Strange Happenings with Winnie and Wilbur: The Bug Safari / Ghoulia and the Mysterious Visitor

Winnie and Wilbur: The Bug Safari
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

As Winnie and Wilbur picnic in the garden their dropped crumbs are collected by ants.

Winnie is fascinated and wants a closer look. Out comes her wand and with a wave and a shout, witch and cat are transformed into tiny, tiny beings. Wilbur is not impressed, especially when a bird lands in the grass in search of some lunch and even less so when the postman’s boots nearly squash both him and Winnie flat.

The obvious thing would be to make an enlarging spell but Winnie’s wand is stuck in a bush out of reach and anyway it’s now far too big for her to wave.

Are the two of them destined to stay forever tiny?

The countless fans of this series will be fascinated by the scaled down world in which its star characters find themselves and especially enjoy the garish-looking minibeasts that appear to dwarf Winnie and Wilbur.

Ghoulia and the Mysterious Visitor
Barbara Cantini
Amulet

If you’ve not yet encountered Ghoulia, let me introduce her: she’s a zombie girl who lives in Crumbling Manor along with Auntie Departed, Tragedy (dog) and other rather weird residents.

One rainy evening when the young zombie is feeling particularly bored, partly because her aunt has been totally absorbed with gardening and in particular tending her Chatterbox Ivy, an unexpected visitor arrives. He announces himself as Cousin Dilbert, (a cousin Ghoulia didn’t know existed) invited by her aunt to come on a visit.

But why invite such a fault-finding, demanding character? Off goes Ghoulia to find her aunt and ask the reason, but she is nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile another visitor arrives – one of Ghoulia’s friends thanking her for his invitation, also penned by her aunt.
More and more of her friends arrive, each holding similar invitations.

Things get ever more strange though and at one point the piano seems to be playing without a pianist and then Theresa (another of Ghoulia’s friends) disappears too.

After a search, the mystery is finally solved, thanks in no small part to her cousin and for once, everyone – even Dilbert – seems happy.

Out of this world zany, but just the right length for new solo readers who will especially enjoy Cantini’s detailed, mock-scary colour illustrations and the idea of a seemingly harmless plant turning carnivorous.

Winnie and Wilbur: The Monster Mystery / Princesses Save the World

Winnie and Wilbur:The Monster Mystery
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

In the latest Winnie and Wilbur adventure we find the witch regretting not having trimmed back some of the forest of trees that now surrounds her house, and pondering upon the maker of a trail of footprints across her garden.
Wilbur is reluctant to investigate fearing it’s a monster but even so they both sally forth.
Trip hazards lead the pair to mount the broomstick but that only ends with Wilbur crash-landing upon, so he thinks, ‘a big hairy monster’. Suddenly he’s surrounded by green hairy beasties that, having removed the debris from his fur,

turn out to be friendly; not the footprint makers then, decides the moggy.

Winnie meanwhile is hunting for her cat and soon resorts to her wand with which she magics a maze-like path

that eventually leads her to the object of her search.

Time to head home but that still leaves the question of the forest surrounding their house with darkness.

Tada! Winnie has an idea: if you can’t move the forest, maybe there’s another way; and out comes her magic wand once more …
As for the foot-print maker: well, we’d better ask Wilbur.

Winnie and Wilbur’s escapades never fail to delight and so it is with this one, which has a rather greener look about it than most of Valerie and Korky’s books in this series.

Princesses Save the World
Savannah Guthrie, Allison Oppenheim and Eva Byrne
Abrams

The pants-wearing princesses have a mission. When Princess Penelope Pineapple learns that Princess Sabrina Strawberry is in trouble on account of a lack of bees she knows she must help. The crops have failed and so there’ll be no fruit at all.

Fortunately however, Penny has plenty of bees that she cares for and so summoning her princess pals she promises to return.

The task in hand is one requiring co-operative teamwork and a conference is called and it seems that others too have had a bad fruit yield.

They gather supplies, construct new hives to house Penelope’s bees and then all that’s needed is the little insects themselves.

To get them buzzing into the hives the princesses create a deliciously aromatic scent that soon gets them swarming.

Thereafter it’s action stations and off they go back to Strawberry Shores where the bees are released and …

As the author reminds her readers on the final page, Sabrina Strawberry’s bee crisis is now one that due in large part to harmful pesticide use and environmental changes, has become all too common and honeybee numbers are on the decline. If Savannah and Allison’s story inspires young readers (who will doubtless delight in the jazzy outfits Eva Byrne has dressed the princesses in) to get involved in the cause of these crucial little creatures, then in addition to providing an enjoyable tale its creators will have done their bit to raise awareness of the bee crisis.

The Misadventures of Winnie and Wilbur / Get Me Out of Witch School!

The Misadventures of Winnie and Wilbur
Laura Owen and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press

It’s good to have the ever-popular picture book duo, Winnie the Witch and her cat Wilbur, in another chapter book format edition.
This one has eight short stories, each one profusely illustrated by Korky Paul in his distinctive zany style.

In the first, Winnie gets her knickers in a bit of a twist when her new enterprise isn’t quite the resounding success she’d hoped, but then Winnie doesn’t exactly employ the kind of sales talk that will have her new products whizzing off the shelves.

No matter: the ingenious uses she finds for her unwanted wares are bound to give readers a good giggle.

The second story has Winnie cooking up a feast for her interfering sister Wilma. It’s not the special fresh batburgers she originally planned – she hasn’t the heart to serve up relations of her ’diddly bat’ friend – but, thanks to some timely assistance from Wilbur, Wilma leaves after supper thoroughly satisfied with her meal.
That should suffice to give you a flavour of the hilarious escapades within; the others being concerned with bothersome bubbles, a whopping great whale and other fishy findings, a car boot sale with a difference,

some high drama in a big top, extraordinary doings at a soccer game involving the odd bit of knicker elastic zapping and finally, a spot of excavating.
Sheer hilarity from beginning to end, and perfect read alone fare as well as a hoot to read aloud.

More witchy shenanigans in:

Get Me Out of Witch School!
Em Lynas, illustrated by Jamie Littler
Nosy Crow

In the second book of Daisy Wart’s adventures at Toadspit Towers, Witch School of Conformity and Strickness, the reluctant young witch is now known as Twinkle Toadspit.
She’s yet to gain full control of her witchy powers and still holds ambitions to be an actress. But when she determines to rescue a ‘cute, cuddly kitten’ Twinkle inadvertently sets off a chain of chaotic happenings.
It’s down to Twinkle and her pals to save Toadspit Towers. Can they do so, and in time for the would-be star of stage to tour her “Bottom”?

Bursting with wonderful characters, this is total spellbinding fun to keep readers in suspense throughout. Equally it makes a thoroughly enjoyable read aloud for those not quite ready to fly solo. However it’s read, Jamie Littler’s illustrations add to the enjoyment.

A Snoring Giant, A Favourite Witch & Knights Galore

The Giant Who Snored
Mike Nicholson and Amy Lewis
Little Door Books
In the hills close by a town lives a gentle giant. He’s a great favourite of the townsfolk especially the children who look forward to his daily visit and the fun it offers …

Everything is tickety boo until the day the giant, suddenly overcome by tiredness, falls asleep during his visit. The loud snores he emits rock the whole town causing absolute chaos on land and sea and driving the residents absolutely crazy.
The hullabaloo must be stopped, announces the mayor offering a reward to anyone who can wake the slumberer. However, despite the best efforts of the blacksmith, the tailor and the chemist, the giant remains sound asleep. Is there anybody who can rouse the snorer? And if so, how?
Here’s a clue as to the who …

As for the how, suffice it to say, it’s pretty disgusting and likely to cause young listeners to emit delighted ‘eeuugh!’s in response; and everything ends satisfactorily for all concerned.
Apart from the very occasional slight creak, Mike Nicholson’s rhyming text slips nicely off the tongue -read it through to get the phrasing right before sharing it though. In combination with Amy Lewis’ digital scenes of the stentorian snores of the giant and their effects, you have the makings of a lively, enjoyable story time session.

Winnie and Wilbur The Naughty Knight
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
In their latest magical escapade Winnie transports Wilbur and herself back in time into a medieval castle where, for a change, her faithful moggie takes the starring role in the grand tournament, with Winnie as a lady-in-waiting.
Can the gallant knight, Sir Wilbur outshoot the famous Sir Roderick in the archery contest? And what happens when the two come face to face in the jousting?

Let’s just say that Winnie has her magic wand neatly stowed away about her person and thanks to a few deft flourishes of her arm, Sir Wilbur cuts Sir Roderick down to size in spectacular fashion, just in time to attend the magnificent banquet in the Great Hall. No need for magic there surely? …
Even after 30 years, Winnie and Wilbur’s magical charm never seems to wear off and it’s especially good to see Wilbur as the star of the show; love those split page layouts especially.
This one brims over with zany humour and is full of potential for primary classroom themes.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks: The Dinosaur’s Return
Kristina Stephenson
Egmont
Sir Charlie Stinky Socks is back to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his first adventure in what I think is story number nine.
When Charlie’s pet cat Envelope unknowingly hatches a dinosaur’s egg, the young knight together with his faithful friends, set out on a quest to return the ‘little something’ to Thunder Mountain.
A quest that sees them sucked into a swirling watery tunnel, diving into the vent of a volcano and more, before landing up on an island and in so doing, precipitating a dinosaur stampede.

All ends happily however with grateful dinosaurs and a spectacular display of fireworks.
Fast moving, fun, full of action and with dino.-sized flaps to explore, Sir Charlie and friends continue to delight.

Superhero Hotel / Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away

Superhero Hotel
Abie Longstaff and Migy Blanco
Scholastic
Have you heard about the exclusive, top-secret hotel atop a hill that’s the number one destination for any superhero in need of a spot of rest and relaxation?
It’s ably managed by young Joe Malone who knows exactly what each of his special guests most needs to restore them to peak form, which is just as well for he suddenly gets an influx of superheroes.
First comes Captain Power in need of a strength recharge. He’s followed by Gadget Girl, Ice Woman (with a sore thumb), The Flame, whose boots need attention, and last of all, Mr Invisible who slips in unnoticed, except by Joe.
Being superheroes though, it’s not long before they’re back to their former energetic selves and raring to go.
Joe meanwhile decides to do some gardening but the by now, bored superheroes cannot resist joining him and are soon at work making their own improvements to the garden.
Before you can say ‘be careful’ Captain Power has tripped over Mr Invisible,

accidentally precipitating a catastrophic chain of events.
Can the combined skills of the superheroes save Superhero Hotel from disaster?

Abie Longstaff’s fast moving tale with its crazy happenings, teamwork and a wealth of superheroes with their unique and diverse attributes provides Migy Blanco plenty of scope to employ his illustrative imagination; his arresting style will certainly engage young would-be superheroes.

Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper edition containing three stories, all featuring flying machines, is a great way to catch up if, like me you’ve missed some of the individual Winnie and Wilbur picture books.
In the first, Winnie and Wilbur: The Broomstick Ride, Winnie tries various other forms of locomotion after a series of accidents while cruising on her broomstick, only to discover that the solution to preventing further mishaps (especially to Wilbur who seemed to come off worst in all the aeronautical disasters), lies not in alternative forms of transport,

but in something altogether different; something that will improve Winnie’s eyesight.
A flying carpet is the subject in the second story wherein we find Winnie, conscientious witch that she is, busy writing thank-you letters for her birthday presents. There’s one letter left to do and it’s proving especially tricky as her much wanted gift of a flying carpet had turned out to be an absolute disaster.
Can she find a way to use the thing so that she has something positive to say about it? Let’s just say it’s surprising how many alternative uses a single item can be put to …
The final tale sees Winnie off to stock up on her favourite vegetables at the farmers’ market, especially her very favourite – pumpkins. These weekly trips leave much to be desired though and so Winnie decides to grow her own at home instead –

with Wilbur’s help of course; and the odd touch of magic to speed up the process.
And speed it up is exactly what her wand waving does, so much so that very soon her whole house is surrounded by a veritable veggie jungle full of enormous, produce including enough pumpkins – Winnie’s favourite – sufficient to feed not only herself and Wilbur but the whole neighbourhood . What though should she do with a gigantic pumpkin shell? Think propellers; think a highly convenient means of travelling to market …
As with all Winnie books, the stories are terrific fun, but it’s their combination with Korky Paul’s hilarious, highly detailed illustrations that make this series such perennial favourites. (You might even find the odd character from another of his books has dropped in.)

I’ve signed the charter  

Museums and Machines

A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
The terrific twosome of The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School fame have combined forces in another zany Henry adventure; and as always he is accompanied by his dachshund pal. This time the protagonist is put on the spot by a question about the class trip to a museum. The lad seems to have been rather tardy in his arrival at said museum and consequently undertaken his own explorations therein. Whether he, or the exhibits were more entertained, one can only imagine. He supposedly got up to all manner of unlikely activities: balloon sculpting for the Neanderthals,

and there was certainly plenty to feast his eyes on. A T.Rex for instance, sculptures, a great whale and a woolly mammoth, lots of paintings –

some abstract art requiring the odd finishing touch here and there, and the museum’s storage facilities needing a bit of reorganisation.
See how many art references you can spot …that dachshund portrait does appear to bear more than a passing resemblance to the famous Mona Lisa. And yes, Henry does eventually catch up with the rest of his class, albeit by some rather risky means.
Pretty off-the-wall stuff; but those who have enjoyed the previous flights of fancy delivered by Cali and Chaud will certainly find plenty to amuse herein.

Winnie and Wilbur Gadgets Galore
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper book of three, re-named, previously published titles featuring the much-loved duo, Winnie and Wilbur in Space, Winnie’s New Computer and Winnie and the Big Bad Robot will surely appeal to those of a mechanical bent.
The first sees the pair hurtling skywards in a rocket and discovering the ‘Purrfect” picnic spot, then having their picnic invaded by a horde of hungry space rabbits. The odd swish of her magic wand produces the ideal fare for the bouncing bunnies; but the voracious consumption of their favourite metallic meal leads to the visitors being without any means of getting back home. Can Winnie’s wand save the day once again?
You’d think after all that excitement in previous adventures involving machines, now renamed for this compilation, Winnie would have learned to stay clear; but her first foray, that involving a misunderstanding on Wilbur’s part, the scanning of her spell books into her computer and a mal-functioning mouse – Wilbur’s doing; and the second, an extremely unfortunate experience with the robot constructed by Winnie in her weekly creativity class at the local library, didn’t deter her at all. Hence her ‘big adventure’ in space.
The magic still holds good, no matter how the stories are packaged.

I’ve signed the charter 

A Rocketful of Space Poems / Things To Do

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A Rocketful of Space Poems
John Foster and Korky Paul
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Reputed anthologist , John Foster has compiled a book of twenty-six poems on the ever- popular space theme. Four are Foster’s own work and there are three from Eric Finney. Supposing went down well with my audience as did Judith Nicholls’ A Space Odyssey with its fun alliterative opening ‘Percival Pettigrew packed his pyjamas / and parted for Pluto, pausing at Mars.
Many of the poems are, I think, newly penned. If you use this collection in a primary school, children can have great fun inventing additions to the items for sale at Greasy Peter Pluto’s Fast Food Superstore – a good starting point for some imaginative writing of their own; ditto Robert Scotellaro’s Garage Sale in Outer Space and David Harmer’s Inter-galactic Squibble-ball, the Official Rules.
Old favourites are here as well: there’s Richard Edwards’ Asteroid Dog and Max Fatchen’s ‘Jump Over the Moon?the Cow Declared, to name but two.
Korky Paul’s weird and wacky visuals further add to the overall humorous feel and every spread is enclosed within a galactic-themed border …

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Cool endpapers too from pupils of Rockwell Nursery & Infant School.
Add this one to your primary classroom collection or topic box.

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Things To Do
Elaine Magliaro and Catia Chien
Chronicle Books
Erstwhile primary school teacher and now children’s poet, Elaine Magliaro, has written a short poetic sequence focusing on the small things and moments that occupy the thoughts of young children in their everyday lives from Dawn until the Moon brightens the night sky. If you’re Birds you can ‘Stretch out your wings/ on the brightening sky/ Morning’s upon us. / Get ready to fly!

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If you’re a Honeybee ‘Flit among flowers/ Sip nectar for hours / Be yellow and fuzzy. / Stay busy. / For hours.
Other natural world focuses are an Acorn, a Snail, the Sun and Sky, Rain, an Orb Spider, and Crickets and some made objects – Boots, an Eraser and Scissors …

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This lovely picture book, with Elaine Magliaro’s vivid verbal imagery and Catia Chien’s textured, acrylic illustrations, very much reflects that way of being in the present moment, very young children exhibit when we allow them to follow their own interests, as well as being reflective of the natural poets or ‘versifiers’ – ‘avid creator(s) of word rhythms and rhymes’ that Kornei Chukovsky called them, in his famous From Two to Five, ‘pouring forth verse to express their exhilaration.’
One to add to the home, or primary school, bookshelf.

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Don’t forget 14th Feb.

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