Shhh! I’m Reading

Shhh! I’m Reading!
John Kelly and Elina Ellis
Little Tiger

I cannot imagine how many times I’ve uttered the title words to people in my time. Now though it’s Bella spending a wet Sunday afternoon engrossed in her book who resents being disturbed.

First to show up is Captain Bluebottom the Flatulent wanting her to join him for a Windy Pirates adventure. He receives a firm refusal.

Next comes Maurice Penguin announcing ‘Showtime’ and tempting her with a sparkly outfit. He too and his entourage are told to sit quietly.

Emperor Flabulon’s challenge receives similar treatment

and finally peace reigns allowing Bella to finish her book. Having declared it the best ever, she then invites the intruders to join her and go adventuring.

Their instant response comes as something of a surprise; or does it? …
Game, set and match to Bella! And to the power of stories, books and the imagination.

John Kelly’s funny tale will resonate with all those who like nothing better than uninterrupted reading time. It’s a smashing read aloud that celebrates the delights of losing oneself in a good book.

Elina Ellis captures both the humour of the chaos caused by the intruders and Bella’s responses to same with terrific brio and  reminds us that, with all good picture books, reading isn’t just about the words.

Ocean Meets Sky

Ocean Meets Sky
Eric & Terry Fan
Lincoln Children’s Books

Everything about this, the second Fan Brothers picture book, is absolutely superb: the jacket, the cover, the endpapers, the paper used and of course, the story and illustrations.

It’s a magical tale of young Finn who, inspired by memories of his grandfather’s sayings, his voice, and his stories – stories of a far distant place where ocean and sky meet – on what would have been his ninetieth birthday, builds a boat in his honour.

Then, imagination fuelled by those stories, the boy sets off on an amazing dream of a voyage. A voyage aided by a huge golden fish that tells him it knows of the place he seeks: “It’s high and low … It’s up and down and very far.” and offers to show the way.

The journey takes Finn through such wondrous places as the Library Islands populated by bibliophile birds; (love that there’s a copy of The Night Gardener tucked in one of the piles of books)

then, after landing to explore an island of giant shells, they travel onwards crossing a sea of dancing jellyfish until eventually they reach their destination, perhaps,

whereupon the boat lifts towards the sky (or had the water fallen away?) and the boy drifts through starry, steampunkish spreads whereon hot air balloons, zeppelins, submarines, a giant whale, float following the fish towards the full moon. There, a transformation takes place.
Smiling back at him benevolently, illuminating his farewell, is a face Finn knows so well.

Then comes a voice summoning him home from his dreaming. It’s his mother calling him (with echoes of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are) for dinner– Grandpa’s favourite dumplings.

The Finn Brothers vision of eternity is, in this affecting story, one that offers a bereft boy some healing from his sadness, leaving him able to face forwards, full of wonder. ‘It had been a good day for sailing.’

Elegant scenes grace every spread providing much to explore: observant readers/listeners will notice that an early picture of Grandpa’s room is filled with treasured objects that become part of the dream sequence.

Rosa Draws

Rosa Draws
Jordan Wray
Words & Pictures

Rosa is happiest when using her drawing pencils and letting her imagination run wild and that’s what this story is all about.

Seemingly her favourite subjects are animals, fairly ordinary ones, but what happens to them is anything but ordinary.

For when Rosa adorns her fuzzy black cat with a ‘RIDONKULOUS’ hat, it triggers an increasingly crazy concatenation of events involving a hat-eating bear with GLAM-U-LICIOUS long hair (yes the whole thing is recounted in rhyme with only the occasional slight creak).

Said bear has its hair sat upon by a moose that takes tea with a la-dee-dah goose and so on until the ants – a zillion of them – board a train and plunge Rose into darkness, cutting off her train of thought and completely stifling her imagination.

Only temporarily though, for the tugging on a light switch cord puts her back ‘on track’ and her ideas flow freely once more until suddenly who should arrive on the scene but Rosa’s mum.

Apologies are immediately forthcoming but it turns out that young Rosa isn’t the only one with an artistic bent …

Packed with zany details – look out for the peacock sporting jazzy socks – Wray’s illustrations will amuse both children and adults and the former will enjoy the invented words and the surprise finale.

How To Fly Like An Elephant

How To Fly Like An Elephant
Kyoko Nemoto
Puffin/VA

What a preposterous idea – flying like an elephant! Everyone knows that elephants are way too heavy for flying and furthermore they lack the vital appendages for so doing. End of story!
Not quite. Certainly not for the elephants featured in Kyoto Nemoto’s new book. This trio – a big one and two smaller ones – are playful pachyderms, inclined to imaginative ideas; ideas that admittedly require considerable thought and a plan but never say never.

All that’s required are some ‘useful things’ – a propeller for example – and when the elephants can’t locate one, then readers can step in and help by opening the doors of the attic cupboard.

I didn’t know that elephants are skilled tool users but seemingly it’s so and they’re also excellent at working as a team.

Of course, as we’re constantly reminded, ‘elephants can’t fly’.
As I said, they are determined animals and willing to make enormous physical efforts to get themselves airborne even if they subsequently need a bit of human help to reshape the wings of their craft. (We literally have to fold over the corners of the page to make their machine aerodynamic.)

Even that though isn’t quite enough for the perfect plane so it’s back to the drawing board and some work on modifications such as larger wheels and seats.

Will that hard-working threesome ever get themselves well and truly to the point of proving that ‘Elephants CAN fly!’
What do you think? After all they’re not ones to give up easily;

they are great at team work, have the vital playful, determined attributes, are super thinkers and planners so …

With its themes of creativity, teamwork and determination, this is an absolute cracker of a book to inspire young listeners (and adults). From the start we’re willing those elephants to succeed and reader involvement is guaranteed throughout, fuelled by the flaps and folding, as well as Kyoko Nemoto’s enchanting illustrations of the elephants at work and play. These she creates first by making sketches in pencil to which ink-rollered texture is added, and then these are digitally worked.

An exciting debut picture book from one who, like her characters clearly has creativity and persistence aplenty.

The New Baby and Me!

The New Baby and Me!
Christine Kidney and Hoda Haddadi
Tiny Owl

Five brothers speculate upon the arrival of their new baby brother.
Each of them puts forward his idea as to what the infant will be like, bestowing on it a characteristic similar to his own so they can share adventures.

The first sees them as fellow explorers discovering new lands and rare creatures.

The second gives the babe the qualities to be a scientist.

Brother number three declares that his baby brother will share his artistic talent and join him in enhancing the world with their creative endeavours.

A treasure-seeking pirate is brother number four’s prediction, whereas the remaining sibling, a dreamer, sees his little brother joining him in finding wonder in the world.

What a surprise they have when the new baby finally appears.

Let’s just say, this new family member has elements of all the brothers but is very much an individual …
Each of us is different; our aspirations should not be limited according to our gender. No matter whether we are a boy or a girl the world’s opportunities should be open to all of us. This is the message that comes through in this unusual take on the ‘new sibling in the family’ story by debut author Christine Kidney.

Hoda Haddadi’s spirited collage illustrations are a wonderful embodiment of children’s boundless imaginations and bring a joyful sense of eager anticipation to each spread until the baby appears.
Her collage technique is one that children will likely be inspired to try for themselves.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Boy From Mars

The Boy From Mars
Simon James
Walker Books

When Stanley’s mum has to go away overnight for work, Stanley too decides to leave the family home. From the back garden he blasts off in his spaceship – destination Mars.
Not long after, the spaceship returns and out crawls a smallish martian …

come to explore “your sibilization” he tells Stanley’s brother, Will.
Their “leader” plays along with the martian thing and there follows a wonderful boundaries testing evening. Martians seemingly don’t wash their hands before meals, are unimpressed with earth food (other than ice cream) and definitely don’t have bedtimes. They don’t brush their teeth or wash before sleeping either and they always sleep in their helmets.

If there’s one thing that gets a martian’s temper flaring it’s being challenged about its identity and Stanley’s best pal, Josh is on the receiving end of a martian’s shove. This results in a morning spent sitting outside the head’s office contemplating his behaviour, something Dad learns of when he collects his offspring from school that afternoon.

When Mum returns in the evening, eager to hear how things have gone, a certain little martian decides there’s only one way to deal with the “Have you been a good little martian?” question … a return to base – of sorts.

Simon James never fails to delight and this book is a cracker. The matter of fact, down-to-earth telling is pitch perfect when read aloud – the dialogue is simply superb. The illustrations reveal a space-obsessed little human with an inventive imagination and much else to contemplate and revel in.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Snowbear

The Snowbear
Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander
Words & Pictures

Two small children, a brother and sister wake to find that overnight their world has turned completely white. “Make a snowman if you want. But be careful because the hill is too steep and slippery,” is their mother’s warning as they sally forth into the great outdoors.
Slips and slides are inevitable and a snowman, of sorts is duly built, although they decide their creation looks more like a snowbear.
Having completed their chilly enterprise, the children take to their sledge and go hurtling downhill, faces a-tingle, towards the woods.

Eventually they come to a halt and decide home is where they now most want to be. But the climb is steep and there’s something watching them from between the trees.

Suddenly they hear a sound. Could it be that something or someone is coming to their rescue in that chilly white wood?
It is and it does.

Next morning though, the sun has melted their snowbear right away; at least that’s Martina’s suggestion. Iggy puts forward an alternative. “… he could have gone back in the woods and he’s alive down there.” I wonder …
A lovely wintry tale with just a frisson of fear, and an acknowledgement of the boundless imaginations of young children. This is, I think a new author/artist collaboration: in her eloquent, soft focus illustrations, Claire Alexander brings out the drama of Sean Taylor’s deliberately understated narrative, as well as showing young children’s ability to immerse themselves completely in the here and now.