Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Not One Tiny Bit Lovey-Dovey Moon Adventure

Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Not One Tiny Bit Lovey-Dovey Moon Adventure
A.L. Kennedy, illustrated by Gemma Correll
Walker Books

This is the third title in Costa award winning author A.L.Kennedy’s series starring Uncle Shawn, his best pal Bill Badger and a cast of other larger than life, lovable and not so lovable characters.

It’s as superbly bonkers as the title indicates and had me spluttering with laughter on pretty much every page, both at the story and Gemma Correll’s splendid, liberally scattered illustrations of villains and goodies.

Early on in the tale we learn that Sky (one of the twins) has wished herself invisible and no matter how hard she tries to unwish her invisibility – which has distinct disadvantages – her second wish never comes true.

We also discover that Bill has fallen head-over-heels in love with a lovely lady badger (‘possibly the most gorgeous badger in the world’) going by the name of Miranda (although he doesn’t yet know that) and she seems as perfect as any creature could be. Romance is most definitely in the air.

Could it be though that Bill is deluding himself about the desirability of Miranda Badger. Why is it for instance that she is liaising with a bald man with ill-fitting teeth, one Sylvester Pearlyclaws, a notorious criminal?

Is it possible that he is in fact the erstwhile toothless man who had recently emerged from the sea at Shoogeldy Bay swearing to get his revenge on Uncle Shawn et al.?

Meanwhile Sky is still struggling with her invisibility problem, so much so that Uncle Shawn suggests that the way to solve it is  to visit the moon, aka – so he says – the land of wishes; and the means to travelling to their lunar destination will be, wait for it, a giant-size iron soup dish.

The entire plot is fast moving and completely crazy. It totally snares the attention holding it throughout, brimming over as it does with exciting imagery – ‘Uncle Shawn reached down and just managed to catch the magnet, It was going faster than an oiled penguin sliding down an iceberg because it was very late for dinner.’ Or, ‘The monster rattled its fangs together so that they sounded like angry knitting needles and yelled …’. and ‘ Pearlyclaws ran away as fast as he could manage, his floppy feet sounding like old towels soaked in badness.’

Clearly the author has had as much fun writing this story as youngsters will have reading or listening to it; it’s perfect for solo readers or reading aloud. If it’s the latter your listeners will urge you to keep on … and on … to discover what happens next, but do make sure you stop frequently to share Gemma Correll’s wonderful visual images as well the author’s verbal ones.

In a word, priceless.

How To Make Friends With a Ghost

How to Make Friends with a Ghost
Rebecca Green
Andersen Press

Written in the style of a guide book, this is a fun story to have at Halloween or any other time – perhaps not bedtime though, if you have an impressionable small child.
Herein we learn how to identify a ghost – very important if you want to make friends with one. Those depicted are of the especially endearing, somewhat whimsical kind.

Divided into parts, we look first at ‘Ghost Basics’, starting with, not to flee from a ghost should one choose to greet you – that’s on account of their sensitivity. Instead appear friendly and bestow upon the apparition a beautific smile.
Then, should it decide to follow you home, welcome it in, if needs be helped by a gentle blow (of the breathy variety I hasten to add). And, it’s especially important to keep your hands clear just in case you accidentally put one of them right through and cause the thing a stomach ache.
“Ghost Care’ describes feeding – preferably plenty of its favourite treats – cooking together …

and recommended ghost-tempting fare. Think I’d pass on sharing any of that.

Recommended activities come next. Apparently ghosts have a special liking for collecting items such as worms, leaves and acorns; reading scary stories is another favourite pastime,

and of course, joke telling – particularly of the ‘knock knock sort.

The more obvious Halloween activities are included, naturally. So too are bedtime considerations (eerie hums and wails make great lullabies); places to hide your visitor should someone come calling; hazards – avoid using your ghost as a nose wiper; banning ghost help with the washing and most crucially, ‘Do not let your ghost get eaten! (in mistake for whipped cream or marshmallows perhaps)

Part Three comprises ideas for life together as you both age for, as we hear, a ghost friend is a forever friend. And to end with a quote from Dr Phantoneous Spookel: “If you’ve been lucky enough to be found / by a ghost that calls you its ‘friend’, / Then your friendship will last / for it knows no bounds – / you’ll be friends even after the end.”

Now that’s a spooky, albeit tenderly poignant ending, if ever.

With somewhat sophisticated gouache, ink and pencil illustrations, executed in an appropriately subtle colour palette, even down to the endpapers and some of the printed text, the whole ghostie experience, imbued as it is with a sense of mischief, is enormous fun.

With a debut picture book this good, I look forward to seeing what will follow.

Valdemar’s Peas / Sports are Fantastic Fun!

Valdemar’s Peas
Maria Jōnsson
Gecko Press

This deliciously funny tale of fussy eating lupine style stars young Valdemar, devourer of fish-fingers; hater of peas.

When Papa strikes a bargain: “The peas go in the tummy. Then ice cream. Chocolate ice cream!” the wily little wolf comes up with a clever ruse that gets the peas into a tummy without a single one of the wretched spherical objects passing his lips.

When he eventually fesses up to which particular tum the peas actually found their way into, Papa’s response is more than a little unexpected, which is fortunate for the young trickster.

Perhaps next time however, his pa might be a little more specific with respect to whose tummy he has in mind.

I love the interactions between father and son that will surely resonate with both young pea-protesters and other anti-veggie littles and their parents.

Maria Jönsson’s black and white illustrations with touches of yellow, red, green and of course, brown, are as playful and humorous as her words.

One to devour avidly and I’m sure second servings will be on order right away. Like those peas, this book is small but perfectly formed.

Sports are Fantastic Fun!
Ole Kōnnecke
Gecko Press

I received this book for review having spent the weekend with a very lively 5-year-old girl who proudly informed me at every opportunity, “I’m a sporty girl!”
I suspect she would feel a little under-represented in this sporting celebration.

It features a host of cartoon style animals of all kinds demonstrating a wide variety of sporting activities both of the individual and team kind; from sprinting to soccer, cricket

to climbing, fishing to cycle racing,

pole vaulting to rowing,

billiards to boxing and rhythmic gymnastics to ice-hockey.

Not only well-known sports are showcased; unlikely ones like  arm wrestling, skipping and unicycling and caber tossing also get a mention.

Each activity is described, sometimes with tongue-in-cheek irony, and illustrated in a style slightly reminiscent of Richard Scarry, with watercolour and pen drawings that are replete with visual humour.

Lack of gender equality and recognition of the differently abled notwithstanding, it’s all very entertaining and there’s a wealth of factual information relating to the featured sports.

A big thank you to Gecko Press for sending these and renewing their acquaintance with Red Reading Hub.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! / Scaredy Cat

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo!
Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop
New Frontier Publishing

An unusual and unexpected silence greets zoo-keepers Jess and Jack when they open the zoo gates one morning. But where, oh where are all the animals?

The observant young keepers spot all sorts of evidence of their recent presence and realise that the animals have left a trail of feathers, footprints and ‘scats’ (poo).

They decide to split up and Jess’s parting words to Jack as he starts scooping up the poops are to ‘keep an eye out for that rascally rat.’ That’s a wonderful ‘Look – he’s behind you’ opportunity for listeners.

As the sun starts to sink, Jess is still searching when she hears drifting on the breeze, all kinds of musical sounds.

Then comes a FLASH in the sky as a flare goes off, (She’s also instructed Jack to send up a flare should he find himself in trouble – so is he?)

Jess follows the floating feathers towards the light, which as she draws near, she sees is coming from a forest up ahead.

Suddenly from the bushes, Jack emerges and he leads her to where sitting around a fire making music are all the missing animals. They’re having a whale of a time hopping, bopping, tooting, hooting, whistling, and kangaroo plays a didgeridoo – what a hullabaloo. (Wonderful language play in the form of onomatopoeia and alliteration is dropped into the rhyming text here)
What’s it all in aid of though?

Drawing in closer, they see, curled up cosily in a zookeeper’s shoe is a baby roo: – ‘Softly she slept in the warm furry bed, / flamingo feathers tucked under her head.’

Right up beside her however is a coiled snake holding aloft a celebratory offering. Time to waken the sleeper from her slumbers …

Then all that’s left to do is sing a special song before wending their way home by the light of the moon.

With a wonderful assortment of creatures and musical instruments portrayed by Anil Tortop in his effervescent scenes of the animals’ antics absolutely bursting with sound, (that rat manages to get itself into many of them) and Mark Carthew’s splendid read aloud text, the book is a superb amalgam of the visual and verbal. A gift for listeners and readers aloud too: get out those instruments, bring on the HULLABALOO!

More inspired Anil Tortop illustrations can be found in:

Scaredy Cat
Heather Gallagher and Anil Tortop
New Frontier Publishing

A little girl has lost her pet: ‘Have you seen my Scaredy Cat? /He’s afraid of this and afraid of that!’ she tells us as she searches high and low.
Bees, towering trees, Granny’s sneeze – a super duper kind – noises, certain toys, climbing, sprawling, brawling boys, hoses, noses, muck, ducks and garbage trucks,

all these things and more have him running scared: but where has he chosen to hide?

Could it be among the books or hooks? His owner can deal with those (love her attitude)

as well as the crooks, so where has he gone, this hissing, erm … moggie, that object of her affections?
The combination of Heather Gallagher’s frolicsome, bouncy rhyme and Tortop’s funny scenes (love all the varying viewpoints) is a delightfully entertaining romp of friendship and tease.

Mind Your Manners

Mind Your Manners
Nicola Edwards and Feronia Parker-Thomas
Caterpillar Books

The creatures in this junglee tale need a lesson or two in minding their Ps and Qs and that is exactly what they get in Nicola Edwards’ rhyming advocacy for politeness and good manners. After all, if they’re all to live together in peace and harmony they need to listen to the wise words of advice offered herein.
Snatching pandas need to say a polite “please” while ungrateful tigers should always offer a pleasant “thank you” when they receive a gift or an act of kindness.
“Excuse me” is required vocabulary for stomping, clomping pachyderms, whereas ‘sorry’ is thus far lacking in the snake’s speech.

Not invading another’s space is also strongly advised, especially when that space happens to be a quiet reading spot.

Merely parroting another’s words is a definite no, no, as is dropping rubbish and thus upsetting the balance of nature. Oh my goodness these animals DO have a lot to learn.
Selfishness is thoroughly undesirable, as are disgusting food consuming habits,

as well as careless words that might hurt another’s feelings: sweet words are much, much better.

So too is knowing when it’s okay to be noisy and when quiet is the order of the day, while grouchiness and unkindness need to be replaced with warmth and sharing.

Look how much more desirable that jungle home is now that the animals are finally putting all that sound advice into practice.

Spirited scenes of animal behaviour good and bad (including that of the artist’s favourites, bears), executed in watercolour and pen, along with Nicola Edwards’ wise words delivered in rhyme; you have to get the rhythm right to share it effectively so I’d suggest a practice run first. There’s some fun alliteration concerning that silly snake and the  messy monkey to get your tongue around too.

More bears (along with foxes) grace the lovely endpapers – the front ones showing undesirable actions; the back ones, good  behaviour.

The Dodo Made Me Do It

The Dodo made Me Do It
Jo Simmons, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Instead of the usual deadly dull summer holidays, 10-year-old Danny yearns for adventure. As usual though, he’s sent off to spend six whole weeks with Granny Flora who lives in the wilds of Scotland in a farmhouse, in a village called Kinoussie. To make matters worse nothing ever happens in this outlandish environ, it receives an awful lot of rain, has a population of ‘weirdies, oldies and older weirdies’. Promising it is not, particularly as his gran is porridge obsessed and the place is over-run with midges.

There’s only one person of around Danny’s age anywhere in the vicinity and that’s science-mad Susie. ‘You can make this work, Danny!’ his mum tells him as they part. ‘There is fun to be had up here. You just have to make it happen!’
And make it happen is what Danny does.

Over breakfast – yes porridge – Danny learns of a shipwreck just off the coast a very long time ago.
Quickly the lad hatches a plan of action A & E: Adventure & Excitement, he calls it, that involves visiting the precise location of the shipwreck, finding enough treasure to make him sufficient money to buy a train ticket home and once there to spend his booty on a holiday in a sunny spot somewhere distant.

Instead what he discovers is something even more unlikely than ancient treasure, it’s can you believe, a dodo!

Thereafter, said dodo gets Danny (along with Susie who becomes a kind of sidekick) into all manner of tricky situations just trying to keep the creature safe, fed and quiet.

In addition though, he finds himself confronting a criminal who’s come to Kinoussie seeking a place to hide away. Hmmm!

Why did he ever wish for excitement?

With a liberal sprinkling of comical drawings from Sheena Dempsey, this cracking Jo Simmons’ tale is to say the least, hilarious. Perfect holiday reading.

If you need more suggestions for your children’s summer reading, you could try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Super Pooper and Whizz Kid Potty Power / CREATURE vs. TEACHER

Super Pooper and Whizz Kid Potty Power
Eunice Moyle and Sabrina Moyle
Abrams Appleseed

My partner and I spluttered our way through breakfast reading this, so much so that we almost wet ourselves laughing; it’s an absolutely priceless potty training board book.

Parents needn’t worry about that potty training regime; expert help is at hand courtesy of the Moyle sisters’ team Super Pooper (female) and Whizz Kid (male).

They’ve got the whole thing absolutely sorted; from # secret codes for pee and poo, bumble rumble or sprinkle tinkle alerts, the potty dash and pants clearance …

through waiting time (can be tedious),

to the final result. Phew! What relief!

Adult pleasing superheroes pretty much guaranteed and the reward – ‘BIG BOY AND BIG GIRL UNDERPANTS!
Then all that’s left is that vitally important hygiene routine …

If this doesn’t get your little ones weeing and pooping in the right place then I’ll eat my errr? – hat!

CREATURE vs. TEACHER
T.Nat Fuller and Alex Eben Meyer
Abrams Appleseed

Creature (of large friendly Frankenstein appearance) and teacher (a white-coated boffin-looking kind of person) are in totally different moods. Creature feels playful while teacher’s head is full of equations, formulae and is often completely immersed in a book.

The challenge is, can creature ‘s loopy kite flying,

dance moves, spin turns

and bum wiggling efforts have the desired effect of getting teacher to lighten up and join the fun.

Fuller’s paired rhyming words accompanied by Meyer’s outstandingly bright comic-strip graphics make for a great groovy fun book that’s bound to engage and delight .