Lo and Behold! Mouse & Mole

Lo and Behold! Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

Brimming over with seasonal warmth and the spirit of friendship is author Joyce and artist James ‘ visit to the wonderful world of Mouse, Mole and their other animal friends.

The first of the three stories finds the two opening the curtains to discover a blanket of snow covering the ground outside. The prefect day for making a ‘snowsomething’ and so eager to enjoy the outdoors are they, that they eat their breakfast porridge on the doorstep. Then it’s time for some games before meeting up with Rabbit, Rat, Hedgehog and Owl for a spot of sledging.

‘Snowsomething’ building is next and they have to wait until it’s dressed before deciding what sort of something it actually is. A Snowmole it turns out to be and then Mole decides to have his supper beside it to keep it company. He even beds down beside the Snowmole and eventually falls fast asleep. How come when he wakes up, Mole is in his own bed inside their cosy home? However Mole is still concerned about Snowmole being lonely but good old Mouse has done something to make sure that isn’t so.

It’s not long before December comes around and Mouse announces that it’s time to start using the advent calendar

until, as the second episode is called, lo and behold, it’s Christmas. Despite having said that, Mole decides that the big day is a really long way away that year. Meanwhile, as they have lots of preparations to make, the friends are so busy that Christmas Eve soon arrives.

So, what is the very important thing that Mole thinks they’ve forgotten to do as they get ready for bed on 24th; or rather, several important things seemingly? Then what is the bump in the night referred to in the title of the final episode?

I suggest snuggling up with a hot chocolate and sharing this with your little ones in the run up to your own Christmas. What wonderful Christmas cards some of James’ watercolour illustrations would make.

Mister Boo!

Mister Boo!
Joyce Dunbar and Petr Horáček
Walker Books

Meet Mister Boo, a mischievous moggy that loves to tease, not least Rosie when he pops his head out from the box on arrival at her home.

Surprises are his special thing: he alarms the mice, flips the goldfish from their bowl,

and come spring there’s no stopping him. He frightens the baby birds as they learn to fly,

terrifies the baby rabbits and the owl fledglings with his springtime joie de vivre.

Time passes and one morning awoken late by birdsong, Mister Boo finds that despite it being spring, he no longer feels that spring in himself. Equally upsetting is the fact that the other animals either ignore him or show him little interest other than the mother owl that lets him know what she thinks.

Feeling decidedly downhearted Mister Boo creeps back home where he’s greeted by a joyful Rosie who has a surprise in store.

Can this restore his spirits? He’ll assuredly need to accept some changes in the home …

Told through Joyce’s chatty text with its lively, playful language and Petr’s distinctive, brilliantly expressive scenes of the ups and downs of the titular character this will delight young listeners and adult sharers alike, especially those with a particular penchant for prankish cats.

Mouse & Mole: The Secret of Happiness

Mouse and Mole: The Secret of Happiness
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

What better to start the latest in this charming series of stories about the friendship between two endearing woodland animals than with A Good Read. There’s a slight problem though, for Mouse’s constant giggles and Mole’s failure to get himself comfortable, not to mention having an attack of hiccups

followed by an itch is, let’s say, not conducive to getting lost in a book. Can the two find a solution and finally give their reading matter their undivided attention?

This Way and That sees Mole donning his walking boots and setting out for a walk. But what is intended as a happy-go-lucky stroll in the spring air turns into an exceedingly irritating series of errands for Mouse that send him hither and thither

until eventually, Mole has his very own point to make as he sallies forth YET AGAIN!

In the third and final tale, Mole tries desperately to remember the contents of his previous night’s dream wherein he knew The Secret of Happiness. This elusive thing that sort of ‘bubbled up, … sort of billowed, … sort of bloomed from somewhere deep inside me’ has Mole searching around all day until his friends arrive for tea. Can they perhaps assist him in finding the answer to the puzzle? …

As always, the gentle humour in Joyce Dunbar’s thought-provoking story telling is given a delightfully nostalgic feel thanks to James Mayhew’s charmingly elegant illustrations. Whether as bedtime reading for little ones or read solo by older children, these are small literary gems.

Mouse & Mole: A Fresh Start

Mouse & Mole: A Fresh Start
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

This is the fifth book in the enchanting series that stars close friends Mole and Mouse. Now though, in the first of the three stories, the two decide that perhaps they’ve become just a little too close and are taking one another for granted. In order for their friendship not to pall they agree to avoid one another for an entire day, however challenging that might be. Then their friendship can start all over again.
Mole insists the manner of Mouse’s execution of the plan is kept to himself.
The following morning Mouse receives an invitation to visit Hedgehog for elevenses so, making sure to avoid Mole, off he goes leaving a note as to his whereabouts. Mole meanwhile is late to rise – as usual and on discovering no sign of Mouse, is disturbed.

An exhaustive search of their home reveals no sign of his best pal. Distraught at the possibility that Mouse has forsaken him and found a new friend, he drives off to pay a call on several other of the woodland animals leaving a message for Mouse with each. The last call he pays is to …

Hip-Dip-Dip sees Mole spoilt for choice when Mouse decides to buy his bestie the much-wanted toy sailing boat he’s seen in Hare’s toyshop window. Mole’s original longing was for a blue boat with a white sail but when they discover there are other possibilities, Mole gets into such a tizzy that they leave without making a purchase.

The following day is perfect for boat sailing on the pond so it’s back to the toyshop where Hare informs them that a mystery buyer has bought the blue boat over the phone. Oh dear! Now what will happen …

In the final tale A Bolt from the Blue, the two friends get caught in a thunderstorm. With the possibility of a lightning strike, should they or shouldn’t they take shelter under a large tree? Or is it better to make a dash for home. Perhaps neither is the best way to deal with a sudden downpour, if so what will Mouse and Mole decide to do?

The magic still holds good in these latest short stories; surprises, warmth and gentle humour abounds and there’s that characteristic element of surprise in each episode which brings such delight to readers and listeners alike. James’ delectably detailed illustrations combined with Joyce’s seemingly effortless storytelling offer a perfect snuggle up on a dark evening story share delight.

Mouse & Mole

Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

First published over 25 years ago, it’s wonderful to see what was a favourite book among new solo readers in primary classes I was teaching at the time, brought back in print by Graffeg.

Mouse and Mole are great friends (somewhat similar to Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad to whom there’s a dedication of sorts before the five tales herein).

All five of the stories are adorable but I think my favourite remains Talk to Me. Here the two chat together about the possibilities of ‘tomorrow’ be it fine – then a picnic with cheese and cucumber sandwiches is the order of the day. If however the day isn’t fine, then an apple wood fire, cosy armchairs, roast chestnuts, toasted muffins and hot chocolate (mmm!) are on the agenda. Should it be ‘an in-between sort of day’, Mouse suggests ‘we will do something in-between’ … We will tidy up.’ I hope for their sake it isn’t the third option. I doubt we have in-between days in our house!

Salad is the title of story number two and the day is, so Mouse informs his still in bed pal, ‘wild and wintry’. Who can blame Mole for wanting to stay snuggled up in a cosy, warm bed, even with the offer from Mouse of huddling by the fire to consume toasted muffins and roast chestnuts.

Those particular items appear to be favourites with the two characters, one of which consumes large quantities of both.

I won’t divulge what happens in the other three stories – Tidying Up

Stuff

and The Picnic – yes they do finally go –

rather I’ll urge you to get yourself a copy of this new edition that still has as much charm – both Joyce’s deliciously comic tellings and James wonderful illustrations – as I remember from back in the day. Read alone or read aloud, it’s great either way.

Grumpy Duck

Grumpy Duck
Joyce Dunbar and Petr Horáček
Walker Books

Down at the pond there’s a duck with the grumps but who can blame her since her pond is dry and she’s all alone without a playmate in sight.

Off she goes to seek one, her first request being directed to Dog. Dog is more than willing so long as Duck will join in with some messy hole digging. Duck, having no wish for filthy feathers turns down the offer, thus increasing the size of the little grey cloud that is accompanying her.

Pig’s muddy puddle is deemed too pongy, she doesn’t do ‘cockadoodling’, nor competitive hopping,

peaceful dozing or clothes chomping, so Duck also refuses the suggestions proffered by Cockerel, Rabbit, Tortoise and Goat.

By now, that cloud above her is both black and absolutely ginormous; big enough to cover all those animals whose offers have been rejected and now they, along with Duck, look pretty dejected.

All of a sudden that black cloud, as is the wont of such aerosol masses, decides to burst, precipitating a multitude of BIG SHINY WET SPLASHY RAINDROPS.

Before long the cacophony issuing from their sloshy, sploshy, splashy splishy surroundings is that emitted by seven joyful farmyard residents having the time of their lives.

And the big black cloud? That’s nowhere to be seen; instead the sky is emblazoned with all the colours of the rainbow.

Joyce Dunbar’s patterned text is full of delicious alliteration and a delight to read aloud. I can see this soon becoming a storytime favourite and one that children may well want to try reading for themselves once they’ve heard the story a couple of times.

Petr Horáček’s illustrations are more scribbly delicious than ever. Splendidly expressive and instantly recognisable: I wonder how many listeners, already lovers of Horáček’s vibrant art will bring to mind his Greedy Goat when they see the garment gobbling Goat in this story.

I Will Not Wear Pink

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I Will Not Wear Pink
Joyce Dunbar and Polly Dunbar
Otter-Barry Books
When Plunkett the pig receives an invitation to a pink themed party his reaction is one of more than a little peturbation …

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What him? No way. The one who’s called “Plunkett the plonker. Plunkett the oinker. The hooter, the honker. The toff who shows off, stands out in a crowd.”
There follows a veritable litany of further protestatory outpourings from our porky pal before he states the obvious: “…there is one sort of pink so divine, so sublime, and the best of it is that it’s already mine, from the tip of my tail to the snoot of my snout, pink is the shade of the skin that I’m in. Pink’s where I end and where I begin.” Thereafter he scoots off to state his case for being in the buff to his waiting host, Priscilla …

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and having done so, he proceeds to deliver an exhortation to her other guests to throw caution to the wind and join them in a glorious strip off and plunge party of the wallowing kind.

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Then seemingly, a terrific time is had by one and all.
One gets the impression that both Joyce and Polly Dunbar had an equally terrific time creating this gloriously dotty, thoroughly upbeat celebration of being yourself – au naturel – so to speak. Joyce’s – or should that be Plunkett’s narrative – is pure pleasure to read aloud, especially to those who, like this reviewer, enjoy the opportunity to put on a story-telling performance. Young audiences

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are certain to revel in the hilarious antics of Plunkett and Priscilla as portrayed by Polly in her effervescent scenes.
Altogether a bravura performance by both mother and daughter.

Another lovely picture book with themes of being yourself and friendship is re-issued with a brand new look:

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The Star-Faced Crocodile
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
This one tells of a developing bond between a banjo-strumming bear and the crocodile of the title, who is not actually star-faced at all but is frightened to reveal his ordinariness to the bear.

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The bear however is perfectly happy in the knowledge that the croc. is just a plain, snippy-snappy creature, but goes to great lengths to transform his new friend into a twinkling animal nonetheless.
Melling’s humorous watercolour scenes are sheer delight.

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Pat-a-Cake Baby

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Pat-a-Cake Baby
Joyce Dunbar and Polly Dunbar
Walker Books
Clad in onesie and chef’s hat, our baby narrator introduces itself thus:
“ I’m a cookie baby
a pat-a-cake baby
I want to bake
a very special cake
and that is exactly what happens during the course of the night. The chubby infant, ably assisted by three lively chums, gets busy with the shiny yellow butter, ditsy glitzy glossy sugar,

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yolky, jokey slithery, slidy eggs, sulky milk and snowy blowy flour and they proceed to whisk, shake, pour, sieve, sprinkle, and liberally toss the ingredients every which way. At the same time these adorable babes are scraping, flicking, licking,

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and generally cavorting all over the kitchen.
Then, when the cake’s finally baked, there comes the pitting and patting, piping the icing, (with a whole lot of giggling and wriggling for good measure), followed by a generous scittering, scattering, sprinkling and spronkling of decorative bits and pieces.

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The result is so magnificently mouth-watering that the man in the moon himself drops by for a generous serving. Mmmm!

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The mother/daughter recipe here is equally delectable – a large sprinkling of delicious assorted wordplay in a satisfyingly bouncy, rhythmically rhyming, read-aloud text, a delectable cast of tiny characters, generous spreads and spatters of pastel colouring, sprinkled with sparkling stars.
Bring it on and serve it up in platefuls, say I. And then ask me back for more … I know infant listeners will want another serving; it’s truly irresistible.
The whole concoction is just so-o good I’d like to show every single spread but you’ll just have to get hold of a copy for yourself.

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RABBIT, RABBIT, RABBIT!

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Rabbits Don’t Lay Eggs!
Paula Metcalf and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Macmillan Children’s Books
Bored with his lonely, dark burrow life, Rupert the rabbit hears happy farm sounds beyond the wall and decides to seek a new home there. He tunnels under the fence and POPS up just as Dora duck has finished her new nest, ruining her precious creation. Less than pleased, Dora endeavours to find Rupert something useful to do on the farm, no easy task despite Rupert’s confidence and enthusiasm.

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Such enthusiasm even leads him to believe he can lay an egg. He doesn’t, but after considerable straining and pushing, something else does pop out from his nether regions.

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So, what can Rupert do to earn his right to stay on the farm? Well, what are rabbits expert at? Getting under things that others cannot – like fences between hungry animals and fields of delicious juicy carrots. Now, there’s a job that will please his new friends, Dora included, so long as she thinks he’s ace layer of all those tasty vegetables… hmmmmm!

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Young audiences will love Rupert’s misunderstandings, the shared joke between the author, Rupert and themselves. And, like Rupert’s new-found friends, they’ll relish the visual treats supplied by the bold, bright pictures of Cally Johnson-Isaacs whose scenes, be they full spread or smaller vignette style, are both funny and full of charm, in this farmyard romp.
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The Spring Rabbit
Joyce Dunbar and Susan Varley
Andersen Press pbk
I cannot believe this book is twenty years old. It’s a story I’ve always treasured since it first was published and kept as a special one to share, with fours to sixes especially, towards the end of the Easter term. It tells of young rabbit Smudge who lives with his parents in the woods and is the only one not to have a sister or brother. “Wait until the spring,” is his mother’s response when he asks why he has no siblings. Spring however seems a long way away. So, in autumn Smudge makes a leaf rabbit to be a brother but leaf rabbits cannot play chase, neither can the snow rabbit he makes for a sister in winter, join in a game of snowballs, nor the mud rabbit brother he builds as the snow melts, enjoy splashing in puddles with Smudge;

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in fact it is soon washed away by the rain.
At the first signs of spring, Smudge begins his search for his new sibling but he finds only baby mice, speckled eggs in a robin’s nest and frogspawn in the pond. Sadly he returns home to tell his mother but there awaiting him is a wonderful surprise;

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not just one baby brother but two … and a baby sister as well. Then it’s not long before they can all enjoy Smudge’s specially built, great big moss rabbit.
Smudge and his friends remain as adorable as ever. Susan Varley’s water colour pictures are infused with tenderness and just a hint of gentle humour making them the perfect complement for Joyce Dunbar’s sensitively told story of longing and new life.
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Miffy’s Play Date
Illustrations by Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
It was something of a relief to discover that thoroughly modern Miffy, who has a play date with her friend Grunty, looks almost the same adorable rabbit she’s always been, despite this new and very now, experience and her slightly broader, digitally rendered mouth. The two pals have fun building a block castle, playing hide and seek, role-playing and much more. All too soon, it’s time to tidy away and Miffy bids farewell to her friend.
Simple, cute and just the thing for the very young to enjoy with an older family member or friend who can not only read the story but also share the instructions to the sticker finding activities. I am at a loss though to understand why the publishers feel a need to flag up this as ‘Practise fine motor skills’ alongside, ‘Relate to a child’s first experiences’. Books should be allowed to speak for themselves – surely the instructions are sufficient anyway but to use ‘early years’ jargon as a sales tactic is, in my opinion, wrong and diminishes the prime purpose of such books, which should be enjoyed for their own sake.
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Miffy at the Zoo
Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
Thankfully there is no such message on the new edition of this old favourite. Herein, Miffy and her Daddy take a train ride to the zoo where Miffy encounters animals large and small. Poet Tony Mitton has reworked the original texts with his consummate skill as a writer of verse, giving them a modern, yet timeless appeal that remains true to Bruna’s original voice. Personally, I’d start with this one and of course, Miffy.
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February Finale

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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.

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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!” …

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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.
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Gracie enjoying sharing the story.

Hugo the Hare’s Rainy Day
Jez Alborough
Doubleday
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

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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.
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(The second story, Billy the Goat’s Big Breakfast (previously reviewed on this site is just out in paperback.)

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

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

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and longer.

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Then finally, a fish is caught!

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Brilliantly simple, brilliantly effective, very funny and perfect for beginning readers.
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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.
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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!

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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Also on the theme of death is

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Fred
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!”

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Fred has lost none of his appeal and should find a whole host of new fans.
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Bookmark 5th March in your diary: wrad13nodate