Our Beach / Walter the Wonder Snail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walter the Wonder Snail
Neil Clark
Happy Yak

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fireborn: Phoenix and the Frost Palace

Fireborn: Phoenix and the Frost Palace
Aisling Fowler
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The saga continues with Twelve, (she of fiery powers) now adopting her aptly chosen name, Phoenix. With these powers though, comes responsibility so when Nara, a representative of the long-lost witch clan arrives from the frost palace of Icegaard, begging for Phoenix’s help, she realises that her fire power is their only hope: Icegaard and the whole world of Ember are in grave danger from a dark force called the Shadowseam. So, together with fellow Hunters Five and Six and the not fully-fledged Seven. she travels north to the frost palace.

Bound for Icegaard too, only taking a separate path, is Dog. Other characters from the first book are also here, for on the trail of the Hunters are Morgren and Victory.

It’s crucial for the mission that Phoenix learns to gain absolute control over her magic; this is a huge challenge. She has Nara’s guidance and support but that dark force grows stronger with each passing day. Is this a battle that she just cannot win?

Once again Aisling Fowler snares our attention from the start, immersing readers in a wondrous world of magic, monstrous creatures new and old, witches and dreadful dangers. There’s tension throughout, plenty of action and downright scary moments that will set your heart thudding, and poignant ones too; and what a cliff-hanger of an ending – phew! I read this on a long haul flight and never have I known the hours pass so fast: I just couldn’t put it down. I wish the time would pass that quickly till the third book comes.

A Clock of Stars: The Greatest Kingdom

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

This is the third part in Francesca Gibbons’ fantastical adventure trilogy.

With Anneshka now in the world of humans searching for the greatest kingdom and Mum’s boyfriend, Mark, dangerously ill in hospital on account of some monsters he accidentally carried home, Imogen and Marie face some enormous problems and the clock is ticking to save Mark’s life.

There’s magic aplenty awaiting as we follow the sisters as they make one final journey through the door in the tree. Their quest will mean they must travel – much further than they’ve ever done before – right into the strange enchanted lands of Nedobyt; giant birds and a lot of flying are involved.

Meanwhile elsewhere, feeling more lonely than ever before, Miro, is also on a journey – to find his mother’s family. Almost thankful to be accompanied by Princess Kazimira, he heads towards the Nameless Mountains where he hopes to track down his two grandmothers.

This is an absolutely brilliant, breathtaking finale with so much at stake. Lots is learned including that Imogen realises she’s not the only one to have ‘worry creatures’, Miro has them too.

I don’t want to reveal too much about what unfolds or it will spoil readers’ enjoyment of Francesca’s truly spellbinding tale. Make sure you take a good look at Chris Riddell’s superb portraits of the characters at the front of the book

With all prophecies fulfilled, the clock of stars has stopped ticking; wither next for this amazing author I wonder.

The Little Elf’s Christmas Surprise

Little Elf’s Christmas Surprise
Helen Baugh and Nick East
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Little Elf can hardly contain his excitement: at last he’s sufficiently grown up to be able to wear one of those red and green hats that are considered a special perk for Santa’s elfin helpers. As the other elves complete the loading of Santa’s sleigh, Little Elf proudly holds in his hands the final ‘Dear Santa’ letter in the entire land and begins to read. So intent is he that Little Elf fails to notice the icy patch in the workshop doorway and whoosh! He slips, slides, thumps and in so doing lets go of that all important letter.

Back on his feet, Little Elf chases the whirling, swirling letter through the snow and ice but just as it’s almost within his reach, the elf takes another tumble. ‘But he HAD to catch the letter! / It just COULD NOT disappear! / Or a child would think that Santa had / forgotten them this year.’ Off he goes again with increased determination.

After further accidents, our Little Elf finally has the letter in his hand and off he hurries back home to read it.

What he discovers as he shares its contents with his fellow elves causes considerable consternation among them and a selfless action on the part of our little hero.

Young listeners will love joining in with the repeat refrains in Helen’s rhyming text and revel in the final surprise. With gentle humour, Nick captures the chaos that is Little Elf’s chase, brilliantly showing his perturbation as he ploughs his way through the wintry landscape.

Goldilocks and the Three Crocodiles

Goldilocks and the Three Crocodiles
Michael Rosen and David Melling
Harper Collins Children’s Books

It would appear that Goldilocks hasn’t learned from her adventure with the three bears and now she has acquired a dog named Tiddles. Tiddles has a special liking for walking and it’s at his suggestion one sunny morning that they set out to rediscover that particular house in the woods – the one with the chairs, bowls and beds.

Off they go through the deep dark wood and suddenly in the distance comes the sound of the sea, seemingly calling to them with its ‘Pershooo, persheee, pershooo, persheee’. Arriving on a sandy beach, they soon discover a cave – a deep cave – and of course, in they go.

Yes they do find three chairs, three bowls

and even three beds, and Goldilocks and Tiddles do fall fast asleep. Moreover, their slumbers are disturbed by the sound of voices demanding to know , “Who’s been sitting on my …” – well you know how it goes. The cave owners are back …

I’m a huge fan of playful takes on fairy tales and this one is terrific fun. You’d expect no less from expert storyteller Michael Rosen and fantastic illustrator David Melling who, with his delectable details, highlights the humour of the telling. With slight echoes of ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, this is a brilliant read aloud, be that at home or in a classroom: both adults and children will delight in its language and the mock-scariness of the story.

Autumn Moonbeam: Spooky Sleepover / Pages & Co: The Treehouse Library

Teamwork is a key ingredient of both these magical fantasies.

Autumn Moonbeam: Spooky Sleepover
Emma Finlayson-Palmer and Heidi Cannon
uclan publishing

In this second story where the world of witches meets the world of dance, it’s the first day at Sparkledale Dance Academy for dance and gymnastics-lover, Autumn. With a mixture of apprehension in case she isn’t up to it and excitement at being in the Black Cats dance team, she meets her best friend Batty at the door. As their teacher Verity welcomes the newcomers and announces the warm up, one of the team is still to arrive. Suddenly there she is at the door, Severina Bloodworth, Autumn’s conceited neighbour, showing off her new hairstyle.

As the session gets under way Verity announces a special team bonding sleepover in two weeks time. She also sends Severina to the store cupboard to find something to tie back her hair. On her return strange things start happening, but are they Severina’s doing or is something or someone else responsible for the trouble?

The following Monday back in their normal classroom Autumn comes upon a book with a paragraph about pixies. What she reads has an uncanny match with events at the dance academy the previous week. Perhaps it’s worth trying out the anti-pixie mischief remedies suggested.

Excitement mounts on the day of the sleepover and Autumn takes the opportunity to accuse Severina of being behind the weird happenings that occur whenever they dance. Her response is something of a surprise to her accuser but a relief to the accused. Perhaps if everyone remembers what Verity always says, “Teamwork makes dreamwork” they can work together to find a way out of the trouble once and for all.

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

At last, it’s time for Milo to take centre stage as driver of the Quip in this the penultimate book of what has been an amazing series. Now accompanied by Alessia (the Alchemist’s daughter), is he ready to be a hero? Having been poisoned, his Uncle Horatio is currently lying unconscious in the care of the Pages family, and it appears that the only way to cure him is with a recipe in Alessia’s notebook. Together Milo and Alessia set out, bound for Northumberland in the hope of finding the Botanist, the only person who might be able to help them.

Having grown up on a train and never before left it, Milo is surprised to discover the sense of peace he feels close to trees.; a peace that is disturbed by a human voice. It’s that of the Botanist, aka Rosa, who lives and works in the Treehouse Library of the title; she who is the sworn enemy of the the Alchemist. From her Milo learns that his grandmother is also there and willing to see him. That’s two new and interesting characters who both readers and Milo encounter for the first time and happily for Milo, Rosa makes a decent mug of hot chocolate.

Time is of the essence as they hunt for ingredients for the cure, searching in The Secret Garden, sailing in a pea-green boat, 

repelling the terrifying Jabberwock and challenging Robin Hood as to whether he’s truly all about helping the poor.

With the ruthless Alchemist prepared to do anything it takes to get hold of The Book of Books and discover its secrets, the entire realm of the imagination is in danger: a thrilling struggle for book wandering’s destiny unfolds, and Milo, Tilly, Oskar, Alessia and Rosa have to put all their skills together to find that book first. An awesome read and I can hardly wait for the final story.


Rebecca Smith and Zoe Waring
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Young Daisy is an aspiring princess and really feels like a fairy princess when she dons the pink gown and crown from her dressing up box. This make-believe helps Daisy to forget about the less happy parts of her life, for this little girl has cancer and often needs to go and stay in a hospital far from her home to have medicine that makes her feel sick and weak. Worse though is that the medicine causes her hair to fall out.

Then back at home she rediscovers that forgotten pink sparkly wig and when she puts it on, Daisy is transformed into Daisy the Superhero complete with flowing cape and matching shimmery mask. Wearing this amazing attire Daisy transports herself to the town zoo where she comes to the aid of some lemurs being cruelly frightened by a boy.

She goes on to rescue a bear trapped beneath a fallen tree in the forest and to help a little girl at the seaside who has dropped her ice-cream in fright when a seagull came too close. Now when she’s back in that ward for treatment Daisy wears her pink hair, bolstered by the knowledge that her kindness power has made her a superhero able to face anything.

Eventually Daisy’s hair grows back: the wig has done its job and more.

This inspiring, uplifting rhyming book based on a true story is published in support of the Little Princess Trust, which supplies wigs for children with cancer. With its plethora of pink touches as well as that wig in Zoe Waring’s illustrations, this is definitely one to share with youngsters like Daisy undergoing cancer treatment (or perhaps sick with another serious illness).

The Blue-footed Booby

The Blue-footed Booby
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

A laugh-out-loud rhyming tale from Rob Biddulph: what more can a picture book lover ask? This one is all about boobies – the red-footed variety – all of which are at heart, bakers creating fantastic delicacies like those of Desmond whose speciality is frangipani tarts. His latest creation however has vanished but of the culprit there is no sign save a trail of large blue footprints. Immediately Desmond is in hot pursuit ‘Left footprint … right footprint … dash through the snow!’ First stop is Maureen’s establishment but there’s no time to partake of her delectable doughnuts, there are footprints to follow and now two boobies are following them. They have to eschew Rod’s black forest gateau next but he’s willing to join the hunt, as are others until there are ten boobies dashing down the street on their bright red feet.

The trail stops outside a house with a small blue door, 

which is opened by a booby but not seemingly of the red-footed sort; this booby’s feet are – you’ve guessed it – bright blue. Apparently this bird consumes only vegetables of the green kind, is he telling the truth though? Desmond isn’t sure but then he notices a new clue in the form of tart crumbs so it’s now a case of look smart and follow the crumb trail all the way back in the direction they’ve come. Where though are all the other yummy, cake treats? 

Eventually the trail leads the ten to a clearing in the woods from whence there comes a tell tale sound of munching …

Maybe it’s time to apologise for jumping to false conclusions Des, and to make amends for so doing … But that’s not quite the end of this crazy tale. Cakes anybody? Or would you prefer some green veggies?

With the occasional red herring and a handful of additional objects to search for during the story, this is Biddulph at his priceless and silliest best.


Nicola Skinner
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Nicola Skinner’s latest book is quite simply gargantuan. Actually though, nothing is simple about this utterly brilliant story.

Eleven year old Minnie Wadlow lives on an island in Quake Quarter, the gated walled city to be more precise: there’s not much wrong with said island if you can ignore the earthquakes that regularly strike, causing buildings to crumble and schools and houses to collapse. Fortunately the island’s inhabitants have come up with the perfect way to fix their crumbling walls: they use giants (one of the two kinds living in the island). These servant giants act as minders for the human children including Minnie: her giant is Speck; but when the girl turns twelve years old, she’ll have to kiss Speck goodbye thus turning her to stone forever. The stone is then used for repairs: all perfectly normal and fair – so Minnie and the other human children have been led to believe; it stands to reason they must never, ever develop any warm feelings towards their giant; nor must there be any secrets between child and giant.

Minnie and her family live in Quake Avenue, at number twelve, the least up market of all the twelve mansions, each of which belongs to an employee of the Giant Management Company and Mr Wadlow is endeavouring (unsuccessfully), to invent something that can stop the earthquakes for good. Minnie is forced by one Mr Straw, to take twice daily doses of medication – painkillers and muscle strengthener so she believes.

Not long after the Goodbye ceremony of Florin and his giant a violent earthquake strikes the island. Minnie quickly realises that despite what she’s been told, she isn’t ready to bid farewell to her giant forever. So, she runs away, thus betraying not only her parents but everyone she knows. She doesn’t remain entirely alone for she encounters first a jackal and then Robin Scragg whom she’d met at Florin’s ceremony..

Her journey becomes a race against time during which she has to face the truth about her island, Speck the giant and crucially, herself and who she really is.

With Flavia Sorrentino’s fantastic illustrations, this is a spectacular tale of letting go of all you thought right and genuine in order to remain true to yourself and your loved ones.

Cats in Chaos

Cats in Chaos
Peter Bently and John Bond
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Moggy mayhem it most certainly is in this superb presentation from team Bently and Bond, their laugh-out-loud follow up to Dogs in Disguise.

Peter has taken the predilections of cats and woven them into an action-packed show-stopping treat with all the most entertaining circus acts you could imagine, and many you can’t until you see them in John Bond’s sensational scenes that overflow with warmth and wittiness. There are conjurors, a dog tamer, a cannonball cat, a juggling clown, trapeze artists and an amazing balancing act – look out for a friendly favourite from children’s TV among the throng;

but these are just some of the awesome artists that the mischievous mouse distracts at each and every opportunity.

Peter’s naming of the entertainers is splendidly silly and sometimes alliterative; children will adore even EVEL KATNEVEL ;

his wordplay is wonderful too; then there’s fun onomatopoeia – all this in a cleverly structured rhyming text that trips off the tongue and comes full circle to cats snoozing and snuggling – mostly anyhow.

Share this with a class or group and I guarantee there will be instant cries for an encore and pleas for further repeat performances. Give it to a single child or a few together and they will spend ages pouring over (maybe pawing over) the delicious details of disarray on every spread.

The Whale Watchers / When Things Went Wild

These are two adventure stories set in Scotland and both with an environmental theme: thanks to Owlet Press and Harper Collins Children’s Books for sending them for review.

The Whale Watchers
Dougie Poynter, illustrated by Amber Huq
Owlet Press

It’s the start of the school summer holidays and Finn is anything but pleased to be travelling by train to Scotland to study whales along with his marine biologist mum and younger brother Jesse who is really excited about the prospect of whale watching. Who wants to go to a cold, rainy place at the end of nowhere when you might go somewhere hot like Spain or France? But it’s part of his mum’s job to collect data on the various kinds of whales, minke whales in particular. Moreover, the thought of such creatures and ideas of plastic pollution in the oceans and endangered animals makes Finn’s stomach churn: contrary to what his mum believes Finn thinks the world is already doomed.

However when he arrives next morning things don’t seem quite so awful: the cottage where they’re to stay is right on the beach. Then while on the shore the boys meet Skye and Rain, her dog. Gradually as they spend time together sharing experiences and an adventure neither will forget,

their friendship grows strong and Finn is able to see things differently.
After all his misgivings he has an unexpectedly incredible summer holiday and has a wonderful surprise even before his train home has reached its destination.

Dougie Poynter, himself an avid conservationist, cleverly weaves information about the marine life of the Moray Firth and the impact of pollution on its waters and the wider environment into his splendid story: everyone can make a difference and although it might seem small to the individual, the impact of each person together can be huge. I was horrified at the comment from a colleague of Finn’s mum, ‘just a single one-litre plastic bottle can break down into enough tiny pieces of plastic to put a piece on every single mile of beach on the planet.’ Amber Huq’s illustrations add to the dramatic impact of the tale.

There’s also an excellent final factual section reinforcing the novel’s message that includes lots of ways that everybody can help contribute to the cause of marine animals and the environment in general.

When Things Went Wild
Tom Mitchell
Harper Collins Children’s Books

From the quote from Tennyson’s The Eagle before the story begins I knew I was going to enjoyTom Mitchell’s latest book; it even exceeded my high expectations.

With his parents and irritating younger brother Jack, Kit has recently moved from Nottingham to an old house in Granton, in the highlands of Scotland, a place he describes as in the middle of nowhere. He has a lot to contend with: the wi-fi is rubbish, he’s starting at a new school and now his mum is wanting him to join them on a walk. It’s on said walk however that pesky Jack stumbles upon an unknown object and later on when PC Lennox comes knocking on their door, the boys learn that the object they found is a tracker that has been removed from the leg of a missing golden eagle named Adler.

Then a school project is announced and everyone in Kit’s class is expected to produce an idea to investigate. Is there perhaps a chance he could become ‘Kit Brautigan, bird detective’? Apparently the killing of these awesome birds is fairly common and when the brothers realise there is actually a pair of nesting eagles under threat, they feel they must do something. Before long the school’s most popular pupil, Tamora, becomes involved as does her younger sister, Bea.

But who wants to harm the eagles and why? The main suspects are a local farmer McNab, the sinister game keeper Mosby and landowner Lord Cavendish, (father of Tamora and Bea.) Can the city children catch the killer culprit?

With mishaps and mayhem aplenty, Tom’s gently humorous tale – a whodunnit but so much more – is a timely reminder that we all need to take responsibility for protecting our precious environment and its wildlife.

The Offline Diaries / How to Hide an Alien

These are two stories about friendship and its challenges

The Offline Diaries
Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Presented mainly through the diaries of the main characters, Shanice and Ade both in Y8, this funny, fresh contemporary novel follows the ups and downs of the friendship of the two girls.

Ade is about to start at a new school; she has just been forced to move with her mother and sisters to be near her stepdad’s new job and he’s somebody she definitely doesn’t get on with. Shanice.something of a loner, has been at Archbishop Academy for a year, lives with her dad and irritating brother, and to help her cope with her mother’s death, has mostly been spending a fair bit of time at her dad’s salon where she loves to people watch. She has an older brother James who seems to get away with everything. The salon is where the two girls first meet; they appear to have a fair bit in common and decide to chat online.

Things go well at school too until Ade gets involved with the popular, mean, Double-A girls and Shanice feels increasingly left out. Meanwhile Ade attempts to juggle the friendships, but before long she realises she needs to make a decision: who is a real friend? And then what? …

Can Ade and Shanice’s powerful friendship survive if Shanice refuses to have anything to do with Ade: online doesn’t work, Shanice avoids personal contact with Ade; but could a letter help work things out?

This is a captivating and effective combination of diary entries and online chat that will resonate with readers around the age of the two main characters, both of whom are hugely likeable. There’s a feeling of authenticity about the entire thing: it’s relatively easy to make a friend but making up requires the ability to see things from another person’s perspective, and strength of character: these two girls with their distinctive voices, have the latter in bucketloads.

How to Hide an Alien
Karen McCombie
Little Tiger

Star Boy crashed into the school playground and thus the lives of Kiki and Wes in How to be a Human and is now named Stan.

After being on earth just ten days he’s trying hard to learn the rules of being human and understand about emotions, the latter being discouraged among his species. Kiki and Wes too are having to learn quickly – hiding and training an apprentice human’ is far from easy even with the help of Eddie, the owner of the Electrical Emporium. There’s an urgent need to be able to pass their alien pal off as human so that they can all go to the funfair that’s arriving very soon. Bothering Star Boy at the same time is that he’s started experiencing pings and pangs. Equally those electrical surges are hard to hide first from Kiki’s dad but soon they’re causing a growing problem for Wes and Kiki as they create electrical disturbances all across town.

Add to all that, the family situations of Kiki and Wes continue to be challenging, so that makes three characters struggling to find where they belong in this world. But then by accident Star Boy channels his true form onto the interactive whiteboard, not only in Wes’s class but that in every single classroom at Riverside Academy.’ How much of a catastrophe have I caused? he wonders. The school is temporarily closed for starters. Time for some breathing exercises to calm things down a bit.

Before long though come reports of an alien sighting, trending on Instagram and soon Star Boy has gone viral. Another possibility raises its head too: is Star Boy being tracked from whence he came?
Now friendship, empathy and all they mean, are even more crucial than ever if Kiki and Wes are to keep their friend safe. Can Kiki’s mum do anything to help?

Told with gentle humour, this is another totally gripping story that I read in a single sitting: it could be read as a stand alone but it’s even better if you’ve already read How to be a Human.

Genie and Teeny: The Wishing Well / Clarice Bean Scram!

These two books are additions to favourite series from Harper Collins – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review:

Genie and Teeny: The Wishing Well
Steven Lenton

This third adventure of Grant the genie, and his best friend – the puppy, Teeny picks up where the previous one left off with Tilly’s mum coming into her daughter’s bedroom and hearing strange noises coming from Grant’s “Not-a-teapot’ now officially renamed tea-lamp. Those noises are made by a deeply sleeping Grant as he dreams of being back in Genie World with his family; inside the teapot, in diminutive form, are also Tilly and Teeny. On waking Grant feels even more homesick but he responds to Tilly’s urgent whispers about the close proximity of her mum with assurances about the plan he has – one that works only with the help of we readers.

Luckily the crisis is averted and after breakfast, plan B, Tilly announces will be to get Grant back to his world. The thing is Genie World, aka Wishaluzia, is an enormous distance away, high, high in the sky: no problem there then! Or rather, a very big one – how will he travel up through the sky. It’s not long before the Elastic Fantastic Flying Machine appears, first in Tilly’s mind, then on paper and finally, once they’ve assembled and fixed together all the items collected in the garden, there stands a rocket-shaped vehicle. Off goes Grant to grab some suitable gear to wear and once attired the countdown commences. Yes, the thing does get launched but almost immediately …

Time for some light refreshments and then a new plan; one that involves a visit to a theme park with an officious security guard and a no dogs rule.

From there on the action really ramps up and there are lots of laugh-out-loud moments (for readers not the characters) and wishes (of course).

What about that much anticipated and joyful reunion between Grant and his family way up high; will it eventually take place? That would be telling …

Another brilliant tale that, with Steven’s hilarious illustrations and magical mishaps aplenty, is great for both independent readers and reading aloud.

Clarice Bean Scram!
Lauren Child

The utterly irrepressible, indomitable Clarice Bean, she with a skill for stretching the truth, returns in a summer adventure – or several, that begins on a scorchingly hot day in the first week of the holidays. Clarice is bored, saying she has nothing to do; her best friend is away on holiday for the entire break and her mum, annoyed at her daughter’s continual moaning, sends her outside into the garden. It’s there that she informs the irritating Robert Granger that her family is getting a dog. Now it’s not exactly a case of be careful what you wish for as it’s her sister Marcie who really really wants a dog, but near enough for before you can say ‘bark’, this nothing day turns into anything but.

For instance there’s the episode of the tin of spaghetti (or several) for the family’s dinner purchased at Clement’s corner shop. This leads to an encounter (also several) with a dog – a dog that just refuses to go away. Clarice’s parents meanwhile have realised that they’re supposed to be attending a wedding and off they dash to catch a plane.

Now Clarice has the tricky task of keeping this pooch a secret from Grandad who is now in charge of the household, as well as her siblings. But there’s the question of food and much more, including disposing of the animal’s ‘you-know-what’, as she quickly discovers. It’s a task that proves too much for Clarice – not the poo disposal – but keeping the presence of the dog under wraps and before long Marcie discovers it.

Happily she’s eager to accept the creature and help raise money for his food and other necessities;

but nobody else must find out about Clement as they decide to name him. Errr …

Related, as only Lauren Child’s Claire Bean can, in an utterly credible manner, with her seemingly innocent, astute observations and vivacious voice, both of which are brought to life by Lauren’s scattering of deliciously quirky collage illustrations and line drawings throughout the book this is
Irresistible reading for almost any child (and many adults) from early KS2 onwards.

The Super-secret Diary of Holly Hopkinson: Just a touch of utter chaos / (The Boy Who Got) Accidentally Famous

Here are two hugely readable books from Harper Collins Children’s Books: thanks to the publisher for sending them for review:

The Super-secret Diary of Holly Hopkinson: Just a touch of utter chaos
Charlie P. Brooks and Katy Riddell

After the crisis with Mum almost taking a job in New York, things are once again in turmoil in the Hopkinson household, particularly where adept inventor/wielder of words, ten year old Holly is concerned. For instance she might as she says, have mentioned to her best friend Daffodil something about a New York move. Actually her mum is embarking instead on opening a farm shop/emporium.

Then her teacher Miss Blossom announces that she’s engaged to be married and that the entire class will be involved. Now while this is not good news for Holly Hopkinson (schoolgirl) and Holly Hopkinson (Band Manager Inc.) that still leaves possibilities for her Film Location and Places Inc. persona. Now she should pass on the information regarding the marriage to Aunt Electra whose establishment might just be a possibility for the wedding venue. Seemingly it’s time for Holly to make use of her magic pocket watch once again.

I loved the famous artists’ background homework episode and that of the visit to one of London’s cutting edge ‘art galleries.’ That event certainly sets some changes in motion.

As with the previous two diaries, this one is full of laugh-out-loud moments, plenty of twists and turns in the family’s fortunes, some village politics, funny food and unusual characters, including one or two unexpected ones. Like the others, Katy Riddell’s black and white illustrations provide an additional layer of humour to Charlie P. Brooks’ storytelling. 

It does work as a stand-alone book but it’s probably better if readers are familiar with Holly’s previous diaries (now safely stashed in a biscuit tin) before embarking on this one.

(The Boy Who Got) Accidentally Famous
David Baddiel, illustrated by Steven Lenton

This is a laugh-out-loud story starring the very ordinary eleven year old Billy who lives with his ordinary mum and dad and his ten month old sister (also ordinary). Nothing out of the ordinary has ever happened to Billy; but then one day something extraordinary takes place. A TV crew from TotalTV TV descend on Billy’s school, Bracket Wood to film for a show to be called School Daze. Many of Billy’s classmates play up for the cameras, hoping one of them will become famous. Not Billy however: he’s sure that the closest to fame he’ll ever get is reading about his favourite star Sunshine De Marto in his mum’s glossy magazines.

However, what happens thereafter only goes to show how wrong somebody can be: Almost overnight, on account of his ordinariness Billy becomes an internet sensation: #BillyTheNormo #OrdinaryBilly and the trending #Relatabill; there’s even a #Relatabill rap. Now at school too, everybody notices Billy especially when TotalTV want him to sign a contract. Moreover there’s a strong possibility that he might actually get to meet Sunshine De Marco.

However as his fame increases, Billy feels like somebody else entirely 

and it’s fortunate that his best friend Bo has his back, at least to begin with. Billy has to make some choices for himself if he really is to meet Sunshine and caught up in his stardom, he makes some unwise decisions. Can true friendship save him and help the boy realise his dream?

David Baddiel’s witty take on fame and friendship is a very funny, heart-warming, highly engaging and relatable story that readers in KS2 will love. It also offers lots of opportunities for class discussion and more. Steven Lenton’s black and white illustrations really help bring the characters – ordinary or otherwise – to life. Unable to it put it down, I read the book in a single sitting.

The Lost Whale

The Lost Whale
Hannah Gold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Hannah Gold is a wonderful weaver of words. In this story we meet eleven year old Rio who is sent to stay with his grandmother in a small coastal town in California while his musical mum goes to hospital for treatment. Having last met Grandmother Fran over five years ago, and knowing virtually nothing about where she lives, he is reluctant to go but has no choice about leaving his friends and everything familiar.

Then, one day Fran gives Rio a box containing treasures that had belonged to his mum. Inside is a sketchbook of drawings of whales, one of which seems to call to the boy. He discovers she’s named White Beak on account of her distinctive markings. This leads him down to the harbour

and a chance meeting with Marina, a girl around his own age who lives on a boat with her Dad, Birch, and they run whale-watching trips for visitors.

Now, Rio has a focus and perhaps too an anchor, for he feels that if he can find White Beak it will help heal his mother. He discovers that not only has he an affinity for whales, but he is able to hear them when nobody else can.

You’ll likely feel tears welling up at certain places in this beautiful, unputdownable book. The author’s way of embedding information about animals (in this case whales and protection of their environment), within a gripping narrative with brilliant characterisation is awesome. I urge you to dive headlong in, relish the opportunity to lose yourself in this watery world, spot some whales in Levi Pinfold’s illustrations that are as exquisite as Hannah’s writing and notably capture the majesty of White Beak, as well as Rio’s journey both emotional and physical.

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Magic Thief

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

The fantastic fourth instalment of Dominique Valente’s fantasy series sees young witch, Willow Moss without her magic power that has been stolen by the renegade wizard Silas. Now with Starfell on the brink of disaster and destruction, facing formidable danger Willow and some friends set out a-back dragon Feathering to the Mountains of Nach , where if a story her Granny once told her is right, she will find the legendary beast, the Craegun.

She hopes what’s believed about this powerful being – that it can restore anything that has been lost, albeit at a cost – is so. The clock is ticking and she has only a few days to complete her mission or all the magic of Willow’s world will be forever lost.

It’s a huge learning journey for Willow; by the time this epic tale ends wherein she often recalls her Granny’s wonderfully wise words, she’s learnt to love herself for the awesome person she is; and a lot about magic, it’s might, and what it really means to herself, her family and the Starfell community.

Truly a celebration of friendship, empathy, kindness and consideration, equality, determination and resilience: oh my shrinking giants! – this is such a terrific read, full of memorable moments and so superbly illustrated by Sarah Warburton. Please don’t let it be the last we hear of Willow et al.

Baby Bunny’s Easter Surprise / Ready! Said Rabbit

Baby Bunny’s Easter Surprise
Helen Baugh and Nick East
Harper Collins Children’s Books

With an appropriately bouncy rhyming narrative and equally spirited illustrations, team Baugh and East entertain young humans (and adult sharers) with what happens when one adorable-looking baby bunny Letty, trails her Easter Bunny mummy one Easter morning on her delivery of yummy chocolate eggs intended for the woodland dwelling creatures.
The problem is though that every egg that is so carefully placed, be it high up in a tree, low down beside the pond or a-top toadstools is so simply irresistible that little Letty, with all her senses alert, just cannot stop herself (even though she knows it’s not the right thing to do) from taking just one ‘teeny-weeny, titchy taste’ – and she’s overcome by such a superchoccylicious sensation that … I’m sure you can guess where this is going.
No matter, thinks the baby bunny, nobody else can possibly know what she’s been up to.

However, despite Letty’s repeated assertion that her misdeeds are undetectable, there’s absolutely no fooling her Mummy. Time to make amends; but that leaves mother and baby with an empty basket and Little Bunny eggless.

Or …

Much better and definitely longer lasting than chocolate eggs, get this for your little ones as an Easter treat.

Ready! said Rabbit
Marjoke Henrichs
Scallywag Press

As this second episode in the life of Dad rabbit and his little one begins, the clock on the wall says 9 o’clock. Dad announces that it’s a good day for a visit to the park and immediately the youngster starts enthusing about possibilities such as picnicking as well as mentioning all kinds of things to take along while Dad urges “Time to get ready!”. 

However it takes several changes of clothes before Dad is satisfied with the suitability of Rabbit’s attire. Then there’s the business of assembling snacks and with that completed, Rabbit finds more opportunities for getting distracted from the task in hand. 

With the clock at 11.20 Rabbit finally announces, “READY!”

Now it’s Dad’s turn to delay their departure: first there’s a phone call; then some important items are missing (hidden in plain sight) which they can’t leave without 

and it’s not until one o’clock that both parties agree that they’re ready to sally forth – hurrah!

Adult sharers of this story will appreciate the gentle irony of the situation perhaps more than young children. The latter will especially enjoy Dad’s drollery and the numerous opportunities to join in with the oft repeated “READY!” as well as the delightful details on every spread.

Some of those slightly older than Rabbit might try reading the book themselves once an adult has read it aloud: the large clear print, close match of text and illustrations, and the natural repetition all make it ideal as they encourage anticipation and prediction, both of which are vital elements of early literacy development.

Dogs in Disguise

Dogs in Disguise
Peter Bently and John Bond
Harper Collins Children’s Books

In a hilarious, bouncy rhyming text, Peter Bently introduces a veritable virtuoso performance by ingenious canines. Each successfully infiltrates some kind of humans’ place disguised in garments garish, gaudy, smart, stylish, sporty, trendy, minimal, or sometimes just plain silly and even, if unpractised in the art of deception, terrible. Clad in gear ‘borrowed’ from their places of residence, they wander the streets, strutting their stuff, then stroll into shops – we see them – that ‘pair of OLD SCHNAUZERS’ ‘there, in PINK TROUSERS …’ ; while others gain admittance to seriously cool cafes like this one

Others with a sporty inclination cleverly compete in jujitsu – that’s CHARLENE the SHIH-TZU, or splash around in the swimming pool. We view one trying its paws at a tonsorial establishment, whereas that Frenchie family might simultaneously be gorging themselves on goodies at the theatre.

Now all of this requires training from an early age; but if like Barney one tries to be just a tad too clever, there’s the danger of embarrassing moments down at the park.

With their bright blocks of colour and superbly expressive eyes, John Bond’s illustrations are the perfect match for Peter’s wacky words.

Perfect for pooch lovers, fashionistas and anybody who likes a good giggle.

Einstein the Penguin

Einstein the Penguin
Iona Rangeley and David Tazzyman
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Iona Rangeley’s seasonal debut novel is sheer delight. It begins one chilly December afternoon in the Stewart household when mum suggests a visit to London Zoo.

It’s an excursion like many family outings with disagreement about which animals to look at, things being rushed and time running out. In this instance running out almost before seeing the penguins, almost but not quite for suddenly the children, Imogen and Arthur, spot a small penguin that seems to want them to be its friend.

“Can we keep him?” begs Imogen to which Mum responds by addressing the penguin directly, “And you Mr Penguin, must come and stay with us whenever you like.”

Little does she expect that later that evening what should appear at their front door but said penguin complete with rucksack. There’s only one thing to do thinks Mr Stewart: invite him in for supper and so they do, on the understanding of course that they take him back to the zoo next day.

That’s the intention but the following morning this plan quickly unravels when the zoo report that none of their penguins is missing. Time for a bit of investigating it seems. The siblings discover that penguin’s name is Einstein and that he’s lost his penguin friend, Isaac; but where is Isaac now?

With Christmas drawing ever closer Einstein’s ‘temporary, take-each day-as-it-comes’ stay is extended with the children turning detective in earnest as they determine to discover Isaac’s whereabouts. Next stop is Edinburgh but then what? …

With plenty of suspense, superb characterisation, quirkiness and a compelling plot, this is much more than a Christmas read. It’s made all the more fun by plenty of David Tazzyman’s characteristic scribbly drawings.

I’d love to hear more of Einstein et al.

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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 …


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.