Oscar’s Tower of Flowers

Oscar’s Tower of Flowers
Lauren Tobia
Walker Books

Oscar’s mum takes him to stay with his grandmother for a while in this wordless, wonderfully warm story. He bids a sad farewell to his mum and then despite reassuring hugs from his nan, the boy spends a very difficult first night away from home.

Next morning though his nan observes Oscar’s interest – a picture he draws, and his careful watering of a seedling.

She takes him to a very special shop where they buy all kinds of gardening things including seeds.

Back in nan’s apartment, Oscar plants and tends the seeds

until her entire residence, both inside and out, is alive with flowers, greenery, even vines. There are certainly sufficient plants to make gifts to the other residents of the block, especially a little girl who soon becomes his friend.

No words are needed here: Lauren Tobia’s gorgeous vignettes and full page scenes say it all. The emotions of the characters are made palpable both through their faces and their body language all the way through to the happy reunion of mother and child.

Perfectly paced, this is a super book to share nestled up with one child or a few, taking time to focus on and relish all the wonderful detail in every spread and both endpapers.

Let’s Go to Nursery! / Will You Be My Friend?

Let’s Go to Nursery!
Caryl Hart and Lauren Tobia
Walker Books
We join Bee and Billy (and their mums) at the door of a nursery. The session is already in full swing with all kinds of exciting activities taking place. The children give their mums a farewell hug and Bee eagerly begins to join in. Billy however, is more reluctant and a tad clingy. He soon gets drawn in though, thanks to a ‘message’ full of kindness …

Happy noisy play ensues until there’s a dispute over ownership of a large toy; but Billy, surely a fast learner, comes to the rescue and all is well once more.
There’s so much fun to be had, so many things to share and so much playful learning – just how it should be.

All too soon though, it’s time to help tidy up; the mums are back and it’s farewell until tomorrow: a happy, exhausting day spent and the prospect of many more to come.
Caryl Hart and Lauren Tobia paint a lively portrait of nursery life without the intrusion of the nursery staff: they, one hopes, are observing and sometimes, gently encouraging and perhaps guiding, unobtrusively from the side-lines.
The first of the First Experiences series for ‘a new generation of little readers’ the publishers say. Perhaps ‘little listeners’ would be more accurate, but no matter which, its intended young audience will find plenty to enjoy; it’s as well that the book is sturdily made with wipe-clean pages as I foresee a lot of enthusiastic handling.

Will You Be My Friend?
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
This is a title from Bloomsbury’s Featherstone imprint and has something of an educational slant: There’s plenty to think about and discuss; and the whole thing is invitingly illustrated with a sequence of vignettes. These are captioned and each spread opens with a question on an aspect of friendship: ‘What do you do when a friend upsets you?’ and ‘What do your friends think of you?’ for instance. Notes from a friendly puggish pup offer further food for thought at the bottom of each right hand page.

A final spread is aimed at parents, although I see this book being used in preschool and KS1 sessions on ‘What makes a good friend?’ too. It’s all very nicely and inclusively done though personally, I prefer emotional and social learning to be part and parcel of picture books’ stories rather than books specially created for the purpose.

I’ve signed the charter  

Are You Sure, Mother Bear / Goodnight World


Are You Sure, Mother Bear?
Amy Hest and Lauren Tobia,
Walker Books
It’s the very first night of winter; snow has fallen all around and it’s time for Little Miss bear and her mother to start their long winter sleep. The young bear however, is not ready for sleep just yet; she’d far rather watch the snowflakes falling. The two snuggle up together, munch on toast and stare through the window and gaze at the snowy world beyond.


Little Miss begins thinking of everything she’ll miss once she succumbs to sleep: the stars, the moon and the hills just right for rolling down. They’ll all be right there come spring, Mother Bear reassures her little one; but then she gives in. Out the two go for one last moonlit roll …


before finally, no matter what, it’s time for bed and sleep at last because that’s what bears do in winter, seemingly even semi-domesticated ones.


Full of feel-good warmth and reassurance, this is a lovely book to share with sleepy littles, who will enjoy both the snuggly indoor scenes and the beautiful outside woody, snowy landscapes.


Goodnight World
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
With a gentle, lilting narrative and soft, soothing scenes of a world already to slip into sleep, this is a beautiful just-before-bed story for young children. As we bid ‘Goodnight’ to sun, moon and stars, ships upon oceans, rockets, cars and planes, the birds, bees and fishes,


the flowers and grasses, the animals in the zoo and in the park – pretty much everything in fact, a little child curls into a parent’s arms and shares a favourite book before finally falling fast asleep.


Gorgeous, dream-like images drift gently across every spread providing plenty of visual delight before gently lulling the listener to the land of slumbers too. Equally though, it’s great for joining in so I’d suggest a second reading and a third to allow for that, maybe on consecutive nights.


Double? More? Too Much?

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Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus!
Atinuke and Lauren Tobia
Walker Books
When Anna Hibiscus discovers that the ‘big bump’ is twin brothers, she knows that she’s in for some “Big Trouble” as her cousin Chocolate puts it. What it means immediately though is that none of the family seems to have time for her any more; they’re all far too busy with extra work that’s a result of the two newcomers. Uncle Sam is busy making food for Anna’s mum; her Grandmother has been up all night and now needs to sleep and her aunties are baby minding.

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Poor Anna Hibiscus finally loses her temper and shouts, which sets the babies off bawling and she herself dissolves into tears. Oh Dear! It’s then that Papa finally takes notice of her and explains the implications of Double Trouble: sharing is now the order of the day.
Eventually though, people do pay her attention  and then it’s the turn of that big sister to become a comforter.


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It will take time for young Anna Hibiscus to learn how to accommodate those newcomers, and she has to learn to take turns for her mother’s hugs and sometimes even share them with others…

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I’ve loved all the Anna Hibiscus stories: this one too is a real delight and it’s absolutely perfect for those with a new baby in the family or anyone anticipating a new arrival. Those gorgeously warm-hearted illustrations are just the business.

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Tracey Corderoy and Tim Warnes
Little Tiger Press pbk
In most very young infants, the acquisition of a new word is a cause for celebration. However when young Alfie rhino adds “More!” to his vocabulary the result is destruction,

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and all manner of excesses, some dietary, others very noisy or messy or, on occasion, something rather more desirable.
So when he is invited to a fancy dress party he gets more than a little carried away with the design of his costume

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and despite its amazingness, it has distinct disadvantages when it comes to joining in the party fun especially at cake-sharing time …
Fortunately though having more than just a few friends is one thing that does work in his favour, and all ends happily.
The young charmer is sure to win further friends with his latest romp: as always it is delivered with appropriate verve and exuberance in both words and pictures. Share with Alfies and other littles of the human variety and I suspect they’ll straightway ask for MORE!

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No More Cuddles!
Jane Chapman
Little Tiger Press
Despite living alone in the forest, Barry suffers from a surfeit of cuddles: he’s literally smothered by them and it’s all a bit too much.
A disguise might do the trick, he thinks to himself; but it just isn’t scary enough.

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Angry growls and scowls don’t work either; something more drastic is required seemingly. So Barry advertises for a relief cuddler and finally along comes one that meets the job description perfectly. Even then though, the animals continue to hurl themselves at Barry and he finds himself hurtling into a mucky swamp and it’s there that he gains a bit of well-earned respite.
Exuberant scenes and a decidedly cuddle-able main character, not to mention a host of delightful bit part players, are the chief ingredients of this warm-hearted story.

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Hubert Horatio
Lauren Child
Puffin pbk
Child prodigy, Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent, (referred to as H by his ultra-rich, but forgetful parents) starts to call the tune right from his early infancy. He cannot however do anything about the fact that the nightly cup of cocoa he and his parents share is always cold by the time the lad has climbed the numerous flights of stairs to the parental bedroom. Despite this, life jogs along happily for Horatio until one day his parents throw a party and the jelly runs out halfway through. Very odd, thinks Horatio but that is only the start of the family’s woes and before long he realizes that his parents are financially embarrassed, to say the least.
The young lad takes the initiative and money-making plans intended to refill the family coffers are soon put into action. But Mr and Mrs Bobton-Trent continue to party and live the high life

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until a frustrated HH decides downsizing is their only option. The family moves to a new home – 17b Plankton Heights – and there surprisingly, Horatio’s mum and dad settle quickly and woopy-do – because of the short distance to walk, everyone’s cocoa is still warm by the time it arrives at the parental bedroom.
Highly entertaining with wonderfully whimsical, richly patterned collage-style illustrations, Hubert Horatio is truly a force to be reckoned with.

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Tickles, Troubles, Rewards and Rides

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Silly Dizzy Dinosaur!
Jack Tickle
Little Tiger Press pbk
Aptly named, Dizzy is a fun-loving young dinosaur that loves tickles – so long as they aren’t too tickly. Find out what happens when he receives an enormous tickling that is all a bit TOO much in this action-packed romp that is chock full of opportunities for shouting, shaking, hiccupping, and of course, tickling. The up-close scenes zoom readers right in to the main action

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but at the same time there are small part actors in the form of minibeasts and fish to add to the fun and frenzy.

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Go To Sleep, Monty!
Kim Geyer
Andersen Press
Max has looked after his toy dog, Snuffly Poo since he was a baby but now he’s a ‘big boy’ his parents have agreed to him having a real puppy. Little does he realize what he’s taking on though when he chooses his pup; Monty needs a fair bit of training to say the very least.

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But when bedtime comes, things prove even more tricky: despite Max’s very best efforts, Monty just will not go to sleep.

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Indeed, he pees all over the kitchen floor. Then Max has a brainwave; he offers Monty Snuggly Poo as a sleep mate. Bad move, Max.
Just what will it take for the boy and his lively pup to get a night’s sleep?
Kim Geyer has created some endearing characters – human and otherwise for her debut picture book, presenting the action very much from Max and Monty’s perspective using a subdued palette for the larger than life scenes. It’s a story that will go down well with under fives at bedtime or any time, particularly those who have a lively pup to look after.

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Babies Don’t Walk They Ride!
Kathy Henderson and Lauren Tobia
Brubaker, Ford & Friends (Templar)
Delectable infants grace the pages of this lovely book as they are pushed, shoulder ride, glide, stroll (in their buggies of course), roll in trolleys (and other things), go bumping in buses,


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charge charioteer-like and even fly sometimes;


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all courtesy of their parents, carers, siblings and very likely, grandparents and other willing movers and shakers, all of whom huggle and cuddle, and sing to their charges. And those babes if only they could, would join in the chorus of “Babies don’t walk they ride!
What a joyful time is had by all – readers, listeners and of course, those infants and those who care for them in this gorgeously illustrated, rhyming parade of perambulations.

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A great partnership and a ‘read over-and over’-production for the very young and all their adult minders. One (or more) to give and one to keep, I’d say.

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The Fairiest Fairy
Anne Booth and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
When young, Betty starts Fairy School her teacher despairs of her. Although she does her very best Betty just cannot manage to make dewdrops sparkle in the sun, nor wake the flowers up in the morning


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or even paint rainbows like the other pupils. She does have a very kind heart though as we see when she attends to a rabbit’s foot, helps a baby bird learn to fly and rescues a butterfly tangled up in a flower.

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When it’s time for the annual Fairy Ball, a tearful Betty is convinced she won’t be chosen by the Fairy King and Queen. How could such a messy, muddle-making fairy, be the Fairiest Fairy in all the land?
Endearing infant fairies cavort and sometimes, stumble across the rainbow hued pages of this enchanting rhyming take on the joys and tribulations of starting nursery or school for the first time which is at the same time, a demonstration of the importance of showing kindness and consideration to all.

Other recent or reissued titles on first experiences at nursery/school are:

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Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes
Eric Litwin and James Dean
Harper Collins pbk
Groovy Pete dons his funky new school shoes and heads off to school. There he discovers the joys of the library, painting, eating his packed lunch and the slide in the playground. He also tries his paws at writing and basic maths and decides school rocks.
Upbeat and offbeat fun; and a song to sing-along with.
Going to Nursery
Catherine and Lawrence Anholt
Orchard Books pbk
A reissue of the beautifully reassuring story of Anna’s first forays into nursery wherein she meets the lovely teacher, Mrs Sams and the rest of her exuberant charges and samples the delights of the exciting range of activities on offer.

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Baby Booms, Blues and Bumps


Boom, Baby, Boom Boom!
Margaret Mahy and Margaret Chamberlain
Frances Lincoln
As with any text penned by Margaret Mahy (what a sad loss she is), this one sparkles throughout with wit and joie de vie. We meet a smiling, musical Mama and her small offspring who is, in the first spread, being placed in her high chair in preparation for the delicious meal she is about to consume. That is the plan anyhow; what happens is altogether different. Unknown to Mama, who is ready for a spot of relaxing drumming, she is watched by a whole host of farmyard animals listening intently at the open window.


As she drums the baby tosses each item of her wholesome spread onto the floor starting with the cheese. In dashes the yellow cat and hastily consumes it. So begins a concatenation of food hurling and animal consuming as the brown dog, red rooster and hens, black-faced sheep


and brown- and-white cow all dash in and gratefully gobble in turn, the bread and honey, apple slices, lettuce leaves and carrots and then exit again. Back comes an envigorated mama, spies the empty plate, congratulates the baby on eating her lunch and after hugs and kisses, feeds her a banana. And guess what, that
baby ate it all up.
The story is an absolute joy to read aloud and Margaret Chamberlain splendidly captures the upbeat tenor of the telling in her hilarious illustrations and at the same time, adds her own humorous touches, further adding to the book’s sparkling delights.
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Baby’s Got the Blues
Carol Diggory Shields and Lauren Tobia
Walker Books
How does it feel to be a baby? Have you ever wondered from your adult standpoint? Well, here we have it, told from the viewpoint of the baby narrator of this book.
They certainly don’t have it easy – well definitely not this one, indeed it’s enough to give you the blues, the baby blues no less. Soggy nappies in sleep suits, stinky dampness,


unsatisfying yucky, gum friendly food, falling over flat and behind those jail-like bars blues.


But, then come the compensatory cuddles and kisses and I love yous; just what’s needed to chase away those
B-A-B-Y’  blues  – oh yeah!
Actually though, life is not quite as bad as all that. In this up-to the minute family, Baby’s Mum is a pony-tailed wearer of jogging bottoms with loving, scoop you up arms ready at just the right moment and there is an older, red-haired sibling who sports a princess crown and knows just how to make sure she is always part of the action.
With its swinging, catchy and chantable text and delicious scenes that capture small domestic details to perfection, (big sister and baby wearing matching bibs for instance,) this is likely to become a firm favourite wherever there is a bouncing babe. Lauren Tobia seems set to follow in Helen Oxenbury’s footsteps.
In a word, gorgeous.
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Emily Peppermint’s Toy School
Jeanne Willis and Vanessa Cabban
Walker Books
It’s the first day of term at Emily Peppermint’s educational establishment but what is on the curriculum for the new pupils? Unlike other schools, the main subject, Emily informs toys Gumbo, Little Ted, Edie, Shmoo and Tinny Tim. is ‘children’ and where best to start? With babies, of course. ‘ “Babies aren’t made like toys,” explained Emily. “They’re born and grow into children.” ‘Grow?” gasped Edie. “If I grew, my knickers wouldn’t fit!” “You forgot to put them on,” said Gumbo.’


So, that’s development dealt with in brief.
Now onto practical lessons: We larger humans all know what babies in prams do with their toys. So, the next important thing to learn is how to fall out of a pram safely when ejected baby- style; hard hats are needed for this one.


All teachers know the value of using the outdoors as a learning environment so the class moves alfresco, to the top of a hill no less. First to jump, or rather fling himself, is Tinny Tin. His jump triggers a frantic downhill chase with the toys ending up SPLAT! in a muddy heap.
There’s only one thing for it – the next lesson … swimming.


Much of Jean Willis’s text is in the form of dialogue spoken between the toys themselves or Emily and her pupils; it is full of gentle humour and the idea of presenting babies from a toys’ perspective is inspired. Vanessa Cabban beautifully captures that humour in her diverting scenes of classroom capers and comical misadventures.
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This is me, EATING!
Neal Layton
Walker Books
This is a deliciously upbeat addition to the ‘first experiences’ series of board books. Herein we meet Mum, Dad, Dog, Granny, Worm and the small, totally endearing infant narrator, as they eat ‘a crunchy apple’, ‘a sticky sandwich’, ‘a big bone’, ‘smelly cheese’, ‘mucky mud’ and


‘lots of things’ respectively. Just half a dozen spreads but so much to relish both visually and verbally; altogether a tasty treat for the very youngest. In addition, with its patterned text and illustrations that are closely matched with the large print sentences, young beginning readers might well whet their palates on this one.
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I Love You, Baby
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
A happy-sounding, shock-haired toddler introduces the brand new baby:
One fat tummy, tight like a drum. Two little cheeks on one little bum!


We share a family day together, with Mum who drives the car, Dad who baths the babe (along with elder sibling).


Then they sit down to a snack together, take a walk with babe tucked up tight in the pram,


back home for a squishy, kissy cuddle up, another bathing session for the babe followed by a goodnight cuddle and kiss on those ‘two warm cheeks, all rosy and bright,
Finally it’s time for sleep and the toddler and parents gaze adoringly at the sleeping newcomer to their family. All the while, the focus is on the little babe though the charming narrator, sporting a number 1 T-shirt, seems pretty sure of his place in the pecking order and remains an equal partner in the action throughout. Let’s just hope this bliss remains!
Another winner from the Andreae/Dodd duo: pleasingly readable, bouncy rhyming text that is pitch-perfect for those oh so cute, child characters, so winningly portrayed.
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