The Tiny Woman’s Coat

The Tiny Woman’s Coat
Joy Cowley and Giselle Clarkson
Gecko Press

This is a heart-warming autumnal tale of need and kindness.

A tiny woman shivering in the chilly wind wants a coat, a coat she resolves to make herself. There might be something of a problem though, for she lacks the necessary tools and materials with which to do the job.

However, happily for her, there are plenty of offers from things natural. The autumn trees provide leaves – ‘Rustle, rustle, rustle.’ Then a grey goose offers its beak in lieu of scissors and ‘Snip, snip, snip’ the leaves are cut into a body and sleeves.

A porcupine’s generosity takes the form of one of its quills

but then this needs to be threaded with something suitable.

A friendly horse provides the thread and then all that’s needed is a means of fastening the garment. The three buttons are seeds given by the ‘wild wet weeds’ and finally hurrah! Out to face the storm, ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ goes the tiny woman clad in her new warm coat of kindness.

Simply constructed and written, Joy Cowley’s folksy story is sheer delight to share and also, with its repeat patterned text, ideal for beginning readers. sheer delight too, and the perfect complement for the text, are Giselle Clarkson’s detailed illustrations with their gentle humour, autumnal hues and close observation of the natural world.

The Fairy Dogmother

The Fairy Dogmother
Caroline Crowe and Richard Merritt
Little Tiger

This playful modern fairy tale has its origins in Cinderella and is set in Woofington’s Dog Shelter, home to most of the characters in the book including Cinders. This resident is just contemplating lunch when suddenly one Priscilla Paws, Fairy dog mother announces herself and offers Cinders a wish – “Whatever will make you the happiest you can be,” she suggests.

Now Cinders is pretty satisfied already with his home, food and friends so he tells Priscilla, but the fairy urges him to make haste before the wish times out. Unable to come up with anything, Cinders consults his friends and every one has a different suggestion, Boris’s idea being a ball … How do you think Priscilla envisages that one?

The clock ticks on and Cinders’ time is almost up …

when suddenly Old Wally has a brilliant proposal. Kind-hearted Cinders happily makes the wish but it leaves him without any companions. Or does it? For as Priscilla’s experience tells her and she tells Cinders, “fairy tails always have a happy ending” …

Dreams sometimes do come true, perhaps even when the dreamers don’t realise what their deepest wishes are.

Be they bursting with detail and pattern or less ornate, Richard Merritt’s vibrant humorous scenes completely fill every page and along with Caroline Crowe’s positive message about Cinders’ kindness and generosity,.this is a fun book to share with youngsters, preferably once they know a traditional version of Cinderella.

The Song for Everyone

The Song for Everyone
Lucy Morris
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This story starts high up in a tiny window one morning when a sweet sound issues forth. A boy on his way to school stops to enjoy the music and in so doing his loneliness is forgotten. He though, isn’t the only one affected by the beauty of the tune: an old lady is enlivened and filled with joy,

and gradually as the music continues to float on its way, all the townsfolk receives something that has been missing from their lives. Most important though, is that they start to feel a sense of connectedness as they ‘share food, stories and kindness.’ It takes just one small thing to change an entire perspective.

Then one day unexpectedly, the music stops: total silence fills the town.

Dispirited, the townsfolk come together to discuss the absence of the magical music and the lonely schoolboy takes it upon himself to climb up to the window and investigate.

Two days pass and then joy of joys, a sweet sound drifts out through the window and once again the townsfolk are transported by the beauty of music flowing through the streets and through their lives : truly a song for everyone. And the identity of the singer? It’s revealed on the penultimate spread, but story spoiler I won’t be.

A gentle tribute to the power of music, of community and of loving kindness, all of which are more important than ever in our lives at the moment. Without actually using musical notation, Lucy Morris has created a wonderful representation of music as it flows across the pages and over the story’s characters on its transformative way through the town There’s lyricism too in the words Lucy has used in this lovely debut picture book.

Ella’s Night Lights

Ella’s Night Lights
Lucy Fleming
Walker Books

Ella is a tiny, moth-like girl who longs above all else to see the sunrise; but she has to avoid the sun, so delicate are her feathery wings. Consequently, Ella leads a nocturnal existence collecting light from all that glows and glimmers by moonlight and sleeping by day. 

This light she would share with anyone who needed some help in the dark, while repeating her heart-warming chant “Here’s some bright light, here’s a night light. / A little ray to calm your fright.”
One night she bestows this light upon a little fox named Sable 

and the two become friends, searching together nightly for ‘shimmering light’.

Another night – a snowy one – she shines a calming light on a lonely little owl in a tree; then Luna joins forces with the light-givers, and the animals always ensured that little Ella was safely back before sunrise.

One night her animal friends decide that it’s time that Ella’s kindness is returned: together they create a very special gift to show their appreciation of her thoughtfulness and altruism, a gift to make her dreams come true.

Through both words and pictures, this story positively exudes charm, and sweetness – of the magical not the cloying kind. It’s a lovely warm-hearted book to share with youngsters especially now when we all need some light and kindness to help us through these difficult times.

Supertato Super Squad

Supertato Super Squad
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnett
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Everybody is in need of kindness right now as we enter a second UK lockdown and our favourite spud and his super veggie squad are here to show the way.

When Supertato tells his friends that he needs their help to teach Evil Pea a lesson, needless to say they are ready to spring into action right away.
Pineapple provides the box their leader requests, Carrot supplies the string – rather an excess of the stuff …

and Broccoli and Cucumber – chefs extraordinaire – bake a batch of delicious cupcakes adorned with sprinkles.

With box duly packed, the preparations are complete and it’s time to sneak up on their arch enemy, the little green spherical EP. By now Supertato’s pals are a tad confused but he knows exactly what he’s doing and Evil Pea is certainly in for a big surprise …

Sue and Paul have created a splendid, large format cutaway board book treat for little humans that introduces some of the key Supertato characters and in so doing offer an important lesson about helping one another, kindness and collaboration.

Who will you and your little ones surprise over the coming weeks?

The Little War Cat

The Little War Cat
Hiba Noor Khan and Laura Chamberlain
Macmillan Children’s Books

This story was inspired by a real man ‘the cat man of Aleppo’, Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, a truly kind individual who set up a sanctuary that became home to hundreds of cats in his home city after his family left for safety.

It became a place not only for the cats; adults young and not so young also came ‘to help and play, making it a place of love and hope for everyone’. So Hiba tells readers in a note at the end of her story, a story that begins with a little grey cat living a contented life in Aleppo. But that was before the war which brought with it terrible changes including those tramping big boots and a lack of food for the little cat .

As time passes, the scared creature kept to the shadows, his hunger inceasing.

Then one day she sees someone different – a gentle, soft spoken person – and she follows him until almost at the point of exhaustion, they reach somewhere safe and she hides herself away till the kind man sees her, feeds her and stays with her the entire night.

The following morning restored and sated, the grateful cat notices something and she knows just what to do … It’s time to pay forwards the kindness she’d been shown.

Hiba Noor Khan and Laura Chamberlain together show the transformational effect of kindness; something the author writes of in relation to the war in Syria, but it’s also something that many of us have discovered during the pandemic.

The Smile Shop

The Smile Shop
Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

The boy narrator of The Smile Shop is thrilled to have saved sufficient pocket money to treat himself for the first time ever. What will he buy though?

All the market stalls and shops have exciting goods displayed so should he buy a tasty-looking apple pie,

the beautiful little boat, or perhaps the book that’s caught his eye; or maybe that hat that suits him so well?

He’s still undecided when disaster strikes and all but one of his coins disappears down through a drain cover.

The lad is devastated but then what’s that? A smile shop? Really? Do they actually sell smiles? He could definitely do with one right then, so in he goes …

With his quirky, scratchy drawing and watercolour illustrations Satoshi Kitamura’s latest story is essentially a parable that shows how powerful something as simple as a smile can be.

I think that’s something we’ve all learned since the start of the pandemic – more difficult now that masks have to be worn in various places. It’s also a wonderful demonstration of the fact that kindness is worth so much more than anything that money can buy – something else we’ve learned in the last few months.

A book to ponder upon and discuss across a wide age range.

Umbrella

Umbrella
Elena Arevalo Melville
Scallywag Press

Imagine a world where everyone is kind and forgiving, and where anything is possible. How wonderful would that be. That is the world Elena Arevalo Melville creates in this uplifting story that begins one morning with Clara without anybody to play with in the park.

But then she comes upon an umbrella, albeit somewhat worn, but Clara picks it up and places it gently on a bench close by. To her surprise the umbrella thanks her and goes on to say, “Look inside me. Anything is possible!”

And so it is, for when she opens it up she finds herself face to face with a splendid playmate. Now for Clara at least, the park is quite simply perfect as it had been to near neighbour, old Mr Roberts when he was a boy.

But from his wheel chair he can only look up towards those tasty-looking apples in the tree and think, ‘if only’. Not for long though for Clara is there telling him ‘anything is possible’, with the umbrella urging him, “Look inside me.”

Before long, not only has Mr Roberts got an umbrella full of the yummy fruit, but he’s asking his helper to pick enough for everyone.

And so it goes on until the park is alive with magic and music courtesy of the butterfly band. Everyone joins the dance

except one rather unsavoury character watching from the side with his eyes firmly on that umbrella; a foxy gentleman with only one thing in mind – a very selfish thing.

Can that umbrella work its own special magic yet again and perhaps enable a state of perfection to pervade the entire park?

Debut author/illustrator Elena Arevalo Melville’s use of a minimal colour palette until the penultimate spread serves to make that illustration all the more perfect too. Her somewhat surreal tale of empathy, kindness and community is one to share and discuss at every opportunity.

Then I’d suggest asking listeners to make their own wishes. Perhaps they could write them down and drop them into a partially open umbrella safely secured in a strategic spot.

Slow Samson

Slow Samson
Bethany Christou
Templar Books

Samson’s favourite activity is spreading happiness as a consequence of which he has lots of friends and many party invitations.

However this is problematic as he frequently stops on route to a venue to help a fellow animal or merely for a friendly chat.

This tardiness causes him to miss out on all the fun, not to mention the cake at Terry’s birthday bash.

Samson resolves to do better and hurry to the next party. True to his word, he dashes past all those in need but still when he arrives, the party is over; worse though without his help, others had suffered. Poor Samson sobs, despairing he’ll ever be on time on account of his slowness.

Unbeknown to the sloth, Samson’s friends are concerned and after considerable thought, come up with a plan. An invitation is sent and Samson decides that despite his lack of speed, he just cannot disappoint his pals.

Next day, off he sets but he doesn’t rush – his friends do however, causing him to feel bad; but on he goes – slowly, slowly, convinced he’ll be very late. But is he?

For fear of being a party pooper, I’ll leave the little creature dangling and you deciding for yourself.

What I will say is that with its rainforest setting, debut picture book creator Bethany Christou’s warm-hearted tale of altruism, friendship, determination, kindness (and the odd piece of cake – oops!) is a great read aloud and a perfect starting point for discussions with young listeners.

I love the expressively portrayed animals especially Samson, and there’s plenty of gently humorous detail to enjoy in every scene as well as in the playful endpapers.

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? / I’m Not Grumpy!

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep?
Anna Kang & Christpoher Weyant
Hodder Children’s Books

Little Frog is anxious to fall asleep and asks readers to help him for if he doesn’t get sufficient sleep his mother won’t allow him to participate in the Frogatta boat races the following day; in other words he’ll be in BIG, big trouble and there’s no fooling his observant mum.

He tries our (supposed) suggested counting sheep, a bedtime book – definitely not the best idea – and a chat with last year’s prize caterpillar toy all of which fail and then he recalls his teacher, Miss Chon’s advice to breathe long and deep then mind travel to his ‘happy place …

and joy of joys, zzzzzzzz.

Whether the final wordless spread is Monty’s blissful dream or the young frog’s elated presence (along with his parents) at the next day’s Frogatta is left open to readers to decide: no matter which, one cannot help but root for little amphibious Monty in this frog-a-licious bedtime tale.

With Christpher Weyant’s super, lively, cartoonish scenes of Anna Kang’s dramatic telling, the book is enormous fun for pre-sleep sharing, especially for little ones with a touch of insomnia.

I’m Not Grumpy!
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger

Waking up to discover a huge furry bottom blocking your door might put most of us in a bad mood; it certainly does Mouse whose mood further deteriorates when he’s splatted on the nose by – so he thinks – a splashy raindrop.

In fact it’s a tear shed by a distraught little badger just outside his window wailing, “Where’s my Mummy?”

Together the two animals set off in search of the Mummy Badger only to find themselves lost.

Encounters with Squirrel and Owl both of which recognise Mouse as ‘that grumpy mouse”, (hotly denied by said Mouse), are willing to help in the search and off they all go deep into the forest.

There they come upon a large bear. On learning that Mouse is in fact helping Little Badger get home, the bear changes his grumpy accusation to “a kind friend”; a first for Mouse.

They travel deeper into the forest until Mouse becomes overwrought

which results in Owl giving him a cheer-up hug – another unusual event for the little creature. Suddenly out of the bushes emerges a very scary, very hungry predator.

Does that mean Squirrel, Badger, Owl and Mouse become a lupine’s evening meal?

Happily not. I won’t divulge the ending, but what ensues will certainly bring a happy smile to the faces of young listeners.

With opportunities for audience participation, Steve’s warm-hearted story with Caroline Pedler’s expressively portrayed woodland animals provides a good starting point for circle time discussion with early years children on themes of friendship, kindness, and on how their moods might affect other people.

Dave The Lonely Monster

Dave the Lonely Monster
Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Dave lives all alone in a retirement cave; his only companion is his guitar.

Back in the day – the bad old days to be precise – Dave had been a huge pest rampaging and roaring wherever he went.

Until that is, the townsfolk, tired of his mess making, exiled him to Echo Rock where he spends the next sixty years, just him, his knitting, the odd poetry book and his old instrument upon which he strummed the night away.
By day the local knights would taunt him and try to engage him in combat, but of fighting Dave would have no part.

One day his slumbers are disturbed, first by a flying cabbage that hits his nose, then a beetroot biffs him in the eye and an aubergine whizzes past.
Out from behind a bush emerges a tiny knight wielding a carrot. “Prepare to meet your doom!” he cries.

Somewhat nonplussed, Dave challenges this lad who calls him a fiendish monster, pointing out that proper knights do not speak so, and that monstrous beasts, like others, also have feelings.
Realising the error of his ways, Percy apologies, a pledge is taken and a firm friendship forged.
The two have the time of their lives

while back in town, on account of the lack of exciting action, boredom and grumpiness have set in. Monster-bashing is what they need, the townsfolk decide.

Can young Percy persuade them otherwise, armed as they are with fistfuls of mouldy fruit and veg.?
Surely there must be a better way to liven things up and bring fun back for those would-be assailants of Dave’s. He certainly thinks so …

Rollicking rhyme that beats out a heart-warming tale of music and friendship – that’s Anna Kemp’s – and delicious olde-worlde scenes of bygone times that might have been but never were, on account of the crazy mix of knights of yore, Dave’s 60s style bass guitar, mini-skirts and dance moves, not to mention a hells angels wooden Harley style bike complete with side car (those are all part and parcel the super scenes created by Sara Ogilvie)  – combine to make a super read-aloud romp with an important message.

Out with rebel-rousing and war; long live love and peace.

This book will have to be one of my ‘secret story-teller’ choices for the autumn term.

How Rude!

How Rude!
Sarah Arnold
Otter-Barry Books

When Pig, out driving his sports car, spies Mole with a huge box at the roadside, he kindly stops and offers him a lift.
His deed precipitates a chain of action and reaction that begins when he asks Mole what he has in his box. “None of your business!” comes the firm reply. Pig responds thus …

Pig’s pals are sympathetic calling Mole’s reply rude but they too are eager to discover the contents of that box so first they investigate.
Then they speculate

until back comes Mole clutching a key.
He unlocks the box and dashes inside, shutting the door behind him. “How rude!’ say the friends, stating their intention to shun Mole and his box.

Suddenly the door bursts open and a paw beckons them to enter. In go the friends and Mole slams the door shut after them.
Fun over, he looks around for further amusement but nobody is there.

From the box however, music, laughter and song issue forth and as you’d expect, Mole wants to know what’s happening within.

“None of your business!’ comes the response and this time it’s Mole’s turn to feel left out. How rude!

When he unlocks the door, an accident occurs as everyone bursts out, then it’s a case of apologies all round; and a fun time for everyone ensues. HURRAH!

A thoroughly enjoyable story full of expositions and some fun onomatopoeic sounds for listeners to join in with, lively endearing characters both animal and human, and lots to ponder on and discuss about kindness, forgiving, sharing and getting on together: all in all a super book for class, group or individual sharing.

I’m the Biggest / I Can’t Sleep!

I’m the Biggest
I Can’t Sleep!
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

Young rabbit, Simon has now grown considerably – he even stars in his own show on Milkshake 5 ,and here is engaged in a spot of sibling rivalry over the relative increase in height of the two brothers: Casper has grown a full 2 centimetres more than big brother Simon. Needless to say the latter is far from happy, exclaiming “No way,” in response to his Mum’s pronouncement. He even accuses her of giving Casper more food.

Having been chastised by both parents, he’s positively a-boil with fury and swearing revenge.

However, while engaged in a game of footie with his pals in the park later in the day, he spies Casper being bullied by a boy from his class.

‘Serves him right!’ is his initial reaction but then comes a change of heart. Perhaps he is still the BIG brother after all.

Good fun as all Simon titles are, especially for those grappling with being a big brother.

However, I prefer I Can’t Sleep! which I missed first time around. This story focuses on the positive – the comradeship between the two brothers.
Having both spent the day in the garden erecting a ‘MEGA GIGA-NORMOUS’ hut, when it’s bedtime Casper realises that he’s left his special blanket outside in the hut. Needless to say, he can’t possibly sleep without his blanky. It’s time for big brother to don his superhero gear and brave the dark.

It’s cold and damp as his little feet ‘pitter-pat’ run through the night, and pretty scary when he encounters a huge and hungry monster but he makes it back home clutching what he went for

and only too willing to regale his adventure to Casper till morning.

Stephanie Blake’s bold, bright illustrations are deliciously expressive showing just how the characters feel, her language too is enormously engaging and fun. Here she cleverly reveals the way in which big bro. is clearly in charge and little bro. eager to be his pupil.

Goat’s Coat

Goat’s Coat
Tom Percival and Christine Pym
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Alfonzo is a goat with a brand new, dapper coat; wearing it makes him feel on top of the world. He also has a kind heart so when out strutting his stuff in his stylish garment and he comes upon a family of homeless frogs in need of help Alfonzo is faced with a dilemma.

Altruism wins: the frogs sail off in a new blue boat; Alfonzo walks on in a cuffless coat.

But then he discovers a trembly cat, her tail in a trap. A bandage is required to stem the blood …

Soon the cat’s tail is covered: the goat’s nether regions anything but.

Further encounters with a panic-stricken hen …

and shivering hedgehogs leave the benevolent Alfonso alone and entirely coatless. Snow falls as night approaches.

Will the goat freeze without his coat?

Tom Percival’s rhyming cuddle of a tale is the perfect antidote to the current political climate demonstrating so beautifully that happiness lies not in possessions or self-interest but in friendship and selflessness. Christine Pym’s illustrations for his heart-warming story capture the feelings of helper and helped perfectly, injecting appropriate touches of humour along the way.

Here We Are

Here We Are
Oliver Jeffers
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Oliver Jeffers is one of my favourite author/illustrators and Here We Are, his latest book, is simply exquisite.

Created for his new baby son and suffused with parental love and a gentle humour, Oliver speaks, seemingly directly, to the infant.

He talks of the intriguing, bewildering and fascinating wonders of Planet Earth and all that’s on it and above it – the land, the sea, the sky, space, humans, animals, day and night.

Much needed, perfectly timed, and pared back to the essentials, his message is one that resonates: kindness, tolerance and respect not only for our planet – ‘Make sure you look after it, as it’s all we’ve got.’; but for one another whoever we are, wherever we are, ‘People come in many shapes, sizes and colours. We may all look different, act different and sound different … but don’t be fooled, we are all people. … there are lots of us here so be kind. There is enough for everyone.

That’s what really matters. It matters for us here and it matters for people right across the globe especially now when so many countries are in turmoil of one or another kind.

This is a vital picture book, awesomely illustrated in Oliver’s inimitable witty way – a classic–to-be, for every family, early years setting, school collection and library. And it’s an absolutely perfect gift for any baby who has recently arrived on our bewilderingly marvellous planet.

A Home Full of Friends

A Home Full of Friends
Peter Bently and Charles Fuge
Hodder Children’s Books

Peter Bently does rhyming narrative with aplomb and it’s once again the case here.
Kind soul, badger Bramble doesn’t quite know what he’s letting himself in for when he offers Scuffle the dormouse, toad Tipper

and Boo the hedgehog a bed for the night when they’re made homeless by a storm. Rather that’s all he thinks he has to contend with as he hurries home concerned about his messy sett, stretching his supper to feed four and there only being one bed.
Bramble busies himself making preparations: makeshift they may be but entirely adequate for a badger and three pals.
His thoughts are interrupted by a loud knock at his door and the sight that meets his eyes is more than a little shocking. Three entire families are standing on his doorstep …

Fortunately though, they’ve brought with them everything they’ve managed to salvage from their wrecked homes and it’s not long before, with full bellies, they’re having a wonderful time playing games and sharing a bedtime story

before snuggling up for the night.

Warm-heartedness shines out of Charles Fuge’s beautifully detailed scenes which, together with Bently’s text, make a read aloud book with a compassionate message which is particularly pertinent given recent weather disasters and the ever increasing numbers of displaced people in various parts of the world.

Counting with Tiny Cat / The Fox Wish

Counting with Tiny Cat
Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books
Tiny Cat is an energetic bundle of mischief with a particular penchant for red wool. At the outset there isn’t any but then yippee! A ball of the red stuff rolls right along. That quickly becomes TWO! THREE! FOUR! Which is all the creature can really juggle; but still they keep coming.

Clearly Tiny Cat’s counting skills have yet to develop further, though oddly the feline’s vocabulary encompasses ‘ABOUT A DOZEN– emphasis on the about here I should add.

Still though, the creature’s appetite for the red stuff isn’t satisfied: ‘LOTS’ leads to a very greedy ‘AS MANY AS YOU CAN GET’ but even that isn’t sufficient. SOME EXTRA gives way to …

Will the frisky thing ever realise that enough is enough?
A wonderful visual comedy with a delightfully playful star: Tiny Cat most definitely commands the performance, and viewers will definitely demand instant encores.

The Fox Wish
Kimiko Aman and Komako Sakai
Chronicle Books
A small girl – the narrator – and her younger brother return to the playground in search of the skipping rope left behind earlier. There’s no sign of their rope but they follow some sounds of laughter and in the clearing, come upon, not the friends they’d anticipated. but a group of foxes enjoying a skipping game.

Doxy, foxy, / touch the ground. / Doxy, foxy, / turn around. / Turn to the east, / and turn to the west, / and choose the one that / you like best.
The children decide the foxes are less adept skippers than they on account of their tails and Luke lets out a giggle. Fortunately the foxes aren’t offended: instead they approach the children and ask for some coaching. Soon animals and humans are playing together happily, taking turns to hold the rope ends. When the little girl’s turn comes to do so, she notices the name, painted on the handle.

It’s her name, but also happens to be that of one of the foxes; and, the little creature has assumed it now belongs to her because of a wish she’d made.
Does the little fox’s wish come true: what does the little girl decide to do?
A wonderful, slightly whimsical tale of empathy, altruism and kindness, and a delightful portrayal of the way young children so easily slip between fantasy and reality, told with sensitivity that is captured equally in Sakai’s glowing illustrations and Aman’s words, which in their direct simplicity, echo the voice of a child. Such exquisite observation.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Elephant’s Umbrella

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The Elephant’s Umbrella
Laleh Jaffari and Ali Khodai (translated by Azita Rassi)
Tiny Owl
Elephant, a kindly pachyderm, is always ready and willing to share his prized possession, a brightly coloured umbrella, with his fellow animals whenever the need should arise.
One day though while the elephant is taking a nap, the wind whisks his umbrella away and it ‘gives’ it to the leopard.

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There’s a proviso however issued by the umbrella: ‘If I become yours … Where will you take me when it rains?’ Leopard’s far from satisfactory response causes the umbrella to continue on its wind- born journey … towards a bear. Bear too wants to take possession …

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but his “I’ll take you to the bees … I’ll take their honey. And then I’ll sit under you and eat all that honey by myself.” response to the same question, has the umbrella again chasing the wind.
It begins to rain …

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and the umbrella searches for the elephant, finds him and the two are re-united. You can no doubt imagine what happens next …
This seemingly simple, mild tale has much to say to us all; themes of selfless concern for others, humanitarianism, compassion, empathy and kindness spring to mind immediately. No doubt readers and listeners will come up with more suggestions. As ever, Tiny Owl has provided a beautiful and thought-provoking book that deserves a place on family bookshelves; and it’s a gift for discussion in early years and primary school departments, particularly those that have “Community of Enquiry’ sessions on the curriculum.
Ali Khodai’s use of a lush palette in his illustrations is perfect for the jungly, rainy setting of the tale.

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Scruffle Bear, Ellie, Cyril Squirrel and Love

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There’s Only One Scruffle
Robert Dunn
QED
Almost all children have a favourite soft toy and so it is with Ellie: she and her bear Scruffle are inseparable. Her parents cannot understand this Scruffle obsession – after all he’s patched, has an eye missing and is more than a little stinky! That reminds me of  ‘Bobby’ a bear I’ve kept ever since I was a very young child in Pakistan many, many years ago.
He must be replaced decides Ellie’s mum and presents her with this … Now you don’t need me to tell you how Ellie feels about this, nor will you be surprised at what she does next …

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Mum remains upbeat, trying to cajole Ellie and persuade her to give the newcomer a try. Ellie decides a walk might help her think and off she goes with new bear on her mind. He’s also on her mind as she assists Grandad with the gardening …

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and while she paints Scruffle a picture. By now, new bear is looking a little less like new and smelling well – disgusting! Not fit to be played with Ellie declares handing Scruffle to Mum who’s still wondering what her daughter sees in him. Could it perhaps be that two smelly bears could be accommodated in Ellie’s household? What do you think? I think a wash is definitely the order of the day …
Young children will immediately empathise with Ellie, giggle over her treatment of new bear and have plenty to say about the ending. The story’s a good one to prompt discussion about favourite toys, as well as coping with change and showing love.

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Cyril Squirrel Finds Out About Love
Jane Evans and Izzy Bean
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Cyril is a lively creature and also very inquisitive; the thing he spends most time pondering on is love: What is it? “Can I find it and keep it? Do I need it?” he wonders. He decides to write a list of questions on the subject to ask his friends Carrie Crow, Dan Deer, Ramon Rat and Dafiya Dormouse, but none can supply answers. Instead, Dafiya suggests Cyril goes to look for love and having left an explanatory note and taken a few supplies, off he goes next day.
On his journey he encounters a bird that is amused to hear what Cyril is searching for and offers a demonstration of its version of love – ‘being held by a warm wing’.

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Other creatures provide different love suggestions: rabbit demonstrates with a warm smile, and with a “Buzzzzzzzzzz,” bee provides a ‘soft, soothing sound’. All these expand Cyril’s understanding of love and on his notepad he writes ‘Some of us have different maps to find love.’
Other animals he comes across further add to his list of ideas – that of Poppa Hedgehog demonstrating how sometimes love can be a bit puzzling …

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until eventually Cyril heads home where his friends are waiting, eager to find out about his quest. It’s in their reception of him that Cyril finally comes to know a crucial fact about that all-important word: that seemingly small acts of love can have a huge impact;

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and not only for those on the receiving end, I suggest.
There are many beautiful picture books on the market with love as an inherent theme. This one, with its cartoon-style illustrations and in-built questions is likely to promote lots of discussion among youngsters and will, I hope help to enlarge their understanding of such a vital concept. To that end there are some suggested activities and a guide for adults on the last two pages. Written by an expert on trauma, parenting and related topics, this is definitely one for the early years shelf in nurseries and for children’s centres.

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Noggin the Nog

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Noggin the King, Noggin and the Whale,
Nogbad Comes Back, Noggin and the Dragon
Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin
Egmont Publishing
I’ve been a huge Noggin fan since I was a child and at one time was the proud owner of a much-cherished complete set of the original The Saga of Noggin the Nog books on which these new editions are based. Sadly, years ago my partner waxed lyrical about them to our plumber and without asking permission, loaned them to him, for his son. To this day I have never seen them again: all I have now are just these two duplicates …

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What we have here are I think, smaller versions of the Early Reader editions, also from the 1960s. In my experience, young children do love collecting little books and so I’m sure these mini Noggins will be a big hit. Noggin himself is goodness through and through. Here are the opening lines of Noggin the King: ‘Noggin was a good king./ He liked to look after his people./ He liked to give them warm socks to wear.

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 He liked to give them good food to eat./ He liked to make sure that they had good roofs on their houses.’ Oh Noggin, we need you now.
Noggin is married to Queen Nooka; he often consults her when he is puzzled over a question and herein it’s a particularly thorny one: “Tell me, Nooka, am I king of the birds as well as king of the people?” She doesn’t answer him directly but together, the two seek, and find, an answer …

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Beautiful.
In Noggin and the Whale, Noggin is celebrating his birthday. Unusually however, he’s not the only recipient of presents: the ever benevolent monarch gives all the children of the town gifts too: things with which to create music …

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However, on this particular birthday, the musical celebrations are interrupted when a whale summarily seizes the boat in which Noggin and the children are playing and lifts it aloft. But that’s only the beginning of this delicious tale. Noggin’s young son Little Knut plays a significant part in saving the day (and shifting the whale) as does Olaf the Lofty (who as he tells us himself, is “very clever”), and the town’s bell-maker helps too.
Nogbad Comes Back sees the return of Noggin’s wicked uncle – banished from the Land of Nog by Noggin, to spend time in his castle to learn to be good. The crucial question however is, has Nogbad really seen the error of his ways? “Now I am Nogbad the Good!” he asserts but Queen Nooka has her doubts. Will he behave if Noggin allows him to take part in the annual animal and vegetable show;

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or will he, once again, show his true colours?
In Noggin and the Dragon, we join Little Knut and his friends when they go on a dragon hunt.

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But are there, or aren’t there – Noggin definitely says there aren’t – any dragons left in Dragon Valley? If not, then what is this …

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For me, Noggin has lost none of his charm: indeed he’s even more adorable and wise than ever. And from a mature adult perspective, bringing so much more to the stories, I can really appreciate the genius of  Noggin’s creators, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin.
It’s wonderful that Egmont have brought back these tiny treasures. I’m over the moon.

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Tufty/The Grumpy Pets

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Tufty
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
Subtitled ‘The Little Lost Duck who Found Love’ this story starts in the grounds of Buckingham Palace where we meet a family of ducks and in particular the youngest, Tufty who we are told ‘always struggled to keep up.’

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The Royal residents of the palace – the Royal Duck and Duckess – (looking decidedly like the feathered residents) feed the duck family when they take their lakeside perambulations and keep them entertained with grand parties in the palace ballroom.

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With winter fast approaching, it’s time for the ducks to fly south to warmer climes Father Duck announces, and very soon, they’re on their way. Unable to keep up, Tufty is left behind and flies down to a subway on a traffic island where he discovers a kindly homeless man. The man takes Tufty back to his makeshift shelter in a hollow tree and there he looks after him …

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right through the long winter months.
Come spring, Tufty is much bigger and stronger and one day he sees his family overhead flying back to their lake in the palace grounds. Tufty joins them and as the number of ducks on the palace lake increases day by day, he notices one particular little duck that takes his fancy. Soon after, the two of them return to the lake in the woods where the kindly man warmly welcomes them.

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Foreman’s glowing watercolours are unfailingly wonderful, particularly in their portrayal of the contrasting scenes of the lush green palace grounds and the high-rise blocks of the city skyline; and the rainy urban roundabout and the peaceful hollow chestnut tree abode of the man beside the small lake.
Readers and listeners will warm to the plight of left-behind Tufty and the kindness of the man who gives him shelter and food, despite having very little of his own.

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The Grumpy Pets
Kristine A. Lombardi
Abrams
When a mother takes Billy and big sister Sara to Perfect Pets, the animal rescue shelter, it’s in the hope that it will give her somewhat disagreeable son something to smile about. Seemingly everyone else, including Sara, has managed to find their ideal pet …

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but young Billy remains decidedly sombre.

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Off he goes to look around the place, a place that seems full of happy animals, not his thing at all. But then he hears ’BARK!’, ‘GROWL!’, ‘Hisssss!’ which leads him to …

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and in particular one that’s ready to give as good as it gets and more …

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resulting in an “I’ll take him!” from Billy who knows when he’s met his match. Thus begins, one suspects, as we see boy and dog heading home, a wonderful friendship that will bring a whole lot more smiles where Billy is concerned.
Populated by endearing characters human and animal, this is a warm-hearted story of mutual rescue that is most likely to appeal to pooch lovers and those who sympathise with small, sometimes grouchy boys.

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