Winter Lullaby / Wonky Donkey’s Big Surprise

Winter Lullaby
Dianne White and Ramona Kaulitzki
Walker Books

At the approach of winter when the air is crisp and cold, Mama Bear tells her little one that it’s time for bed but Small Bear notices Mouse and Chipmunk are still wide awake and busy; so too are Skunk and Hare.

Patiently acknowledging her offspring’s “But why must I?”, Mama explains that each one is preparing for a long winter sleep: Mouse is rushing to rest in her soft grassy nest and Chipmunk is storing nuts then he too will hibernate; Skunk will soon slumber underground and Hare will spend winter in a hollow log.

However Small Bear also spots Badger and Old Racoon, both still awake too, so he holds firm to his “But I don’t want to go inside … Why must we hide?”

Mama then promises that come the spring, they’ll both wake up and find their world green again, just waiting for them to play together once more. Finally Small Bear accepts that it is time to snuggle up warm with his mother and let the night sing them lullabies until they both fall fast asleep and slumber all winter long.

Told in rhyming couplets and through Ramona Kaulizki’s scenes of the final autumnal days giving way to winter’s bluish-silvery landscapes, this is both a lovely reassuring pre-bedtime tale and a simple explanation of hibernation for adults and little ones to share, snuggled together just like Mama Bear and her cub.

Wonky Donkey’s Big Surprise
Craig Smith and Katz Cowley

One morning wee Dinky Donkey is hugely excited and that’s because her pa Wonky has promised her a very big surprise. Rather than tell his little one what to expect, Wonky turns the whole surprise thing into a guessing game explaining that behind the big green door is where she’ll find her surprise. The guessing begins – “Is it warm?, “Is it washable?” … “is it witty? …

By the time Wonky has acknowledged “Sometimes it’s even whiffier than your dad!” Dinky cannot contain herself any longer. She leaps up and dashes to the door: now what could possibly be wonderful, wrinkly, wiggly, witty, weird, whiskery, washable, warm, whiffy and wise? WOW! What a lot of w’s to describe just one thing. Now what could it possibly be? It’s certainly something that will make Dinky and young listeners feel warm all over.

The story is delivered in Craig Smith’s characteristic playful, spirited rhyming narrative and Katz Cowley’s strokeable illustrations wherein the focus is on, not Wonky, but his endearing offspring.

The Bee’s Sneeze / The Fidgety Itch

The Bee’s Sneeze
The Fidgety Itch

Lucy Davey and Katz Cowley
Scholastic Children’s Books

Here are a pair of rollicking rhyming reads from New Zealand author Lucy Davey, illustrated by Katz Cowley (of The Wonkey Donkey fame). Lucy Davey’s rhyming skills are excellent but make sure you practice reading the two stories before sharing them with an audience. They’re absolutely full of wonderful alliteration and onomatopoeic phrases that are sometimes tricky to get your tongue around.

The Bee’s Sneeze begins when a lorikeet expels a seed from its rear, a seed that soon grows into a blooming Tootletuff plant that catches the eye of Buzzy McBee.

Buzzy cannot resist sipping the sweet nectar from a bloom and before long her knees are all a-wobble on account of the teasy sneeze that despite her best efforts, she cannot contain and … AH-CHOO! Buzzy tumbles right into Monkey Minx.

Thus begins an inadvertent nose-teasing chain as the culprit bloom is passed first to Monkey and then on in turn to Barefoot Bear and lizard Lizzie-ma-Lou before an explosive sneeze precipitates a fall and all the sneezers tumble right into Crocodile’s open jaws.

SNAP! However,Croc’s satisfaction comes before a Tootletuff tickle in his tum, for just in the nick of time an unstoppable fizzle becomes an explosive sternutation and the story satisfyingly concludes by coming full circle.

It’s patently obvious from her mix of real and invented language that the author loves playing with words and it’s equally evident that Katz Cowley thoroughly enjoyed creating her dramatic scenes of the events.

Young listeners will relish both especially the opportunity to let rip with some AH-CHOOs (post COVID and with tissues at the ready) and to join in chanting the repeat refrain, “I smell a whiff, a tickle-is sniff, / I’ll squeeze the sneeze inside!”

Equally bursting with delicious language of the rhyming rhythmic kind is The Fidgety Itch with its clever cumulative structure. The key elements – chief protagonist (Timpkin mouse with his penchant for cheese), setting (beneath the fru-fru trees) and the problem – an escalating itch caused by a tiny creature that lurks ready to act. A creature that’s shown but never talked of in the text but is capable of causing for instance a ‘poutingly, peevishly, peppers patch … ‘ that desperately needs a relieving scratch.’

What ensues is a concatenation of co-operative creatures each offering to be a scratcher and becoming the scratch needer,

and all the while Timpkin gleefully gobbles his cheese ‘neath those fru-frus and a certain insect lurks somewhere in plain sight. Until … Fuzzy O’Hare’s cry causes Timpkin to leap ino action and with teamwork all is resolved satisfactorily.

There’s terrific teamwork too between author and illustrator in this zany story that’s a wonderful embodiment of the all important ‘language is fun’ message.

Both books are sure to become favourites with young listeners.

Ollie’s Lost Kitten / The Grinny Granny Donkey

Ollie’s Lost Kitten
Nicola Killen
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Ollie returns for an autumnal tale that is every bit as enchanting as her previous stories.
One crisp, blustery autumn morning Ollie, sporting her cat suit and pursued by her beloved moggy Pumpkin, head outdoors. Suddenly Ollie, about to jump into a leaf pile sees that it’s moving and then a sudden gust of wind reveals, hiding among the leaves, a tiny shivery kitten.

Having warmed it up, Olllie and two felines frolic in the leaves, catching them and playing forest explorers until they’re tired out. Before long the little kitten is ready for more play so Olllie joins in, totally forgetting about Pumpkin still slumbering beneath a tree.
The two dash off deeper into the woods where they spot lots of ‘lost kitten’ posters.

The girl knows she must try to find the kitten’s home so off they go, following a path revealed by the leaves, all the way to a little cottage where the kitten lives.

It’s a somewhat tearful Ollie who heads back, suddenly realising that her very own Pumpkin has been left alone. Feeling sadder still, she sits in the dark, lost and a bit fearful, till all of a sudden, she hears a rustle,

and then an extremely welcome ‘miaow’ that she recognises …

Gently suspenseful and beautifully illustrated, Nicola’s gorgeous graphite scenes with pops of orange and occasional cut-outs, give the story an autumnal feel making it ideal for sharing with little ones, just now especially.

The Grinny Granny Donkey
Craig Smith and Katz Cowley

Here’s a tooth-troubled addition, in the form of Grinny Granny, who joins Wonky Donkey and Dinky Donkey in the daft donkey family delights related by Craig Smith and beguilingly illustrated by Katz Cowley.

No grey lady is this one with her swanky styled titfa and adornments of the jewelled kind.

There’s nothing this granny donkey likes better than to sit playing her banjo, sipping a cup of her favourite brew and dunking in her biscuits,

but there’s a snag of the dental kind; her false teeth just won’t stay in her mouth.

Occasionally however she does get a bit down in the mouth, not on account of her teeth (those can be put back pretty niftily) but when her family fail to visit for a seemingly long time. That makes her grumpy and cranky, until up trot her son Wonky and her granddaughter Dinky. Then back comes that toothy smile and it remains, lighting up her donkey countenance for weeks and weeks – hee haw how splendid is that!

Herein with its wonderful sounding dunks, plunky-plinks,

clunks, clinks, clanks and zonks, Craig’s ‘Hee Haw’ -ing cumulative narrative plonks along nicely in time with Granny’s banjo strumming; adorably depicted in Katz’s scenes of this gentle grinning granny jenny.

Little ones will love it especially when read by their own grannies. It’s great for developing awareness of rhyme and sound/symbol associations to boot (or maybe hoof).

Willbee the Bumblebee

Willbee the Bumblebee
Craig Smith, Maureen Thomson and Katz Cowley

A plug for bees and a slightly crazy story of an unravelling black and yellow jersey belonging to one particular buzzy bumblebee named Willbee are knitted together in this rhyming story endearingly portrayed by Katz Cowley.

One day while out and about foraging Willbee snags his jersey on a rose thorn and as he flies away, the jersey gradually unravels until his bare bum is exposed. The now decidedly chilly little insect has to remain unprotected in the garden as he’s too cold to fly home.

Alone and scared humless, he’s spotted by kindly butterfly, Monica who flies down to his aid. She frees the wool and takes it off to spider Steve who agrees to weave the yarn into a brand new jersey for Willbee; and so he does. Back to Willbee flies Moni with the jersey.

Donning his new garment at super fast speed, Wilbee revives, gets back his hum, rewarms his bum, gives thanks to his benefactors and buzzes off happily home to his mum.

A fun, giggle inducing read aloud to share with little ones at home or in an early years setting.