Cat Problems

Cat Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books

Following a Giraffe and a Penguin with problems, this is the third hilarious title in the Animal Problems series. It features a perturbed moggy who shares its inner feelings about a far from purr-fect existence as a confined creature that’s not been outside for eight whole years.

First it’s “I’m awake, and I only got nineteen hours of sleep.” Then it’s a meagre dry meal, followed by another (ginger) cat that insists on curling up exactly where Cat wants to curl. Oh my goodness, now there’s monster.

Further tirades ensue and eventually a slightly sanctimonious squirrel that has been watching the continuous grumbling through the window holds forth with a powerful lecture on being thankful – most certainly it’s food for thought for our moaning moggy – in more ways than one. Will our grumbler ever cease from grumbling?
Using a muted colour palette Lane Smith brings out the hilarity of the protagonist’s tirade

and the design of every spread further amplifies the visual impact of the book. Providing plenty of food for thought, this droll offering is definitely one young listeners will lap up and likely ask for second helpings.

The Smart Cookie

The Smart Cookie
Jory John and Pete Oswald
Harper 360

The narrator of this picture book is one of the residents of the bakery on the corner of Sweet Street; she now calls herself Smart and is sufficiently self-assured to share with readers her transformative journey from a cookie completely lacking in confidence to the present day.

As a pupil of Ms Biscotti, teacher at the school in a gingerbread house, said cookie didn’t think fast enough to put up her hand to answer any questions and finished last in most tests. Sometimes a lesson was so much of a challenge, our narrator felt completely at sea, totally beset by worries and would lie awake all night in the cookie jar.

Then one day Ms Biscotti announced a homework assignment asking everyone to ‘create something completely original’ and bring it to class next day.

Back home our cookie starts work right away but her initial attempts result in disasters of one kind or another, and then suddenly an idea comes – a poem! Having named the creation “My Crumby Days”, the words just keep coming to our poet in the making, so much so that it’s excitement, not worry that keeps her awake this time.

Next morning at school cookie shares the poem. Fellow pupils relate to the words, Ms Biscotti is delighted by its originality

and as for our narrator, she realises that everyone is smart in their own ways, it just takes time to discover what those ways are; our differences are something to be embraced and celebrated.


With puns aplenty and its important message, Jory John’s text together with Pete Oswald’s playful scenes of cookie’s school and home, offer a tasty confidence booster for youngsters and a great starting point for discussion in the primary classroom.

The Good, The Bad and the Spooky

The Good, The Bad and the Spooky
Jory John and Pete Oswald
Harper

With more than 150 spooky stickers for youngsters to have their own fun with, this is a Halloween themed continuation of Jory John and Pete Oswald’s popular series presented by a sunflower seed, aka The Bad Seed.

Now despite Halloween being the Seed’s favourite time of year he’s in an extremely bad mood on account of not being able to find a truly awesome costume for the big night. Nothing he’s tried seems to hit the spot or come anywhere near things he and his friends have dressed as on previous occasions and now everybody seems to want to be independent.

It appears that there’s only one thing to do and that’s to make everyone else think the big holiday event has been postponed. Seed looks as though he’s making a return to his baaad ways: an announcement is made.

Then, enter stage left a good neighbourly pumpkin seed proffering some words of wisdom for our narrator Seed to consider … What will he do – sabotage the whole event and spoil the fun for everyone or focus on what the evening is really all about?

With Jory John’s witty, pun-punctuated narrative that delivers some life lessons and Pete Oswald’s hilarious illustrations, this is a thought-provoking charmer that’s just right for pre Halloween sharing.

The Couch Potato

The Couch Potato
Jory John and Pete Oswald
Harper360

Here’s a spudalicious tale from popular duo Jory John and Pete Oswald who add a new veggie character to their entourage in the form of a potato, one wedded or should that be, welded to his sofa – almost – and by his own admission, the ap-peel of this comfy spot is irresistible. Especially when everything a spud needs is within easy reach.

Our dumpy narrator, like many humans during the on-going pandemic one suspects, has become well, a couch potato. Moreover this veggie has a huge number of screens for the purposes of watching favourite shows, playing video games, face to face conversations and more. He surely has everything under control, this spuddy guy.
But one day, disaster strikes; plugging in his latest device (mail order of course), causes the electricity to PEW-WWWWWWW resulting in darkness and, can you imagine, our potato leaving his favourite spot to look out the window. yes he can manage that!

With nothing else to do, he decides to go for a walk in the great outdoors, accompanied by his pooch Tater. This foray in the open air causes something of a cathartic release: there’s peace, nature and reality out there, liberating and sometimes exhilaratingly beautiful.

Time to make some permanent changes, thinks our starchy spud pal and yes, having found a happy medium, life is great …

Nature and the outdoors are things Covid hasn’t taken from us all; I certainly feel that in addition to books and reading, my well-being depends on getting outdoors and walking in the beautiful countryside around me, no matter the weather.

Love the humour inherent in both the punny writing and the illustrations of this book. There are intertextual winks, an abundance of genial spuds and the final spread with the hero enjoying a cuppa and reading The Catcher in the Fry is a delicious way to end a story that will appeal to both children and adults.

Giraffe Problems

Giraffe Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books

Following on from their Penguin Problems, Jory John and Lane Smith present Giraffe Problems. The giraffe in question being Edward; his problem coming in the form of his neck. A neck that is too long, too bendy, too narrow, too dopey, too patterned, too stretchy, too high, too lofty: in short too necky. Said neck causes other animals to stare at him wherever he goes.

It’s not as though Edward hasn’t tried to improve matters; he’s adorned the thing with all manner of scarves and ties and attempted to hide himself away but without success.

Other animals have enviable necks so why is his the object of attention all the time? He has, assuredly, a long-lasting problem.

Then Edward comes upon a creature that is his polar opposite: Cyrus is a turtle but he too has a neck issue. “I’m basically neckless,” he tells the giraffe.

He also tells Cyrus of his yearning for and futile efforts to obtain, a lone banana dangling alluringly from a tree atop a distant hill. “I’ve felt like such a fool as I stretched my neck toward those greedy branches, only to be limited by my own physical shortcomings.”

Said fruit poses no challenge to Edward; in just a few seconds he causes the desired object to land right in front of Cyrus. (gatefold reveal).

Then it’s down to Cyrus to help Edward with his own neck issue. Is it possible that they can both end up feeling good about themselves – perhaps with the help of a small, strategically placed adornment?

Jory John’s entire wry, comical text is in the form of speech- monologue or dialogue – with occasional touches of bathos, and is perfectly complemented by Lane Smith’s retro style, textured artwork executed in earthy tones that cleverly captures the emotions of the two protagonists and showcases their distinctive patterns.

Courtesy of the John/Lane partnership we’ve visited Antarctica and Africa: whither next for animals with problems, I wonder?

Penguin Problems

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Penguin Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books
Being a penguin isn’t a barrel of laughs as we quickly discover in the first Jory John/Lane Smith collaboration, certainly it isn’t for the penguin narrator of this book anyway; we learn that right away when he’s woken from his slumbers by squawking from his fellow penguins. Nothing it seems is to this little fellow’s liking: he hates snow, the sun’s too bright and he’s extremely hungry. If the land’s not to his liking, the ocean’s even worse – too salty, distinctly lacking in fish, dark and decidedly chilly.

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Oh great. An orca. Oh great. A leopard seal. Oh great. A shark. What is it with this place?” he mutters as he becomes hunted rather than hunter …

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This fellow also has body issues; his buoyancy is faulty, his flippers tire too fast, his waddle is more of a wibble …

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and of course, he can’t fly. Then there’s the issue of look alikes …

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Enter stage right a walrus. His words of wisdom should go some way to changing Penguin’s attitude to ‘half full’ at the very least – some of the time anyway …

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This book exudes humour both verbal and visual but put together the result is sheer gigglesome comedic delight at every turn of the page. Actually, make that before you start turning the pages; the perversity of the cover and penguin’s litany of negativity on the front inside flap, set the scene for what’s to come.

Terrific Twosomes

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I Love You Already
Jory John and Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books
The Goodnight Already duo(s) are back with another rip-roaring winner.
We start with Duck seemingly planning a morning stroll with his best pal and Bear extolling the virtues of lazy weekends at home …

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Before long though Bear’s peace is shattered by a knock at his door and this little buddy isn’t taking no for an answer.
Maybe that walk isn’t quite such a good idea after all though …

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and it seems Bear likes “quiet time by himself’ as much or maybe even more than he likes his chatty neighbour, and is determined to have some quality time to himself no matter what, or where.
Not very much however, for very soon he hears …

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And sees …

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Guess who is starting to feel a little bit of remorse now and then even more when he hears “You don’t even like me, do you, Bear? ” to which he responds, “Nonsense. You’re basically my family. I love you already, Duck.”
Maybe not the best thing you could have said, Bear because …

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That irrepressible, fun loving Duck is the perfect complement to his ursine neighbour who loves nothing better than a quiet day to himself with plenty of books and the odd cuppa.
Super stuff.

On the subject of perfect partnerships, bears, and a rabbit this time, an unmissable book for newly independent and emerging readers is:

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Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits
Julian Gough & Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books
I absolutely adored Jim Field’s wonderful Oi Frog! so I couldn’t wait to read this and wow! did I love it. I’ve always thought Frog and Toad were the unbeatable pairing when it comes to perfectly balanced contrasting characters but now along come the all-knowing Rabbit and laid-back Bear; and if this first book is anything to go by, they are about to give those amphibian guys a run for their money.
This side-splitting woodland romp is the setting for a tale of snowballs, snowman building,

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almost-avalanches, cracking ice, a breath-taking escape, a bit of stealing, poo eating – did I just say poo eating? (apparently, in this instance it’s called coprophagia) – not to mention the odd soggy carrot, oh! and there’s this other character I almost forgot to mention too.

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And of course, there’s friendship – who could ask for anything more? Well, other than – next instalment very soon please Mr G and Mr F.
Such a brilliantly seamless amalgam of words and pictures. Roll on The Pest in the Nest say I.

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Ursine Antics by Night and Day

 

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Goodnight Already!
Jory John and Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Parallel but opposing viewpoints quickly come head to head in what must surely be to many adults at least, a familiar scenario – the pull and push between two characters whose body clocks have entirely opposing rhythms. Herein it’s an exceedingly sleepy-looking Bear and his neighbour and supposed friend,

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Duck who is full of (caffeine-induced?) energy and has “never been so awake.”
I can’t wait to sleep. Here we go … yes…” yawns Bear as he pulls up his covers.
Uugh oh! There in the moonlight stands his feathered pal demanding entrance.
Having barged his way in Duck is determined to get Bear to “hang out” and suggests all manner of fun-filled activities. “Want to play cards? … Watch a movie? … Start a band? … Make smoothies?” … (What is this guy thinking of?) “Talk all night? … “Read books to each other?” (Now there’s a thought.) Each of these suggestions meets with a resounding “No.” from Bear and Duck eventually gets the message and departs. So, does our ursine friend finally get his well-earned shut eye? Errm …

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This time Duck is after cooking ingredients “… some sugar?” – “No.” Butter? “No.” … Is there to be no end to Duck’s requests? New neighbours will have to be the order of the day, or rather night, an increasingly grouchy Bear decides, returning to the safety of his quilt. Did I say safety? Oops!

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But safety it certainly is not, for Duck at least.

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Finally losing it altogether, Bear sends Duck packing and heads off back to get that well earned slumber. Well, not quite …
My audience groaned at the final ironic comic twist but it was clearly a groan of satisfaction and hastily followed by demands to ‘read it again’, then ‘one more time’. Of course I obliged, eager as they to let that superb tension be played out over and over in this wonderful book, at the heart of which is perfect textual comic timing, pace and counterbalance, the latter being so beautifully portrayed by Benji Davies. His visuals, which alternate between the vivid yellow of the occasional scene at Duck’s residence, and the somnolent shades of Bear’s surroundings, and brilliantly mirror John Jory’s shifts in pace and energy, are equally good. The combination of the two is an amalgam that’s pretty near perfect in my book.
Here are a couple of pictures of Duck from five year olds who loved the story –

 

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they obviously saw him as a very colourful character.

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Big and Small
Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Chapman
Little Tiger Press pbk
Friendships can be formed between the most unlikely, completely different characters A large bear – Big, and a tiny white mouse – Small, are best friends and decide to spend a day adventuring in the great outdoors. During the course of their play Small seeks help from his friend on several occasions – a stubbed toe OUCH!, some tricky stepping stones,

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a troublesome bee at lunch time and a hole that interrupts his roll; and each time Big is happy to oblige. After a fun-filled day, the friends head for home and snuggle into their cosy beds. Then however, comes a spot of role reversal: “A little help, please!” calls Big who cannot sleep.

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The idea that friendship can involve a responsibility of care is embedded within this story told through a combination of jaunty rhyming text and bold, bright visuals.
I like the fact that both author and artist engender a zest for life and enjoyment of nature – the endpapers featuring insects that appear during the course of the story help in the latter.
Share with those just starting out on forming friendships.

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