Group Hug

Group Hug
Jean Reedy and Joey Chou
Scallywag Press

We humans so longed to be able to hug our friends and relations during the worst of the pandemic when it was not allowed, and so it is with the slug at the start of this jaunty, rhyming story.

Said slug soon comes upon a lone beetle looking as though some physical contact would do it the world of good and a heart-warming hug is duly bestowed.

Then, one by one along come Mouse, Skunk (exceedingly stinky), Squirrel (upon which Skunk had deposited some if its long-lingering aroma), a busy Beaver,

Porcupine (willing to shake off some of its prickles),

a groundhog, a goose, a fox, a moose and finally Bear. Each animal is welcomed into the cumulative hugging embrace with the refrain ‘GROUP HUG’ except Bear. The appearance of the lumbering ursine creature causes the others to break away and scatter far and wide in fright.

Now only Slug (the brave one) and Bear remain. Good old, knowing Slug ,with an unfailing source of warm-hearted embraces, is ready and willing to spread the love

thus precipitating the return of the others from their hiding places for the hugest ever huggers’ huddle.

Jean Reidy’s telling comprises story elements both young listeners and beginning readers delight in: a repeat refrain (the title in this case), a spare rhythmic rhyming text, gentle humour, along with themes of kindness, acceptance and inclusivity. All this, together with Joey Chou’s digital scenes, each of which is imbued with a sense of community delight, make for a welcome heart-warming hug of a book for group sharing and individual reading.

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut / Make & Play: Space / Balloon to the Moon

Here are three very different books all with a space theme:

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut
Ruth Quayle and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow

Space engineer, Suzy Orbit lives with her boss, Captain Gizmo in a lunar space station.

One morning they learn that aliens have been spotted within range of their location and they need to act quickly to launch their space pod. The Captain orders one forthwith but it arrives without batteries and those the Captain has don’t fit.
Furthermore his shiny new space suit is way too small and as the aliens have by now arrived, it’s pointless trying to get a new speak-o-phone.

Happily though, the aliens are peaceable beings but they have bad news to share. Earth is about to be blasted by a meteor storm unless Suzy and her boss can stop it. No pressure there then.

Fortunately Suzy, with her tools always to hand, is an engineer extraordinaire and just happens to have a wonderful new invention ready and waiting. It’s as well that one of the team realises that it’s better to rely on ingenuity than ordering things on the net. Before you can say ‘blaster’ the two are heading out into the meteor storm with Suzy at the controls to do battle with those errant meteoroids. Can they save the day and see off the storm?

It’s great to see Suzy as a positive STEM character in the role of engineer/inventor in Ruth Quayle’s quirky tale. Jez Tuya’s bold illustrations show her as having determination and resourcefulness – exactly what’s needed in the face of the Captain’s lack of drive and inability to show any innovative aptitude.

Make & Play: Space
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

The latest of Joey Chou’s Make & Play interactive activity book series is sure to please young space enthusiasts.
It contains eight pages of bold, brightly coloured, double-sided press-out play pieces that can be used to create a space scene (some have a hole to suspend with thread while others slide together to stand). The entire set would make a great diorama with space dogs, aliens, astronauts and spacecraft, though if desired, the pieces can be fitted back into the spirally bound book for safe keeping.

There are also other space-related activities – a fruit rocket made from fresh fruit pieces; a song to learn; a ‘blast-off rocket’ science experiment, alien models to create (they could be made into puppets perhaps) and more.
There are hours of fun to be had with this, whether used by an individual, or a small group of young children.

For older space enthusiasts is:

Balloon to the Moon
Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielson
Big Picture Press

Rather than concentrating on the Space Race, this takes a historic look at the steps that began in the late 18th century with the Montgolfier brothers flight of a large unmanned balloon and led on to their sending a variety of animals skywards on a 3km flight three months later.

In the same year came the first manned untethered flight by inventor Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes who flew 8km in a Montgolfier balloon. Hot on their heels came the first woman to do similar, the following year (1784). There’s a whole spread given over to this balloon bonanza.

The narrative then shifts to the first half of the 20th century with a look at some aviation pioneers, followed by a focus on some iconic planes.

I was especially pleased to find some literary references on the opening page of the ‘rockets section’ where there’s a mention of both Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne. The author uses numbers in her selection of what she includes so we have, for instance ‘8 Rockets’

and ‘Into the Unknown 7’. The seven referring to the seven animals that became the first astronauts; and this chapter cleverly links these with an explanation of g-forces and their relation to fighter pilots and astronauts.

Much of the remaining part of the book provides information on the endeavours of the US and the Soviet Union to win the space race; and what happened thereafter. In conclusion there’s a quick look at some of the new information the Apollo Moon flights gave us; what ‘space travel has done for life on earth’ and a final look to the future.

Christopher Nielson’s retro style illustrations are full of humorous touches adding to the allure of the book and the enjoyment of the whole narrative.

Early Years Christmas Miscellany

Christmas
Lisa Jones and Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

What a gorgeous introduction to the festive season for a little babe is the latest in Lisa and Edward’s Baby’s First Cloth Book series.

Baby Boo, suitably clad is taken outdoors into the snow where, to the song of a bird, Daddy and infant build a snowman. Back inside the fire gives a warm glow, the Christmas tree lights sparkle and soon Santa will come with a special gift for Baby Boo.

With its crinkly pages and buggy handle, this book in a box would make a lovely gift for a new parent this Christmas.

Decked Out for Christmas
Ethan Long
Abrams Appleseed

The mouse elves are all prepared; it’s time to start decorating. Out come the lights, the garland, the baubles, and the star.
But why sunglasses and hot chocolate and surely a map and air freshener aren’t needed to adorn a tree?

Eventually in a fun twist, Ethan Long reveals all. It’s a turbo-charged sleigh those elves have been busily decorating: now who might that belong to? …

Just right to share as you and your toddler set about decorating your tree.

Make & Play Christmas
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

Unlike other titles in this series where you can make an entire scene, the press-out pieces from this festive book slot together or are used separately to make twenty seasonal decorations – Santa, a reindeer, an angel, snowflakes and a star, bells and baubles, candy canes and a Christmas tree to hang on your tree.
There are also pages with instructions for making paper chains and wrapping paper, recipes for gingerbread biscuits and snowball truffles, the words of the ever popular Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas and those little ones who like messier things can use their hands and feet to print a reindeer’s head: (if done on thick paper or card these might be turned into Christmas cards).

Helpfully the decorations can be dismantled and popped back into the book to keep them safe until next year.

Construction Site on Christmas Night
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Ag Ford
Chronicle Books

Christmas is almost here but the construction vehicle team has one final job to complete: they’re building a very special house and they really must get it done.

Into action roars Bulldozer first and for his trouble he receives a special thank you gift.

So it is with Excavator, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck and Crane: each one gets a special ‘thank you’ surprise at the end of the day.

Then across the snow comes the fleet of fire-trucks, bells a-ringing. What awaits this merry ‘fire crew’ as they come to a halt for the night? …

Full of the seasonal spirit of friendship and kindness, the rhyming narrative with its repeat refrain “Merry Christmas! … Goodnight.” together with richly coloured spreads of the construction vehicles against a snowy townscape make for a truck-lovers delight.

Make & Play Safari

Make & Play Safari
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

This latest Make and Play theme will last all year round and enthuse young makers with a variety of activities, the most important being the construction of a safari scene, once the various pieces from the first eight pages have been pressed out and slotted together.

You get a jeep transporting a family of enthusiastic-looking safari goers with cameras and map,

zebras and a hippo, a lion family, two giraffes, a pair of crocodiles, meerkats, another hippo, an adult and infant elephant, a couple of monkeys to swing in a tree, a rhino and another tree with a leopard resting in its branches.

With these sturdy items – both sides of each piece is coloured – children can create and re-create different small world scenes and then carefully replace the various parts back in the equally robust card pages. (Very small children will need a little assistance in the construction and replacing of parts.)

Joey Chou’s art will appeal to youngsters, as will the activities on the other spreads. The crafty ideas are making a ‘bendy monkey’ and a pair of binoculars; the foodie ones are, a yummy snake sandwich and equally tasty-looking animal cupcakes; instructions are provided for creating a safari map to use in a game outdoors.

The words of a ‘Five Little Monkeys’ song take up another spread. I would have chosen another Five Little Monkeys song that has the monkeys swinging from a tree teasing Mr Crocodile, as it seems to fit the overall theme better, but that’s a small criticism.

All in all this is excellent value and should engage young users for a considerable time, not just the once, but over and over.

Festive Fun for the Very Young

Listen to the Christmas Songs
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow

Half a dozen favourite seasonal songs are illustrated – one per spread – and each one can be brought to life by pressing the sound button on the respective spread.
(Adults can turn off the switch at the end of the book when they’ve had enough of the jollity.)
Interactive, sing along fun for the very young illustrated with bright animal scenes of festive fun and frolics.

Snow Dog
Puffin Books

To share with the very youngest, a dog-shaped board book with short rhyming text tells how the playful Snowdog runs and jumps, chases his ball and generally enjoys the company of his friends be they of the snowman or human kind.
Five snowy scenes show all the fun of the chilly outdoors.

Make & Play Nativity
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

Here’s a nice strong, easy-to-assemble Nativity scene for small fingers.
It comprises twenty characters, some human, others animal that are easy to slot together, and in so doing, youngsters can hone their manipulative skills as a lovely seasonal scene is constructed.
Joey Chou’s artwork has a delightful simplicity that may well inspire users to make some of their own figures to add to the completed scene.
I’d suggest sharing the Nativity story included in the latter part of the book before starting on the construction. Once this is complete, then there are other activities including making an adventure calendar, songs to sing and more.
A festive delight that can (the pieces are easy to take apart after Christmas) be used over and over, either in a nursery setting or a family.

All I Want for Christmas
Rachel Bright
Orchard Books

In this short rhyming tale we join penguins – one Big, one Little- as they count down the days to Christmas.
There is plenty to keep them busy: baking, wrapping presents, making cards and decorations and seemingly, the entire penguin population is eagerly anticipating what will be under the Christmas tree.

There’s one penguin however who has no need to join the queue to post a letter to Santa, for the one thing Big really wants above all else is right there all the time: it’s a 4-lettered word beginning with l: can you guess what that might be?

A Moose on the Loose & Some Monsters

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There’s a Moose on the Loose
Lucy Feather and Stephan Lomp
Nosy Crow
When Moose leaves his rural residence and heads for the big city, it’s not long before everyone therein knows there’s a MOOSE ON THE LOOSE. First port of call is the fire station through which he dashes, catching a fireman’s bucket on his antler as he goes. From there he visits a department store full of shoppers where he adds a wellie boot to the bucket on his antler and a shop assistant joins the fireman in the chase.
Imagine the mayhem a loose moose in a busy library can cause, especially when there are several book-filled floors but our moose isn’t hanging about here, particularly as he’s somehow managed to add a dictionary to the items attached to his antlers and now the librarian too is in hot pursuit. There’s no stopping our moose though as he dashes on, galloping madly through the museum, speeding through the supermarket, hurtling through the hospital, careering through the castle, sploshing through the swimming pool …

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sprinting through the school collecting all manner of objects upon those antlers and increasing the number of pursuers at each location. Then, he goes bounding through an apartment block …

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and up onto its roof where it seems his presence, though not that of all his pursuers, is awaited. Oh NO! Now it looks as if our rampaging moose has forgotten something; he certainly doesn’t seem full of the party spirit …

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Uh-oh – there he goes again …

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My readers were immediately sucked in to the action and eagerly dashed through the book following the footsteps of moose and then immediately turned back to the beginning and spent a considerable time exploring each detailed, action-packed spread. It’s absolutely full of comic scenarios such as the elephant having a hair do, the music lover in the library …

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and the impending trolley disaster on the supermarket ramp and if you are looking for a book that generates interactive talk between young children, then this one is definitely a good bet.
It has all kinds of potential in the classroom; for mapping, counting, positional vocabulary and more but most important, it’s enormously entertaining. I had to beg my copy back out of the hands of a group of enthusiastic children, and that surely speaks for itself.

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Monster & Son
David Larochelle and Joey Chou
Chronicle Books
We share in fun and games monster style as all manner of dads and their offspring engage in such activities as throw and catch …

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chase and tag, tickling, fishing, making music …

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building a hideout, telling jokes, piggy back riding and occasionally pausing for a snack.
These are the daytime activities of the mock-scary creatures –ghosts, ghouls, yetis, werewolves, dragons and the like – that inhabit this book. When the night comes and the moon shines bright, it’s no surprise to discover that their bedtime rituals are pretty much the same as those of humans – filled with love and gentleness – ahhhh!
In addition to the innocent-sounding rhyming narrative running through the book, there are stories aplenty to be found in Joey Chou’s digital illustrations rendered in suitably subdued hues. Indeed, it’s the mismatch between what is said and what is seen that is key here: The dragon laughter is such that it sets a castle blazing; the snack being gorged on is a car, the occupants of which look on helplessly …

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and the sea serpents’ ball game is causing boats to founder and capsize.

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