Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth / What’s in the Box? / Halloween

Ganesha’ Sweet Tooth
Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
Chronicle Books

Just in time for Ganesh Chaturthi in a few days is this lovely board book edition of a modern version of one of the most popular Hindu legends – the episode in which Ganesha got his broken tusk. It tells how when young, Ganesha liked nothing better than eating sweet things, especially the Indian confection, laddoos. This results in tragedy during Ganesha and his ‘friend’ Mr Mouse’s search for sweets when they come upon a new kind of laddoo, The Super Jumbo Jawbreaker Laddoo.

Despite warnings from Mr Mouse, Ganesha just can’t resist chomping down on the thing – “I’m invincible.” he reassures his friend – and snap! Off comes one of his tusks. Furious at being unable to repair himself, young Ganesha hurls the broken tusk at the moon.

It misses, landing at the feet of the ancient sage and poet, Vyasa who happens to have a special task for the tusk thrower and thus Ganesha lands the job of scribing the great epic of Hindu literature, the Mahabharata.

This little book is a riot of dayglo colour with Sanjay Patel’s brilliant ultra-modern visuals, some of which are reminiscent of what you might see in a temple in South India. Others are decidedly closer to some of the contemporary Pixar animations he has worked on.

By adding their own embellishments and playing slightly with the original plot, Patel and Haynes have created a wonderfully playful rendering of a classic legend that will appeal widely .

The next two are published by Little Tiger:

What’s in the Box?
Isabel Otter and Jaoquin Camp

How exciting: a pile of parcels has just arrived waiting to be investigated. What could be packed away inside? That’s what youngsters are invited to discover in this chunky tactile, lift-the-flap book.

Box one looks as though it’s rather fiery but what has made those scorch marks? There’s a hint in the cut-away shiny, scaly shape just visible.

The second box seems to have the fidgets and there’s a warning on the wrapping … A tricky one this. I wonder what it holds …

Next is a beribboned container but strangely some wool has escaped from within. “Fragile” says the label on the fourth box wherein so we read, is something noisy – hmmm? 

However, the best has been kept till last – it’s a veritable treasure trove of … Can you guess what?

With Isabel Otter’s brief rhyming text andJoaquin Camp’s alluring surprise containers to explore, there’s sufficient to engage little ones during several book sharing sessions.

Halloween
Patricia Hegarty and Fhiona Galloway

With Halloween coming up next month (I can’t believe I’m saying that), adults might want to reinforce counting skills with this mock-scary book that introduces in turn, one little skeleton that’s found a hiding place, two slightly anxious little trick-or-treaters, three glowing jack o’lanterns, four hoppy toads, five family portraits, one about to take a tumble, six sleepy bats, seven ghosts, eight spiders of the hirsute kind, nine snoozing moggies, or rather they were before being disturbed by the ten small, appropriately attired party goers.

The rhyming text and Fhionna Galloway’s cute, colourful illustrations offer plenty for preschoolers to enjoy herein.

I am a Fish / Birch Trees, Bluebells and other British Plants

I am a Fish
Isabel Otter and Fernando Martin
Little Tiger

This is a companion volume to I am a Bird from the same team. Using an un-named fish, youngsters are introduced to the general characteristics of a fish and then dive underwater to discover a variety of aquatic habitats and learn something of fishes’ habits (we meet both herbivores and carnivores),

shapes, size and distinguishing features. Mention is made that ‘rays don’t have bones’ but that they and the sharks illustrated alongside, are cartilaginous fish is not stated.
If you’ve ever wondered whether or not fish sleep, this subject is discussed on another of the vibrant spreads while another spread introduces seahorses, which some little ones might be surprised to discover are actually classed as fish.
The chatty narrative and arresting subaquatic scenes make this a book for early years audiences and foundation stage topic boxes.

Birch Trees, Bluebells and other British Plants
Nikki Dyson
Nosy Crow

Here’s a gorgeous ‘Nature Sticker Books’ to lift the spirits. Published in collaboration with the National Trust, it contains eleven beautiful scenes by Nikki Dyson that are brimming over with the bounties of nature whatever the season.

It starts with spring and its gorgeous insect-attracting blossom and wild flowers aplenty. Summer scenes show gardens are full of bright flowers and butterflies, as well as meadows of poppies, daisies and other composites. Summer’s a good time to visit a pond or perhaps the coast: those locations too, have a wealth of beautiful wild plants and birds. Come autumn ripening berries are waiting to be gathered and the deciduous trees take on their yellow, orange and red hues while in gardens and allotments there are vegetables aplenty as well as herbs to pick and you’re likely to come across lots of minibeasts that also like to have a nibble.
Finally winter comes around when there is much less colour but there are still wonderful flora and fauna to discover when you brave those chills.

Each spread has a couple of introductory factual paragraphs as well as suggestions for adding some of the relevant stickers provided in the centre of the book. There’s also a checklist of the plants in the book so young naturalists can enjoy an additional I-spy element.

Afraid of the Dark / Noah and the Starbird

Here are two picture books  about dealing with difficult situations – thanks Little Tiger for sending these warm-hearted stories

Afraid of the Dark
Sarah Shaffi, Isabel Otter and Lucy Farfort

Moving to a new home is often scary and so it is for the little girl, Amy, who does so with her Dad and dog, Pickle in this story.
Dad is very positive about the move, but not so Amy and Pickle; it just doesn’t feel like home. Her bedroom seems full of strange sounds and shadowy creatures waiting to leap. A night’s sleep might have sent the monsters packing but still that queasy feeling remains.

A visit to the library helps a little,

especially when the kind librarian finds just the right book to transport Amy to a faraway land of adventure when her  dad reads it to her that night. But once he’s gone from her bedroom, back come those monsters.

Next morning seems a little brighter. Children outside wave and invite Amy to play with them in their den. It looks a bit dark inside, but Pickle is willing to go inside so she follows and lo and behold inside a wonderful warm welcome awaits thanks to Sofia and Bilal.

Could this be the beginning of the banishment of those scary monsters. Can Amy send the lurking shadows packing once and for all? …

Sensitively told, this story, demonstrates beautifully how it always takes time to adjust to new situations; and how love and friendship can make all the difference when it comes to coping with first experience fear. Lucy Farfort captures Amy’s fearful feelings perfectly in her illustrations, as well as her dad’s concern and warmth, and the wonderful kindness of the children who welcome her.

Noah and the Starbird
Barry Timms and Faye Hsu

Noah’s dad is ill and has gone to hospital, so Noah is staying with his kind, reassuring, Granny. As they unpack Noah’s things together, the boy notices a lamp inside which is a bird.
Granny tells him it belonged to her grandma and at bedtime Granny suggests to Noah that the bird might have magical powers.

As the boy lies wide awake in bed worrying about his dad, he’s startled by a sound. It’s the bird from the lamp. She introduces herself as Starbird, promising that his father is safe. She sings a lullaby, pulls out one of her tail feathers and gives it to Noah who eventually falls asleep.

The following morning, on hearing what happened Granny tells Noah he has a special magical friend but even she cannot hasten the process of his Daddy getting well. Instead Starbird provides a listening ear again that night before Noak goes to sleep.
Next day the news from the hospital isn’t what Noah hopes, but with some special strength from the magic feather, he and Granny create a collage bird to keep up their spirits.

Can Starbird use her magical powers to help Noah’s Daddy get well again?

Kindness, courage and friendship shine forth from this gentle story: I think right now, the entire world could do with a feather like the one therein.

I am a Bird / Colours of the World: Green Planet

Here are two recent books about the natural world from the Little Tiger Group

I am a Bird
Isabel Otter and Fernando Martin

Through a text narrated for the most part by an eponymous bird and illustrated throughout in a vibrant colour palette, readers share in the world of birds, large and small from various parts of the globe.

We discover some intricately built nests;

find out why birds sing, what they eat and how they obtain their food. We learn why migration happens and read something about the process with reference to specific birds as well as discovering that not all birds including kiwis, kakapos and penguins are unable to fly.

There’s a spread about birds that live near water; one about the ostrich – the world’s largest bird and another about the bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world.

The text is written in a chatty, highly readable manner and is accompanied by stylised, simplified yet totally recognisable images of the avians featured.

Colours of the World: Green Planet
Moira Butterfield and Jonathan Woodward

This is a companion volume to Blue Planet and is subtitled ‘Life in our Woods and Forests’.

Having shown on a world map the forested areas and explained briefly the different kinds of forests, (did you know that forests are home to more than 50 % of the world’s plants and animals?) the book goes on to explain the anatomy of trees and to discuss their importance.

Double-page spreads discuss Extreme Trees – the widest, tallest, oldest, fastest growing and smallest; how trees obtain nutrition from their leaves as well as how they provide food and hiding places for certain animals.

Much of the rest of the book then focuses on the kinds of forests starting with boreal forests with their moose, eagles, cats, wolves, hares, minibeasts and of course, bears.

We then move to the hot steamy rainforests and in particular, Amazonia with its wealth of incredible fauna both large and small.

Third are the temperate forests where the trees lose their leaves in autumn and grow new ones in the spring. These places are home to deer, mice, squirrels, foxes, woodpeckers and hunters such as pine martens and owls.

The final pages look at forests as sources of materials for human homes; as well as some of the uses of wood and a brief mention of sustainability.

With Jonathan Woodward’s visually appealing graphics and Moira Butterfield’s succinct paragraphs, this book like Blue Planet offers a good, highly readable introduction to a vital aspect of our planet. It’s one to add to classroom libraries and family book collections.

Dear Earth

Dear Earth
Isabel Otter and Clara Anganuzzi
Caterpillar Books

A little girl and her Grandpa pay homage to the Earth in this beautiful book that highlights the fragility of our planet’s precious natural places and their wild life.

As the two walk together on the beach Grandpa regales the child with his adventures and the wondrous sights he’s seen as an explorer. So vivid are his descriptions that Tessa can see pictures in her mind.

Inspired, with the sound of the sea roaring in the distance, she decides to write a special letter to the Earth, letting her imagination flow as Grandpa suggests.

She writes of becoming an explorer, addressing first the water, then the lands. Those parts whereon animals stampede with their thundering hooves;

the places where dwell creatures both great and small; the meadowlands where butterflies flit. She mentions floating in lagoons and splashing beneath waterfalls – what joy that is.
Cold, icy regions, some with mountains and other parts too such as the rainforest canopy are addressed.

Finally Tessa’s mind travels bring her back to reality with thoughts of Earth’s desperate need for love and care from humans, not least those who have already caused damage.

Having signed off ‘Love from Tessa’, she takes her Grandpa’s hand and together they head back to the beach discussing how realisation might bring people to keep safe all that we treasure on our planet. “Perhaps if enough of us share the message, we can still save our dear Earth.” Grandpa’s concluding remark is an incentive to us all, young and not so young to do all within our power to do just that.

Successfully combining exploration and the wonders of nature with a crucial message about environmental issues, this beautifully illustrated book with Clara Anganuzzi’s fine, detailed and sometimes dramatic, scenes of the natural world shown from a variety of viewpoints as well as the different landscapes, is a must for families and primary classrooms.

Together / Insect Superpowers

Red Reading Hub looks at two interesting, unusual and very different ways of presenting non-fiction:

Together
Isabel Otter and Clover Robin
Caterpillar Books

By means of gorgeous collage style, die cut illustrations and a series of haiku accompanied by factual paragraphs, illustrator Clover Robin and writer Isabel Otter present a nonfiction nature book that looks at animal partnerships in the wild.

Beginning thus: ‘ A vast migration. / Cranes take turns to lead their flock: / The feathered arrow.’ and explaining that when cranes migrate and the leader of the group becomes tired, another takes its turn to lead and so on.

The migrating cranes fly above in turn, a pack of wolves; a herd of chamois deer; and a pod of pilot whales. They then pass above a shark that has its skin kept parasite free by remora fish that get a free lift;

anemones kept clean by goby fish; a badger that works with a honey guide bird; a crocodile that has its teeth cleaned by plovers; a herd of loyal elephants; giraffes with oxpecker birds that help keep down their fleas,

and finally, zebras and ostriches that use their complementary sense organs to alert each other to danger.

At last the cranes reach their winter feeding grounds and their journey is over – for the time being.

A fascinating way of presenting non-fiction that offers youngsters an introduction to an intriguing aspect of animal life.

Insect Superpowers
Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell
Chronicle Books

Taking advantage of the seemingly never-ending popularity of superheroes, author Kate Messner and illustrator Jillian Nickell present in action-packed, graphic novel format, an alluring array of eighteen insects with extraordinary abilities.

Before plunging readers into the specifics of the various insects’ superpowers, Messner provides an introduction to insect orders and using the Monarch butterfly as her example, shows how biological classification works.

Dramatic illustrations immediately snare the reader’s attention as they confront the bugs one by one starting with in the first FAST & FIERCE chapter, ‘Supersonic Assassin Giant robber fly – more like a supervillian – that uses its venomous spit to paralyse its prey.

Also in this chapter are The Decapitator aka the Asian giant hornet with its painful sting and fierce jaws that often rip bees apart before stealing their larvae and feeding them to their own hornet larvae.

Other chapters feature insects that use mimicry (the ‘Great Imposters’); the ‘Big & Tough’ bugs some of which are among the strongest creatures on earth; then come the ‘Masters of Chemical Weaponry’. I definitely wouldn’t fancy being sprayed by the hot noxious mist that the African bombardier beetle can emit from its abdomen when something bothers it. Yikes!

Further chapters are devoted to ‘Engineers & Architects’ and ‘Amazing Ants’ (although some of the insects in the previous chapter are also ants).

For each insect included there are facts about habitat, size, diet, allies and enemies, and of course, its superpower.

If you have or know children who are into superheroes but have yet to discover the delights of insects, this book that’s all a-buzz with superpowered bugs might just fire up their enthusiasm.

My Town’s (Extra) Ordinary People / This Love

My Town’s (Extra) Ordinary People
Mikel Casal
Prestel Publishing

Everybody, no matter who they are, or where they’re from is worth valuing; that is the inherent message in Mikel Casal’s amusing look at examples of humankind residing in a seaside town.

Theo, the boy narrator introduces first himself and then another 22 characters, each unique and special, who also live in the town. Some are young, others old and many in-between.

There’s Theo’s best pal Felix an expert skateboarder, aspiring jazz guitarist Kim, Alexandra the potter (who ‘shapes beautiful and useful objects that please our senses’), Dave the gentle giant, cool Mike who loves to surf, bookstore owner Sara, Jalen creator of art from geometric shapes.

We also meet Abigail, someone after my own heart who is always immersed in a book;

and Lorca accompanied by Deshaun his dad who insists on reciting poetry as they walk to school together.

And I’m sure readers will take to free-spirited Ayaan who one hot summer day, filled the back of his pickup truck with water for his much-loved nephews Rashid and Ismail to frolic in.

Each and every one and the others not mentioned here have something to admire, not least being Zaza. This elegant guy receives numerous invitations because ‘when he has arrived, so has the party!’ There’s even a Labrador, Nickel owned by Felix’s grandpa.

Spanish artist Casal’s retro style screen print illustrations are arresting and delightfully playful.

Adults might try inviting youngsters to contemplate those in their own lives and doing as Theo suggests and looking for the extraordinary something in them all. This would make a super class project especially if those involved illustrated their ideas.

For younger children is:

This Love
Isabel Otter and Harriet Lynas
Caterpillar Books

The universality of love and its power to unite is celebrated in Isabel Otter’s rhyming text and Harriet Lynas’s richly coloured illustrations of children and adults showing and sharing love around the world and through the seasons.

There’s parental love expressed both outdoors and in: love of a playful loyal pet; love of friends whatever the weather;

the love shown by a patient grandparent; and love towards a new-born sibling.

No matter who, no matter where, urges the rhyme, ‘join hands and stand up tall. / Love is a special language / that’s understood by all.’

A book to enjoy and discuss with little ones.

The Garden of Hope

The Garden of Hope
Isabel Otter and Katie Rewse
Caterpillar Books

Isabel Otter and Katie Rewse have created a touchingly beautiful picture book story of loss, love, sadness, hope, transformation and beauty.

Maya’s mum is no longer on the scene (we’re not told if she has died or absent from the family home). Those remaining though – Dad, Maya and dog Pip are feeling bad and seem surrounded by desolation; that’s certainly so in the now overgrown garden.

Dad struggles to keep things going; Maya’s loneliness is in part compensated by Pip’s company but still she feels the loss, despite Dad’s stories.

One day when Maya feels particularly sad he tells her a story about Mum, relating how her remedy for down days was to go outside, plant seeds and wait for them to grow, by which time her worries would be replaced by something of beauty.

On the table are some packets of seeds.

A decision is made: it’s time to transform that neglected garden.

Little by little Maya prepares the ground for planting, her first seeds being Mum’s favourite sunflowers. Gradually along with the burgeoning plants, gardening releases something in Maya, allowing calming thoughts to grow.

From time to time, Dad too takes comfort in gardening alongside his little girl. Lightness grows and with it some happiness. The flowers bloom attracting tiny creatures,

then larger ones until the entire garden is alive with hums, buzzes, flutters, flowers and, the first bursting of transcendent hope and … joy.

In a similar way Mum’s absence has left gaps in the family’s life, the author leaves gaps in the story for readers to fill. Her heart-stirring telling has a quiet power that is echoed in Katie Rewse’s graceful scenes.

Poignant, powerful: an understated gem.

Wonders of the World

Wonders of the World
Isabel Otter and Margaux Carpentier
360 Degrees

The world is a truly amazing place and its wonders, some of which were formed naturally and others made by humans, are really a sight to behold. In this book author Isabel Otter and illustrator Margaux Carpentier present them for us all to see and appreciate without even moving from our seats. Better still is being able to see them with your own eyes but I as a fairly well travelled individual have visited only two of them, India’s Taj Mahal

and The Colosseum in Rome and some of them I think are no longer in existence.

In all we pay a vicarious visit to twenty one wonders thanks to the stand out bright images, descriptive text and lift-the-flap details.
We’re shown seven ancient wonders including the Temple of Artemis in Turkey, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Hanging Garden of Babylon.

Look out for the wheel feature on this page.

Those representing the modern world include the Great Wall of China, which was actually started in 221BCE and said to be the longest structure ever built by humans, having grown over 2000 years to it enormous present (21,196km) length.

Sadly of those presented on the final spread of Natural Wonders one, the Great Barrier Reef, is in great danger on account of global warming caused by we humans.

Each of these wonders could be a starting point for further exploration by interested readers and the whole book would make a great discussion topic with groups or individuals presenting their particular favourite to the rest of the class.

I personally would love to see those Hanging Gardens but there isn’t any chance of that since no trace of them has ever been found. Instead I’ll just have to do with imagining them.