Silent Night

Silent Night
Lara Hawthorne
Lincoln Children’s Books

One of the world’s favourite Christmas carols, composed 200 hundred years ago in Austria and now with UNESCO cultural heritage status, is given a beautiful pictorial rendition by author/illustrator Lara Hawthorne.

Her beautiful, richly patterned illustrations stand out against an inky, star speckled night sky telling the nativity story using just the English translation of Joseph Mohr’s words.

We see Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, settle themselves in the stable and the baby – the holy infant – is born.

Thereafter come spreads of the announcement of the birth to the shepherds by a heavenly host

and their visitation to see the Christ child.

The Three Kings’ journey following the star and their presentation of the gifts take up the next three spreads

and in the final three we see animals of all kinds, drawn to the stable over which the star shines and joining the humans in a joyful celebration.

Any one of Lara’s spreads would make a superb Christmas card.

The book concludes with notes about the origins of the carol and the words (though not the music) of the carol.

A gorgeous Christmas offering.

Christmas Gifts That Last – Magical Myths and Legends / The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty

 

Magical Myths and Legends
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Former Children’s Laureate and award-winning author, Michael Morpurgo has chosen his favourite magical tales from all over the world for this bumper gift book of ten stories.

Morpurgo retells Gawain and the Green Knight himself and the other storytellers are Michaela Morgan, (3 tales), there’s a retelling of Icarus from Susan Gates; Jeanne Willis has versions of the wonderful legend from County Durham, The Lambton Worm, (one of my favourites) and a King Arthur adventure – The Giant of Mont Saint-Michel.
Both Thor and the Hammer and a tale of the Roman Fire God entitled Vulcan and the Fabulous Throne come from Tony Bradman while Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway is a John Dougherty retelling.

Each tale is beautifully and distinctively illustrated providing nine different illustrators an opportunity to showcase their work.

Whether you prefer interfering fairies, talking frogs, or giant worms,

you’ll surely find something to enjoy in this timeless treat.

The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty
Jessica Courtney-Tickle and Katy Flint
Lincoln Children’s Books

The Christmas season is a time when families visit the theatre perhaps to see a pantomime or performance of a ballet such as the Sleeping Beauty. Here’s a book (the third of The Story Orchestra series) providing a musical journey into the classic ballet story with words and pictures to add to that magical theatrical experience; or to enjoy in its own right.

Each spread includes a ‘press here’ button that when pushed, plays a brief well-known excerpt of Tchaikovsky’s music.

We start with the party thrown by the King and Queen Florestan in celebration of the birth of their baby daughter princess Aurora.
Then in comes the Lilac Fairy with her gift-bearing fairy godmother troupe each of whom performs and bestows a gift.
Suddenly through the window comes the evil fairy Carabosse who places a curse on the infant princess.
The Lilac Fairy is able to modify this death curse with a good spell so that the Princess will fall asleep for 100 years, unless her true love awakens her with a kiss..
Sixteen years later as the Princess is celebrating her 16th birthday Carabosse returns; this time with a disguised spindle on which Aurora pricks her finger and falls asleep. Thereafter the hunt is on for someone who is able to break that evil curse

and the rest is fairy tale history …

The book concludes with notes on the composer and the ten soundscapes.

Beautifully illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, this Story Orchestra presentation adds an additional sensory layer to the whole production.

Little People, Big Dreams L.M.Montgomery / Little People Big Dreams Maya Angelou

Little People, Big Dreams L.M.Montgomery
Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Anuska Allepuz
Lincoln Children’s Books

This is an excellent series of books each featuring a woman who made a significant contribution to society. The latest features L.M.Montgomery whose books I loved as a child.

Maud, as she was called, had a rather sad, lonely childhood. After her mother died, her father left her in the care of her strict grandparents on Prince Edward Island, Canada. She was forced to create her own happiness and books became her best friends. She dreamed of becoming a writer, something her grandparents discouraged, but nevertheless at night Maud began writing in secret, creating both stories and poems.

As an adult, Maud first became a teacher, a job that gave her time to continue with her writing and later on she was offered a job on a newspaper.

In less than a year, her grandfather died and she was forced to return home and care for her grandmother.

However she continued writing combining it with working at the local post office; before long 30 of her stories had been published in the newspapers.

One day she found an old newspaper with a story that became the inspiration for Anne of Green Gables. Through this story, Maud rewrote her own childhood as she wished it had been and after numerous rejections and a period of two years, Anne of Green Gables was finally published.

The illustrations of Anuska Allepuz are an absolute delight – wonderfully expressive and bringing out Maud’s joy in simple things and her determination to become a writer.

A super addition to the series.

For those with a particular interest in writers especially, is another of the series that I missed earlier:

Little People Big Dreams Maya Angelou
Lisbeth Kaiser and Leire Salaberria
Lincoln Children’s Books

Maya Angelou grew up in the American South in the 1930s – a time of racial tension and segregation.
The hardships she endured – racism, gender prejudice, and abuse by her mother’s partner which resulted in the child losing her will to speak,- would have been too much for many people. Not so Maya who found her voice again thanks to a friend of her grandmother and the power of reading aloud.

At school Maya was told she wouldn’t amount to anything but her determination “There’s nothing I can’t be.” was proved right.

She grew up to become a singer, dancer, actress, poet, novelist, and eminent Civil Rights campaigner. Her fortitude and compassion changed the lives of countless people the world over: her legend lives on.

Like all titles in the series, the book concludes with a time line.

Eloquently illustrated by Leire Salaberria, Lisbeth Kaiser’s pen portrait of Maya is a must have for primary schools.

The Antlered Ship

The Antlered Ship
Dashka Slater and The Fan Brothers
Lincoln Children’s Books

Fox Marco has an insatiable appetite for knowledge: ‘Why don’t trees ever talk? How deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea?’ he wonders while his fellow foxes merely ponder upon the nature of their next meal.

When a huge antlered ship docks at the harbour, Marco goes down to the waterside where he discovers from crew members that the ship has got lost (they admit to being poor sailors).

Intent on discovering more foxes to answer his questions, Marco, along with a flock of pigeons, joins the crew

and they embark on a voyage bound for an island upon which tall, sweet grass and short, sweet trees grow.

Their journey is hard: the sailors battle against stormy weather, their own fears and meagre rations. Days of drifting dampen their enthusiasm for adventure and it’s left to Marco to keep up the spirits of his fellow travellers.

Finally though, having fended off a pirate attack,

the ship reaches the island. Thereon his fellow crew members sate their appetites for sweet things but Marco’s hunt for foxes yields not a single one.

Instead though he does make some important discoveries and draws some conclusions about the nature of friendship and community, asking questions and seeking answers.

As with The Night Gardener and The Darkest Night, the Fan Brothers attention to detail in their pen and pencil illustrations is immaculate. Be they seascapes or portrayals of the happenings below deck, there’s a crepuscular quality about many of their richly textured scenes, while those on the island take on the brighter verdant hues of the animals’ surroundings.

Dashka Slater’s is a story to get lost in, and one to provoke questions of the philosophical kind among thoughtful readers and listeners. Who can but marvel at the artistic brilliance of Eric and Terry Fan and delight in the portrayal of such characters as the peg-legged, red bandana sporting pigeon?

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories
Angela McAllister, illustrated by Alice Lindstrom
Lincoln Children’s Books

I was one of those not turned off Shakespeare at school despite having to study several plays between the ages of 11 and 16 and my favourite, despite having to ‘do’ it for O-level, remains Twelfth Night. This is largely thanks to an amazing English teacher that I had throughout my time at grammar school, who managed to bring out the magic of the plays we read and now the beauty of the language completely enthrals me. So, I wasn’t sure what I’d make of A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories wherein Angela McAllister retells a dozen of the bard’s most popular plays, both comedies and tragedies.

However, she does it in such a way that young readers will be engaged immediately . Each one is introduced with a quote and a pictorial cast of characters, and the tellings themselves are up to date so that youngsters will quickly find themselves immersed in the story, be that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night,

Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, The Tempest

or any of the others included.

Alice Lindstrom’s artwork, whether a full page illustration, or a smaller one, is absolutely fabulous, really capturing the atmosphere of each tale, drawing in the audience and making them feel as though they’re watching a staged performance.

Also included is a wealth of information about the great man himself, a complete list of his plays and a taster paragraph about each of the twelve plays herein.

Yes, we have lost the Bard’s awesome language here, but instead, what Angela McAllister offers is access to that language for youngsters by way of stories that can be read aloud to an individual or class; or read alone, before the exam treadmill turns them off from the riches that are Shakespeare’s legacy.

Where Happiness Lives / One Day So Many Ways

Where Happiness Lives
Barry Timms and Greg Abbott
Little Tiger

What is your idea of a perfect house; perhaps it’s similar to one of the three we visit courtesy of their mouse owners each of which thinks they have the perfect home, to begin with that is.

First off we visit Grey Mouse’s residence: it’s just the right size for him and his family and it’s built in the shade of a wonderful oak tree. In short, it’s just perfect.

 

But then out walking one day, he comes upon an impressive-looking residence with a balcony belonging to White Mouse. What more could any mouse want, thinks Grey Mouse. But he’s soon to find out, for his new acquaintance too has his sights set on a bigger, better residence.

Together the two set off to climb the mountain whereon this amazing place is to be found. Herein lives Brown Mouse who is quick to invite her visitors in for a guided tour of her luxurious home.

A surprise is in store though, for Brown Mouse has a telescope and what she shows her visitors through its lens causes them to stop and rethink the whole notion of home and contentment.

Greg Abbott’s mice are truly enchanting and there’s a plethora of cutaways and flaps to explore and delight little ones in the splendid illustrations that accompany Barry Timms’ engaging, gentle rhyming narrative.

One Day So Many Ways
Laura Hall and Loris Lora
Lincoln Children’s Books

None of us adults spends their day in exactly the same way and so it is with children and the latter is the focus of Laura Hall and Loris Lora’s splendidly diverse close up on the lives of some 40 children from different parts of the world over 24 hours. Readers will be able to compare and contrast as they follow the youngsters as they wake up in their various homes, have breakfast and go to school.

We watch them as they learn, play, get together with friends, enjoy quiet times;

eat lunch, engage in sports, participate in creative activities and more.

After school there’s the inevitable homework for many; but there’s also time to spend with the family; time to read, to sleep and to dream.

Every spread in this lightning world tour focuses on a different aspect of the day with bright engaging artwork and brief descriptions. It’s a great book for opening up discussion among primary children and enormous fun to pore over particularly with another person.
Good to have on a family bookshelf or in your classroom library; either way it’s engaging and delivered with style.

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle
David Litchfield
Lincoln Children’s Books

In a glorious sequel to the  The Bear and the Piano, David Litchfield introduces two new characters, busker Hector and his best pal Hugo.

When we first meet the two, life is no longer what it used to be; Hector’s act is, so he says, “yesterday’s news” partly on account of that world-renowned piano-playing bear. The violinist decides it’s time to call it a day and pack away his fiddle not just for the night, but forever.

Now he spends much of his time watching TV, listening to music and sleeping – lots of sleeping.

Hector’s neighbours were prone to be noisy so the old man would keep his windows closed at night; but one night he forgets and his sleep is disturbed by an unusual sound. Out of bed he gets and following the sound, steps out onto his roof to discover …

Hector decides to pass on his wealth of musical know-how to Hugo and soon crowds gather to hear the fiddle-playing dog.
Then one day an extremely famous ursine pianist joins the watchers. He is eager to sign Hugo up for his new band and go on tour.

He gets Hector’s reluctant backing until it’s time for the dog to depart. Then however, jealous feelings strike and the old man says some unkind words. Words he quickly regrets but by then; it’s too late …

Time passes, Hugo’s tour is a sell-out success wherever they play and he’s the star of the show, being accompanied by some amazing animals – Bear on piano, Big G on drums and groovy Clint ‘The Wolfman’ Jones on double bass.

Hector watches them play on his TV and greatly misses not only playing the fiddle himself, but particularly his now famous pal.

Months later, the show comes to perform in his city; but what will Hugo think if his erstwhile best friend is in the audience?

As Hector sits spellbound by the awesome music, he’s suddenly seized by security guards. Is he to be thrown out?

What happens next will make your heart leap with joy: suffice it to say, it’s a maestro performance all round, for as the author so rightly says, there are two things that last a lifetime – good music and good friendship.

Like its predecessor, this story is brilliantly orchestrated throughout. Pitch-perfect, it reads aloud like a dream, is filled with poignant moments; it’s gloriously illustrated with spreads and vignettes that really make for pulse racing and pulse slowing moments of delight and poignancy.

Another show-stopping performance, not only from the musicians, but also from their creator, David Litchfield.

The Best Sound in the World

The Best Sound in the World
Cindy Wume
Lincoln Children’s Books

Most of us have a favourite sound, or perhaps several we really like. I love the sweet notes of a song thrush in the early morning; a cascading waterfall and the voice of Roberta Flack, to name just three.

For Roy, the little city dwelling lion in this enchanting picture book, music is his very favourite thing.

Being an urban dweller, Roy is surrounded by sound, particularly that of neighbour Jemmy lemur, another lover of music although Roy who has aspirations to become a great violinist merely regards his musical efforts as agitating.
So he sets out in search of beautiful sounds and those that please him, he puts into small bottles to take home. However, none of them seems to be beautiful enough when he plays them on his violin and those Jemmy offers are totally rejected.

Roy boards a train to go further afield seeking the most beautiful sound the world has to offer. (Observant readers/listeners will notice that someone else is also making the journey.) The rain in the forest yields ‘plip-plops’;

birds flying in the high mountain provide ‘twitter-tweets’ and the desert whistling wind gives him ‘woooos’. To these he adds tidal waves sounds and the chit-chat of the souk.

His confusion deepens with each new sound: which is THE most beautiful of all?

To add to this muddle in his head, Roy is struck by loneliness: it’s time to return.

Sadness surrounds him as he enters his home sans that elusive sound.

Perhaps however, that which he really sought is somewhere he’s never thought to look …

Friendship rules in this totally enchanting debut picture book: Cindy’s scenes be they urban or in the wilds, are wonderful, especially those where music flourishes thanks to the notes furnished by Roy’s violin and the various other harmonious sounds.

Sheer joie-de-vivre abounds in the final pages, though listeners could have fun looking for pleasant sound possibilities in every spread.

In Cindy Wume, an exciting new talent has emerged.

Once Upon A Magic Book

Once Upon A Magic Book
Lily Murray and Katie Hickey
Lincoln Children’s Books

Entering out of the rain a toyshop that seems to have appeared from nowhere, best friends Sophie and Jack embark on an adventure that takes them, once they’ve located and turned the golden key, through the pages of a purple book.
Their journey takes them to all kinds of locations: a fairytale forest wherein a wicked witch might be lurking; a pirate island;

a city they reach on a flying carpet and a frozen mountainous region where the witch is at work on an avalanche-creating spell.
From there it’s on to a medieval castle where Sophie falls under that witch’s spell; then they dive beneath the sea to an underwater world.

The next magic door leads them to a jungle city from where they enter the land of sweets before stepping back in time to a cobbled city wherein the witch has let loose animals from a zoo.

At the fairground an old woman tempts Sophie with an apple and they spot a familiar-looking cottage.

Surely they haven’t been tricked by that wicked witch after all that? They’d better hurry up and find, with readers’ help, all the vital ingredients that will enable them to escape her clutches.

Intricately detailed illustrations of the various locations from debut picture book artist Katie Hickey, together with a story that draws readers in from the very start and holds them spellbound through to the final spread with so many items to search for and clues to solve, it will be a considerable time before not only Jack and Sophie, but those accompanying them on their journey, finally emerge from its pages.

Treasure Hunt House

Treasure Hunt House
Kate Davies and Becca Stadtlander
Lincoln Children’s Books

When a brother and sister receive a letter from their Great Aunt Martha inviting them to go and stay at her incredible house their mother urges them to accept.
They pack a weekend bag and off they go only to discover on arrival that their aunt isn’t there. She’s been unexpectedly called away but in her stead is her kindly looking housekeeper who introduces herself as Jo. She informs the children that their aunt has planned a treasure hunt to occupy their time until her return.

We join them in the hallway as they attempt to solve the first clue, ‘I have a heart of stone. And a head of stone, too’ and lifting the various flaps on the spread will reveal the solution along with further instructions, as well as cultural and historical information about some of the objects therein.

Thereafter we follow them around as, accompanied by Jo, they visit the rest of the rooms: the kitchen; the bedroom, where we read of the making of the first denim jeans;

the bathroom (this has a trickier riddle and a famous painting reproduction on the wall);

the living room – the cat introduces itself there); the library with its floor to ceiling bookshelves (Aunt Martha is evidently a Shakespeare enthusiast); the olde-worlde dining room; the sub-tropical  conservatory wherein butterflies flittered around the flowers;

the enormously fascinating Cabinet of curiosities packed with biological specimens including a velociraptor skeleton and a shelf of corals; a wonderful art gallery; a hall of inventions (Aunt Martha is an avid collector of incredible inventions, we learn); a music room packed with instruments of all kinds; and finally, a child’s paradise of a toy room. Therein too the final clue is solved and the secret of Jo’s real identity revealed.

Each room is exciting, packed with history and in all there are over 50 flaps to explore.

This is a fascinating and magical book that is likely to engender an interest in both history and art; it’s perfect for all who enjoy playing with or collecting doll’s houses, or have an interest in old houses, and would make a super present.

The People Awards

The People Awards
Lily Murray and Ana Albero
Lincoln Children’s Books

Here’s yet another book celebrating people whose achievements have made a significant contribution towards making the world a better place. This one however, unlike many of the other recent titles, includes both women and men.

It contains a lot of information served up in digestible portions about a wide variety of people from all over the globe and through history, from Sappho (a creativity award winner) to Malala Yousafzai, Pakastani human rights activist and youngest Nobel Prize winner (2014).

In total there are 50 awardees, twenty-nine winners who have been allocated an individual award and who each have a double spread devoted to them. These include Trischa Zorn, blind, Paralympic swimmer who won seven gold medals; she gets the Amazing Athlete Award;

Olaudah Equiano from Nigeria who wins The Kidnapped Hero Award;

David Bowie gets The Express Yourself Award; Frida Kahlo has The Painting Through Pain Award, my all time hero, Nelson Mandela wins The Fight For Freedom Award, creator of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee has ‘The Dot Com Award and – as a teacher/ educator, I have to mention Maria Montessori, who promoted learning through play and gets The Children’s Champion Award.

Then there are a further five awards categories: The Trailblazer Awards given to four people;

The Brilliant Ideas Award has four winners; The Creativity Awards: these go to a further four – Mozart, Gaudi, Sappho and Hans Christian Andersen; Bravery Awards are made to Antónia Rodrigues, Rigoberta Menchú, Muhammad Ali, Simón Bolivar and Rosa Parks; Inspiration Award winners are Ana Nzinga, Donald Bradman, Eva Perón and Joan of Arc.

There is SO much to like about Lily Murray (author) and Ana Albero, (illustrator)’s collaboration – the range of winners, the imaginative presentation, the names of the awards, the final Lap of Honour time line whereon all the winners take a bow; and I absolutely love the illustrative style and Ana Alberos’ chosen colour palette.

The Night Dragon

The Night Dragon
Naomi Howarth
Lincoln Children’s Books

Let me introduce a totally awesome dragon by the name of Maud. I should say that at the start of the always awesome, Naomi Howarth’s story, said dragon doesn’t feel at all awesome. She’s shunned by fellow dragons on account, so they say, of her lack of strong wings, A “weedy wimp” is what Gar calls her, while Brimlad is sure she’s insufficiently tough to take on the sun.

Poor Maud despairs she’ll ever be a night dragon.

Her only friend, Mouse, is encouraging, telling her that to be dragon of the night she need only be herself. Maud has her doubts.

One afternoon, Brimlad decides to celebrate his 557th birthday by throwing a party, but there’s one dragon that doesn’t get an invite. Instead she watches from behind a rock as the others drink, fight and one after another, fall into a deep sleep.

Time passes and still the dragons slumber as Maud notices a complete lack of clouds in the sky, and of nightfall there isn’t a sign.

Maud is at a loss. Mouse however isn’t. He knows what Maud must do and all he needs to do is encourage and persuade her that with him alongside, or rather behind her, she can spread those gorgeous wings of hers and fly.

Slightly emboldened, Maud leaves the mountain edge, tumbling at first and then suddenly, soaring. Soaring and emitting the most amazing clouds of rainbow hued smoke from her nostrils.

Over the mountains and fields, above winding rivers, winging over cities they go, filling the entire sky with the most fabulous shades of many colours,

until finally, as they pause for a rest, the sun starts to sink and night begins to fall.

Mouse’s words of thanks also let his friend know that just by being herself, Maud has made everything beautiful.

Now both Mouse and Maud have a new and very important role to perform – every single day …

Friendship, self-belief and daring to be different shine through in this dazzlingly beautiful picture book fable that reads like a neo folk tale. For me at least, Naomi Howarth has outshone her previous bobby-dazzlers and that’s no mean feat.

Get it, celebrate it and share it wherever you can. From cover to cover, it’s a stunner.

Really Remarkable Reptiles / Turtles, Snakes and other Reptiles

Really Remarkable Reptiles
Jake Williams
Pavilion Children’s Books

Award winning designer, Jake Williams introduces us to an amazing assortment of reptilian creatures in this his first picture book.
He provides us first with an introductory spread with paragraphs explaining what reptiles are biologically, their evolution, egg laying and habitats. Next come a reptile timeline, which goes back as far as the age of the dinosaurs, and a life cycle.

Thereafter are four sections, one each devoted to – ‘Lizards’, the carnivorous ‘Snakes’, ‘Turtles and Tortoises’ and ‘Crocodiles and Alligators’.

Included in the first group are chameleons and many people probably tend to think of those as just one kind; I was aware of different species but surprised to learn that there are over 200 chameleon species, nearly half of which live only in Madagascar.

I was also fascinated to read that the Sailfin water lizard is a metre in length, has a fin 7cm tall and can be found in a variety of colours – brown, green and yellow, adult males often turning bright blue to attract a potential mate.

Most people shudder at the mere mention of snakes; I’m certainly no snake lover but apart from the poisonous ones, am not frightened of them. I even once had to demonstrate (at the request of the hotel naturalist),their harmlessness to a group of female workers who were scared to go and clean the cottage rooms after one discovered a snake had got into one. Having it wrapped around me was I thought, over and above the cause of nature.

It happened to be a variety of tree snake, not the South American Emerald kind featured here,

as this was in Kerala (south India). I would however have been exceedingly alarmed to come upon a live and highly venomous, Sea snake on the beach or ocean’s edge there (although I did find a number of dead ones).

The domed-shape shelled Turtles and Tortoises form the next section. Did you know their shells have a web of nerve endings and a tortoise or turtle is sensitive on every centimetre of its shell? One fascinating fact I learned about female green sea turtles is that they often choose the same beach on which they were hatched to lay their eggs.
The last section includes the largest of all living reptiles, Saltwater crocodiles that can grow as long as 7m.

Did you know that crocodiles swallow stones as a food grinding aid in their stomachs? Ouch!

The final pages of this absorbing book are devoted to Habitats and environments, (reptiles are found on every one of the continents except Antarctica, residing in such diverse places as deserts, rainforests, mountain parks and cities but sadly some species have been lost or are under threat due to human action. We can all do our bit to help conserve them: using less packaging and recycling can help.

Also on the same theme is a much smaller book:

Turtles, Snakes and other Reptiles
Amy-Jane Beer and Alice Pattullo
Lincoln Children’s Books

This handy Pocket Guide, written by natural history expert, Dr Amy-Jane Beer introduces the four main reptilian groups and after introductory spreads entitled ‘What is a Reptile?’ and ‘Reptile Life’ come several spreads devoted to the different families with representative examples.

Did you know for instances that Sea turtles are able to sleep holding their breath underwater for hours? That Komodo dragons have gums that bleed easily, turning their saliva pink; or that Blind snakes hunt their prey using their sense of smell?

This is a good, get-up-close look, finely illustrated by Alice Pattullo, at the various species and an introduction to a fascinating topic that may well get young readers hooked on biological science.

Need more suggestions for your children’s summer reading? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

10 Reasons to Love a Lion / 10 Reasons to Love a Penguin

10 Reasons to Love a Lion
10 Reasons to Love a Penguin

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Lincoln Children’s Books

The latest additions to this environmentally concerned series that introduces children to, and encourages their positivity towards, animals in the wild, takes readers to some highly contrasting locations.
In 10 Reasons to Love a Lion we discover that sadly, there is only one species of lion remaining in the wild, living in central and southern Africa

and the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, India.
Unlike other big cats, lions are social animals, living in prides and in Africa, so we learn, huge territories of arid savannah are patrolled by each pride which might comprise as many as three magnificently-maned males, plus lionesses and their offspring.

I was unaware that despite their having quills that are potentially lethal to lions should their skin be pierced and become infected, the large cat predators – the females do the hunting – like eating these prickly creatures. Ouch!

In addition to this information we’re told about lions’ ability to see in poor light when hunting, thanks to their ‘glow-in-the-dark eyes; hear of the playfulness of cubs; their manner of greeting and becoming friendly towards, other lions using their individual oily scent; and their propensity to sleep, particularly after fully sating their appetites.

Other birds and animals are also featured in Hannah Clulow’s realistic-looking scenes; so for instance we can tell which location – African or Indian – it is by say, the presence of an Indian peacock, or ostriches.

Scattered throughout the book are 5 ways in which we all can show our appreciation towards lions and thus perhaps help in their preservation.

In contrast there are 18 penguin species, which, with the exception of the Galapagos penguin all live in or near Antarctica. Each one is pictured on the opening spread of 10 Reasons to Love a Penguin.

Ecologist and environmentalist, Catherine Barr adopts a similarly engaging style as she writes of these flightless birds as ‘super speedy swimmers’ using their ‘underwater wings’ to ‘twist and turn’ as they hunt for fish. She talks of their specially shaped eyes that help underwater vision while searching for ocean food, some of which unfortunately is being depleted by large floating nets that might also entangle the penguins.

We see and read of penguins tobogganing on their tummies,

sneezing salty water, some species huddling close together to fend off the chill – their feet still suffer though; discover the mating habits of adelies; the chick rearing of emperors penguins; the loss of waterproofing during their ‘catastrophic moult’ and more.

Again, interspersed throughout are 5 ways we humans can help the cause of penguin preservation.

Written in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, these are two to add to primary classroom collections, and for ecologically aware individual readers.

Grandad Mandela

Grandad Mandela
Zazi, Ziwelene & Zindzi Mandela and Sean Qualls
Lincoln Children’s Books

Nelson Mandela is my all time hero and I was thrilled to see this picture book published in honour of the 100th anniversary of his birth (July 18th 1918).

It takes the form of a dialogue between Mandela’s great grandchildren Zazi and Ziwelene and their Grandma Zindzi – his daughter, after the children discover a photograph of Grandad Mandela.
Can you tell us about him again?” they ask and a discussion ensues with Zindzi Mandela answering the children’s questions.

It’s an earnest discussion during which we, and the children, learn of South Africa’s recent history, about what it was like to be a child of apartheid (“But why did the white people start making everybody’s lives sad?” … “Did they make your lives sad too?”)

and about the role the family and in particular Mandela played in ending the apartheid regime. “Grandad was fighting for us all to be equal.” she says in response to Zazi’s “Why did Grandad go to jail?

The fight was one that continued throughout the 27 long years Mandela was a prisoner, both by himself and others who carried on the fight for the equality he believed in, and for freedom.

The penultimate question “Do you know what ubuntu means?” comes from Grandma Zindzi who goes on to explain “It means ‘I am because we all are’.
A powerful unifying thought that encapsulates Mandela’s legacy to us all wherever we are, a legacy that embodies service to his people and forgiveness.

Qualls’ illustrations rendered in acrylics, collage and pencil are absolutely superb embodying in turn, love,

hope, brutality (by the police), protest, joy,

family pride, diplomacy and more.

Powerful, inspiring, intensely moving and a wonderful tribute to an amazing man; (it brought tears to the eyes of this reviewer), this is a book for everyone who wants to pay tribute to the icon of equality and peace that is Nelson Mandela and surely that is all of us, young and not so young.

Ocean Meets Sky

Ocean Meets Sky
Eric & Terry Fan
Lincoln Children’s Books

Everything about this, the second Fan Brothers picture book, is absolutely superb: the jacket, the cover, the endpapers, the paper used and of course, the story and illustrations.

It’s a magical tale of young Finn who, inspired by memories of his grandfather’s sayings, his voice, and his stories – stories of a far distant place where ocean and sky meet – on what would have been his ninetieth birthday, builds a boat in his honour.

Then, imagination fuelled by those stories, the boy sets off on an amazing dream of a voyage. A voyage aided by a huge golden fish that tells him it knows of the place he seeks: “It’s high and low … It’s up and down and very far.” and offers to show the way.

The journey takes Finn through such wondrous places as the Library Islands populated by bibliophile birds; (love that there’s a copy of The Night Gardener tucked in one of the piles of books)

then, after landing to explore an island of giant shells, they travel onwards crossing a sea of dancing jellyfish until eventually they reach their destination, perhaps,

whereupon the boat lifts towards the sky (or had the water fallen away?) and the boy drifts through starry, steampunkish spreads whereon hot air balloons, zeppelins, submarines, a giant whale, float following the fish towards the full moon. There, a transformation takes place.
Smiling back at him benevolently, illuminating his farewell, is a face Finn knows so well.

Then comes a voice summoning him home from his dreaming. It’s his mother calling him (with echoes of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are) for dinner– Grandpa’s favourite dumplings.

The Finn Brothers vision of eternity is, in this affecting story, one that offers a bereft boy some healing from his sadness, leaving him able to face forwards, full of wonder. ‘It had been a good day for sailing.’

Elegant scenes grace every spread providing much to explore: observant readers/listeners will notice that an early picture of Grandpa’s room is filled with treasured objects that become part of the dream sequence.

Spot the Difference in the Park / Dinosaur Adventure Activity Book & Pirate Adventure Activity Book

Spot the Difference in the Park
Naomi Wilkinson
Lincoln Children’s Books

Five scenes show in turn, a host of playful dogs some accompanied by a walker; animals engaged in various sporting activities such as soccer, tennis, skate-boarding, badminton and cycling; a boating lake;

the flower beds; the playground and finally a downpour that sends all the animals homewards, with each offering five spot the differences per spread. The answers are found by looking beneath the flaps on each recto.
Set against subtle background colours, each busy scene, with its rhyming introduction, provides young spotters plenty of detail to peruse and enjoy, in addition to identifying the differences.
Also available is Spot the Difference on the Beach.

For slightly older children are:

Dinosaur Adventure Activity Book
Pirate Adventure Activity Book

illustrated by Jen Allison
Button Books

Following on from her Space Activity Book, Jen Alliston has two new eye-catching titles.
Each of the chosen themes have an enduring allure for young children and in both are to be found games, dot-to-dots, mazes, crafty things, word puzzles, riddles, spot the difference, colouring in, the odd joke or two, even a little bit of maths, as well as 4 pages of stickers (pictures and some labels).
Entertainment is the main focus, although users will likely acquire some new vocabulary and the occasional fact too, as well as developing their skills in observation, manipulation and concentration.
(The answers are supplied at the back of the books for those inclined to check.)

If all the world were …

If all the world were …
Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys
Lincoln Children’s Books, First Editions

Be prepared to shed tears when you read this first person narration by a little girl who takes readers on a journey through four seasons and a whole life’s experiences shared with her beloved Grandad.
Starting with spring, she talks of long exploratory walks hand in hand and then takes a seasonal flight of fancy: ‘If all the world were springtime, / I would replant my grandad’s birthdays / so that he would never get old.

In summer Grandad buys a wooden racing track (second hand with bits missing) and together they play, sometimes zooming the cars up into space. This action triggers the narrator’s second imagined scenario to make her granddad happy.

I love the notebook with handmade paper, bound with Indian-leather string Grandpa makes for his granddaughter in autumn, wherein to write and draw her dreams with a special rainbow pencil.

That suggestion leads to her third loving musing:
If all the world were dreams, / I would mix my bright Grandad feelings / and paint them over sad places.

Come winter it’s time for cosying up by the fire and listening to Grandad’s tales of his boyhood of Indian sweets and homemade toys, and hear him tell of ships, snakes and tigers. Now though Grandad is ailing and the little girl supposes a world of stories and making her grandad better merely by listening to his every tale.

One day though his chair is empty; Grandad is no more. From the ephemera she finds in his room, the narrator creates a beautiful mandala of memories; memories she wishes could be rooms where she could visit her granddad.

On Grandad’s chair she finds a brand new notebook made by him with her name on the cover, the perfect thing in which to record all her precious memories.

I’m sure that like me, you’ll find yourself reaching for that box of tissues as you read this beautiful, lyrical book. Joseph’s Coelho’s poignant text in combination with Allison Colpoy’s tender illustrations infused with nostalgia and love, are a celebration of life as well as a perfect starting point for a conversation about loss and dying.

Soul music in a picture book, this.

The Little Pioneer

The Little Pioneer
Adam Hancher
Lincoln Children’s Books

Adam Hancher’s story, set in 19th century US, tells of one small wagon train heading off into the West and is inspired by the accounts of real-life pioneers.

Its narrator is a fiery-haired young girl who, following the death of her father, must leave everything familiar and head west to make a new life in California.

The long journey on foot, horseback and wagon with her mother, younger brothers and three other families is gruelling and full of challenges, not the least of which for the narrator at the outset, is getting used to the wild ways of their guide, Mr Reed.

However it’s not long before a treacherous swirling river forces her to change her opinion of the man and a firm bond is formed, not only between the narrator and guide but also with their fellow travellers.
Mr Reed actually becomes the girl’s saviour not once but twice during their time on the trail.

By the time their journey ends the narrator has learned SO much, not only about the wild and her fellow pioneers, but having had to stand being left alone, about herself.

The tale is beautifully told using language of the time, ‘Weary and footsore, we stopped to rest.’ but it’s Hancher’s superb artistry that make this such a compellingly beautiful book.
The girl speaks little about her loss but one senses it all around during their travels through the bleak landscapes of the journey. The dramatic, textured illustrations and Hancher’s switch of colour palette – that perilous Platte river crossing,

the family-like gathering around the camp fire …

and the bleak surrealism of the shady spot the narrator wakes in to discover her aloneness, speak for themselves.

Powerful, poignant and perfect for reading with young audiences many of whom will know little of those pioneering days, this is a book to share and savour.

Hello Hot Dog!

Hello Hot Dog!
Lily Murray and Jarvis
Lincoln Children’s Books

There’s been a fair sprinkling of food-centred picture books of late – pizza and sausages immediately spring to mind and now comes this tasty offering which takes the form of a conversation seemingly between a busy bee and an indolent hot dog.

We first encounter the latter as it languishes on some “comfy bread, with some corn and a couple of fries” apparently totally oblivious of the approaching ketchup bottle nozzle.

Suddenly as splodges of the red stuff splatter in his direction the lazybones realises what his fate is, at any second, to be. It’s time to ‘Run, Hot Dog, run!’.

Lack of limbs forces the fellow to come up with a somewhat complicated escape plan only to realise almost immediately that triple backflips are not his forte and that his demise is looming ever closer …

As a set of human gnashers close over the bun Hot Dog makes a desperate roll, extricating himself from the bread and flying through the air…

Freedom at last or dog’s dinner? Which is it to be?

Totally ridiculous but this will make you splutter with delight – it’s certainly been the case with every one of my readers, along with cries of AGAIN!

With its spare conversational text and hilarious Jarvis illustrations, in addition to being a terrific read aloud, this is a great book to share with those in the early stages of reading, with the adult acting as Hot Dog and the child as his aid to escape.

Animal Allsorts: Bugs!, Snakes and The Zoological Times

Bugs!
Snakes!

James Buckley, Jr.
Liberty Street

Animal Planet have added two new titles to their Chapter Book series of non-fiction titles for newly independent readers. With eleven chapters per book, they are absolutely packed with information, every spread has at least one coloured illustration; there is clear labelling and sidebars such as ‘In your newsfeed’
Bugs begins with insect anatomy and life cycles and then moves on to look at a variety of insects. There are chapters on dragonflies; mantids and phasmids (stick insects); beetles; mosquitos, flies and fleas; butterflies and moths and ants share a chapter with bees and wasps.
There are also chapters on life cycles, food and feeding, movement and insect senses and throughout the facts are presented in an interesting, fun way but there isn’t a hint of talking down to the reader.
The whole look is one that says, ‘read me’.
The same is true of Snakes! wherein readers encounter the fastest, longest, heaviest, largest

and most deadly snakes – beware of elapids such as cobras, mambas and death adders in particular.
Did you know that some snakes swim, a few are amphibian and others can climb trees? Fascinating and exciting.

The Zoological Times
Stella Gurney and Matthew Hodson
Lincoln Children’s Books

Following on from The Prehistoric Times comes a new edition of their exciting newspaper style books that offer a fun way of learning especially for those who are keen on the comic format. Now hot off the press is a look at the animal kingdom and it’s chock full of exciting information, black and white photos, wacky illustrations, puzzles, games and activities; there’s even a problem page.
Animal conservation is an issue for us all and this is addressed here too.
In brief, educative and enormous fun.

Held in Love

Held in Love
Dawn Casey and Oamal Lu
Lincoln Children’s Books

If you’re looking for a book to give as a gift to a new mother and child, or at a naming ceremony, here’s one that fits the bill perfectly. Equally it could serve as a bedtime lullaby.

Billed as ‘A mother’s blessing’, Dawn Casey has penned a softly spoken, lilting entreaty that any parent (or grandparent) could share with an infant.

Herein we have a mother talking to her baby.

Beginning with the universe and thence the galaxy and the world, each double spread moves inwards to a home wherein a mother, child nestling in her arms is reading.
She asks for joyfulness in movement, generosity, gratefulness, musicality with ears that can hear both song and silence,

playfulness and the ability to forgive and forget.

Finally we’re taken full circle to the universal with these heartfelt words: ‘May your eyes look to the stars and know that you are held in the arms of the universe … and held in love.

Complementing the beautiful, soulful words are debut picture book illustrator Oamul Lu’s warm-hearted scenes of maternal love, of a growing child and of serene natural landscapes. I just wish he hadn’t used those googly eyes that seem to be used in so many picture books at present.

10 reasons to love a bear / 10 reasons to love a whale

10 reasons to love a bear
10 reasons to love a whale

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Lincoln Children’s Books

This engaging series of fun animal books for younger readers from Barr and Clulow, working in conjunction with the Natural History Museum, has two new titles.

The first features the eight bear species: the polar bear, the sun bear, the sloth bear, the American black bear, the brown bear, the Asian black bear, the spectacled bear and the giant panda.

Did you know that bears, with the exception of the bamboo only eating giant pandas, will consume pretty much whatever they can find be that fish, meat, berries or bark; and some honey loving bears will tear trees apart to access a bees’ nest and sometimes even lap up the bees. Ouch!

Have you ever seen a bear dance? I certainly haven’t but they rub their backs against tree trunks and do a kind of wiggle dance to leave a scent for other bears, either to attract a mate or scare off a rival.

Giant pandas so we’re told though will do a handstand to leave their mark.

Another way in which bears communicate is through sound: they might snort, growl, grunt or cough; and mother bears and their cubs hum if all is well. Panda bears on the other hand make a bleating sound.

All this ursine information and more, together with five ways humans can show they love bears, can be found in 10 reasons to love a bear.

The subject of 10 reasons to love a whale is the blue whale.
These enormous mammalian creatures are, when fully grown, around 30 times heavier than an elephant and have a heart the size of a small car. Amazing!

A blue whale’s mouth too, is gigantic, and its tongue alone weighs as much as an elephant.

Sadly these amazing animals are still a threatened species and their survival depends on we humans.

Most children, in my experience are fascinated by blue whales and so, I suspect, they’ll be eager to dive into this book.

Add these two to your primary school class collection or topic boxes.

Baby Bird

Baby Bird
Andrew Gibbs and Zosienka
First Editions
First Editions is a new ‘sub-imprint’ of Lincoln Children’s Books that is entirely devoted to debuts and this book is one of its first.

‘Birds are born to fly’, thinks Baby Bird but this little bird was born with one misshapen wing that fails to develop fully and so when the other hatchlings are ready to leave the nest Baby watches them take flight but, try as s/he might, Baby’s efforts to follow them end in disaster.

Determined to learn to swoop and soar like the others, the little creature keeps practising, refusing to give up until suddenly a monstrous face appears from the shadows and there is, not a monster but another bird calling itself Cooter.

Cooter offers to assist Baby by becoming a buddy and the two spend the afternoon endeavouring to get Baby airborne, all to no avail and although Cooter tells Baby that he’s having fun, the fledgling most definitely is not.

The friendship is further tested when Cooter tells Baby something exceedingly distressing that precipitates a fall, a rescue and a revelation.

What follows changes the entire mood; it’s something called Coot Scooting and from then on, Baby’s outlook on life and flying is altogether different.

Baby Bird embodies the spirit of determination against all the odds in this tale of friendship, self-acceptance and inclusivity.
Both author (who sadly did not live to see the book’s publication) and illustrator’s portrayal of the fledgling is uplifting and inspiring.

I’ve signed the charter  

I Love You, Bunny

I Love You, Bunny
Alina Surnaite
Lincoln Children’s Books

A warm glow emanates from the cover of this debut picture book and stays with you all the way through the story.

Mum has just tucked Suzy up for the night with her comfort Bunny. Suzy however is concerned about the possibility of monsters coming while she sleeps.

Mum assures her that Bunny will chase off any monsters and keep her safe.

Bunny does his job as lookout through the night until dawn breaks and that is when something dark comes creeping into Suzy’s room reaching out for her sleeping form, or so it seems, and then disappearing again.

That’s when Suzy stirs and realises that Bunny is no longer by her side: he’s completely disappeared.

Putting on a show of bravery she gets up to search for her toy but there comes a sound from behind her. She turns and sees …

“A MONSTER!”

Then dashing in fright from her room the child runs straight into the waiting arms of her mother. “A monster ate Bunny!” she sobs.
Shortly after the cause of Bunny’s disappearance is revealed, Suzy is reassured that there is no monster after all

and returns to bed for a little while longer.

Many young children have phases of being scared in the dark, particularly those with powerful imaginations.
Alina Surnaite uses pastels to create her soft focus, crepuscular scenes of familiar domesticity, casting a mood of gentle reassurance, which should help assuage such nocturnal fears.