The Girl Who Noticed Everything

The Girl Who Noticed Everything
Jane Porter and Maisie Paradise Shearring
Walker Books

Little Stella is a wonderfully imaginative child who notices everything around her – clouds shaped like horses, a lonely glove waving from some railings, dustbins with faces, birds so cold they need blankets to keep them warm,

a man with upside down hair and another wearing a cat on his head. She excitedly shares her observations about all of these with her Dad as they walk to the park to meet their friends. He though is concerned that Stella’s forthright comments might hurt people’s feelings, so after a while she stops talking about what she sees.

However once they reach the park, she just has to draw her Dad’s attention to the colourfully dressed but sad looking woman walking very slowly calling, “Frankie! Frankie! Frankie?” His response is that they should play not noticing things for a while but that doesn’t stop Stella spotting a beautiful blue feather, which she picks up and tucks in her pocket.

Once at the park, Stella’s cross feelings disappear as she joins her friends in the sandpit. Even there though her eyes are busy looking everywhere especially at the nearby tree with its ‘pleated paper’ bark and toffee coloured leaves. Suddenly she spies a bright flash among the branches and shortly after comes a squawk. It’s this sound that makes her recall where she’d seen those bright colours before.

Now she knows that she really needs to speak out. What she says results in a joyful reunion, followed by a walk home during which both Dad and Stella both notice all manner of exciting things and Stella gives Dad a very special present. What he says in return should ensure that his daughter continues to speak out, and to use her observation skills and her imagination wherever she goes.

Jane Porter’s wonderfully empowering story is a must to share with young children at home and in nursery or school. Maisie Paradise Shearring’s brightly coloured scenes, expand the telling with a wealth of detail, not spoken of – small animals, birds, flowers, patterns, textures, and more. Having read the story in its entirety first, I’d like to think an adult and young child would spend ages looking at and discussing each spread.

A Little Bit of Hush

A Little Bit of Hush
Paul Stewart and Jane Porter
Otter-Barry Books

Squirrel and her babies live in a big tree; so too do all sorts of noisy birds. Their cacophony is such that the baby squirrels are unable to get to sleep so their mother decides to consult Owl. Having heard her problem Owl brings out a jar containing so he says, “A Little Bit of Hush”. Squirrel is somewhat puzzled that she can’t see anything in the jar so Owl demonstrates the way in which it works and goes on to show her his special invention, a Silence Catcher.

The two of them then embark on a magical journey through the woods with Owl capturing the hush between the Blackbird’s song and its alarm call, and encourages Squirrel who finds some of his own – the hush within a hollow tree stump, a hush deep down in some fallen leaves.

Owl then captures the stillness after an acorn drops before it bounces on the forest floor and even the silence between lightning’s flash and thunder’s roll. All these Owl stows in pockets of peace and pouches of stillness and hush; then back in his workshop he uses these ingredients, creating a special mixture that he puts into a jar for Squirrel to take back to her family.

The noise outside her front door is louder than ever when she returns, but now she has her own bottle of helpful hush. Will it work its unique magic on the five squirrels?

I love this idea and tried it out on my walk after this book had arrived in the post. It certainly made me more mindful of the spaces between the natural sounds that surrounded me as I stopped and sat for five minutes just listening.

With its examples of natural sounds, though interesting in themselves, but which can sometimes becomes distracting, Paul Stewart’s story shows the importance of silence in our busy world. Like Squirrel we all need times without noise either to drift off to sleep or as a kind of sacred space into which we can retreat and be contemplative. In her collage illustrations, Jane Porter beautifully captures the noisy woodland environment of the creatures’ quest for peace and quite, amusingly portraying the various sources of the distractions.

Let’s Get Ready for School

Let’s Get Ready for School
Jane Porter and Carolina Rabei
Walker Books

Meet Marley, Maya, Theo, Akiko, Ella and Zakir. These young children are about to experience one of the most important days of their lives: they’re starting school. Yes it may well feel exciting but that feeling is perhaps tinged with nervousness too.

The little ones share with readers, not only their feelings but their actions as they make themselves as ready as possible, trying to do such things as putting on their own coats and shoes and opening their lunch containers.
Then come two questions: ‘why do I have to go to school? and how will I get there?, both of which are answered with a spread for each.

Safely at school, there are lots of new faces.

We see them meeting their teacher and getting to know what happens in the classroom; how best to become a member of a largish group – working in a team, taking turns, how carpet times operate and more.

One of the most important lessons is a social one: accepting and understanding difference among your classmates and always being kind no matter what.

Then there are routines that help the day go smoothly: snack time, lunch time and playtime.

Not every single day will be the same however – sometimes there are special occasions to look forward to, but before you know it, the entire first day will have whizzed by and it’s home-time. Your grown ups will be waiting, having wondered about how you’ve got on and you may well be bubbling over to tell them all about it, or perhaps you aren’t ready to share your experiences just yet: it’s up to you.

With Jane Porter’s reassuring narrative (including a ‘worry page’), the plethora of speech bubbles and Carolina Rabei’s realistic illustrations of classroom life (why no story time, I wonder), this book will certainly be one to share in those days leading up to that big step, especially as due to the pandemic, youngsters may not have had those taster sessions normally offered before a child starts school.

Kids Fight Climate Change / So you want to be an Owl / My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest

There are 3 recent Walker Books publications about various aspects of the environment – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review:

Kids Fight Climate Change
Martin Dorey, illustrated by Tim Wesson

Following on from Kids Fight Plastic, from the same team comes a second book containing sixty six ways in which children can become two minute superheroes.

There are sixteen major missions focussed on helping to save the planet and in particular on climate change, starting with powerful facts about global warming and the hugely harmful effects it’s having on ecosystems both large and small. 

Many people will have heard about the terrible effects of the Canadian heatwave that has killed hundreds of people in the west of the country. There have also been huge numbers of wildfires putting both humans and wild life in danger in Australia especially. The latter as well as the other effects of climate change are presented around a world map early in this little book.

Then comes the first of the main missions, how to count your carbon footprint, that includes a bitesize ‘2 minute mission’ to compare inside and outside temperatures on a sunny day, as well as finding one small action you could do tomorrow to reduce your carbon footprint.

With the added interest of collecting points along the way youngsters must complete such challenges as using ‘an extra blanket on your bed instead of turning up the radiator’,

making a bee hotel in your garden or a reusable face mask from an old cotton T-shirt or persuading parents to let you use an airer or washing line for drying the wash rather than an electric drier.

This is a smashing, highly readable little book with lots of funky illustrations from Tim Wesson. It gives young eco-warriors plenty of information, incentive and inspiration to be active in their homes/gardens, schools and local community. Very much a book of our time and young followers of Greta Thunberg (I know a fair few of those) will love it. An empowering read likely to produce lots of young activists.

So you want to be an Owl
Jane Porter and Maddie Frost

Author Jane Porter places Professor Olaf Owl in the classroom to deliver a sequence of nine lessons and an initial assessment should readers (despite being a fair bit larger than the featured creatures.) want to consider the possibility of becoming an owl alongside the trainees.

There’s a strict code to live by: ‘Be alert! Be watchful! Be silent!’ Then come the questions that start each lesson: Can you fly? Can you merge into the background environment? What about seeing in the dark. What’s your hearing like? and so on before giving her assessment to each class member and whoo hoo! they’ve all gained a certificate.

Skillfully engaging readers by the aforementioned questions and others about hunting and feeding, 

hooting, tree dwelling and chick rearing, Jane Porter imparts key facts to young readers with gentle, playful humour while Maddie Frost’s inviting and endearing illustrations further enhance that humour and the scientific information.

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest
Stephanie Fizer Coleman

With scenes of several rainforest locations in different parts of the world, youngsters can encounter some of the fauna and flora of these steamy habitats as they search for hidden animals, help a chimpanzee find her way to her friend, match up pairs of gorgeously patterned South American butterflies, add colours to some birds of paradise and to Amazon rainforest snakes. They can also use the 100 or more stickers to further adorn the various spreads and learn some amazing facts along the way.

The Boy Who Loved Everyone

The Boy Who Loved Everyone
Jane Porter and Maisie Paradise Shearring
Walker Books

Dimitri is new at nursery. “I love you,” he tells everyone and everything from his classmates to the ants and the tree in the playground.

Come the afternoon the other children are finding all this loving rather too much.

At bedtime Dimitri and his mother tell each other they’re loved, but the following morning Dimitri doesn’t want to go to school. “I told everyone I love them, and no one said it back” he tells his mum as they get ready to leave the house.

Her response is that people have different ways of showing their feelings, not everyone says ‘I love you’ in words; it can be felt and takes root in new places.

On the way, they see the old man feeding the stray cats – his way of telling the cats he loves them, Mum explains.

Further examples of non-vocal ‘I love you’s are observed in the park and in the school playground where Dimitri is still unsure of his welcome. Not for long though as his classmates invite him to join them.

A feeling of warmth begins to spread through Dimitri and by storytime it seems that everyone wants to sit with him. Dimitri is accepted at last.

Tenderness and warmth emanate from both Jane Porter’s telling and Maisie Paradise Shearring’s illustrations in this book about the power of kindness.

Brian the Brave

Brian the Brave
Paul Stewart and Jane Porter
Otter-Barry Books

Paul Stewart’s story stars a curly-horned, white woolly sheep going by the name of well, Brian.

It all begins one sunny day with Brian busy nibbling in a grassy meadow when along comes curly-horned, black woolly sheep Rose. The two agree to become friends and are happily playing chase when along comes Stanley. This sheep wants only to play with Rose on account of their both being black. Hmm – you can see where this is going. Poor Brian is now excluded and he feels sad.

Two spotty sheep arrive; they share the horny characteristic with Brian and Rose leaving a fed up Stanley out of the gang.

Up trot a hornless striped trio, Cassidy, Lou and Hamish, Brian suggests they all become friends but the three snub his invitation.

Enough is finally enough for Brian: He tells them ” We are all sheep, … We should all play together!” It looks as though things might just work out well for all but suddenly things kick off again leaving blue-eyed Brian exceedingly downcast and isolated.

Off he walks, looks at his reflection in a lake, continues his stroll up a hill, through a forest and there comes face to face with …

He dashes away, hotly pursued by the hungry lupine creature, to warn his fellow sheep. The situation is grave: somebody has to do something and fast.

Good old Brian steps in as operation attack-wolf co-ordinator and happily his fellow sheep co-operate until their joint biffing (the curly horners’ contribution) and butting (by the noses of the hornless ones) sees off their would-be guzzler once and for all.

There are SO many ways you can interpret this book in our increasingly troubled, B–X-T times but however you do – and it might be different on different days – it’s definitely a biffing, butting, cracking celebration of courage, self-belief, acceptance, co-operation, difference and friendship.

Jane Porter’s various sheep characters are splendidly portrayed in her dramatic, often funny, colourful collage scenes of the ups and downs of life ovine style.

Pink Lion

Pink Lion
Jane Porter
Walker Books

Arnold has a dilemma: does he belong down at the waterhole with the flamingos – he’s the same colour and they’ve always made him feel like one of the family; or should be go with the lion pride? He certainly resembles the other lions albeit with a different colour fur, and they insist he should join them in their activities.

He decides to throw in his lot with the lions but quickly discovers that hunting, roaring and other leonine predilections really aren’t his thing. “I’m not a proper lion,” he tells them, “I think I’ll go back to my own family now.
But, a nasty surprise awaits him back home at the waterhole. A crocodile has taken up residence and it doesn’t want to share. That’s when Arnold suddenly summons up his inner roar.

Such is its might that the other lions are soon on the scene and in no time, their combined roars have seen off the intruder once and for all.
Let peachy life resume; in fact it’s even better than ever with some new cousins to share in the fun.

With themes of belonging, family, identity, being yourself and finding your voice, this zappy tale with its superbly expressive, predominantly candyfloss pink and yellow animal images standing out starkly against a white background, offers plenty to enjoy, to ponder upon and to discuss.

I’ve signed the charter  

Wings! / Bertie Wings It

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Wings
Paul Stewart and Jane Porter
Otter-Barry Books
Paul Stewart, co-creator of the wonderful Edge Chronicles series turns his hand to picture book writing and has teamed up with Jane Porter; the result is a picture book that celebrates friendship, determination and discovering your own talent.
It’s the Great Gathering of Birds and everyone is there having fun, until that is one of their number shouts, “Last one to the top of the tree’s a rotten egg!” With that the whole gathering takes to the air, all except Penguin. The poor fellow is left all alone and it’s not the first time. Time to teach himself to fly, thinks Penguin but try as he might his feet remain well and truly grounded, despite the help of some of his friends.

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Emu, Kiwi and Ostrich can’t see what all the fuss is about; they much prefer to walk but Penguin remains determined. Owl steps in and offers a spot of coaching but all penguin perfects is running, jumping and flapping. Seemingly nothing can get our penguin pal airborne – or can it? Wait a moment … what’s that string for?

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Oops. Is this the end of Penguin’s flight then?.

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Not quite: there IS one place where those wings of his can be put to good use …

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Jane Porter’s richly coloured mixed media collage pictures are full of humour and pathos: her love of birds shines through in every one.

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Bertie Wings It!
Leslie Corin and Brendan Kearney
Sterling
Bertie knows it’s time to fly the nest. He’s all prepared and the sun is shining: “Today is the day that I fly!” he announces stepping, wings a-tingle, to the edge of his nest. That’s when things start to go wrong.

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Seemingly every other bird around has opinions as to how it should be done. Bertie listens attentively to their input and some time later, he’s ready for the off; he now looks like this …

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and there he goes … Uh-oh!

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That’s not quite the end though: Bertie picks himself up and suddenly he feels freer. Now he KNOWS for sure exactly what to do and this time, he’s going to stay true to himself and follow his own instincts.
A fun look at what happens when you stop trusting yourself and start listening to everyone else’s opinions instead; and a good starting point for discussion.

Treats for Toddlers

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this rabbit, that rabbit
Jane Porter
Walker Books
This lovely board book is the latest addition to the Walker Baby series and is called a ‘shiny touch’ book. The shine is provided by two rabbit characters, male and female, one grey, one orangey coloured. The latter wears a blue bead necklace, also shiny. This engaging pair interact playfully with one another, their antics being documented with appropriate two word rhyming phrases such as fat rabbit/flat rabbit, bendy rabbit/trendy rabbit and a guest makes an appearance on the final spread.

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Great fun for small hands.
Buy from Amazon

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Colour with Splosh!
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
Splosh is an endearing duck character created by the author of the popular Hugless Douglas series. He makes his second appearance in this board book as he plays a game of hide-and-seek with his ducky friends. Splosh searches high and low, encountering various colour items, as he waddles though a gate, beneath the trees, along a wall, across the grass, around some leaves, past butterflies, looking among the flowers before spotting five white bottoms protruding from the blue pond. When the owners of these rear ends emerge from the water, we see each one is sporting coloured arm-bands and matching hat – a veritable rainbow of fun.
Buy from Amazon

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Dig Dig Digging
Margaret Mayo and Alex Ayliffe
Orchard Books
In this board book version of the popular original we meet scooping diggers, lorries of all shapes and sizes, gobbling crunching rubbish trucks, tractors ploughing, rumbling tumbling dump trucks and busy bulldozers.
Each one has its own tabbed double spread and is boldly illustrated in a cut paper collage scene with accompanying engaging, rhythmic description – perfect for developing a love of language and sounds in the very youngest children.
Just the thing for young machine lovers.
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With the same format is:

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Giraffes Can’t Dance Number-Rumba
Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Orchard Books
Meet Gerald giraffe and his jungle friends, the leaping leopards, the high kicking hyenas, the rocking rhinos, the flamenco dancing flamingos, the tangoing lions, (straight from STRICTLY), the smooth, zippy zebras, the groovy baboons and the waltzing, jiving monkeys all practicing their moves for a place in the final dance spread of ten happy animals.
To facilitate page turning for small hands, there is a semi-circular tab for each spread with a face of the animal dancing on that particular page.
Although very young children do not actually learn to count from books, they will assuredly get a great deal of visual enjoyment,

some lovely playful language and opportunities to emulate the dancing animals in this counting board book which also serves as a great introduction to the original and deservedly popular Giraffes Can’t Dance, the progenitor of this rhyming board book.
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Snip & Snap Rain or Shine
Diane and Christyan Fox
Orchard Books
Not quite a board book but with thick sturdy pages, flaps and a final fold-out double-spread, this should certainly stand up to the heavy handling this Snip and Snap title is likely to receive. Here, the two crocodile friends have planned a sunny picnic but the changeable weather seems to be doing everything it can to hold up the proceedings as poor Snip is forced to go back and change his outfit five times before the friends finally get outside into the sunshine.
With rhyming text, door-shaped flaps that serve to move the story forward

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and funny, bold bright illustrations this is a book preschoolers choose for themselves and enjoy reading over and over with an adult.
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