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.