The Hat Full of Secrets

The Hat Full of Secrets
Karl Newson, illustrated by Wazza Pink
Stripes Publishing, Little Tiger

Picture book author, Karl Newson turns his hand to writing a longer story, and with Wazza Pink’s full colour illustrations it has become one of Stripes Publishing ‘Colour Fiction’ series for emergent readers.

It’s a cracking story that starts with young Henry Pepper discovering a ‘secret’- a really big one. He rushes back excitedly to tell his Grandad but finds himself getting tongue-tied as he attempts to do so.

Grandad however understands and suggests that a good place for keeping secrets is under your hat. Henry has no hat, but Grandad comes to his rescue giving him one of his specials, a very large one called a Jones, ‘made for adventures’.

And so it is, for no sooner has Henry set off again down the garden path than strange things start happening in the form of flying luggage labels – five of them – all of which except one, float off in different directions.

Henry picks up the remaining one which reads, ‘Shh! The Egg Box Crown’ and returns to his grandpa to tell him. Grandad too has a label and he tells Henry that they’re his secrets.

As memories come back, Grandad regales the boy with wonderful stories of things that have happened in his life relating to each label that once read aloud, morphs into an item pertinent to the message, before disappearing into dust.

Besides the one already mentioned, there’s a label about a missing Tyrannosaurus Rex Bone, another about The Ice and the Polar Bear, one that says ‘Shh! The Fastest Arrow’ about an awesome drive and the final label, ‘Shh! A Moon with a View’ that results in an incredible lunar happening.

Having shared Grandad’s secrets, it’s time for the wonderful final surprise in the form of Henry’s own secret. What could it possibly be? Is that Jones hat large enough to contain it – I wonder.

I absolutely loved every minute spent reading this gorgeous tale that has at its heart the special relationship between a young boy and his aging Grandad. It truly celebrates the power of the imagination and the magic that memories can bring. Illustrator Wazza Pink succeeds in bringing out these qualities in her scenes of the two characters together.

I Really Really Need A Wee

I Really Really Need a Wee
Karl Newson and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

In Karl and Duncan’s story it’s a little bushbaby who suddenly gets the wiggles and the jiggles, insisting ‘I really, really, really,  REALLY NEED A WEE!’

Yes, we’ve all been there with little ones, when away from home and far from the nearest loo, coming out with the title line. It most certainly resonated with me with regard to several recent outings.

The little narrator’s efforts to distract itself with thoughts of other things only serve to make matters worse …

and its attempts to find a toilet are, shall we say, pretty disastrous.

Finally though, the object of the bushbaby’s desire is in sight, but almost inevitably there’s a long queue – isn’t it always the way?

Then whoopee! The little room is vacant at last – phew! Such relief.

I suspect you can guess how this corking story ends … and it’s wee-ally wee-ally funny. But then with its combination of Karl’s telling and Duncan’s hilarious illustrations one expects no less. I absolutely love the sets of bespoke loos that sandwich the story proper.

I envisage classrooms and nurseries full of giggling infants and staff almost wetting themselves when this is shared, and families with youngsters will absolutely burst themselves laughing in recognition.

If You See a Lion

If You See a Lion
Karl Newson and Andrea Stegmaier
Words & Pictures

First there was Emma Yarlett’s Nibbles, the book devouring little monster and now courtesy of Karl Newson, we have a lion on the loose – ‘orange, furry, handsome and tall’ by all accounts – that’s had the impudence to eat the story right out of his book; not to mention the corner of its cover. Well really!

Not content with the story though, this creature has also consumed a brass band, a penguin, a troll, a pirate, a wizard and a dinosaur; and don’t believe a word when you read that he’s ‘Dashing, charming, gentle, fun’. Far from it; for this beastie has also devoured an entire forest, a river, a mountain peak

plus a dragon and a sprite. And he doesn’t stop there. What does stop our errant lion right in his tracks however, is a cry

from the little rabbit that’s been on his trail throughout.

Does the little long eared fellow fall for the lion’s beguiling invitation? Far from it. Instead he gives the guzzler what for

and then makes him do what young listeners will have been hoping all along.

And how does this rhyming hide and seek story finish? Well, let’s merely say, satisfyingly, roaringly well and leave you to discover for yourself.

Karl and illustrator Andrea Stegmaier have created a corker of a book that little ones will relish as much as readers aloud who can have enormous fun sharing it with them. Rabbit’s actions throughout are especially entertaining.

I Can Roar Like A Dinosaur

I Can Roar Like a Dinosaur
Karl Newson and Ross Collins
Macmillan Children’s Books

What is it about a certain Mouse that causes him to keep on making ridiculous claims? Last time we met him he told his fellow animals that he was a tiger and now, so he’d have them all believe, he’s a fearsome ROARing dinosaur – well briefly …

Never mind; one can always turn to the trusty ‘How to Roar Like a Dinosaur’ guide book with its step-by-step instructions and why not give your pals a lesson too?

Now having watched Mouse in action, I know that he’s got absolutely no clue about how to be an effective teacher; hurling insults at the learners is not a good way to go.

Time to teach the teacher a lesson or two … Perhaps a spot of Mouse-baiting might be effective in unleashing the diminutive rodent’s ROAR.

Success of a kind – but chicken or no chicken, no creature in its right mind would try to teach its grandmother to suck eggs, so to speak …

I’m going to leave our Mouse friend rather precariously balanced upon the branch of a tree; safe in the knowledge that he’ll manage to use his imagination and extricate himself from what looks to be a rather perilous perch.

Yet again team Karl and Ross have created a pricelessly absurd ace of a book that’s full of funny foolishness, brilliantly portrayed pupils and cover to cover entertainment of the first order.

I Am NOT An Elephant

I Am NOT An Elephant
Karl Newson and Ross Collins
Macmillan Children’s Books

Hurrah! Team Karl/Ross have created a splendid sequel to their I am a Tiger with star of the show, Mouse, returning in all his naysaying glory, as he struggles against the odds to convince various beasties “I am NOT an elephant.” The odds being in turn, a lizard – who starts the concatenation of pachyderm positive ID-ing, followed by porcupine.

This sets our little rodent off doing some noisy acrobatics as evidence.

It’s of little use though, for up rocks a third creature going on about poor Mouse’s pong.

This leads him to make a shall we say, unwise claim, which almost ends in disaster; but our quick thinking Mouse tries another tack that includes some rather creative thinking,

culminating in a flying leap into unknown territory.

But hey! What’s this? If you’ve been observant from the outset, you’ll have noticed that Mouse reclining against a large subungulate foot nibbling a tasty fruit, and by now he’s rather anxious to finish dining so long as he’s not put off by any unexpected malodourous whiffs … after which it’s probably time to do away with his final claim and break into rhyme.

That way leaves the stage wide open for a third glorious episode of hilarity courtesy of Karl and Ross. They’ll be hard pressed to get Mouse to out-perform his show-stopping theatrics in this superb piece of silliness though.

I Am A Tiger / The Happy Lion

I Am A Tiger
Karl Newson and Ross Collins
Macmillan Children’s Books

Ignorance? Bravado? Or playfulness? What is driving Karl’s Mouse protagonist to insist that he’s a tiger. Fox, racoon, snake and parrot in turn, challenge the small creature to prove himself but his lack of size, stripes and tree climbing skills do nothing to convince the others of his claim and that growl is – let’s say somewhat feeble.

Suddenly along comes another animal proclaiming …

The ‘not-tiger’ then goes on to try and persuade the stripy character that HE is in fact a mouse with some deft moves.

These he follows with some further ridiculousness

before departing in search of lunch.

This sees our little grey friend heading towards a watery place wherein he spies his reflection and there he learns the error of his claims …

With it’s wonderful surprise finale, this is a grrralectable piece of comic theatre picture book style delivered through Karl’s droll mouse narrative and Ross Collins’ brilliantly expressive scenes.

Hilarious, and I look forward to the next of the promised Karl/Ross creations; they’ve certainly set the bar pretty high with this one. Young listeners will absolutely love it and it’s a gift for those who enjoy throwing themselves into story sharing.

The Happy Lion
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

This is a new edition of a classic story originally published in the 1950s and is set in a French town.

In that town is a zoo, the home of the Happy Lion. He leads a contented life there with daily visits from friends young and not so young, as well as being entertained by the town’s band on Sundays during the summer.

One day, the keeper forgets to close the door and the lion decides to go out and visit all those kind people who were his regular visitors.

Their reactions however are not at all what the Happy Lion expects; he’s barely acknowledged by the animals and the humans are terrified.

Bemused he stops, meditates, concludes, “this must be the way people behave when they are not in the zoo” and continues on his way hoping to find a friend.

He does so, after some drama involving a fire engine, firefighters and their very long hose; and all ends happily with the Happy Lion and his young friend walking back to the zoo together …

With alternate black and white, and three-colour, textured spreads, Duvoisin’s illustrations – wonderful, sketchy, smudgy scenes – still hold their magical charm – for this reviewer certainly – providing the perfect complement to Fatio’s tale.

The Same But Different Too / Goodnight World

The Same But Different Too
Karl Newson and Kate Hindley
Nosy Crow

Similarities and differences are highlighted and celebrated in this joyful and engaging rhyming book that uses both human and animal characters to demonstrate examples throughout a busy, fun-filled day from breakfast time to bedtime.

In between come a look at differing heights, climbing skills,

play activity preferences, age, dentition, position, speed and much more; and it’s particularly heartening to find that everyone shares the love of a story session.

Karl’s upbeat words in combination with Kate’s vibrant, zany artwork create a great picture book that’s perfect for family sharing and for foundation stage settings.

With the emphasis on embracing differences it’s a super book to open up discussions about such issues as inclusivity and acceptance. Every spread offers much to talk about and enjoy, helping to highlight how our differences make each and every one of us special and unique.

Goodnight World
Nicola Edwards and Hannah Tolson
Caterpillar Books

Ideal for bedtime sharing is this presentation of the ways of saying “Goodnight” in a dozen languages as well as in English.
Nicola Edwards rhyming narrative takes us through the bedtime rituals of different families as the little ones are hugged, have a bath, brush their teeth, tidy up toys,

perhaps listen to a phone message from a loved one far away,

and share a bedtime story …

Some tinies are just so tired they need carrying up to bed already fast asleep, while others bid each other “Goodnight’ or in German “Gute nacht”.

Others will have trouble falling asleep and need to count sheep before dreams come.

No matter what though, come nightfall, little ones everywhere go to bed having said “Goodnight” or perhaps used the Mandarin “Wān an”, the Russian “Spokoynoy nochi”; the Italian “Buona note”; the Finnish “Hyvää yötä”; or maybe they said “Usiku mwema” (Shahili); “Buenas noches” (Spanish), the Arabic “Tisbah ala khair”; the Hindi “Shubh raatri” or the French “Bonne nuit”.

Safe in their beds under shared moon and stars, everyone finally falls asleep.

In her bold naïve style, inclusive illustrations Hannah Tolson shows all these different bedtime scenarios as they unfold in various places.

For All the Stars Across the Sky

For All the Stars Across the Sky
Karl Newson and Chiaki Okada
Walker Books

If you’re looking for a gorgeous bedtime story then Karl Newson’s new book will surely fit the bill.

It’s time for little Luna to get ready for bed. Mum’s there to bid her goodnight but first there’s time for a wish: “For all the stars across the sky, / Big and little and bright, / Here’s a wish from me to you, / Before we say goodnight.”

They close their eyes and wish as they take off on some amazing adventures. They fly like birds, soaring through the clouds on a trip around the world; they dive deep and swim together to the accompaniment of whale song;

they shrink to ladybird tinyness and gaze at the sky …

and then, normal size restored, stomp giant style all the way back home for lights out, a special goodnight kiss and … sweet dreams.

Mum bear’s love for her little one shines forth from Karl’s gentle telling which sounds like a softly spoken lullaby.

New to me, illustrator Chiaki Okada brings her own magic to every single page in gently glowing soft focus scenes of both the bedtime ritual and Luna’s flights of fancy, elegantly rendered in appropriately muted tones that draw you further into the story.

Everything about this book is special; words, pictures and the design too, all contribute to the sense of peacefulness and the warmth of the parent/child relationship.

A Bear is a Bear

A Bear is a Bear (except when he’s not)
Karl Newson and Anuska Allepuz
Nosy Crow

The adorable looking bear in this book appears to be suffering from amnesia as to his true animal form, brought about by forgetting that come December he’s supposed to be snuggled down inside his cave for the long winter hibernation.

Instead the ursine creature is bumbling around pondering possibilities: might he perhaps be a bird …

Oops no! He can’t fly and as for fitting in the nest – forget it!

If not that, then maybe … a moose? Lack of antlers and an aversion to dry grass quickly put paid to that notion.
What about a dancing prancing fox or even a squirrel? Those don’t feel quite right either.
Stuck up in a tree, bear ponders: “I’m not a squirrel – /they climb too high. // I’m not a fox – / but I gave it a try. // I’m not a moose – / I don’t know why. // And I’m not a bird. / I cannot fly. // So what, oh what / on earth am I?

As snowflakes whirl around his head that Bear should really be in bed, especially as he is now suffering a bad attack of the grumps to go with his memory loss.

Suddenly realisation dawns … and off he goes to sleep till spring. Sweet dreams! Spring isn’t too far away.

Now, look who’s come a knocking to greet their friend …

BEAR!
Karl’s rhyming text takes the form of Bear’s internal monologue as he wanders hither and thither in his state of forgetfulness, and with its repeat refrain and cumulative structure, it’s a great ‘join in with’ read aloud.

To render her mixed media scenes of the increasingly wintry forest and its animal inhabitants, Anuska Alleppuz has used a carefully considered, beautifully textured palette that really makes readers feel they’re with Bear every step of his journey – the highs and the lows – both physical and mental.

Fum / Beauty and the Very Bad Beast

Fum
Karl Newson and Lucy Fleming
Maverick Arts Publishing
Despite their name, the Crumbs are a very large family: there’s Pa, Ma, Grandpa Plum, Fee, Fi, Fo and Fum. Or rather there should be; Fum, the smallest Crumb was gone missing. The search is on: first stop, the houses of the three little pigs …

No sign of him there. “He could be hiding … / In the woods with Little Red Riding.” That’s the suggestion from one of the pigs. Off they go again with everyone joining the hunt, but Grandma and her crew cannot help. Or rather, the Big Bad Wolf gets a whiff of his socks and thinks it’s worth locating Golidlocks. Guess whose bridge they cross to get to the house of the bears. The three are eager to assist and take to the air . Further locations are visited, all to no avail, until suddenly a small voice is heard. Now who might that be up the tree – or rather beanstalk? (I just wanted to be in line with the story’s rhyme.)

Lo and behold, the little chap wasn’t lost after all – just small! And in true fairy tale style, ‘The woods filled up with songs and laughter, / and all lived happily ever after.
Satisfying stuff, delivered through Newson’s exuberant rhyming text, full of repeat refrains, KNOCK! KNOCK!’s and “No” s to join in with; and Lucy Flemming’s funny pictorial rendition of the search with its unusual perspectives and spilt page scenes.

Beauty and the Very Bad Beast
Mark Sperring and Barbara Bongini
Scholastic
I love a story that mucks around with fairy tales, or as here, a fairy tale.
Let’s meet Beauty’s sisters, Grace,a golf-loving lass, and May, who likes to tong her hair. Both ask their doting father to bring them appropriate gifts on his return from a shopping trip in town. Beauty – well we know what her request is; her Popsey however decides to steal it from someone’s garden …

and that’s when the trouble begins. The Beastly Beast appears, makes an accusation and demands his price. Inevitably, it’s Beauty who greets him on his return and thus she duly departs to reside with the Beast.
Beauty asks him to let her go, the creature agrees to consider it and he does – over a long period that stretches into seasons during which time he falls head over heels with his captive; he even proposes.

What happens thereafter includes further considerations, a return, a whole lot of forgetting, the death of a rose, a frantic dash and a kiss …

l’ll leave you to imagine the final event: assuredly it’s rather splendid and made all the more so by Barbara Bongini’s hilarious, action packed scene of same.

I’ve signed the charter  

Here Comes the Sun

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Here Comes the Sun
Karl Newson and Migy Blanco
Nosy Crow
In a treetop way up high, / Little Owl blinks / and rubs an eye.’ So begins an entrancing tale of one small nocturnal bird, who spreads her wings and flies forth with a mission: to extinguish each and every star in the night sky. As she goes, she passes all kinds of snoozing creatures both great and small: there’s Mouse and Squirrel, Giraffe and Elephant,

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Bear curled up in his cave and Tiger atop a cliff, ‘Swooping, looping, left and right, / wishing every star/ goodnight.’ Then on past Whale and Penguin, now in pursuit of an elusive shooting star

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that leads her over woods and waterfalls, seas and sands, jungles and swamps to that very last shining star.
With a final puff, the job is done, every star has gone: just in time for the sun to rise. Then all those sleeping animals begin to stir, stretch, yawn, wash and feed.

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A new day is dawning but for Little Owl, it’s time for a much-deserved sleep.
Superbly somnolent sounding, Karl Newson’s gentle tale has just the right ingredients for a bedtime read aloud: a languid rhyme with repeated refrains, and a hypnotic rhythm; and I love the whole notion of blowing out the stars.
Migy Blanco’s captivating animal characters stand out beautifully against the inky night skies and the landscapes.

Animal Allsorts

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Hello, Mr Dodo
Nicholas John Firth
Alison Green Books
I absolutely loved Nicholas John Firth’s debut Hector and the Hummingbird, so was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of this, his second offering. It also has an avian theme and once again, is a delight through and through.
Martha is an avid bird lover and twitcher spending much of her time in the woods with her binoculars; there isn’t a bird she can’t identify until that is, the day she comes upon an extremely large specimen she doesn’t recognise

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and it bears a very close resemblance to a supposedly extinct creature.
Before long a secret friendship has developed between Martha and her discovery, who shares with her, a particular penchant for doughnuts …

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Then one afternoon Martha accidentally lets slip her secret and the following day she’s besieged by a crowd at her front door. Time for some quick thinking: the dodo has to disappear.

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Is that to be the end of a beautiful friendship?
The wonderfully retro look of the book (there’s a slight touch of Roger Duvoisin about it) comes from the artist’s choice of colour palette, yet this is a thoroughly modern and enchanting tale.

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One Very Big Bear
Alice Brière-Haquet, Olivier Philipponneau & Raphaële Enjary
Abrams Appleseed
Mightily impressed by his own stature, a bear make an announcement: “I’m very big! … I’m almost a giant!” This claim is quickly countered by a whole host of other polar creatures that turn up in turn: two walrus, three foxes, four sea lions, five penguins and six sardines, the latter have the cheek to call him ‘foolish

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But who gets the last word …
Minimalist artwork, an easy to read text, mathematical opportunities aplenty and a giggle-inducing finale make for a fun book to share and discuss.

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I Need a Hug
Aaron Blabey
Scholastic Childrens’s Books
We all need a hug from time to time but when you’re covered in spikes it makes things just a little tricky and so it is with the prickly creature in this tale.
When a porcupine declares he needs a hug, unsurprisingly he doesn’t get any offers.

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Then something happens to change his luck but it’s not quite what he was expecting …

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With themes of looking for friendship and embracing difference, this brief rhyming tale offers food for thought and discussion with early years groups or individuals.

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Superchimp
Giles Paley-Phillips and Karl Newson
QED
Sporting his red underwear and feasting on fleas, a young chimp spends his days whizzing around in the jungle coming to the aid of troubled animals,

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zooming through the trees in his super-cool chimpmobile or occasionally, relaxing in his secret cave. Known as Superchimp, he’s loved by all the rainforest inhabitants; in fact he’s nothing short of their hero …

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Come nightfall though, from afar there comes another booming voice; but it’s not a voice asking for assistance this time. Now Superchimp doesn’t look quite such a hero and it’s not just his underpants that are a dazzling shade of red.
Rhyming text from Paley-Phillips and vibrant rainforest scenes from Newson combine to make a fun read for young would-be superheroes.