Pablo the Rescue Cat / Stupid Baby

Pablo the Rescue Cat
Charlotte Williams and Angela Perrini
Little Steps Publishing

What would you do if you were feeling just a little bit lonely? You might think of getting a pet and that is just what the little girl in this sweet story does. Off she goes with her mum to the animal shelter with the intention of finding something suitable.

As they walk around the shelter, she immediately falls for the pooches but quickly realises that leaving a dog home alone is a bad idea, so the helpful staff member moves on to the cat section and there, to her delight, the little girl finds the perfect moggy.

His name is Pablo and his previous owner has died.

WIth the adoption formalities done, Pablo can begin his new life and it’s not long before he’s starting to feel like one of the family. And so he remains; as the little girls grows up the friendship continues to flourish. No matter what mischief the animal gets up to, he’s won the heart of his adopter. for as she says, … “you rescued me too.”

Told through a rhyming text that occasionally creaks and scenes of feline felicity and domestic contentment, this gentle tale is a good introduction to what’s entailed in adopting a new pet. A percentage of profits from sales of the book will be donated to UK animal shelters.

Stupid Baby
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

Stephanie Blake’s rabbit Simon stars in a funny, somewhat anarchic take on new sibling jealousy.

Simon is far from pleased at being told to play quietly on account of the ‘tiny tiny little baby’ that’s been present in his home for a whole three days. Suppose he stays forever, worries big bro. who feels his own needs are being compromised.
When is the stupid baby going back to the hospital, is what he wants to know. But shock horror! The infant is there to stay forever.

That’s bad enough but come bedtime, Simon’s insecurity is evident. Suppose those big bad wolves lurking outside his window come in to attack him. He needs parental comfort in his hour of need but a rejection is all he receives from that quarter.

Suddenly though he discovers a most surprising source of succour/support …

Great for sharing with the very young around the time of a new baby’s arrival. Despite his bad-mouthing of the babe, Simon is an endearing character whose charms endure no matter what. Stephanie’s bold, bright illustrations are hilarious and splendidly expressive.

Into the Wild / Poppy Goes Wild

Into the Wild
Robert Vescio and Mel Armstrong
New Frontier Publishing

Young Roman has an adventurous spirit and a love of nature that often take him to new places where he makes exciting discoveries. They might be hidden away, mysterious, wonderfully wild or all of those. He needs to keep his senses alert ready for new sights, sounds and tactile experiences.

Sometimes though in the vast, wild depths of the natural world, Roman feels that despite the wonders he’s discovered something is missing; he longs to be able to share his excitement and enthusiasm.
And then unexpectedly he comes upon something that might just satisfy that longing – something interesting and rare …

Since the start of this pandemic and especially during lockdown, more and more of us, wherever we are, have been discovering (or rediscovering) the joys of the natural world. Equally, most of us have been longing to be able to share some of the pleasure with other people, not merely virtually but in the flesh. So, this story of Robert Vescio’s with its illustrations by Mel Armstrong is a smashing portrayal of the marvels of the natural world and friendship – especially when experienced together.

Poppy Goes Wild
Nick Powell and Becca Hall
Little Steps Publishing

TV producer Nick Powell has written this story of rewilding wherein he tells how young Poppy in partnership with her grandad embark on a scheme to return his farmland to the way nature intended it to be. The way it was some fifty years back when wildflowers grew in abundance and native animals such as hares and field mice, otters, insects and birds including peregrine falcons and soaring skylarks thrived.

As Poppy’s Grandad reminisces, she and readers learn of the dramatic changes that have happened due to such things as wetland drainage, intensive farming resulting in habitat loss, and the use of harmful pesticides. “We thought we were doing the right thing,“ Grandad tells her.

Poppy’s great enthusiasm for doing what some of the farmers she’s read about are trying, reignites her grandad’s love of the natural world and project ‘rewilding’ is agreed on. Every weekend and during school holidays Poppy intends to work on the plan but their first task is to identify areas for nature to replenish itself. Then comes providing the best conditions for this to happen.

As the work gets under way, Poppy realises that it’s more than a two-person task. She enlists the help of her classmates from the town near the farm

and over the next few months great headway is made. But, as the story ends, the wonderful restorative transformation work goes on.

An inspiring, uplifting, hopeful story that presents many of the environmental challenges we face at the moment with so many of our species declining alarmingly thanks to the destabilising effects on ecosystems of human activity. In addition there are other themes – collaboration and the wonderful camaraderie between Poppy and Grandad that exemplifies intergenerational relationships.

Becca Hall’s painterly, carefully detailed, illustrations are simply gorgeous. Her colour palette is aglow with the sun’s warmth as well as evoking that inner warmth and exhilaration so many of us feel when immersed in nature.

Nick Powell hopes the book will inspire youngsters to do all they can to look after wildlife, while in a foreword, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, celebrity chef, writer and broadcaster, urges us all to be part of the re-wilding movement in whatever way we can. One truly hopes that, inspired by Poppy et al. both young and not so young will respond to their rallying call.

The Adventures of Harley and Lucy: The Marshland Rescue / The Cat and the Captain: Trim the Cat & Matthew Flinders

Here are two recent fiction books from Little Steps Publishing kindly sent for review

The Adventures of Harley and Lucy: The Marshland Rescue
Maria Atlan, illustrated by Adriana Santos

We meet Harley on his first day as a retired military service dog, about to embark on a new life with the Laceys. He knows that he’s going to miss his long-time companion Sergeant Garcia. However, Mamie and Greg Lacey appear amicable enough, but one thing Harley hasn’t anticipated is the presence in his new home of tiny moggy, Lucy. It seems Harley might need recourse to Sergeant Garcia’s advice: ”Be strong, be true, be brave.”

Soon comes news of a plan to pull down the historical Ashley Place, wherein live Lucy’s feline aunts, and replace it with a huge modern development. This is of great concern not only to the kitten but also to the Laceys, as it threatens both the marshland environment with its wealth of wildlife and the safety of their own homes. Despite a successful meeting addressed by Mamie and a vote to put paid to the planned project, they learn that the vote was a formality and the enterprise will go ahead after all. Or will it? If they combine their skills, perhaps an alliance between Lucy and Harley can help matters. But time is running out.

The author’s passion for conserving the environment is evident in her storytelling and readers are swept along with Harley, Lucy and the Laceys in their bid to halt a potentially catastrophic development. Occasional black and white illustrations by Adriana Santos inject some gentle humour into the tale.

The Cat and the Captain: Trim the Cat & Matthew Flinders
Ruth Taylor

Having been the subject of a picture book, Trim the cat now features in a novel for older readers. Born aboard, HMS Reliance, a sailing ship bound for Botany Bay, the kitten, after falling overboard while the ship’s anchored, is adopted by Matthew Flinders and accompanies him on all subsequent expeditions.

The two brave a leaking ship, stormy seas, illness and other disasters till by the time Matthew is twenty-nine, he’s in a very bad way and so is Trim. The man starts to despair of ever accomplishing his goal of mapping the western coast of Australia, but despite many lives being lost, and a shipwreck, his determination never leaves him.

Then one fateful day having reached Mauritius, Matthew is accused of being a spy by the Île de France (Mauritius) officials and put into prison. It’s while in captivity that he learns of Trim’s disappearance, and he never sees his faithful cat again.

Matthew doesn’t get finally back to England and his wife, Ann, until he is thirty- seven, having been parted from her for nine years; and sadly they only have three years together before his death.

This gripping piece of history is retold by the author Ruth Taylor who, while researching the role of ships’ cats in pest control at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, came upon Matthew’s tribute to his beloved Trim and decided to tell the story for children. With illustrations by David Parkins, this is an accessible and fascinating story for upper primary/lower secondary school readers.

Detective LB and Hopper: The Case of the Missing Chocolate Frogs

Detective LB and Hopper: The Case of the Missing Chocolate Frogs
Janey Gaston and Anil Tortop
Little Steps Publishing

It’s hard to resist a picture book with chocolate in the title especially when the cover’s as alluring as that drawn by Anil Tortop.

Meet Detective LB, a ladybird mystery lover and her best friend and side-kick Hopper, a lively, sometimes overly sugar-fuelled bunny with a special skill at solving mysteries. Clearly a well-matched duo and on the Tuesday in question, they’re both fired up and ready for a new case, so are thrilled when there’s a loud banging on the door signalling somebody outside with a mystery that needs solving.

In comes Mr Poppy (cat) owner of Poppycat Candy Company announcing that he suspects someone is stealing his packages of ‘extra-special, extra-yummy chocolate frogs’ destined for his Grandma Rose which, for the last couple of weeks, have failed to arrive.

So, who has been stealing said items; comic book addict Hopper, and LB, are on the case immediately; the enterprising two must amass information and search for clues in order to crack this tasty case. Perhaps Hopper’s penchant for superheroes can be utilised;

and maybe the thief has a motive that just might be a mitigating cause.

A pacy, full of fun adventure and with Anil Tortop’s comical scenes of animated animals and chocolatey clues, highly entertaining with a not very subtle message about owning up to one’s errors.

How to be a Bug Warrior

How to be a Bug Warrior
written by Stephanie Stahl, illustrated by Loyal Kids
Little Steps Publishing

Young Danny Dino is fed up. His mum insists that if he wants to go and play with his pals in the park, he must wear a mask since many Dinoville residents have been ill recently. Off they all go: his friends don masks but not so Danny who claims he is uncomfortable and he can’t breathe.
Then along comes another friend who sneezes sending her germs all over the other little dinosaurs.

Back at home Danny’s Dino Mummy serves up some yummy chocolate muffins; his pals all go off and wash their hands; Danny merely starts stuffing cake into his mouth.

A few days later, Danny feels poorly – he’s sneezy, feverish and has a sore throat. Dr Pterosaur pays a call and hears about Danny’s maskless foray to the park. Flu is his diagnosis and a stay in bed to rest.

Once he’s somewhat recovered his friends pay a visit as does the doc. who explains why it was only Danny who caught the virus. He goes on to tell them all about the importance of correct hand washing – the ‘seven-step super handwash’ and other ways to help prevent the spread of any viruses that might be circulating. After a week Danny is up and about and determined to stick to his hand-washing regime.

After the story – yes, it’s didactic – but extremely important and full of wise words, come several spreads about viruses,

with reference to Covid-19 as well as a quiz and a page of tips on protecting oneself and others.

With those sure to be popular characters, and a highly relatable story, this is a book to share with youngsters both at home and in foundation stage classrooms and nurseries.

Polly Profiterole’s Little Town Good Enough to Eat / My Grandma is 100

Here are two recent picture books from Little Steps Publishing

Polly Profiterole’s Little Town Good Enough to Eat
Maggie May Gordon and Margarita Levina

Imagine living somewhere where the only ‘shop’ is the front porch of your house. That’s how it is for Polly Profiterole, pancake maker par excellence who has mixed more pancakes than she cares to remember for way, way too long in a little town without a school, a bank, a pub or a church.

Then one night as she lies in bed Polly decides something must be done to change things. With her brain in over-drive she enlists the help of her husband and the following morning Polly bakes and Percy builds

the most delicious town you could ever envisage, from the Choco-Chip Church at the very top of the hill, all the way down to the Pork Pie Pub at the bottom with some yummy establishments in between including the Cup Cake Coffee Shop

and the Honey Roll Hairdresser (shame there’s no bookshop)., Finally of course, they make ‘Polly Profiterole’s Proper Pancake Parlour’.

Thus Polly and Percy co- created a unique little town that must surely have become a go-to destination instead of a drive right through one.

If your taste buds aren’t in overdrive after sharing this fun book with youngsters, then I’d be very surprised. Poet, Maggie May Gordon and illustrator Margarita Levina serve up a tale of teamwork and enterprise, that all began because despite everything, Polly never lost the ability to imagine.

My Grandma is 100
Aimee Chan and Angela Perrini

What a wonderfully warm book is this one narrated by a small child whose Grandma Edna (great grandma) is celebrating her 100th birthday.

Plenty of thought goes into getting the day just right. What kind of food can 100 year-old teeth cope with? What should the birthday cake be like? Then there’s the consideration of a suitable present for somebody who now lives in a special home with lots of other people and doesn’t really need anything.

Next morning with mounting excitement at the prospect of having thought of the perfect present, it’s time for the narrator and family to drive to Grandma’s special party. And what a wonderful celebration it is, especially with so many relations,

as well as Grandma’s letters from The Prime Minister, the Governor General and the Queen of England. Grandma Edna is some lady with three children, four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

The author, Aimee Chan is the granddaughter in law of ‘Grandma Edna’ and wrote the book as a celebration of Edna Phillips’ life.

I love the way the narrator’s imaginings are given substance in some of Angela Perrini’s quirky illustrations.

Brave Adventures Little Girl / Where Do Teachers Go At Night? /Where Else Do Teachers Go At Night?

Brave Adventures Little Girl
Iresha Herath and Oscar Fa
Little Steps Publishing

There’s often a very special bond between young children and their grandparents and so it is with four-year old Anika who visits her grandmother (Achi) and grandfather (Seeya) every Sunday.

Anika doesn’t feel brave when she tries new things: ‘I always feel funny in my tummy’ she tells Seeya.

But she loves to listen to Seeya’s stories of adventures he’s had in various parts of the world.

On this occasion he uses these to talk about how when he was faced with trying new things in various parts of the world he visited, he too frequently had a funny feeling in his tummy. Nevertheless he did the things anyway – swimming in a big lake being followed by what he imagined to be a crocodile,

leaving Sri Lanka to go to university in England and visiting Russia with his university for instance.

His mention of the Olympics brings Anika back to the present as she tells Seeya about learning to hop for the ‘Kinder Olympics’. (Practising hopping caused her to trip and fall during her visit) and she feels reassured by all she’s heard especially when her grandparents agree to come and watch her participate in the Kinder Olympics.

With Oscar Fa’s unusual illustrations that have gentleness and warmth about them, this sensitively told story inspired by the author’s own Sri Lankan family has at its heart loving family relationships, adventure, fear and over-coming of same but above all, love.

Also recently out from Little Steps Publishing

Where Do Teachers Go at Night?
Where Else Do Teachers Go at Night?

Harriet Cuming and Sophie Norsa

When I taught four year olds some of them were convinced that I slept at school. Now though we have the great reveal: two zany books written by Harriet Cuming experienced teacher tell in jaunty rhyme, what happens to the staff after the pupils have all departed from school for the day.

Those teachers certainly don’t confine themselves to one location either: they snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef,

skinny dip in the Caribbean, there’s even a spot of crocodile wrestling in Kakadu.

The second book has the energetic crew off on a new round of after school adventuring . There’s ice-skating in Iceland,

mountain climbing in the Andes as well as butterfly chasing in New Guinea. This reviewer hasn’t participated in any of those activities but has visited four of the locations mentioned in the books and  ridden several elephants in India, albeit not in Mumbai.

Sophie Norsa’s watercolour and crayon illustrations show these wacky activities in such a way that children come away feeling they know something about each of the adventurers’ characters and eccentricities.

Fun and gently educational in a geographical sort of way.

Stars Before Bedtime / What’s in Your Mind Today?

Stars Before Bedtime
Claire Grace & Dr Jessamy Hibberd, illustrated by Hannah Tolson
Wide Eyed Editions

As the authors of this book, Claire Grace a writer/editor and clinical psychologist and writer Dr Jessamy Hibberd remind us in their introduction, it’s not always easy to fall asleep in our world of constant stimulation and establishing a bedtime routine can help enormously.

To that end they have created a combination of bedtime story, and mind and body-calming exercises to help youngsters wind down as they bid ‘goodbye to the wriggles and the fidgets’ before dropping off into peaceful slumbers.

Brief stories about the constellations of the night sky,

inspired by mythology, together with instructions for mindfulness exercises related to the particular story form the basic elements; those and Hannah Tolson’s surrounding visuals created with a restful colour palette, which contain a mix of the starry night sky with symbolic representation of the constellations

and homely images of the related physical exercises in a detailed bedroom setting. (An appropriately coloured lavender crescent moon symbol is used to indicate the relevant text for each exercise.)

Among the activities included are yoga style poses, stretches, guided visualisations and conscious breathing.

Pages for grown-ups at the front and back offer ‘how to’ suggestions as well as ways you might use the book. (Each double spread can stand alone if you don’t want to read the entire book, so for instance you could choose to share the story of Draco the dragon and the accompanying stretching snakelike exercise and breathing.)

Wearing my teacher and yoga teacher specialising in yoga with children hats, I recommend giving this book a go. It should pay dividends if you persevere. Try out the different strategies suggested so that you establish that much desired, peaceful routine mentioned at the outset.

More mindfulness for little ones in:

What’s in Your Mind Today?
Louise Bladen and Angela Perrini
Little Steps Publishing

There’s always a way to let go all our thoughts no matter what we have in our minds, as this gentle book shows and tells using a variety of children and their thoughts.

By focussing on the simple breathing exercises in Louise Bladen’s calming verses, and Angela Perrini’s attractive, quirky illustrations of the mentioned girls and boys,

both children and adults can quell their busy minds and find a place of tranquillity.

Africa Day

Africa Day
Chi Mary Kalu and Jelena Jordanovic-Lewis
Little Steps Publishing

This is a joyful celebration of African culture wherein the boy narrator Emeka, and his mother visit an African art and craft festival together.

There’s music and dancing, yummy food and drinks including Arabica Ethopian coffee (I can attest to the quality of that) and Mum buys some jewellery made from wood.

They enjoy the stall selling wares woven from canes and rattan; and the fabric and clothing store is a riot of colour that prompts another purchase by Mum. Performers of all kinds show their skills in an African style circus and after stopping at more stalls both Mum and Emeka find the allure of the music and dance irresistible.

Come evening it’s time to leave for stallholders and visitors alike – a happy, albeit tiring day has been had by all.

There’s some gentle education in Chi Mary Kalu’s telling and Jelena Jordanovic-Lewis’ lively illustrations really encapsulate the richness of African culture.

A little book with a large theme that will enrich book collections be they at home or in school.

The Small Five / Scapegoat

The Small Five
Ralph Johnstone and Harriet Stanes
Little Steps Publishing

The “Big Five’ of Africa are the lion, the elephant, the leopard, the rhino and the buffalo, known the world over. In this subtly humorous rhyming story Ralph Johnstone tells how these are the creatures that ruled supreme in wild life habitats until the Small Five (Buffalo weaver, Elephant Shrew, Antlion, Rhinoceros Beetle and Leopard Tortoise decide to take them on.

We learn what happens as The Battle of The Bush unfolds. With Doc the Croc as referee, there are five challenges focussing on different skills each time, with a representative of the Big and Small teams participating …

Which side will emerge as the winners?

The theme of this tale is summed up in Old Doc’s closing speech, “ And it’s time we all realise / that being big and tough isn’t ever enough’. Size alone does not equate to an animal’s (or a child’s) worth and nobody should be judged on size and stature alone – definitely something to be discussed at home or in school.

Harriet Stanes’ lively, amusing illustrations move readers, along with the action, through different parts of the African landscape adding fun details as well as zoological ones.

Part of the proceeds of sales of the book will through the purchase of produce from Nairobi’s Organic Farmers’ Market go to supporting children living in Kenya’s Children’s home.

Cleverly constructed this is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read aloud.

Scapegoat
Ava Keyes and Alexandra Szmidt
Little Steps Publishing

There are lots of picture books that deal with bullying but I’ve not come across one before that looks at bullying at home. Debut author Ava Keyes presents in her rhyming narrative a story of a family member that always gets the blame when others, young and adult feel angry or frustrated about something. So deep does this cut the young Scapegoat that sometimes even at school, which he loves on account of his friend Harry, the little character feels overwhelmed by shame.

On one such occasion, Harry notices his pal’s tearfulness and alerts their teacher thus allowing Scapegoat to share how he feels. Mr Sheep’s response is ‘Never apologise for what you feel. / It’s like saying sorry for being real’.

He goes on to explain that adults, in spite of doing their best, do get things wrong at times.

He has a talk with dad and mum who eventually see what has been happening to their son who then starts to believe in himself: ‘Inside he knew that he could cope, / Scapegoat had help now, he had found hope,’

Through the story (despite occasional clunks in the rhyme) combined with Alexandra Szmidt’s expressive, mixed media illustrations readers are shown that confiding in a trusted friend or adult, along with finding their own inner strength, are effective when it comes to dealing with bullying.

This is a useful book to have in a foundation/ KS1classroom collection.