Speedy Monkey / An Owl Called Star

Speedy Monkey
Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Chantelle & Burgen Thorne
Stripes

Speedy Monkey, like many young humans is bursting with energy and inquisitiveness. Nothing wrong with that except that the other rainforest creatures think that his constant capering is way too lively and noisy; peace and quiet is what they crave.

Speedy’s efforts to be more like them are a dismal failure and none of them has any desire to emulate the little monkey.

Come nightfall, as the animals try to sleep, Bat suggests if Speedy wants to do what he was born to do he should go to the  edge of the forest, climb to the top of the Kapok tree and … “Everyone will love you for it.”

Speedy does just that, but being completely alone is no fun at all.
Suddenly a really fierce storm approaches and Speedy knows that he has to warn his fellow animals of the danger.

There’s no time to lose, but will they heed his warning?

Happily yes, but once they’re all safely gathered in Bat’s cave, one creature is notable by his absence …

Jeanne Willis’s telling is as lively and full of fun as her protagonist in this latest addition to the Stripes’ series of full colour fiction for new solo readers. Also exuding liveliness are Chantelle and Burgen Thorne’s funny, spirited illustrations of Speedy and his fellow rainforest dwellers.

For those ready for a longer read is

An Owl Called Star
Helen Peters, illustrated by Ellie Snowdon
Nosy Crow

This is the eighth story about Jasmine and her best friend Tom. Here the two are out walking with Jasmine’s sheepdog when he disappears and in their hunt for him, they come upon an injured barn owl in some brambles and they name it Star.

With the help of Jasmine’s mum, the owl gradually regains its strength; but barn owls are hunters that love to feed on small mammals and Jasmine has also offered to look after Aisha’s hamster for the weekend. Is it wise to keep both cages in the same room? Not only that but she’s also planning a secret Halloween party. It looks as though she might just have taken on rather more than she can cope with, especially when the hamster goes missing after Jasmine forgets to secure the door of his cage, and then Mum declares that Star is ready to be released.

Readers, especially animal lovers, will lap up this story and along the way learn a fair bit about barn owls from the information Helen Piers has skilfully woven into her narrative. Ellie Snowden’s detailed pencil drawings that break up the text are a delight.

Heidi

Heidi
Retold by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Briony May Smith
Nosy Crow

Jeanne Willis retells the Johanna Spyri classic tale for a slightly younger audience than the original book. I remember totally loving the story of the orphan Heidi as a child and was fascinated to learn of this new version.

It’s a beautiful gift edition in Nosy Crow’s Classics series and both author and illustrator have done a cracking job making the story more accessible while retaining the spirit of the original.

When her Aunt Dete takes her to live with her grandfather, the spirited Heidi quickly makes friends with Peter the goat boy, and soon softens her Grandpa’s heart – Grandpa Alps as he’s known by the villagers.

She spends a happy two years in his mountain home; but then comes the devastating news. Heidi is to go to Frankfurt to act as companion to little Clara, the sickly daughter of a rich man there. So says her aunt Dete who turns up one day and whisks her away insisting it’s “the chance of a lifetime.”

Miss Rottenmeier is a veritable dragon of a woman and Heidi finds it hard living so far from her beloved mountain home, despite getting on well with Clara,

so much so that she starts sleepwalking.

After a while the doctor suggests that the only cure for her is to let her return to her Grandpa. But what will happen to her new friend, Clara; will they ever meet again?

If you’re looking for a book for a developing reader and want to introduce them to the delights of Heidi, Jeanne Willis’ splendid telling really brings the characters to life and Bryony’s finely detailed illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.

Don’t Go There!

Don’t Go There!
Jeanne Willis and Hrefna Bragadottir
Andersen Press

A small human is tasked with toilet training a small green alien when she discovers him in her home one day.

The little fellow has no idea that it’s totally inappropriate to direct his wee towards the narrator’s painting easel …

or leave deposits of poo in the bird bath.

So the little girl takes her new friend into the bathroom and shows him the toilet.

The little Martian is resistant to using such a cold, deep object and runs off in search of a more likely receptacle.

Several tries later, it’s time to march the little guy back to the bathroom and start toilet training in earnest. “Lid up,/ pants down, / bottom on the seat. Sit still, / just chill, / until the job’s complete. / Whistle if you want to. / Singing can be fun. / Wipe, flush, wash hands, / then you’re done!” goes the Toilet Song the narrator sings.

The Martian’s effort doesn’t quite sound (or look) quite the same however but he does his very best,

even though his pants do end up being flushed down the loo.

Eventually of course, with lots of practice, he does get it right.

In the reassuring penultimate spread the narrator uses the success of her alien friend to assure little humans they too can learn the ropes; and then, once he’s back on his own planet, the little chap has a job to do …

Little ones and their adults will assuredly giggle at all the mistakes and mishaps that befall teacher and learner in this enchanting, light-hearted alien twist on toilet training.

Jeanne’s bouncy rhyming text is great fun and reassuring too, while Hrefna Bragadottir’s slightly muted, comical illustrations ensure that there will be plenty of shared laughs during this nicely flowing learning journey.

#Goldilocks

#Goldilocks
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press

This series of Jeanne and Tony’s on Internet safety for children goes from strength to strength; #Goldilocks is number three and it’s absolutely brilliant.

Subtitled ‘A Hashtag Cautionary Tale’ it is exactly that with Jeanne delivering her vital message in the jaunty manner of a 21st century Belloc.

Like so many children these days, Goldilocks has a smartphone and is active on social media. Anxious to gain more likes for her posts, the young miss starts posting photos of her family and much more.

After a while though her followers’ enthusiasm wanes and she becomes desperate: something shocking is required to revive interest.

Off she skips to a certain cottage in the woods and takes a selfie as she breaks in;

another #PipingHot and a third breaking a chair #Fun!

And she doesn’t stop at that.

Inevitably it all ends in disaster for Goldilocks who receives a stint of community service at a certain bears’ residence; but worse than that, those photos she so recklessly posted of her thievery and destruction live on for all to see. And that takes us to the final moral words of caution: ‘ … think twice before you send!’

Absolutely hilarious both verbally and visually – the two work so superbly well together – this story is written from an understanding of the attraction for children of social media and is ideal for sharing and discussion at home or in school.

Above all though, it’s a smashing book.

Spike The Hedgehog Who Lost His Prickles

Spike The Hedgehog Who Lost His Prickles
Jeanne Willis & Jarvis
Nosy Crow

Suddenly finding yourself without your defences isn’t something anybody would want to happen, but it’s the fate of hedgehog Spike who awakes one morning to discover that all his prickles have fallen out overnight. The unfortunate fellow is spineless, completely bare no less. “I’m in the nude. How rude!’ he says. “What will the neighbours think?’ And off he goes in search of something to wear that will cover his embarrassment.

He dons a paper lampshade and sallies forth only to have rain render it useless

and expose his nether regions to the amusement of all around.
Having fled to the woods he comes upon, of all unlikely things, a china cup and plate – the latter being a perfect bottom cover. But then the cup/hat tips and the poor creature trips; you can imagine the fate of his new outfit.

Badger has things to say about his lack of spikes next, but before long Spike finds a sock, albeit a rather whiffy one, but it serves as a smock. Little does he know however, that as he wanders merrily on his way, the thing is slowly unravelling and yet again he’s the butt of some unwelcome comments.

Blushing, our spikeless pal dashes on until he spies a bunch of balloons of all hues. Now he’s the object of the other animals’ admiration as he floats off skywards.

The sun sinks, the moon rises and Spike drifts until he’s made two circles of the world.

Suddenly he sees his home once more below, he waves and …

Now why might that be? It certainly looks as though it’s time to celebrate …

This book is an absolute treat to read aloud; not only does Jeanne Willis’ rhyme flow without a single spike, but Jarvis portrays the entire journey in his own inimitable brilliant way and there are SO many wonderful details to linger over. The colour palette is splendidly summery but this is a tale to share at any time; and its finale is an absolute hoot.

A winner through and through.

Not Just a Book / A Couch for Llama

Not Just a Book
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press

A book is for reading, yes certainly, but according to Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross’s latest offering, books can sometimes be so much more.
On occasion they might serve as hats, or make a tent for a cat, prevent a table from wobbling. A book makes a good tunnel for your toy train, can become an extra block for building with,

even perhaps a flower press.
This multi-purpose object is the perfect fly-swatter …

or protector of your drink from marauding wasps.

More important though than any of these additional uses, and that’s the real message herein, books have the power to affect how you feel;

to help you go to sleep, to educate; the best are never forgotten and best of all, a book is something to read and love …

Silly? Yes, Fun? Yes.

Jeanne Willis’s brief rhyming text and Tony Ross’s wonderful illustrations – look out for the mischievous cat on every page – make for an enjoyable and playful message about the importance of books.

A Couch for Llama
Leah Gilbert
Sterling

The Lago family absolutely love their old couch: it’s been the site of many good together times but now a new one is much needed. Off they go in the car to the furniture shop where they find the perfect replacement.

On the way home however, something happens that results in their new item of furniture ending up in Llama’s field. Llama is by nature a curious creature and so he starts to investigate this new arrival. He sniffs it, greets it and even tries sharing his lunch with it but none of these moves elicits any response. Llama tries lunching on the couch instead but it tastes awful and it’s too heavy to move.
The couch is useless, is his conclusion so Llama decides to ignore the object.
This unsurprisingly becomes exceedingly boring and so the exasperated animal leaps onto it and suddenly comes understanding …

By this time the owners of his new lounger have returned to claim their lost item but Llama refuses to budge. There’s only one option that will work for one and all: now what might that be? …
In her debut picture book Leah Gilbert mixes the realistic and the ridiculous with just the right degree of each for the story to work, but the real strength is in her visuals: in particular the scenes of Llama and his couch encounters are hilarious.

Blue Monster Wants It All!

Blue Monster Wants It All!
Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond
Little Tiger Press

We live in a throwaway, consumer society where the desire for the new, and the notion that the next thing is always better, tend to prevail.
Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond have created a timely and eloquent picture book fable that demonstrates the folly of this thinking.
Meet Blue Monster, thoroughly indulged by his parents the never satisfied creature discards them and his new sibling, and takes off with all his money to begin life anew. However although he’s left behind his old life, he’s taken his acquisitive habits with him.

But new hats, cars, luxury palaces, an aeroplane, and a tropical island with amazing animals no less, fail to satisfy.

Even the sunshine itself cannot bring him happiness.
It’s not until he finds himself surrounded by darkness that somehow, in his abject misery, Blue Monster finally realises what he needs for true contentment and well-being. But is it too late?

Jenni Desmond adeptly portrays the monster and his constantly changing moods and emotions – his tantrums, his decadence, his dissatisfaction and his supreme sadness, all of which are part and parcel of Jeanne Willis’ thought-provoking text.
Although we know that the creature has brought in all on himself, you cannot help but be moved by the sight of him in his desolation.
What is most important to you, the latest smartphone or tablet, a brand new car or the love of your family and friends?
Perhaps it takes a powerful picture book such as this, which has as much to say to adults as to children, to make us all stop and think?

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  

I’m in Charge!

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I’m In Charge!
Jeanne Willis and Jarvis
Nosy Crow
It’s patently obvious who rules the roost in the rhino family, not daddy rhino, nor mummy rhino; it’s little rhino and he surely knows exactly how to make his presence felt as he goes around doing such dastardly deeds as scattering the meerkats, startling Giraffe and squashing Baboon’s banana – well the meanie refused to share; he even has the audacity to barge Elephant in the bottom. “I’m in charge!” is definitely the order of the day.

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But who has executive control of the mango tree and its delicious fruit? That is the all important question and it’s one that feisty little Rhino has the answer to, at least he thinks he does and it’s certainly what he assures Pygmy Mouse despite what the little creature has to say.

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Could it be that the belligerent beast is about to change his mind however …

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… a hundred beefy wildebeest … came charging down the hill.

Jeanne Willis and Jarvis deliver the message about learning to share superbly well. Jeanne Willis’ lively rhyming text bounces along beautifully and Jarvis’ savannah-glow illustrations of the bossy beast and his challengers holds up a mirror to infant behaviour with panache and humour.
So cleverly titled, this is perfect for sharing be it at home or in an early years setting.

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There’s No Such Thing As a Snappenpoop

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There’s No Such Thing as a Snappenpoop
Jeanne Willis and Matt Saunders
Little Tiger Press
I already know bits of this snappingly stupendous story off by heart after a week of reading and re-reading it with various groups and individuals. It features two brothers, Little Brother and Big Brother, and there’s a Snappenpoop involved too – despite the contrary assertion of the title. Much of the telling is through dialogue; it’s between the two siblings and essentially, Little Brother asks Big Bro. if he can play, with a promise to do anything Big Bro. asks in return; and Big Bro. issuing ridiculously impossible demands such as “Go and fetch me a unicorn.

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Then having a good laugh behind his brother’s back as Little Bro. sets off to procure whatever; and then being forced to eat his words so to speak, as his small sibling returns with each item requested. Of course the inevitable must be delayed for a long as possible and so after every successful search, Big Brother dreams up one or another reason for the unsatisfactoryiness of, in turn, the unicorn (it’s the wrong kind – too small); the lion with wings (the colour’s wrong).
Long-suffering Little Brother is prepared to travel far and wide, even through time and space …

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to achieve the desired end, as when he’s asked to fetch a dinosaur. How’s this for spot on comic timing and dialogue: “Go and fetch me a triceratops instead, “ said Big Brother. “Any particular size or colour?” asked Little Brother. “Big and brown,” said Big Brother. “OK, that narrows it down,” said Little Brother and off he runs, returning some time later with guess what – a big, brown triceratops.
Now, Big Brother is in a fix but he still wants to make playing together conditional: “You must fetch me a Massive Spiny Snappenpoop,” he insists. “Imagine the scariest monster times a million!
Whether he does or whether he doesn’t, is mine to know and yours to wonder, as our hero sets off into the menacing darkness …

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Yes, there’s a dark twist in this tale; but I’ll say no more on that subject.
Let’s finish by saying that Little Brother does get to play, though who with and who not with, is also mine to know and yours to discover – once you’ve got your hands on a copy of this magical book.
Jeanne Willis is a storyteller extraordinaire and debuting as a picture book artist, Matt Saunders’ visuals are the ideal complement –wonderfully detailed, full of atmosphere …

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and picking up on the subtle humour of the verbal telling superbly well.

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Pets and Problems

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Lottie Potter Wants an Otter
Jeanne Willis and Leonie Lord
Harper Collins Children’s Books
An otter certainly isn’t the most likely of animals for a child to want but it’s the pet of choice for young Lottie Potter. So off she goes with a hop and a skip into town.

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Mr Trotter has a wide range of otters available – spotty, potty, snotty, swotty, tie in a knotty, or hot from Lanzarote. Seemingly there’s something for all tastes here.

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Somewhat overwhelmed, Lottie turns to the shop-keeper for expert advice. He duly selects, a purchase is made and off goes Lottie with her otter. However, said animal isn’t quite the perfect pet she’d anticipated; it’s an absolute rotter through and through, even having the audacity to bite her bot. …

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Who could possibly blame her for taking it right back to the shop and demanding a refund? Well, that may have been her plan but it’s one that’s well and truly thwarted causing Lottie to rid herself of the unwanted animal elsewhere,

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and go seeking an altogether more suitable creature for her next pet. Err …
The jaunty rhyming extravaganza is illustrated with zestful scenes of otters cavorting, climbing and carousing, and Lottie’s one in particular, causing chaos. Leonie Lord’s otters are guaranteed to make you and your audience giggle as much as Jeanne Willis’ otterly dotty words.

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Hiccups!
Holly Sterling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Book
Hiccups seem to come on all too easily, but getting rid of them, well that’s another matter. And that’s the problem facing young Ruby but the hiccups aren’t hers; it’s her dog Oscar that’s Hic! Hic! Hiccuping …
Ruby however is full of ideas and it’s as well she’s not one to give up easily. They try dancey-dancing,

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jumpity-jumping, slurpity-slurping …

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not to mention twirly-twirling and hoppity- hopping all to no avail. Not even munchy-munching or wielding a magic wand halt the hics. But Ruby has one more idea up her sleeve – one that involves a complete change of garb and this time … silence from Oscar. But maybe hiccups are catching after all err …
Great potential for audience participation herein – let’s hope the hiccups are simulated not real though or you might find yourself having to try out some of Ruby’s remedies. Ruby and Oscar are both thoroughly engaging characters – cute but also spirited, and their relationship is beautifully captured in Holly Sterlings’ scenes large and small.

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Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool

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Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press
Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool is assuredly a head-turner but not a particularly pleasant character – far from it in fact. She feels duty bound to issue fault- correcting instructions to those she calls her friends, thus …

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and even resorts on occasion to actual ‘enhancement’ procedures …

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It isn’t only fellow pupils who come in for her improvement instructions though: ‘No one was safe from Lucinda’s advice./ “Grandpa!” she said. “Your moustache isn’t nice./ Sit down and don’t fidget, I’ll give it a trim./ Grandma, you’re next when I’ve finished with him.” Her teacher too gets the treatment …

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All is perfectly peachy for Miss LBMMcC until she happens upon a Monster in the woods one day – a hideous beast if ever there was one. Do you think the young miss stood terrified before this creature?

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No way! Out come the beautifying instruments (she went nowhere without those of course)

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and very soon the monster’s hair has been washed, trimmed and blown dry and he’s had a thorough make over to boot. Let the beautiful friendship now commence … errrm, not quite. Seems that makeover was only skin deep …
Willis and Ross have together concocted a cracking cautionary tale of the truly hilarious kind. Jeanne Willis’ rhyming narrative is a gift to the reader aloud (though I suggest you have a dress rehearsal first) and I guarantee you’ll have your audience in fits, not only over the words: every single one of Ross’s illustrations is an absolute beaut.
FAB-U-LOUS!

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Polar Exchanges

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Poles Apart
Jeanne Willis & Jarvis
Nosy Crow
Polar Bears live at the North Pole, penguins at the South Pole and never the twain shall meet, or do they?
One day a penguin family, the Pilchard Browns, get themselves lost en route to a picnic spot. The trouble was Mr P-B’s instructions had been wrong – now does that sound a familiar family scenario? – with the result that, as the story opens, they find themselves drifting towards …

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The dialogue is a hoot: “This is the North Pole, my friends,” said Mr White. “The South Pole is 12, 430 miles that way.”
So, I was a few miles out,” shurugged Mr Pilchard Brown. “Anyone can make a mistake.
Don’t think of it as a mistake,” said Mr White.”Think of it as a big adventure.” …
Mummy says we should always follow our dreams,” said Peeky.
Daddy says we should always follow him,” said Poots.
Mr White is elected to guide the picnickers to the South Pole and thus achieve his own dream. Off go the adventurers over land and sea until they reach …

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The US proves exciting but it isn’t home, nor the right place for a picnic, so on they travel, the next stop being England. However, although the place has its charms, home it isn’t, nor an appropriate picnic spot so Mr White takes the party on to Italy. Pog has to hold on to his wee urge as they take a gondola ride along the canals of Venice.
The next port of call is India – dazzling for sure but again, not home

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so off they go to Oz, a ‘bonzer’ place but not home and … well you know the rest.
Their journey continues until finally they reach the South Pole and there Mr White joins them for that long anticipated picnic. After a while though, the polar bear feels the pull of the North Pole and so, he walks all the way back to his home.
A great adventure was assuredly had by all; but that’s not quite the end of the story for a surprise awaits our North Pole dweller …

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but even that isn’t the end …
With its patterned text, largely in dialogue this wonderfully preposterous tale is tremendous fun to share with a class or group of under sevens. Mine were soon joining in the repeat refrains with great enthusiasm.

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Penguin’s Big Adventure
Salina Yoon
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Penguin has an idea: he wants to be the first of his kind to set foot on the North Pole. Having packed his rucksack and rolled his map, (sporting as ever, his orange scarf) off he goes on his travels. En route he passes some of his friends and relations busy with their own world record preoccupations

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and eventually reaches his destination. But his celebratory shouts of ‘Hooray!’ meets with silence: and Penguin feels lonely and scared.
There follows an encounter with Polar Bear and the two spend time together adventuring and exploring.

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That however, is only part of the story for the purpose of his friends’ activities is made clear when they appear in a hot air balloon to take him back home with them.
Fans of Penguin and his adventures will enjoy this latest episode though I suspect some of the visual references alluding to previous Penguin stories will go over the heads of those who are making his acquaintance for the first time.
As always, Salina Yoon’s bold, bright illustrations have a quirky cuteness about them.

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Exciting Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition in Piccadilly from 23rd to 29th October

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The First Slodge, Bully & Swimmy

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The First Slodge
Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond
Little Tiger Press
Learning to share is at the centre of this book that begins beautifully thus:
‘Once upon a slime, there was a Slodge.’ Now this Slodge is the first of her kind, the only one of her kind – so she thinks – and thus she’s entitled to claim ownership of everything she sees – the sunrise and sunset, day and night, the first star and the first moon, the first thunder and lightning, even the first flower and fruit.

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It is with this fruit that her problem begins for when she goes to take a second bite (having set it aside for the night after her first), she discovers that somebody, or something, has got there first. Shock horror.

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A fight ensues – the first – during which the fruit rolls away and down the hill into the sea, closely followed by the First Slodge who finds herself face to face with the First Snawk and this creature’s thoughts are on supper.
Slodge number two, meanwhile – he too has a problem with ownership – plunges into the ocean, rescues the First Slodge, and a beautiful friendship is forged. A friendship that proves prolific and fruitful …

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Almost a kind of creation story; it’s beautifully and simply expressed verbally and beautifully portrayed visually and, one to share as widely as possible.

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Bully
Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Andersen Press pbk
Meet Bully: doesn’t your heart immediately go out to him as he’s shunned by an angry-looking bigger bull (parent?) even before the title page? Down, but not out, off he goes, now knowing how to hurt others, on a bullying cycle that has thus begun. When asked by some farmyard animals if he’d like to play, the young bovine assumes the bully role. “No!” he retorts then proceeds to insult (merely by telling the truth) and see off, a rabbit, a chick, a turtle, a pig,

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a bee and a snunk. All the while, with each insult hurled, the little bull grows larger – puffed up by self-importance until a little goat stands up to him, speaking the truth in no uncertain terms. …

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Bully?” repeats the bull and as the truth begins to dawn, the protagonist‘s gradual deflation causes him to whirligig around the farmyard as all that hot air slowly dissipates. Then, back to his normal size once again, a tearful little chap makes apologetic advances to his would-be friends and all is finally well.
Bold, stylised illustrations on a textured background (very effective for the farmyard setting) and minimal words make for a powerful message: peaceful actions are preferable; there is NO place for bullying.
Excellent stuff.

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Swimmy
Leo Leonni
Andersen Press pbk
Deep in the ocean lives a school of happy little fish – red fish, all except one that is: Swimmy is black and he’s the fastest swimmer among them. One day however, a huge, hungry tuna fish gobbles up all Swimmy’s friends leaving him scared, lonely and sad. Not for long though: Swimmy soon discovers many wonderful creatures living in the ocean world,

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including, joy of joys, a school of tiny fish just like those lost friends of his. But these fish are too scared to leave their shadowy hide-away on account of the huge hungry fish whose next meal they might become.
Swimmy muses on the problem and then comes up with a clever collaborative solution: “We are going to swim all together like the biggest fish in the sea! ” he tells them and proceeds to teach them to swim as one, before taking his own place as the eye.

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I still have a much loved and much read copy of this beautiful book from way back before I became a teacher.Those print-style illustrations of Leo Lionni – one of my all time favourite picture book creators – have inspired many a piece of art work from the countless children with whom I’ve shared this wonderful book over many years.

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I’m thrilled to see this back in print: a must buy for anyone who wants children to be lovers of books and art.

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Pet Problems – Sparky & Rex

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Sparky!
Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans
Orion Children’s Books
What the endearing girl narrator of this wonderfully quirky book wants more than anything in the world is a pet. Her mother finally consents but her stipulation “as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” presents quite a challenge for our determined narrator. She turns to the school librarian for assistance and is given the S volume of the Animal Encyclopedia

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wherein she discovers the perfect minimal maintenance thing – a SLOTH.
The girl duly mail-orders one and when it arrives she names him Sparky, taking him straight outside to his very own tree. Observations of the pet begin but for two days he just sleeps; time for some games thinks the little girl but statues is the only one that works for the pet and her friend Mary Potts is far from impressed. A ‘Sloth Extravaganza’ is advertised,

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and a training regime is implemented but sleepy Sparky just doesn’t respond to commands to learn tricks and there’s no way he’ll wow his audience at the performance. Playing Dead isn’t exactly a showstopper after all.
Despite everything though, Sparky and the little girl remain close: she accepts his slothfulness and loves him for it.
‘ “You’re it, Sparky,” I said. And for a long, long time he was.’

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Beautifully told with an understated humour that is perfectly mirrored in Chris Appelhans’ watercolour illustrations. Executed in shades of brown and teal with the occasional splash of red, pink, green or yellow, every one is a delight.
This is one of those slow burning treasures that one returns to over and over with increasing pleasure at each reading. That sloth is SO adorable. Perfect for sharing or individual readers.

 

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The Pet Person
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press pbk
Almost twenty years after its first publication, we have the opportunity once more to join Rex the dog in this hilarious tale wherein the human/pet relationship is turned on its head.
Dog, Rex really wants a pet person for his birthday but his parents are against such a furniture spoiling, greedy, smelly addition to the household and his other canine relations are equally unenthusiastic. What’s a poor human-loving canine to do?
Off he goes to sulk in the park and there Rex discovers Ginger: the perfect answer to his pet-longing perhaps?

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Or perhaps not …

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At the end of the day, a disillusioned, rather wiser Rex returns home to discover his birthday present waiting for him and it’s certainly not “a tennis ball.”

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Brilliant: Great dialogue (the interplay between words and pictures is spot on), superb characterization

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and wonderfully imagined scenarios to tickle the fancy of children and adults alike.

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I’d forgotten just how good this book is.

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Two Parties, Two Birthdays

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The Dinosaurs are Having a Party!
Gareth P. Jones and Garry Parsons
Andersen Press
It’s party time at the dinosaurs’ residence and someone has a special guest invitation.

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On his arrival our young narrator finds the party in full swing with games galore and a scrumptious spread on the table. Outside is a barbeque, but where is the meat?

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And the large bouncy castle is lots of fun – at least till stegosaurus comes along.
Oh, who is taking SO long in the loo?

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O-OH! Time to grab a party bag and leave the fun behind it seems …

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But the host doesn’t want to lose sight of that special fea.. – oops I mean guest, just yet; indeed he’s hot on the (w)heels of that escapee vehicle most of the way … home. Phew! Lucky escape. Just what is in your party bag then, little boy?
A madcap rhyming story where young audiences will delight in spotting the visual warning signs from the time the narrator leaves home until his hasty departure from the party. They will also relish the twist – or rather snap – at the end of the tale.

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There’s more partying in:

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We’re Going to a Party!
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press pbk
We’re going to a party,
disguised in fancy dress.
But which of us is What or Who?
It’s up to you to guess!

Each of the animals has donned a disguise and asks readers to decide who is really the banana, pirate, princess, tiger
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and so on. Who is that in a ‘rubbish’ monster costume they wonder. Somebody none to happy about to give them a surprise …
Rhyming fun, flaps, a pop-out finale and delicious Ross illustrations: what’s not to like?

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I Feel Five!
Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Walker Books
How does it feel to be five?’ or six or whatever is a question often asked of children. It always seems a bit daft to me – why would anyone suddenly feel different overnight just because of a birthday. This is certainly something young Fritz ponders as he wakes up on his fifth birthday leaping joyfully out of bed

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and rushing to the mirror only to be confronted by a reflection that looks exactly like the day before’s; and he still can’t tie the laces on his new shoes. Maybe school will help him to feel five he decides. But, when his teacher asks him that inevitable question and his friends sing his birthday song, Fritz still feels just the same.
It’s a rather disillusioned Fritz –still unable to whistle, snap his fingers or do the monkey bars two at a time and still needing just one hand to count his years – who suddenly hears a voice as he sits sadly under an apple tree on his way home from school.

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The voice belongs to a little girl and she’s asking him if he can reach the apples.
One flying leap later… two rosy apples, two bite into same and could it just be one very slight wiggle from one of Fritz’s teeth; now there’s a feeling that is just a little different.

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And, he has made a new friend; things are definitely looking up.
Full of charm and gentle humour, this is a good story to have to hand in an infant classroom when children turn four, five or six.
Soft watercolours portray so clearly the ups and down of Fritz’s birthday; I love his light-surrounded leap out of bed and the contrasting, all pervading grey gloom as he sits under that apple tree, oh and those two pairs of shoe-clad feet on opposite sides of a spread –

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so beautifully expressive.

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The Dinosaur That Pooped the Past!
Tom Flethcher & Dougie Poynter illustrated by Garry Parsons
Red Fox pbk
The pooping dinosaur is back once again. Danny’s Gran is celebrating her one thousand and eighth birthday and she’s served up masses of disgusting green, wind-creating stuff. Guess who gobbles Dan’s share before Gran notices so that the pair can go out and play. Once outside they head for a creaky old swing, one that turns out to be super powered. Dizzily they loop back through time

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before finally crash landing in the Jurassic era. There they meet a trio of baby dinos, Dino Dudes A, B and C. who like nothing better than clambering on top of each other. As Danny’s dinosaur sits back to watch their games, he feels a rumble in his tum, a rumble that makes the ground crumble , a crumble that signifies VOLCANO SEASON! No time to lose; the swing must be repaired; but that alone is not strong enough to carry extra passengers out of danger. There is only one thing to do …

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Three cheers for the power of broccoli and another three for the trio of new dino pals. They all arrive just in time a hefty chunk of Gran’s broccoli birthday cake.

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Scatological, or rather poopological, humour courtesy of that huge-bellied dinosaur delivered in rip-roaring rhyme and suitably exuberant illustrations; just the thing to send young children into fits of giggles, not to mention many of the adults who share it with them.

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Unexpected Arrivals

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George and the Dinosaur
Felix Hayes and Sue Heap
Brubaker, Ford and Friends (Templar)
When George’s passion for excavation results in his unearthing a dinosaur egg, little does he know that its contents – a perfect creature no less – will have such a voracious appetite. Insatiable in fact, for not only does it consume the furniture, TV, fridge and everything inside, down goes a garden tree, the paddling pool, even the tiny mouse in George’s care belonging to Class 2. From then on things go from bad to worse: the dino. swallows both George’s parents, two sweet old ladies, cars and larger vehicles – quite literally everything. Finally only George remains; so what does the dinosaur do? Well, it opens those terrible jaws and SNAP!
Of course we all know what happens when a digestive system gets over-loaded; it makes lots of gas and …

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Moving in and out of rhyme, the text reads aloud beautifully as one would expect – it’s written by Gruffalo actor Felix Hayes and he should know.
But, when he cleans his treasure he finds …
the gems are stones, dirt and dust.
The sword is a spoon all covered in rust.
The leg is a root, cracked and dried.
But the egg’s still an egg
With something inside.
George puts the egg in the cupboard under the stairs.

Sue Heap’s mixed media illustrations are full of amusing details and show much more than is said in the words:
Young audiences will particularly enjoy spotting the whereabouts of the items burped out by the dinosaur on the final spread; and Hayes’ final sentence leaves space for children’s own flights of fancy.
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What Makes a Hippopotamus Smile!
Sean Taylor and Laurent Cardon
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
It’s not every day that a hippo comes to visit but when one does – or should that be, if, then take the advice of the small girl narrator of this funny picture book. Open wide the door,

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play a splashy-sploshy game, then give him a warm bath with silly toys thrown in to make him laugh, after which you should share a very large crunchy salad, freshly harvested, naturally. Oh, and make sure when it’s time to bid your new best friend farewell that you do so in style – a little dance might be appropriate. That’s if you want him to come again, of course. Err …

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It’s all in the interplay of Sean Taylor’s playful words (which sometimes rhyme) and the comical scenes created by Laurent Cardon using mixed ink techniques and digital art. Herein, it’s the antics of the bit players, largely froggy,

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as much as the hippo’s (mis)behaviour that make the scenes so amusing. Then, there’s that almost throwaway last line and don’t forget to take a look at the endpapers with those telltale footprints too.
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Gracie is amused at the animals’ antics

There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes
Michelle Robinson and Jim Field
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Just like many children, Eric, the narrator of this story and his brother Dan have been saving cereal box coupons for a free gift; here ‘it’s a ‘Free Lion’ on offer. They’d bought so many boxes of cornflakes it took a year’s pocket money to pay for them and forever to cut out the hundred coupons needed. With said coupons duly sent off, the children wait, anticipating the fun they’ll have with the lion.

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A week later nothing has arrived although numerous others have their lions – real ones. Monday comes again and with it a delivery truck. Out steps – wait for it – a huge grizzly bear, the only trouble being it’s sent next door in error; well not quite the only trouble: Mr Harper’s back yard is trashed too.

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Complaints are made and the animal replaced but, not with a lion (they’d run out of those) but a crocodile. More complaints … another replacement animal  …

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a face to face encounter with the cereal people … compensation of the packet kind … furious children’s faces … some serious thinking …

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Mmm yes, the alternatives do have their advantages and after all, lions are just so common nowadays.
Well what about the next offer then? Err
This totally crazy tale, which brings together for the first time the talents of Michelle Robinson and Jim Field, is a joy to read aloud. The former has caught the conversational style of a young boy narrator beautifully. The latter’s wildly energetic illustrations are crammed full of delicious details to pore and giggle over.
Definitely destined to become a story time favourite.
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Upside Down Babies
Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press pbk
There is a wonderful, surprise twist at the end of this funny rhyming tale of a world turned upside down when ‘the earth went blue and the sky went brown.’ On this fateful topsy-turvy day, all the baby animals find themselves with the wrong mums. What is Mummy Cow to do when confronted with a Lion Cub demanding meat in the middle of a field?

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And baby Rooster’s dawn greeting of “Cock-a doodle-dee!” definitely does not go down well with a sleepy Mummy Owl trying to get some shut eye in her tree.

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With its bold, bright, wonderfully expressive pictures of the consternation all round and a text that trips off the tongue, ‘Baby Bunny bounced into Squirrel’s drey./He clung to a branch with his claws all day.’ this is one to share with the under sixes and will assuredly prompt many an encore to the huge enjoyment of readers and listeners alike.
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Clicking and Snipping with Chicken and Kittie

 

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Chicken Clicking
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press
If ever there was a picture book warning about the dangers of misusing the internet and on-line chat rooms in particular, then this is the one.
One night Little Chick ventures into the sleeping farmer’s house, accesses his computer and ‘CLICK!’ makes some unlikely purchases. The following night she returns spending more recklessly this time.

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The farmer blames his wife; she blames his software. Chick’s mouse mayhem continues with scooters for sheep,

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a car for the cows, a Spanish holiday for the bull and more; soon the farm is empty of animals. Alone now, she decides to find a friend online. With selfie taken and duly posted

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and personal details added, our little chick finds herself a feathery chat room friend.
A face-to-face meeting is arranged….
Wait, little chick; don’t you know the dangers of chat rooms? Should you be heading off to the Wily Wood all alone?

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The final page says it all.
This comical modern fable is told in cleverly contrived, CLICK!- infested, rhyme,
She put her photograph online
She gave her name and age.
CLICK! Another chick appeared
Upon the friendship page.

that builds so brilliantly to the dramatic finale, which readers, although not the gullible chick, anticipate with mounting alarm as the latter continues to click away.
The felicitous Willis/Ross partnership has worked its magic again. Tony Ross’s scenes of the chick and her click-happy purchases are slightly more subdued than some of his other work: his glowing washes with soft pastel/crayon lines are as seductive as the mouse mania that eventually lures Chick to her fateful meeting.
A must-have book for all.
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The Fairytale Hairdresser and Snow White
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Picture Corgi pbk
Kittie Lacey certainly has her work cut out when she embarks on a mission to disguise Snow White and keep her safe from the clutches of the evil queen. How she does so and at the same time helps love struck Snow White get her man is divulged within the pages of this, the fourth of the Fairytale hairdresser series.

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As ever with the Kittie Lacey tales, there is an abundance of fairytale and nursery rhyme characters (including a septet of musical dwarves), plentiful trimmings of the jokey kind and bunches of intertextual links to be made, not to mention that sparkly cover and wedding scene. Oh! And there’s a talking magic mirror too – courtesy of Red Riding Hood.
Great fun for Kittie fans, especially.
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Animal Alert!

A new Burningham book always calls for shouting and waving from the rooftops; this one, for me, especially so:

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The Way to the Zoo
John Burningham
Walker Books
When Sylvie discovers a door in her bedroom wall leading to steps and a passageway, of course she decides to investigate. Torch in hand, she moves along only to discover another door.
Hard work and determination make it yield and Sylvie comes face to face with a zoo full of animals.

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Back to bed she goes, taking with her as sleeping companion a small bear, with the proviso that it is returned to the zoo before school-time next morning.
This, naturally leads to other nocturnal visitors – the small ones only – to Sylvie’s bed but then she brings back penguins; these of course splash water all over the bathroom. Next night comes a tiger and cub, the next a whole collection of birds.

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Not all animals however, are suitable guests,
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others smell and size is an issue in a couple of instances …

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Then one morning, in a rush Sylvie forgets to close the bedroom wall door and on her return discovers that there’s been an animal invasion of the sitting room. Sylvie vents her wrath,

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the animals depart and it’s time for a hasty clean up before her mother returns – O OH!
Now, there’s a lesson to be learned there, Miss Sylvie.
As the inimitable John Burningham himself says, children do believe that their bears are real. Indeed, in my experience, at a young age, the line between fantasy and reality is often blurred and as teachers we frequently encourage their imaginative play and flights of fancy.
This wonderfully understated story works on several levels and the interplay of the verbal and visual is, as ever, truly brilliant Burningham.
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Barbapapa’s Ark
Annette Tison and Talus Taylor
Orchard Books
The shape-shifting Barpapapas don their ‘green’ hats and come to the aid of all manner of threatened animals in this story, be they suffering from pollution sickness, chased by hunters or hounded out of their ocean home by zealous fishermen.

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The hunters are particularly persistent with the result that even Barbabeau with his desirable fur pelt, finds himself in danger.

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Time for the Barba flea sprinklers to set to work …

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Eventually the Barbapapa Refuge is not only over flowing but in serious danger of the encroaching city’s pollution. A rocket-style ark is designed and the Barba family, Francois and Cindy plus all the animals blast off in search of a peaceful, green planet.
Only then do the earth’s inhabitants see the error of their ways: a clean up operation ensues, air and water are purified, promises made, trees planted. Finally Barbabright spies the newly greened planet Earth and the Barba family and animals return home.
The environmental message comes across loud and clear in this delightful re-issue and it is equally pertinent today as it was when the story was first published in 1970. (Interestingly, Talus Taylor, co-creator of the series was himself a biology teacher.) Let’s hope that the people of our earth pay more heed to the Barbapapas’ message this time.
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Zeraffa Giraffa
Dianne Hofmeyr and Jane Ray
Frances Lincoln
What is a giraffe doing in Paris of all places?
Crazy as it may sound, this gorgeous book relates how in 1824, Zeraffa is caught on the plains as a baby giraffe and sent by the Great Pasha of Egypt to the King of France as a gift.

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First though, she is slung on the side of a camel, fed on camel’s milk, then put on board a felucca sailing craft and travels from Africa all the way down the Nile to the coast

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and thence to France. From where, accompanied all the while by the devoted Atir who protects her and cares for her, their journey continues on foot to the palace of Saint-Cloud and where she becomes beloved by the King’s granddaughter too.

 

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Jane Ray’s glorious illustrations illuminate every facet of the journey from the start to Zeraffa’s triumphant welcome into Paris. There seemingly, the entire city is struck by an attack of ‘giraffism’, which embraces everything from baking to hairstyles, musical notation even.

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Ray’s patchwork of giraffe pieces is particularly fine and suitably tinged with humour.
Assuredly this beautifully told and illustrated story is an example of the oft said ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’
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newly out in paperback and previously reviewed are:

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Monkey Found a Baby
Jeanne Willis and Jane Chapman
Walker Books pbk
A charming rhythmic story about a baby monkey found by a larger one ‘beneath the banyan tree‘.
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and:

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The Ice Bear
Jackie Morris
Frances Lincoln pbk
This lyrical story from the beginning of time when people and animals shared the earth, tells of a polar bear cub, stolen from his mother by Raven, raised as their own child by hunters and much later, having wandered far away from home, forced to make a choice between two families.
Both words and pictures are of equal beauty. Morris’s paintings are both magical and awe-inspiring and as she says at the beginning of the story, ‘Words held a magic‘; assuredly hers do herein.
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Baby Booms, Blues and Bumps

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Boom, Baby, Boom Boom!
Margaret Mahy and Margaret Chamberlain
Frances Lincoln
As with any text penned by Margaret Mahy (what a sad loss she is), this one sparkles throughout with wit and joie de vie. We meet a smiling, musical Mama and her small offspring who is, in the first spread, being placed in her high chair in preparation for the delicious meal she is about to consume. That is the plan anyhow; what happens is altogether different. Unknown to Mama, who is ready for a spot of relaxing drumming, she is watched by a whole host of farmyard animals listening intently at the open window.

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As she drums the baby tosses each item of her wholesome spread onto the floor starting with the cheese. In dashes the yellow cat and hastily consumes it. So begins a concatenation of food hurling and animal consuming as the brown dog, red rooster and hens, black-faced sheep

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and brown- and-white cow all dash in and gratefully gobble in turn, the bread and honey, apple slices, lettuce leaves and carrots and then exit again. Back comes an envigorated mama, spies the empty plate, congratulates the baby on eating her lunch and after hugs and kisses, feeds her a banana. And guess what, that
baby ate it all up.
                                                 Boom-biddy-boom-biddy
                                                          YUM-YUM-YUM!
The story is an absolute joy to read aloud and Margaret Chamberlain splendidly captures the upbeat tenor of the telling in her hilarious illustrations and at the same time, adds her own humorous touches, further adding to the book’s sparkling delights.
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Baby’s Got the Blues
Carol Diggory Shields and Lauren Tobia
Walker Books
How does it feel to be a baby? Have you ever wondered from your adult standpoint? Well, here we have it, told from the viewpoint of the baby narrator of this book.
They certainly don’t have it easy – well definitely not this one, indeed it’s enough to give you the blues, the baby blues no less. Soggy nappies in sleep suits, stinky dampness,

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unsatisfying yucky, gum friendly food, falling over flat and behind those jail-like bars blues.

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But, then come the compensatory cuddles and kisses and I love yous; just what’s needed to chase away those
B-A-B-Y’  blues  – oh yeah!
Actually though, life is not quite as bad as all that. In this up-to the minute family, Baby’s Mum is a pony-tailed wearer of jogging bottoms with loving, scoop you up arms ready at just the right moment and there is an older, red-haired sibling who sports a princess crown and knows just how to make sure she is always part of the action.
With its swinging, catchy and chantable text and delicious scenes that capture small domestic details to perfection, (big sister and baby wearing matching bibs for instance,) this is likely to become a firm favourite wherever there is a bouncing babe. Lauren Tobia seems set to follow in Helen Oxenbury’s footsteps.
In a word, gorgeous.
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Emily Peppermint’s Toy School
Jeanne Willis and Vanessa Cabban
Walker Books
It’s the first day of term at Emily Peppermint’s educational establishment but what is on the curriculum for the new pupils? Unlike other schools, the main subject, Emily informs toys Gumbo, Little Ted, Edie, Shmoo and Tinny Tim. is ‘children’ and where best to start? With babies, of course. ‘ “Babies aren’t made like toys,” explained Emily. “They’re born and grow into children.” ‘Grow?” gasped Edie. “If I grew, my knickers wouldn’t fit!” “You forgot to put them on,” said Gumbo.’

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So, that’s development dealt with in brief.
Now onto practical lessons: We larger humans all know what babies in prams do with their toys. So, the next important thing to learn is how to fall out of a pram safely when ejected baby- style; hard hats are needed for this one.

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All teachers know the value of using the outdoors as a learning environment so the class moves alfresco, to the top of a hill no less. First to jump, or rather fling himself, is Tinny Tin. His jump triggers a frantic downhill chase with the toys ending up SPLAT! in a muddy heap.
There’s only one thing for it – the next lesson … swimming.

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Much of Jean Willis’s text is in the form of dialogue spoken between the toys themselves or Emily and her pupils; it is full of gentle humour and the idea of presenting babies from a toys’ perspective is inspired. Vanessa Cabban beautifully captures that humour in her diverting scenes of classroom capers and comical misadventures.
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This is me, EATING!
Neal Layton
Walker Books
This is a deliciously upbeat addition to the ‘first experiences’ series of board books. Herein we meet Mum, Dad, Dog, Granny, Worm and the small, totally endearing infant narrator, as they eat ‘a crunchy apple’, ‘a sticky sandwich’, ‘a big bone’, ‘smelly cheese’, ‘mucky mud’ and

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‘lots of things’ respectively. Just half a dozen spreads but so much to relish both visually and verbally; altogether a tasty treat for the very youngest. In addition, with its patterned text and illustrations that are closely matched with the large print sentences, young beginning readers might well whet their palates on this one.
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I Love You, Baby
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
A happy-sounding, shock-haired toddler introduces the brand new baby:
One fat tummy, tight like a drum. Two little cheeks on one little bum!

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We share a family day together, with Mum who drives the car, Dad who baths the babe (along with elder sibling).

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Then they sit down to a snack together, take a walk with babe tucked up tight in the pram,

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back home for a squishy, kissy cuddle up, another bathing session for the babe followed by a goodnight cuddle and kiss on those ‘two warm cheeks, all rosy and bright,
Finally it’s time for sleep and the toddler and parents gaze adoringly at the sleeping newcomer to their family. All the while, the focus is on the little babe though the charming narrator, sporting a number 1 T-shirt, seems pretty sure of his place in the pecking order and remains an equal partner in the action throughout. Let’s just hope this bliss remains!
Another winner from the Andreae/Dodd duo: pleasingly readable, bouncy rhyming text that is pitch-perfect for those oh so cute, child characters, so winningly portrayed.
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Birthday Bonanza

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Boa’s Bad Birthday
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press
Boa is anticipating his best ever birthday. He’s invited his friends to join him and wonders what gifts they might bring. But Orang-utan’s outsize parcel and the presents from Monkey, Jaguar, Sloth and Ant Eater are all disappointments.

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Then his mother announces the arrival of Dung Beetle. Her present will be a pile of – – – – thinks Boa. He’s right of course but inside that stinky dung ball is a small seed and from that seed sprouts something very special that in due course, becomes the perfect place for a Boa to hang around in. The moral of this story is, ‘Never turn your nose up at a stinky present; you never know what delights it might hold in store.’
The sight of Ross’s Boa, sporting his conical party hat and showing a whole range of expressions from sobbing despair to snaky smiles is a real treat as are his depictions of the other animals bearing their self-centred offerings.
The understated humour of Jean Willis’ straight-talking text is the perfect counterpart to Ross’ illlustrations.
The Willis/Ross partnership just goes from strength to strength.
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Dylan engrossed in Captain Beastie’s birthday celebrations

Captain Beastie’s Pirate Party
Lucy Coats and Chris Mould
Nosy Crow pbk
Join the disgusting Captain Beastie as he counts down the five days left till his birthday while engaging in his unpleasant habits. When Saturday dawns the Captain wakes early and gets a big surprise: all his unsavoury clothes have vanished over night. An even bigger surprise is to follow though – a scrub in a large tub courtesy of his long-suffering crew.

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Then, after a detangle and a towel wrap, our squeaky clean Captain spies a large parcel wherein awaits a spanking new pirate suit and hat. Time for some celebratory singing, cake and other tasty tidbits. ‘Oops!’ What’s that you’ve spattered all over your new suit Captain?
Avast! me ‘arties; hasten aboard for a splendidly riotous romp with marvellously Mouldy illustrations dotted with suitably disgusting details of Beastie’s detritus and a host of other nasties. Miss the Captain’s party at your peril.
I suspect shouts of “again” will be the order of the day where this one is concerned.
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International Book Giving Day is on Friday 14th

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Animals real and imagined

Here is a handful of books that got left over in the run-up to Christmas:

S Ann Elep

James was greatly amused by the elephantine invasion

The Slightly Annoying Elephant
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Who is knocking loudly on Sam’s front door? His mum back from the shops? A friend? Not a person at all in fact but an enormous blue pachyderm with a suitcase demanding entrance and claiming that Sam has adopted him. Well, he did sign one of those adopt-an -animal type forms at the zoo. Did he read the small print though? What do you think?
So now all the way from Africa is a very rude elephant wanting a bath, food – lots of it,
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a bike, and a place for a nap. With the house in chaos, can things possibly get any worse? Erm … a whole herd worse. Who’s a Silly Boy then?
Yes there are nods to Judith Kerr’s classic The Tiger Who Came to Tea, but this is David Walliams (of Gangsta Granny and Demon Dentist fame) with his over-the -top, wickedly wacky humour in a debut picture book and he has collaborated with master illustrator, Tony Ross who has created the marvellous scenes of madness and mayhem.
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Tuck me in

Daniel absorbed in the story

Tuck Me In!
Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt
Walker Books pbk
It’s time for bed.
Who needs to be tucked in?
So begins this cleverly interactive bedtime story wherein we meet a whole host of adorable baby animals
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each waiting for a cosy blanket to be placed over them as the stars twinkle above and the crescent moon rises in the night sky.
The straightforward, question and answer repetitive text means that young listeners will quickly start joining in and before long will be reading along and then reading for themselves, this delightful book.
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Little Big Mouth
Jeanne Willis and Lydia Monks
Walker Books pbk.
We all know that name calling is abhorrent so why does Little Green Monster take such delight in calling Blue Monster such things as ‘BAT eared, NIBBLE NAILED short STUMPS!’ or ‘Frog MOUTHED SKINNY RIBBED frilly knickers!’ to name just two of the insulting names he hurls at the newcomer on his first day at Monster Academy? (There are many more combinations readers can concoct by making use of the split pages strategically placed at intervals throughout the book.)
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I’m happy to say though that Little Green Monster’s intolerable behaviour is brought to an  abrupt end when he discovers just who has been on the receiving end of his bad-mouthing. Lesson learned? Let’s hope so – well and truly!
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Barbapapa’s Voyage
Annette Tison and Talus Taylor
Orchard Books
Those of us who remember the seventies may well recall the adventures of a large pink blobby shape-shifter who was born in a garden, discovered by and subsequently became friends with, a boy named Francois. Now, thanks to Orchard Books, the adventures of this larger than life character can be enjoyed by a new generation of children. In this particular story, Francois, concerned at Barpapapa’s listlessness and low spirits, takes his pal to the animal doctor for a check-up. The diagnosis is not sickness but loneliness: a Barbamama is needed. So, with friend Cindy, Francois is given permission to accompany Barbapapa on a quest to discover one of these rarities.
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Their eventful and sometimes hazardous search takes the three to London, India, New York, even to other planets, but without any success. When finally they return safely to their own garden, what should they find but a large black Barbamama. Then it’s a case of love at first sight and after some weeks, there are seven new additions to the Barba family, one green, one pink, one yellow, one purple, one orange, one blue; there’s even one Barbababy with long black hair (which was extremely lucky!). See the end papers for a family portrait.
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Robert Crowther’s Pop-Up World of Animals
Robert Crowther
Walker Books
Visit five contrasting locations in the latest offering from Crowther, master of paper engineering. At each location we are shown the fauna in their habitat and both habitat and each of the many animals featured per pop-out spread has a brief informative paragraph. We see the Savannah grasslands, dive down to the Ocean depths to see submarine life, then view a Desert region, the frozen seas and land of Polar regions and finally, the equatorial Rainforest. There are numerous tabs, flaps, pop-ups and pop-outs.

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Shanu and Shifu, brothers from Rajasthan, investigating how the book works

All in all, a fascinating and thoroughly interactive experience.
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Interactive in a different way – try stopping yourself singing along to this one – is:
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What Does the Fox Say?
Ylvis and Svein Nyhus
Simon & Schuster pbk
I love the picture book rendition of the wacky YouTube hit, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jofNR_WkoCE  by the Norwegian brothers duo that has recently been on the lips of countless children everywhere. I have heard it in several primary schools I have visited in recent weeks.
Yes, the words are pretty ridiculous but I’d buy the book for the illustrations alone  Using a limited colour palatte, Nyhus has created a series of wonderful, slightly surreal scenes that remind me somewhat, of picture books versions of traditional coyote tales

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and those crazy choruses are great fun for sound/symbol association activities. (Try putting them onto an interactive white-board. Children could even make up some more of their own.)
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Find and buy from your local bookseller: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

Tinies and Monsters

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Very Little Red Riding Hood
Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap
David Fickling Books
With Red Teddy in hand and blanket, tea-set and a box of cakes safely stowed in her pull along bag, Very Little Red Riding Hood sets out to her Grandmama’s for a sleepover. Before long, what should she meet but a Wolf. “A Foxie!” she cries in delight giving him a big hug. More than a little put out at her lack of fear and her refusal to give him a cake, the Wolf suggests gathering a bouquet for Grandmama. Red – insists our feisty young heroine, inviting ‘Foxie’ to a game of chase all the way to Grandmama’s and a ‘cuppatea’ when they get there. But is this a step too far? Well, there’s a rib-tickling ending but if you want to find out what happens, then get your hands on this sweetly funny variation of the traditional story.
With her toddler talk and winning smile, Very Little Red Riding Hood is an absolute charmer.

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Rosa and Nina sharing Little Red’s exploits

The end papers show the route she took to her Grandmama’s house but also a number of other homes occupied by ‘Very Little’ fairy tale characters. Is this then the start of a series? I do hope so. Certainly this first time collaboration between Heapy and Heap is a whole heap of fun.
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The Tiny King
Taro Miura
Walker Books
In a castle far away lived a king. But the castle was very, very big and the king was a very, very Tiny King. The Tiny King had a big army and a big, big table for his meals but delicious food isn’t much fun if you’re all alone. It’s a good thing then, that the Tiny King fell head over heels in love with a princess, albeit a Big Princess and she agreed to be his wife. Before long, the Tiny King and the Big Queen had lots of children and what seemed like a very big castle for one Tiny King now felt just right with ten children playing and laughing the whole day.
Of course, big families mean lots of sharing: sharing meals, sharing the space on the big white horse’s back and sharing a riotous bath time; and what comes of sharing? Happiness; certainly that’s so in the case of the Tiny King.
Japanese artist and author, Taro Muira uses precision, patterned cut-outs in bold, bright colours and white, to construct simple shaped collage scenes, which stand out dramatically against flat black backgrounds. These scenes remind me of scenes from young children’s small world and construction play.

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Told in a straightforward manner, this simple neo fairy tale is a delight to share with under fives.
(Quite apart from the story, there is a wealth of learning opportunities here: talking about sharing, counting, identifying shapes, mathematical language and concepts relating to size, pattern making, block play, collage and small world castle play.)
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Upside Down Babies
Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press
There is a lovely twist at the end of this funny rhyming tale of a world turned upside down when ‘the earth went blue and the sky went brown.’ On this fateful topsy-turvy day, all the baby animals find themselves with the wrong mothers. What is Mummy Camel to do when confronted with a baby Polar Bear in the middle of the desert and baby Rooster’s dawn greeting of “Cock-a doodle-dee” definitely does not go down well with a sleepy Mummy Owl trying to get some shut eye in her tree.
With its bold, bright, wonderfully expressive pictures of the consternation all round, and a text that trips off the tongue, this is one to share  with the under sixes and will prompt many an encore to the huge enjoyment of readers and listeners alike.
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Enormouse
Angie Morgan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Enormouse was big; much, much bigger than all the other mice in Mouse House. But being big had its advantages. Enormouse could lift REALLY heavy cheese, reach high up things and give lifts to tired-legged little mice. One day while out exploring he and his best friend Tinymouse find a large book with pictures of furry animals. That’s when Tinymouse concludes that his pal is actually A RAT. How the other mice laugh at poor Enormouse. Off he goes to find a new home with the rats but, what a shock he gets on arriving at ‘Rats’ House’; there’s mess everywhere. His offer to clean up is laughed at and once again Enormouse feels at odds with his housemates. In the meantime, his mouse friends have seen the error of their ways and set off in the hope of bringing their absent friend back home. But it’s now dark and they don’t know where to go…
From the mouse photo portrait endpapers, every turn of the page brings much to talk about and explore in the mixed media illustrations. The squalor of the rats’ house is truly disgusting with the grubby rodents lolling amongst half eaten fruit, discarded chips, over-turned cans, fish bones, filth and flies. You can almost smell the pong.

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Rosa couldn’t resist coming to see what we were so disgusted at.

The story too offers plenty of food for thought with its themes of not judging by appearances, self-belief, friendship and finding ones place in the world.
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Here Be Monsters
Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
Macmillan Children’s Books
With the fiercest pirate crew and the fastest pirate ship, fearless Captain Cut-Throat is the meanest pirate to sail the seas. So, when he hears of an island strewn with giant gemstones he is determined to set sail straight away. His crew members though are far from happy; monsters are hiding in the mist, so the legend tells. At first all goes well but then they reach the MIST from which emanates all manner of alarming sounds. “Sail on!” commands the Captain and they do – into the swirling white. ‘ “Here be monsters!” cried the lookout…
‘ “Nonsense!” growled the Captain. “Monsters simply don’t exist.” ‘

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And so he maintains, heading on, unaware of the diminishing crew numbers, until an island comes into view. Once ashore, the penny finally drops but undaunted, the greedy Captain has his mind only on those giant jewels littering the shore. Oh foolish one!
Emmett’s riotous rollicking rhyme rattles along apace and when read aloud, it will have delighted audiences joining in with the repeated refrain of the fearless captain, as they see what he does not – his crew disappearing one by one.
Poly Bernatene draws his inspiration for the dastardly crew from the less attractive members of the animal kingdom with crow, rat, crocodile and blue-bottomed baboon all featuring. The almost filmic quality of his arresting illustrations adds to the dramatic impact of the story.
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