Be More Bernard

Be More Bernard
Simon Philip and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster

Bernard is a bunny; he does bunny things like nose twitching and ear pricking and he digs lots of deep holes. In fact whatever his fellow bunnies do, Bernard does likewise.

In his dreams though things are rather different; he dreams of decidedly un-rabbity things. But how long can he keep up his pretence of being just like the other bunnies?

One day he decides to eschew the bunny poo baps his fellow rabbits are eating. ‘I can’t do this any more’ he decides.

Little by little Bernard starts to do his own thing, largely ignored by the others until that is, the day of the annual bunny ball when, shock horror, a divergent bunny rolls up!

Ignoring cries of “You can’t wear that!” and “We’re all the same!’ Bernard struts his stuff with joyful abandon, disco dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

Amid the cries of consternation, there’s one little bunny, Betsy, who loves his daring to be different and it isn’t long before Bernard isn’t the only risk taker on the dance floor.

Then comes the big reveal …

which all goes to show that the best possible choice is to be true to yourself whatever that may be.

Long live individuality and difference: that is what is so splendidly conveyed in Simon Philip’s cracking story narrated with such delicious humour by Bernard himself.

Kate Hindley brings out that humour with her splendiferous scenes of the protagonist’s transition from rule adherent to rule breaker, from follower to leader, from ordinary bunny to bunny extraordinaire. Make sure you peruse every spread carefully or you’ll miss the wealth of captivating detail in every one.

Blooming brilliant!

Ella May Does It Her Way!

Ella May Does It Her Way!
Mick Jackson and Andrea Stegmaier
Words & Pictures

Let me introduce young Ella May; she’s a little girl who lives on a boat and knows what she wants and how she’s going to do it. Good on you Ella May, you’re not about to let anyone push you around.

One day, Ella’s Mum gives her something new to eat saying, “It’s good to try new things.”

The idea appeals to Ella and so later in the park she decides to try walking backwards and having pretty much got the hang of that, she does a whole lot of other things backwards too.

Despite her Mum hoping she’ll soon tire of the backwards notion, it’s not long before Ella has got her Mum as well as pretty much everyone else in the neighbourhood joining the backwards walking parade through the town.

Having harnessed their enthusiasm though, Ella decides enough is enough with walking backwards; but being Ella she’s not going to revert to a normal way of moving around. After all there are plenty of other ways and as she says in parting, “It’s good to try new things!” And so it is.

Billed as the first of a series, I look forward to seeing more of Mike Jackson’s determined character in further funny episodes. Andrea Stegmaier’s illustrations are an equal delight: I love her colour palette, her portrayal of Ella, her Mum and the bit part players, all of whom contribute to the splendid scenes of purpose and tenacity the Ella May way. Long may young Ella continue.

Is It The Way You Giggle?

Is It The Way You Giggle?
Nicola Connelly and Annie White
New Frontier Publishing

What a wonderful celebration of children, difference and the way the former demonstrate their individuality.

Using a series of questions that centre on four children in a family, Nicola Connelly draws attention to the myriad possibilities that could make each one of us unique: be that eye colour, skin colour, freckles, chin or nose shape; might it be the size of our ears or feet, or our front teeth?

Perhaps it’s our way of jumping super high, our love of dance or singing;

a beaming smile; a particular giggle or wiggle.

We might be good at maths, have an artistic bent, a storytelling prowess,

a particular penchant for some kind of sport,

perform amazing athletic moves, have a bibliographic trait,

exude creativity, or enjoy quiet moments with mini-beasts

No matter what, the author’s bouncing words coupled with Annie White’s exuberant, joyful, slightly whimsical watercolours, are enormously upbeat.

This book cannot fail to make you smile; is a great read aloud and has wonderful performance possibilities.

Let’s hear it for individual specialness.

How to be a Lion

How to be a Lion
Ed Vere
Puffin Books

‘This book is for those who daydream, and those who think for themselves’.
I love that. It’s written in Ed Vere’s inspiring ‘letter’ that accompanied my review copy; it’s also printed on the final page of his eloquent story: I hope it applies to myself, make that, to everyone. I wish everybody could read the entire letter, but instead I urge you to get yourself a copy of the book and share it widely.

It starts philosophically: ‘The world is full of ideas. /Big ones,/ small ones. / Good ones,/ bad ones. / Some think this … / others think that.’ before bringing us back to earth and in particular, lion territory on the African plains where the norm is to be FIERCE! But is that the only way to be?
Enter Leonard: thoughtful, prone to daydreams, something of a poet and above all, gentle.

Enter shortly after, a duck, Marianne by name. Being Leonard, it isn’t a case of ‘Crunch, crunch, CHOMP!’ Instead our lion, polite introductions over, requests her assistance and as luck would have it, Marianne is able to assist in freeing Leonard’s stuck muse and before long a firm friendship has been forged; one that involves stargazing, philosophical musings and above all, contentment and happiness.

Into their peaceable existence comes a pack of ferocious lions demanding to know why the duck has not met its demise.
True to himself, Leonard explains about their friendship and resists their loud growly admonishments.

Their instructions about becoming fierce make him pause and question however, but Marianne suggests a trip to their thinking hill to mull things over. Lo and behold, serious hums and serious quacks together are turned into an idea, and then, poetry that is finally ready to be presented to those fierce lions.

What Leonard says to them is heartfelt, provocative – “Why don’t you be you … And I will be I.” – and one hopes, a game changer.

Ed Vere’s timely fable is profound and intensely moving in the gentle way it offers words as tools of bridge building and change, as well as showing a different male role model. Don’t be pressurised into conforming, be yourself is what shines through both his words and oh, so eloquent, humorous illustrations.

A perfect read aloud with oodles of food for thought, and talk.

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 

Grace & Katie

Grace & Katie
Susanne Merritt and Liz Anelli
EK Books

Twins Katie and Grace love to draw. They approach things in entirely different ways however – one with the eye of a prospective architect or cartographer, the other, an artist; and the results are altogether different.
Grace favours straight lines and angles, which Katie considers a tad dull; Katie in contrast is more creative producing colourful patterns and swirls: Gracie thinks her sister’s work could do with organising. Are they both right perhaps?

One day Gracie decides to draw a map of their home and rejects Katie’s offer of help, so Katie draws a map of her own.

Grace’s black and white map is ordered and detailed. Katie’s rendition of the park opposite their home is also detailed but it’s colourful and full of action. Neither girl is completely satisfied with what they’ve produced.

They look at each others and then, after some discussion, Katie adds some colourful touches to Grace’s map, while Grace’s added details provide more structure for Katie’s.

With a combination of creativity and accuracy, collaboration wins the day.

Susanne Merritt puts the points for respecting differences, the importance of being oneself, and co-operation across subtly and effectively. Liz Anelli reflects the themes in her detailed illustrations effectively showing the sisters’ contrasting styles in a suitable child-like manner.

The book’s potential for discussion is enormous, be it in the foundation stage, or, with much older listeners.

Stardust / In My Room

Stardust
Jeanne Willis and Briony May-Smith
Nosy Crow

For the little girl narrator of the story, it’s deeply upsetting being the sister of someone who always seems to be the star of the show where family members are concerned, other than Grandad, that is.
Then one night after losing the Fancy Dress Competition to her big sister,

Grandad finds our narrator outside gazing up at the starlit sky. Her wish to be a star prompts him to tell her a story: the story of how the universe came into being.

A story that explains the connectedness of everything and everyone: “Everything and everyone is made of stardust,” he tells her. “… Your sister isn’t the only star in the universe… you all shine in different ways.
And, inspired by his words, shine she does – in the most amazing way.

Such wise words; words that the little girl never forgets but equally, words that every child needs telling, sometimes over and over.
Briony May-Smith’s stunningly beautiful illustrations really do celebrate connectedness, diversity and individuality; they’re every bit as empowering as Jeanne Willis’ text.
Strongly recommended for families and early years settings to share and discuss.

In My Room
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

The fifth of the ‘Growing Hearts’ series of novelty books starring a little girl protagonist is essentially a celebration of creativity and imaginative play.
The thick pages are cut so that when the book is turned through 90 degrees, they form together a variegated pencil crayon with which the girl conjures up a series of playful scenarios.
All I need is paper, crayons, chalk … and my imagination!” she tells readers.
First she’s an explorer, then a dancing princess; she becomes a speed racer, a teacher, a writer,

a sailor, a swimmer, a bride, a vet and finally, a funky rock star; all without leaving her room other than in her head

and courtesy of her art materials. Not a sign of any technology anywhere – hurrah!
Yes, there are already plenty of picture books that celebrate the power of the imagination; what makes this one different is the format.
Long live creativity!

I’ve signed the charter