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!