We’re Going Places

We’re Going Places
Mick Jackson and John Broadley
Pavilion Children’s Books

After their terrific debut picture book While You’re Sleeping, author Mick Jackson and illustrator John Broadley pair up again and the result is another exciting, engrossing book, this one being somewhat more philosophical than the first.

Travel and journeying is the theme here and through Jackson’s playfully poetic narrative and Broadley’s meticulously detailed scenes, readers follow a child’s development from adult dependence, through those first unstable steps, to assured confident strides out and about, then onto wheels – ‘tricycles, bicycles, skateboards, roller skates’.

More and more possibilities open up – perhaps a trip in a hot air balloon, or something that needs to be done speedily such as a train ride to somewhere exciting – another country even.

Some journeys however are meant to be done slowly, slowly, allowing plenty of time for pausing to watch and ponder upon the host of other creatures that, while they might be part of your particular journey, are also undertaking their own, some on foot, others on the wing such as bumblebees or migrating birds.

It might be that a journey is seasonal, on a frozen river for instance; or that of a bee ‘bumbling from blossom to blossom’ (love that alliteration); it could even be made by something inanimate such as a raindrop on a window pane.

There have always been divergent thinkers who like to try doing things differently and in this ever-changing world of ours, what seemed once impossible will one day be part and parcel of everyday.

With choices to be made and a wealth of possible ways to go, none of us can ever be absolutely sure of the twists and turns our life will take.

However one thing that’s almost certain is that as people grow old, their journeys will likely be much slower, and less confident perhaps, almost as though we’ve come full circle, with what’s past always there, deep within.

There’s an absolute wealth of texture and pattern, as well as potential stories on every spread, so that readers will undoubtedly find themselves pausing on their journey through the book, adults possibly pondering upon their own life’s journey past, present and future, perhaps like the grandmother sitting in a chair, shown on the final spread.

Assuredly this is a book to return to over and over with the likelihood of new questions and fresh understanding emerging on each reading.

Sea Glass Summer

Sea Glass Summer
Michelle Houts and Bagram Ibatoulline
Walker Books

‘Some years ago a boy named Thomas spent the summer at his grandmother’s island cottage.’ So begins a beautiful story set in Maine some time in the last century.

Early in his stay his grandmother gives the boy a magnifying glass that had belonged to his grandfather and Thomas uses this as he explores the rocky beach one morning.

When he shows Grandmother a piece of glass he’s discovered she tells him that “ … your grandfather used to say that each piece of sea glass has a story all of its own.”

That night Thomas places the sea glass beside his bed and dreams of a shipyard long ago. The routine continues with the boy discovering bits and pieces of glass each morning and dreaming each night. (The dream stories are depicted in greyscale serving both to separate them from the present events and to bring history alive again).

In contrast, Bagram Ibatoulline’s superbly moving, equally realistic, watercolour scenes show the sometimes glowing, sometimes shadowy shore whereon Thomas, aided by the magnifying glass, makes his discoveries of mysterious magical ocean gifts and lets his imagination soar.

All too soon the holiday ends: Thomas gathers together his treasures and boards a boat back to the mainland. However, a sudden lurch causes him to drop his magnifying glass and some of the pieces fall overboard.

The story then moves to recent times: a girl named Annie walks on the beach collecting treasures and comes upon a piece of sea glass. She shows it to her Papa Tom; you can anticipate what she’s told … The tale concludes having come full circle …

Michelle Houts’ lovely story of journeys, connections, possibilities and the power of the imagination has much to appeal to older picture book readers and is full of possibilities for exploring in a KS2 classroom.

(A final author’s note explains why there is much less sea glass nowadays: a big plus for the environment but children will have to find other treasures on the seashore to fuel their imaginations.)

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha
Aaron Becker
Walker Books

I could just write a single word in response to this story– awesome – but that wouldn’t help those who have yet to encounter Aaron Becker’s new wordless picture book. Nor would it do justice to his remarkable lyrical endeavour.
My initial reading called to mind two poems of T.S. Eliot, the first being the opening line of East Coker: ‘In my beginning is my end.

In Becker’s beginning we see a girl collecting flowers and discover they’re an offering for her beloved dog, Sascha’s grave.

The family – mother father, daughter and son – then leave home for a seaside camping holiday.
As night begins to fall the girl heads to the water’s edge and we see her standing beneath a starry sky about to throw a smooth stone.

Thereafter, time shifts and what follows are spreads of a meteor hurtling earthwards to become embedded in the ocean floor and we witness the evolution of our planet as the stone works its way upwards and out, as life transitions from water to land, dinosaurs roam and then give way to early mammalian forms.

Having broken the surface as an enormous protrusion, the stone is quarried and transported to a huge ancient royal edifice where it’s carved into an obelisk.

Wars, looting, fragmentation and remodelling occur as the stone moves through history becoming part of first a religious monument, then a bridge; is fashioned into a fantastical dragon and placed in an ornate carved chest; taken to an island and installed in a chieftain’s dwelling, stolen,

lost at sea and eventually, having moved through eons of time, is polished smooth and carried by the waves to the shore where stands the girl who finds it.

Now, as she presses the stone to her cheek she appears to have made peace with the situation and perhaps, her loss and grief.

The stone’s final resting place – as far as this story goes – is atop Sascha’s gravestone.
(You can also trace the whole journey through the timeline maps that form the endpapers.)

Becker’s layered pastel spreads – digitally worked I think – have in the present time, a near photographic, quality. The scenes of bygone eras where the degree of sfumato intensifies are, in contrast imbued with a dreamlike quality, being as Leonardo da Vinci said of the technique he too employed, ‘ without lines or borders’.

This intensely moving, unforgettable, multi-layered, circular tale is open to countless interpretations and reinterpretations depending on what we bring to the book, at any particular time. Assuredly, it makes this reviewer think about our own place in the cosmos and our connection to past and future, for to return once more to T.S. Eliot:
Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.’
Burnt Norton


Mike Unwin and Jenni Desmond
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Mike Unwin documents the migratory journeys of twenty animals large and small, from the monarch butterfly to the great white shark

and the African elephant to the Southern pilchard, all of which travel incredible distances due to the seasonal changes to the environment in which they live. They move in pursuit of food, to escape bad weather or hostile environmental conditions, or in search of a suitable place to breed.
Each of the animals featured is allocated a double spread impressively illustrated by Jenni Desmond; and there’s a world map showing all the migrations at the back of the book.
Just imagine weighing less than a lump of sugar and having to fly 800km across the ocean like the ruby-throated hummingbird. Come spring, these iridescent birds leave their tropical winter home in Central America, fly across the Gulf of Mexico, north to North America, even as far north as Canada, where they breed, nesting somewhere in woods, a garden or park.

I was amazed to read the fascinating details about green marine sea turtles, which sometimes weigh as much as two humans and migrate across the Atlantic to breed on Ascension Island.

Unwin’s accounts are beautifully, at times poetically written, while Jenni Desmond’s illustrations make you want to linger long over each one enjoying the form, details and individual beauty of each animal portrayed.

All the Way Home

All the Way Home
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Little One, if you promise you’ll go to sleep, I’ll tell you a story. It’s so secret even your mama hasn’t heard it …
The tale this daddy penguin tells this is one: a kind of autobiographical snippet in a way. The Daddy Penguin is supposed to be looking after the egg while Mama Penguin is far away looking for fish but he wanders away from the Dad Huddle and together with the egg, is whisked up and away to the Arctic.
The creatures there are pretty scary-looking …

and decidedly unhelpful when it comes to giving directions back to the penguins’ home. Thank goodness then for one ‘hairy, sheltering thing’ that’s kind enough to carry penguin and egg to the northernmost place in the world,
Now as young children know, a very special person (here called the Special Air Navigation Transport Authority)  lives there, one who is more than willing to share the delicious feast he’s been rustling up with his visitors, the number of which suddenly increases during their stopover.

This same person is also willing to add a Daddy Penguin and his newly hatched chick to the load of parcels he has to deliver; and drop them off just in time for Mama Penguin’s return.

Gently told, full of tenderness and with enchanting illustrations: the perfect recipe for wintry seasonal sharing.

Labyrinth / Amazed / Pierre the Maze Detective Sticker Book

Théo Guignard
Wide Eyed Editions
All manner of unlikely mazes – 14 in all – and each more challenging than the one before, are found in this vibrantly coloured book. Within each of the digitally designed spreads are things to search for, hiding in full sight, among the busy graphics. You can discover a smiling crocodile, a flying carpet, a bowler-hatted worm (not on the worm page), dark waters containing crabs in all the colours of the rainbow, cityscapes, a dragon’s lair,

mind-boggling geometry and a beach littered with sunbathers and much more as your fingers are drawn to follow the tracks across the spreads. This is just the thing to bridge the books and on-screen games divide.
as is:

Aleksandra Artymowska
Laurence King Publishing
Herein the aim is to help a lost boy navigate ten mazes to reach his waiting friends.
He sets off through pouring rain, down into a strange cavern full of origami fish, stars, birds and other creatures, fossils, gemstones and ladders towards a door into a world of trees. The trees too are bedecked with origami birds and there are planks, ladders and bridges to negotiate.

The exit door leads into a labyrinth world of pipes and machinery and yet more origami birds. Mesa-like rock formations are his next playground and from there another door takes him to a sculptured rock world with paper darts and whizzing birds once more present.
Next comes a boat-filled lake; then a world of rocks and ladders from where he enters cliff-like terraces festooned with prickly cacti. The next challenge is to cross a stepping-stone strewn desert.
A precarious, sky-high wooden scaffolded structure seemingly supporting chunks of rock needs to be navigated next,

from which the only escape is via a long, long ladder on which to descend. Happily, there at the bottom his friends are waiting and we discover that they are, seemingly, the source of all those origami creations that have festooned the landscapes of his travels.

Aleksandra Artymowska’s colour palette of pale greens, blues, purples and greys give the whole thing an other-worldly feel. A magical experience for all ages.

Pierre The Maze Detective: The Sticker Book
Hiro Kamigaki & IC4 Design
Laurence King Publishing
This is based on The Search for the Stolen Maze Stone book. Herein Pierre has a picture wall and he needs help from his readers to fill it.
With more than 800 stickers, and five scenes there is plenty to keep maze lovers engaged for hours.

I’ve signed the charter  

Last Stop on Market Street


Last Stop on Market Street
Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
Puffin Books
A little boy, CJ, waits for the Market Street bus in the rain one Sunday after church. “How come we don’t got a car?” he asks his Nana; and this isn’t the only thing he shows dissatisfaction over. Nana however, has a wonderfully playful imagination: “We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr Dennis, who always has a trick for you.” (Mr Dennis, the driver obligingly produces a coin from behind CJ’s ear and hands it to him.)
As their journey progresses Nana helps her grandson to start seeing things differently – more as opportunities for delight: a big tree drinks rain through a straw; a man who cannot see with his eyes, watches the world with his ears.


A real live guitarist passenger playing is far better than using a mobile to listen to music as the two older boys do, and when the man starts singing, CJ too closes his eyes and is transported:.‘He saw sunset colours swirling over crashing waves … He saw the old woman’s butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon … He was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.


Later as they walk back through their neighbourhood towards the soup kitchen,
Nana gently offers another reminder in response to his comment about everything being dirty: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” CJ then notices a ‘perfect rainbow arching over their soup kitchen’ and it causes him to wonder how his nana always finds beauty in places he’d never even think to look.


So much in this uplifting book is about connectedness: connectedness between a young child and a much older adult; between – thanks to Nana – all the passengers on the bus, between the city and both CJ and Nana, between the city’s dirt and its beauty be it fleeting or long lasting; and between both main characters and their surroundings. All of this comes through in de la Peña’s superb text that enables readers and listeners to immerse themselves in the multi-sensory experience of the shared journey. In total harmony, Robinson’s energetic illustrations, executed in a warm palette, capture the poetry of the text perfectly.
A quietly beautiful book with a very potent message relating to acceptance, finding joy in the simple things of life with all its diversities, and the possibilities this brings. I hope it gets the large audience in the UK it deserves: I intend to share it widely.

Home in the Rain & Home and Dry


Home in the Rain
Bob Graham
Walker Books
How does pouring rain make you feel? I must admit it doesn’t fill me with feelings of joy, far from it, but when I read John Updike’s quote below the dedication in this wonderfully warm story, I felt I was being chided somewhat. Here it is and it’s key to the story I feel: ‘Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
A drive home from Grandma’s in pouring rain is the backdrop for Bob Graham’s warm-hearted story. In the little red car are Francie, her mum, and ‘her baby sister’ making her presence very much felt in Mum’s tum. The drive is long and the rain ceaseless; the car makes its way in the stream of traffic and as it does so we see the minutiae of life unfolding around: the baby rabbit diving for cover, the tiny mouse narrowly escaping becoming a kestrel’s next meal …


the fishermen hunched in a line


and the duck family just being, we even see a tiny snail and down below two men out of their cars arguing over a shunt.
The little car pulls off the road: Francie writes on the misted windows to help pass the time; she writes family names and then pauses; her little sister is yet to be named. They eat their picnic lunch and Francie snuggles. On they go and stop again to fill up with petrol: small events unfold: Francie sploshes in rainbow puddles,


an old man feeds his dog, a small girl loses her sweets and suddenly Francie’s Mum has a name for the new sister. The journey continues, the world moves on; the sun appears.
Bob Graham provides plenty to pore over and to discuss in his tender depictions of everyday life. It’s a lovely book to share, especially in those families where a new baby is imminent.
Also with a rainy backdrop is:


Home and Dry
Sarah L.Smith
Child’s Play
I certainly wouldn’t relish the prospect of living where the Paddling family does – on a small island underneath a large black cloud. A large black cloud from which for much of the year, heavy rain falls. This lifestyle seems to suit the Paddlings – Dad, Albert, a swimming teacher, Mum, Sally, who spends her time fishing, and their young son.


Come summer though, the rain ceases, the water dries up and the family home is now atop a hill. Life changes for the Paddlings who no longer receive their regular ferry delivery of food and mail. Off in search of a place to picnic, they’re unaware that another Paddling – Mr B. Paddling has set out to visit his nephew.
Uncle B. as he’s known, duly arrives to find an empty house so he decides to go back to the station. Down comes the rain, up comes the water …
It takes a rescue to bring Mr Paddling A. and Mr Paddling B. together at last and a celebratory fish supper is served by Albert.
There are echoes of both Sarah Garland and Mairi Hedderwick in Sarah L.Smith’s illustrations in this unusual family story. Much is shown in the watery paintings that isn’t told: most notably that the Paddling family grows from three to four during the story, and that’s before Uncle B. arrives on the scene.

The Road Home / Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall!


The Road Home
Katie Cotton and Sarah Jacoby
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What a beauty this is: Katie Cotton’s gentle cadences combine with picture book artist Sarah Jacoby’s atmospherically beautiful illustrations to create a memorable evocation of the approach of winter.
Fly with me to far away, / where sun still warms the ground. / For winter’s in the dying light/ and in that windswept sound.’ the mother bird says to her young one as they prepare to leave the safety of their nest and undertake a long, arduous flight together.


It’s a flight that will take them and readers on a meditative journey as a mouse builds a nest for her little one and rabbits flee from wolves hunting their prey.


Yes, nature is hard, brutal at times, and this is no cosy picture woven here from words and pictures; rather it’s a powerfully gripping contemplation of the contrasting harshness and stark beauty of life in the wild ‘This road is hard, this road is long.’ we’re told over and over, but at the same time it’s a reassuring one: ‘ … we are not alone. / For you are here, and I’m with you … / and so this road is home.
The impact of this book is slow-burning: it’s an impact that grows with each re-reading, with the words and landscapes lingering in the mind long after the covers have been closed.


Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall!
Anne Sibley O’Brien and Susan Gal
Abrams Appleseed
The same partnership that brought us the lovely Abracadabra It’s Spring! has moved the focus to the autumn, as it’s called in the UK. It’s the time when the long summer days are already getting shorter, the temperature starts to drop, the leaves are just beginning to get those tinges of orange and gold and school opens once more. Everywhere are signs of change: seed pods burst scattering an abundance of feathery ‘clouds’…


birds get ready to fly to warmer climes and the trees are glowing in a multitude of glorious colours.
In a short time, ‘Chilly gusts/ toss leaves around. / Shazam!‘ And a carpet of leaves covers the ground just waiting for children to frolic and kick them skywards. What joy!


This is the season for squirrels to start laying away food for their winter store, there’s an abundance of delicious fruit to be picked and cooked …


or hollowed and made into pumpkin faces. Some animals curl up in their burrows for a long sleep and we humans dig out our warmer clothes and delight in all the season brings…
All of this is celebrated in pictures verbal and visual. Eleven gate-folds open up to reveal Gal’s glorious extended scenes to delight the eye and complement O’Brien’s exciting rhyming text.

They Didn’t Teach THIS in Worm School!


They Didn’t Teach THIS in Worm School
Simone Lia
Walker Books
Observer and Guardian cartoonist Simone Lia has created a cracking story featuring Marcus – a splendidly resourceful worm, and Laurence, a bird who looks like a chicken but is convinced that he’s a flamingo. An unlikely pairing you might be thinking.
Their initial meeting is decidedly iffy but Marcus manages to convince Laurence that making a slurpy spaghetti-like breakfast of him isn’t the best plan. In response to the worm’s “Are you going to eat me for breakfast?” Laurence replies, “Probably not … It feels funny eating you … now that we’ve had a conversation.” (The bird, by the way, is determined to fly all the way to Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya – his true home, so he thinks – but his map reading skills leave more than a little to be desired.)
After some more chat, a deal is struck. Marcus, with his “funny ideas and marvellous sense of direction” is to act as navigator for the journey and the two of them, having made some preparations, and Marcus has made plans to inform his relations …


the two appear to be ready – or maybe not quite yet. It looks as though Laurence has rather overdone his packing  …


Several hours later, with unpacking done and plumbing works re-connected, Marcus is safely (and comfortably) installed in a very soft spot in Laurence’s plumage, they’re on their way heading supposedly in the first instance for Paris.
After a while “lost” might be the best description of where they are but then, having glanced at the cover of his pal’s French guidebook, Marcus identifies The Eiffel Tower …


Panic over – albeit temporarily.
I could continue telling you what happens but suffice it to say all manner of near tragedies and ‘stewish’ shenanigans occur until eventually it seems they’ve reached their ultimate destination; but have they?


There are certainly flamingos; but we’re still 50 odd pages short of the end of this hilarious saga so I’ll leave you to make up your own minds and just add that this is a laugh out-loud read, full of wonderfully funny illustrations … and a must read for anyone from around seven especially those with a sense of adventure.

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Yasmeen Ismail
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
You’ve just got to meet Lila: she’s unstoppable with her boundless imagination and joie de vivre. And she’s just off with Mummy – or is supposed to be – to visit her Grandpa. The snag is – for her mum anyhow – that Lila has already let her vivid imagination take over and rather than getting on her outdoor clothes she’s off on one of her flights of fancy. Here she goes … doing, as she tells Mummy, “Nothing …


Yes they do manage to catch a train eventually, Lila with biscuit in hand and doing “Nothing …” to said biscuit and it’s this tasty treat that sets her imagination off into over-drive again RARRR-RRR! 


The next step of the journey is, for Lila at least by scooter – did I say scooter? Actually for Lila it’s something else altogether: now she’s “the queen of super speed” who will “CRASH down mountains and tear up trees …


Eventually, they do arrive at their destination and in response to Grandpa’s “What have you been doing since I last saw you?” comes the inevitable – I’ll leave that to you to work out … … and move on with Lila as she takes to the air with the birds, followed by …


Grandpa – Yippee!
Sheer delight from cover to cover: Yasmeen Ismail does it YET again with this one. I have to say though, that I was more than a little bit predisposed to adore it from the cover message ‘Run away with your imagination’ before even looking on the inside. Nevertheless this bobby dazzler more than lived up to expectations: Lila is out of this world, brilliant.

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Timely Rescues for Mortimer & Monkey

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Mortimer’s Picnic
Nick Ward
Troika Books
Mortimer is eagerly anticipating the picnic he’s been planning to share with best pal Oggy when he hears that the whole thing’s off – Oggy has an awful cold. Or maybe not. “I know – I’ll take the picnic to his house!” decides Mortimer. So having packed the picnic food, a get well soon card, medicine and a storybook, off he goes to his friend’s house. Almost immediately down comes the rain and up goes Mortimer’s brolly; but suddenly, WHOOSH! up goes Mortimer too and down he comes into the middle of a river – and he can’t swim. In this particular river is a resident croc. who’s only too happy to give Mortimer a lift across in exchange for his sausages.

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Deal done and off goes a decidedly damp rabbit into the ‘dark and scary forest’, followed unbeknown to him, by the still hungry crocodile.
Before long there appears another hungry animal demanding more of the contents of the picnic basket …

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Fearing for his life, Mortimer complies with the wolf’s wishes and is duly led out of the forest, albeit now feeling decidedly snuffly and with yet another pursuer. He’s not out of the woods entirely even now though: more of that picnic is handed over – in return for a safe bridge crossing this time – and a chase ensues …

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before the tale takes a decidedly unexpected turn.
I won’t reveal what happens or how the tale ends: suffice it to say it’s an altogether satisfying finale for listeners, although perhaps not quite so satisfying for some of the characters of this action-packed saga of thrills, misadventures and friendship.
Observant readers will have noticed that before the story starts, Mortimer sits reading …

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and it’s that particular book he chooses to take along with him to visit Oggy – food for thought?


Doodle Girl and the Monkey Mystery
Suzanne Smith & Lindsay Taylor, illustrated by Marnie Maurri
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Doodle Girl’s place of residence is a magical sketchbook; she wields a magic doodling pencil and has several special friends including Mr Whizzy, Miss Ladybird and the Small Squeakies – there are two of them. The adventure we join them on starts with a pointy shape, which, with a few deft dashes and squiggles, Doodle Girl rapidly transforms into …


Off they all fly, across an ocean and eventually come to land on a tropical island. It’s there that, by wielding her magic pencil in similar fashion to Anthony Browne’s Bear she manages to pull off the rescue of a little monkey from the snapping jaws of a pair of hungry crocs,


as well as supplying all concerned with a tasty treat.
I’m all for anything that opens up the imagination and encourages creativity in young children. With the current tick box mentality that is all too prevalent in schools today, I see fewer and fewer opportunities being given in the classroom and even in nurseries for children to follow their own imaginative ideas. All power to Doodle Girl and her flights of fancy …

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Rain / What Will Danny Do Today?

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Sam Usher
Templar Publishing
The small boy narrator from Snow and his Grandad are back to regale us with another wondrous weathery delight. The youngster cannot wait to get outside and catch raindrops, splash in puddles and look at reflections; but Grandad has other ideas, or rather one idea – “…wait for the rain to stop.” So they wait and wait, and it rains and rains.

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Grandad busies himself with paperwork: the boy reads and imagines …
He imagines voyaging with sea monsters, floating cities with carnivals and musical boatmen …


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Then at last, and co-incidentally, Grandad finishes his writing and the rain stops. Time to sally forth, suitably attired, for that voyage …

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until down comes the rain once more, but no matter: there are raindrops to catch, entertainers to watch and an important letter to post.

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After that, it’s a return to dry land with its reward of hot chocolate, warm socks and cosy togetherness.
A splendid lesson in delayed gratification if ever there was one; and another beautiful portrayal of childhood’s exuberance and delight in the great outdoors come rain or shine. Sam Usher’s paintings brilliantly capture the watery world of a rainy day, the boy’s energy, and the loving relationship between child and grandparent: and the way he plays with space on the page is superb.

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More of Sam Usher’s marvellous scenes in:

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What Will Danny Do Today?
Pippa Goodheart and Sam Usher
Following on from her You Choose series with Nick Sharratt, Pippa Goodheart joins forces with Sam Usher for another decision-making book only this time the decisions are made on behalf of young Danny.
From the moment he wakes up, Danny is faced with making choices: what kind of clothes to wear, what to have for breakfast,

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how to get to school …

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what lessons he’ll have and who will teach him. Then there are PE activities to decide upon …

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how he’ll spend his playtime and a whole range of art and craft possibilities with which to fill the afternoon: ‘What will Danny make?’ is the question.
Danny’s dad is there to meet him from school and he’s fairly easy to spot as, we are told, he wears a green jacket. Moreover, he’s willing to allow Danny an after school treat and here too it’s for us to decide whether that will be rowing, watching a film or skating. Finally, there’s the matter of bedtime reading and it appears that Danny has made his own choice this time.
This is a great book for getting talk going be it with one child, a small group, or – if you can stand it – a whole class, the majority of whom will doubtless be eager to offer their ideas on Danny’s day.

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Gorgeous detail from the endpapers

Every one of Sam Usher’s scenarios is crammed full of wonderful details and interesting characters, and is sure to generate a great deal of discussion.



All Aboard …

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All Aboard for the Bobo Road
Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr
Andersen Press
A riot of colour and pattern abounds in this travelling tale of a minibus as it leaves the Banfora bus station bound for Bobo station with Big Ali at the wheel and Fatima and Galo, his children aboard for the ride …

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First stop is Lake Tengréla where as hippos wallow in the water, passengers board and luggage is loaded and secured; then it’s BEEP, BEEP! and off they go again bound for Karfiguéla Falls. More passengers get on, oil and rice are loaded …

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and the journey continues towards the Domes of Fabedougou. Here, in the shadows of the old rocky domes additional travellers join them and produce is loaded. The final stop before the big city is in the forest and here livestock is added to the ever-increasing load and then at last their destination is in sight. Then comes operation unload …

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the passengers go off to do their business and, as the sun sets, it’s time for a well earned rest for Big Ali, Fatima and Galo, not to mention a tasty meal of fried fish, beans and rice.

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Before reading this picture book, I knew very little about Burkina Faso save that it is one of West Africa’s poorest countries. Thanks to its author Stephen Davies who has lived and worked there, I just had to find out more. And, thanks to Christopher Corr’s bold naïve style gouache scenes, one really gets a feeling of travelling through a vibrant cultural landscape as we board the minibus along with Big Ali’s passengers.
A lovely book to help expand the horizons of young listeners and readers of all ages.

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The Royal Baby’s Big Red Bus Tour of London
Martha Mumford and Ada Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The Royal Family are relaxing in the palace garden when there’s a ‘BEEEEEP’ trumpeting the arrival of the Big Red Bus and the driver announces “All aboard for the … Tour of London!” After a whole lot of scurrying around, everything is finally ready and ‘DING-A-LING-LING!’ off they go. First stop is The Natural History Museum where the young prince revels in being a T.Rex alarming little sis with his fearsome roars.

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From there they go on to London Zoo and thence for a picnic lunch in Regent’s Park. Then, having visited The British Museum the bus makes its way down to the Thames where the family boards a water taxi down to Greenwich …

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and then back to take a turn on the London Eye.
As the trip has to cater for all, including aunties, the next stop is the popular stores including – just for the Royal Babies – a visit to Hamleys.
On the subject of toys, however, come teatime back at the palace, a certain young Prince suddenly bursts into tears; his toy dinosaur hasn’t returned from the outing.
Off zooms the Duchess on her trusty vehicle to save the day, or rather, the night …

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Fans of the series will undoubtedly enjoy this latest instalment in the Royal Baby series and if you’re heading for London with very young children this might well be a good pre-visit starting point. Ada Grey’s scenes provide plenty to smile over and as always, those Royal corgis are very much in evidence.

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Chimpanzees for Tea!

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Chimpanzees for Tea!
Jo Empson
Puffin Books
With a nod to Pat Hutchins (Don’t Forget the Bacon) and a wink to John Burningham (The Shopping Basket) , Jo Empson conjours up a delicious story of a shopping trip undertaken by young Vincent at his mother’s behest. Concerned at the emptiness of the kitchen shelves, she sends him off to the shops, with the instruction to buy …

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and hurry home for tea!”
Off zooms the boy in his super go-cart, dashing past Mr Singh …

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but as he does so, the shopping list is whisked up in the air and far away leaving Vincent desperately trying to recall the items requested. Thus begins a frantic dash over hill and dale with him becoming increasingly muddled as he is distracted by what he sees on his journey – a big top,

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the zoo and a pet shop …

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his repeated chantings reflecting the places he passes.
By the time he gets back home, Vincent has managed to acquire a whole menagerie of guests, large and small and then there is nothing for it but to invite them all inside for …

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Wonderful Chinese whispers style rhyming word play combine with pacey illustrations that are full of vim and vigour. Observant listeners will notice the presence of a certain pigeon with the lost list chasing after Vincent throughout the whole farcical foray and delight in the opportunities to join in with chanting the list litany.
To be sure, another tasty treat from Jo Empson.



Ways Home

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Little Home Bird
Jo Empson
Child’s Play
Little Bird’s home is all he could wish for so when, as the days grow colder and his big brother tells him it’s time to fly south to warmer climes, Little Bird feels more than a little sad. Without his favourite branch, his favourite food, his favourite music and that favourite view of his, the idea of two homes just doesn’t appeal to him. But then Little Bird has an idea: why not take all those favourite things along too, then no matter where he was, it would always feel like home.
Off fly the other birds leaving Little Bird to follow behind; but as the others get ever further ahead, a journey with so much baggage proves too difficult.

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Little Bird has no choice but to start to let go, and, one by one his favourite things find new homes.

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Delighting some of the recipients …

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After a long journey of many days and nights all the birds are safely at their winter home – Little Bird, sans favourite things – but it doesn’t take many days before he starts to discover exciting new things, some of which will become NEW favourite things.

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With those gorgeous illustrations, this is a smashing book to share, especially with youngsters who, for whatever reason, have more than one home.

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Nelly & Nora: The Windy Way Home
Walker Entertainment
The two young characters in this charming book, which is based on Emma Hogan’s CBeebies TV script, are an endearing pair. When the story opens the sisters have been playing down on the sand when suddenly as they lie down side-by-side, they notice the clouds moving fast above them and a bird seeming to fly backwards. “Toooooo windy!” announces Nora. “We should go home,” Nelly replies and off they set up the steps. At the top however the wind is so strong that it’s very difficult to walk and so begins a journey back to the camp that involves observations and experimentation on the girls’ part  …

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not to mention a whole lot of bunching up.

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With a ‘Make your own paper windmills’ activity included, this is just the thing to encourage young children to observe and find out about the world around them.

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The Bear’s Surprise/ And then …

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The Bear’s Surprise
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
Spring has come to the forest and emerging from hibernation, Little Bear discovers Papa Bear missing. Intent on discovering the whereabouts of his parent off he goes down a ‘never-before-seen path’ as it twists and turns taking him through the cut-outs on every spread: down a dark hole into a cave wherein he spies an intriguing pipe …

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Then, emerging from the washing machine – for that was where the pipe led – he finds himself in a huge circus tent. There, on a very tiny bike, he spots Papa Bear performing a stunt before himself becoming part of the show …

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and eventually, courtesy of a cannon blast, landing atop a large nose belonging to none other than his very own Mama Bear.

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And she has a very special, very tiny surprise of her own to share with Little Bear and with delighted readers and listeners. Just the thing to complete a family balancing act

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before the whole family wends its way back home to the bear den and some well-earned sleep.
There is just so much to see in this book. Almost every spread is teeming with minute details of animals, circus performers and avid spectators. And just in case all this isn’t enough, Chaud drops in the odd character or two from Lewis Carroll along the way. This is definitely one to enjoy with a small group, or for sharing with an individual.

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And then …
Child’s Play
Determined to divert some of the attention away from her newly born baby brother, the young, birthday girl narrator of this marvellous story creates a portrait of the recent arrival, makes a special wish

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and then lets her imagination run riot … as she miniaturises her parents, deals with a squid emergency –

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with a little bit of help from a friendly doc once …

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or twice … ,

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allows herself another wish – it’s her birthday after all AND something of an emergency, before coming to a momentous decision concerning her baby sibling.

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Do I hear another story starting to emerge …
Enormous fun, this offbeat tale is a testament to the imagination  (storying in particular) and how it can help youngsters, indeed all of us, deal with those life experiences that challenge us from time to time.

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Bear on a Bike

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Bear on a Bike
Hannah Shaw
Alison Green Books
Meet Bear, an immediately engaging character who has made a scrummy-looking cake for his pal Mouse. But, on arrival at Mouse’s house, he discovers that said friend has already departed, zooming off on his trusty motor scooter. Thus ensues an amazing chase with Bear in hot pursuit having quickly abandoned his bike, bagging rides on all manner of vehicles: a lorry, a bus, a trolley,

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a skateboard, a train,

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a canoe, a crane even. This one deposits our ursine hero onto a steamboat and he then moves to a campervan, a tuk-tuk, (love it!)

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a stately sedan, skis, a biplane, and finally, a parachute that drops him unceremoniously into the welcoming arms – almost – of …

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And you might guess where the meeting takes place.
This one is fab. Totally brilliant. Especially the fact that all the while during the chase, Bear has Mouse in his sights and oh, so nearly within his grasp.
And, even better, it has all the vital elements for beginning readers and some: a hugely enjoyable story, great characters, text perfectly matched to hugely humorous, story-telling pictures (these are visually cumulative in places and every one is a potential starting point for children’s own flights of fancy,) rhyme and rhythm, speech bubbles, signs – great to see a bookshop among them and more…
With its circular structure what more can any one ask?
I have been thinking for some while about re-doing elements of Learning to Read with Picture Books (that I penned as a fledgling teacher) as a weblog. This will be among my very first recommendations thereon.

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Little One

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Little One
Jo Weaver
Hodder Children’s Books
Big Bear and Little One emerge from their winter den into the spring sunshine. It’s clearly Little One’s first experience of the season: “There’s so much to discover in your new world,” his mother tells him leading him into a forest astir with new life.

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What follows is a journey through the seasons with some life lessons for Little One, wonderfully rendered in Jo Weaver’s quietly beautiful charcoal illustrations. How to be gentle …

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and playful. How to catch fish …

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and how to swim.
How to find food in the autumn

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before winter comes around once more and it’s time to leave the forest and head for their den to spend another winter together, Little One so much wiser now from all his experiences.
Jo Weaver’s superb craftsmanship in her use of black and white and greys is evident on every single spread: just look at this nocturnal scene:

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and this glorious skyscape …

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There’s a gentle lyrical, almost meditational quality too, in Weaver’s writing as she moves her characters and readers right through a whole year in this, her debut picture book. It’s one to be shared one to one or with a small group when in keeping with the narrative, the pace can be slow and children and adult have time to explore the wonderful, illustrative details. I love the circular nature of the whole thing too.

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One Day On Our Blue Planet … In the Antarctic

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One Day On Our Blue Planet … In the Antarctic
Ella Bailey
Flying Eye Books
Ella Bailey’s second day-stop on her tour of Our Blue Planet is a decidedly chilly one, the Antarctic. Here, as day breaks we join a recently hatched Adélie penguin chick as she waddles along the frozen coastline, weaving across the nesting grounds in answer to her parents’ call.

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Her mother feeds her one last meal and then that little penguin must set out alone into the enormous Antarctic Ocean to fend for herself.
When she reaches the water’s edge there is nothing for it but to launch herself seawards and once in the water, the little creature moves through it with grace and speed, travelling huge distances every day as she seeks food. In her search, the little penguin encounters all manner of marine giants …

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And diving down under the ice she discovers a hidden world rich in food such as krill, squid and fish; but there are also dangerous creatures intent on eating her.

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Further north fur seals are to be discovered as well as different kinds of penguins; but no matter how long it is before that chick returns to solid ground, she has a thick protective layer of fat to keep her warm be she in the sea or, as the cold, cold day turns to bitter night, resting on the floating ice …

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As with her first Savannah destination, Ella Bailey presents an amazing amount of information in such a way that it will be easily absorbed by children who, like this adult reviewer, will delight in making the journey through those chilly southern waters along with little penguin. Her aptly crisp, clear illustrations are superb and the end papers (one above the ice, the other below) are chock-full of visual information.

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On the Way to School & Follow that Car

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
If the boy in this hilarious story came into my class with such outlandish excuses for his lateness, and in such profusion, I’d want to celebrate his imagination and award him first prize for creativity. His whole sorry saga is pretty much out of this world, as we are presented with such scenarios as the first “some giant ants stole my breakfast ” through increasingly hilariously, surreal situations such as …

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via a whole gamut of fairy tale meanderings,

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mad cap misadventures and flights of fancy, before our young hero arrives at the school gate, But even then he is forced to travel (ably or not so ably assisted by his uncle’s time machine) back home to pick up his forgotten packpack, only to be confronted when he does make it to his classroom, by his disbelieving teacher who seemingly, is having none of it.

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As the illustrator’s name might imply, this book is hot stuff – sorry about the pun. Those scenes of his are real rib-ticklers and Davide Cali’s droll delivery of the boy’s journey equally so.
A small book indeed; but one that packs a powerful punch.

Slightly less crazy but also involving a journey and food (oh! maybe forget that last bit) is:

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Follow That Car
Lucy Feather and Stephan Lomp
Nosy Crow
Hey, you … yes you!
Mouse needs your help and he needs it now!
He needs to catch Gorilla and he needs to be super-quick!
Are you ready? Then let’s go!
An immediate engagement tactic that and one I doubt many young children would be able to resist.
Off speeds chunky Gorilla in his small car with Mouse on his mo-bike in hot pursuit. But what is the purpose of the chase? Has Gorilla stolen something? is the first thought, but we don’t find out (unless like this reviewer you cheat and read the ending before engaging in the chase. Not something I allowed my group of mixed infants to do, however – not knowing is really part and parcel of the fun.)
So off we go along with Mouse as he manoueveres around that sheet of glass and through the busy streets… past the building site where Gorilla completes a dare-devil stunt… down the car park ramp… over the fly-over towards the railway station. Oh no! Gorilla’s got through but Mouse is stuck at the crossing gate.

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Good job we saw that tunnel, so it’s on towards the farm taking care to avoid any tractors and oh my goodness! now comes a busy market and Gorilla’s drawing further away… and surely those cannot be mountains up ahead? But yes, and a ski resort;

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the end must be nigh…not quite yet though. First there’s a lakeside traffic jam to negotiate. Thank goodness then that Gorilla has to stop to refuel and that’s where we (and Mouse) catch up with him and …

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Off speeds Mouse but – hang on a minute: now why is Gorilla chasing after him?
Well, why should I spoil it for you– you’ll have to get hold of a copy of this fun-filled, action-packed book and find out for yourself.

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