragon with an empty egg and trolls, plus there’s a portal cloak (Moreg’s), a splendid compass-like device that can act as guide when tricky moments present themselves and much, much more.. In particular, the wonderful Willow herself – resourceful and determined and lacking in self-belief. And yes, she does finally discover what happened to that lost Tuesday.

The potency of all this textual magic is further strengthened thanks to Sarah Warburton’s cracking illustrations.

This reviewer can’t wait to read more of Willow, and I’m certain that will be the response from youngsters too.

Wigglesbottom Primary: Break Time Bunnies / Lottie Luna and the Bloom Garden

Wigglesbottom Primary: Break Time Bunnies
Becka Moor and Pamela Butchart
Nosy Crow

It’s always a delight to read of the exploits of Class 2R in their school where pretty much anything can happen.

Here we have three new fun, beautifully observed episodes wherein the children allow their imaginations to take flight. In the first story it’s a case of bunnies running riot in the playground: could they be ATTACK BUNNIES and why are they there?

The second tale, has class teacher Miss Riley announcing the imminent arrival of a ‘special guest’. Is the man who sits at the back of the class a TV talent spotter or has he another purpose for watching the goings on of teacher and pupils?

In story number three the children all sign up for violin lessons but their music teacher, Miss Stein looks really spooky. Could she perhaps be a witch – a bewitching witch?

It’s so easy to get sucked into 2B’s zany premises in these enormously enjoyable stories and the final revelations are always delicious.

As ever Pamela Buchart has done a brilliant job illustrating these small sparkling stories. She catches the zaniness of Becka’s tellings SO well making every page turn not only a verbal but a visual treat.

Bring on the next one.

Lottie Luna and the Bloom Garden
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Meet Lottie Luna, star of a super new series by Vivian French.
Lottie is a werewolf, but a very special one with extra powers on account of her being born during a full lunar eclipse. Hence she’s super speedy, super strong, has x-ray vision and has super hearing. Oh yes and she’s also a princess on account of her father inheriting a kingdom.

This however means that she’s had to move home to the crumbling Dracon Castle and consequently has to start at a new school mid year. Like many youngsters, Lottie is nervous about this and certainly doesn’t want it known at Shadow Academy that she’s special even if that means not revealing her real self.

Lottie’s class teacher announces a pupil project – to create a design to transform the wasteland behind the school into a beautiful garden and the winning design will be used for the purpose.

Before long Lottie finds she has two friends, and decides that the head of her new school is amazing – a kindred spirit too; perhaps things won’t be so bad after all.

As for the garden design, Lottie is the winner but once the garden creation begins,

more challenges arise – there’s a Bloom Garden saboteur at work.

Now Lottie must do all she can to save the enterprise from road developers; but can she do it? Perhaps it’s time to draw on those superpowers of hers …

Friendship, determination, being true to yourself, courage, resilience and forgiveness are at the heart of this smashing story Vivian has woven.

Nathan Reed has done a terrific job with his black and white illustrations; they’re offbeat and splendidly playful.

More please!

Show and Tell

Show and Tell
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

I’m delighted to tell you that this piece of rhyming brilliance from Rob Biddulph is a February paperback publication – be sure not to miss it if you haven’t got the hardback.

How Rob does it time after time I can’t quite fathom, but the guy is surely a genius when it comes to picture books.

He sets this story in the classroom and he zooms us right there with the opening credits page with its trolley full of named drawers.

Having met the class in question 2L who so we’re told, are ‘excited’ we’re introduced to their teacher Mr Lumsden as he announces what they’ve all been waiting for – a show and tell session. “The child that impresses me most wins a prize,” he says.

Now there’s rabid competitiveness in 2L as is very quickly evident, but things begin quite simply with Adam and his lowly sunflower seed.

This is immediately poo-pooed by another class member as being “BORING!” She has something far superior, so she thinks – a tin of blue spaghetti.

Very soon the event turns in to an ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ competition as the items brought – goodness knows how – begin to escalate. We see a red robot, a racing car, immediately followed by an alligator,

and a space ship complete with alien operator, Zorg. Then we have Big Ben, out-bigged by a flaming volcano

and wait for it – the MOON!

There follows a totally unexpected, added bit of out of this world wackiness, before Mr Lumsden finally picks the winner.

Thereafter comes a brilliant twist that shows us all something really important. On this matter I’ll say no more.

When I was a class teacher, I never had ‘show-and-tell’ sessions for the very reason that Rob has so cleverly and humorously shown and told with his 2L.

Wide Awake / Creature Features:Dinosaurs

Wide Awake
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is Rob Biddulph’s third in the Dinosaur Juniors series that’s bound to delight your dino-littles.

The stars of this particular nocturnal show are Winnie – the wide awake one and Otto whom she wakes up to tell she cannot sleep.

Otto once roused has a simple plan in the form of a soothing lullaby and it goes like this:

Easy peasy: job done! Not quite; Winnie is still wide awake, so maybe a memory game that requires recalling everything they did during the day … a doddle surely.

But no; wide eyed she remains.

Third time lucky then? Counting sheep never fails … success! One deeply sleeping twin sister. Shame she snores ….

Hilarious, and delivered in Rob’s faultless rhyming and priceless pictorial style, this is the perfect read-to-your-little-ones tale, be it or be it not bedtime; and you certainly won’t find yourself nodding off as you share it; rather you’ll end up hoarse after repeated re-reads. Bring on the fourth book say I.

And if your dino-tinies can’t get enough of their favourite creatures then try:

Creature Features:Dinosaurs
Natasha Durley
Big Picture Press

This over-sized board book is brimming over with prehistoric beasties of the ‘Humongous horns’ variety, as well as those with ‘Terrifying teeth’, ‘Wonderful wings’, ‘Hefty head crests’, ‘Brilliant beaks’, ‘Amazing armour’,

not to mention ‘Fabulous flippers’, exceedingly long necks, ‘Super sails & spines’, ‘Creepy claws’ and ‘Fantastic fur’.

Illustrated with super-bright colours and splendid shapes, these creatures will make your little ones pause and linger over every spread to learn lots of new names, hone their observation skills and learn some dino-facts along the way.

Tad

Tad
Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books

As a huge Benji Davies enthusiast I was eagerly awaiting Tad and it’s another winner.

Let me introduce Tad; she’s the tiniest, almost a frog, tadpole in the entire pond who can only keep up with her tad siblings by wiggling her tail at double the speed they do.

These little creatures share a problem though, for there’s another resident of their pond; Big Blub is its name and it’s said this great big nasty ancient fish lives in the darkest, murkiest part of the pond and lies in wait to gobble up unsuspecting little wrigglers like her.

Tad resolves not to believe in such a beastie, confining her swimming to the shallow water and hiding behind the plants at sundown – just in case.

Gradually as tadpoles do, Tad and her siblings’ grow legs and lose their tails,

finding large leaves on which to spend the nights. But there seem to be fewer of them about

and then there are just two remaining – oops! One brother gone!

Make that just Tad with her determination to escape the mouth of Big Blub.

It’s no good pretending the predator doesn’t exist any longer; there’s just one way to save herself …

Could her leap into the unknown perhaps herald not only a startling reunion but also the start of a new and exciting, rather different way of life?

This is perfect springtime reading; dramatic illustrations to feast your eyes on and a perfectly paced telling with just sufficient suspense to send small frissons of fear running through your little ones, as they listen to Benji’s delicious tad-tale.

Geronimo

Geronimo
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books

When a new hatchling penguin going by the unlikely name of Geronimo bursts into the snowy world of the Antarctic he’s fuelled by a determination to become airborne, despite his father’s assertions that penguins can’t fly.

His first attempt sees him plunging headlong into the freezing-cold ocean. Unabashed he relaunches himself, this time using a seal’s enormous belly as a springboard, only to nose dive into deep snow.

But Geronimo isn’t ready to give in that easily: he has the ingenious notion of placing his bottom over the blowhole of a whale. This rather reckless rear end rest results in his needing beak-to-beak resuscitation from his pa.

Thoughts of flight now fill not only his every waking moment but also his dreams – every single night it’s the same …

Eventually, the Emperor emperor penguin instructs his Dad to tell Geronimo once and for all he’s to stop trying. But surely that can’t be the end of his aeronautic antics?

Perhaps not, with the collective brains of the colony working overtime …
After all there is more that one way of looking at things now isn’t there? It’s certainly so if you happen to be a yogi, or at least, like the adult penguins in the story, able to stand on your head.

Totally crazy but then this is David Walliams with his off the wall humour. Tony Ross adds his own brilliant touches of zaniness with a sequence of hilarious spreads of Geronimo’s efforts and the optical delusion that finally makes his dream come true.

Hold fast to your dreams – what a great message for young children.

A Hug is for Holding Me / Mummy Time

A Hug is for Holding Me
Lisa Wheeler and Lisk Feng
Abrams Appleseed

As a father and child stroll together, the former invites the little girl to become a nature observer. ’Look around and you will see / all the things a hug can be.’

The adult likens what they see to aspects of the natural springtime world and the child then responds. They notice a nest of speckled eggs, cocoons:
‘Cocoons are strong / yet gentle hugs, / and then, / surprisingly … // the air is filled with wondrous wings! / Your hug amazes me.’

… flower buds and seashells

during their meander that is lyrically described by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Lisa Feng in attractive stylised spreads of the two humans enjoying one another’s company among the flora and fauna.

Embrace nature, embrace one another, that is the essence of this book to share between parent and child.

In complete contrast is the outing shared by parent and infant in this story where engagement between adult and child appears non-existent :

Mummy Time
Judith Kerr
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This ironic tale of a mother totally absorbed in a conversation on her mobile while in the park with her toddler is something of a departure for the amazing Judith Kerr.

It certainly isn’t the gentle mummy time story one might anticipate from the cover picture and opening page – far from it.

Almost the entire verbal narrative takes the form of mum’s mobile conversation with a friend as she leaves the house for the park with her little boy for some ‘mummy time’.

Ensconced on a bench, she chats away about a recent party, the people who were there, the food, the changing fortunes for the better of her hosts and the ill-fortune that seems to dog her own life.

Meanwhile, as the pictures show, the toddler is engaged in a real life encounter with a large dog,

a spot of pigeon and duck food sampling, an unplanned dip in the pond, a ride on a swan, a treetop tumble,

a close encounter with a minibeast and a comforting cuddle from that dog again.

Strangely these parallel worlds of mum and toddler collide for mum’s conversation becomes a commentary on the pictorial action so beautifully portrayed by Judith Kerr.

An altogether intriguing book and a side-swipe at the human obsession with mobile phones. ‘Mummy Time’ seems to be just that, not time for mummy and toddler together.

Mini Rabbit Not Lost

Mini Rabbit Not Lost
John Bond
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Mini Rabbit has a particular penchant for cake and seemingly nothing will stop him from getting the vital ingredients he needs to make one. A lack of berries sees him rushing off in search of same with but one thought in his mind ‘Must have cake, cake … cake … cake’.

Turning down offers of help on the way …

the little creature heads down to the beach and off out to sea. What is the fellow thinking? Well we know the answer to that, don’t we.

His search becomes a quest of epic proportions as he traverses dangerous stretches of water, climbs to enormous heights and dangles himself over precipitous ledges.

Far from home Mini Rabbit eventually comes to this conclusion –

That’s when a delicious smell suddenly sends his nostrils into overdrive. He even makes a small discovery that, when he finally makes his way back home, he presents to his Mother. She too has something to present to Mini Rabbit.

It doesn’t quite receive the reception she’d been anticipating though.

This thoroughly delicious story is, unbelievably, John Bond’s debut picture book. He cleverly shows but never tells how on several occasions Mini Rabbit fails to notice berry locations, something observant youngsters will delight in pointing out. They will delight too in the final punch-line, but I won’t spoil it by revealing what that is. Instead I suggest you get hold of a copy of this tasty book and relish the whole thing yourself (along with one or many small listeners of course).

Give Peas a Chance (Dinosaur Juniors)

Give Peas a Chance (Dinosaur Juniors)
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Hurrah! There’s a whole story starring Nancy, one of the Dinosaur Juniors brigade we first met playing a bit part, strumming her guitar in Greg’s Happy Hatchday tale.

Yes that little dino-guy does put in an appearance too in the form of a co-consumer of Nancy’s unwanted peas. The problem being Nancy detests all things green so when she’s called in for her dinner

and told in no uncertain terms that she can’t go out and join her pals until her plate is empty, peas and all, she just has to cook up a quick plan.

As Greg passes beneath her window, Nancy utters these words loud and clear, “Mmmm, peas! / I’d eat them all day long. / Dad says they’ll make me / super strong.

This utterance immediately has Greg salivating and asking for a share, which of course Nancy is only too willing to provide.

A similar thing happens when Sue comes along and her desire, as Nancy knows, is to be super speedy so all she needs to do is alter her pea praising poem to include the words “super fast” and Sue too is at the ready to receive a forkful of the little green veggies.

Chess-playing Otto is likewise attracted to the window and Nancy’s promise of the bestowal of super smartness upon those that consume those little green balls, so he cannot wait for a brain-boosting mouthful.

Now Nancy’s plate is completely clean. Mission accomplished and off she can go to play …

Err, maybe not quite yet, for Dad is about to become the bearer of some good news.

Again a super-stylish Rob Biddulph feast for ears and eyes, not to mention taste buds: those vibrant colours, especially the green hues are just SO appetisingly alluring.

Absolutely brilliant, the prehistoric pals do it once more: I wonder which of the dino-littles will star in the next of the series. Will it be Sue, or Otto; or perhaps Winnie, Wilf, Hector, Martin or Boo? There will be a huge number of fans waiting in eager anticipation after consuming this rhyming treat.

Dinosaur Juniors Happy Hatchday

Dinosaur Juniors Happy Hatchday
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

A new Rob Biddulph picture book is always cause for celebration at Red Reading Hub and so it is with this one which, by all accounts is the first of a cracking new series – no apologies for the pun as this clever rhyming tale begins with the hatching of Otto, Winnie, Hector, Sue, Nancy, Martin, Wilf and Boo.
Oops! I nearly forgot the last out, Greg (short for Gregosaurus); he appears on the scene a whole week after his fellow batchlings.
By that time all the other recent hatchlings have firmly established themselves; some appear to have an artistic bent,

others are chefs, musicians

and, wait for it, balloon inflaters.

Will poor, miserable looking Greg find his place anywhere among the dino-dudes? Can you see the tears?

Perhaps your young audience will by this stage be anticipating the possibility of a surprise finale, if so they won’t be disappointed.

The book is great fun to share with dino-littles at home or nursery: a read-aloud dino-delight splendidly illustrated with lots to explore on every spread including things to count; it’s funny and with its faultless rhyming narrative, oh so re-readable

Boogie Bear

Boogie Bear
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The tour-de-force that is Walliams and Ross has created yet another winning picture book, this time starring a resident of the North Pole, a female polar bear.

The creature over-indulges, drops off to sleep and drifts far from home. So far in fact that the sun is sufficiently warm to melt away the ice-berg upon which she’s been precariously balanced and she’s forced to swim for shore, employing ‘her best bear paddle’.

Once on dry land it seems worse is to come in the form of an advancing stampede of decidedly hostile-looking furry creatures of a brown hue yelling about a ‘boogie monster”.

Further undesirable episodes follow including the hurtling through the air of various objects – missiles …

and bears – until suddenly, the ursine residents make a startling discovery.

From then on things turn distinctly peachy for a certain polar bear;

but if you want to find out exactly how the tale ends then you’ll have to get your paws on a copy of this hilarious book. If you’re an adult who loves giving a full dramatic performance when sharing a book you’ll absolutely love this one; if you’re a child who enjoys a rippingly good yarn that will make you wriggle with laughter and that’s brilliantly illustrated, then this is for you.

Uproariously funny as it may be, the story has much to say about embracing difference, acceptance, welcoming, friendship, displacement and more. It’s as much needed now as ever.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Grotlyn

The Grotlyn
Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books

What or who on earth is a Grotlyn?
Well,  it’s certainly the subject of the organ grinder’s song in this story set in a murky Victorian town; and it’s something that keeps young Rubi from sleep as she lies alone in her room one night – the song in her head, and the possibility there’s one around. Or was that scuttling sound merely a mouse?

Others too are not yet slumbering. There’s Sam, perched high among the rooftops, tucking into his supper: he’s disturbed by a rustling sound as something is taken.

Policeman Vickers too is wide awake and in the process of hanging out his washing when …

We have clues now as to the identity of the mysterious Grotlyn; but it’s way too fast for the policeman as it vanishes once more into the shadows with its haul – an odd assortment of bits and pieces. What on earth or in sky could all those things be for?
With its strange noises in the night, Benji Davies compelling rhyming narrative is full of suspense and imbued with a gentle humour and his illustrations are absolutely stupendous. No matter where Davies takes us, be it Sudden Hill, Grandpa’s Island or onto a beach with Noi, we’re always right there with his characters, totally immersed in the story, living each and every moment of the action too; and so it is here, one hundred per cent.

Kevin

Kevin
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins

Sid Gibbons and trouble seem to go hand in hand: first it’s smashing the birdbath with his ball; then forgetting to put the tops back on his pens; his bedroom resembles a ‘pigsty’ and now his dinner is all over the floor. Needless to say, his mum is less than happy. But, none of this is Sid’s fault: no it’s Kevin’s.
And who is Kevin you might be thinking; he’s Sid’s friend. The pink spotted, vanilla furred pal with a single tooth and a tendency for clumsiness who comes through a hatch in his bedroom ceiling when Sid feels lonely, so he tells his mum, who naturally is having none of this ‘make-believe friend.’
Make-believe? Through that ceiling hatch there shines a light – a light of vanilla and pink striped rays: up the stairs goes Sid to be confronted by a truly amazing sight – a magical world filled with strange beasties…

Now though, the boot is on the other foot, so to speak: Sid is the invisible being here and this gives him an idea. Uh-oh!

As a result however, it also gives him an opportunity to question his actions: is it fair to blame your misdemeanours on a friend, albeit an imaginary one?
Time to make reparation – first to Kevin and then to his very own Mum …

All this and more is delivered through Rob Biddulph’s faultless rhyming narrative – a longish one – and his equally superb visuals. For the latter he moves from the monochromes of Sid’s reality to the glorious rainbow hues of Kevin’s kingdom. Fans of the author’s previous works will delight in guest appearances from Fred, the bear from Grrrrr!; Blown Away’s Blue and the occasional Odd Dog dachshund.

And, those beastie inhabitants of Kevin’s world, be they hairy, slimy, leggy or frilly, are splendid. As for Sid, he’s a totally believable character, full of mischief and absolutely adorable – I’m pretty sure I’ve taught him somewhere along the line; many times over in fact.
All this while exploring ideas about imaginary friends and the notion of facing up to the consequences of our own actions, which is so subtly embedded into the tale – genius!

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Have you ever wondered about the origins of the playground game? Now thanks to a rib-tickling collaboration between author Daywalt (of The Day the Crayons Quit fame) and illustrator, Adam Rex you can find out.
Daywalt’s telling demands much of the reader aloud in the way of performance power, as he tells in true legend style, of fearsome heroes; first of Rock, invincible champion warrior of the ancient realm of the Kingdom of Backgarden. Dissatisfied by the lack of worthy challengers, Rock travels far and wide in search of an equal in battle: His first adversary is Peg atop a washing line; his second comes in fruit form: he insults a juicy apricot and is immediately challenged to a duel…

but flattening the fruit, brings him no joy.
Meanwhile, in the Empire of Mum’s Study, and in Kitchen Realm, two other warriors, Paper and Scissors are equally at odds with themselves over lack of sufficiently challenging opponents. “Taste my fury, giant box-monster!” Paper yells at Computer Printer before completely jamming up its works …

Scissors at the same time, puts paid to a ‘strange and sticky circle-man, aka tape dispenser, as well as ‘dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets’.

Finally the three warriors make their way to a garage and after three eye-popping rounds, they come to the conclusion that there is an endless circularity to their battles and become fast friends. But we all know the perils of triangular friendships …
Fiercely fast, furious and funny, this will have your audiences crying out for instant re-reads, not least on account of such giggle-inducing cries as, “You Sir look like a fuzzy little fruit bum” – that’s to the apricot; and “drop that underwear” (to clothes peg); as well as Rock’s talk of “no pants” in response to Scissors’ mention of “battle pants”.
The high drama of Daywalt’s text is made even more verbally viciously confrontational by the use of all manner of graphic exuberances and is further heightened by Rex’s superb, action-packed scenes of the battlers set against backdrops of raging thunderstorms, volcanic eruptions and missile firings.
What really makes the whole confrontational epic so engaging for me though, is that in the end, co-operation RULES …

I’ve signed the charter  

Monkey’s Sandwich

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Monkey’s Sandwich
Michelle Robinson and Emily Fox
Harper Collins Children’s Books
What is your favourite kind of sandwich? I think mine would have to be roast vegetables and hummus, or maybe goat’s cheese and tomato; it all depends in part on how I’m feeling. I certainly wouldn’t relish the crisps, Nutella, bhuja and banana variety one of my teenage friends loves to make for breakfast when home on holiday from her boarding school. Nor would I bother with butter, which is the first thing Monkey helps himself to when he visits still-sleeping Yak’s abode in search of something to fill his rumbling tum very early one morning before the shops are open.
Almost inevitably though, he deems plain old bread and butter boring so off he goes again, helping himself this time to a wedge of slumbering Mouse’s cheese – he does have the courtesy to leave him a “Thank You” note though.

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Monkey cannot quite stop himself from adding cucumber, custard and a whole lot of other tasty items to his stack

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Jellybeans, chocolate spread and mustard from Flamingo …

until his sandwich is positively towering but even then he just doesn’t seem satisfied. Who actually eats this monstrous repast though? That is the all-important question …

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Michelle Robinson and Emily Fox have assuredly concocted an offering to be relished with their toothsome tale of monkey’s mischievous marauding. Michelle’s text is a treat to get your tongue around and Emily’s comical scenes of the cheeky creature helping himself to all those tidbits are to be sure, saporous.
I suspect, like me, you’ll have your audience calling for second and third helpings after a sharing of this one.

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Odd Dog Out

Odd Dog Out
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Here’s a splendiferous book about being yourself, happy in your own skin and most important, being an individual unafraid of being different. I was blown right away by Rob Biddulph’s debut picture book, growled in delight at his second offering and this is every bit as good, and better.
As a divergent thinker who refuses to conform I was totally hooked by the time I reached here …

That this small dog just doesn’t quite sing from the same song sheet as all the other dogs …

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causes her such sadness she decides to up and leave her home town and strike out alone …

which she does, travelling until she reaches Doggywood. But is this the right place for our canine pal? There certainly seem to be a lot of others looking just like her …

But it’s not being like those same-looking others that convince Odd Dog she’s perfectly fine just as she is; it’s an encounter with another who is totally at home with her own difference that convinces her that her heart and home are right back where she came from. Being happy with who and what you are, is the important thing: let the rest of the world accommodate you and perhaps even celebrate yours and everyone’s uniqueness …

Super-brilliant stuff, Rob Biddulph: you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head with this one. ‘ … blaze a trail. Be who you are.’ What better message to give children, and indeed adults, than this. Cracking rhyming text and illustrations: a MUST have for every family and classroom.

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Board Books Briefing

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I Wish I Were a Pirate
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Sarah Ward
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
In a jolly rhyming narrative, a small boy entertains the possibilities of a piratical life sailing the seas, capturing a baddie of two …

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and of course, searching for buried treasure.
Small fingers will have lots of fun working the various sliders …

 

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and there’s plenty to amuse in Sarah Ward’s jolly nautical scenes, not least the activities of the stowaway mice.

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Cars Go
Steve Light
Chronicle Books
Bright watercolour illustrations accompany the irresistible onomatopoeic outpourings of the eight vehicles featured in this wide format board book.
With an old jalopy that goes CHITTYCHITTY CHITTYCHITTY KKKKTTT SHHPPPTTT SHHPPPTTT, a Monster Truck that goes KR-KR-KR KR-KR-KR- KRRUUUNCH and this beauty …

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You’re guaranteed a wonderfully noisy story session when you share this with early years children; and think of all that inbuilt sound/symbol awareness potential herein.
And, don’t you just love the playful finale …

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Listen to the Jungle
Listen to the Things that Go
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
This pair of interactive board books with lots of noise making opportunities and amusing animal pictures should provide hours of fun for the very youngest. Lions, a hippo, monkeys, an elephant, pandas and parrots …

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plus a sprinkling of minibeasts and other birds inhabit the landscapes of the former, each being introduced with a single sentence such as ‘Listen to the hippo in the water.’
Each spread has a strategically placed button, which when pressed, makes the animal’s sound.
The Things that Go are cars, a lorry, a bike …

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a train, a boat and a tram and all the drivers, riders and passengers are animals.  
Both books, when shared with an adult, offer plenty of potential for talk about each spread. (And you can discretely turn the sound switch inside the back cover to the off position if you want to.)

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Mog and Me and other stories
Judith Kerr
Harper Collins Children’s Books
For a delightful introduction to the world of Mog for the very youngest, this is just the thing and, with its easy to read text, it’s ideal for beginning readers to share with their toddler siblings.

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Here in four brief stories, we meet not only the forgetful cat herself, but also members of her extended family.

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The Hueys in It Wasn’t Me
Oliver Jeffers
Harper Collins Children’s Books
The Hueys – usually a peaceable group of characters are having an argument when along comes Gillespie and dares to ask, “What are you fighting for?” but they’re too busy deciding who started it, so he tries again …

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Err …
The humour in this story of escalating conflict is subtle and quite sophisticated. It works well with 4s to 6s but one wonders whether it might go right over the heads of toddlers – the usual board book audience.

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Potties and Pyjamas

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Skip to the Loo, My Darling!
Sally Lloyd-Jones and Anita Jeram
Walker Books
If you’re looking for a ‘potty’ book then look no further; this one’s a cracker.
I have to admit though, I thought the agitated-looking bunny pressing his paws down hard on the balloon on that first spread was attempting to change its shape so he could wee into it. But how wrong was I; he just picks up the string and leads the line of small – and not so small – animals skipping to the loo.

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Close behind come drumming pup, bouncy Kangaroo (he’s hitching a lift in mum’s pouch), a dodo – yes really, a friendly frog,

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piglets, an elephant, and a whole host of others …
And seemingly the whole lot of them are in urgent need by the time they reach the venue

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but it looks like they’ve all made it – just in time, PHEW! Now there’s just one guest missing at that potty party …

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An inset mirror invites readers – the toddler variety I hasten to add – to participate and do as the text suggests, ‘Come on, /come, my darling!/ You come, too!
Anita Jeram’s delectably exuberant watercolour illustrations perfectly capture the upbeat mood of the rhyming text making the whole potty experience something everyone wants a part of.

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Elephant’s Pyjamas
Michelle Robinson and Emily Fox
Harper Collins Children’s Books
When Elephant receives an email inviting him to a pyjama party he’s delighted but then he discovers that his pals all have seemingly perfect pjs,

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whereas his night attire looks decidedly past its best. Taking Llama’s “Just go shopping!” advice, Elephant heads into town but no matter how hard he tries, it seems nothing is quite right for such a large animal.
There’s only one thing for it, our pachyderm must turn down the invitation after all – and, he does.
His friends however, won’t take no for an answer and straightaway operation pyjamas is put into action and come Saturday night when Elephant sits sadly at home,

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there’s a ring on his doorbell …
With Elephant and his friends communicating on line via ZOOGLE, this amusing book is definitely a 21st century story. I love the way Elephant becomes a divergent thinker when he ‘shops around’ for suitable party wear.

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That spread in particular appealed to this reviewer and the audience I shared it with.

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Forever Friends and Families

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When I First Met You, Blue Kangaroo
Emma Chichester Clark
Harper Collins Children’s Books
This is a new edition of I think, the 8th in the Blue Kangaroo series and here Lily, who has recently become a big sister to baby Jack, tells her beloved kangaroo friend how they’d both come into her life. First baby Jack to whom Lily, difficult at the outset though it proved, did her very best to be a good big sis. and then, courtesy of Grandma, Blue Kangaroo himself.

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Full of love, with its inherent themes of families, change and friendship. this book positively glows with colour and overflows with tenderness. If, like me you missed this gorgeous book the first time around, then do get a copy now; no family bookshelf is complete without it (and the other titles in the series). Also reissued along with this one are Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo? and Happy Birthday, Blue Kangaroo!

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Talking of kangaroos, new in paperback is

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Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?
Eric Carle
Harper Collins Children’s Books
In response to the narrator’s initial question, Carle replies, ‘Yes, a kangaroo has a mother./ Just like me and you.’ And so begins a chain of questions and answers, identical except for the name of the animal be it lion, giraffe, penguin, swan, bear, elephant or monkey, The repeat patterned, slightly singsong narrative makes this appealing to the very young and it might also serve as a book for beginning readers to try for themselves. Both will enjoy the characteristic Carle collage illustrations with their bright colours and distinctively textured animal images.

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A final question breaks out of the repeat patterned mould asking, ‘And do animal mothers love their babies?’ To which a satisfying albeit predictable ‘Yes! Yes! Of course they do. Animal mothers love their babies,/ just as yours loves you.’ response follows.
The final page offers a list of the specific names of the animal babies featured as well as the collective noun(s) for each animal group.

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Terrific Twosomes

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I Love You Already
Jory John and Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books
The Goodnight Already duo(s) are back with another rip-roaring winner.
We start with Duck seemingly planning a morning stroll with his best pal and Bear extolling the virtues of lazy weekends at home …

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Before long though Bear’s peace is shattered by a knock at his door and this little buddy isn’t taking no for an answer.
Maybe that walk isn’t quite such a good idea after all though …

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and it seems Bear likes “quiet time by himself’ as much or maybe even more than he likes his chatty neighbour, and is determined to have some quality time to himself no matter what, or where.
Not very much however, for very soon he hears …

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And sees …

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Guess who is starting to feel a little bit of remorse now and then even more when he hears “You don’t even like me, do you, Bear? ” to which he responds, “Nonsense. You’re basically my family. I love you already, Duck.”
Maybe not the best thing you could have said, Bear because …

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That irrepressible, fun loving Duck is the perfect complement to his ursine neighbour who loves nothing better than a quiet day to himself with plenty of books and the odd cuppa.
Super stuff.

On the subject of perfect partnerships, bears, and a rabbit this time, an unmissable book for newly independent and emerging readers is:

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Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits
Julian Gough & Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books
I absolutely adored Jim Field’s wonderful Oi Frog! so I couldn’t wait to read this and wow! did I love it. I’ve always thought Frog and Toad were the unbeatable pairing when it comes to perfectly balanced contrasting characters but now along come the all-knowing Rabbit and laid-back Bear; and if this first book is anything to go by, they are about to give those amphibian guys a run for their money.
This side-splitting woodland romp is the setting for a tale of snowballs, snowman building,

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almost-avalanches, cracking ice, a breath-taking escape, a bit of stealing, poo eating – did I just say poo eating? (apparently, in this instance it’s called coprophagia) – not to mention the odd soggy carrot, oh! and there’s this other character I almost forgot to mention too.

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And of course, there’s friendship – who could ask for anything more? Well, other than – next instalment very soon please Mr G and Mr F.
Such a brilliantly seamless amalgam of words and pictures. Roll on The Pest in the Nest say I.

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Two Wacky Tales

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Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip
Lou Treleaven and Julia Patton
Maverick Arts Publishing
When Professor McQuark invents a wonderful new gadget, so weird and wacky is it, that she names it Oojamaflip. Then off she dashes to her workshop – aka the shed – and sets to work bringing that design in her head to finished product.

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What is the next thing to do once the Oojamflip is finished? Take it to be displayed at the Science Fair of course, and so with headlights polished, the next stop is the town hall. There is just one snag however and it concerns the relative size of the building’s doors and that of the Oojamaflip;

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so the prof. is forced to leave her machine outside.
Inside there are all manner of wacky inventions: a square balloon maker, a zip up door, an infinitely re-sizeable alien suit and a self-playing flute to name a few and they’re all vying for the judges’ attention to win that first prize. And here comes an announcement …

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Or maybe not – all the visitors are suddenly dashing outside leaving the judges startled and puzzled and there’s only one thing they can do; head outside too and discover what all the fuss is about …

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Seems they’re all pretty impressed with this extra mural exhibit but there’s one thing still puzzling them: “what does this Ooja-thing actually do?” The clue is in the title – I’ll say no more.
Great to see a female in the role of scientist cum inventor: the aptly named Professor McQuark should be an inspiration to all young inventors. Debut author Lou Treleaven’s sparky rhyming story is wackily illustrated by Julia Patton, whose scenes are full of zany details to pore over, and possibly provide some ideas to child inventors.

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Giant Jelly Jaws and the Pirates
Helen Baugh and Ben Mantle
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Unlike his fellow crew members, new cabin boy Jake is not brave or strong; indeed he has no head for heights, cries at the slightest hint of a scratch and at night, his hammock-mate is a teddy bear. It looks as though Captain Fish-Breath Fred has made an almighty mistake in engaging young Jake. But can the lad manage to prove his worth in the face of a rival pirate crew whose members are intent on getting their hands on the treasure map whereon X marks the spot. Seemingly not, for here’s a rather stinky situation where we see his fellow shipmates about to walk the plank…

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and the cabin boy himself cowering behind some kegs of pop.
Hold on me hearties! What is Jake up to now? Surely it’s no time to be guzzling pop, or is it? …

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If you want to know how this ripping rhyming yarn concludes, you’ll have to get your own copy of the riotous romp and read the rest yourself. It’s certainly true to say ship’s figurehead Giant Jelly Jaws has found his match when it comes to monstrous eruptions; and awash with detail, Ben Mantle’s riotous scenes are suitably salty and swashbuckling.

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What Pet Should I Get?

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What Pet Should I Get?
Dr Seuss
Harper Collins Children’s Books
This slip-cased edition of a never before published Dr Seuss story is in itself something of a treat, especially if you’re a fan of the great Theodor Geisel and I definitely am.
The book’s main characters are the brother and sister from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, the story being narrated by the brother, as the two are faced with a tricky problem when they visit the pet shop to choose just one, and only one, pet. (Back in those days people didn’t go to animal rescue centres and the like to source a pet). In typical Seuss fashion, the children are confronted with all manner of animals – real and imagined – as they struggle to make their ultimate choice. There’s that hand-shaking dog, rather favoured by the brother whereas Kay would prefer the friendly-looking cat …

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The pup or that kitty? Or maybe a fish … no matter what, the order is

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Maybe not some of these beauties though, they might just be pushing the would-be pet owners’ luck just a little too far …

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but faced with so much choice, there’s only one thing to do and that is exactly what big bro does: “I picked one out fast,/and then that was that.”

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But as to the identity of the ‘that’ in question – the ambiguous finale leaves readers themselves to decide what’s in the basket those siblings proudly take back home.
Notes at the end of the book tell of Seuss’s love of animals, in particular dogs as well as how, after her husband’s death in 1991, his wife Audrey found of box of manuscripts, which she set aside at that time. Then, in 2013 along with his secretary Claudia Prescott, she rediscovered that box containing among other things, the manuscript of this story and some uncoloured artwork.
Was this a project that subsequently turned into One Fish, Two Fish? We’ll never know for sure; but what is certain is that here we have another jaunty script filled with crazy creatures that have been lovingly and thoughtfully coloured under the direction of art director Cathy Goldsmith and the result is classic Seuss nostalgia.

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The Big, Big Bing Book/Big Bear little chair

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The Big, Big Bing Book
Harper Collins Children’s Books
This outsize board book, which is adapted from Ted Dewan’s original Bing books, certainly is a splendid BING THING! Clearly it’s designed for group sharing and I envisage small children lying flat on the floor poring over and discussing the plethora of images they find herein.
It’s thematically organized with each of the half dozen double spreads being given over to a different topic. Thus we have ‘Hello Bing! that introduces Bing Bunny’s friends and relations, Bing’s house (and garden)

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that is simply crammed with everyday objects that are part of Bing’s domestic life.
From there, Bing’s world enlarges to encompass the immediate environment – the woods, his street, the park and playground, Amma’s crèche and more.
We also join in with the numerous Playtime activities that absorb Bing and his pals, each of which is illustrated vignette style,

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then there’s a Colours page with Bing’s own ‘Rainybow Song’ and another for Numbers.

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The final spread looks at two more concepts Opposites and Seasons.
Each double spread is packed with details that will assuredly get children talking, enthusing, laughing and learning in a playful, enjoyable way be it at home or at nursery.

Also full of opportunities for language development is:

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Big Bear little chair
Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books
Take a comparatively simple size concept – big/small – and turn it into a beautiful, stylish three-story book encompassing the concept but with so much more is what Lizi Boyd does here beginning thus …

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And continuing with …

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and finally, after the butterfly has hatched –

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The second story introduces little bear and moves on to …

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and eventually …

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The bears then come together and another story unfolds and finally we meet the whole cast of story characters.

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Read differently, each page itself could be the starting point for a story that the reader goes on to create.
With its bold, patterned, slightly whimsical illustrations executed with a limited colour palette, no matter how it’s read, this offers an experience full of delight and potential.

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Monster Encounters

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The Bath Monster
Colin Boyd and Tony Ross
Andersen Press
Have a bath or the Bath Monster will come and get you –a monster that lurks beneath the bath slurping up the mucky water – his second favourite food – through a special bendy straw: surely that’s nonsense isn’t it? It’s certainly what Jackson’s mother tells him to get him into the tub every night.
Until one day Jackson decides he’s outgrown his belief in said Monster and he’s covered from top to toe in thick mud. “Go and have a bath now or the Bath Monster will come and get you” warns his mother. But, Jackson is having none of it.

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So what will that Bath Monster have to satisfy his hunger instead? His number one favourite food, of course and seemingly Jackson is about to find out what that is …
Tony Ross’s Bath Monster is a magnificently mucky being and as readers ultimately discover, a creature after Jackson’s own heart. Every one of the illustrations for Colin Boyd’s unlikely tale brims over with delicious humour and I suspect adult readers aloud are going to get as much enjoyment from this one as the young children they share it with. The sight of that small (temporarily clean) boy being dangled unceremoniously above the bath on the first page sets the tone for the whole story

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and the picture of Jackson sitting in the tub in his protective gear is superb.

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Assuredly another Tony Ross triumph and a promising debut story for Colin Boyd.
Before we read the story I asked my audience to imagine a bath monster of their own; here are some of their ideas:

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There’s a Monster in my Fridge
Caryl Hart and Deborah Allwright
Simon & Schuster
‘What’s that hiding behind the door? It’s feet have squelched across the floor …’
so begins this split-page mock-scary visit to a monster-filled house on a hill.
Those who dare defy the KEEP OUT sign will encounter among others, the jelly-eating monster of the title, a glittery witch, a startled vampire …

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twin skeletons in the bathtub and an itchy werewolf …

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With such visual jokes as dancing toothpaste tubes, hairbrushes …

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and alarm clocks, and a surprise finale, this one is definitely a whole lot more fun than fright but worth a read around Hallowe’en nonetheless.
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Love Monster & the Scary Something
Rachel Bright
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Unable to sleep one dark shadowy night, Little Monster lets his imagination run riot when he hears a rustling sound in the garden,

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a sound that seems to belong to something that’s found its way inside his very own house and is pitter-pat …. pittery patting around on its terrible hairy feet with terrible twisterly toenails and scuffling and bumping its way up the stairs.

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And it surely has enormous teeth for crunching …
Suddenly Love Monster decides there’s only one thing to do: be brave and confront the hungry creature, so it’s on with the torch and … What could that be looming in the doorway?

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Turns out it’s just another insomniac seeking someone to share the lonely darkness with – and a very tiny one too.
A lovely funny story about facing your worst fears, especially those relating to the dark with just the right degree of scariness for a bedtime read and great fun for Halloween sharing.

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Exciting  Children’s Books Illustration Autumn Exhibition at Waterstones, Piccadilly 23rd-29th October

C090B987-9FD4-47C9-A6E5-CEEE0DD83F4E[6]

Ursine Talent: GRRRRR! and One Bear Extraordinaire

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GRRRRR!
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Grizzly bear Fred is the star of the show: he’s been Best Bear in the Wood for three years and is unbeatable at growling. Or is he? Well, he’s determined to be champ once again and so training becomes his everything; there’s just no time for friendship, he declares.
Enter Boris, new bear in town reputed to have a GRRRRR to beat all GRRRRs and determined to knock Fred off his throne.

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And, he seems to be taken with nocturnal wandering …

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Come competition morn and disaster has struck, Fred awakes roarless. But despite his strict training regime, it seems he’s not without friends after all. First there’s Eugene a young owl ready and willing to help Fred track down his missing roar.

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A search ensues but it yields a big zilch.
The hour of the contest arrives. Despite being roarless, Fred has his supporters and after three rounds the contest is neck and neck …

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But then comes that crucial round with Boris, having first growl and it looks like a winner …

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That is definitely not the end of this corker of a book, but without spoiling the story finale let’s just say it ends satisfactorily for all concerned.
I just love those bits of throwaway humour in Biddulph’s splendid rhyming text
The sound is so loud that it makes Boris jump –
And look what just fell to the ground with a bump!
which, when combined with his visuals are just priceless. What a talent.

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One Bear Extraordinaire
Jayme McGowan
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Meet Bear, an itinerant entertainer of legendary repute, known for his ‘honey harmonies and twinkle-toed grace.’ One day when working on a new song however, he decides “Something is missing,” and sets off in search of this elusive ingredient. As he travels, he encounters a whole host of musicians one after another and each one joins him “wherever the tune leads”.

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Eventually the ever-growing band discovers a Wolf Pup has tagged along. He too is keen to become a band member but lacks an instrument. Bear offers something from his sack but Wolf Cub just cannot get to grips with any of them …

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and as a last resort Bear suggests the kazoo: “Anyone can play it.” he mistakenly tells the despairing little chap.
But it’s as the others practise in the moonlit campsite that night, that Wolf Cub suddenly discovers he has a vocal talent like no other

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and, it’s just what’s needed to make everything finally sound ‘just right’.
There’s a pleasing musical lilt to Jayme McGowan’s text: ‘he watched the music SWIRL and HOVER across the ridge … ECHO through the canyon … and fill the sky as he and his wayfaring band whooped and hollered their song to the stars.’ But it’s her wonderful illustrations – three-dimensional scenes composed from individual painted cut-outs, that are arranged and photographed in situ – that are the real show-stealers.
A picture book debut of great promise.

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When I Coloured the World

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When I Coloured the World
Ahmadreza Ahmadi
Tiny Owl
I tend to discourage the use of erasers – in school at least – and especially for the very young who all too easily become obsessed with using them, needlessly rubbing out their so called ‘mistakes’. Not so the child narrator of this beautiful fable wherein we see how colour can change the world and the way we look at it. Her judicious use of a single eraser and her box of crayons makes the world a place of joy and peace, hope, playfulness and much more, filling it with red roses, yellow lights, blue sky to play beneath,

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silver rain and drizzle to eliminate the floods, wheat growing green, peaceful light blue, orange spring filled with scented blossom, dark blue for song and dance, purple laughter, gentle breezes of violet, healthy glowing pink for healing, orange for people whose age is immaterial …

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and finally, with another wielding of the yellow crayon …

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I love the way the author has captured the child-like innocence of this wonderful, empowering book. It’s one I can envisage being shared and discussed widely in schools as well as being enjoyed at home and it’s a great starting point for children’s own colourful, world changing artistic creations.

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Fern rubbed out sadness and wrote happiness in yellow “For sunshine so children can dance and sing outdoors.”

 

 

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Beth rubbed out despairing and wrote celebrating in red.

 

Ehsan Abdollahi, the book’s illustrator too has captured that special child-like simplicity in the uplifting scenes that are aglow with wonderfully patterned, richly hued images.
What riches Tiny Owl is bringing to the UK with the publication of such truly beautiful books from Iran. I hope they achieve the wide audience they merit.

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Bing Paint Day
Ted Dewan
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Anyone who knows Bing (and that is countless preschoolers and their parents and carers) will anticipate the outcome of letting the young Bunny loose with a paintbrush, paints and a pot of water. As usual with Bing, things begin fairly calmly and he is busy producing a colourful scene

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but then a tornado hits and …

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It’s a good job that there’s a single colour left and it just happens to be Bing’s favourite orange; so all ends happily in true Bing fashion because as we know “It’s a Bing Thing”.

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A Froggy Tale and A Squiggly One

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Sir Lilypad
Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster pbk
What a gloriously exuberant celebration of magical happenings and some not so magical too: well, on second thoughts everything about this tale of tiny would-be hero Little Tad and his valiant attempts to gain recognition as Sir Lilypad is pretty magical. It all begins when our pea-sized amphibian reads a book wherein he learns of the amazing transformation from frog to prince by the bestowal of ‘one small kiss from a grateful royal miss.’

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Finding a princess to obtain a kiss and thereby add to his stature then becomes his mission. Off he sets and consults with an ogre, but he is less than helpful and the search continues in forest and field, a witch’s residence and that of a wizard,

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all to no avail. But the quest must continue, stitch, itchy chainmail and soggy sandwiches notwithstanding. Then joy of joys, he glimpses …

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Does this damsel need saving by the gallant Sir Lily? Oh dear me no; and despite his best roaring and sword-wielding efforts, the dragon is at best disdainful and the princess unimpressed.
All is not lost however and after a fantastic show of wailing and beseeching the princess proffers her own words – of wisdom – and more. But who wants to be a story-spoiler, so lets move hastily on a few centuries to the grand finale of this triumphant tale, for that’s ultimately what it is. And a splendid one it is too with it’s dream of a read aloud rhyming text and utterly magnificent scenes of derring-do.
Get this or be sorry: the sword-swooshing, Sir Lilypad will be hot on your trail.

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The Queen’s Spaghetti
Patricia Cleveland-Peck and Tim Archbold
Harper Collins pbk
Queen Nellie and King Jim aren’t your normal royals: they’re not rich and to top up the coffers King Jim works part time at the Royal Mint. Nonetheless, the Queen is a cheerful soul, working in their large garden by day and cooking Jim’s supper on his return from work. On this particular day, feeling especially hungry herself, she decides to rustle up some spaghetti and tomato sauce – one of the King’s favourites too. “Iggly-wiggly spaghettio” she sings as she boils up an enormous pan of the stuff and sets to work on the sauce. Soon however, the pan is overflowing and swelling spaghetti fills all the royal saucepans and it’s slithering all over the kitchen floor. Oh dear me: if there’s something King Jim hates, it’s waste, thinks the Queen as she tries valiantly to feed it to the cat, the dog and even the royal peacock.

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But none of them has more than a cursory taster.
The ducks are more obliging as are the hens and the geese; but there’s still an awful lot to dispose of. Thank goodness then for the royal pigs: pretty soon they …

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A delicious aroma greets the hungry King on his return but what do you think happens when he requests a second helping of the scrumptious meal …

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With a nod to the traditional magic pasta pot tale and a wink to the porridge pot, Patricia Cleveland-Peck has cooked up a tasty concoction with a regal base, a sprinkling of farmyard animals and a saucy finale. All in all, with Tim Archbold’s giggle-inducing accompaniments of the visual variety, this re-issue is destined to tickle the taste buds of a whole new child audience. They will relish the riotous scenes, especially the spaghetti-entwined farmyard fowl, and delight in Patricia Cleveland-Peck’s pleasingly playful textual servings.

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Fast and Furious; Slow and Steady

Daniel devouring the story

 

Space Dog
Mini Grey
Jonathan Cape
It’s 3043 and deep in space, Space Dog is ready to zoom homewards having completed a lengthy problem-solving mission in the Dairy Quadrant. Supplies are stashed and he passes the time with a game of solo Dogopoly before sleeping.
Not far off however, is Astrocat, zooming in his space saucer, or actually is about to plummet into a thick creamy mire. Then it’s a case of operation rescue – for the Astrocat if not his craft. No time for age old enmity now, it’s go with Space Dog or be stranded.

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Once safely in SS Kennel, the two erstwhile enemies sit face to face for a game of Dogopoly, followed by a tasty snack courtesy of Astrocat. Then, co-ordinates set, there comes yet another distress call …

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And another … Moustronaut has been captured, bound and perilously suspended above a chasm of bubbling fondue by the Cheese Ants.

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With another rescue duly completed – well almost – they have to satisfy that drooling, dribbling look in the Ant Queen’s eyes first. Then it really is time to head for home. Of course, poor Moustronaut needs a bit of tlc first; and there’s a whole universe out there waiting for friends to conquer – together. So, it’s Mission UNKNOWN ZONE – after a round or so of Dogopoly that is.

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Wonderful stuff! This action-packed adventure is bound to appeal to the numerous established fans of Mini Grey and will I’m certain, win her a whole host of new ones. This is overflowing with exciting happenings, visual jokes and verbal ones; and every turn of the page brings fantastic and frenzied features to divert and delight.

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Fast and Furry Racers The Silver Serpent Cup
Jonathan Emmett and Ed Eaves
Oxford University Press pbk
Playing fair is at the heart of this riotous romp of a ride (or should it be race) that takes place over land, under sea and in the air. Packed full of alliteration and other tongue-teasing phrases to test the reader-aloud, this story unfolds at breakneck speed.
Everyone’s gathered in Furryville for the race and the line up’s an impressive one. BEEP! BEEP! TOOT! TOOT! There’s Roderick Von Rooster in his Hot Rod rocket car, Stephanie Skedaddle in her super stylish boat, Ollie Octolinni in his submarine – a distinct advantage at times. Then we have Baron Billy Blackstripes aboard his super fast steam train, not forgetting Ella Egghart in her aeroplane. Could she perhaps be the winner after all?

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But foul play has struck, in the form of sabotage and who should be emerging from the depths but Al Mcnasty – a ruthless villain if ever there was one and wearing that smug smile too.

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But things are not quite over yet, for out of the ground emerges Max O’Moley just in the nick of time – a thoroughly deserving and honest winner. Three cheers for Max recipient of THE SILVER SERPENT CUP.

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Ed Eaves’ exuberant illustrations really do give the impression of tremendous speed and those vehicles are just the thing to excite and enthrall young listeners.

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Days with Frog and Toad
Arnold Lobel
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
This is the second of the larger format publications of the classic Lobel Frog and Toad stories. This one offers five more delicious episodes featuring the friends– all an absolute delight – though I might to go for Shivers

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(wherein Frog tells a spooky story) – if I had to pick a favourite; or maybe Tomorrow (we’re all guilty of putting off things we don’t want to do). Then again there’s Toad’s laughable efforts to fly The Kite; and The Hat Frog gives his best pal for a birthday present, to bring a big smile; oh and the final Alone in which Frog goes off to be by himself for a while

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– all equally brilliant and unmissable.
The Frog and Toad books remain unsurpassed in the field of newly independent readers. Three cheers for the two fictional pals and their everlasting friendship.

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Families, Families, Families

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Families, Families, Families!
Suzanne Lang and Max Lang
Picture Corgi pbk
Family units come in many kinds and all are celebrated in a series of portraits each one aptly framed to give it a real photograph feel. Each one is displayed – in a fitting manner, either hanging against a  themed background, or in a couple of instances standing on a shelf alongside ornaments of the same kind.

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This truly is a reassuring and realistic look at families in all their diversity: parents may or may not be married, children may be adopted, a family might include stepbrothers and sisters, children may live with a single parent – mother or father,

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some have two mums or dads, sometimes grandparents or an aunt provide the family home, there may be a plethora of pets, siblings might be many or none.
Warm, funny, accepting and all embracing, the love shines through from every entry in the portrait gallery The rhythmic rhyming text bounces merrily along culminating in the all important

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A great way to introduce a discussion about diversity at school or at home.
The gentle humour of the photographic animal illustrations gives a fresh lively look to this important topic while also offering a distancing device for the human children who share this book with a supportive adult.

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Aren’t You Lucky!
Catherine and Laurence Anholt
Red Fox
Just the thing if there’s a new baby imminent or just arrived in a family,is a new edition of a “New baby Story’ first published over 20 years ago. Not my favourite Anholts’ new baby book – that’s Sophie and the New Baby – but a delightful and equally reassuring one nonetheless. It’s a sensitively done, first person narrative told by an older sibling. Used to being an only child, the little girl eagerly anticipates the arrival of a new brother or sister but once her new brother arrives, she soon discovers he is going to take a lot of getting used to. Happily though her understanding mum voices a wish for someone who could help her with the baby and before long our narrator discovers a whole new big sister role for herself.

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Isn’t he lucky!” are the words uttered by family friends and the book’s final ones; so too are the young children given this charming Anholt classic at just the right time.

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Action Movie Kid
Daniel Hashimoto, Mandy Richardville and Valerio Faberge
Keywords Press
I know one person who has one of these –endlessly energetic, bright, fearless and imaginative – actually she has two, but only one called James.
Kept busy by his numerous adventures,

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Action Movie Kid somehow manages to find the time to help his family – he’s a well-meaning boy is James …
And his mum is frequently known to utter such things as …

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One evening AMK hears strange sounds emanating from the basement and when he bravely investigates, discovers inside the washing machine, a portal to another dimension. From the gooey depths emerges an alien slime monster – an extremely slippery customer with a seemingly insatiable appetite.
When things get too much, assistance is called for

 

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and that is exactly what they do – having hastily transformed themselves that is.

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Then mopping up missions complete and enemy sent back where he belongs, it’s time for … bed!
Great literature this certainly isn’t: great fun it assuredly is, particularly if you are an AMK with a big imagination and love comics, and I know a whole lot of those.

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Zoom!
Trish Cooke and Alex Ayliffe
Harper Colliins Children’s Books
Watch young children – they rarely walk , rather they run, skip, jump, whizz and generally dash madly around.
This is an exuberant and charming book about a brother and sister and the joys of general charging around – a favourite activity–

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and about finding some more peaceful, but equally enjoyable things to do when the dashing about has to be curtailed temporarily as it does when Hurricane Kieron falls and hurts his leg. It’s then that he discovers that he can make his paintbrush zzzzooooommm around on paper instead. And what wonderfully whooshing, creative fun he and later Ria, have too:

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not to mention the odd hurricane.
Share this one with those around the age of Kieron and Rush Around Ria – if you can manage to catch them and sit them down for long enough that is. With those bright, jolly action-packed illustrations and a whole host of deliciously noisy action words and other exuberant sounds to join in with, you should manage to have more than a few peaceful minutes of reading pleasure.

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Emu
Claire Saxby and Graham Byrne
Walker Books
Did you know that it’s the emu dad that takes the role of carer for his young? I didn’t. Once his female mate has laid her final egg in the nest the pair built together, she leaves the male to hatch and rear the fledglings. How he does so and much more about that and other animals of the Australian landscape emus inhabit, is related in this absorbing narrative information book.

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The descriptive language Claire Saxby uses is exciting and superbly crafted: ‘gangly, with stippled heads and ribbon stripes, the chick surveys the forest.’ And Graham Byrne provides gloriously textured, scratchy/splodgy storytelling illustrations that truly convey the eucalyptus forest setting of the narrative.

 

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This book is a celebration of a particular aspect of the natural world and a wonderful way of conveying information about it.

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Spotty Friends, Mischievous Meerkats

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Spotty Lottie and Me
Richard Byrne
Andersen Press
Joey is a small boy with a big imagination; he also has chicken pox and that combination is the cause of his problem. His mum tells him he is still infectious but can play with a friend so long as s/he’s a spotty one; so after a bit of thinking, off goes Joey to find a poxy pal. However, his playful overtures are spurned by spotty being

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after spotty being …

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and it’s a very tearful Joey who returns home. He’s not sad for long though… knock knock: someone’s at his door. It’s Lottie and joy of joys – she too has chicken pox. And what dotty, spotty fun the two have for the next few days

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until they’re declared spotless and able to mix freely.
So why are all those, now friendly animals still wary of Joey’s face?
The author/artist clearly has a playful sense of humour that manifests itself particularly strongly through his visuals. I love the way for instance that the games Joey and Lottie play are all strategically placed in the very first spread, and the finale is a real hoot.

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A joy to share with young listeners whether or not they are spotty: those who happen to be suffering like Joey will be especially appreciative. So too will learner readers who, amused at the antics herein, are tempted to tackle this story for themselves. The shortish, witty text is such that those near the beginning of their reading journey will be able to read the words after an initial sharing with an adult.

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That Naughty Meerkat!
Ian Whybrow and Gary Parsons
Harper Collins
Meet a family of meerkats living in the Kalahari Desert. There’s Mimi, Skeema and Little Dream (they’re the young kits) and their Uncle Fearless. Then there’s Radiant (in the nursery) with her new babies, Bundle, Zora, Quickpaws and Trouble (watch that one). You can imagine how happy an exhausted mother Radiant feels when Uncle Fearless offers to take care of her babies for the day and that’s despite warnings of how mischievous those little ones are.
So off goes Radiant for a dig and off march Uncle Fearless – “proud chief … stern and wise!”, closely followed (in response to his ‘follow me’ order) by the four babes. And that’s the first and last order they all comply with. From then on not only Trouble

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but all the others start showing their true natures.

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It’s fortunate for Uncle Fearless that those three young kits show up offering some help just then and even more so that they stick around despite Uncle Fearless’s assurances that he can manage just fine on his own. And they certainly demonstrate their understanding of what babies like to do very effectively – play …

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leaving Uncle Fearless keeping guard. But that’s not quite the end of the story – I won’t spoil that but let’s just say that teamwork is the order of the day, or should that be, evening?
Anticipating the antics of those mischievous baby meers is part and parcel of the enjoyment of this entertaining tale. Gary Parson’s light-hearted portrayals of the high-spirited infant meerkats and that sudden dramatic change of mood (enough said) is the ideal complement to Ian Whybrow’s chucklesome, tongue-in-cheek text.

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Ursine Antics by Night and Day

 

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Goodnight Already!
Jory John and Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Parallel but opposing viewpoints quickly come head to head in what must surely be to many adults at least, a familiar scenario – the pull and push between two characters whose body clocks have entirely opposing rhythms. Herein it’s an exceedingly sleepy-looking Bear and his neighbour and supposed friend,

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Duck who is full of (caffeine-induced?) energy and has “never been so awake.”
I can’t wait to sleep. Here we go … yes…” yawns Bear as he pulls up his covers.
Uugh oh! There in the moonlight stands his feathered pal demanding entrance.
Having barged his way in Duck is determined to get Bear to “hang out” and suggests all manner of fun-filled activities. “Want to play cards? … Watch a movie? … Start a band? … Make smoothies?” … (What is this guy thinking of?) “Talk all night? … “Read books to each other?” (Now there’s a thought.) Each of these suggestions meets with a resounding “No.” from Bear and Duck eventually gets the message and departs. So, does our ursine friend finally get his well-earned shut eye? Errm …

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This time Duck is after cooking ingredients “… some sugar?” – “No.” Butter? “No.” … Is there to be no end to Duck’s requests? New neighbours will have to be the order of the day, or rather night, an increasingly grouchy Bear decides, returning to the safety of his quilt. Did I say safety? Oops!

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But safety it certainly is not, for Duck at least.

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Finally losing it altogether, Bear sends Duck packing and heads off back to get that well earned slumber. Well, not quite …
My audience groaned at the final ironic comic twist but it was clearly a groan of satisfaction and hastily followed by demands to ‘read it again’, then ‘one more time’. Of course I obliged, eager as they to let that superb tension be played out over and over in this wonderful book, at the heart of which is perfect textual comic timing, pace and counterbalance, the latter being so beautifully portrayed by Benji Davies. His visuals, which alternate between the vivid yellow of the occasional scene at Duck’s residence, and the somnolent shades of Bear’s surroundings, and brilliantly mirror John Jory’s shifts in pace and energy, are equally good. The combination of the two is an amalgam that’s pretty near perfect in my book.
Here are a couple of pictures of Duck from five year olds who loved the story –

 

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they obviously saw him as a very colourful character.

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Big and Small
Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Chapman
Little Tiger Press pbk
Friendships can be formed between the most unlikely, completely different characters A large bear – Big, and a tiny white mouse – Small, are best friends and decide to spend a day adventuring in the great outdoors. During the course of their play Small seeks help from his friend on several occasions – a stubbed toe OUCH!, some tricky stepping stones,

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a troublesome bee at lunch time and a hole that interrupts his roll; and each time Big is happy to oblige. After a fun-filled day, the friends head for home and snuggle into their cosy beds. Then however, comes a spot of role reversal: “A little help, please!” calls Big who cannot sleep.

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The idea that friendship can involve a responsibility of care is embedded within this story told through a combination of jaunty rhyming text and bold, bright visuals.
I like the fact that both author and artist engender a zest for life and enjoyment of nature – the endpapers featuring insects that appear during the course of the story help in the latter.
Share with those just starting out on forming friendships.

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The Queen’s Orang-Utan – one for Comic Relief

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The Queen’s Orang-Utan
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books
This is a real laugh out loud book and in buying it readers will be contributing to Comic Relief, for both the author and publisher will donate all their profits to the charity.
Herein a supremely bored monarch makes what everyone else deems an outrageous birthday present request – or should that be, demand: ‘ “For one’s birthday one would very much like … announced the Queen … “One’s own orang-utan!” ‘. And of course, what her majesty demands her majesty receives – with riotous consequences: consequences that not only relieve HRH of the tedium of entertaining even the most boring of guests to Buck. Palace

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but also enable her to escape her monotonous existence forever.

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Wonderfully anarchic – wickedly expressed both verbally and visually.

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Silly Things – Frog and Toad Together & My Mum’s Sayings

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Frog and Toad Together
Arnold Lobel
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
Frog and Toad are two of my all time favourite characters; I’ve loved them for more years than I care to remember. In fact they featured in Learning to Read with Picture Books, a short book I wrote as a young teacher and what I said then still holds: Here it is – ‘This is a book no child learning to read should miss, and sets a standard by which we should judge all the books we offer to children at the crucial in-between stage (before completely assured, wide reading.) It contains five short stories about easy-going Frog, who is the ideal complement to the volatile Toad. The List (my favourite story) is a hilarious sequence in which Toad’s day is brought to a complete standstill when the wind whisks away his precious ‘list of things to do’. As always Frog is there to save the day.
The green and brown illustrations capture the humour of the text to perfection.
A book to read over and over again.
In the other four short stories Toad discovers that growing seeds is much harder than he thought, the friends test their will power, discover they’re not as brave as they hoped and Toad has a scary dream. This new edition is picture book size in contrast to the original much smaller I Can Read format, which looked much more like a ‘grown up’ book. I hope this doesn’t mean it won’t reach its intended audience: it’s such a great book and so good to see it back in print.

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My Mum Says the Silliest Things
Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett
Walker Books pbk
This is another title in the same vein as My Dad Thinks He’s Funny and My Dad Still Thinks He’s Funny. Here the elder of two brothers shares with readers some of the oft-uttered comments his mum addresses to him (and countless other adults make to children) –

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things said in all seriousness often, though the response is likely to be giggles, eye-rolling or shrugs from the recipient, all of which we get from the narrator. Every spread (except the finale) presents seemingly daft pronouncements and the title of the book either concludes or opens the scenarios, “When I’m noisy Mum says she can’t hear herself think. When I’m grumpy, Mum says you could land an aeroplane on my bottom lip” each of which is illustrated in quirky mixed media style.

 

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Jellett wittily encapsulates the textual wordplay and the idiosyncrasies of the English language.

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All in all, a fun tribute to mums – it would make an amusing offering for Mother’s Day or a birthday provided the mum in question has a good sense of humour. Smiles to the ready …

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Testing Situations with Mouse, Penguin Blue and Rhinoceros

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All Mine
Zehra Hicks
Macmillan Children’s Books
It’s lunch time: Mouse is just about to embark on his cheese sandwich when down swoops Seagull, pinches it,

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flies off and scoffs the lot. Mouse is far from pleased; he reprimands the thief for his bad manners and dashes off in search of something else to eat. Imagine how he feels when down swoops that greedy Seagull again and proceeds to polish off Mouse’s entire packet of crisps.

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The tiny rodent is anything but happy and both he and Seagull are still in need of sustenance. So will Seagull manage to gobble up the delicious looking confection that stops him dead in his tracks? It’s time for Mouse to draw on his resources if he’s to outwit that marauding bird and satisfy his hunger pangs, and that he does very cleverly.
That foxy-looking ‘puppet’ is just great and looks almost exactly the kind of thing young children make from scrap materials.

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That Zahra Hicks uses a stick for painting (combined with photography) to create her illustrations fascinated my audiences. I love her child-like simplicity and the way for instance, she has added the lower jaw to the fox.
A tasty book through and through. Who’s for cake?

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Blown Away
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins pbk
This seemingly simple, perfectly crafted tale is the thoroughly uplifting picture book debut from Art Director of the Observer Magazine, Rob Biddulph. By an interesting co-incidence, my copy arrived in the post on Sakrant, the day of India’s kite flying festival.
Far away in the Antarctic, Penguin Blue is test flying his brand new kite. The wind is particularly strong and before long our supposedly flightless friend finds himself airborne. Penguin pals Jeff and Flo, Wilbur (seal) pegging washing on his clothesline, and Clive, (polar bear) out fishing in his inflatable dinghy, attempt to help

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but they too are swept aloft and way across the ocean until they spy far below,
A tiny island, lush and green/(A colour that they’ve never seen). “The trees look soft, we’ll be all right./Hello jungle! Goodbye kite!” – the author’s rhyme is spot on as well as his design. Down they cascade into a jungly landscape full of friendly animals.

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However, unused to the tropical heat the friends long for home so it’s fortunate that Blue is the creative type. They can make use of the resources to hand and the same element that brought them there: all that’s required is another large gust of wind

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and the travellers are on their way, albeit with a stowaway.
Safely home and a warm welcome, but their visitor finds the climate far from comfortable;

 

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it’s as well then that Blue just happens to have a spare kite …

 

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Preposterous Rhinoceros
Tracy Gunaratnam and Marta Costa
Maverick Arts Publising pbk
The jungle animals are far from happy; King Lion has lost his voice and that means no bedtime story unless they can find another story reader. Rhinoceros is eager to step in; the others doubt his ability but reluctantly agree to let him try. When confronted with a book however, Rhinoceros is stymied; seemingly he’s misunderstood how the reading process works – the words don’t just speak themselves from the page and his key doesn’t unlock that text either. And shaking the book is disastrous.
Off goes Rhino in search of some storytelling advice. Both Drama Llama and Techie Toucan offer useful suggestions “Just open it and dive straight in,” (Llama) and “Just open it and get stuck in,”

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from Techie.
But Rhinoceros takes both literally with disastrous, or rather as Sly Salamander tells him, “preposterous” consequences.

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Nor does her own explanation “… They just need to be READ!” prove any more fruitful. But finally with Salamander’s help,

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Rhinoceros cracks the code and is ready to deliver his first bedtime tale – even though by that time, King Lion’s voice is fully restored.
The interaction of the verbal and visual definitely works well with young audiences. This chain of misunderstandings herein had my listeners, who are themselves learning to read, in fits of giggles
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