Stars with Flaming Tails

Stars with Flaming Tails
Valerie Bloom, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
Otter-Barry Books

How exciting to have a book of new poems from Valerie Bloom after quite a long while; but Stars With Flaming Tails with more than sixty offerings was definitely worth the wait.

Arranged under five headings – Family and Friends, Fun with Forms, Our World, Animals and Unbelievable?, this is a veritable treasure trove of delight encompassing such diverse topics as pancakes and piranhas, the elements, grandparents, siblings, parents,

the ordinary and the extraordinary (though nothing is the former when Valerie works her magic on it).

You’ll laugh, feel saddened, ponder upon, puzzle over, empathise, wonder, and with all your senses aroused, discover many things anew. It’s amazing how totally different moods can be evoked by just four lines; take for instance EclipseA huge space giant saw the sun, / he thought it was a currant bun, / so he took an enormous bite / and turned the daytime into night.

and Dawn – ‘Sunlight pries open / the hands of the mimosa / which all night had been clasped / in prayer.’

On the shortest day of the year, that has also been extremely wet and cheerless, one of the poems that really made me smile ends thus: ‘But all’s well, we’re rich and happy (so I had to beg his pardon), / and he’s charging folk a pound to see the dead giant in the garden.’ Can you guess who the ‘he’ is in this one – hint it’s a character from a traditional tale.

No matter how you’re feeling though, you’ll discover something to suit your mood, or to lift you out of it perhaps. Ken Wilson-Max’s black and white illustrations serve the poems well providing an additional reason to smile wherever you open the book.

Astro Girl / Where’s Mr Astronaut?

Astro Girl
Ken Wilson-Max
Otter-Barry Books

Space and stars enthusiast Astrid wants to become an astronaut, so she tells Jake her best pal as they lie stargazing.

She goes on to tell the same to her papa over breakfast.

He challenges her assertion with comments about orbiting the Earth in a spaceship, dining on food from tubes and packets, becoming used to zero gravity, conducting scientific experiments …

and sleeping alone among the stars: he seems pretty knowledgeable about life in space. Astrid assures her Papa that she can manage all those things even the solo sleeping.

The day comes for the two of them to go and collect Mama in the car.

It’s then that we discover the possible reason for Astrid’s enthusiasm about space and her Papa’s knowledge.

A joyful reunion takes place and thereafter the little girl starts reading avidly to learn as much as she can about how to achieve her ambition, and about some of those trailblazing astronauts who went before, several of whom were women.

Simply and beautifully told, Ken keeps readers interested in the theme by showing us space related items such as Astrid’s t-shirt, her breakfast cereal, Papa’s T-shirts, the cookie shapes they bake together, pictures, a toy – all of which help in the build-up to the grand finale.

A smashing book for young space enthusiasts and perhaps to share on Father’s Day.

For a younger audience is:


Where’s Mr Astronaut?
Ingela P.Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

Vibrant, immediately appealing illustrations characterise Ingela P.Arrhenius’ latest title for the ‘flaps and mirror’ series in an amusing introduction to space exploration for the very youngest.

The space travellers hidden herein are a delightful mix of human, canine and alien. There’s Mrs Engineer, Mr Space Dog, Mrs Alien,

Mr Astronaut and finally, whoever happens to be looking in the mirror tucked beneath the felt moon flap.

This one’s sure to add to the deserved popularity of the hide-and-seek series.

Listen! – The Flute / World of Forests

The Flute
Ken Wilson-Max and Catell Ronca
Tiny Owl

The second in the Children Music Life series showcases a reedless woodwind instrument, the flute. Here flautists from different parts of the world come together to celebrate its magic. It’s a colourful magic that conjures up mellow sounds …

and bright ones; that sometimes speaks very softly …

or blows icily.
It might be a scream of pink, a sigh of lilac that is …

The voice through which the flutes speak is pure poetry; now why not try to discover its sounds for yourself … Where will it take you? What will you hear and see: how will you feel?

With rainbow bright illustrations from Catell Ronca and Ken Wilson-Max’s poetic words, prepare to be transported and perhaps to dance with your little one like some of the characters herein. Through music is a wonderful way to introduce very young children to stories: this little treasure of a book will help you do just that.

World of Forests
Robert Hunter
Wide Eyed Editions

Robert Hunter follows his World of Birds with a new Sounds of Nature title in which he explores ten different forest habitats from various parts of the world – Europe (including the UK), the USA, South America, Africa, India, Socotra Island (Yemen) and China.
Each habitat is given a double spread wherein are showcased the animal inhabitants (with a factual paragraph on each one) as well as a general introduction to the particular forest be it of the coniferous or deciduous kind.
Six or seven creatures are included in each location be that the German evergreen forest; the Redwood forest of California; England’s New Forest; the Amazon rainforest; a cloud forest in the Virunga Mountains of East Africa;

a desert forest of Socotra Island; a beech forest of Brussels;

the Sundarbans mangrove forest in the Bay of Bengal (I don’t think this is at ‘the southern tip of India’ as stated in the book though); the coniferous taiga (snow) forest of Alaska; or the bamboo forest in the mountains dividing North and South China.

Pressing the sound button on each spread produces a ten second burst of the natural sounds of 60 or more animals. You’ll need to listen very carefully to identify such creatures as the squawking macaws of the rainforest or the call of the Northern wren in the beech forest.

The whole thing is splendidly atmospheric: with its beautiful panoramic illustrations and fascinating soundscapes it’s a book that is likely to appeal across a wide age range.

The Drum

The Drum
Ken Wilson-Max and Catell Ronca
Tiny Owl

One of the highlights of the school year in three of the primary schools I taught in before moving out of London was the annual visit of multicultural music workshop providers, Earthsong.
Storm and fellow musicians would come with their van filled with exciting musical instruments from different parts of the world – in particular, an amazing collection of drums – and give first a whole school presentation and then individual class workshops of music and dance for the children, often based on a theme that we had flagged up beforehand.
Once those drums came out and the children got their hands on them, even the most challenging of individuals became totally engaged and remained so throughout the session.

It was evident that drum circles (such as those Earthsong provided) were an opportunity for the children to feel totally connected with themselves and with one another and equally, that playing a drum was a terrific mood booster for every individual, many of whom came from less than ideal home situations.

Author Ken Wilson-Max and illustrator Catell Ronca capture those feel good experiences in their splendid little book for young children that features African drummers captivating both the players themselves and their audience

who cannot resist the invitation to follow Ken’s instructions to ‘Clap your hands … Stomp your feet … Move your shoulders from side to side

… Feel the beat in your belly … Feel the drum in your heart’

and who can ignore the appeal to ‘Shake your body and dance’. I can almost feel the beat and rhythm of the drums in Catell Ronca’s vibrant illustrations and want to start moving in concert with the children portrayed therein.

Spencer feels the beat

I can’t wait to see further titles in this new Tiny Owl series ‘Children, Music, Life’.