Polar Bear Island

Polar Bear Island
Lindsay Bonilla and Cinta Villalobos
Sterling Children’s Books

A tale of our troubled times if ever there was one is this separatist fable from Lindsay Bonilla and Cinta Villalobos.

Polar Bear Island is a peaceful place but it only allows polar bears to reside there, a rule strictly enforced by its mayor, Parker. As the story opens said mayor is completing a sign: WELCOME TO POLAR BEAR ISLAND, NO OTHERS ALLOWED. As he does so into view floats penguin Kirby with her large suitcase.

Disregarding the sign, the penguin steps ashore where an angry-looking Parker immediately confronts her.

Grudgingly the mayor grants her a single night ashore.

It isn’t long however, before the visitor is impressing the other polar bears with her foot warming, double-sided ‘Flipper Slippers’. These clever inventions serve both as snow waders and ice-skates,

and because of their popularity among the residents, Parker grants her leave to remain.

Kirby’s enthusiastic letter home results in the arrival of her family with more inventions to wow all the bears with the exception of Parker, but he allows them a week’s stay nonetheless.

Then a self-induced anger accident causes Parker to change his attitude towards outsiders and exclusivity. Time to amend that sign too he decides: better together is his new motto.

Cinta Villalobos’ portrayal of the curmudgeonly Parker is hilarious, contrasting beautifully with the other island residents who are open minded and ready to learn from the new arrivals.

The Only Way is Badger

The Only Way is Badger
Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña
Little Tiger Press

Which would you rather have, complete conformity or fabulous friendships? I know which I’d choose every time but not so the main character in Stella Jones’ super story. Badger is a separatist and has started posting ‘BE MORE BADGER’ type signs all over the forest causing consternation among the other woodland animals.

Supposedly to make matters easier for his so-called friends he presents a list of activities, badger-like digging being number one.
This immediately eliminates ungulate Deer, and Badger sends him packing most unceremoniously.

Requirement number two is fitting through the doorway of Badger’s sett. In go Racoon, Skunk, Squirrel and the other small creatures. Outcast, and over the wall are large bummed Bear and massive-antlered Moose.

So it continues with further ejections: those of Hedgehog, Bunny and Beaver for their badger-barking attempts.

Of the remainers Racoon and Skunk pass muster on account of their black and whiteness whereas the colourful birds, butterflies and bugs become persona non grata.

Badger is now revelling in his monotonously coloured surroundings; not so Racoon and Skunk especially as they hear  happy sounds issuing from behind that wall and spy Badger wielding a paint brush standing beside paint cans that match his colours.

By the end of the day Badger’s task is complete but as he stands solo among the trees a thought strikes him: what has he done?

There can only be one way forward here …

Hurrah for difference; long live divergence and inclusivity; oh and learning from your mistakes too as yes, Badger does finally see the error of his ways in this timely picture book.

There are just SO many ways this can be interpreted depending on what you bring to the story eloquently illustrated by Carmen Saldaña. The gentle humour of her scenes, in particular the expressions and body language of the animals speak volumes.

A book that’s absolutely perfect for a community of enquiry discussion in schools and should be shared and celebrated as widely as possible. I certainly intend to do both of those.
In addition pairs of children could co-create story boxes or dioramas using the book as a starting point; there are puppet possibilities, ditto hot-seating and MUCH more.

The Night Dragon

The Night Dragon
Naomi Howarth
Lincoln Children’s Books

Let me introduce a totally awesome dragon by the name of Maud. I should say that at the start of the always awesome, Naomi Howarth’s story, said dragon doesn’t feel at all awesome. She’s shunned by fellow dragons on account, so they say, of her lack of strong wings, A “weedy wimp” is what Gar calls her, while Brimlad is sure she’s insufficiently tough to take on the sun.

Poor Maud despairs she’ll ever be a night dragon.

Her only friend, Mouse, is encouraging, telling her that to be dragon of the night she need only be herself. Maud has her doubts.

One afternoon, Brimlad decides to celebrate his 557th birthday by throwing a party, but there’s one dragon that doesn’t get an invite. Instead she watches from behind a rock as the others drink, fight and one after another, fall into a deep sleep.

Time passes and still the dragons slumber as Maud notices a complete lack of clouds in the sky, and of nightfall there isn’t a sign.

Maud is at a loss. Mouse however isn’t. He knows what Maud must do and all he needs to do is encourage and persuade her that with him alongside, or rather behind her, she can spread those gorgeous wings of hers and fly.

Slightly emboldened, Maud leaves the mountain edge, tumbling at first and then suddenly, soaring. Soaring and emitting the most amazing clouds of rainbow hued smoke from her nostrils.

Over the mountains and fields, above winding rivers, winging over cities they go, filling the entire sky with the most fabulous shades of many colours,

until finally, as they pause for a rest, the sun starts to sink and night begins to fall.

Mouse’s words of thanks also let his friend know that just by being herself, Maud has made everything beautiful.

Now both Mouse and Maud have a new and very important role to perform – every single day …

Friendship, self-belief and daring to be different shine through in this dazzlingly beautiful picture book fable that reads like a neo folk tale. For me at least, Naomi Howarth has outshone her previous bobby-dazzlers and that’s no mean feat.

Get it, celebrate it and share it wherever you can. From cover to cover, it’s a stunner.

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands
Jonny Duddle
Templar Publishing

Just when you were thinking there couldn’t possibly be room on the high seas for another pirate, along comes young Matilda, friend of pirate boy Jim Lad. But can she really cut the mustard as a true pirate or is she the land-lubbing pretender that the other Scurvy Sanders suspect her to be when she goes a holidaying with the Jolley-Rogers?

Excited to be allowed to accompany her pirate pals on a visit to Scurvy Sands, Matilda bids her parents goodbye and three days later, is greeted by Cap’n Ollie Day at the pirate resort who tells them of lost gold buried long long ago by one Mad Jack McMuddle..

The pirate kids are highly doubtful about her pirate credentials, as are the adults,

all of whom are just waiting to expose the girl with her neat clothes, clean teeth, perfect table manners and lack of unwashed odours, wherever she goes and whatever she does.

Take the pirate test” is the command.

What can she do to prove herself?

Suddenly, inspired by a portrait of Mad Jack, Matilda has an idea. All she needs is Jack’s map, a compass and her own excellent sense of direction; oh and a spade carried by her pal Jim Lad.

You’ll certainly need your best array of pirate voices when you share this rollicking sequel to The Pirates Next Door, but don’t worry. I suspect your audience will be focussed on the filmic illustrations, which are absolutely brimming over with larger than life, roguish-looking characters and piratical paraphernalia. Do take a look at the superbly detailed end-papers too.
Whether or not children will on first hearing, notice the underlying theme concerning those who appear different having to prove themselves worthy to gain acceptance, I doubt, they’ll most likely just be carried along by the action.