Billy and the Dragon

Billy and the Dragon
Nadia Shireen
Jonathan Cape

One of my favourite picture book characters from last year, Billy, and her sidekick Fatcat, return for another action-packed adventure.

It all begins with the two setting out to a fancy dress party, Fatcat rather more reluctantly, but fuelled by the promise of cake.

On arrival Billy greets their friends while Fatcat heads straight for the food. He doesn’t quite make it though for he’s seized by enormous claws and whisked skywards.

After a quick rummage around in her hair Billy produces a telescope that she uses to locate Fatcat’s whereabouts

and operation ‘save Fatcat’ commences.

Billy, the mice, the little bunny rabbits, Fox and Hedgehog (less enthusiastically) head for the Deep Dark Forest. How on earth (or sky) is Billy going to get herself up the massive tree wherein Fatcat has been plonked?

Happily Hedgehog has come with some of the party stuff. But a fiery roar from the fearsome dragon kidnapper puts paid to her first attempt and then the catnapper takes to the air again, coming to land in an even more terrifying spot.

So terrifying in fact that only Billy continues on the perilous journey during which she comes upon and ‘rescues’ a scaly little creature that she takes along with her.

This might just be the wisest move she’s made, for eventually this is the sight that meets her eyes …

Once again, Nadia’s perfectly paced story is a winner; it’s full of moments to savour and the drama is brought out so brilliantly in her smashing scenes of the chief protagonist and her supporting animal cast. (Watch out for the worm.)

Bring on the next one.

More Would You Rather

More Would You Rather …
John Burningham
Jonathan Cape (Penguin Random House Children’s Books)

There’s been a recent spate of books celebrating the amazing achievements of women and men from all walks of life and from all over the world, as well as others putting forward the notion that where girls are concerned, they can do anything they set their minds to.
In his new book, John Burningham, (or rather the cheeky-looking child on the cover) invites readers to do something rather different; to ponder somewhat more unlikely possibilities posited in a series of questions. He wants us to consider the unlikely, and to make a choice about such rather disgusting sounding scenarios as having a camel being sick down your neck, an elephant emitting an extremely stinky toot, or falling flat in a field full of cows and your face landing in a pile of s— .

Pet ‘perhapses’ are – a cuddly koala, a vicious-looking vulture, a jagged-toothed alligator or a winsome woolly sheep. Hmm?

Just imagine the excuses you’d have to come up with should you be careless enough ‘to break Granny’s favourite jug’, ‘scratch the car’ or ‘spill paint all over the carpet’ – whoops!

Then, supposing if for no apparent reason you were the source of amusement to all and sundry; would that be better than having an eagle steal all your clothes? (Even worse might be the latter happening in front of that crowd.)

I’ve never got sufficiently close up to a hippo of any sort, let alone one with bad breath, and I don’t have an Aunt Zelda, but I wouldn’t relish having to cope with either of those bestowing a kiss upon me. On with the trainers and a hasty retreat, would be my response.
Think about having to spend a night under the stars – no not at a seaside campsite – but with your bed on the moon; is that preferable to nestling up with a whole lot of baby birds, or is the safety of your own bed the best option?

I wonder …
And that phrase is the key to this fabulous book. I’ve spent countless happy hours with various classes of children UUUUGGGHH! -ing and YUCK!-ing, laughing over, deliberating on, , discussing and generally having a whole lot of fun, with Burningham’s original Would You Rather so I cannot wait to share this one with all its imagination-rousing potential.

Need more ideas for your children’s holiday reading: try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

The Last Wolf

The Last Wolf
Mini Grey
Jonathan Cape

One of this blog’s very favourite stories – the fairy tale from which its name derives in fact – Little Red Riding Hood is wonderfully re-imagined by the fabulous Mini Grey who gives it an ecological twist.

When Little Red dons her hunting gear and armed with popgun and lunch box, sets off into the forest ‘to catch a wolf” her Mum is far from worried; after all it’s been over a century since the last wolf sighting.

Appearances are deceptive however and her initial stalking activities yield only a rubbish bag and a tree stump …

so deeper into the forest our little hunter determinedly goes until she comes upon a door in an enormous tree trunk.
Eventually the door is opened by none other than the Last Wolf in the land.

Within Red discovers a cosy cave that is home not only to the Last Wolf but also the Last Bear and the Last Lynx.

Intrigued by this “human child” the wolf invites Red in for some tea. Red is equally intrigued to learn that the wolf and his pals have acquired the tea drinking habit and over a nice cuppa, they reminisce about the good old days when the forest was extensive and full of delicious things to eat, in stark contrast to the present parlous state.

Seeing the hungry look in the eyes of her hosts, Red decides to share her lunch and as the animals set about devouring the offerings – a hard-boiled egg, a sausage roll and a chicken sandwich – she chomps on her apple and ponders upon their plight and how best she might help them.

Once home, and yes her new friends do see her safely through the Last Woods to her front door, Red and her mum set about project reforestation.

In this ecological fable Mini Grey chooses her words for maximum effect (‘whooling noises and grabby twigs’ and ‘’a thousand tasty grazing beasts to bite …’) though her illustrations to do much of the story telling. And what a powerful impact they have especially this one …

Altogether a terrific book and one that listeners will demand over and over as they are swept along by the drama and flow of Mini Grey’s pictorial sequences: the way she expands the story-telling potential of each spread is genius.
There are witty literary allusions for adults to enjoy too in the portraits displayed on the tree-cave walls.
Absolutely unmissable!

Mouse House

Mouse House
John Burningham
Jonathan Cape

John Burningham returns to the theme of mice for the first time since his 1964 classic, Troubloff: the mouse who wanted to play the balalaika.
The mouse, or rather family of mice in this story has no musical inclinations; rather they desire only to live peaceably alongside the human family whose house they share.
The mice are fully aware of the humans, keeping well out of their way and only emerging at night once the humans have retired to bed.
The humans in contrast, are completely ignorant of their co-residents.
One evening though, on his way to bed, the boy spies a small furry creature …

Before you can say, “Look, there is a mouse,” his father has called the rodent exterminator.
The children are firmly on the side of the mice insisting they’re harmless. They have just until morning to alert them; so they write a note warning them of the imminent danger.
Exit one mouse family …

The following morning the mouse catcher comes: job done, so he says.
The children know otherwise and watch the mice at play from their bedroom window, even making things for them to play on.

But, with the coming of winter, their playthings and the mice are nowhere to be seen. Where can they have gone, without even leaving a note, the children want to know.
I wonder …
In this exploration of the secret world of mice and children, Burningham’s work is as fresh as ever, yet has that enduring, timeless appeal for both youngsters and adults. The former will revel in sharing the children’s secret and the artist’s delicate touch; the latter will delight in the detail, including the copy of Borka, (an early Burningham classic), being clutched by the boy on his way to bed. And who wouldn’t be charmed by the sight of the mouse child holding his cuddly toy …

I’ve signed the charter  



Aspects of Love

DSCN5333 (684x800)

Evermore Dragon
Barbara Joosse and Randy Cecil
Walker Books
The friendship forged in Lovabye Dragon between Girl and Dragon grows deeper here as the two decide upon the game for the day. Hide-and-Seek it will be and off goes Dragon to hide – supposedly.

DSCN5334 (800x475)

Like the good friend that she is though, Girl plays along searching diligently high and low although she can surely see that Drag-enormo self until …

DSCN5335 (800x480)

Then it’s Girl’s turn to hide and off she runs and runs … to a faraway hidey-hole where she waits … and waits and yawns and …
Dragon meanwhile continues to search but where oh where can Girl be?

DSCN5336 (800x477)

Girl awakes in the ‘Deep, deep, dark night.’ Dragonless and entirely alone and,
she cried silver tears/ worry worry tears/ and her heart thumped a sound/ a trem-below sound/ that only Dragon friends,/ very very special friends, can hear.’
And Dragon hears the summoning cry and, lighting up the sky with his dragon breath he flies to her rescue, enveloping her in his wings.

DSCN5337 (655x800)

I am here,” to which she responds “You’re a dear,”.
With its sprinklings of innovative language, and just the right frisson of fear, the beautifully constructed lyrical text combined with the dream-like scenes in muted greens, greys and blues into which are dropped Girl and her glowing yellow gown, is perfect for story time sharing, especially at the end of the day, be it at home or school. It certainly went down a treat with my audience of fives and sixes.

An altogether different celebration of love comes in:

DSCN5263 (800x600)

Big Book of Love
Catherine and Laurence Anholt
Orchard Books
Bursting with joie de vivre is this small child’s rhyming recitation of everything he (I think, but could equally be, she) loves. There’s the playful pup that leads child and reader across fields to meet friends, frolic in the waves, run in the rain, ride on a train to the colourful bustling city

DSCN5262 (800x600)

full of all manner of people and places of visit not least the library…

DSCN5261 (800x600)

And that can, in turn lead to exciting adventures with animals large and small and sometimes even a bit scary. But then there’s always the safety of home and a house full of love to come back to. …

DSCN5260 (800x600)

If only every child could be so lucky …
There’s so much to explore in Catherine’s child-centric scenes: every spread is brimming over with things to talk about, count or simply enjoy.

A look at love from a canine viewpoint in
DSCN5347 (800x600)
Love is My Favourite Thing
Emma Chichester Clark
Jonathan Cape
This book is based on the author’s own dog, a character that became the star of Plumdog Blog. Here, Plum is that narrator of her own story, a story wherein readers learn just how much love there is in her life. She loves among other things, wind, snow, sun, treats and sticks; she loves the children next door and of course, her ‘mummy and daddy’ aka Emma and Rupert and the things they do together. Equally they love her too.
Occasionally though, Plum’s zest for life and love gets her into trouble and once she’s got into a little bit of trouble …

DSCN5349 (800x600)

things seem to escalate till she’s in a whole lot of trouble …

DSCN5350 (800x600)

Even that’s not the worst part of the whole sorry chain of events – there’s the ice-cream episode too, after which poor Plum is banished to bed. Has love finally run out where this particular dog is concerned? Of course not but she definitely does need to rein in some of that canine enthusiasm especially where ice-cream and water are concerned.
A charming celebration of unconditional love, pooch style. I’m no lover of dogs but Plum as portrayed by Emma Chichester Clark, certainly won my heart.

Use your local bookshop       localbookshops_NameImage-2


New Pet Arrivals

DSCN5126 (800x702)
Rosie’s Special Present
Myfanwy Millward and Gwen Millward
Jonathan Cape
It’s Rosie’s birthday and she’s eagerly anticipating a very special present. Said present meanwhile is having a crisis of confidence from within its wrapping. Suppose all the other gifts look more exciting, will it be overshadowed? What if its owner is a princess or a trapeze artist, a pirate with a squawking parrot even?
As Rosie and her pals party in one room,

DSCN5128 (800x353)

the present has managed, after considerable effort, to get out of its box to investigate the opposition.

DSCN5127 (800x355)

Satisfied that its own wrapping out-sparkles the others, another troubling thought arrives – suppose, despite its superior exterior, Rosie feels disappointed at its contents. So, to counter this, the present climbs up the bookcase and, as the birthday tea is reaching its conclusion in the room next door, the over-anxious gift has wrapped itself in bunting, ribbons and more and crash-landed onto the carpet.

DSCN5130 (800x712)

Thereupon in dashes Rosie and a new friendship is immediately forged…
Winsome characters and an unusual perspective angle on the birthday theme make this a delight to share with young listeners whether or not they are celebrating a birthday: friendship is worth celebrating at any time. Illustrator Gwen’s portrayal of the ‘special present’ – that picture of it clinging desperately to the bunting – is a hoot.

DSCN5129 (800x358)

A delightful joint enterprise from the Millward sisters.

DSCN5220 (800x600)

Lara of Newtown
Chris McKimmie
Allen & Unwin
I’m a real fan of Chris McKimmie’s wonderfully quirky illustrative style and this book wherein Misty/Nigella/Lara seeks a permanent home charmed even cat phobic me.
When we join our feline narrator, she has just been let go by her first owner who has become too old to continue caring for her moggy, and Misty is wandering the streets looking for a new home. Eventually she becomes a Christmas present for one Noni Nice of Pymble where she gets her second name and little else before being shown the door.
There follows a night under the stars for Nigella and then along come the Kafoopses,

DSCN5222 (800x600)

an eccentric couple who are more than happy to add ‘Lara’ to their household residents. From then on life becomes more than satisfactory in every way.
Lara can even do her own entertaining from time to time …

DSCN5223 (800x600)

though on occasions when the Kafoopses have visitors, she finds an alternative place for a retreat. But now she is in her own words “a lucky boots”, loved at last.
Cat owners may well be horrified at the treatment of the long-suffering feline protagonist but despite the two abandonments, this is a story where hope and kindness win through. Chris McKimmie’s collage style is like no other and combined with the array of fonts make for a unique visual narrative whole.

DSCN5185 (800x600)

I Love My Puppy
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
The small boy narrator of the latest Andreae/Dodd offering is the recipient of a new pet – a cute pup. Everything has been made ready for his arrival …

DSCN5186 (800x600)

but even so the little chap is a bit shy initially. It doesn’t take long for the pup to settle in though: he’s playful and affectionate but rather too eager to nibble at things that he really shouldn’t

DSCN5187 (800x600)

and of course, has still to be housetrained. A walk in the park is lots of fun and just the place to try out his bark

DSCN5188 (800x600)

before heading home for a snuggle with his diminutive owner.
As with previous books in this series, the combination of Giles Andreae’s gentle rhyming text and Emma Dodd’s super-sweet scenes bring delight at every turn of the page.

Use your local bookshop    localbookshops_NameImage-2

Fast and Furious; Slow and Steady

Daniel devouring the story


Space Dog
Mini Grey
Jonathan Cape
It’s 3043 and deep in space, Space Dog is ready to zoom homewards having completed a lengthy problem-solving mission in the Dairy Quadrant. Supplies are stashed and he passes the time with a game of solo Dogopoly before sleeping.
Not far off however, is Astrocat, zooming in his space saucer, or actually is about to plummet into a thick creamy mire. Then it’s a case of operation rescue – for the Astrocat if not his craft. No time for age old enmity now, it’s go with Space Dog or be stranded.

DSCN4440 (800x600)

Once safely in SS Kennel, the two erstwhile enemies sit face to face for a game of Dogopoly, followed by a tasty snack courtesy of Astrocat. Then, co-ordinates set, there comes yet another distress call …

DSCN4439 (800x600)

And another … Moustronaut has been captured, bound and perilously suspended above a chasm of bubbling fondue by the Cheese Ants.

DSCN4438 (800x600)

With another rescue duly completed – well almost – they have to satisfy that drooling, dribbling look in the Ant Queen’s eyes first. Then it really is time to head for home. Of course, poor Moustronaut needs a bit of tlc first; and there’s a whole universe out there waiting for friends to conquer – together. So, it’s Mission UNKNOWN ZONE – after a round or so of Dogopoly that is.

DSCN4435 (800x600)

Wonderful stuff! This action-packed adventure is bound to appeal to the numerous established fans of Mini Grey and will I’m certain, win her a whole host of new ones. This is overflowing with exciting happenings, visual jokes and verbal ones; and every turn of the page brings fantastic and frenzied features to divert and delight.

DSCN4444 (800x600)

Fast and Furry Racers The Silver Serpent Cup
Jonathan Emmett and Ed Eaves
Oxford University Press pbk
Playing fair is at the heart of this riotous romp of a ride (or should it be race) that takes place over land, under sea and in the air. Packed full of alliteration and other tongue-teasing phrases to test the reader-aloud, this story unfolds at breakneck speed.
Everyone’s gathered in Furryville for the race and the line up’s an impressive one. BEEP! BEEP! TOOT! TOOT! There’s Roderick Von Rooster in his Hot Rod rocket car, Stephanie Skedaddle in her super stylish boat, Ollie Octolinni in his submarine – a distinct advantage at times. Then we have Baron Billy Blackstripes aboard his super fast steam train, not forgetting Ella Egghart in her aeroplane. Could she perhaps be the winner after all?

DSCN4445 (800x600)

But foul play has struck, in the form of sabotage and who should be emerging from the depths but Al Mcnasty – a ruthless villain if ever there was one and wearing that smug smile too.

DSCN4446 (800x600)

But things are not quite over yet, for out of the ground emerges Max O’Moley just in the nick of time – a thoroughly deserving and honest winner. Three cheers for Max recipient of THE SILVER SERPENT CUP.

DSCN4447 (800x600)

Ed Eaves’ exuberant illustrations really do give the impression of tremendous speed and those vehicles are just the thing to excite and enthrall young listeners.

DSCN4434 (600x800)

Days with Frog and Toad
Arnold Lobel
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
This is the second of the larger format publications of the classic Lobel Frog and Toad stories. This one offers five more delicious episodes featuring the friends– all an absolute delight – though I might to go for Shivers

DSCN4433 (800x600)

(wherein Frog tells a spooky story) – if I had to pick a favourite; or maybe Tomorrow (we’re all guilty of putting off things we don’t want to do). Then again there’s Toad’s laughable efforts to fly The Kite; and The Hat Frog gives his best pal for a birthday present, to bring a big smile; oh and the final Alone in which Frog goes off to be by himself for a while

DSCN4432 (600x800)

– all equally brilliant and unmissable.
The Frog and Toad books remain unsurpassed in the field of newly independent readers. Three cheers for the two fictional pals and their everlasting friendship.

Use your local bookshop localbookshops_NameImage-2


witch 010 (600x800)

The Witch with an Itch
Helen Baugh and Deborah Allwright
Jonathan Cape pbk
When the little witch passes her final exams she cannot wait to start working her magic outside school. Her first subject is a frog – he’s destined to become a hat but, at the crucial moment, an itch comes upon our young heroine causing her wand to wobble and point instead at a flower – whoopsie! The frog’s still there but …

witch 008 (800x600)

A similar thing happens with the spider; this time it’s a toadstool not the arachnid that becomes a broom.
Another failed attempt follows and then a thoroughly frustrated little witch loses her cool completely hurling her wand to the ground in disgust.

witch 009 (600x800)

Suddenly beside her she notices a little girl with one hat, one pot, one broom plus the frog, spider and newt. And, she knows what’s been causing that aggravating itch; moreover, she knows how to get rid of that trying allergy once and for all.
Suitably spirited, wonderfully expressive illustrations and a lively, rhyming text that gives adult readers aloud the opportunity to let rip are the main ingredients of this diverting tale by a debut author.
Buy from Amazon

winnie 001 (600x800)

Winnie’s Big Bad Robot
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
Winnie’s decision to wave her wand and turn her junk robot into a real one is far from clever, all the more so when the big bad creature makes a grab for her wand and starts wielding it. Before long, not only has her house has become robotic but Winnie the Witch has become Winnie the Robot.

winnie 002 (800x600)

Now it’s left to faithful Wilbur to retrieve the wand and restore things to their natural order once more. But can he do it?
Another crazy caper illustrated in Korky Paul’s witty, exuberant style. Those robotic rabbits, ducks and frogs are superb but all the spreads are crammed with
delicious details.
Buy from Amazon

Especially for those who like to add their own creative touches of magic to a story is:

winnie 003 (600x800)

Spells and Surprises Activity Storybook
Marnie Edwards and Leigh Hodgkinson
Nosy Crow pbk
Best friends Princess Sapphire and Emerald the Witch become pupils at St Aubergine’s School just in time for the annual Hallowe’en festivities. First though there are all manner of lessons to be learned, not to mention costumes to be made and strange noises to be investigated. So it’s just as well that the pupils are ready to help each other out. Toasted marshmallows all round, I say.
There’s lots of fun to be had herein – glue, sequins and glitter at the ready: there are opportunities for adding to every one of the forty or so double spreads.
This one is definitely more likely to appeal to girls, probably from around five but perhaps younger depending on the individual. And don’t forget those witchy hats; time to head over to Mixtopia for some magical happenings.
Buy from Amazon
Find and buy from your local bookshop:

Worst in Show and more of Stanley

dogred 001 (800x600)

Worst in Show
William Bee and Kate Hindley
Walker Books
Albert has a special pet, Sidney – a monster no less and to prove just how special he is, Albert is entering him in the ‘BEST PET MONSTER IN THE WORLD! COMPETITION” to be televised live from the studio. The competition has five rounds: Sidney scores a grand total of zero: he doesn’t have any warts let alone hairy ones,

dogred 002 (800x600)

he’s unable to hover, is virtually without parasites, his farts are almost fragrant and his breath barely warms a sausage. ‘GOODNESS THE EMBARRASSMENT!’ How much can Albert take?
But listen –surely that isn’t Albert and Stanley’s names on the announcer’s lips during prize giving …

dogred 003 (800x600)

Finally, as the two make their way home, Albert concludes that Stanley’s particular qualities are just not those appreciated by the show judges; he’d much rather have a sweet smelling, large-sized, cuddly; lovable best friend after all.
William Bee’s tale is monstrously mad and enormous fun – just the thing to appeal to children’s sense of the ridiculous. Clearly it had that same appeal for Kate Hindley too; her illustrations are wonderfully whimsical. Crammed full of deliciously disgusting details – the monsters and their hangers-on; and with delightfully droll human characters – the judges, camera crew, Albert and other pet owners, each camera shot and off-stage scene is a feast for viewers of this unlikeliest of contests. That final fold-out scene is a bravura performance in itself.
An inspired collaboration this.

More from William Bee in:

stanley 002 (800x600)

Stanley’s Café
William Bee
Jonathan Cape
Multi-talented hamster, Stanley has donned his chef’s hat and with the help of friend, Hattie, is busy at work in his café. The first customer is Myrtle; she’s come for breakfast. Before long though it’s lunch for Charlie and Gabriel – yummy pancakes with lashings of syrup. Then Stanley has to go out for fresh supplies: he’s baking a special birthday cake for his pal Little Woo.

stanley 003 (800x600)

Happy Birthday, Little Woo. Shame about the washing up.

stanley 004 (800x600)

More from Stanley and friends in:
Stanley the Builder
Jonathan Cape
When Myrtle buys a plot of land she asks Stanley to help build her new house. Out comes his bulldozer to clear the ground, and then he has to dig out the foundations. Charlie’s on hand to help with the cement after which they both get on with the bricklaying, roof tiling and fitting windows.
A coat or two of paint and the job’s done: two tired workers, one happy Myrtle.

stanley 005 (800x600)

Once again, William Bee’s Stanley is set to delight youngsters with his machines, tools and implements. As they enjoy the stories – which they undoubtedly will – preschoolers will absorb lots of information relating to Stanley’s activities both from the straightforward, descriptive texts and captivating, clear illustrations.
I wonder what he will turn his paws to next?

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

Fairy Tale Imaginings

witch 005 (600x800)

Use Your Imagination
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow
Like its predecessor, this delicious book comes with a warning on the cover – (Rabbit’s suggestion I imagine judging by what ensues therein.). Open up to find a fantastic lesson in storytelling courtesy of one large lupine librarian – who ever heard of such a thing? – and one small and so he proves – highly imaginative Rabbit, not to mention the brilliant Nicola O’Byrne.
Feeling bored, said Rabbit wishes aloud for something to happen and this comment happens to be overheard by said librarian His suggestion is to co-write a story. Having got over (more or less) his surprise at the size of the librarian’s ears – “All the better for listening to stories with, my dear,” and his eyes “All the better for reading with,” the next thing is how to begin. USE YOUR IMAGINATION! – how else? So off we, or rather they, go… ‘Once upon a time.’ That’s the beginning dealt with and oh, it has to be a fairy tale; characters next and the requirement here is a baddie. Size is important; not too small and not too big…

witch 006 (800x600)

wolf size is perfect. Then there’s the hero (dress unimportant) and a setting. Again, imagination comes to the fore or should that be forest, here.
Now that’s all settled, let the story start –

witch 007 (800x600)

Time to decide who is really calling the shots thereafter and quickly too. Over to you Rabbit…
Cheeky humour, verbal and visual, mixes perfectly with fairytale frights and just the right degree of suspense in this superbly imagined (what else?) book.
It’s one of those that makes you want to wave it from the rooftops and shout come and listen to this NOW.
I had pretty much the same reaction to:

witch 001 (600x800)

Dog Loves Fairy Tales
Louise Yates
Jonathan Cape
As he dusts his bookshelves, Dog comes upon a long-lost book of Fairy Tales and in so doing, steps right into an adventure. His first encounter is with an imp who insists he is under a witch’s curse and must remain in his jar. Dog however disagrees. We must find the witch and break the curse he asserts leading the imp out into the Enchanted Forest.

witch 002 (800x600)

Now this imp is a thoroughly pessimistic character and no matter what Dog says, he counters it with negativity.
On their journey to find the witch, Dog and imp encounter Goldilocks (in the three bears’ cottage), three little pigs on their construction site,

witch 003 (600x800)

Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood in the wood, Rumpelstiltskin (but not Rapunzel; she was not at home – thanks to imp’s bad luck) and more than one big bad wolf before finding the witch.

witch 004 (800x600)

She turns out to be anything but wicked and cures imp of his pessimistic streak once and for all leaving Dog and his impish pal to continue together right to THE END and their very own ‘happily ever after’.
This thoroughly engrossing story is brimming over with fairy tale allusions, (some spoken, others shown) making this not only a delight for young audiences but also an absolute gift for teachers. It’s great to read aloud and a super starting point for an exploration of traditional tales in the primary classroom. As with her previous Dog stories, the characters are beautifully portrayed in Louise Yates’ wonderful, very funny watercolour illustrations. She manages to convey the entire range of emotions seemingly effortlessly with that light touch of hers. Cool endpapers too.
It’s me, not the imp who is bewitched where this book is concerned.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

Meet Stanley

I have to own up to being a big fan of William Bee already so I came to this new series with eager anticipation. I was not disappointed.

Stanley the Farmer
William Bee
Jonathan Cape
Meet Stanley, a pretty versatile rodent who seems to be able to turn his hand to all manner of tasks. In this story said hamster sets out in his tractor to plant some wheat seeds. First though he needs to plough the field, then, with Shamus’ help, spread the muck – POOH! Next Shamus pours the seeds into the hopper to be distributed in the furrows.


More help is enlisted, this time from Little Woo; he wields the hoses.
Of course, once the wheat starts to grow, there are marauding birds to fend off with the help of a scarecrow. When the wheat is grown fully, it is harvest time. Out comes Stanley’s combine harvester, then his baling machine and after all that work, it’s time to head home.


Great teamwork Stanley, Shamus and Little Woo.
Lots of fun, an appealing character and learning opportunities aplenty are packed into this sturdy little book. I predict Stanley and his friends will soon become firm favourites with young children at home and in early years settings.
Buy from Amazon


Stanley’s Garage
Herein Stanley is a garage owner at the ready to provide petrol for friend Hattie’s sports car,


a tyre change for Shamus’ ‘jeep’, cold water for Charlie’s vintage vehicle. Then he heads off to rescue another friend whose car needs a tow and a fix. All in a day’s work Stanley. Time to head off home for a long soak in the tub.
A delight from cover to cover.
Bee’s bold, bright illustrations are immediately attractive to young children and the storylines sufficiently interesting to engage and hold their interest throughout, and beyond: Did I see a tool box there?


A children’s TV series in the making maybe?
Buy from Amazon

Also newly published in paperback is William Bee’s hilarious, very noisy story about the sheep that cause a major traffic jam:
and the cars go…
Walker Books


Buy from Amazon

Previously reviewed on this website in the section The Ones That Got Away

Find and buy from your local bookshop:


Toys Lost, Toys Found


Gracie was intrigued by the way the mammoth came unravelled but retained his perfect shape.

Little Lou and the Woolly Mammoth
Paula Bowles
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
What is that bright wriggly thing protruding from among the muddle of toys wonders bored, lonely Little Lou. Being of an inquisitive nature she decides to tug at it. The thread wriggles away; Little Lou follows until she finds herself in the middle of a massive, tangly mess.


Lou tugs and feels a shake and a shudder. From the tangle emerges a huge woolly mammoth right before her eyes. Little Lou runs away, zigzagging here and there, hotly pursued by the massive mammoth


but then … OOPS his tail is caught up with a castle and that begins his undoing – literally. A shadow of his former self, the cuddlesome creature pitter- patters, turns and dashes off in alarm, this time with Little Lou in pursuit, both zigzagging to the point of exhaustion. Time for an elephantine embrace, Little Lou – a new friendship begins thereafter.


Paula Bowles’ soft colours, set against cream background pages serve this gentle tale of looking beyond the perceived information beautifully. The mixed media illustrations, with their gently humorous details have great child appeal; that mammoth is truly irresistible. A thoroughly engaging story, playful language, lovable bit-part characters and a variety of print sizes complete the package.
Buy from Amazon


Rebecca Patterson
Jonathan Cape pbk
The adorable-looking yellow bear narrator is not, he tells us, a new bear; he’s been around for ages and ages. Born in a northern factory, given as a birthday present, unloved and mistreated; indeed, bundled into a bag crammed with shoes and socks and sent to a charity shop. That becomes his home for long years, lonely and waiting for a new home.


Then one day in comes a little girl with her mum and joy of joys, she buys that bear for just 50p. Off they go home, the bear with a new name, Buttercup. However, Buttercup discovers he’s bear number seven in his new home. Moreover, all the ursine residents have special jobs to do; each and every day they are hard at work. There’s Tufts, he’s the lift operator, Mr Brownbear who has to dress like a baby and have a daily buggy ride, Betty and Doffy don earrings and dance, Frank does stunts and Babyblue assists the little girl with bike riding and they all participate in daily beauty shows.


Buttercup begins to worry about his role but then comes the realization that his fellow bears are all exhausted by their toil and fall fast asleep thereafter. Not so Buttercup; that’s when he comes into his own as story listener, comforter after scary dreams, sick attendant


and story teller to the day bears, for what is Buttercup? Nightbear, of course!
Tinged with humour, this is a gorgeous tale of ursine love with endearing characters both teddy and human. Rebecca Patterson infuses every single spread with tenderness. Add to this, her choice of colour palette and attention to detail: the sum total is irresistible.
Buy from Amazon


Salina Yoon
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
Bear finds a lost toy bunny under a tree one day and despite loving it immediately, resolves to find its owner. He makes a huge stack of posters and off he goes to post them on each and every tree.


In addition he and bunny consult the ‘lost’ notices and search everywhere to no avail. Poor bunny and poor bunny’s family thinks the empathetic Bear as he goes to bed.
Next day the two have great fun together

but all good things must come to an end … or so it seems.


Well, yes and no, for special toys are meant to be passed on to special others.
There is so much sensitivity in this perfectly constructed story; that young bear shows such inter- and intra- personal intelligence in his behaviour. This is beautifully conveyed through the author’s spare, undidactic prose and brightly coloured pictures. The latter, to which Salina Yoon has added some soft texturing, also speak volumes about the emotions of the characters.
A total delight; perfectly pitched and a book that offers so much to think about and discuss with young listeners.
Buy from Amazon

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

Mini’s Detective at Large


Hermelin the Detective Mouse
Mini Grey
Jonathan Cape
The wonderful Mini Grey has done it again; this time with a new character, Hermelin. Hermelin, a mouse and resident of Offley Street owes his name to a cheese box and is the story’s narrator. When he tries out the binoculars he’s found in his cereal one morning, he starts an amazing, life-changing chain of events; events that involve a type-writer, a noticeboard full of ‘lost’ notices,


some smart detective work, lots of typed notes and a dramatic rescue. But just who is this amazing Hermelin, the other residents want to know. So, they organize a party at Bosher’s Sausage Shop with Hermelin as honoured guest. Or should that be ‘horrored’ guest ? For as soon as his identity is revealed, terror breaks out and Hermelin dashes for his life.


The discovery that he is a PEST devastates our hero and he is on the point of moving out when he himself receives a note – a mouse sized one – that signals a new chapter in his life (and I hope, some further episodes involving Hermelin and his new detective friend, Emily.


Totally brilliant in all respects, this gem of a book is absolutely packed full of treats, visual and verbal – incentives to read if ever there were some. This is one to return to over and over when new and exciting discoveries will emerge at each re-reading. It will assuredly have a very wide age appeal too.
Buy from Amazon

Find and buy from your local bookseller:

February Finale


Two Little Aliens
Sam Lloyd
Orchard pbk
We see things from an outsider’s perspective when two small aliens spy a playground from their rocket and decide to pay a visit. What’s that ‘yellow stuff’? they wonder; it’s certainly not for eating.


And, what does one do with those conical objects from the kiosk? They’re definitely not for throwing… “Waaah!” being new can be overwhelming, they decide, but who are those friendly-looking characters running towards them?
Wow! “ … “Ahh!” … “Wheee!” …


Problems solved, new friends made, but all too soon it’s time to head for home.
Dotty characters, bold bright images and funny scenes are the main ingredients of this funny story. The entire, brief text is in dialogue with just one or two sentences per page making the book ideal for young beginning readers as well as a good one to share with preschoolers.
Buy from Amazon


Gracie enjoying sharing the story.

Hugo the Hare’s Rainy Day
Jez Alborough
I once had a yoga teacher (now a friend) who advocated finding pleasure in everything you do, even those things (like ironing) that you dislike. This is exactly what Hugo Hare manages to do, finally, in this latest escapade featuring the usual trio, Hugo and his pals Billy the Goat and Nat the Cat.
When Hugo, who hates to get wet, sets out for the park to meet Nat and Billy, he takes his umbrella in anticipation of rain. This proves a sensible move as before long, there is a sudden downpour. Hugo offers Billy a share of his brolly but they have to adopt an unconventional way of walking in order to accommodate both of them. When they come upon Nat sheltering under a tree Hugo decides to join her and that’s when things start to take a turn for the worse


The ensuing SPLASH however, is not such a disaster as Hugo at first thinks. In fact, from then on the sploshing, slapping and slopping in the slippery wet puddle proves a whole lot of fun (ask any 3/4 year old) and once the sky is bright again, it’s time for Nat to entertain her friends with one of her musical interludes.
A funny, jaunty rhyme that trips beautifully off the tongue and appropriately action packed, chucklesome scenes that show the characters’ changing moods are the hallmarks of Alborough’s third adventure in this series.
Buy from Amazon
(The second story, Billy the Goat’s Big Breakfast (previously reviewed on this site is just out in paperback.)


Bear and Hare Go Fishing
Emily Gravett
Friends, Hare and Bear go fishing. Bear loves to fish. Bear fishes, while Hare waits. He fishes Hare’s hat,


a frog, a rollerskate, and …
Hare meanwhile is making a daisy chain. It gets longer…


and longer.


Then finally, a fish is caught!


Brilliantly simple, brilliantly effective, very funny and perfect for beginning readers.
Buy from Amazon


Hooray for Hoppy!
Tim Hopgoood
Macmillan Children’s Books
Hoppy, the rabbit uses all five of his senses as he seeks out signs of spring. He smells the fresh air, sees the trees in blossom, hears the birds singing, smells the flowers and watches the lambs, tastes the fresh green grass and feels the warm ground beneath his feet. It really is spring he decides – a spring whose arrival he cannot wait to share with his many friends. But first he has to find them. Tim Hopgood’s delightful mixed media illustrations are seemingly simple but very effective; they put me in mind of some of the pictures created by foundation stage children using sponges for printing, crayons, paints and pastels.
This story would be a good starting point for a sensory walk with very young children either in a nursery or school setting, or with their parents.
Buy from Amazon


This is really funny, thinks Gracie

Do Dare Duck
Joyce Dunbar and Jane Massey
Jonathan Cape pbk
What does the duck do? Dance like the pig, dazzle like peacock, doze like dog, doodle like the cockerel’s cock-a-doodle-do!


dawdle like tortoise, dash like hare or even dilly-dally-dangle with legs in a tangle donkey style? No, not exactly. Instead duck dares to … dance with pig, dazzle with peacock… dilly-dally dangle with donkey and having done all that our duck engages in a spot of dabbling and what’s more all her friends join her for some dibble dobble dabbling – up tails all!
Deliciously diverting alliteration delivered question and answer style by Dunbar and delightfully depicted in Massey’s marvellous illustrative pen and paint, sploshy, splattery musings.


Every spread is  superb. Definitely one to put a spring in your step and much more as you emulate the animals herein, along with your children of course.
Buy from Amazon


Goodbye Grandma
Melanie Walsh
Walker Books
Having been told of his grandma’s death, the small boy narrator in this book shares his thoughts and anxieties with readers as he talks with his Mum about what has happened. He has lots of questions, which she answers  in a simple, frank manner, making links to other family members, pets and friends. She acknowledges his feelings of sadness: ‘Sometimes we will miss Grandma’ and it’s OK to feel sad, she tells him … but ‘We will never forget’ her.


Melanie Walsh’s characteristic bold collage illustrations convey the range of feelings effectively in her straightforward and reassuring picture book for the very young. Recommended for use at times of bereavement and also as a starting point for discussion with young children in nursery settings.
Buy from Amazon

Also on the theme of death is


Posy Simmons
Andersen Press pbk
This is a reissue of a classic story told in comic strip format, first published over twenty five years ago, wherein brother and sister, Nick and Sophie mourn the death of their beloved cat, Fred. Having buried him under the buddleia, they try to think of something nice to put on his gravestone. The two had always thought of Fred as a cat that liked nothing better than to eat and to sleep; seemingly he had spent most of his time asleep. That night Sophie and Nick are woken by noises in their garden and go down to investigate. There they discover a veritable army of cats, come to pay tribute to Fred, a cat they discover led a double life and was, in the eyes of his fellow felines, “The MOST FAMOUS CAT in the WORLD!”


Fred has lost none of his appeal and should find a whole host of new fans.
Buy from Amazon

Find and buy form your local bookshop:

Bookmark 5th March in your diary: wrad13nodate

The Astonishing Case of the Stolen Stories


The Astonishing Case of the Stolen Stories
Anca Sandu
Jonathan Cape pbk
Fox, Cat and Bear, the detectives, are well prepared when they receive a summons from the king, calling them to the palace immediately. Once there, they learn of the little prince who is distraught because all his stories have gone missing. Straight away the three get to work: first they investigate the scene of the crime, then they begin their interrogations starting with the big bad wolf. The next suspect is the wicked witch but it seems her special books have also disappeared. In fact books have gone missing from all over the kingdom. The search widens but it’s not the trolls under the bridge, nor the pirates (they have an alibi),


so on the detectives go… oops! What is that you’ve tripped over bear? Could it be a book? At last, they’re hot on the trail, a trail that leads further into the woods and into a dark cave wherein they come upon a Thing – a thing surrounded by piles and piles of books.


If you want to know what the thing is doing with all those stolen volumes and how the detectives manage to bring the case to a highly satisfactory conclusion for all concerned, then get hold of a copy of this rib-tickling romp of a book. It is in fact, a story within a story. Moreover, with its fairy tale and nursery rhyme allusions, there are numerous opportunities for making intertextual links;


words and pictures contain a wealth of verbal and visual possibilities. The more you look, the more you will discover.
Infant teachers, this is brimming over with potential for reading, writing and much more.
Buy from Amazon

Bedtime Bookshelf


Zoom Zoom Zoom
Katherina Manolessou
Macmillan Children’s Books
Unable to sleep in their jungly environment, Bird and Monkey fly off, Zoom Zoom Zoom on a night-time lunar excursion. Their landing brings them face to face with a friendly alien who invites them aboard his spaceship. On the way they count five glowing orange meteors, four pink alien arms, join in a race of three green moon buggies,


climb two yellow ladders and press one red button on the spaceship to blast them off back home to earth and finally, to sleep.
Taking a popular children’s song as her starting point Katerina Manolessou has created a glowing debut picture book. With its combination of superb design, arresting screen printed illustrations in vibrant colours, endearing characters, counting opportunities and a well-loved song, this is sure to become a firm favourite with early years audiences as well as parents and youngsters at bedtime.
I look forward to seeing more from this promising artist.
Buy from Amazon


Bing Bed Time
Ted Dewan
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
Toddler bedtime Bing style is going fairly smoothly despite some inevitable procrastinations. With potty time postponed,


teeth brushed and bath time over, it’s time to get into some pyjamas. choose a story and snuggle up with Flop. But where is Flop? Under the covers? Playing hide and seek? Outside in the dark even? Nope. Bing is distraught but what’s that protruding from under the bed?
With the pair safely tucked in, it’s time to turn out the big light. But now, where is Bing? – back on his potty to do the necessary – all by himself. Finally both Bing and Flop are safely snuggled up and sound asleep.
First published over a decade ago, this reissue is sure to delight a new generation of tinies who will be entertained by the endearing Bing and his every day activities. Dewan’s bold, bright, uncluttered illustrations are immediately engaging and have sufficient detail to hold the attention of the very young.
Buy from Amazon


Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard
Steve Cole and Bruce Ingman
Jonathan Cape pbk
The New Babysitter is having a very hard time with Joe and Ellie who simply refuse to stay in bed for more than a few minutes.She threatens all manner of things such as the sleep ray zapping robot and the toy-munching monster but the children merely laugh. Refusing to be beaten however, the babysitter has one final weapon in her armoury. Could she, would she, should she let that leopard loose? Maybe not, but GROWL… Oh! What’s that cuddly, snuggly sleep-inducing sweetie doing in the bedroom… Snore… silence.
No doubt every parent and babysitter would welcome a leopard like the one in Cole and Ingman’s amusing tale with its satisfying, somewhat surprising ending. Ingman’s illustrations have a slightly retro feel to them. His seemingly flattened images, especially of the characters, bring to mind the cut out paper people that children love to create and play with in their own stories.


It is this child-like innocence that make his work such a delight.
Buy from Amazon


Princess Stay Awake
Giles Paley-Phillips and Adriana J. Puglisi
Maverick Arts Publishing pbk
No matter what her parents do, feisty young Princess Layla just refuses to go to sleep. They call in all manner of people to help but none can send her off to the land of nod and neither can the new, specially made, extra snug bed. Indeed it has the opposite effect making a splendid launch pad for all manner of leaping and bouncing activities.


Thoroughly exhausted, the Queen and King decide to call upon Grandma for assistance. Her tactics are somewhat different; she requests that Layla stays awake. Confusing for Princess Stay Awake perhaps, but what is that we see? Droopy eyelids and floppy limbs, aaahhh… Grandmas do know best.
Perhaps bedtime isn’t the best time to share Paley-Phillips jaunty rhyming story with youngsters; they may well decide to try some of Princess Layla’s delaying mischief.
Puglisi’s bright, jolly pictures are sure to bring a smile to young stay awakes (and there are plenty of those); how angelic that princess looks as she proceeds to exhaust all those called in to tire her out.
Buy from Amazon


So Cosy
Lerryn Korda
Walker Books
A snuggle cumulative style begins when Dog curls up in his comfy basket. Before long he has been joined by Goose, Cat, several rabbits, a Mummy Bear and her baby, Goat, Snake and even Elephant all wanting to cosy up. Contentment reigns supreme but then patter, patter, patter, along Mouse comes with his tickly feet onto the tip of Elephant’s trunk. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAA … ”


The enormous sneeze sends the animals tumbling leaving the basket to its rightful owner and just one very small visitor really cosy.
Perfectly pitched for the very young. An absolute delight: simply irresistible.
Buy from Amazon


Ten Monsters in the Bed
Katie Cotton and Aaron Bleecha
Templar Publishing
Were tucked up face-to-face.
We’re really very squashed,” they said.
“We need a bit more space.” ‘
So begins a wonderfully anarchic version of the monster countdown rhyme wherein we encounter a snoring Sleepy, a burping Belchy, a screaming Scaredy, a snot dripping Sneezy, a scratchy flea-ridden Itchy, a snack munching Greedy, a Hiccupy, a dribbling Slurpy, a room-shaking Farty and a boinging, bouncing Giggly as each is jettisoned from the top bunk.


But, by the time they are all piled up on top of one another on the floor, the squash is  worse than ever. All this action creates havoc for the long-suffering solo occupant of the lower bunk who is forced to give up his bedtime reading and take shelter under the bedclothes.
I’d strongly advise you not to read this at bedtime as an initial sharing is certain to result in repeated demands of ‘read it again’. You could well be there for some time especially as the noises generated by the invitation to press each evicted monster’s white button results in an appropriate sound and further hilarity. A sure fire winner!


Dylan is disgusted by the yucky monsters

Buy from Amazon

Find and buy from your local bookseller: