A Handful of Board Books

Clap Hands
Say Goodnight

Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books

Can it really be thirty years since the original editions of these ‘A First Book for Babies’ titles appeared? They’ve lost none of their charm and those babes, whether they’re dancing, eating, making a noise, waving, swinging, riding or sleeping are just as adorable as ever.
As first books for babies, with their brief jaunty texts and superbly observed illustrations,

they’d still be one of my first picks to give a new mum.

Pop-Up Ocean
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Books

In this chunky little board book fifteen ocean-related things (one per spread) are stylishly illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius.
Toddlers will delight in seeing sea creatures large – whale, seal, stingray and not so large– crab, fish, octopus, seagull, coral and seahorse, along with a fishing boat, lighthouse, shell, submarine, swimmer, surfer all of which literally pop out of the pages.
A fun way to introduce vocabulary associated with the sea, it’s full of opportunities for language development at every opening.

Spot’s Puzzle Fun!
Eric Hill
Puffin Books

Toddlers will enjoy joining in with the ‘Brmm-brmm. Whoosh!’ of Helen’s bright red car; the ‘Bumpety-bump!’ of Steve’s shiny green tractor’ the ‘Rumble-rumble, beep-beep!’ of Tom’s big yellow digger and finally, the ‘Choo-choo, clickety-clack’ of Spot’s blue train as one by one they drive their vehicles into view, offering “Does anyone else want a turn?” to the other animals.

There are sturdy press-out pieces (animal and vehicle) on each spread that can also act as puzzle pieces and can be fitted together in various combinations – great for developing manipulative skills as well as fun.

Star Wars Block
Abrams Appleseed

Using die-cut shapes, the husband and wife design team that is Peskimo take readers on an epic celebratory journey that showcases iconic characters, spacecraft, combat vehicles, locations and creatures from various Star Wars films, from the very first to Rogue One.
Subtitled ‘Over 100 Words Every Fan Should Know,’ with its easily manipulated pages, this latest addition to the block book titles, will be welcomed by small fans of the epic space adventures, and I suspect, enthusiastic adults with whom they share this chunky offering.

The Giant Jumperee

The Giant Jumperee
Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury
Puffin Books
Donaldson and Oxenbury – a formidable team if ever there was one: together they’ve created a picture book that has all the hallmarks of a classic.
Who or what is occupying Rabbit’s burrow: some monster perhaps; it certainly has a loud voice as it claims “I’m the GIANT JUMPEREE and I’m scary as can be!” stopping Rabbit short as he’s about to enter his home.
Rabbit’s friends, starting with Cat, come to his aid:

she offers to “slink inside and pounce” only to be threatened with “I’ll squash you like a flea!” Cat then cries for help and Bear responds.
The Giant Jumperee however seems to have the measure of each of the would-be assailants: this time issuing the threat of a bee-like sting sending Bear into a tizz and calling for help. Help that comes in the form of Elephant but he too ends up in retreat, remaining, like the others though, in close proximity to Rabbit’s burrow.
Enter Mummy Frog, and paying scant heed to the frets of the other animals, she calmly approaches the burrow and employs what will surely be a technique familiar to early years audiences: she calls the Jumperee’s bluff as she slowly counts to three.
Out pops her gleeful offspring, totally unrepentant …

and more than happy to be led off home – for tea, with the other animals in tow, of course. This is sure to result in equally gleeful responses from young listeners who will have been totally captivated by the whole saga – I say saga, although this is a short story. It’s impact though, is far from small: it’s truly a case of less being much, much more. Take a look at this final wordless spread:

Everything about this is pitch perfect, from the wonderfully effective plot with its repetitions, occasional forays into rhyme, and tone of telling, to Helen’s glorious renderings of the animals whose demeanours are totally priceless, especially that of Mum Frog – an indomitable force if ever there was one- on discovering the culprit of all the hullabaloo.

I’ve signed the charter 

Time Now to Dream


Time Now to Dream
Timothy Knapman and Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books
Alice and younger brother Jack are playing ball when they hear what sounds to them like ‘Ocka by hay bees unna da reeees’. They stop playing and follow the sound into the nearby forest – Jack more than a little reluctantly for he’s worried it might be the Wicked Wolf. Hand in hand they go and soon hear another sound …


which troubles Jack all the more: he’s now thinking about the waiting claws of that Wicked Wolf. “Shhh, … Everything is going to be all right.” comes Alice’s assurance as on they go, creeping now. More sounds … Jack’s convinced they’re lost and is talking of ‘snap-trap jaws’, and his warm snuggly pyjamas.


The sound gets closer and now it’s Alice who’s frightened …


Jack however is rooted to the spot, transfixed by what he sees and hears: not a wicked wolf but a motherly one. To reveal what she’s doing would spoil the story but try saying slowly out loud those words that drew the children into the forest at the start.


Timothy Knapman controls the pace of his story with supreme skill; not a word is redundant in his narrative. Helen Oxenbury’s painterly watercolours of the forest capture the essence of its fairy tale spirit at once mysterious, misty, shadowy and sun-dappled …


and of the children, Jack and Alice, the timeless joys of childhood and the power of the imagination. This surely is bedtime picture book perfection.


Captain Jack and the Pirates

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Captain Jack and the Pirates
Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury
Puffin Books
In this timeless tale we join a family at the seaside and in particular three small children Jak, Zak and Caspar as they embark on a sandcastle-building extravaganza.

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With construction complete it’s a case of “Anchors aweigh!” and with mainsail hoisted, off sail Captain Jack and his pirate crew through uncharted oceans far from shore. Once on the high seas adventures abound: there’s a confrontation with an enemy ship and its dastardly band of buccaneers

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and a tropical gale to contend with,

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not to mention …

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The ‘marooned’ pirates abandon ship and set out to explore the terrain in search of treasure – well two do but Caspar remains on watch.
And do they discover any treasure? Definitely – if you have an imagination akin to that of the small pirate trio so gorgeously portrayed.
Told in rhyme, Peter Bently’s enchanting story is a real pleasure to read aloud. In her scenes of small children engrossed in their play, both real and imaginary, Helen Oxenbury flawlessly evokes those childhood days of family seaside holidays when everything seemed perfect no matter what.

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Picture Book Allsorts


Wanda and the Alien to the Rescue
Sue Hendra
Red Fox pbk
Rabbit Wanda and her alien friend discover a small, lost creature in the woods one day. After an abortive search for his mummy, they take him home, wash him, feed him and eventually succeed in getting him to bed. Next morning after breakfasting on a custard concoction, the little creature is starting to make more mischief when his mummy arrives on the scene.


Reunited again, parent and child depart leaving the friends to relax together peacefully at home. O- oh! Who is that knocking on their door? …
Fans of Wanda and her Alien pal will be delighted to know that they are soon to star in a TV series; meanwhile, they can enjoy this, their third, slightly crazy, adventure in book form with its sparkling cover and gentle humour. Just right for an early years story time.
In my experience these stories spark off children’s own creative ideas in the way of picture and model making and message writing. Perhaps this one might result in some music making and you might want to have a few packets of custard powder and bowls ready after sharing the story.
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Meet the Parents
Peter Bently and Sarah Ogilvie
Simon and Schuster pbk
Parents are not there merely to boss their offspring about: they have many much more useful roles too. They make handy mending machines, large handwarmers, building foundations, horses and donkeys. They are great targets for hoses and ketchup, toy hunters, twirlers, tree trunks and much more.


They are great muddle and mess sorters, have wonderful memories, and are super storytellers, apologisers and comforters. Watch out though, their fingers just love to … TICKLE!
Lively, bright, jocund elaborations of Bently’s engaging rhyming text,
Sara Ogilvie’s hilarious portrayals of family life cannot fail to delight both youngsters and their parents.
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Simon Rickerty
Simon and Schuster pbk
In Simon Rickery’s latest witty offering he entertains young (and not so young) readers with some crazy crayons capers. Two blobby characters, a red one with a blue crayon and a blue one with a red crayon wield their implements in turn, keeping to their own territories. But then Red crosses the gully with his mark making. This transgression leads to a verbal battle and worse. The friends cross crayons and before long Red’s blue is snapped in two. Blue makes a peace offering in the form of his red crayon but Red misuses it and turns his friend purple. Enter a purple blobby character. Purple wields the power with purple, yellow, pink, orange, brown and green crayons which, leaving Red all alone, he and Blue use to co-create building blocks. Soon all that’s missing is a roof and what colour is needed for that?


Time for a friendship to be repaired …
With minimal text and simple forms, Rickerty has fashioned a perfect parable of how a childish dispute develops, flares up and is resolved.
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I totally don’t want to play
Ann Bonwill and Simon Rickerty
Oxford University Press
The bird/hippo friendship of Bella and Hugo is threatened by a third party. Hugo is not happy; his invitation to go skating has been turned down by his best pal, Bella. Bella has found a new companion, Cressida and is off to the playground with her instead. Bella grudgingly invites Hugo to tag along but as he quickly finds out, the real fun does not appear to include him.


Before long though, it’s Bella’s turn to feel left out. “I’m going home,” she announces huffily. Just in time, Cressida suggests a game that is absolutely perfect for three friends together.
Ann Bonwill’s manner of telling (she uses dialogue throughout) works particularly well for this, the third Hugo and Bella story. Simon Rickerty’s delightful illustrations, executed with simple shapes, black blotchy outlines and bright dayglo colours bring occasional hilarity to the scenes; I particularly like the images of the diminutive Bella endeavouring to push Cressida on the swing. Triangular friendships are often tricky but this author/artist partnership has created a story which demonstrates that with a bit of give and take, it can work.
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Dinosaur Rescue!
Penny Dale
Nosy Crow
Prepare yourself for some noisy story sessions with the latest adventure of Penny Dale’s dinosaur troop. Here , they race to the rescue in aid of a large truck stuck across a railway crossing. As the train dashes down the line, along they come in fire engine, ambulance, police car, helicopter and on foot making a glorious cacophony. Then Screech! Screech! Screech! The steam train grinds to a halt just in time and it’s rescue dinosaur teamwork in action to ensure the safety of everything and everyone.


With crashed truck hitched to Dinotow, team members drive back to base ready for some thoroughly deserved rest and play, and of course, a hearty meal.
Once again, Penny Dale provides a winning formula – dinosaurs and large vehicles this time. A perfect opportunity for chuffing, calling, Nee Naa-ing wooing, choppa chopping, brake screeching and more.
This one would be brilliant to act out either with small world dinosaurs and vehicles or with children themselves, some acting as dinosaurs, others a chuffing train, rushing rescue trucks, racing police car, hovering, swooping helicopter or lifting, brrming tow truck.. And, as well as vocal accompaniment, audiences could suggest percussion instruments or other items to create the various sounds.
If all that isn’t enough, or you just want to quieten things down a little, then turn to the end papers for some visual delight: at the front is the dinosaur rescue team at the ready, wonderfully portrayed in bright colours and at the back are the rescue vehicles.
The text bursts with energy, not to mention onomatopoeia. Yes we adults might argue with the actions of the dinosaurs staying right by their crashed truck as the train charges ever closer, but I’m sure it will be another resounding hit with its target audience of under fives.
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Who’s in the Tree that Shouldn’t Be?
Craig Shuttlewood
Templar Publishing
To discover the answer to the title question follow the instruction on the first page and then lift the flap opposite to reveal a perplexed-looking penguin on a branch. In the tree too are more animals that also have something so say and add to the rhyme.
Readers can find the identity of a whole host of other out-of-place creatures – in the long grass, in the air, in the desert, in the ocean, in the ice and snow, in space even;


then, turn to the final spread and see who is out of place there.
Quirky creatures, their somewhat offbeat comments and mixed media, slightly crazy illustrations by artist Craig Shuttlewood are the key ingredients of this interactive book. It’s a quality production too.
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What are you playing at?
Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol
Alanna Books
I love the provocative style of this picture book that challenges gender stereotypes and powerfully advocates a ‘You can be anything/do anything’ mode of thinking and being. The use of photographs of children, for example a girl engaged in domestic play, opposite such thought-provoking assertions as ‘boys don’t play kitchens’ written large on a page that folds out to reveal a male chef, acts as a superb counter to the gender biased statements. Other flaps reveal men dancing, feeding a baby, skipping and crying and women playing soccer,


driving cars, working as boat builders and flying rockets.
Share this with a group of infants; it will assuredly get them thinking and arguing.
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Find and buy from your local bookseller: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

Finally, here is a handful of books I’ve previously reviewed which are now out in paperback:


How amazing that Mike Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s brilliant We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Walker Books) is celebrating its 25th anniversary – congratulations!
Assuredly it’s a book that should be in every young child’s library. How about buying a copy to give on International Book Giving Day which is coming up soon.


Wintry Worlds


When Charley Met Granpa
Amy Hest and Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books
This is the second story from the transatlantic Hest/Oxenbury partnership to feature Henry and his dog, Charley. Now it’s a cold, snowy Sunday and Granpa is coming to visit. Henry sets out for the station dragging a sledge behind him for Granpa’s big suitcase, Charley frisking in front. Henry is apprehensive about Granpa’s reaction to his canine pal; he has never had a dog for a friend he tells Charley as they wait for the train to arrive. But, as readers of Charley’s First Night will already know, Charley is no ordinary pup, he’s an adorable, playful little chap. Granpa finally arrives and as the trio start to make their way back home, the wind whisks Granpa’s hat high into the air and with a swish of his tail, Charley is off chasing it into the whirling snow. Happily, he returns before long with the green cap between his teeth.
This small incident is lyrically portrayed through both words and pictures. Told from Henry’s viewpoint, Hest’s attention to detail in her narrative has a child-like simplicity while at the same time capturing the warmth between the characters. Oxenbury’s gorgeous illustrations too, glow with warmth despite the chilly landscape and as always, her attention to detail is impeccable.
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You Make Me Smile
Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press
One can almost feel the chill in the air as those first snowflakes fall, watched by a little girl from her bedroom window. Softly they cover the ground all around her house and she rushes down to join her waiting parent. In the hall she puts on her outdoor clothes and then it’s out into the snowy world to start making a snowman. As she works, the rosy-cheeked little girl talks to the ‘friend’ she is building; she even wraps her own scarf around his neck before adding the final, all-important smile.


Then it’s time for a photo-shoot with her new friend; and the two smile together – a smile that can last the whole year through.
A special event in the life of a small child, captured to perfection in Layn Marlow’s spare text and heart-warming pictures – simply beautiful.
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Up & Down
Britta Teckentrup
Templar Publishing
Perched atop a large ice-block, Little Penguin thinks about his friend far away on another iceberg; he misses her. So off he goes to meet her, launching himself high in the air,


then diving low under the waves,


up towards a tunnel, down through seaweed, inside the tunnel, first pausing bravely outside … and reaching the end of that small tunnel, then out into the big ocean… There he negotiates various marine creatures moving in turn in front, behind, above, below, over or under them before finally catching sight of his destination. His once sad friend, having spotted Little Penguin is now happy as she watches him walking from the bottom of the slope to the top, where they are finally together.
As this brief synopsis shows, Little Penguin’s journey is filled with opposites. The opposing pairs being completed by opening the series of flaps (one per spread) as he moves through the grey murky seascape to his destination atop the distant iceberg.
As well as being a fun book to share with the very young, this straightforward story of friendship has lots of potential for language development with young children especially those for whom English is an additional language.
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After reading the story you can use either puppets or small world toy penguins for the characters, and marine small world creatures. Then with children’s help, build up an Antarctic scene with a short drain-pipe for the tunnel, murky coloured ‘water’ (screwed up tissue paper works well) and small pieces of white fabric draped over shoe boxes or similar. First you and then individual children can then move ‘Little Penguin’ at your instructions, following the route taken in the story. As they gain confidence, the children can tell you where Penguin is and then at a later stage, take over the activity themselves.


red sledge
Lita Judge
Andersen Press pbk.
This near wordless picture book story is sheer delight.
A small child leaves a red sledge propped up outside the house one chilly night. It is found by a large bear who decides to take a joyride. On the way he accumulates a whole host of other woodland creatures and soon they are all enjoying a moonlit descent,


which ends in a glorious eeeeeeeeeee fluoomp …….. ft as the sledge takes flight, crash lands and the riders come tumbling off to land in a huge heap. And what a wonderful sight that is; both bear and rabbit at least, look totally blissed out; Bear spread-eagled on his stomach and white rabbit peering over his head. Bear then picks up the sledge and returns it to the place he found it. Next morning the child notices animal footprints outside leading away from his house. That night, animals and child enjoy another ride – together this time. Wheeeeeeeeee
The whole exhilarating story is told with wonderfully dynamic watercolour illustrations and a sequence of glorious onomatopaeaic sounds. Scrunch scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch scrinch is just the perfect sound for bear’s footsteps in the snow. But my favourite of all accompanies moose crouching dog style on the sledge with rabbit between his hooves and bear – open mouthed – spread eagled atop moose’s antlers as the sledge bounces
Gadung  Gadung  Gadung  Gadung
down the snowy hillside.
So clever, so spot on for young listeners and beginning readers. Who could possibly want to use dull boring contrived phonic ‘reading’ books when there are brilliant real books like this one?
Destined to be read over and over and …
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Winter’s Child
Angela McAllister and Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Publishing
Tom loves the winter days: he spends them skating and sledging. His Nana in contrast is old and feels the cold badly. Out playing one day, Tom meets a pale boy with ice-blue eyes and they become friends. His new playmate tells Tom he wishes winter could last forever.  At their parting, Tom asks the blue-eyed boy where he lives; “Everywhere and nowhere,” is the reply. That night Tom is unable to dry his wet clothes and he gives his blankets to a now ashen Nana . In the morning it’s a heavy-hearted Tom who goes out to play . He tells his friend about his ailing Nana who is in desperate need of some warm spring sun.
Now both boys have a dilemma.
The winter is long and cold. Tom loves it, but each day the boys play, his Nana grows weaker.


Little does Tom know, when he meets his new friend, that the two of them are prolonging winter. As their friendship blossoms, Tom’s mother uses up all the logs, so he sacrifices his skis and his treehouse ladder for fuel. But there is a much greater sacrifice to be made if Nana, who is becoming increasingly ashen and wasted, is to survive to see another spring. For, unbeknown to Tom, his friend is Winter’s Child and unless he heeds his father’s call to rejoin him and sleep, Spring cannot wake.
This is a magical modern fairy tale of friendship, hardships and difficult decisions. It is wondrously illustrated in shades of blue, white and grey. Baker-Smith’s snow is truly brilliant; he achieves dazzling effects without a single touch of added glitter and his small framed  scenes of the potential human tragedy and the dilemma inherent in the boys’ friendship, set into the snowy landscapes, are a stark contrast to the beauty of the landscapes surrounding them. Hauntingly memorable; a book for all ages and one to return to again and again.
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Find and buy from your local bookshop: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch