The Night Before Christmas in Wonderland / The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas in Wonderland
Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley
Macmillan Children’s Books

Demonstrating the true meaning of Christmas, this is a marvellous mix up of two classics– Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas.

It begins thus: ‘Twas the night before Christmas, a dark snowy night / When St Nick and his reindeer were just taking flight.’

Debut picture book author, Carys Bexington manages to sustain the jaunty rhyme unfalteringly throughout the tale. Therein she gives Santa aka St. Nick a turn to go adventuring down the rabbit hole when he responds to the plea of the Princess of Hearts who sends a letter begging for a Christmas present after her parents have said no.

Having made their way down the royal chimney St. Nick plus reindeer come upon a decidedly unseasonal scene and disturb the Queen of Hearts. She, we learn hates Christmas because as a little princess, her Dear Santa letter missed the last post on account of the White rabbit’s tardiness and so she was presentless.

As a consequence, presents, along with tinsel, mince pies and good cheer are all banned.

Now though, at long last, it’s time to deliver that gift to the erstwhile little princess.

Can St. Nick succeed in restoring the ‘Happy’ into Christmas? Perhaps, but only if her royal grumpiness, the Queen of Hearts responds positively to Rudolph’s assertion, that alluded to at the start of this review.

A full cast that includes the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter, are depicted in Kate Hindley’s absolutely priceless scenes of seasonal mayhem and festive frolics, each of which is bursting with delicious details and Kate’s own brand of brilliance.

The Night Before Christmas
Clement C. Moore and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

If you are looking for a version of the classic Clement Clarke Moore seasonal poem this year then I’d wholeheartedly recommend this superbly designed one first published in 1954.

Its tall, slim shape and size is perfect chimney shaped design and here we follow Santa – portly and with an enormous beard – as he alights on the rooftop and slides down the chimney of the narrator’s residence (in how many homes would that be possible nowadays?).

Observant readers who are familiar with Duvoisin’s creation for Louise Fatio’s The Happy Lion will spot the striking resemblance of one of the soft toys left as a gift, to said lion.

Retro brilliance this!

Be More Bernard

Be More Bernard
Simon Philip and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster

Bernard is a bunny; he does bunny things like nose twitching and ear pricking and he digs lots of deep holes. In fact whatever his fellow bunnies do, Bernard does likewise.

In his dreams though things are rather different; he dreams of decidedly un-rabbity things. But how long can he keep up his pretence of being just like the other bunnies?

One day he decides to eschew the bunny poo baps his fellow rabbits are eating. ‘I can’t do this any more’ he decides.

Little by little Bernard starts to do his own thing, largely ignored by the others until that is, the day of the annual bunny ball when, shock horror, a divergent bunny rolls up!

Ignoring cries of “You can’t wear that!” and “We’re all the same!’ Bernard struts his stuff with joyful abandon, disco dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

Amid the cries of consternation, there’s one little bunny, Betsy, who loves his daring to be different and it isn’t long before Bernard isn’t the only risk taker on the dance floor.

Then comes the big reveal …

which all goes to show that the best possible choice is to be true to yourself whatever that may be.

Long live individuality and difference: that is what is so splendidly conveyed in Simon Philip’s cracking story narrated with such delicious humour by Bernard himself.

Kate Hindley brings out that humour with her splendiferous scenes of the protagonist’s transition from rule adherent to rule breaker, from follower to leader, from ordinary bunny to bunny extraordinaire. Make sure you peruse every spread carefully or you’ll miss the wealth of captivating detail in every one.

Blooming brilliant!

Marcel’s Parcels / Prima’s Missing Bunnies

Marcel’s Parcels
Prima’s Missing Bunnies

Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster

These are the first of Kate Hindley’s lift-the-flap board book stories set in Treacle Street.

Marcel the elephant stars in the first title and youngsters accompany him on his post round. His trolley, we discover when the flap is lifted, is loaded with lots of parcels so he has a busy time ahead.

His first delivery is to Prima Pavlova’s dance school with some much needed gear for their next performance.

The next stop is to unload a very large parcel for William at the pie shop,

followed by a wheel delivery for Arabella at Grease Monkeys Garage.

What about the final parcel; it’s addressed to the resident of the very last house in the street: now who could that be? …

We’re back at Prima Pavlova’s dance school for the second story and it’s the evening of the bunnies’ very first performance. There’s a big problem though: all the star performers have gone missing and Prima is in a terrible state. So much so that she needs the help of readers to search for them.

It’s a search that takes us high and low to the café, the prop shop, the orchestra pit

and finally the dressing room. How could they do such mischief on that important night? The audience are ready but can the curtain go up on time?

Kate’s characteristic quirky, patterned illustrations packed with wonderful details, along with her interactive narrative, ensure that little ones will demand these stories over and over, and eagerly anticipate further visits to Treacle Street.

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.

The Knight Who Said “No!”

The Knight Who Said “No!”
Lucy Rowland and Kate Hindley
Nosy Crow

Ned had always been a biddable, obedient little knight complying with each and every one of his parents’ wishes,

and always come nightfall running indoors to hide from the dragon as she swept through the sky. One night as he watches the dragon from the safety of his bedroom window, Ned wonders if, like himself, the dragon is lonely.

Next morning – the day of the tournament – a change has come over the lad. A firm “No” is his response to every request from his parents and the townsfolk alike. When the dragon whooshes through the sky and lands at Ned’s feet, he accosts the creature, inquiring about her lack of roar.

The dragon’s response brings about a mood shift in Ned …

and thereafter, an unlikely new friendship is forged.

Lucy Rowlands’ rhyming text bounces merrily and faultlessly along, providing join-in ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ opportunities for listeners who will delight in Ned’s sudden attack of recalcitrance and its final outcome. Kate Hindley documents the whole saga with wonderful scenes of days of yore village life capturing not only Ned’s mood changes, but also the dragon’s and the bit part players’ characters, absolutely splendidly.

A potential storytime favourite, methinks.

The Lost Penguin

The Lost Penguin (An Oliver & Patch Story)
Claire Freedman and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Oliver made two new friends in Oliver and Patch, one canine and one human.
In this sequel, the three of them are pretty much inseparable during the day time although in the evenings Oliver and Patch return to Oliver’s flat and Ruby to her house.
Their favourite place to spend time together is the city zoo and it’s there that they see Peep.
Peep, so Sandy the zookeeper tells them is a newly arrived rescue penguin. The friends put his sad look down to the fact that he misses his old home.
The following day when they return to see Peep again, he’s nowhere in sight. Quickly they inform the zookeeper and a search begins.

Children will enjoy spotting the little penguin’s resting places in various locations that Ruby and Oliver fail to notice.
Eventually the friends discover the little creature’s whereabouts aboard a canal boat;

but on arrival back at the zoo, discover it’s closed for the night.
A squabble ensues over who is to look after Peep overnight, after which Ruby and Oliver realise that both Peep and Patch have gone missing.
Where can they be? There’s a long night’s wait ahead but will they find the two missing animals again next morning?

The ups and downs of friendship and the difficulties of settling into a new environment are explored in this reassuring tale.
Kate Hindley provides plenty of amusing details to linger over in every spread so this definitely isn’t a book to hurry through despite the urge to discover what has happened to the missing Peep.

I’ve signed the charter  

They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!

They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!
Sean Taylor and Kate Hindley
Walker Books
Sean Taylor does crazy stories supremely well and this one surely tops the pops for craziness.
Three aliens, inhabitants of the planet Zabalooloo head to earth in their spaceship and they have a mission. There’s the brainy one, that’s Zoron our narrator; Bazoo, the strong one and Zob, prone to hyper-exuberance and crazy wiggle-woggle dancing.
Their aim is to be the first to capture a “BIG-SIZE thing” by means of their supersonic-sucker with special shrinker nozzle and take it back to their own planet. Quite a challenge judging by the relative size of the aliens and their prey, Undaunted and with supersonic sucker at the ready, the three creep up behind the creature ready to strike.

But then Bazoo wants to stop for a photo shoot. PHOOAH! Big mistake! Followed by rapid retreat back to spaceship.
Maybe they’ll have more success with MEDIUM-SIZED thing. Or maybe not …

Surely nothing can go wrong capturing a SMALL-SIZED thing; after all it would still be a first for their planet.
But even aliens from Zabalooloo cannot resist feeding our earthly ducks and it’s a case of love at first sight for both Zoron their intrepid leader and the target duck.

So is their mission doomed to failure or could there perhaps be another way of capturing their prey?
Sean Taylor’s deliciously zany text, some of which is rendered through colour-coded speech bubbles, is full of utterances guaranteed to make you splutter with laughter. Take this one for instance ‘I am COMPLETE BIG-GOB NINCOMPOOP WITH PANTS ON INSIDE OUT!
Perfectly complementing Taylor’s words are Kate Hindley’s sublimely silly, intricately detailed visuals of the diminutive Zabaloolooian explorers and their tin can craft complete with steering wheel and party area, going about their mission.
Human explorers of the pages will find many more small-sized things including a wealth of insects hovering on, and buzzing around, the various kinds of plants liberally scattered throughout the terrain of the aliens’ hunting ground.
Epic!

I’ve signed the charter