Conjuror Cow / Where’s William’s Washing?

Conjuror Cow
Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt
Macmillan Children’s Books
Although Julia Donaldson’s rhyming in this lift-the-flap- book is impeccable, Conjuror Cow’s magic skills are decidedly lacking as she makes several abortive attempts to produce a white rabbit from her top hat, a cake, a trap door in the floor and a snazzy table cloth,

before Nick Sharratt’s vastly amused mouse and pig onlookers give her the instructions that finally lead to a surprise revelation.

As you would expect Nick’s illustrations are alive with his trademark zany humour. Who can fail to fall for the charms not only of Conjuror Cow but also the team of bit part players?

Fantastic fun for toddlers and readers aloud too.

Where’s William’s Washing?
Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster

What a delight to be back in Treacle Street on a breezy summery afternoon. William Tripehound is taking advantage of the breeze to dry his washing but all of a sudden, WHOOSH! The wind whisks the contents of William’s washing basket and the clothes he’s just pegged onto the line up and away.

The search is on aided and abetted by young listeners who will love to help lift the flaps and discover the whereabouts of William’s red striped apron, his checked trousers, his socks,

and his underpants.

Happily, thanks to audience assistance, by the end of the story William has all his washing back save one item, the new use for which is just too ideal to reclaim, and the pooch is more than happy to serve yummy pie and gravy teas as thank yous to all the Treacle Street helpers.

With her playful text and delectable, slightly retro, detailed illustrations the third visit to Kate Hindley’s Treacle Street is every bit as enjoyable as the previous ones.

The Singing Mermaid Make and Do Book / Jumbo Pad of My First Puzzles, Jumbo Pad of Brain Teasers, 501 Dinosaur Joke-Tivities

The Singing Mermaid Make and Do Book
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Here’s an activity book based on the popular The Singing Mermaid picture book from a few years back that’s especially apt for fans of the story and those who enjoy creating.

There are more than a dozen art/craft activities many of which are mermaid related such as the seaweed crown and tail patterns. For their simplicity I particularly like the ‘Mermaid Tail Footprints’ that can be turned into merpeople

and the sea creatures made from shells and pipe cleaners .
Having made the circus performers, those who want something more sophisticated, can go on to create a circus tent theatre and even put on a show.

Most projects have a lead-in quote from the story, and all have a list of items required, clear step-by-step instructions, some ‘tips, tricks and twists’ and funky illustrations by Lydia Monks. There are also 200+ stickers and some templates should youngsters feel the need to use them.

With school now over for the holidays, this book provides hours of crafty fun.

Jumbo Pad of My First Puzzles
Jumbo Pad of Brain Teasers
501 Dinosaur Joke-Tivities
Highlights for Children

Hours and hours of puzzling for youngsters can be found between the covers of these three.

My First Puzzles is aimed at under 6s and the Brain Teasers are for those age 6+, while both age groups will find plenty of things to enjoy in Dinosaur Joke-Tivities.

Younger puzzlers can hunt for hidden items in a variety of scenes, or search for things that are the same and different, or begin with a given letter sound to look for matching pairs, there are mazes, pictures to colour and to adorn with some of the 150 stickers provided, and a wealth of ‘silly things’ to find.

There are over 125 Brain Teasers some of which are of a mathematical nature. Others offer thematic words to unscramble, puzzles that require logical thinking to solve, words to find that rhyme with a given one, quizzes, riddles and much more. (all solutions provided).

With cartoons, tongue twisters, riddles and of course, jokes, there’s silliness galore in 501 Dinosaur Joke-Tivities as well as plenty to exercise the little grey cells of users. There’s even a story to finish. Here’s one of the jokes: ‘What dinosaur loved playing with blocks?’ – answer, Lego-saurus.

With long holidays now upon us, these offer indoor, screen-free fun aplenty.

What the Ladybird Heard at the Seaside

What the Ladybird Heard at the Seaside
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

When the ladybird takes a trip to the seaside, one July day, the sea lion roars, a seagull shrieks, a crab snaps, a shark gnashes and a whale’s tail splashes; but what the observant ladybird hears and sees are the dastardly duo Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len and they have a despicable plan.

They have designs on the mermaid’s beautiful fair hair, which they plan to cut off at midnight and fashion into a wig to sell to ‘a famous star’ and make a fortune in so doing. This isn’t to be a one off attack though, for once her hair has regrown, they’ll cut it again … and again … and again – ad infinitum.

The ladybird passes on the information she’s gleaned to the sea animals and they resolve to come to her aid.

They devise a clever ruse to foil the plan of the wicked two.

When they take the plunge at 12 o’clock could it be that Hugh and Len are about to attempt to chop off more than they can actually hack with their snip, snip, snipping scissors?

With the combination of Julia’s faultless rhyming narrative and Lydia’s sparkle-scattered scenes of the sea and its swimmers, this is another adventure of our silent Ladybird that’s sure to make a terrific SPLASH with both young listeners and adult readers aloud.

Flights of Fancy

Flights of Fancy
Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Browne, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Lauren Child
Walker Books

Now in paperback, here’s a truly special gem of an anthology subtitled ‘Let your imagination soar with top tips from ten Children’s Laureates’. It brings together the ten awesome authors and illustrators who have held the title (given in celebration of their outstanding achievements) and first awarded to Quentin Blake in 1999.

To open, Michael Morpurgo explains how the original idea of the role (each person holds it for two years), was first thought up by himself and Ted Hughes, the then Poet Laureate.

You might be especially interested in poetry, rhyme and wordplay, if so head first to the sections from Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. Michael in Poetry Belongs to Everyone talks about playing around with a word to create a poem. Julia Donaldson’s Plays to Read and to Write discusses one of her own plays that she based on the Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, offering a fun, lively 6-parter

If you’d rather be playful in the visual sense then Anthony Browne’s The Shape Game could be your starting point: having talked about how to play it, he showcases some examples from 3 other famous illustrators to whom he gave the same shape to play as the one of his own shown in the book. The potential with this one is endless. Probably that is the case with most of the chapters however.

In The Only Way to Travel, Quentin Blake writes with reference to  Dahl’s stories, about how when illustrating someone else’s texts it’s important to ‘put yourself inside their story’ and capture the atmosphere before diving in and drawing those fabulous illustrations of his.

More about how other fabulous illustrators approach their drawing and what provides their inspiration comes from Chris Riddell –

make sure you check out his brilliant cartoons of all ten Children’s Laureates in the final section – and Lauren Child.

How fantastic and moving is Michael Morpurgo’s Find Your Own Voice that tells children how to do so in ‘I Believe in Unicorns’.
I thoroughly enjoyed too, Malorie Blackman’s Taking a Word for a Walk using SEA as her example,

before she moves on to discussing from whose viewpoint a story is being told when one writes.

If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom; not only will it do just that, but it will also ignite or add fuel to a passion for reading, writing and illustrating. (BookTrust, which manages the Children’s Laureate gets 50p from every sale.)

Early Years Round-Up

Father’s Day
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

A gorgeously warm celebration of moments shared with a beloved dad are woven together to make a super little book for dads and their very little ones to share around Father’s Day, or on any other day. There’s a lively early morning awakening and musical rendition at breakfast time and a walk to playgroup. The highlight though is a day spent at the beach, playing, snoozing, sandcastle building and picnicking. Then it’s back home for bathtime, a spot of first aid,

a goodnight story and some moon spotting.

Bliss! And who better to show all that than the wonderful Shirley Hughes.

Maisy Goes to a Show
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy and friends are off to the theatre to see a performance of Funny Feathers, starring Flora Fantastica. Maisy finds it hard to contain her excitement as they queue, browse a programme and eventually take their front-row seats just as the music starts and the curtain lifts for the drama to begin.

During the interval, there’s time for a loo visit and snacks before the bell rings for curtain up again and the cast, led by Flora, sing in the big city of their desires before heading back to their jungle home, and a curtain call farewell.

Maisy fans will love it, and she’ll likely win some new followers with this latest “First Experiences’ story.
More new experiences come in:

The Scooter
Judy Brown
Otter-Barry Books

Twin rabbits Bruno and Bella and back in a second story. Bruno is thrilled to bits with his brand new scooter, practising eagerly using alternate legs and travelling at different speeds in different places. The only trouble is he forgets to perfect one crucial aspect of the entire process: how to use the brake. This precipitates some high drama as he whizzes downhill, through fields, a garden, the market and the park before Bella finally catches up with him – almost.

Anyone for a repeat performance?: Bruno certainly and I’m pretty sure very little humans will demand a re-run too; it’s smashing fun and who can resist Bruno’s enthusiasm?
And for slightly older listeners:

Sandy Sand Sandwiches!
Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick’s ‘sticky stickers’ awarders, The Little Adventurers return with their zest for life and bonhomie. It’s a very hot day as they assemble in their HQ shed, collect the necessary items and await one of their number, Finnegan who eventually turns up already sporting his snazzy trunks.

Off they go to the beach in his daddy’s car, arriving full of enthusiasm but with a modicum of good sense as they share the safety rules before heading onto the sand for some sculpting.

Masterpieces complete, it’s time to stand back and admire each one in turn.

Then after ice-cream treats it’s off for some paired rock-pooling,

followed by shell collecting and an unplanned treasure hunt. Then it’s time for a quick dip before they all head home with a few grains of sand to remind them of their day and back at HQ, a final sticker awarding, including one to Snub for his very helpful ‘mouse-sitting’.

Brimming over with silliness, friendship, sandy treats and other adorable delights (including the occasional fact), this is a treat for littles around the age of the characters herein.

Finally, if you missed the original, there’s now a board book version of:

Princess Mirror-Belle and the Dragon Pox
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Now a tiny version of a favourite spotty tale for very littles.
Ellen has chicken pox; she’s covered from head to toe in horribly itchy spots; and what does she want to do to those spots? Scratch them, especially the one right on the tip of her nose. As she gazes in the bathroom mirror, about to do the deed, she hears a voice – no, not mum’s but Princess Mirror-Belle’s.

Thus begins a funny story, delivered for a change in prose rather than Donaldson’s more usual rhyme. Lydia Monks’ sparkle-spangled, collage constructed illustrations offer readers an abundance of opportunities for visual and tactile exploration.

 

The Go-Away Bird

The Go-Away Bird
Julia Donaldson and Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books

The Go-Away-bird is a real African species (so named after its call that sounds as though it’s warning others when it sees danger).

Julia Donaldson makes her bird a loner that drives away potential friends, although apparently go-away birds can sometimes be found in groups of as many as thirty. So let’s meet the story one right away.

‘The Go-Away bird sat up in her nest, / With her fine grey wings and her fine grey crest.’

Thus begins this story wherein one after another the Chit-Chat bird, the Peck- Peck bird, the Flip-Flap bird approach her tree wanting to talk, share a meal or fly with her and each is insulted and given the same “Go away! Go away! Go away!” rejection.

Then along comes the very large and dangerous Get-You bird with just one thing in mind – a tasty meal. Oh no!

Luckily for the Go-away bird along comes a Come-back bird willing to stick his beak out and summon his friends.

Now it looks as though it’s time for the naysayer to understand the need for, and appreciate, friendship after all.

This is a stellar author/artist partnership. Julia’s witty, bouncy rhyming text is pure pleasure to read aloud and highly join-in-able; and Catherine’s art is simply awesome – richly coloured and textured, superbly expressive: every spread is a joy to linger over – after you’ve read the story aloud once first.

A golden tale about the importance of friendship, co-operation and teamwork that is just perfect for sharing and discussing.

The Girl, The Bear and The Magic Shoes

The Girl, The Bear and The Magic Shoes
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Perhaps like me you have a particular penchant for shoes, especially trainers (and boots).
How would it be then to purchase a brand new sparkly pair of red ones like the little girl in Julia Donaldson’s super new story. Not only that, but to discover that they are magic and have the power to morph into every possible kind of footwear you need at exactly the right moment, as you attempt to flee ‘Click-click!’ from a backpack-wearing polar bear, ‘Pit-a-pat’.

The first transformation comes at the bottom of an imposing-looking, seemingly unclimbable mountain. Perfect for ‘Crunch, crunch’-ing upwards, albeit pursued still by that bear.

Once at the summit, descent is necessary, so another change produces ‘Whee’, whizzy skis,

then squelch-withstanding yellow wellies,

followed by super splishy,splashy flippers.
All the while though, that bear is hot on the trail; but why would a polar bear be pursuing the child so eagerly? That would be telling – certainly he has no egregious intent.
To find out, hot foot it down to your nearest bookshop (no not shoe shop), bag a copy and discover for yourself.
Oh! I forgot to mention, there’s one final transformation before the shoes reassume their initial jazzy red trainers incarnation.

Lydia Monks’ wonderfully expressive, alluringly bright, funny illustrations sparkle as much as Donaldson’s text. The latter is sprinkled liberally with delicious-sounding onomatopoeia (perfect for helping to develop sound/symbol associations) and irresistibly join-in-able.

To add to the delights, those cracking, textured scenes provide a super tactile experience for young hands to explore. Look out too for the visiting ladybird that keeps popping into and out of view.

A sure fire winner!

The Cook and the King

The Cook and the King
Julia Donaldson and David Roberts
Macmillan Children’s Books

In this tale the king, being of a hungry disposition is desperately seeking not a handsome rich prince to wed his daughter but, a cook.

Having eliminated almost all of those who apply – supposedly the finest in the land, but serving up runny eggs, tough meat and worse, he’s left with just one pretty desperate looking fellow going by the name of Wobbly Bob. Yes, he’s dressed in cook’s gear but his name is far from promising and he’s a self-confessed wimp. Masterchef material he most definitely is not. But could he be?

The guy lacks the courage to tackle any of the tasks needed to ensure his highness gets his favourite fish and chips meal.

No prizes for guessing who does more than the lion’s share of the work.

Finally though, the two sit down to dine together, but does the meal pass muster, or must the king keep on looking for a cook?

Splendidly funny: Julia Donaldson serves up yet another winner. With its inbuilt 3Rs – rhythm, rhyme and repetition, this is a splendid read aloud, join-in story.

There’s plenty of food for thought: why are those courtiers pinning up the ‘Wanted Royal Cook’ poster? And what has happened to make the king resort to unappetising pizza deliveries? Both of these questions spring to mind in the first few pages, both scenarios being shown in David Roberts’ fine equally winning, hilarious illustrations of same.

(The story is, so we discover on the credits page, based on one the author’s son made up for his daughter– the story telling prowess is seemingly, in the genes.)

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
The ladybird is holidaying in London and doing a spot of sightseeing, visiting the usual tourist destinations. One place of particular interest is the zoo which is full of noisy animals, and it’s as well the little creature isn’t giving her sense organs a holiday for there, she spies two familiar faces, those of Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh. As usual they’re up to no good: she overhears their conversation about kidnapping Monkey Joe and then using him to scale the palace wall and steal the royal crown while the Queen is fast asleep.

The other animals are informed of the dastardly plot and are fearful of the safety of their monkey friend.
Before you can say up and away, the ladybird has done just that and flown off to communicate her idea to Willow and Holly, the Queen’s two corgis.

Come nightfall, Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len put their plan into action: they release Monkey, give him a swag bag and lead him to carry out the robbery.

Little do they know though, that another plan has already been set in motion: a plan hatched between the ladybird and the two corgis; a plan involving a very large number of bones from the royal coffers …
The winning Donaldson/Monks team does it again: like its predecessors, the ladybird’s third adventure is certain to be a crowd pleaser. Donaldson’s sure-footed rhyming narrative in combination with Monks’ sparkle-spangled spreads is a recipe for success. The dastardly twosome, Len and Hugh, look about as wonderfully un-roguish as ever they could in her bold, engaging collage-style scenes.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Giant Jumperee

The Giant Jumperee
Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury
Puffin Books
Donaldson and Oxenbury – a formidable team if ever there was one: together they’ve created a picture book that has all the hallmarks of a classic.
Who or what is occupying Rabbit’s burrow: some monster perhaps; it certainly has a loud voice as it claims “I’m the GIANT JUMPEREE and I’m scary as can be!” stopping Rabbit short as he’s about to enter his home.
Rabbit’s friends, starting with Cat, come to his aid:

she offers to “slink inside and pounce” only to be threatened with “I’ll squash you like a flea!” Cat then cries for help and Bear responds.
The Giant Jumperee however seems to have the measure of each of the would-be assailants: this time issuing the threat of a bee-like sting sending Bear into a tizz and calling for help. Help that comes in the form of Elephant but he too ends up in retreat, remaining, like the others though, in close proximity to Rabbit’s burrow.
Enter Mummy Frog, and paying scant heed to the frets of the other animals, she calmly approaches the burrow and employs what will surely be a technique familiar to early years audiences: she calls the Jumperee’s bluff as she slowly counts to three.
Out pops her gleeful offspring, totally unrepentant …

and more than happy to be led off home – for tea, with the other animals in tow, of course. This is sure to result in equally gleeful responses from young listeners who will have been totally captivated by the whole saga – I say saga, although this is a short story. It’s impact though, is far from small: it’s truly a case of less being much, much more. Take a look at this final wordless spread:

Everything about this is pitch perfect, from the wonderfully effective plot with its repetitions, occasional forays into rhyme, and tone of telling, to Helen’s glorious renderings of the animals whose demeanours are totally priceless, especially that of Mum Frog – an indomitable force if ever there was one- on discovering the culprit of all the hullabaloo.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Everywhere Bear

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The Everywhere Bear
Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Those of us who work with young children have probably had at some time, a travelling ted or other soft toy that either went home in a storysack, with each child in turn, together with a book for drawing/writing their experiences; or one that accompanied individual pupils when they went away on holiday, again accompanied by a diary or similar for photos/notes, tickets and other things of interest to be added, and shared on their return. I recall a lurid pink one named Roamin’ Ted that went to places as varied as rural Punjab, Dubai, Disney Land Florida and Canada. (Yes, in term time; but that was the whole point of the book.)
This story, penned by Julia Donaldson, is one of the former kind and he belongs to the pupils of Class One. Their arrangement is that each child in turn takes him home on a Friday and brings him back on the following Monday, regaling his experiences to the rest of the class.

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He certainly has all manner of adventures – bus rides, horse riding, tasting lots of new foods; he becomes a pirate, a king and tries some active pursuits such as soccer, handstands and den making. In fact there aren’t many things he doesn’t experience, hence his name.
One rainy day though, while in Matt’s care, The Everywhere Bear accidentally escapes into the wide world …

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is washed down a drain and ends up on the high seas.

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Will Class One ever see their favourite roving bear again? And, if so, where will he turn up?
This is a thoroughly engaging book for a multitude of reasons; not least Rebecca Cobb’s wonderfully warm illustrations. Packed with so many captivating details to pore over, adult readers will want to give listeners plenty of opportunities to explore each spread after they’ve heard the story all through; and, as one would expect, Julia Donaldson’s rhyming tale is sheer pleasure to read aloud; and it pays homage to a very important place which is sadly under threat throughout the country.

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The Detective Dog

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The Detective Dog
Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie
Macmillan Children’s Books
There once was a dog with a keen sense of smell.
She was known far and wide as Detective Dog Nell.
Sniff, sniff, sniff. Time after time,
Nell the Detective solved crime after crime.’

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but this is much more than a crime-solver, which we’ll discover as the story progresses and we meet some of the other characters, in particular her scatty carer, six-year–old Peter and on a particular weekday, (Nell doesn’t do detecting on that day of the week: she devotes Mondays to hearing children read at Peter’s school) his classmates and teacher …

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The smells of the school delight Nell, in particular that of the books. But then, one Monday, the aroma emanating from the school isn’t quite right: something seems to be different. And it is. Mr Jones is distraught: all the books have gone missing.
Immediately Nell is hot on the trail, following her nose out the school, through the town …

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and out into the countryside. And it’s there the thief is unmasked …

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I know I’ve been bad. … I only meant to borrow. I was planning to give all the books back tomorrow.” is his explanation. Can you guess where this one’s going yet? Nell certainly knows … and off everyone races at full pelt right back to town and into …

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Ted cannot believe his eyes at the sight of such wonders, enrols himself immediately and all ends happily with the school books returned to their rightful place just waiting for those regular Monday visits by Detective Dog Nell. And there’s a new story awaiting her there too …
Nell knows best! Long may she continue, but more importantly, long may that particular library and all our libraries continue – what a wonderful ode to our precious libraries this is. It’s also a brilliant new partnership between two amazing talents.

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What the Ladybird Heard Next

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What the Ladybird Heard Next
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Clothes pegs ready for this fantastically stinky sequel to What the Ladybird Heard and with a sparkly cover too.
When the listening ladybird learns of the mysterious disappearance of red hen’s new laid clutch she realises there’s a case to be solved and off she flies. As the stars begin to twinkle over the farmyard she spies and hears two men – ex cons. Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len – plotting to steal not the eggs this time, but the fat red hen herself.

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Back she flies to report to her farmyard pals and a cunning plan is quickly formulated – a plan that perhaps owes something to the Billy Goats Gruff – so that when the thieves seize the hen she sets in motion a chain of events that will supposedly, lead them to an altogether superior egg producer, the super-duper Snuggly Snerd, layer of rugby ball sized eggs.

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Off go Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh armed with torch and spade, deep into the big brown heap as per instructions – a very pongy heap I should add – seeking the shy egg layer extraordinaire. (You can almost get a whiff as you turn the pages.)

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Just imagine their wrath when they realize they’ve been duped. But their come-uppance is not yet quite complete: that job is left to some other small winged creatures and they’re more than willing to oblige …

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After which, it’s peace and harmony once more down on the farm.
‘Trippingly on the tongue’ comes to mind when one reads this rural romp aloud; it’s brilliant fun to do so and listeners equally, will delight in the rhythmic rhyme whether or not they’ve already met the star of the show and farmyard pals in her first adventure.

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Emmanuelle demanded at least 10 re-reads in one afternoon!

The humour and pizzazz in Lydia Monks’ illustrations is the perfect accompaniment to the text. The sight of the thieving twosome digging into, and plastered in, that muck is a real hoot; and I love the scene where those buzzing bees see them off.

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An Unaware Jackdaw and A Nautical Mouse

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What the Jackdaw Saw
Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt
Macmillan Children’s Books
Jackdaw flies over the ocean, the farm, the town, and a forest towards a looming black cloud, issuing his invitation “Come to my party!” to all and sundry, ignoring the warning signs from octopus, horse, cat, and squirrel until he whizzes headlong into the thundercloud and thence …

 

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Why didn’t they warn me?” he asks the owl. “Why didn’t you see them?” comes the reply, … Every one of them touching its head, Danger! Danger! That’s what they said.”

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Time for a lesson in signing for that heedless jackdaw, courtesy of owl of course and then hurray, jackdaw flies forth using his wings to sign “Come to my party!” to all his animal pals. Then off they all got to he seaside where a fantastic time is had by all those animals and just a few other guests too …

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Nick Sharratt’s powerful, expressive spreads capture the scenes of impending disaster, and the joyful exuberance of the jaunty tale with great aplomb.
After you’ve enjoyed the story, don’t miss the opportunity to practise signing some of the key words from the book; eight of them are found on the final spread.
Two years in the making, this book is the result of the author’s workshop (organized by Life and Deaf) for deaf children -20 are named – and of course, her collaboration with artist, Nick. What an ingenious and brilliantly inclusive book it is; and what a wonderful testament to the power of sign language and all who use it including finally, that jackdaw.

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The Mouse Who Sailed the Seas
Amy Sparkes and Nick East
Egmont Publishing pbk
The sight of those chunky bumblebees perching tenuously atop their beehive immediately appealed to my sense of the ridiculous when I turned from the introductory ‘A mouse he went to sail the seas. He sailed the seas/to look for cheese,/But all he found were …

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The jaunty story continues with an invasion of purple peas of the alien variety,

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a drop in from a pair of hairy-kneed goats and some magic-sneezing elves. Surely disaster must be close at hand with such a load methinks and … CREAK! SQUEAK! LEAK! Oh dear me.

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But, could that concatenation triggered by a timely sneeze from the elves work its magic and save the day? Well, you will just have to get hold of this wonderfully madcap tale to find out that and to discover whether our intrepid sailor mouse finally does find the object of his cheesy search. Assuredly, it’s pretty nail- biting stuff.
Nick East’s exuberant and garish illustrations are brimming over with delicious touches of completely crazy detail – just the thing to complement Amy Sparkes’ super and stupendously silly saga.

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The Big Princess & Princess Mirror-Belle

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The Big Princess
Taro Miura
Walker Books
This is a prequel to the Japanese author’s charming The Tiny King. One night in his dreams the king of a distant land is visited by a white dove telling him of a princess child he will find in the palace garden, a princess under a spell; a spell that must be broken for the princess to become his true daughter. Failure though will result in the ruination of his kingdom. When morning comes the king rushes to his garden and there discovers sitting upon a leaf, a tiny princess. Oh joy! Both king and queen puzzle over the nature of the spell and its possible consequences but meanwhile the little princess starts to grow and grow… and grow… until she is taller than the king and queen themselves. In seemingly no time she has almost outgrown the castle and that’s when the king remembers his dream. From then on he and his wife try desperately to break the spell but to no avail. With the tallest castle tower at breaking point, the king notices something through the tower window, something tiny, shiny and black

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that could just be the key to breaking the spell.
As with its predecessor, Miura has used precision, patterned cut-outs in bright, bold colours and white, to construct simple shaped collage scenes. In addition though herein he adds embellishments in the form of separate but linked smaller, mostly black and white objects – a chair,

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a toy trumpet, a spoon for example.
An unusual, quirky modern fairy tale with a longish text and glowing, sunflower- filled ending.

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Princess Mirror-Belle and the Dragon Pox
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Ellen has chicken pox; she’s covered from head to toe in horribly itchy spots; and what does she want to do to those spots? Scratch them of course, especially the one right on the tip of her nose. As she gazes in the bathroom mirror, about to do the deed, she hears a voice – no, not mum’s but Princess Mirror-Belle’s. This little madam, for so she seems, leaps from the mirror, a mirror image of herself even down to the missing slipper which she claims was stolen by a goblin, and announces that it’s not chicken pox but Dragon Pox Ellen has – eeugh! She knows how to cure it too, clever clogs that she is. And the cure? It involves a bath full of water to which one must add pretty much anything and everything the grown-ups happen to have left visible in the bathroom – bubble bath (a whole bottle), toothpaste (an entire tube), dad’s shaving foam; you can see where this is going – not the loo paper bandaging perhaps …
As she concocts the cure, the princess tells Ellen all about her enchanted life beyond the mirror, a life with knights and dragons,

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fairies, magical spells and more. Ellen is then instructed to close her eyes and count to a hundred. At the final number the spell is broken: someone is beside her but now it’s her mum looking none too happy about the state of the bathroom. Over to you Ellen.

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There’s glitter galore in this funny story, delivered for a change in prose rather than Donaldson’s more usual rhyme. Lydia Monks’ sparkle-spangled, collage constructed illustrations offer readers an abundance of opportunities for visual and tactile exploration.

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A Flying Bath and a Busy Tractor

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The Flying Bath
Julia Donaldson and David Roberts
Macmillan Children’s Books
When everyone’s away, the toys will play. The particular toys in question are the bath toys at number 17 where one morning, we see the residents depart, watched by the red plastic duck on the windowsill. Then begins an international rescue operation organized by said duck and his pals, frog and turtle.

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First stop is the Australian outback to save a dehydrated kangaroo. But that’s not the only call on the services of the bath – good job they filled up before take off – so it’s,
Wings out, and off we fly.
The flying bath is in the sky!

Next stop – to help the worried bee whose flowers are decidedly droopy; a carefully aimed shower is just the thing there. Next they fly to help a very mucky pig clean up;

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then it’s off to extinguish a fire in Baboon’s tree

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and finally to rescue a frantic fish from a drought-threatened pond. As night falls the intrepid toys must return home for the children’s bathtime, with a special surprise -an extra member of the gang.

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Apart from the occasional word, the entire rhyming text is either in speech bubbles or the repeated chorus, which makes it great for audience participation.
And, as well as a punchy tale, there is a gentle science lesson on the importance of water to life embedded herein.
David Roberts’ illustrations are full of fun: those ‘telephones’ are particularly inspired.

Another rhyming narrative that imparts a gentle lesson is:

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Following the Tractor
Susan Steggall
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
We share a farmer’s year through the activities of a bright red tractor and there is plenty to keep it busy   through the seasons. There’s the winter ploughing, sowing the crop,

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muck spreading, rescue work

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and when summer comes, the harvest tasks such as pulling the grain trailer, the baler and

 

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then the straw trailer back to the farm.
The cleverly composed, brightly coloured collage scenes have much to interest: there are of course, the vehicles but look too at the dog walkers and the various other furred and feathered animals, large and small.

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An Unforgettable Wedding

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The Scarecrows’ Wedding
Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler
Alison Green Books
Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay are in love. He proposes: she accepts. They plan for their wedding, “A wedding that no one will ever forget.” How do they plan? They make a list of course: a comparatively simple one comprising just five items.
Then, arm in arm, they set off around the farm to find:

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First things first – and that’s easy thanks to some obliging geese who furnish a feather a-piece. Said feathers, we learn are to be duly sewn together by a spider friend. The cows, of course, agree to be bell ringers (the last item on the list taken care of); a crab – yes a crab – just happens to scuttle along with a shell necklace, that’s item two sorted, and a couple of mice find suitable matching rings. That just leaves item number three – pink flowers.
Off goes Harry, in the company of a large bee to find those, leaving Betty to have a doze. Hours later, they reach a field full of pink flowers – job done. Well not quite … wilted flowers won’t do and it’s a long way back so water is needed and …
Meanwhile back on the farm Betty is troubled by her loved one’s absence. The farmer quickly makes a replacement, one Reginald Rake.

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The name says it all and before long, in an effort to impress the lady, he’s whipped out a packet of Havanas, lit up and …
There’s no smoke without fire …we all know the saying. Guess who is beating a hasty retreat through the cornfield.
All is not quite lost however. The timely return of Betty’s fiancé ‘with a pail on his arm’ saves the day

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and provides the final item on their list.
So next day, it’s a case of ‘Here comes the bride’ on the arm of her savior for what everyone has to agree,
“Is the best wedding ever, the best wedding yet,
The wedding that no one will ever forget.”

 

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A wonderfully rhythmic tale – this is Julia Donaldson, so one would expect no less – with high drama, suspense, romance and humour in a rhyming narrative that just trips off the tongue. Alex Scheffler brings the scarecrows to life through their expressive eyes and mouths despite their stiff limbs and populates his pictures with all manner of farmland extras from grasshoppers to goats, butterflies to badgers.
There are few scarecrow picture books around; this is the only one that really works, but then it is from the Gruffalo partnership.
A sure fire winner in my book.
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October Miscellany

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Aunt Amelia
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Showing not telling is the name of the game in this charming and witty book. The two small children in the story are in a bad mood; Aunt Amelia is coming to look after them overnight. Mum and Dad leave her a list of instructions but fortunately for her charges, she interprets these instructions with a considerable degree of latitude.
It’s not surprising then that the youngsters are eager that their parents issue another invitation to come and stay very soon and moreover, they suggest she be left another of those ‘helpful’ lists of instructions.
What makes this story such a delight is what we are shown, rather than told what takes place while the parents are away. Rebecca Cobb’s watercolour, pencil and ink illustrations are executed with a child-like freshness and panache that is appealing to both adults and young children.
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Pigeon Pie
Debbie Singleton and Kristina Litten
Oxford University Press
It’s market day so life down on Farmer Budd’s farm is especially hectic. There are the cows to milk, the eggs to collect, cherries to be picked so Mrs Budd can bake cherry pies, and the remaining cherries to be protected from marauding birds. Then there are all the animals to be fed, the scarecrow needs a replacement hat and the milk and eggs have to be loaded into the trailer. Busy, busy busy; but oh dear! Farmer Budd has forgotten to close the gate to the cornfield. He’s forgotten too, that there is a goat in the next field. Before long the scarecrow is reduced to a pair of crossed sticks – the ideal perching place for five peckish pigeons with their sights set firmly on the corn. It’s fortunate for him then that a tiny chick has a clever plan in mind, a plan that involves telling the other farm animals about a special dish that Mrs Budd is preparing to serve that day; and it definitely is not cherry pie.
There is plenty to make you smile in this gently humorous story. Children love the way the pigeons are duped and delight in joining in with the repeated refrain, ‘Pigeon pie! Oh my! ‘ That – and of course – the burping opportunities.
Kristina Litten’s richly patterned, comical pictures abound with amusing details, in particular the antics of the bit part animal characters, the rat trio and the snail that are never mentioned but greatly add to the fun. Then there are those wacky pigeons with their red-rimmed eyes and ballooning bellies; the sight of them shooting up into the air when they spy what they think is the dreaded dish being prepared is a hoot.

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I really like the way the end papers are part of the story portraying the changing time from early morning when Farmer Budd fixes the FREE RANGE EGGS for sale notice to his fence at the front, to early evening when the sign indicates ‘sold out’ as the sun sinks below the horizon.
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Spider Sandwiches
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Do NOT accept Max’s invitation to tea or any other meal for that matter, unless like that green hairy monster, you have a penchant for all things disgusting. The things he dines on are sure to make your stomach heave; things like toenail scrambled eggs, grasshopper legs smoothie, cold, crunchy, cockroach curry or horror of horrors, squiggly spider sandwiches. Odd then that he turns his nose up at a relatively ordinary vegetarian soup with small, green spherical objects floating in it.
This rhyming litany of loathsome fare is one that will have your young audiences UGGGHHING, EWWWWW and YUCKING almost continuously as you read. And, they will love to feast their eyes on Sue Hendra’s suitably garish illustrations, which depict a series of satiating scenes. The supermarket for example, has shelves packed with an alluringly awful array of produce.
If you plan to read this aloud around Hallowe’en (or any time for that matter) I’d suggest making sure you can get your tongue around all those nasties first.
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Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten
Alison Murray
Nosy Crow
This is one of those pink, glittery covered books that are instantly attractive to many little girls. All too often though, such books fail to live up to their external sparkle. This one, and yes it does feature a little princess, proved to be an exception, and, that string bling does actually serve a purpose. What lifts Alison Murray’s book above most of its kind is her charming, retro illustrations with their fresh palette, gentle humour, and judicious use of pattern. I particularly enjoyed the scene with the balletic butler and the portrait of the princess on her prancing pony.

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Essentially the story, told in rhyme, revolves around Princess Penelope and the mischievous kitten that snatches one end of a ball of wool from the queen’s knitting basket and dashes off through the palace entangling almost everything in sight.
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Sugarlump and the Unicorn
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Wishing and magic are the ingredients for former children’s laureate Julia Donaldson’s latest collaboration with What the Ladybird Heard artist Lydia Monks. The magic comes from a blue-eyed unicorn and the wishing is done by rocking horse, Sugarlump. He is happy rocking to and fro when the children are at home to ride him but when they go to school he has nothing to do. That’s when the wishing begins. He wants to be out in the big wide world. So, thanks to that unicorn and her flashing eyes he is able to try out all manner of horsey roles – a farm horse, a race horse and a circus horse; but then Sugarlump wants to go back home to the children. Time has passed though and the children have outgrown their once favourite toy. He makes another wish but fortunately, the unicorn is on hand again and she comes up with a much better one and Sugarlump finally finds somewhere in the world that is just perfect.
As one would expect from Julia Donaldson, the rhyming text reads aloud beautifully but this adult reader and some children among my audiences were rather brought up short by Sugarlump’s last request, “I wish I had never been born!” It proved a good talking point afterwards though.
Lydia Monks’ bold, bright, mixed media illustrations have a joie-de vie and sparkle even without the added glitter on every page.
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The Princess’ Blankets
Carol Ann Duffy and Catherine Hyde
Templar Publishing
The princess in this story can never get warm. The king promises that anyone able to stop his daughter feeling so cold, can have the reward of their choosing ‘even unto half his kingdom’. Intent on winning the princess as his prize, a cruel-eyed stranger covers her in turn with four blankets: the ocean’s blanket, the forest’s blanket, the mountain’s blanket and the earth’s blanket. All to no avail: despite his efforts, the beautiful princess remains as chilled as ever. Then a newcomer arrives, a musician with a flute and a good heart: just the heart to warm that of the princess as he fills her body with the beauty of his music, and his love.

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Lyrically told, this neo fairy tale has a pertinent message for our times: a message about mankind’s carelessness, greed and continuing destruction of our world. It is beautifully interpreted through Catherine Hyde’s powerfully atmospheric paintings, which orchestrate the story showing the changes brought about by the elemental blankets and finally, the power of love.
Not so much a picture book, more an illustrated story, with its longish text, this book is likely to have a wide appeal from primary age children to adults and one to return to over and over.
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Dragon Loves Penguin
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Baby penguin, Bib, lives in the land of ice and snow with his mummy and daddy. One bedtime as a delaying tactic he asks, ‘ “… can I have a story? The one about dragons.” ‘ So begins a tale of a dragon that wants an egg and an abandoned egg that needs a mummy. Perfect – or so it seems. Certainly the dragon loves her Little One and the Little One loves her. But, Little One’s appearance isn’t quite like that of the other recently hatched creatures; no flying, fire breathing or rock chewing. She doesn’t grow big and strong with a long neck and hard scaly covering. Rather she is slow, careful, small, fluffy and courageous – rather like a penguin. The others are showered with flashy gifts but Little One receives the best of all possible gifts; love and time.
Then one day all the big dragons have to leave their little ones and that’s when Little One is taunted by the small dragons and made to feel an outcast. So, feeling hurt, she takes himself off to be alone. However, things can happen for a reason… Little One suddenly feels her soft feathery body getting very, very hot; the volcano is alive. “FLEE FOR YOUR LIVES!” he yells to the others and so they do, leaving Little One behind hotly pursued by the flames of the volcano. Fortunately for her though, she takes a tumble all the way to the bottom of the flaming mountain and what should she find waiting for her at the bottom? – an egg. And, thanks to her mummy, Little One knows just what to do…
Loving and being loved, being yourself and being different are all themes of this tender tale that moves between present and past, seamlessly uniting the two through the medium of story. For, Bib is the egg at the end of the bedtime story and Little One, his Mummy penguin.

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Debi Gliori’s charcoal and watercolour illustrations are glorious and beautifully convey the loving feelings that are a vital element of this book: the penguins and main dragon character are truly endearing.
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Herman’s Letters
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
When your very best friend in the entire world moves far away, what do you do? Promise to write to one another and remain best friends forever.
That’s just what best pals Herman, a large brown bear, and Henry, a reddish raccoon resolve to do. Henry keeps his side of the bargain, writing often as promised and giving details of his new friends and the exciting things he’s been doing. But, his letters don’t make his old pal happy; instead he’s overcome with jealousy and begins to doubt the friendship. Poor old Herman.

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Eventually hibernation time draws close and he still hasn’t written.. Another Henry letter arrives; one that is much more reassuring and this one spurs Herman into a flurry of activity. He finally writes a letter and dashes off to post it right away. Oh no! The post office has closed for the winter. There is only one thing left for Herman to do – deliver that all-important letter by hand. Off he goes into the snow. But can he make that long, long journey before sleep overtakes him? Can he make it at all in fact?
With its realistic looking lift the flap letters and endearing characters, this book is a delight. Despite the inherent sadness of parting and feelings of loss, there is a gentle humour running throughout the whole thing. The sequence depicting Herman’s journey to deliver his letter into his friend’s hands is wonderful.

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The message (along with Herman’s snoring) comes across loud and clear: true friendship knows no bounds.
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Teachers wanting to stimulate children’s writing, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this and share it with the class group. Then turn an area of your classroom or nursery into Herman’s home with a letterbox another space into Henry’s. Add writing materials to each and start the enterprise going by writing a Henry letter of your own for the children to find.

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