Paper Boat, Paper Bird

Paper Boat, Paper Bird
David Almond, illustrated by Kirsti Beautyman
Hodder Children’s Books

Mina – a character from Skellig and its prequel My Name is Mina is now visiting Japan with her mother, experiencing the culture and learning a great deal. While travelling on a bus in Kyoto she watches a woman folding a piece of paper that becomes an origami boat; this she gives to Mina and soon after, a paper bird and when she leaves the bus, some origami paper. Watching the woman fashion these almost magical things from squares of paper captures Mina’s imagination.

As she travels to the temple at Kinkaku-ji, she holds onto her delight in the origami

and in the garden surrounding the temple Mina creates a boat and bird herself. She places the bird in the boat and gently puts it into one of the streams. Later it’s discovered by Mikaya who is with his dad; the boy notices the name on each one and when they stop, he writes his name on the bird and launches it into the air: communication and kindness are passed through origami,

and eventually Mina and Mikaya meet one another.

Powerfully beautiful – the power being in the simplicity of the telling and also in Kirsti Beautyman’s illustrations that have an airy, almost ethereal quality to them. David’s story is based on a real life happening when he was in Tokyo with his young daughter. He uses his awesome art of creating a story out of brief experiences and as always with his stories, this one with its quiet, contemplative gentleness resonates long after you’ve put the book down.

Ghostcloud / The Treasure Under the Jam Factory

Michael Mann
Hodder Children’s Books

This is a ghost story with a difference, or rather several differences. It’s set in a grim dystopian future London beneath Battersea Power Station, twelve year old Luke and numerous other kidnapped children spend their miserable lives shovelling coal, working for the iniquitous Tabitha Margate.

After two years, Luke is eager to escape and return to his family, believing his only means of so doing is to gain one of the much coveted amber tickets to freedom. Luke is not without friends in this dark place: there’s Ravi and then Jess, an optimist and plumber in the making. There’s also ghost-girl Alma, who Luke saves, another terrific character; it’s she who shows him what it is to be a ghost cloud.

It’s one crisis after another in a prodigious adventure as Luke and Jess, aided by Alma ,attempt to free themselves from the clutches of the evil Tabitha and return to their homes – something that’s even more crucial once Luke has discovered the truth of what the heinous villain is up to. Is it possible? Perhaps with some assistance from the Ghost Council Alma talks of.

Superbly plotted, full of suspense and darkness but also powerful friendships, plenty of problem-solving, hope, determination and humour. Can one ask for more? Perhaps some moments of quiet, but Michael Mann provides those too in this brilliantly inventive debut novel. I can’t wait for the follow up.

Another adventure much of which takes place below ground is:

The Treasure Under the Jam Factory
Chrissie Sains, illustrated by Jenny Taylor
Walker Books

Having dealt with An Alien in the Jam Factory, McLay’s jam factory now faces a new challenge.

With his hyperactive brain a-fizz as always, differently abled Scooter McLay (he has cerebral palsy) can barely contain his excitement at the prospect of the Grand Re-opening with all that jam-themed food ready to be served. However, horror of horrors, all of a sudden something happens that nearly freezes young Scooter’s blood: the door unexpectedly opens and there before him and his parents, stands their hostile adversary, Daffy Dodgy clutching closely Boris, her guinea pig, come to claim what she insists still belongs to her. Surely all can’t be lost at this crucial moment. Time to call on the contents of tiny alien, Fizzbee’s, suitcase perhaps. Either that or find enough money to pay off Daffy once and for all.
Enter resourceful Cat Pincher and she has some more horrifying news for Scooter, news that increases the urgency to find treasure. Is she to be trusted? They’ll have to take a chance on that.

All manner of weird shenanigans take place deep underground when they find themselves face to face once more with Daffy. A deal is struck but it’s not long before Scooter, Cat and Fizzbee find themselves in the stickiest of situations imaginable on account of Cat’s jam-hating Uncle Perry who is intent on sabotaging the factory. Can Scooter’s knowledge of jam possibly extricate them from this? Cat certainly thinks so …

With fun illustrations by Jenny Taylor …

this really is a yummy sequel and one likely to leave Scooter fans licking their lips at the possibility of further encounters. Meanwhile they could always try baking some of the jammy biscuits using the recipe at the back of the book.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Ian Fleming, adapted by Peter Bently, illustrated by Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

This is a retelling of Ian Fleming’s classic tale by the popular picture book author Peter Bently, illustrated by Steve Antony of Mr Panda fame..

The Potts family – mum, dad (a clever inventor) and their two children Jemima and Jeremy – are a poor but happy family. That is, until one of dad’s inventions makes a fortune and off they go to buy a car. 

Unimpressed by any of those on offer at the garage, they’re about to leave when Dad notices something under a cover. Beneath that cover is a large and very much the worse for wear, racing car, destined the next day for the scrapyard.

Young Jeremy has great faith in his father’s ability to restore it to its former glory and after spending weeks shut away in his workshop, Dad introduces them to a splendidly shiny vehicle.

In climbs Dad and when he starts the engine, they hear this ‘CHITTY! CHITTY! BANG! BANG!’ before the vehicle rumbles into life. There’s only one thing they can call this car and you know what that is … Off they go for a drive to the beach and when they get stuck in a traffic jam, a mere push of a knob causes it to WHOOSH skywards as they take flight, 

destination a beach on a deserted island.

Fortunately, the car is better at spotting danger than the humans, and just before the tide engulfs them, Mum presses the flashing button and Chitty is transformed into a speedboat that takes them whizzing through the foggy waters to the coast of France.

What follows is an even more exciting part of their adventure involving a chase (of a famous robber and his gang) 

through the streets towards Paris where a hot-air balloon awaits the gold thieves. But they’d reckoned without a certain amazingly adaptable car …

Peter’s telling sweeps you along in the mounting excitement and Steve’s terrific, detailed illustrations provide readers with varying perspectives from which to witness the action. Together they’ve created a wonderful way to introduce youngsters to the original story.

The Wizard in My Shed

The Wizard in My Shed
Simon Farnaby, illustrated by Claire Powell
Hodder Children’s Books

Having narrowly avoided spluttering my coffee over the opening pages of Horrid Histories star Simon Farnaby’s new adventure tale, I envisaged that I’d continue spluttering throughout (not coffee – I hastily consumed that before resuming reading), and so it was. (Though I did have to stop after every chapter to take a few ‘mellow moments’ – like Evanhart, wizard Merdyn’s bestie until he decided to follow the ‘path of darkness’ and become a warlock aka a bad wizard x1000.)

The story follows both madcap Merdyn (from the Dark Ages) and would-be star singer,/dancer

twelve year old Rose, from now, residing in the normal town of Bashingford with her mum and brother. Each has a desire: Merdyn wants to avenge his banishment to the Rivers of Purgatory (actually it was The Rivers of Time) and at the same time get out of the 21st century in which he’s mysteriously arrived and return to the Dark Ages; Rose is anxious to sort out her broken family,

after her father’s death, which happened before this story begins.

There’s also Rose’s guinea pig, Bubbles, a frequent poo-er, that seemingly doesn’t do much else and certainly doesn’t enjoy sharing Rose’s fairy story books.

When Rose happens upon a ‘cloth creature’ wearing peculiar shoes, gesturing weirdly and thinking he’s in the land of Purgatory – you can work out his name – she decides he might actually be of some help to her.

A deal is struck. A family-sorting-out spell (and perhaps one to make her the world’s best singer) in exchange for Rose’s assistance in coping with so many strange 21st century ways and means.

That necessitates keeping the visitor in the garden shed away from Mum – to protect her smartphone – though that might be the least of her worries about the curious stranger. They will need to locate Merdyn’s treasured magic staff and find a way to return him whence he came. Surely nothing could possibly go a-miss – could it … ?

There’s masses of madness, magic, crazy characters,

not to mention high drama, and that enormously endearingly bonkers Merdyn, to enthrall readers throughout what proves to be a heart-warming tale.

And, with the addition of Claire Powell’s terrific illustrations, the enchantment just got even stronger, while ‘the world watched in silence.’

Read alone or, read aloud it’s an absolute winner.

Oi Aardvark!

Oi Aardvark!
Kes Gray and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books

Frog seems to be mining a seemingly bottomless – or maybe it should be bottomful – pit in Kes and Jim’s new Oi offering.

At the outset he throws out an invitation to the titular animal to participate in his new book that’s to be entitled ‘My ALL-NEW ALPHABETTY BOTTY BOOK. Dog is all agog; not so the cat who is, as usual, a sourpuss and ready to pour cold water over the enterprise even before it gets underway.

I have to hand it to Frog with his first chair substitute though, it’s pure genius: “Aardvarks will sit on cardsharks!” Nevertheless a certain feline is ready with a bit of negativity: “What’s a cardshark?” it demands. “It’s a shark who’s really good at playing snap!” comes Frog’s rapid response. That should shut Cat up, but let’s see.

We get through B and C without any interference, and only a minor bit of banter from Cat comes to herald in D. But then Dog’s tongue-twisting mix-up of a comment fuels another catty utterance. Eventually Frog announces his D and on we go safely (actually pretty precariously) through E and F.

For G, Frog has two clever inclusions – “giraffes can sit on baths and Gazelles can sit on bells!”

With horses comfortably seated and iguanas less so, clever claws Cat cheekily interjects again. (as if Frog doesn’t know his alphabetical order – well really!).

Anyway, or rather, Frog’s way, J. is duly dealt with and then as we’ve already been told, comes K. K is splendidly stinky …

Looks like the frog is the only one amused about this botty placement.

Off we go, with the dog heaping praise on our book compiler and guess who being its usual party pooping scorn pourer. Let’s skip to P and be pretty sure there’s a treat in store – ta da! Four animals happily installed on their bum bearers; but then comes another treat in the form of a double fold-out taking us through – with an inevitable purring pouring of cold water from the cat, to X.

Yet again Frog emerges triumphant, even giving himself a round of applause before zipping off through Y to the grand finale and completion of his book.

Or maybe not quite: we’ll leave it to the threesome to get to the bottom of their zany dispute.

So far beyond brilliant that it will never find the way back is this combination of Kes’ carefully and creatively concocted, rhyming, weaving of wordplay and Jim’s superbly silly seating solutions shown in his side-splitting visuals.

I’m hoping against hope that Frog doesn’t decide to rest on his laurels after this, his latest tour de force. I can’t wait to share it with anyone I can get to sit on their selected sit-upon.

Monsieur Roscoe On Holiday

Monsieur Roscoe On Holiday
Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books

Jim Field has clearly been doing a fair bit of sitting on his own sit-upon, as he’s both author and illustrator of this picture book. The aim (as well as to entertain) is to set youngsters on a journey to becoming bi-lingual as they join the enormously endearing Monsieur Roscoe and his goldfish, Fry, for a holiday.

First comes the packing – always a bothersome task – and then with luggage loaded behind, it’s onto his bike and away through the big city to the railway station to catch the train.

It’s a close call, but fairly soon it’s time to meet up with Eva for a spot of camping. Learning to put up a tent courtesy of your rabbit friend, once you get to the campsite isn’t the best idea Monsieur R. even if you have come with all the gear.

Next morning Monsieur Roscoe and Fry bid ‘au revoir’ to Eva and board a bus bound for the ski slopes where there’s a rendezvous with another friend, Stan. Seemingly our canine holidaymaker has hidden talents …

The next destination appears a whole lot more peaceful. Caro is certainly happy to see her friends and even allows Monsieur Roscoe to take the wheel of her speedboat but it’s evident that a certain dog needs to hone his steering skills when it comes to watercraft.

The penultimate stop is the seaside where Jojo and Didi eagerly greet the new arrivals. After a splash dans la mer comes the last leg of the journey and a meet up with Dougal duck for a spot of indulgence at the busy village café.

However, even the most charming of travellers must go home eventually, and so it is with Monsieur Roscoe and Fry. Assuredly they’ll have lots to tell their friends back in their home city and who knows, perhaps after a good night’s sleep the two of them will start thinking about their next adventure …

Jim introduces youngsters to plenty of common French words and phrases in the course of this story of the delightful duo. Every double spread has a wealth of humorous detail to explore and giggle over; Fry is an absolute hoot

and there’s even a seek-and-find element to the whole thing, for on the final page are lists of items to spot at the six locations featured.

Bravo Monsieur Field – un livre divertissant et éducatif.

The Diddle That Dummed

The Diddle That Dummed
Kes Gray and Fred Blunt
Hodder Children’s Books

Oh my goodness, this book has given me the first really big laugh I’ve had since the lockdown, It’s utterly hilarious team Kes and Fred, and appealed most strongly to my sense of humour as well as to my divergent nature.

So let’s meet the cast: first is musician Flinty Bo Diddle who at the time our story starts is busy composing a tune to play upon his fiddle. Things go swimmingly at first with twenty nine diddles doing just as they ought but there has to be one doesn’t there, for the thirtieth note decides to make itself a dum.

How dare it – and half way through the tune at that.

A furious Flinty demands that the culprit confess. It does and the music starts up again with the dumming diddle consenting to another try. You can guess what happens with regard to Flinty,

and now all the other diddles turn on the dummer; the poor thing seems rather dumfounded but suggests being put first.

Diddles duly reshuffled, off they go again – err? Oops!

Maybe being placed as the final note might do the trick but …

What about changing the tune altogether suggests the dumming diddler. Flinty agrees though clearly a change of instrument is required.

The dums go well – for a while at least then …

Now those adults who happen to be teachers might recognise the sudden urge for a loo visit that is requested by our dear dumming diddle

especially as it precipitates a chain reaction.

The ending is beyond priceless and almost made my partner fall off his stool as I read it to him over coffee.

Brilliantly bonkers and a perfect antidote to lockdown blues.

Ready Rabbit?

Ready Rabbit?
Fiona Roberton
Hodder Children’s Books

Why is Rabbit hiding away inside a big box instead of getting ready to go to the party?

Seemingly the poor little creature is anything but keen on going; in fact he’s flatly refusing.

What’s needed is some gentle mind-changing persuasion and reassurance with regard to loud noise, the possibility of strange beasties lurking, as well as that no meanies will be present.

Best to focus on the exciting things that will be part and parcel of the party; things like friends,

yummy cake, games, dancing, balloons, presents and most important Rabbit’s favourite food.

Mind changed, now little Rabbit just needs to decide on what to wear and then outfit chosen,

off he goes.
The party proves to be all his encouraging adult (off scene) promised but now it appears that there’s another guest in need of a bit of encouragement …

Beautifully observed and portrayed, Fiona’s sweet story is delightful. It should go a long way towards showing anxious little ones how their big worries can disappear if like Rabbit, they practice positive thinking.

A winner for sure in every way.


Emer Stamp
Hodder Children’s Books

Having received a proof of this hilarious story from the publishers a little while ago, I was excited to see a finished copy of the book with its ‘glow in the dark’ cover drop through my letterbox.

Star of the show, Stix is a tiny mouse that lives with his ancient Grandma behind the washing machine of Flat 3, Peewit Mansions. The ’mans’ family – Schnookums, My Love and tiny Boo-Boo also live there along with their dog Trevor, the only one that knows anything about their flat-sharing mice.

The mice have survived thus far by sticking firmly to Grandma’s strict rules – number 3 being ‘never poop in places mans will see’. Breaking this rule would result in a visit from Nuke-a-Pest.

One night into this peaceable place of co-existence comes Maximus a nasty rat with his two hangers on Plague One and Plague Two. His arrival soon results in disaster of the discovery kind, which is followed speedily by Sheila, Emergency Response Exterminator who flushes Grandma down the loo.

At least her ‘dead’ pose was a success but it leaves Stix alone, well not quite alone for back on the scene comes the previously encountered Batz, student at the Peewit Educatorium for Seriously Terrible Scoundrels (aka PESTS).

Stix joins the basement school and finds himself learning a whole new set of rules as well as competing in the Pest of the Year competition, determined to knock the dastardly Maximus off the top spot.

Step forward rule saboteur Professor Armageddon with a terrible plot of his own; but is Stix prepared to follow the directions of a cockroach and do what he knows to be wrong in order to gain extra points in a competition?

All’s well that ends well and this tale surely does. With an infusion of toilet humour, a great deal of suspense and some brilliant characterisation, this is a terrific adventure; there’s warmth and wisdom too; and the illustrations, generously scattered, are wonderful.  Giggles aplenty guaranteed throughout.

Scribble Witch: Notes in Class

Scribble Witch: Notes in Class
Inky Willis
Hodder Children’s Books

This sparky story is the first of a new series featuring Molly Mills (our narrator), her best friend Chloe, and a ‘scribbly doodly’ character named Veronica Noates aka Notes, a somewhat mischievous little paper witch.

As the story opens Molly learns that her very best friend is leaving Dungfields School. They’ve been pals since nursery and they’re now 9 years old. Consequently Molly is very upset and starts taking it out on Chloe. Into this sorry situation drops, quite literally, a piece of paper on which is drawn a smiley, friendly looking, titchy little witch.

Having liberated her from the paper with her rainbow scissors, Molly begins to get to know this rather odd character
that communicates, not by speaking (although she can) but through little notes written not only on paper, but other things such as leaves too.

The trouble is, despite her best intentions, Notes causes Molly even more problems, and she’s already got herself very much in her teacher, Mr Stilton’s bad books.

Is there any way that Molly, with the help of Notes, might manage to convince her best pal to stay at Dungfields rather than move to Lady Juniper’s School; or if not can Notes make sure that the two girls can be in close touch whenever they want?

With its wealth of quirky illustrations (including pencil toppers) and written communications (readers will quickly get used to Notes’ idiosyncratic writing style), this book is terrific fun as well as being bang-on with the feelings relating to losing a best friend ever from class.

Rabbit Bright

Rabbit Bright
Viola Wang
Hodder Children’s Books

You might want to have your sunglasses ready when you read Rabbit Bright with its dazzling day-glow colour palette.

Rabbit Bright has finally summoned up the courage to turn off his night light. But thinking about so doing, sets the little fellow wondering, “ … where does the light go when it’s dark?”

Instead of sleeping, it’s helmet on, panda clinging on behind and off he goes on his bicycle out into the blue-black night with this thought in mind: “If there’s dark, there must be light.”
And light there surely is; for first he sees a sky lit up by fireworks.

Then, having left his cycle, he boards an underground train with its glowing headlamps.

In the forest too he encounters light, in the form of bright-eyed nocturnal creatures.

Boarding a boat, he paddles off to a cave where the darkness is punctuated by the flashes of fireflies.

His journey of discovery continues in a sub-oceanic craft and our little explorer is almost dazzled by the sea creatures shining as they swim.

Having next, climbed a hill for a spot of star-gazing, Rabbit and panda float off into space.

Then mysteriously, that bicycle reappears, for the two to set off homewards where a cosy bed awaits. Sweet dreams Rabbit Bright; sweet dreams little panda.

If you have, or know a little one who has anxieties about the dark, then this is the perfect book to share with them. Not only is it an exciting story, beautifully and arrestingly illustrated, it should help to assuage those fearful feelings about turning off the light and being alone in the darkness.

Pug Hug

Pug Hug
Zehra Hicks
Hodder Children’s Books

We first see Pug standing at the window looking out as his young owner departs for school.

Seemingly the dog is desperate for a hug. The trouble is no matter which animal he approaches, not a single one wants to hug.

Cat doesn’t like hugs, Hamster is too difficult to catch, Rabbit is busy chomping,

hugging a goldfish doesn’t really work. Maybe a parrot will oblige; but no, all he receives to his request is amusement at his efforts to please.

Lots of the potential huggers are fast asleep and it appears as though our hug seeker is about to give up in despair. But then he gets an offer, he definitely CAN refuse – and fast …

Will Pug ever have that elusive huggy moment he so much desires, and if so from what source?

Zahra’s smudgy, superbly expressive illustrations showing in particular, Pug’s entreaties, are enough to make any human – even those like this reviewer who isn’t a dog fan – feel like embracing him as he keeps on getting rebuffed.

The text takes the form of Pug’s requests and the responses from the animals along with a sequence of encouraging suggestions and comments from an external narrator.

The result is picture book harmony of words and pictures creating a story that is both funny and satisfying.

Scruffle-Nut / Hugless Douglas Plays Hide-and-Seek

Here are two very different stories with a theme of friendship:

Corinne Fenton and Owen Swan
New Frontier Publishing

‘As winter leaves tumble and twirl / a wisp of memory / wraps itself about me / and whispers me back / to long ago … ‘

So begins a gentle tale told by Olivia whose childhood memories we share in this sensitively told, equally sensitively illustrated story with its soft-spoken bullying theme.

As a young child her Nanny Clementine would take her to the park and there one day she sees a shy stumpy-tailed little squirrel that is chased away by the squirrels with large bushy tails.

It’s the beginning of a friendship that develops between child and squirrel – a squirrel that is, like the girl, a little different from others.

Time passes, the days turn colder until the snow falls and visits to the park come to a halt and Olivia is left wondering whether Scruffle-Nut, as she calls her friend, will be able to ward off attacks from the Bully-Bunch, the name she gives to the bushy-tail squirrels.

Although she never sees her squirrel friend again, he stays in her heart along with the lesson she learned from him so long ago.

Hugless Douglas Plays Hide-and-Seek
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books

Playing hide-and-seek with his woolly friends is somewhat problematic for Douglas; he’s always the one to be found first.

But when Little Sheep invites him to team up and become a seeker, he certainly proves his worth; in fact he’s a little too good.

The game continues apace until there’s only Flossie left to find and then in his enthusiasm Douglas picks up the only possible hiding place remaining, in its entirety, which has the desired result. They locate Flossie but then find that Little Sheep is missing.

Can they discover where their friend is before it’s dark?

Another eventful episode from the adorable Douglas to please his fans and more than likely win him a whole lot more.

My Monster and Me

My Monster and Me
Nadiya Hussain and Ella Bailey
Hodder Children’s Books

Nadiya Hussain has recently spoken out about her own anxiety issues and now has written a picture book intended to give little ones and their carers a starting point for talking about anxiety and worries.

The narrator is a small boy who talks of his ever-present monster that nobody is able to banish; a bossy creature that gets in the way of everything the lad wants to do. It prevents him from playing with his own toys and even his friends.

After school one day the monster is waiting – huge and bad tempered – and it follows the boy all the way to his grandma’s house.

Seeing how upset he looks, Gran listens to her grandson’s tale of woe

and as he talks the monster starts to shrink and that’s when the boy gains control.

The monster never completely goes away but now it no longer wields the power.

Told in a straightforward manner that young children can easily relate to, Nadiya’s reassuring tale is made all the more so by rising star, Ella Bailey’s smashing illustrations. She portrays the monster as a mischievous rather rotund creature, rather than a scary one.

With ever more children of all ages having anxiety issues books such as this one can be an absolute boon for parents and teachers to share.

Pugicorn / Once Upon a Bedtime

Matilda Rose and Tim Budgen
Hodder Children’s Books

The vogue for unicorn stories doesn’t appear to be waning but a Pugicorn – that’s something a bit different and certainly not what little Princess Ava has in mind when she visits Twinkleton-Under- Beanstalk’s Magic Pet Shop to pick her perfect unicorn pet.

Informing her that they’ve sold out, the kindly Mrs Paws offers Princess Ava instead, another horned creature with a ‘snuffly nose’ and a curly tail.

A challenge is then issued to her new pet by the determined Princess … ‘Think Unicorn!’ she tells him.

Such thinking proves useless on many occasions and despairing of her acquisition, Princess Ava heads off to the Unicorn Picnic sans Pugicorn.

Yes she does have a wonderful time; but on the way home she and her pals lose the way

and their unicorns prove useless path finders through a now, creepy-seeming forest.

Can loyalty in the form of a little pet Pugicorn save the day (and the night)?

Acceptance is the name of the lesson for young Lola and for the countless little unicorn fans out there who will fall for this new horned character adorably portrayed in Tim Budgen’s magical scenes for Matilda Rose’s enchanting tale.

Once Upon a Bedtime
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books

It’s sundown in Sleepy Street as a long yawwwwnnn floats through engulfing a very tired Rabbit.

It’s time for bed but Rabbit, eager for a bedtime story, still has to have a bath as Ellie elephant points out.

Various other toy characters, Ollie ostrich,

Monkey, Bird , Crocodile each in turn adds something to the routine until at last all are ready assembled in bed with a cuddly apiece and rabbit begins to read the story.

Suddenly there comes a strange sound from beneath the bed.

The others take cover, leaving Rabbit to investigate.

What she discovers is another character who hasn’t got a cuddly. What is to be done? Can the friends help?

Full of endearing characters, this warm-hearted book showing the importance of having your cuddly close by at bedtime, from the Hugless Douglas creator David Melling, is sure to appeal to little ones as a wind-down to sleep story.

Why Are There So Many Books About Bears?

Why Are There So Many Books About Bears?
Kristina Stephenson
Hodder Children’s Books

The title to Kristina Stephenson’s new book poses a question that I suspect a fair few picture book reviewers will have asked themselves.

They however haven’t until now had recourse to ‘the most brilliant minds in the animal kingdom’ gathered together at Mollusc College, Oxford to discuss what is billed as the ‘Impossible Question’ concerning this preponderance of ursine book characters.

Let’s meet some of these brains forthwith.

First to offer a suggestion is William Snakespeare who proposes the answer lies in the number of words rhyming with bear and suggests a few examples.

His fellow debaters think he might have the answer. Not so Albert Swinestein. He quickly knocks that idea on the head stating that pig is equally easy to find rhymes for.

At this point there comes a knock on the door and a voice announces the arrival of the tea trolley. The debaters send the knocker packing drawing attention to the DO NOT DISTURB sign and Swinestein continues, proposing as the answer, the variety of sizes of bears; but this notion is immediately demolished by the PhDs (Porcupines, Hedgehogs and Dragons with Spines.)

The discussion continues, as do the interruptions by the tea trolley pusher causing increasing agitation to the debaters.

Just when tempers reach boiling point, Trevor the little mouse pipes up.

It might just be that this tiny, thus far silent creature, has solved the puzzle and that answering the door might yield the answer to the impossible question.

There’s something for everyone in this droll story. The very young will enjoy the frequent interruptions, the fold-out spread surprise and the superbly expressive illustrations of the characters, while older readers and adults will relish the tongue-in-cheek humour and the punning. Everyone I think, will love the throwaway finale tossed in by the tea-trolley pusher when he eventually gains admission.

Agent Weasel and the Fiendish Fox Gang / Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Great Raspberry Mix-Up

Agent Weasel and the Fiendish Fox Gang
Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

This is the first of a proposed series of adventures starring super-spy Agent Weasel, resident of Flaky-Bark Cottage in United Woodlands.

Nick’s writing is wonderfully silly as he plunges his often inept Agent Weasel, WI6, super-spy of high renown, into all kinds of scarifying scenarios in his efforts to foil the nefarious Fiendish Fox Gang who, so rumour has it are creating absolute havoc with such dastardly deeds as nicking nuts from squirrels and shaving sleeping badgers’ bottoms.

It certainly seems as if Agent Weasel has his work cut out, though thankfully his team-mates – Doorkins, Steadfast, Mole and Muriel Moth are also at work in the woods.

But before you can say ‘catastrophe’ Weasel and his pal Doorkins find themselves taken captive and face to face with the notorious FFG leader Vixen von Fluff …

and what’s this she’s saying about sabotaging the eagerly anticipated Autumn Big Bash?

Can our super agent extraordinaire succeed in extricating himself from a potentially very sticky situation and if so could he possibly pull off what looks like the impossible feat of derailing Madame Vixen’s plan and saving the show?

Chortles galore guaranteed whether it’s read alone or read aloud; with a liberal scattering of Nick’s own hilarious illustrations, this is comedic craziness through and through. More please!

There’s competition chicanery too in:

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Great Raspberry Mix-Up
Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths
Oxford University Press

Young Freddie Bonbon is Belville town’s star baker. He works alongside his manager and best friend Amira who greets him one autumnal morning with the news that she’s been busy doing the maths to see if they can afford to replace their old and far too small cooker but unfortunately they just cannot afford to. Unless perhaps Freddie manages to win the advertised Belville Baking Competition with its £500 prize. He certainly has a fantastic design in mind for his cake.

In a swankier part of town is Macaroon’s Patisserie, run by the curmudgeonly Bernard Macaroon. He’s not at all like Freddie who is willing to offer advice to anyone, even those he knows will be rival contestants in the baking competition. Bernard shall we say, lacks imagination and flair when it comes to baking but his determination that he, not his young rival will win the prize means he’ll go to any lengths so to do.

As competition day draws nearer strange things start happening. First there’s the incident when Freddie out on his delivery round almost runs over Bernard’s beloved cat.

Then comes the disappearance of the remains of the raspberry pink food colouring he’ll need for his competition cake and when he goes out to buy some more, all the shops have mysteriously sold out and the only place he can find any is …

What luck, thinks Freddie but is it?

The day of the event arrives and Freddie is well prepared; but no sooner have the competitors been told to begin than things start going wrong for him.

Is it the end of his chances: or could it be that the kindnesses he’s shown to his fellow competitors might make a difference?

Like Freddie’s cake baking, there’s plenty to spice up Harriet Whitehorn’s story of cooking, community and camaraderie. Young readers will appreciate the way the story is broken up into short chapters that include lists and a generous sprinkling of Alex Griffiths’ quirky illustrations. There’s even a recipe for Freddie’s Raspberry Cupcakes at the end of the book. Mmm! Tasty.

Think Big!

Think Big!
Kes Gray and Nathan Reed
Hodder Children’s Books

Humpty Dumpty sits on a wall, but he’s not alone; his friends sit alongside and they are considering their futures.

Humpty however, sets the bar very low: “A boiled egg” is his only ambition. Shock horror among the others who go on to urge him to Think Big!

“Buy a pair of football boots and become a footballer,” suggests Wee Willie Winkie.

“Look for clues and become a detective, says Little Bo-Peep.

He could perhaps, like Little Miss Muffet, consider becoming a scientist.

Egg though he might be, he “really should try thinking outside of the box.” as Jack and Jill recommend. I second that!

An artist, a policeman, a doctor or a firefighter are also put forward as possibilities; but it is perhaps the Cow who jumped over the moon that really gets Humpty’s brain buzzing with potential personal achievements.

But will our eggy friend actually manage to live up to his elevated thoughts and reach for the stars …

Storytelling maestro Kes Gray smashes it again with this tale that will surely have you giggling from start to final, laugh-out-loud punchline (or more accurately crunchline).

Nathan Reed does a terrific job capturing Kes’s droll humour in his high-voltage illustrations, every one of which is a cracker.

With its powerfully positive ‘believe, work hard and you can achieve’ message this is an eggstra-special offering for young children.

Claude: Anyone for Strawberries? / Claude:Ever-So-Summery Sticker Book

Claude: Anyone for Strawberries?
Alex T.Smith
Hodder Children’s Books

This is another is the delectably funny Claude stories spawned by the Claude TV Show and it’s perfect summer reading.

It’s a Tuesday in Pawhaven, but one that starts badly for our friends Claude and Sir Bobblysock who have been eagerly anticipating “Strawberries-for-Breakfast day”.

Off they dash to Denzel’s fruit-and-veg van, but disaster! When they arrive Denzel informs them that on account to the Pawhaven Tennis Championships, all the strawberries are already sold.

The friends head to the park, and as they arrive a tennis ball hurtles out of the sky directly towards Sir Bobblysock.

In a flash Claude leaps skyward, catching the ball in his beret, mightily impressing his pal.

Meanwhile the semi-final has ground to a halt. Movie star, Errol Heart-Throb, is refusing to continue without his lucky ball.
Needless to say he’s thrilled to have it handed back by Claude. Before you can say “strawberries’ Claude has landed himself a job as official match ball boy.

You can guess where Sir B. heads off to, hardly able to contain his excitement at the prospect. However, once again his anticipated strawberry feast is thwarted.

In the meantime, Errol has been declared the winner of the semi-final but it appears that vanity will stop the now ruffled-looking victor from playing in the final.

Claude is to take his place and is more than willing when he learns what the prize is …

There’s a slight snag though – the other finalist is Kimberley and she has a somewhat over-sized racket.

It’s a tense match, but who will be the winner? I wonder …

As with all the Claude stories, this is a smasher.

Game, set and match to Alex T.Smith and the TV series for another winning episode served up with bowls full of summery deliciousness. Hard luck if you happen like this reviewer, to be allergic to those small fruity berries Claude and Sir Bobblysock love so much. In which case, just get the book and pass on the strawberries.

If that’s not enough for your young Claude enthusiasts then also based on the Sixteen South TV show is:

Claude: Ever-So-Summery Sticker Book
Hodder Children’s Books

Set on Pawhaven beach it’s full of seasonal silliness, Claude and Sir Bobblysock style.
There are lots of activities to test your little ones’ visual skills, pages to adorn with sandcastles (and some of the 250 stickers that make up the centre pages); a maze to navigate; a picnic to share with the two favourite characters and more.

Christopher Pumpkin

Christopher Pumpkin
Sue Hendra, Paul Linnet and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

Who or what would you ask for assistance if you were wanting to throw the scariest ever, totally unforgettable party? Perhaps not a pile of almost forgotten cooking ingredients that just happen to be lying on your kitchen floor; but then you are not a witch with a magic wand like the one in Sue and Paul’s crazy magical rhyming tale.

This witch decides to spell a heap of pumpkins into life, name them – Gnarly, Grizzly, Grunty, Roar, Snaggletooth, Stink Face and err – well she never gets to give a name to the last one for he cheerily informs her that he’s called Christopher Pumpkin and invites his fellow pumpkins to a group hug.

Can this thoroughly ill-fitting, non-scary animated member of the pumpkin fraternity possibly fit in with the witch’s scarifying plans? She decides to give him the benefit of the doubt, albeit while keeping her beady eyes upon him.

Task one is to create decorations that will bring dread and fear into all who so much as glance at them.
Easy peasy thinks Chris but the witch and other veggies are let’s say, underwhelmed. They’re equally unimpressed with Chris’s musical proposition …

So what about the party fare? Of course it’s cooked up in the cauldron and seems suitably disgusting until in walks our pal Chris proffering err, some pretty pink confections.

The witch gives the guy one more chance – be scary or be soup.

Can Chris come up with a scary solution before the following morning: he has just the hours of darkness to work something out or he’s in the pot.

Oddly enough, come morning, there’s an empty bed where Chris had been and the witch is ready to throw open the door to let her guests in …

Terrifically silly but terrific fun, this tale is perfect for showing little ones the importance of being themselves and not letting anyone push them around or make them into something they’re not.

It’s a smashing read aloud that slides and slithers over and off the tongue like yummy pumpkin soup. And as for Nick’s scenes of magic, mischief mayhem and the occasional menace, they’re a totally tasty treat to feast your eyes upon.

What’s not to love? Perhaps though, that rather depends on whether or not you have a penchant for things puffy, pretty and pink.

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? / I’m Not Grumpy!

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep?
Anna Kang & Christpoher Weyant
Hodder Children’s Books

Little Frog is anxious to fall asleep and asks readers to help him for if he doesn’t get sufficient sleep his mother won’t allow him to participate in the Frogatta boat races the following day; in other words he’ll be in BIG, big trouble and there’s no fooling his observant mum.

He tries our (supposed) suggested counting sheep, a bedtime book – definitely not the best idea – and a chat with last year’s prize caterpillar toy all of which fail and then he recalls his teacher, Miss Chon’s advice to breathe long and deep then mind travel to his ‘happy place …

and joy of joys, zzzzzzzz.

Whether the final wordless spread is Monty’s blissful dream or the young frog’s elated presence (along with his parents) at the next day’s Frogatta is left open to readers to decide: no matter which, one cannot help but root for little amphibious Monty in this frog-a-licious bedtime tale.

With Christpher Weyant’s super, lively, cartoonish scenes of Anna Kang’s dramatic telling, the book is enormous fun for pre-sleep sharing, especially for little ones with a touch of insomnia.

I’m Not Grumpy!
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger

Waking up to discover a huge furry bottom blocking your door might put most of us in a bad mood; it certainly does Mouse whose mood further deteriorates when he’s splatted on the nose by – so he thinks – a splashy raindrop.

In fact it’s a tear shed by a distraught little badger just outside his window wailing, “Where’s my Mummy?”

Together the two animals set off in search of the Mummy Badger only to find themselves lost.

Encounters with Squirrel and Owl both of which recognise Mouse as ‘that grumpy mouse”, (hotly denied by said Mouse), are willing to help in the search and off they all go deep into the forest.

There they come upon a large bear. On learning that Mouse is in fact helping Little Badger get home, the bear changes his grumpy accusation to “a kind friend”; a first for Mouse.

They travel deeper into the forest until Mouse becomes overwrought

which results in Owl giving him a cheer-up hug – another unusual event for the little creature. Suddenly out of the bushes emerges a very scary, very hungry predator.

Does that mean Squirrel, Badger, Owl and Mouse become a lupine’s evening meal?

Happily not. I won’t divulge the ending, but what ensues will certainly bring a happy smile to the faces of young listeners.

With opportunities for audience participation, Steve’s warm-hearted story with Caroline Pedler’s expressively portrayed woodland animals provides a good starting point for circle time discussion with early years children on themes of friendship, kindness, and on how their moods might affect other people.

The Colour of Happy / Some Days / A Thank You Walk

The Colour of Happy
Laura Baker and Angie Rozelaar
Hodder Children’s Books

This sweet, simple rhyming story of a boy finding a dandelion seed head and what happens thereafter is the means for an exploration of feelings for young children around the age of the child narrator, using a rainbow of emotions and the fluffy seed head.

The child, out walking with a pup, spies a dandelion clock: ’Yellow is for happy when I spot a special thing,’ he tells us and having picked it, hops and skips along. But when a gust of wind whisks his treasure away, the boy is engulfed in dark blue sadness.

His emotions then run through the colour spectrum: red for anger as he watches it sail away;

green for feelings of envy when he sees a girl with the seed head; grey when he cannot believe things will be okay; gold for the kindly response from a little girl, and the return of hope as they play together chasing the dandelion clock while it sails off again;

purple for the proud feeling when the boy again holds his treasure safe and bids his friend farewell; orange for the mounting excitement as he heads home and finally, pink as he reaches the front door with his somewhat depleted, love-filled offering …

Little ones will certainly relate to Laura Baker’s lovely story, which offers a great starting point for becoming mindful about their own responses to situations. With a foundation stage class, I envisage children talking about the book, their own feelings with regard to a particular happening; and then perhaps responding with paints or whatever medium they feel right, in music or a dance with coloured scarves perhaps.

Some Days
Karen Kaufman Orloff and Ziyue Chen
Sterling Children’s Books

We all experience different feelings at different times and so it is with young children and this book, with Karen Kaufman’s lively rhyming text and Ziyue Chen’s warmly hued illustrations, conveys that huge gamut of emotions through the course of a year.

Through two young children, we share in their everyday highlights such as ‘chocolate pudding pie day’s’, ‘Kites up in the sky days. Jumping super high days’; the joys of swimming and sunbathing;

as well as the downs – a nasty cut knee for instance.

Some days are extra special like that for ‘picking out a pup’ or winning a cup. Then come fussy mum days

and days when raincoats just won’t do, and there are  too wet to play football days with glum stay indoors faces; better though are snow angel making days and watching a warm fire days.

The author acknowledges those bad days when everything feels wrong

and those when it’s best to be alone.

Finally comes ‘Learning to be me days’ which is really the essence of the whole, a book that celebrates the positive but doesn’t gloss over the negative feelings. It’s a good starting point for discussion in an early years setting, or after a one-to-one sharing at home, perhaps about how best to respond to and deal with negative emotions. After all, being mindful of, and being able to talk about, our emotions and feelings helps us best deal with them.

Helping to develop mindfulness in even younger children is:

A Thank You Walk
Nancy Loewen and Hazel Quintanilla
Words & Pictures

Nancy Loewen’s brief story of a mother and little girl walking their dog, Duke, is one of the Bright Start series aimed at developing emotional intelligence in the very young.

Simply expressed it tells how as they stroll hand in hand mother and child interact with the animals they encounter. The barking sounds of Duke, the chirping of birds eating seeds, a neighing pony fed carrots, an overturned beetle that they rescue, which flies off with a buzz-buzz,

are, the child is told, the creatures’ ways of saying thank you.

Cutely and expressively illustrated in black and white with orange pops, by Hazel Quintanilla the book demonstrates the importance of showing appreciation and thankfulness. It’s never too soon to start saying thank you and as an introduction to being mindful about expressing gratitude it offers a useful starter for a circle time session with a nursery group, or for individual sharing at home.

You Can’t Cuddle a Crocodile

You Can’t Cuddle a Crocodile
Diana Hendry and Ed Eaves
Hodder Children’s Books

Why would anyone want to, was my immediate response to the title of this book but said crocodile doesn’t actually make an appearance until quite a way into the story – on Friday to be precise – so let’s go back to the start and meet the family on Monday morning.

There’s our narrator, a fresh-faced boy together with his smiling parents who counter the lad’s claim that on this particular day his sister is a monkey, with a question about the nature of monkeys’ choice of breakfast, and go on to fabricate further fanciful monkey-associated notions.

Come Tuesday, said sister has morphed into a bear whose ursine antics cause early morning chaos in the household.

And so it goes on through the week: Wednesday a camel accompanies mum and boy to the beach; Thursday sees a rainy shopping expedition with a flat-footed, flap, flap, flippered sibling slowing down the journey and causing consternation with the shopkeeper.

Friday it’s the turn of a visit from that crocodile – a decidedly uncuddle-able incarnation, particularly at bedtime story time and on Saturday the unsuspecting postie is scared silly when something roars at him and makes a grab for his sack. He isn’t impressed, preferring the human sibling.

On Sunday, Freya makes a welcome return as herself but suddenly Mum notices the absence of our narrator. What could have happened to him? … Seemingly he has the final chuckle in this tall tale.

Diana’s crazy story coupled with Ed’s zany digital scenes of young Freya’s incarnations and their outcomes, is likely to entertain youngsters in an early years setting or at home as well as providing a gentle introduction to, or reminder of, the days of the week sequence.

Super Snail

Super Snail
Elys Dolan
Hodder Children’s Books

Virtually without need to prove themselves, human superheroes are absolute winners with youngsters, but a super snail? That might take a little more demonstration of worth and that is exactly what Kevin (actually a normal slug) sets out to do in this super story.

Slug though he might be, come nightfall, Kevin dons a hard coiled mollusc coat and becomes transformed: fearless, invincible – an exceedingly slimy gastropod.

Now Kevin already has all that a superhero should have – a secret subterranean hideout complete with trusty butler, as well as a range of brilliant gadgets; but in spite of everything he’s yet to convince himself that he’s the real deal.

Time to consult the brave and comely League of Heroes.

Proof possibilities are posited and then all that Kevin needs is to receive the appropriate Snail Signal and he’s off on a mission, sadly at a snail’s pace, not super fast.

Once on the disaster scene, despite his best efforts Kevin is less than helpful; he resorts to last ditch efforts but even that merely renders him the butt of the villains’ jokes.

I should head home, thinks our would-be hero but then quite suddenly Kev. hears something alarming concerning one, Laser Pigeon, and he observes what looks like the ideal opportunity finally to exercise his slippery-slimy superpower and save his would-be dinner date, the ‘dynamic’ career worm Susan …

Super-author/illustrator Elys has out-supered herself with this one. With each new book, I think to myself, she won’t better this but then she does; and so it is with Kevin’s stupendously silly saga. It’s out of this world brilliant. Just get hold of a copy and see.

Going To The Volcano

Going To The Volcano
Andy Stanton and Miguel Ordóñez
Hodder Children’s Books

Meet Jane and Dwayne: whether they’re friends or siblings I know not but they’re both heading to the same place to look at the same thing.

Its location is somewhere in Spain and to get there requires walking (down the lane-o); riding a Great Dane-o; sitting on a train-o; jumping on a plane-o, which flies them to their target country

where it happens to be raining. Splashing through it, – the rain-o, climbing up the crane-o and down the chain-o, (fortunately the rain has now stopped)

takes the two, plus the host of other interested parties who have tagged along during the journey, to the rim of the titular volcano.

That however, is not quite the end of this crazy saga for as perhaps the visitors were unaware, but little ones will be eagerly anticipating, said volcano is active and …

It’s easy to be wise after the event but those who value their lives and limbs will do well to heed the advice proffered by those who learned the hard way to STAY OFF THE VOLCANO!

For the full cast of volcano visitors, see the final spread, which in itself is sufficient to make you sputter with laughter – no not lava; despite those lava ‘girls’ lined up thereon, one of whom is called Trevor.

Stupendously silly, but then that is what makes Andy’s rhyming recklessness so riveting, all the more so when coupled with Miguel Ordóñez’ scenes of the comical cast cavorting towards their destination.

Everybunny Dream! / Hop Little Bunnies / This is Owl / Sleep, My Bunny

Everybunny Dream!
Ellie Sandall
Hodder Children’s Books

Ellie Sandall’s latest Everybunny tale is essentially a bedtime story.

Through a gentle rhyming narrative and a sequence of captivating scenes, some frolicsome, others more peaceful, we share in the bedtime ritual of the little bunnies as they respond to their mother’s instructions,

until they’re tucked up cosily under the covers.

Who should appear suddenly though but another creature with a long orange bushy tail, also clad in night attire.

Before long there’s a host of baby fox cubs sitting with the little bunnies – who have now all hopped out of bed – avidly listening to a good night tale

and then it really is time to snuggle down altogether for some shut-eye and perhaps some pleasant dreams.

A lovely way to send your little ones off into the land of nod at the end of a busy day.

Hop Little Bunnies
Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Based on nursery favourite Sleeping Bunnies, Martha Mumford has written a jaunty text that includes not only the bunnies of the original song but also fluffy lambs, tiny chicks, kittens and ducklings

all of which sleep until noon and wake up and make lots of noise.

They then go on to play for the rest of the day before a bedtime song sends them all off to sleep once more.

With plenty of flaps to investigate and sounds to make, Laura Hughes charming rural illustrations add to the springtime bounce of Martha’s words.

This cheery charmer is likely to become a much requested book for young listeners be that at home or in an early years setting.

After an initial sharing I’d suggest an action packed story session with sleeping, hopping, leaping and swimming, not forgetting baa-ing, cheeping, mewing and quacking.

Another book that invites interaction is:

This is Owl
Libby Walden and Jacqui Lee
Caterpillar Books
The sun is shining, Owl is fast asleep and doesn’t want to wake up but the book has to start so the reader’s help is needed to rouse our feathered friend.

Tummy tickling is only partially successful so the sun needs to be extinguished and replaced by a moon.

Hurrah Owl now has both eyes open but Beetle further along the branch is causing a distraction.

A considerable amount of page flapping is required to help Owl reach Beetle but then they both disappear. Oops! Where can Owl be?

With the help of several more birds Owl is eventually located and it seems one has become two for alongside is Other Owl.

Strangely the pair of them are doing a little uncharacteristic nest building so a bit of twig collecting from reader’s won’t come amiss.

Sometime later, once that threatening raincloud has gone, Owl has something in the nest to show off to readers.

By the time the sun starts to come up once again, two owls have become three and it’s time to bid them all farewell.

Feathery fun with a tad of scientific learning included, Libby Walden’s gently humorous, guiding words, in tandem with Jacqui Lee’s eye-catching, funny illustrations will certainly make for an active animal shared book experience.

Sleep, My Bunny
Rosemary Wells
Walker Books

Here’s a lovely way to wind down with your little one(s) at the end of the day.

Rosemary Wells’ gently flowing text reads like a lullaby as it talks of the sounds of evening: the simultaneous song of owls and crickets; the night wind that has ‘taken the moon for a ride’, the first soft summer rain.

Alongside we see, in Van Gogh-like impressionist style, a sunlit tree outside and then as the sun goes down, a series of gradually darkening skies shown through the window, foregrounded by scenes of a little bunny going through his night-time routine with his mother and father.

On each spread the textual border mirrors the sky seen outside.

There’s obvious love and tenderness in this bunny family so adorably depicted in this lovely bedtime book.

When I Was a Child

When I Was a Child
Andy Stanton & David Litchfield
Hodder Children’s Books

You’re swept away with this enormously heart-warming book right from Andy Stanton’s opening lines, ‘ “Back in the days before you were born, “ said Grandma, / “when the world was a rose’s dream … “ / There was butterfly-and-daffodil ice cream.‘

Back in the day, so she tells her grandchild, the world was ‘a crystal jewel’ full of beauty and magical events: ‘… in the summers of long ago, / when the world married the sun, / there was music in everyone.’

Now though that magic has gone, thinks the world-weary gran. But perhaps it hasn’t.

It’s down (or rather up) to young Emily to re-awaken the ability in her grandmother to see the world as that place of magic, with its beauty and hope once more: ‘ I can show you how to see.” Take my hand and come with me … she gently urges her gran as they embark on further flights of fancy, this time under the child’s guidance.

If you’re not brimming over with the joy it exudes having read this book once, then start over and soak up the transformative power of young Emily’s imagination as she finds magic, wonder and awe even in the most seemingly ordinary things such as  flowers and raindrops.

‘The world is a spinning star … no matter how old you are’ is what’s said on the book’s final spread.

A child’s wisdom is as fresh and young, and as old as the world itself; that is something we all need to remember especially in these troubled times of ours.

Totally immersive, tender and uplifting, this stunning creative collaboration between two  favourite book creators is also a celebration of a special intergenerational bond.

Verbal and visual poetry both: Awesome!

Claude: All About Kevin

Claude: All About Keith
Alex T. Smith
Hodder Children’s Books

One fine day Claude and Sir Bobblysock are perambulating in the warm sun, Claude taking the opportunity to practise his hooter playing, when they come upon a very distressed baby duck.

Benny Begonia, stops by. He suggests the creature has lost its mummy and offers to go and search for her. That’s how Claude and Sir B find themselves doing a spot of duckling sitting.

In order to pacify the little animal Claude suggests a visit to Mr Lovelybuns’ café.

Things are going swimmingly until Claude gets a tad over enthusiastic about his sandwich and SPLAT!

Keith is less than happy about his new pickle-spattered plumage and makes it known in no uncertain terms.

Off they go to the library and soon Keith is happily listening to Miss Hush’s story about an angry dragon. Until that is the librarian asks Claude to give a dragon impression.

You can imagine Keith’s reaction to the almighty roar.

Off they go again – to give Keith an opportunity to do what ducklings like to do. Thanks to Denzel the duckling appears to enjoy his swim but then Claude decides to join him in the water and … Here we go again.

Back comes Benny but without Keith’s mummy. “I should have just stuck with playing my hooter,” says Claude giving it a tiny toot.

Lo and behold that does the trick and before you can say ‘duck’ Keith is not the only one doing some enthusiastic moves to Claude’s tooting.

Back they all go to Pawhaven park: job done surely? Errr, maybe that’s not quite the end of the story. But we all love a happy ending and rest assured there is one though you’ll need to get hold of a copy of the book and discover how things are resolved – if indeed they are.

Alex’s Claude and Sir Bobblysock are totally irresistible and, based on the Disney Junior TV show, this latest adventure is as wittily ridiculous as ever.

Lots of Frogs

Lots of Frogs
Howard Calvert and Claudia Boldt
Hodder Children’s Books

Tommy Fox has a box – a box full of frogs. The expression ‘mad as a box of frogs’ sprang instantly to mind on reading this and there’s more than a little madness in Howard Calvert’s story.

Back in the day, dare I admit it in these days of environmental awareness, children (including myself) liked to collect frogspawn and take it into school where we’d watch the jelly blobs become tadpoles and then frogs. This clearly isn’t Tommy’s intention since he has the fully formed frogs (and toads) in his box but he does take them into school for show and tell. A risky enterprise you might be thinking and it’s certainly so.

Before you can say ‘atishoo’ those little amphibians have escaped and are leaping about causing utter chaos in the classroom,

silliness in the staffroom …

and havoc in the hall.

Tommy has to get all those frolicsome frogs back into his box but there’s one of their number – Frank by name – that has headed to the gym and is certainly eager to give young Tommy a run for his money.

Debut author Howard Calvert’s zany rhyming story bounces along with gusto. His main protagonist Tommy is a delight and Claudia Boldt has captured his enthusiasm and energy superbly. Equally the havoc-causing frogs – every one different – are utterly hilarious.

Spring has surely sprung in one particular classroom and I loved it.

Monster Match

Monster Match
Caroline Gray
Hodder Children’s Books

A host of zany-looking monsters each make a pitch to be chosen as a child’s special pet but is there one that stands out from the crowd?

First to strut its stuff is a tricky creature that advocates a daily run – now that’s a good idea.

Second comes a mock scary pink thing happy to do the frightening but wanting a little bit of snuggle room should it suffer from nocturnal fears.

Or what about a monster of the cuddly variety like this pamper-loving sweetie?

I’m not sure I’d advocate a monster that emerges from the rubbish bin covered in slime and stinking something dreadful; nor the snack guzzler who’s taste is for all kinds of gross looking ‘treats’,

especially not one that offers a dip in a drool pool. YUCK!

That’s almost all, but there are still one or two I won’t mention apart from to say that they join the others in claiming they’ll ‘be good, just like we should.’ Really?

Is there to be a winner? Which would your little monster choose I wonder …

Rhyming fun with a final twist: expect a few ‘EUGH!’s and “YUCK!’s when you share this one. Caroline Gray’s debut picture book most definitely offers plenty to talk about.


Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

The boy narrator of this wonderful picture book has a pet dragon named Zibbo. Zibbo can fly thanks to the boy’s teaching; and our narrator, thanks to his pet, knows exactly how to …

The two are pretty much inseparable and a terrific hit with the boy’s friends. Zippo is ace at hide-and-seek though basketball is at times troublesome, depending on who is catching the ball.

A true party enthusiast, Zippo can on occasion get just a tad over-animated, or should that be over-heated …

No matter what though, as different as he may be, Zippo is the very bestest best friend a child could possibly have: it’s a case of ‘no holds barred’ when it comes to challenges in the company of the tiny dragon, who in the narrator’s closing words truly is AMAZING! Just the way he is. The boy though doesn’t actually have the final words – those are left to Zippo …

Amazing too is the book’s creator, Steve. His joyously inclusive portrayal of boy and pet is a cause for celebration: it’s rare to find a mainstream trade publication with a disabled child as its main character, let alone one so prominently portrayed on the front cover. Even more important though, is that the narrator’s disability is incidental with the celebration of friendship taking centre stage.

Having taught in both mainstream and special education, I know for sure that the likelihood of students who are different being picked on by ignorant or thoughtless individuals, increases the further through the system they go. Young children are in my experience far more open and accepting of differences of all kinds, just like those in this story. However it’s the place to start when it comes to developing those open-hearted attitudes.

A must for all nurseries, early years settings and primary schools as well as the family bookshelf.

Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds

Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books

As Douglas sits beneath a tree taking stock of his spring collection, it’s suddenly added to in an unexpected manner. A nest of eggs plummets into his lap, closely followed by a squirrel that informs Douglas it belongs to Swoopy Bird. The eggs are fine but the nest is rather the worse for its tumble.

Kind-hearted as ever, Douglas volunteers to mind the nest and its contents while its owner builds a new one but it seems a long wait.

One of the Funny Bunnies suggests egg hugging is a good way to keep the eggs warm – decidedly preferable to being sat upon by Douglas’ large rear – and it isn’t long before the eggs are ready to hatch.

The next challenge is to get the eight little hatchlings safely up to the new home Swoopy Bird has finished in the nick of time.

Once installed it’s hugs all round.

As always it’s perfectly pitched for young listeners but with sufficient humour – visual and verbal – to satisfy adult readers aloud too.

With its signature final double spread (here it’s things to spot on a spring day) and some crafty suggestions, this new story will please established fans, and make the huggable Douglas a lot of new followers.

Oi Duck-Billed Platypus!

Oi Duck-Billed Platypus!
Kes Gray & Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books

Seemingly Frog’s work is never done, at least when it comes to finding suitable places upon which animals can rest their situpons.

Now he’s faced with not just the creature from the title but a whole host of other animals all wanting to know upon what they can sit and even worse, each one has a name that’s impossible to find a rhyme for – try hedgehog, say. Well perhaps the spiky creature could sit upon er, Frog. Ouch! I suspect that’s completely out of the question though. And kookaburra – hmm! Surely there must be another way of approaching this impasse. And happily there is!

Frog is a genius! “… what’s your first name?” he asks the duck-billed platypus. “Dolly,” comes the reply. Easily sorted.

Then, with moral support from his pals – the dog and the cat, our amphibious friend rapidly comes up with places upon which another twenty or so animals can park their bottoms.

That leaves just the matter of Geraldine the kangaroo …

I think this book has ousted any of the other Oi titles to become my very favourite of the seemingly effortless, utterly priceless. rhyming gems Kes Gray produces. Brilliant as they are though, they wouldn’t be quite so fantastic without Jim Field’s side-splitting illustrations.

Oi teachers, think what terrific fun you could have with your classes …

The Queen’s Lift-Off

The Queen’s Lift-Off
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

Those of us who watched the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics will probably recall that Her Majesty the Queen was, so we were led to believe, parachuted into the stadium.
Who would have thought that just a few years later she’d find herself blasting off into space aboard the rocket she’s just helped the little prince and princess to build?

WHOOOSH! goes the Queen, zooming faster than the speed of light, first to Mercury. After which, comet-like she soars to Venus,

before coming to land on the Moon’s surface

from whence it’s merely a matter of a single giant leap to the Red Planet.

Then she boldly takes flight towards Jupiter before she’s off again to spin rings around Saturn.

Zipping on past Uranus and Neptune, not forgetting little Pluto, she’s suddenly sucked into an enormous black hole.

Surely that cannot be the end of Her Royal Highness?

Not so: thank the universe then, for a passing spaceship that succeeds in safely beaming her up and depositing her safe and sound and none the worse for her awesome adventure, back in the palace garden, where it just happens to be afternoon tea-time. Hurrah!

And who, or what, should be there to serve it up …

Into his seemingly simple story Steve manages to weave some wonderful textual references to Star Trek and the American moon landings.

As always however, it’s the awesome illustrations that carry not just one, but many stories (as well as visual starting points for children’s own storying). However many times one looks at them there always seems to be something new to discover and enjoy. In this story there’s the ever -increasing number of loyal companions the Queen has on her journey, as well as a little alien and his flying saucer which appear from time to time.
Oh and of course, in each and every scene there’s a royal corgi complete with space-helmet, looking as though he’s thoroughly enjoying every minute of the adventure, Oddly enough, her highness just happens to have some dog biscuits (along with her lippy, perfume spray, specs and the various other necessities she carries in her handbag).
I’m guessing since its near loss, she’s never parted from this vital article of personal storage.

I think this series just keeps on reaching new heights; this one is my favourite thus far, although I was probably predisposed so to think because I was lucky enough to have my review copy signed and handed to me by Steve himself. You can’t get better than that – until the next one, perhaps.

Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure

Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure
Alex T. Smith
Hodder Children’s Books

The creator of the wonderful Claude books does it again with this the first of another adventure series. It stars Mr Penguin of Cityville (think Indiana Jones crossed with Sherlock Holmes or even Wallace and Gromit) who has just set himself up as a professional adventurer. He has all the gear: a dashing hat, large magnifying glass, a somewhat battered satchel and a smart-looking office complete with revolving chair. Like others of his ilk, he also has a sidekick, Colin the kung-fu-kicking spider.

Mr P. sits in his office, with a decidedly reduced bank balance and a distinct lack of clients, despairing that he’ll ever be asked to solve a mystery.

Happily he gets a call from a frantic-sounding Boudicca Boones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects. She wants to hire him to find some lost treasure buried long ago by a relative.

An adventure at last; but can this oddly matched pair manage to follow a map and solve clues let alone locate the whereabouts of that missing treasure?

Their search, which ends up involving more than just Mr P. and Colin, sends them down into the depths to a subterranean jungle under the museum itself.

What a cracking, fast moving adventure it turns out to be with a host of cliff-hangers,

surprises and delicious characters, not to mention brushes with the criminal fraternity, the odd alligator and more, that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as well as chortling at the wonderful dialogue.

As one would expect of Alex Smith, the entire tale is imbued with the absurd, both verbal and visual; and be sure not to miss those press excerpts before and after the beginning and end of the book.

Readers will be thrilled to learn, as I was, that this is the first of a new wacky adventure series. Bring on the next one …

Everybunny Count! / abc

Everybunny Count!
Ellie Sandall
Hodder Children’s Books

Since making friends in Everybunny Dance, ’Fox and bunnies like to play, / all together, every day.’ And their chosen game for this particular day is hide-and-seek.

The bunnies do their countdown and the hunt for fox commences. The first finding is a single badger soon followed by two bunnies spotting two birds: ‘Everybunny count to TWO!’

The search continues. Three bunnies spy three frisky squirrels; four find four ladybirds.

The pond is a fruitful place for fresh discoveries: five diving bunnies see five ducks while among the sticks, six bunnies find six frogs. ‘Everybunny count to SIX!’
Next stop is the carrot patch – just the place for a crunchy carrot nibble. It’s getting late and eight bunnies are anything but observant in their haste …

By now those bunnies are feeling sleepy as they form a line and count to NINE! (sheep) and then hurrah! There among the trees, close to his den is Fox.

There’s another surprise however for at the count of ten what should appear but ten little fox cubs and a proud mother.

It’s time to dance …

Ellie Sandall’s rhyming text with its infectious repetition ‘Everybunny count to …’ bounces along as beautifully as the bunnies. Add to that her deliciously playful pencil and watercolour illustrations (children will delight in occasional glimpses of Fox along the way) that lead to this …

and we have a counting book story that’s full of fun and sure to result in echoes of the animals’ “Let’s play hide-and-seek again.”

Aino-Maija Metsola
Wide Eyed Editions

Learning the alphabet is just a part of this new addition to the Learning Garden series. Young children can have fun not only naming the objects for each letter of the alphabet but also enjoying the various patterns, shapes and bright colours that are part and parcel of every page.

There are numerous opportunities for language learning, depending on the child’s interest and the skill of the adult sharer. You might for example, chose two or three of the letters and illustrated objects, and use them to make up a story together. The sturdy pages mean that this little board book should stand up well to the enthusiastic use it’s likely to get in a nursery or family.

The Story of Tantrum O’Furrily

The Story of Tantrum O’Furrily
Cressida Cowell and Mark Nicholas
Hodder Children’s Books

I’m anything but a lover of cats – they make me sneezy, wheezy and itchy-eyed but the ginger creature staring out from the cover of this book is totally irresistible and goes by the unlikely name of Tantrum O’Furrily.

What we have here is a story within a story and it all begins one wild and windy night with stray cat, Tantrum O’Furrily dancing across the rooftops with her three hungry little kittens and offering to tell them a story.

Slightly disappointed to learn that stories aren’t edible, they start to listen to their mother’s song. She tells of a small kitten; Smallpaw by name, a very pampered pet living with Mrs Worrykin who, when asked for a story responds that only stray cats – the robbers and fighters – are story cats.

One night Mrs Worrykin forgets to close the catflap and seeking adventure, Smallpaw pokes her head outside into the dark sniffing for a story of her own.

The fox she encounters is more than willing to oblige and begins his tale thus: “Once upon a time there was a delicious little kitten with fur as soft as butter, who was bored of being indoors…

Recognising the similarities with her own story, Smallpaw is intrigued and allows herself be lured outside, bounding right up close to the foxy gentleman who, as foxes do, has his eye on the main chance.

Fortunately for her, there happens to be a stray cat on hand with tiger-like claws and tenacious teeth; she sees off the wily predator …

and gives Smallpaw some timely advice.

Smallpaw does return to her keeper but from then on, Mrs Worrykin always leaves the catflap open. The best of both worlds becomes the order of the day – and night – for, as that wise stray once said, ‘A cat with courage makes her own story.’

Beautifully told by wonderful weaver of words, Cressida Cowell whose modern fable is complemented by Carmelite Prize winning illustrator Mark Nicholas. His superbly smudgy scenes, executed with a minimal colour palette, detail the action with panache.

Swapsies / Say Sorry, Sidney!

Fiona Roberton
Hodder Children’s Books

There’s a delightful lesson in the importance of friendship and learning to share in this latest book from talented author/illustrator Fiona Roberton whose books have all been winners with me.
Fang has a favourite toy, an amazing yellow, stripey, squeezy, thing with an aroma of bananas; he loves Sock more than anything else.
Enter Philip with his magnificent shiny red train, which looks a whole lot more exciting than Sock. Being a good sharer, Philip agrees to a swap.

A similar thing happens with the bouncy toy belonging to Simon. But then disaster strikes …

and Fang is left toyless and missing his old favourite.
Is he to be without his beloved Sock forever more or is there perhaps a way they can be re-united.
Fiona’s characters are adorable; her dialogue superb: “What happened to Ball?” asked Simon. “Ball is no longer with us,” says Fang; and the finale (which I won’t divulge) leaves room for the children’s imaginations to take over and draw their own conclusions.

Say Sorry, Sidney!
Caryl Hart and Sarah Horne
Hodder Children’s Books

Resident of the zoo, rhino Sidney feels lonely so he decides to make a break for it and heads for the farm.
Once there, the creature starts helping himself to anything and everything that takes his fancy. First he scoffs Mr Potts lunch, then ruins all the washing on Aunt Ann’s clothes line. How wonderfully affronted she looks …

Not content with that he destroys young Emily’s den and smashes all her favourite toys. Even worse, despite their protests of innocence, everyone blames their loss on whichever farm animal happens to be on the scene at the time.
Rhino? What Rhino? / That cannot be true. / There’s only one rhino / and he’s in the zoo.” Is what the accusers all say to the accused.
Come the evening, those farm animals have had enough; time to confront that rhino and teach him a lesson they decide.

Will Sidney finally see the error of his ways, learn some manners and become a valued member of the farm community, or will it be back to the zoo for him?
With its join-in-able repeat refrain, the jaunty rhyme bounces along nicely and Sarah Horne’s wonderfully quirky characters, both animal and human, are quite splendid.

The Adventures of Egg Box Dragon

The Adventures of Egg Box Dragon
Richard Adams and Alex T. Smith
Hodder Children’s Books

Here’s the result of an inspired bit of decision making from someone at Hodder: the teaming of Richard Adams (now no longer with us) and wonderful illustrator of the Claude series, Alex T.Smith. It’s the first and only picture book from Watership Down author and the last ever book Adams wrote.

Like a good many other children, Emma loved to make things out of egg boxes, not the awful plastic things but the pukka cardboard ones. One day she fashions a fantastic dragon from those egg boxes with the addition of bits of card, scraps cut from bin liners, wire, shiny bike reflectors and paint.

This amazing construction is hugely admired when Emma brings it home and one person not usually given to speaking out declares the “critter’s got magic.”

Doing as she’s bid, Emma puts the dragon to sleep under the moon and waits.
Sure enough the old man is right, the dragon comes to life and yes, he’s a fiery thing but this mischievous beastie has an amazing talent: he’s able to locate the whereabouts of almost anything that’s been lost – Dad’s specs for instance and the neighbour’s tortoise.

Pretty soon the whole neighbourhood has heard of this extraordinary gift and the TV news gets hold of the story.

Then comes a surprise call:

her majesty enlists his help and the Egg Box Dragon finds himself going to the palace to assist her in finding a missing diamond from her crown.

A thoroughly enjoyable tale, full of splendid characters in its own right, but with amazing artistry from Alex that’s simply brimming over with wonderfully imagined details, the whole thing moves to a whole new level of deliciousness.

The Rainmaker Danced

The Rainmaker Danced
John Agard illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
Hodder Children’s Books

There’s always plenty to delight and to contemplate in any book of poetry from John Agard and so it is here in this new offering of some forty poems, beautifully illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura

Embracing a wide variety of themes and topics from Mosquito …

to maths and marriage, the poet offers something to suit all moods.

Some such as Line really bring you up short with its final: ‘Then they sent him / to the frontline / where he learnt / of a thin line / between breathing / and not breathing.

As does Progress which concludes thus: ‘it takes a second / (maybe less) / to press / a button.

There are humorous offerings too. Take Homo Ambi-thumb-trous with its prod at mobile phone-obsessives; and Government Warning! wherein the powers that be issue notice of a tickle-free zone.

Like all Agard’s poetry books, this one has something for everyone and deserves to be shared and discussed in all upper primary and secondary classrooms, as well as being for all lovers of contemporary poetry.

Birdy & Bou / A Recipe for Playtime

Birdy & Bou: The Floating Library
Mandy Stanley and David Bedford
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

I’m always on the lookout for stories that promote book loving and library use to very young children and here’s a great little book that does both of those things.
Bou is a red-eared panda and Birdy is, well, a bird.

Bou is an avid reader and when the floating library makes its regular stop at the village, he cannot wait to get his paws on his favourite book again.

Once aboard, he searches high and low but no matter where he looks, Bou cannot find his beloved book. Someone else has got there before him.

Off goes the little panda to track down the borrower, which he does eventually, although its borrower, Birdy, hasn’t quite grasped how to read it. Time for a demonstration and a spot of book-sharing.

So absorbed are the new friends that by the time they reach the river again, the library boat has departed. How can they return the book now?

With its bold, bright artwork, simple storyline and lovely surprise ending, this book with its toddler friendly wipe-clean pages, from the duo that created Roo the dinosaur, have another winner in Bou.

A Recipe for Playtime
Peter Bently and Sarah Massini
Hodder Children’s Books

Following on from their A Recipe for Bedtime, Bently and Massini have created a celebration of play. The toddler herein finds delight in block building, painting, constructing and imaginary play indoors,

before heading outside where there’s a slide, a sandpit, swings and lots of places to hide in when it’s time for a game of hide-and-seek with the toys.

Back indoors once again, it’s time to tidy away before snuggling up for a goodnight story – the perfect way to end the day.

Peter’s jaunty rhyme together with Sarah’s scenes of the fun and games, really do capture the joyful exuberance of the very young at play.

I’ve signed the charter  

Lucie Goose

Lucie Goose
Danny Baker and Pippa Curnick
Hodder Children’s Books

Lucie Goose is, by all accounts, a reclusive creature residing on the edge of a wood. One day while she’s keeping herself to herself and doing a spot of gardening, out from the shadows creeps a wolf. His “Rraaaarrrrrr”s fail utterly to ruffle her feathers …

and she invites the creature, whom she likens to a woolly sausage, in for a cuppa and a slice of cake, an offer the wolf declines.

Next on the scene is a huge ursine character whose roaring is but a mere brief interruption to her strawberry picking. He too fails to alarm and declines the tea invitation.

Then comes Lion and also roaring, but Lucie has flowers to pick and the ‘fat old carpet’ is singularly unalarming in her eyes and is quickly dispatched leaving the goose pondering upon the notion of scaring and being scared.

Enter another goose, Bruce by name. He doesn’t roar but merely explains the unlikelihood of anybody being scared of a goose.
Polite as she is, Lucie suggests tea and cake and home they go together.

However, there’s a surprise – or should that be three or err – awaiting the geese at Lucie’s house.

This is comedy writer, journalist and radio presenter Danny Baker’s first foray into picture books. I hope it isn’t his last. With its splendid similies and other absurd dialogue his narrative is really funny and I suspect you’ll find it impossible to read it aloud without wanting to break into fits of giggles.
Moreover, the showing, not telling finale and the guests’ final comments leave the audience free to use their own imaginations.
Equally humorous are rising star Pippa Curnick’s illustrations. Her sequences showing the interactions between Lucie and each of the other characters are picture book theatre of the first order.

Friends for a Day

Friends for a Day
Neal Layton
Hodder Children’s Books

Oh, oh, this is achingly adorable, a real treasure of a book that is both poignant and joyful by the absolute master of sublime, scribbly artwork, Neal Layton who is a self confessed lover of bears. As I started to read it I thought hey, this is a bit familiar and then realised it is actually a reincarnation of Bartholomew and the Bug published almost fifteen years ago. Nevertheless, those children I shared it with back then are all grown up now and it’s exciting to think it’s once again available to a whole new generation of listeners.

Bartholomew is a laid back bear who lives an undemanding existence atop a mountain although occasionally contemplating the world down in the valley with its twinkling lights: maybe one day, he thinks to himself.

However that day comes a lot sooner than he’d anticipated: enter Bug. This tiny creature is in urgent need of Bartholomew’s assistance. Whatever the reason for the hurry, it’s pretty clear that Bug cannot go it alone and so the bear and bug set off together for the bright lights.

What a truly epic adventure this turns out to be (117 miles of travelling)

and all the while Bartholomew’s tiny pal seems to grow ever more eager to reach their destination.

The two finally arrive at the big city in record-breaking time and it truly is a surprising sight but where are all those lights?

Before long Bartholomew discovers just what all the hurry was for as thousand upon thousand of wonderful bugs of all shapes and sizes wing their way into the neon lights that come on only when darkness falls.

An awesome time is had by all but then comes the moment –it’s full of poignancy – when Bartholomew realises that his job is done and it’s time to bid farewell to his tiny pal.

Yes, some days are never forgotten and some books likewise. This is one of those, and like all special stories, it leaves plenty of gaps for child audiences to fill.

Simon Sock

Simon Sock
Sue Hendra, Paul Linnet and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

Simon lives in the sock drawer with all the other socks; it’s a cosy place but he feels lonely and unloved. All the other inhabitants go out on adventures and Simon longs to find the perfect friend to roller skate, bounce and hula hoop with; but, as Spotty tells him, Simon is odd.

Then Ted offers his help and thus begins Simon’s search for a stripy matching pair. He meets all manner of possible partners,

he certainly learns a lot and finally discovers Simone.

It turns out though, that his matching pair does not share his thirst for the great outdoors.

Poor Simon; is he doomed to a life without a partner or …

With Nick East’s captivating sock scenarios, this is funny story, about friendship, difference and preconceptions that will make listeners laugh and think; and the ending – yes it is a happy one – will bring delight and a definite feel good factor.
It might even work as a book to give to a significant other on February 14th.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Variety of Life

The Variety of Life
Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie
Hodder Children’s Books

Here’s a large format book for young readers to dip in and out of, time and again, especially those who like animals of one kind or another and the wider biodiversity of our planet.

The author and zoologist, Nicola Davies explores the huge diversity of the natural world, providing information about the chosen subjects, one per double spread – a short introductory paragraph to each group and a sentence or two about those depicted (their food, their habits and their habitats) together with the common name, the scientific (Latin) name, and if they happen to number among the endangered species, a black star. It’s alarming to see for instance, that of the eight species of bear, six are threatened with extinction.

Accessibly presented are a large variety of animals big and small, and some plants – grasses and trees and finally, representing the fungi are mushrooms.

Some of the numbers of animal species are questionable though: for instance the number given on the sheep page is 6 species but 9 are illustrated on the relevant spread.

Lorna Scobie’s illustrations of the animal kingdom in particular, are impressionistic rather than strictly scientific. Nonetheless, with their googly eyes, the creatures – from butterflies to bats and sheep to slugs –

have an irresistible child appeal embodying their essential characteristics, and are recognisable if not exactly in the field guide class.

Certainly this thoroughly enjoyable book offers opportunities to take pleasure in, to compare and contrast; and should encourage young readers to respect and treasure the world’s biodiversity and do all they can to preserve and conserve it.

Oi Cat!

Oi Cat!
Kes Gray and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books

Frog is a stickler for the rules – his rules in particular – which is unfortunate for Cat whose turn it is to have his own book. Sadly though, for the feline at least, it’s been decreed that he, and all cats now ‘sit on gnats’.
Imagine the bites, imagine the itching, imagine the scratching of a very sensitive part of his anatomy. Ouch!
Inevitably Cat’s distress results in all kinds of possibilities being proffered by the other animals: were he a pony he could sit on macaroni, suggests Dog. This does not go down well with Cat who objects to his bottom being anyone’s business but his own.
Dog though is full of good ideas, all of which are rapidly negated by the frog on account of their not rhyming with cat.

And even when he does deliver the goods, that dastardly amphibian is quick to point out that bats – be they of the cricket, baseball or softball variety – are already allocated to, erm …

Still though, the dog keeps on trying and even changes tack, suggesting ‘mog’ as an alternative handle for the put upon cat. Now there’s a thought … Doesn’t that word rhyme with a certain extremely assertive creature beginning with f?
But that’s a no go area isn’t it? Surely there must be plenty of alternatives …

Someone’s going to regret that utterance.
I keep on thinking with every new addition to the Oi…! series that they can’t get any better, but then along comes another and I have to say, this one, with its splendid elevating finale, is as close to ‘purr-fect’ as you’re likely to get.
Top that, Kes and Jim …

A Home Full of Friends

A Home Full of Friends
Peter Bently and Charles Fuge
Hodder Children’s Books

Peter Bently does rhyming narrative with aplomb and it’s once again the case here.
Kind soul, badger Bramble doesn’t quite know what he’s letting himself in for when he offers Scuffle the dormouse, toad Tipper

and Boo the hedgehog a bed for the night when they’re made homeless by a storm. Rather that’s all he thinks he has to contend with as he hurries home concerned about his messy sett, stretching his supper to feed four and there only being one bed.
Bramble busies himself making preparations: makeshift they may be but entirely adequate for a badger and three pals.
His thoughts are interrupted by a loud knock at his door and the sight that meets his eyes is more than a little shocking. Three entire families are standing on his doorstep …

Fortunately though, they’ve brought with them everything they’ve managed to salvage from their wrecked homes and it’s not long before, with full bellies, they’re having a wonderful time playing games and sharing a bedtime story

before snuggling up for the night.

Warm-heartedness shines out of Charles Fuge’s beautifully detailed scenes which, together with Bently’s text, make a read aloud book with a compassionate message which is particularly pertinent given recent weather disasters and the ever increasing numbers of displaced people in various parts of the world.


Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

Steve Antony has departed from his usual illustrative style for this new book, a book with a vital message, very cleverly constructed and beautifully portrayed.
We first meet Blip in her plugged in black and white world, a world where yes, she learns new things, has fun, dances, travels even, albeit virtually, all day and every day.

Then one day there’s a power cut, disconnecting Blip from all of that, plunging her world into darkness and causing her to trip and go hurtling into the great outdoors.

There, Blip discovers are new things to learn, fun games to play, music to dance to and faraway places to visit, all day long and in the company of some wonderful new friends.
Inevitably though, the time comes for her to bid her friends farewell and return from this world of soft colours and joyful exuberance,

to go back to her plugged in existence. Now though, she knows at least something of the delights the real world has to offer.

Yes, we’ve heard the message before but never conveyed with such finesse as here. Steve has already set the bar extremely high with his Mr Panda stories and The Queen’s … sequence: now he’s reached new heights with this modern day parable.

Early Years Storytime: Fergus Barnaby Goes on Holiday / There’s Unicorn in Town!

Fergus Barnaby Goes On Holiday
David Barrow
Hodder Children’s Books
Fergus Barnaby lives with his parents on the first floor of a block of flats. Their bags are packed

and they’re just about to set off on holiday when Fergus remembers he hasn’t got his bucket and spade. They’re still upstairs in Fred’s apartment, left here when they played together. Off he goes to the second floor to retrieve them.
As they start loading the car, Barnaby remembers his swimming goggles: those he retrieves from Emily Rose on the third floor and so it goes on – Barnaby seems to have loaned out half his possessions to friends – until finally everything is ready and off they go.
Surely there can’t be anything else left behind; or can there?
Despite his forgetfulness, or is it perhaps lack of possessiveness, Fergus is an endearing character and his flats have some distinctly unusual residents.

David Barrows’ funny, retro style illustrations for this, his debut picture book, are full of delightfully quirky details and young listeners will enjoy the supreme silliness of the finale.

There’s a Unicorn in Town!
Emma Pelling
Ragged Bears
Do you believe in unicorns? Some people do, some people don’t, but they make for a good yarn no matter what.
Rumour has it that there’s a unicorn in Brinton town: some of the residents even claim to have seen it. But then during the course of a week sightings are confirmed every day, so come Sunday, it’s time to draw up a find the unicorn action plan.
Justin the zookeeper is particularly keen to add a mystical creature to his collection of animals and young Cecily has designs on it as a pet.

The search is on, but all anybody can find are some sparkle dust and a few likely looking hoofprints and before long interest dwindles.
Only Cecily harbours a hope of seeing it again, a hope that is further kindled when, on her way to the park, she notices a rainbow flash …

Could it possibly be? …
A sweet story suffused with understated magic: just right for an early years story session.

I’ve signed the charter  

Me and My Dad

Me and My Dad
Robin Shaw
Hodder Children’s Books
It’s small wonder that the little girl narrator of this wonderful book has such a powerful imagination: it’s due in no small measure to the fact that, ‘the best bit’s at the end’ Not the end of the book although that is also true; the end referred to in the story is at the end of the road, the end of their journey; the place where a father and daughter are heading when they set out together. That though is getting ahead of the story.
To reach their destination, they walk through an alleyway with a puddle that might well have crocodiles in; then continue beneath the brick viaduct carrying the railway line with its rumbling, roaring trains; past the castle-like house wherein dwells a sleeping princess just waiting for her prince to come.

Mrs Pot’s plant shop causes the walkers to halt briefly for a sneaky peep inside …

and then come the pet shop and the ironmongers with its old metal bins on sale – perfect for blasting off into space … In fact every single place father and daughter pass sends the little girl off on another flight of fancy until at last, the end IS in sight – Buntings Bookshop and Café awaits. Hurray! Now it’s time for a delicious hot chocolate and a snuggle-up read together: what better way to end a walk.

With it’s irresistible join in phrase this is an utterly enchanting read and one of the very best father and child books I’ve seen in a long time. Animator, Robin Shaw’s detailed scenes have a soft luminescence about them, which is perfect for the fusion of the real and the imagined he conjures up.

I’ve signed the charter