Noah’s Seal / Captain Toby

Noah’s Seal
Layn Marlow
Oxford Children’s Books

In one way or another, the natural world offers inspiration to so many of us, and so it is with Noah, the young child protagonist in this book. As the story opens he sits on the shore looking out to sea in the hope of seeing a seal, as he has done for several days already, while his Nana talks of still needing to make the boat seaworthy before they can set sail.

Taking up her suggestion to play while he waits, Noah starts digging and soon realises that the mound he’s made is shaped very like a seal. To the boy it seems it’s ‘Just waiting to be my friend.’ He continues sculpting the creature adding natural features and then lies down beside it to dream of the ‘wild wide sea’.

Suddenly Nana’s shout, warning of an approaching storm rouses the dreamer and Noah makes a dash for cover to wait for the storm to abate.

Once it has though, the boy’s seal is no longer there.

Nana promises a sea trip the following day and starts heading home leaving Noah standing looking at the water. All of a sudden he spots something that makes his heart leap

and Nana decides that perhaps with something apparently waiting for them, the promised trip could be brought forward …
Perfectly paced, this sweet story of how a less than promising day at the beach turns into something extraordinary, thanks in part, to the power of the imagination is a delight through and through. Layn Marlow’s textured art and colour palette are wonderful.

Captain Toby
Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

One stormy night Toby lies in bed with the wind roaring outside, the noise so loud he cannot get to sleep. Thunder crashes and suddenly he feels his house start to rise and fall, and before he knows what’s happening it’s rolling on the ocean waves. Bravely, with the aid of his cat, Captain Toby charts his course as lightning flashes in the sky above, till there comes an enormous crash. Grabbing his binoculars he sees it’s not a rock, nor a massive wave but an enormous octopus tentacles spread menacingly and it’s heading scarily close.

Then CRASH! One if its writhing tentacles smashes the window and reaches out towards him. Yikes!

Fortunately however, help is close at hand in the form of a house-submarine carrying Captain Grandpa and Chief Gunner Grandma, the latter being a brilliant shot with balls of yarn.

Eventually the seas calm, the sun rises and the captains head for the harbour leaving a now peacefully engaged octopus. And that’s where we’ll leave them all, with a wonderful finale awaiting readers.

With a mix of surreal humour and high adventure, Kitamura’s illustrations provide a visual treat. I particularly love the richly hued seascape with the two sailing houses heading landwards.

It’s good to see Scallywag Press has reissued this 1980’s charmer.

Zeki gets a Checkup / My First Day

Zeki Gets a Checkup
Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson
Alanna Books

Lulu’s little brother is now a playful toddler drinking from his own cup and feeding himself. It’s the day he’s going for a health check and having helped pack his bag, Daddy and the infant are ready to visit the clinic.

Once there they have to wait their turn so Zeki is glad he’s got his favourite Mister Seahorse to play with but it’s not too long before it’s their turn.

Zeki is happy to show what he can do; he’s weighed and measured, has his eyes, ears and heart checked

and is given a jab to help him stay healthy. He leaves with a well-deserved sticker, a new book and a cheery farewell wave from the health practitioner.

Full of warmth, reassuring, and as with all the books in this series, inclusive and beautifully portrayed.
Definitely one to add to the bookshelves of those with toddlers be that at home or in a nursery setting.

My First Day
Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press

This is one of the newly packaged My First Milestones series and features little duckling, Puddle who, along with his two friends is about to start nursery school. Having eagerly anticipated the big day since he was ‘barely more than an egg’, when it finally arrives the little duckling is more than a tad nervous.

His Mummy Duck however, has taken steps to ensure things go smoothly. She offers words of reassurance and packs into his school bag things that will remind him that she’s never far off: one of her soft feathers, his favourite nibbles, some biscuits to share with his friends

and his Cuddly for afternoon rest time.

Creative activities fill the rest of the day and before you can say, ‘going-home time’ there waiting is Puddle’s very own Mummy Duck with a warm hug.

It’s not nerves but excitement that causes the duckling’s heart to go pitter-patter that night as he anticipates his next day at duckling school.

A sweet story, told in a direct manner that expresses so well Puddle’s feelings, beautifully illustrated with scenes of the riverside in spring, this is just right for sharing with children about to have their own first day at nursery.

I’ve signed the charter  

Love and Safe-Keeping

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I’ll Catch You If You Fall
Mark Sperring and Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press pbk
As a small boy with fishing gear journeys on a small boat on a big, big ocean, the question to ponder is ‘Who will keep him safe?’ His mother is there for that; and the captain to keep them both safe;

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and a star to guide the boat through the stormy seas until they all reach the harbour safe and sound where Daddy waits with open arms.

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And then it is the turn of the little boy to offer safekeeping – to …

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There is a satisfying circularity to Mark Sperring’s short, gentle question and answer text, which is beautifully depicted. Layn Marlow’s illustrations radiate warmth, really capturing those feelings of loving care and security engendered by the words.

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I Love Dad
J.M.Walsh and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster pbk
A young dinosaur narrator relives with readers his day, a day shared with his Dad that’s filled with playful fun and games. Together Dad and offspring walk, cycle (once Dad has fixed up their bikes that is), bounce –that’s little dinosaur using Dad’s knees as a trampoline, and more. Back at home there’s plenty of shared fun too: playing games,

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cooking and sharing a meal; and nobody but Dad can make a bedtime story such an action-packed delight.
After all that, what’s better than to dream of tomorrow’s Dad-filled day?
What young child wouldn’t wish for a father like that Dino-dad who can turn his hand to pretty much anything.

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Enormously endearing characters both large and small in scenes delightfully created in Walsh’s words and Abbot’s warm-hearted pictorial renderings.

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I Love You Daddy Grizzle
Mark Sperring and Sebastien Braun
Puffin Books
In the third story to feature this delightful duo, Little Pip is just about to wake his slumbering Dad one morning when discovers a note saying …

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Unsure what is to be celebrated, he ignores the request and discovers the pair have planned a special day out, a day that starts with the collecting of sticks. Off they go together into the woods and slowly, bit by bit, with Daddy Grizzle’s helpful clues, Little Pip pieces together a whole adventure filled with fun,

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fire-lighting, feasting and a final unplanned surprise …
A gorgeously warm-hearted celebration of paternal affection that quietly delivers a message about love and companionship being more important than material gifts.


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Braun’s illustrations are packed with humorous details and heart melting moments.

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Snowy Worlds

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The Magical Snow Garden
Tracey Corderoy and Jane Chapman
Little Tiger Press
When penguin, Wellington, sees a beautiful garden in a picture book he shares with friend, Rosemary, he determines to grow one like it. His friends are skeptical: “… flowers can’t grow in the snow,” they tell him but then Wellington has an inspiration: instead of growing a garden, he can make one. And he does, with Rosemary’s help, a shiny blue biscuit wrapper and all manner of bits and pieces. Soon the garden is in full bloom: now his friends are impressed but then comes a storm that whirls Wellington’s garden right away. Is that the end of his beautiful creations? No – thanks to Rosemary, that blue biscuit wrapper, all Wellington’s friends, and most important, Wellington’s creativity and resolve, a wonderful new snow-sparkling garden comes into being, one that everyone wants to see.

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You never know what you can do until you try!” Ivor tells Wellington and he’s absolutely right.
Long live determination and divergent thinking.
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Cerrie Burnell and Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic pbk
Newly arrived from her city home, a little girl Mia arrives to live at her Grandma’s deep in a forest. Inevitably she finds her gran’s wooden house surrounded by whispering trees strange and her days become a series of one new experience after another. There’s her first ever winter coat and hat,

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feeding the hens with Grandma and the strange silvery shadows of the forest on her way to see her soon to be new school.

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But then comes a fall of snow making things feel magical and Mia too feels touched by the magic: “Every snowflake is different, every snowflake is perfect” she tells herself realizing that she too is perfect. From then on Mia is able to start to come to terms with her new life , to embrace the changes and begin to make new friends.

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This reassuring story with its important theme, that every child is special and unique, is sensitively told by C Beebies presenter, Cerrie Burnell and beautifully illustrated to bring out both Mia’s changing feelings and the atmosphere of her new home.
Showing, not telling is very much the way in this inclusive book. That much is left unsaid allows children to bring their own experience, interpretations and ideas to the story; ideas concerning why Mia had to go and live with Grandma Mitzi whom she hardly knew, why she’d never before worn a coat and only heard of forests in storybooks for instance.
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Finally a couple of wintry books previously reviewed but now out in paperback and too good to miss are:
Max Velthuijs’ Frog in Winter an old favourite from over 20 years ago newly reissued by Andersen Press wherein Frog finds it impossible to embrace the joys of the newly fallen snow.

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And Layn Marlow’s gorgeous book from last year about a small child making a snowman, You Make Me Smile (Oxford University Press); I’m sure it will make you smile too.





Wintry Worlds


When Charley Met Granpa
Amy Hest and Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books
This is the second story from the transatlantic Hest/Oxenbury partnership to feature Henry and his dog, Charley. Now it’s a cold, snowy Sunday and Granpa is coming to visit. Henry sets out for the station dragging a sledge behind him for Granpa’s big suitcase, Charley frisking in front. Henry is apprehensive about Granpa’s reaction to his canine pal; he has never had a dog for a friend he tells Charley as they wait for the train to arrive. But, as readers of Charley’s First Night will already know, Charley is no ordinary pup, he’s an adorable, playful little chap. Granpa finally arrives and as the trio start to make their way back home, the wind whisks Granpa’s hat high into the air and with a swish of his tail, Charley is off chasing it into the whirling snow. Happily, he returns before long with the green cap between his teeth.
This small incident is lyrically portrayed through both words and pictures. Told from Henry’s viewpoint, Hest’s attention to detail in her narrative has a child-like simplicity while at the same time capturing the warmth between the characters. Oxenbury’s gorgeous illustrations too, glow with warmth despite the chilly landscape and as always, her attention to detail is impeccable.
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You Make Me Smile
Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press
One can almost feel the chill in the air as those first snowflakes fall, watched by a little girl from her bedroom window. Softly they cover the ground all around her house and she rushes down to join her waiting parent. In the hall she puts on her outdoor clothes and then it’s out into the snowy world to start making a snowman. As she works, the rosy-cheeked little girl talks to the ‘friend’ she is building; she even wraps her own scarf around his neck before adding the final, all-important smile.


Then it’s time for a photo-shoot with her new friend; and the two smile together – a smile that can last the whole year through.
A special event in the life of a small child, captured to perfection in Layn Marlow’s spare text and heart-warming pictures – simply beautiful.
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Up & Down
Britta Teckentrup
Templar Publishing
Perched atop a large ice-block, Little Penguin thinks about his friend far away on another iceberg; he misses her. So off he goes to meet her, launching himself high in the air,


then diving low under the waves,


up towards a tunnel, down through seaweed, inside the tunnel, first pausing bravely outside … and reaching the end of that small tunnel, then out into the big ocean… There he negotiates various marine creatures moving in turn in front, behind, above, below, over or under them before finally catching sight of his destination. His once sad friend, having spotted Little Penguin is now happy as she watches him walking from the bottom of the slope to the top, where they are finally together.
As this brief synopsis shows, Little Penguin’s journey is filled with opposites. The opposing pairs being completed by opening the series of flaps (one per spread) as he moves through the grey murky seascape to his destination atop the distant iceberg.
As well as being a fun book to share with the very young, this straightforward story of friendship has lots of potential for language development with young children especially those for whom English is an additional language.
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After reading the story you can use either puppets or small world toy penguins for the characters, and marine small world creatures. Then with children’s help, build up an Antarctic scene with a short drain-pipe for the tunnel, murky coloured ‘water’ (screwed up tissue paper works well) and small pieces of white fabric draped over shoe boxes or similar. First you and then individual children can then move ‘Little Penguin’ at your instructions, following the route taken in the story. As they gain confidence, the children can tell you where Penguin is and then at a later stage, take over the activity themselves.


red sledge
Lita Judge
Andersen Press pbk.
This near wordless picture book story is sheer delight.
A small child leaves a red sledge propped up outside the house one chilly night. It is found by a large bear who decides to take a joyride. On the way he accumulates a whole host of other woodland creatures and soon they are all enjoying a moonlit descent,


which ends in a glorious eeeeeeeeeee fluoomp …….. ft as the sledge takes flight, crash lands and the riders come tumbling off to land in a huge heap. And what a wonderful sight that is; both bear and rabbit at least, look totally blissed out; Bear spread-eagled on his stomach and white rabbit peering over his head. Bear then picks up the sledge and returns it to the place he found it. Next morning the child notices animal footprints outside leading away from his house. That night, animals and child enjoy another ride – together this time. Wheeeeeeeeee
The whole exhilarating story is told with wonderfully dynamic watercolour illustrations and a sequence of glorious onomatopaeaic sounds. Scrunch scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch scrinch is just the perfect sound for bear’s footsteps in the snow. But my favourite of all accompanies moose crouching dog style on the sledge with rabbit between his hooves and bear – open mouthed – spread eagled atop moose’s antlers as the sledge bounces
Gadung  Gadung  Gadung  Gadung
down the snowy hillside.
So clever, so spot on for young listeners and beginning readers. Who could possibly want to use dull boring contrived phonic ‘reading’ books when there are brilliant real books like this one?
Destined to be read over and over and …
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Winter’s Child
Angela McAllister and Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Publishing
Tom loves the winter days: he spends them skating and sledging. His Nana in contrast is old and feels the cold badly. Out playing one day, Tom meets a pale boy with ice-blue eyes and they become friends. His new playmate tells Tom he wishes winter could last forever.  At their parting, Tom asks the blue-eyed boy where he lives; “Everywhere and nowhere,” is the reply. That night Tom is unable to dry his wet clothes and he gives his blankets to a now ashen Nana . In the morning it’s a heavy-hearted Tom who goes out to play . He tells his friend about his ailing Nana who is in desperate need of some warm spring sun.
Now both boys have a dilemma.
The winter is long and cold. Tom loves it, but each day the boys play, his Nana grows weaker.


Little does Tom know, when he meets his new friend, that the two of them are prolonging winter. As their friendship blossoms, Tom’s mother uses up all the logs, so he sacrifices his skis and his treehouse ladder for fuel. But there is a much greater sacrifice to be made if Nana, who is becoming increasingly ashen and wasted, is to survive to see another spring. For, unbeknown to Tom, his friend is Winter’s Child and unless he heeds his father’s call to rejoin him and sleep, Spring cannot wake.
This is a magical modern fairy tale of friendship, hardships and difficult decisions. It is wondrously illustrated in shades of blue, white and grey. Baker-Smith’s snow is truly brilliant; he achieves dazzling effects without a single touch of added glitter and his small framed  scenes of the potential human tragedy and the dilemma inherent in the boys’ friendship, set into the snowy landscapes, are a stark contrast to the beauty of the landscapes surrounding them. Hauntingly memorable; a book for all ages and one to return to again and again.
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