How To Be Cooler Than Cool

How To Be Cooler Than Cool
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
Walker Books

Coming upon a pair of sunglasses unexpectedly immediately transforms Cat from ordinary to real cool with the ability to glide effortlessly backwards down the slide – or does it? Err … 

Cockatoo, next to come upon the sun-specs is instantly rendered supercool when he dons his find and dances along the see-saw – 

but not for long … and those shades are then caught by Pig.

‘Mr Totally Completely Cool’ is how he anticipates being seen as he stands posing nonchalantly on the swing until … 

and even he has to admit he doesn’t quite live up to his own expectation.

Disappointment, and realisation concerning the non-effect of the sunglasses reign; but then who should rock up but Chick clutching said article. 

The others warn him of their inability to make their feathered friend cool but is she bothered? No way, all she wants is some fun time with friends … And does it prove ‘cooler than cool’? What do you think? …

Assuredly this new story from the duo that gave us Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise is another splendidly silly slapstick offering that will surely have both children and adults laughing out loud. Be yourself is the message that emerges from this zany celebration of play and unconditional friendship.


John Lennon, illustrated by Jean Jullien
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In this illustrated version of Lennon’s 1971 anthem to peace, published in partnership with Amnesty International, (royalties from the sale of the book go to the charity) illustrator Jean Jullien uses a pigeon instead of the usual peace dove to carry its message around the globe, asking readers to imagine a world without possessions, without greed or hunger a world where everyone is part of a universal brotherhood, sharing and caring for all; without countries or religion, with nothing to kill or die for.
We first see this feathered ambassador of peace emerging from the underground train, bag slung around its neck and then he takes off on his mission over land and sea …

The pigeon’s focus as it wings its way around the earth distributing olive branches to its fellow feathered friends, is on fairness and sharing …

and culminates in an uplifting embrace for all the birds seen on his flight. (They too have become peace messengers.)

The artist’s boldly outlined images, digitally coloured and set against backgrounds of eggshell blue, white, purple or orange have a simple, heartfelt poignancy that make this beautiful book the perfect starting point for introducing Lennon’s message of tolerance, understanding, inclusiveness, unity and peace to today’s children. It’s certainly as relevant as when it was written over 45 years ago: indeed, we desperately need it now even more than ever.
Published on 21st September, International Day of Peace, let’s all pause and … Imagine.

I Want to be in a Scary Story

I Want to be in a Scary Story
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
Walker Books

From the dream team that brought us Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise, here’s a story told entirely in dialogue: black type for the external narrator and purple – aptly – for chief protagonist, Little Monster.
Eager to be in a story, the totally endearing little enthusiast turns down the suggestion that a funny story might be preferable, assuring the narrator that a scary story it must be.
Talk about dropping you in it, but that’s exactly what the narrator does by placing the monster right outside a haunted house.

‘Spooky’, seems preferable, and that’s no walk in the park either, as the house might be inhabited by a scary witch, or a ghastly ghost just waiting to jump out; at least the narrator forewarns our Little Monster though. But there seems to have been something of a misunderstanding.
Little Monster wants to do the scaring, not be scared silly. Here goes …

But then comes another thought: what lies behind that door? The witch?
Much too scary; so what about ‘just a teeny weeny monkey and his friend’? Surely scaring them should prove suitably funny …

Sean Taylor knows just how much scariness little monsters, purple or otherwise, can take, and his clever scaling back of the terror as the tale proceeds, is spot on for keeping young listeners on the edge of their seats. Equally Jean Jullien’s creepy scenes have a sufficient degree of zaniness to grip but not unduly alarm; and that final twist really hits the spot.
Can I be in a story again tomorrow?’ asks Little Monster on the final page: I suspect young audiences, thrilled rather than chilled, will want it to be more immediate than that.

Dogs to the Rescue

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Jean Jullien, text collaboration Gwendal Le Bec
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is Ralf, just a little dog …

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but he manages to occupy a great deal of space …

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get in the way rather too frequently OOPS beg your pardon Mum!

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Sorry Dad!

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The result? Banishment to his kennel where there ensues a very brief period of peace and quiet. But then Ralf’s nose begins to twitch: smoke is coming from the family home. Time for our canine pal to test his abilities to the utmost.
Flexible he may be – I’m sure this heroic pooch must have been taking yoga lessons on the quiet – but having finally gained an entrance of sorts, can he succeed in waking the blissfully unaware slumberers? Or is there another way he can effect a rescue perhaps? …
What follows are fantastic heroism and supreme stretchiness on Ralf’s part …

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and utter brilliance on Jean Jullien’s. In fact the whole book (endpapers included) is entirely brilliant.
Jullien documents Ralf’s rise from outcast to celebrated hero with such aplomb it’s hard to believe this is his first solo picture book. (he was the illustrator of the wonderful Hoot Owl)
Let’s hear it for Ralf. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! And again for the genius visual storytelling of Jean Jullien – YEAH! YEAH YEAH!

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Hot Dog Hal
Peter Bently and Tom McLaughlin
Scholastic Children’s Books
Most of us will be familiar with children having comforters they insist on taking everywhere they go, but a dachshund– surely not? Well surely yes, if your name happens to be Hal. Hal totally loved his blanket and refused to be parted from it despite the fact that ‘… he felt boiling and flustered/ And looked like a sausage all covered in mustard.’ and Buster McNally had started calling him Hot Dog Hal. And hot he truly was but even in the sunniest of situations Hal just would not take that blanket off;

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well it did, so he insisted have “a nice biscuit chocolatey smell.”
So besotted with this object of his was he that Hal found all manner of ways to keep it close to his person …

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none of which impressed Nipper or Buster and off they all trot for a game of hide-and-seek. Before long though down comes the rain and the canine crew are forced to take shelter in an old windmill. And as the thunder crashes and lightning flashes, good old Hal is ready to accommodate his pals beneath that comforter of his. But then disaster strikes leaving the creatures stranded.

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Maybe that old blanket is about to come into its own after all … But a torn, tattered blanket is no use to any self-respecting dog –

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or is it? …
This crazy canine romp is delivered in appropriately frisky style in Peter Bently’s rhyming text and wonderfully portrayed in Tom McLaughlin’s suitably silly sausage dog scenes.

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Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise

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Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
Walker Books
Owl is a kind of superhero-cum comedian: he’s mega confident and one thing is for sure, that self-proclaimed ‘master of disguise’ is very, very hungry. He, the narrator of this tale in fact, also has a way with words. “The night has a thousand eyes, and two of them are mine. I swoop through the bleak blackness, like a wolf in the air.” he declares having failed in his first attempt to fill his tum. In that instance, with a tasty bunny, who sees through his first ‘delicious carrot’ disguise.

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Never mind, there’s a juicy lamb (love those specs) standing ‘helpless in the cool of the night’ our wordsmith informs us as he comes to land again

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and quickly dons his next disguise. Of course that lamb too (helped by those fetching specs I suspect) sees through the disguise and vanishes in a flash. No matter, our hungry hunter has another trick in his bag of disguises; off he goes again, still supremely confident as ‘The terrible silence of the night spreads everywhere.” A pigeon is next to face the ‘dangerous creature-of-the dark’ – he really talks himself up does Hoot Owl, but again the costume fails to fool.


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But, does he finally manage to achieve satisfaction? Well, you’ll just have to get hold of a copy of this hilarious book to find out. Till then, let’s just say that his next prey is an inert object (one this vegetarian review can almost but not quite, approve of) and his next disguise, something altogether easier to pull off – literally.
Beautifully written and with such great comic timing, Sean Taylor’s text is, and I make no apologies, a real HOOT. If Hoot Owl is master of disguise, then surely Taylor is master of suspense. My four to seven year old listeners loved the fact that although Owl constantly sounds impressively fierce, he doesn’t ever attack in the aggressive sense; his tactics are altogether more passive, if (albeit) inept. They also loved Jean Jullien’s bold illustrations and were inspired to try some of their own. Here’s one…

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Jullien’s matt colours work perfectly and he capture’s the author’s droll humour brilliantly. I love his almost child-like side views of the predator in flight.
Taylor and Jullien have an absolute winner here: there’s no disguising that.

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