Jasper & Scruff: The Great Cat Cake-Off / Stink and the Hairy Scary Spider

Jasper & Scruff: The Great Cat Cake-Off
Nicola Colton
Little Tiger

In case you’ve not met the two protagonists, cat Jasper loves cooking fancy food and dining in fancy restaurants. Puppy Scruff is fond of eating with a particular penchant for salted caramel. The two run their own cafe, its speciality being the Cheese Monsieur with customers coming from near and far to sample this delicacy.

One day though, there’s a distinct lack of visitors and on investigation they discover across the way a new establishment – The Sophisticafé – is opening up with Lady Catterly as head chef. Eager to learn what the signature dish is to be, Jasper and Scruff head over and try to enter the cafe doors, only to be rebuffed without the necessary invitation.

Back they go to their own diner to find that things are in a chaotic state but even worse, the recipe page for their signature dish has been removed from the book. Looks as though it’s the work of the Sophisticats AGAIN!

Time to find out exactly what is going on … Things don’t go quite to plan however but they do encounter famous food writer, Gaspard le Skunk sampling the fare. Now he’s the one to impress, decide Scruff and Jasper but that will entail some menu amendments.

Again things don’t quite go to plan as those dastardly Sophisticats have got wind of the critic’s visit. Sabotage is their way of doing things …

but who will win this battle?

Another tasty offering in this series, and with one or more of Nicola’s humorous illustrations on every spread, it’s ideal for those readers just starting to fly solo.

Stink and the Hairy Scary Spider
Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books

Stink is Judy Moody’s little brother and now he’s battling with his arachnophobia, a fear of spiders having troubled him for quite a while.

Having fashioned an origami frog, he takes his creation to the backyard to test its hopping. The creature hops right out of sight but when Stink looks in the long grass there’s no sign of his frog. Instead he sees a ‘pink thingy’ or rather several and they’re attached to large hairy legs which in turn are attached to a larger hairy body and that is attached to a massive head of the hirsute kind. A head with a plethora of eyes, what’s more. YIKES! Readers will have no doubt what this thing is.

A fearful Stink dashes indoors to seek help in locating his frog from the one person he knows is actually quite fond of spiders, his sister Judy. A deal is struck but Judy goes beyond that and sets about trying to cure little brother of his phobia.

This is a fun, scientific episode in which Megan McDonald’s characters exhibit their delightful optimism and it’s brought out in Peter Reynolds’ amusing illustrations; love the spidery chapter headings. There are even instructions to make an origami jumping frog after the story.

A relatively easy read: early chapter book readers will thoroughly enjoy this spin on facing your fears.

Diary of an Accidental Witch

Diary of an Accidental Witch
Perdita & Honor Cargill, illustrated by Katie Saunders
Little Tiger

There’s a new magical school on the story map and it’s called Little Spellshire School of Extraordinary Arts. Little Spellshire is the sleepy town full of cats and magical children into which Bea Black and her weather scientist Dad have just moved; this book takes the form of eleven-year old Bea’s diary – her first ever.

But it’s a case of izzy fizzy, Dad was so busy and so dizzy that he’s gone and enrolled her not in the ordinary academy but the Extraordinary establishment in the forest intended for young local witches.

Unexpectedly Bea finds herself sitting through all kinds of strange and spellbinding lessons in the company of peculiar classmates

and tasked with homework that entails venturing into the forest in the middle of the night to find skeledrake roots for a potion – now what on earth are they?

Surely it’s not too much to remind her Dad to get her moved into the Academy ASAP.
It’s either that or dig deep and find her inner witch: with the Halloween ball fast approaching it would be useful to discover even the teeniest smidgen of a magical spark.

Then there’s the question of Excalibur

about which I’ll say no more except that the incident is just one of the many magical mishaps and untoward incidents to be found in Bea’s diary that is bound to have readers giggling and wriggling in delight.

However as well as frog minding, persevering with broomstick-riding, levitation, avoiding getting ExSPELLED, being Witch In Charge of Bat Bunting, which requires the cutting of 1200 paper bats, keeping Dad from finding out of what’s really going on, this spellbinding story is concerned with a girl trying her best to fit in at a new school, making the best of a tricky situation and trying her level best to make friends.

Full of heart, this is the first of four stories brewed by the Cargill team, aided and abetted by Katie Saunders who supplies liberal sprinklings of amusing illustrations (including a class photo and a map): an ideal concoction that simply effervesces with humour and heart. Youngsters will definitely be spellbound and eagerly anticipate diary number two; so too, this reviewer.

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth / What’s in the Box? / Halloween

Ganesha’ Sweet Tooth
Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
Chronicle Books

Just in time for Ganesh Chaturthi in a few days is this lovely board book edition of a modern version of one of the most popular Hindu legends – the episode in which Ganesha got his broken tusk. It tells how when young, Ganesha liked nothing better than eating sweet things, especially the Indian confection, laddoos. This results in tragedy during Ganesha and his ‘friend’ Mr Mouse’s search for sweets when they come upon a new kind of laddoo, The Super Jumbo Jawbreaker Laddoo.

Despite warnings from Mr Mouse, Ganesha just can’t resist chomping down on the thing – “I’m invincible.” he reassures his friend – and snap! Off comes one of his tusks. Furious at being unable to repair himself, young Ganesha hurls the broken tusk at the moon.

It misses, landing at the feet of the ancient sage and poet, Vyasa who happens to have a special task for the tusk thrower and thus Ganesha lands the job of scribing the great epic of Hindu literature, the Mahabharata.

This little book is a riot of dayglo colour with Sanjay Patel’s brilliant ultra-modern visuals, some of which are reminiscent of what you might see in a temple in South India. Others are decidedly closer to some of the contemporary Pixar animations he has worked on.

By adding their own embellishments and playing slightly with the original plot, Patel and Haynes have created a wonderfully playful rendering of a classic legend that will appeal widely .

The next two are published by Little Tiger:

What’s in the Box?
Isabel Otter and Jaoquin Camp

How exciting: a pile of parcels has just arrived waiting to be investigated. What could be packed away inside? That’s what youngsters are invited to discover in this chunky tactile, lift-the-flap book.

Box one looks as though it’s rather fiery but what has made those scorch marks? There’s a hint in the cut-away shiny, scaly shape just visible.

The second box seems to have the fidgets and there’s a warning on the wrapping … A tricky one this. I wonder what it holds …

Next is a beribboned container but strangely some wool has escaped from within. “Fragile” says the label on the fourth box wherein so we read, is something noisy – hmmm? 

However, the best has been kept till last – it’s a veritable treasure trove of … Can you guess what?

With Isabel Otter’s brief rhyming text andJoaquin Camp’s alluring surprise containers to explore, there’s sufficient to engage little ones during several book sharing sessions.

Halloween
Patricia Hegarty and Fhiona Galloway

With Halloween coming up next month (I can’t believe I’m saying that), adults might want to reinforce counting skills with this mock-scary book that introduces in turn, one little skeleton that’s found a hiding place, two slightly anxious little trick-or-treaters, three glowing jack o’lanterns, four hoppy toads, five family portraits, one about to take a tumble, six sleepy bats, seven ghosts, eight spiders of the hirsute kind, nine snoozing moggies, or rather they were before being disturbed by the ten small, appropriately attired party goers.

The rhyming text and Fhionna Galloway’s cute, colourful illustrations offer plenty for preschoolers to enjoy herein.

The Fairy Dogmother

The Fairy Dogmother
Caroline Crowe and Richard Merritt
Little Tiger

This playful modern fairy tale has its origins in Cinderella and is set in Woofington’s Dog Shelter, home to most of the characters in the book including Cinders. This resident is just contemplating lunch when suddenly one Priscilla Paws, Fairy dog mother announces herself and offers Cinders a wish – “Whatever will make you the happiest you can be,” she suggests.

Now Cinders is pretty satisfied already with his home, food and friends so he tells Priscilla, but the fairy urges him to make haste before the wish times out. Unable to come up with anything, Cinders consults his friends and every one has a different suggestion, Boris’s idea being a ball … How do you think Priscilla envisages that one?

The clock ticks on and Cinders’ time is almost up …

when suddenly Old Wally has a brilliant proposal. Kind-hearted Cinders happily makes the wish but it leaves him without any companions. Or does it? For as Priscilla’s experience tells her and she tells Cinders, “fairy tails always have a happy ending” …

Dreams sometimes do come true, perhaps even when the dreamers don’t realise what their deepest wishes are.

Be they bursting with detail and pattern or less ornate, Richard Merritt’s vibrant humorous scenes completely fill every page and along with Caroline Crowe’s positive message about Cinders’ kindness and generosity,.this is a fun book to share with youngsters, preferably once they know a traditional version of Cinderella.

How to be a Human / Museum Kittens: The Treasure Map

Two recent fiction titles from Little Tiger – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

How to be a Human
Karen McCombie

When their home town is hit by unprecedented wild weather storms causing schools to close it seems something is badly wrong. Little Ty thinks he’s seen aliens in the sky and much to sister Kiki’s horror has even appeared on the news saying the freak weather was caused by strange beings in their spaceships. How will she face the embarrassment of such nonsensical talk when Riverside Academy reopens? Especially the taunts of Lola and the Popular Crew of which she wants to be part.

Someone else not thrilled with the school reopening is previously homeschooled newbie Wes, also in Y7 and an outsider (though the bullies have their eyes on him).

Then there is Star Boy, presently marooned on Earth about which he’s been taught some things relating to its inhabitants, as well as having taught himself some of its languages.

Both finding every day painful, Kiki and Wes start spending time together and soon realise they have things in common: they’re really struggling to settle in to the new school, they both have parents who have separated and then comes music.

Having observed their behaviour together, Star Boy decides he can learn much about human behaviour by watching and filming the duo so that once he returns to his own planet, the Master will consider him a ‘scientific hero’.

Then Wes and Kiki discover Star Boy. They start to learn things about one another but also about themselves and who they are; they learn what being human really means, about the importance of trust and of friendship. They also discover that sometimes what you really want is right there before you and that it’s possible to heal sadness.
With terrific characters Karen McCombie infuses her insightful story with warmth and gentle humour. She really seems to stand behind the heads of eleven/twelve year olds and their salient concerns.

Thoroughly recommended for those around the age of Kiki and Wes in particular.

for younger readers is

Museum Kittens: The Treasure Map
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sarah Lodge

The fourth tale of the kittens that get playful once all the visitors have left the museum begins up on the roof when Tasha declares that the cloud she’s seen in the sky is a dragon. Boris then decides it’s actually a ship which puts him in adventurous mood as he leads his fellow kittens off to see an actual ship, The Silver Lion, a four-hundred-year-old galleon in dry dock at the back of the museum.

No sooner have they gone aboard than they hear rats voices singing about treasure and they appear to have a map.

When Boris informs them that The Silver Lion was a pirate ship that once belonged to a pirate queen, his excitement rubs off on the other kittens. Grandpa Ivan gives them his blessings to follow the rats; they have to get hold of that map one way or another. But those rats are pretty tricky creatures … and is there really a treasure map, let alone any treasure?

Those familiar with the kittens and their escapades, illustrated by Sarah Lodge, will eagerly grab this; other new solo readers could start here and then likely will want to read what went before.

What a Wonderful Phrase

What a Wonderful Phrase
Nicola Edwards and Manu Montoya
Little Tiger

Nicola Edwards and illustrator Manu Montoya take readers on a world tour looking at idioms from far and wide, including such places as Sweden, South Africa, Korea, Nigeria and Greece. There’s even this: ‘Nuces relinquere’, Latin for ‘To Give Up Nuts’ which to the Ancient Romans meant to give up childish ways. Fascinating, as are all the other idiomatic phrases in this book, each of which is explained in a gently humorous manner in this compilation of curious utterances.

We learn the cultural and historical facts behind for instance, ‘Putting Watermelons Under Someone’s Arms’. Originating in Iran (then Persia) and also found in Azerbaijan and Turkey, it translates as ‘conning someone into doing a tiresome or stupid task for you’.

I was surprised at how many of the idioms mention food.

Can you guess the meaning of ‘To split open the crocodile’s intestine’ a phrase sometimes said by Izon speakers living around the Niger Delta. If your home language is English you’ll surely be familiar with ‘to butter someone up’ and ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ but unless you speak Dutch you aren’t likely to have come across ‘a monkey sandwich story’.

I couldn’t help but laugh at this Icelandic one that translates as ‘peeing in your shoes will only keep you warm for a short while’. Really? However the accompanying bit about an unusual delicacy said still to be consumed by some did not appeal to my vegan sensibilities. Gross!

As well as being amusing, this delightfully illustrated book is an exploration of the diversity of language and a presentation of snippets from many different cultures that readers of all ages can enjoy sharing and discussing.

Eureka! A Big Book of Discoveries

Eureka! A Big Book of Discoveries
Jonathan Litton and Wenjia Tang
Little Tiger

If you lack an open inquiring mind, open eyes and imagination, it’s unlikely that you’ll discover anything new or shed fresh light on something that’s already known.

In this book Jonathan Litton takes a look at all kinds of amazing discoveries from both long ago and recent times, history being the first theme with dinosaur remains the first topic along with what some key palaeontologists have discovered. I was astonished to read that on account of several factors including improved technology and more trained palaeontologists, dinosaurs are ‘being discovered at a faster rate than ever … a new species per week on average.’

Ancient civilisations and some of their artefacts are presented next including a visit to some entire cities that were lost.

The second section ‘Introduction to Earth’ takes readers to both the Arctic and Antarctic regions as well as deep down into oceans

and right into the earth’s core. We read of extinct species and new ones that are recent discoveries: I’d not heard before of the psychedelic frogfish that usually walks on the ocean floor but can make itself into a ball and jet propel itself from one place and another.

Section three presents discoveries of a scientific and mathematical kind, some like penicillin, accidental, others the outcome of experimentation either simple or incredibly complicated and costly.

Perhaps your interest is space. That is Litton’s next theme, about which humans have discovered relatively little despite it being a source of fascination for well over 1000 years. It’s good to see Vera Rubin and her work on galaxy rotation getting a mention herein

and I’m pleased that the author devotes a double spread to women whose remarkable discoveries gained them scant credit at the time. This forms part of the final ‘nature of discoveries’ section that considers some philosophical questions – what makes a discovery a discovery?

The world is a dynamic place and it’s likely in the time that I’ve taken to read this book and write these words, fresh knowledge is being uncovered. That truly is an incredible idea …

A thoroughly engrossing and inspiring book, alluringly illustrated by Wenjia Tang to add to individual and school collections.

Nothing Scares Spider!

Nothing Scares Spider!
S Marendaz and Carly Gledhill
Little Tiger

Spider is a fearless creature and is ready to set off and explore the ‘Whole Wide Garden’. First though she bids farewell to her minibeast friends and in so doing hears of their worries at being left without their protector.

Spider leaves a web thread that can be pulled to call her back but only in emergencies and then off she goes. Almost immediately however comes a tug TWANG!

and back home she dashes only to discover that her return is seemingly, unnecessary.

Away she goes again, but whenever Spider herself is unknowingly in danger there comes a tug on the thread – just in the nick of time. Back she goes on several occasions merely stopping to admonish the thread puller before she sets out once more. Now Spider is really getting irate but YANK! On her return this time she comes face to face with Frightening Frog.

Now it just might be Spider’s turn to feel scared …

Fortunately for them all, Caterpillar offers some sage advice which is followed by some nifty work, first by Spider and then her friends. Thereafter comes a deal with their captive and an invitation from Spider.

Carly Gledhill’s vibrant illustrations show what the text doesn’t, enabling young listeners to relish being in the know along with the book’s creators in this tale of friendship and teamwork that will go down well at storytime. Youngsters will also enjoy the humorous touches such as spider’s assorted footwear and the characters’ changing expressions in Carly’s deceptively simple scenes.

ROAR! / Build

Thanks to publishers Little Tiger for sending these new board books for review

ROAR!
Amelia Hepworth and Jorge Martín

Who will be the winner of the Best Roar in Town contest? With a dapper duck as compere, the animals take turns to let loose their most fearsome roars. There’s Mouse who receives faint praise; Penguin – not overly impressive; Dog – definitely an underwhelming performance and then comes Dinosaur.

Now here’s a likely winner especially with a score of eight.

Hang on though, step forward another competitor …

With flaps to manipulate, number scores to recognise, contestants’ comments from the sidelines and the entire verbal presentation via speech bubbles, little ones will delight in the silliness of the whole thing as well as the opportunities for some roaring.

Build
Pau Morgan

The latest in this Little Nature series presents animals as constructors of their own homes. There are honey bees busily building a beeswax safe place to store food and keep their eggs. Then comes stick-collecting eagle looking for materials to build a nest, followed by web-spinning spider and finally a pair of beavers. These strong-toothed mammals collect stones and bits of trees to build a dam wherein they make a cosy lodge.

Peek-through holes provide additional interest to this one and it’s printed on 100% recycled board which gives a lovely feel to the sturdy pages.

Seven Sisters

Seven Sisters
Ayisha Malik and Erika Meza
Little Tiger

Lola, Esher, Ayla, Zoha, Zayna, Amelia and Saffah all live in the Forest of Tremendous Trees. Each of them lives in a tree and despite being sisters, they’re very different characters with very different interests. Zayna is a writer, Lola is an artist, Saffah is the musical one, shy Ayla has a technological mind, Amelia loves gymnastics, Zoha particularly enjoys the natural world and Esher is an inventor. Despite being so different, they get along well largely because they have their own spaces wherein to hone their talents.

Suddenly one day they sense change is afoot and lo and behold a large tree appears before them and continues growing becoming the most beautiful in the entire forest.

That night the girls retire to their beds each thinking of the house they could build in the new tree.

Inevitably next morning they all make their way to the tree where each of them puts forward a case for ownership.

Arguments ensue and things get chaotic until they decide the only way to solve the issue is to hold a competition with their beloved aunt as judge.

Despite her reservations the competition is scheduled for the following day but none of them had expected the storm that blows up just as they arrive. Time to take refuge … together.

Could this perhaps be the best learning opportunity that nature could offer the seven sisters?

Read solo or read aloud: there are lessons aplenty in this engaging story that celebrates individual differences, creativity and the joys of community. Having recently enjoyed Ayisha’s adult novel This Green and Pleasant Land I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she also writes for children. Erika Mesa’s mixed media illustrations are wonderfully expressive, full of life and really bring out the girls differing personalities.

Agent Llama

Agent Llama
Angela Woolfe and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

Let me introduce Charlie Palmer, hotshot agent, awesome spy and fluffy llama. Having saved the world the previous day, said superspy is already engaged on her next mission, when she receives an urgent call from HQ. The Prime Minster’s underpants (banana patterned) have been stolen and Charlie is required to track down the perpetrator of the crime and save the world.

After a nail biting, sorry, hoof biting, plane journey completed with a perfect landing

Charlie rocks up at a posh hotel where she soon encounters an ‘old acquaintance’ Greta Grimm wallowing in the pool and she just happens to be sporting a pair of banana printed shorts. Pant-pinching crime solved.

However, Grimm (aided and abetted by her Goons entourage) doesn’t intend handing them over to Charlie any time soon. Moreover despite our agent’s martial arts prowess, all too quickly she finds herself well and truly trapped. Is there any escape now or is it destination outer space?

Can a spot of lunch courtesy of Charlie’s bag of techno tricks save the day …

Adult readers aloud will likely appreciate the high jinks that characterise spy films while their young audiences will relish the high drama delivered through Angela Woolfe’s whacky rhyming narrative and Duncan Beedie’s bold retro, cartoonish illustrations somewhat reminiscent of 60s glam in places. Love the stylish silhouette endpapers and variety of page layouts that hype up the action.

Have Fun With Boardbooks

Splish, Splash!
Sophie Ledesma and Isobel Otter
Little Tiger
What will Little Fish discover as it swims around beneath the ocean? By manipulating the various sliding mechanisms little ones will discover sea creatures large and small before bidding goodnight to the sleepy Little Fish that has splashed its way right through to the penultimate spread where there’s a convenient place to hide itself behind. ZZZZZ … 

On the final spread all the other creatures that were encountered on the previous pages are labelled. Huge fun and great for developing fine motor skills. Sophie Ledesma’s playful illustrations are full of patterns that add to the visual impact throughout this ‘slide and seek’ book.

Ladybird Ladybird What Can You See?
Pintachan
Little Tiger
This is the latest addition to Pintachan’s brightly illustrated lift-the-flap series wherein Amelia Hepworth introduces positional words – in, behind, inside and under during the game with Ladybird and Ant wherein various other partially hidden minibeasts depicted on the flaps are revealed by lifting the flaps. Ant too is revealed saying in turn ‘It’s Butterfly!’, ‘It’s Spider!’, ‘It’s Bee!’ ‘It’s Worm!’ while the final spread has a mirror hidden under its flap. 

With its simple, repeat refrain rhyming text this is huge fun to share with the very young as well as for beginning readers to read to their younger brothers or sisters. Ant has a different fruit or portion of one on each spread so this offers lots of talk potential – what is it? Who will eat it etc.

Where’s My Puppy?
Becky Davies, illustrated by Kate McLelland
Little Tiger
The mischievous looking puppy shown on the cover of this book has almost disappeared by the first spread and little ones can enjoy following the colourful footprints through the rest of the spreads to discover his whereabouts on the final page. Before that though they encounter in turn Guinea Pig, Kitten, and Pony each of which shares a feature in common with the pup. Guinea Pig has soft fur, Kitten a fluffy tail and Pony’s tongue is rough giving youngsters a variety of tactile experiences as they join in the game to find Puppy. 

With a repeat question on each spread this offers a joining in opportunity too.

Go Go Apple
Claire Philip and Steven Wood
Sunbird Books
I’ve never really considered what happens to apple cores collected in food waste as I always throw mine into a bin that’s emptied straight onto our own compost heap. So, it was interesting to see this title in the ‘My first recycling series’ and be able to follow the journey of one core from collection by a truck to the recycling plant and thence into a large machine where it’s mixed with leaves and other waste food and shredded. Some then goes off to become compost, the rest being liquified for farm manure or made into a gas that can be used for the heat and electricity of homes and cars.

With plenty of accompanying onomatopoeic sounds to join in with, a simple narrative description and fun illustrations, this is an interactive book to share with the very young be that at home or in an early years setting.

Peekaboo Sun
Camilla Reid and Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow
Babies and toddlers love to play peekaboo especially when there’s a mirror involved so they’ll thoroughly enjoy this addition to the sliders series with its fishes, sunshine, ice cream boat, crab and other things with a seaside theme. Rhyming couplets introduce the items in Ingela P Arrhenius’s jolly, patterned illustrations.

Great fun and an opportunity for little ones to develop their fine motor skills.

Dirty Bertie Tricks and Kicks / Mermaids Rock :The Emerald Maze

Here are two recent Little Tiger fiction titles for primary readers – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Dirty Bertie: Tricks and Kicks
Alan MacDonald illustrated by David Roberts

This bumper volume brings together three books Mascot!, Spider! and Ouch! in the Dirty Bertie series so you can expect a wealth of comic chaos for your money.

First comes Mascot! wherein there are actually three self-contained stories featuring the boy that trouble seems to seek out. For starters having entered a ‘be junior match day mascot ‘ competition, Bertie proves to be the very best mascot for Pudsley Rovers soccer club despite sporting a lion costume (against strict instructions) and scoring a goal (accidentally).
Next is Swot Camp – the Bright Sparks camp that Bertie is sent to – ‘school for swots’ he calls it, doing his upmost to be sent home in disgrace. The third tale sees Bertie manage to get himself in the team for the inter-schools Junior Science Challenge and with his incredible robot, the fierce Bootosaurus,

surprisingly wins the contest, only to shock and somewhat displease, she who was the inspiration for his design.
All of that only takes in the first book.

Next is Spider! where it’s a case of is it or is it not a tarantula – enough said! An oversized, very late Christmas present – a sweater knitted by Gran is the star of the show next, followed by Bertie getting involved in a spot of metal detecting.

In the third book Bertie’s over enthusiastic hammering lands a trip to A&E; then his swimming lesson is a hugely embarrassing experience thanks in no small part to some borrowed and very saggy Speedos and finally, there’s the Inter-Schools Quiz in which guess who participates, much against his will.

Illustrated with David Roberts’ distinctive, wonderfully quirky drawings, with his clear love of life in the mischievous lane, Bertie is the naughty boy everyone loves to be vicariously.

Mermaids Rock:The Emerald Maze
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega

This is the fifth story featuring Marina Silverfin and her fellow Save the Sea Creatures gang members.

Now mysteriously, the magic whirlpool is malfunctioning and there’s a ban on using it. Nevertheless, Marina can’t resist swimming very close to it, so close that her seahorse, Sami, ends up accidentally getting flipped straight in. Without stopping to think, Marina dives in after Sami but having found him, she discovers that she’s not the only one in the dark depths she doesn’t recognise. Her friend Naya suggests it might be one of the underground rivers she’s read about.

Deciding to continue exploring, the river, caves and pools they make some amazing discoveries but then suddenly the whirlpool disappears leaving them stuck, stranded in a cave with no way out. Is it to be a case of cat-astrophe or can the friends muster all their skills, save the day and get themselves safely back home?

With Michelle Ortega’s black and white illustrations, this is another exciting, engaging tale for young mermaid enthusiasts and lovers of the natural world. (The book concludes with some information about cenotes and the associated animals.)

44 Tiny Chefs

44 Tiny Chefs
Sylvia Bishop and Ashley King
Little Tiger

Nobody can be more surprised than Betsy Bow-Linnet when her Great-Aunt Agatha turns up announcing, “I’ve bought you a bakery,”. Well perhaps Bertram, but that’s because Betsy and Grandad have been selling her father’s delicious cakes to raise money to buy dad a special present for his birthday and as her aunt says, ‘selling cakes from a street-corner stall, like an uncouth ragamuffin.”

The woman can certainly get things done when she wants and now she has. With instructions to choose a name she departs and leaves the others to follow her instructions. The establishment becomes THE Half-Moon Bakery, Dad decides he wants the opening ceremony to be held on his birthday just three days away and Betsy realises it’s going to entail a great deal of work.

That’s just the start of things though for at the party, one Alexander Papparell, Royal Taster of Fine Foods for Her Majesty the Queen, mightily impressed by what he’s sampled, asks Bertram to provide the cakes for a Royal Gala that very Sunday – only two days notice. Also attending is Chief Health and Safety Inspector, Vernon Brick.

‘Not-a-panic’ sets in with the arrival of the requirements list. Is it time for Betsy to reveal something about mouse assistance to her dad, and then to press him to allow her to call upon the help of the little creatures? If he agrees, is it a risk worth taking? …

The Bow-Linnets are a delight and this is another super, action-packed story with some especially tasty ingredients, not least the chocolate cakes – well maybe not every single one of them; then there’s the fantastic support the rest of the family show to Bernard when it’s his big chance, and as always, Ashley King’s two-colour illustrations are terrific fun.

I Don’t Want to go to School / Big

I Don’t Want to go to School
Lula Bell and Brian Fitzgerald
Little Tiger

Both Mouse (teacher) and Dinosaur are suffering from first day nerves as they reluctantly get up, dress and are unable to face their respective breakfasts.

Concerns about being liked are voiced and both characters are feeling decidedly wibbly-wobbly.

School looks such a scary place full of seemingly intimidating children – until they encounter one another. Then it becomes a case of being brave together … and going on to have an absolutely terrific time. Yipee! school’s great

and tomorrow’s another day …

With a simple text that gets to the heart of those starting school wobbles and Brian Fitzgerald’s bright, humorous illustrations that capture so well the feelings of Mouse and Dinosaur, this is a definite winner and just right for youngsters starting school next term who will be amused to see that sometimes teachers have those apprehensive feelings too.

Big
Sav Akyüz
Oxford Children’s Books

Watching his big brother having the kind of fun that older brothers enjoy makes the small boy protagonist wish that he too could be big.

All of a sudden his wish is granted and off he goes on an awesome romp with the city as his adventure playground.

The trouble is he just keeps on increasing in size until he declares “Oh … no … I’m TOO big!’
Perhaps after all it’s better to be content with what you are and to use your imagination and say ‘what if …’.

With minimal words and arresting illustrations, debuting as author-illustrator Sav Akyüz has created a fun story that will resonate with lots of small brothers and sisters who watch their older siblings doing exciting things and think, ‘I wish … ‘

On a Building Site / How it Works: Rocket / Dinosaur Snap! The Spinosaurus

What Can You See? On a Building Site
Kate Ware and Maria Perera
Little Tiger

The building site herein is destined to become a brand new primary school. Youngsters (hard hats donned) can follow the action from the demolition of an old building to the school’s near completion. There are lots of vehicles visiting and working on site including lorries, a digger, a bulldozer, a crane and a cement mixer. It’s good to see both men and women hard at work carrying out their various roles, building, operating machinery (including a woman in a scissor lift, bricklaying, trench digging, tiling, fitting windows and solar panels and more.

In addition to the narrative describing the entire process there are questions to encourage little ones to hone their observation skills by searching for a little mouse, a white cat and other items. With die-cuts and lots of details in the illustrations this will keep your little one’s ears and eyes engaged as you share the book.

The same is true of

How It Works: Rocket
Amelia Hepworth and David Semple
Little Tiger

Get ready to zoom off into space as you read this with your toddler. It starts by explaining briefly what a rocket is and how astronauts use a service tower to get inside. David Semple’s spreads show the release of some of the rocket parts no longer required; an astronaut floating in space beside a command module; the same astronaut walking on the moon’s surface and another flying the rocket. Then come preparations for the return to earth including the ejection of everything no longer needed and finally, splashdown and the collection of the rocket and astronauts by a ship.

Simple language and illustrations to which a touch of playfulness courtesy of a tiny mouse passenger are added, provide a first introduction to the popular topic of space.

Dinosaur Snap! The Spinosaurus
Macmillan Children’s Books

A spinosaurus takes centres stage in this rhyming story inspired by the Strickland’s hugely popular Dinosaur Roar book. Said to be the scariest beast ever it lies in wait for other dinos. such as the young stegosaurus that accidentally gives it a whack with its tail. Its next encounter is with a wily oviraptor that induces an attack of dizziness in Snap before making a dash for it.
Now pretty peckish, Snap sets its sights on the compsognathus aka Dinosaur Squeak luring the little creature down to the water’s edge where a very big surprise awaits …

Created in association with the Natural History Museum this amusing sequence of events ends with a spread giving some basic information about Spinosaurus’s features and also sends young listeners back to the start of the book in a game of seek and find. Look out for further stories in the World of Dinosaur Roar.

Colours, Pretend Play, Nursery Fun and an Angry Bear

Colours
Tim Hopgood
Oxford Children’s Books

Here’s a lovely introduction to the wonderful world of colour for the very young. After presenting the primary colours with gorgeous images of the natural world, Tim Hopgood next shows the result of mixing first red and yellow, then yellow and blue, folllowed by blue and red. He then goes on to say that some things change colour during the year: a rose that’s pink in spring might fade to white in the summer, while summer’s green leaves often turn brown when autumn comes. Whereas ripening tomatoes change from green to red as the sun helps them ripen and yellow bananas, if left eventually blacken.
Best of all however is the final gatefold, opening to reveal a glorious … rainbow.

Let’s Pretend: Animal Hospital
Nicola Edwards and Thomas Elliott
Little Tiger

An animal hospital is the backdrop for young children’s role-play in this new title in the My World series. Thomas Elliott’s illustrations are a fusion of photograph and digital imagery showing the children giving a check-up to a dog, sharing the contents of a vet’s medical kit, showing the range of animals they treat and the variety of tasks they perform on pets large and small. Nicola’s narrative gives voice to the young children imagining what it might be like to be part of the team whose job is to care for the animals that visit their hospital.
This shaped-book would make a lovely addition to a role-play area in a nursery or other early years setting.

Bear & Mouse Go to Nursery
Nicola Edwards and Maria Neradova
Little Tiger

Best friends Mouse and Bear return and now they’ve started going to nursery. It’s there little humans can enjoy spending the day with them as they experiment with paint, have fun outside in the playground, share their snacks, take a nap and participate in a noisy music making session. With flaps to lift and sliders to move, this is another book of interactive fun delightfully illustrated by Maria Neradova who includes just the right amount of detail in each of her colourful spreads.

Angry Bear
Dr Naira Wilson and David Creighton-Pester
Little Tiger

Very young children, babies even, enjoy tactile books such as this one from the publisher’s Touch & Feelings series. Herein we’re introduced to Bear who on this particular morning is feeling grouchy, particularly round his middle.
perhaps keeping to his normal routine that includes some sweet tasting honey might help improve his mood unless … oops, you drop it. GRRRRR – that’s the best way to vent your anger; after which hopefully, you’ll be back to your normal calm, contented self: breathing deeply helps.
As though speaking directly to her protagonist, clinical psychologist specialising in childhood mental health, Dr Naira Wilson writes in a chatty style and the book is illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, whose pictures of the bear show the character’s range of feelings with gentle humour.

A Sliver of Moon and A Shard of Truth / Skeleton Keys: The Night of the Nobody

A Sliver of Moon and A Shard of Truth
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
Walker Books

Four linked short stories with an Indian setting feature Prince Veera and his best friend Suku. The two are invited by Raja Apoorva to spend the summer at Peetalpur where in addition to attending the festival they might have some challenges to meet and problems to solve, particularly as their uncle enjoys puzzles. Who pulled the king’s beard and moustache as he was taking his morning stroll, for instance.

There’s a trip to the seaside, a dispute over the ownership of a fig tree, a mystery of a blind sadhu – or is he? – to get to the bottom of, and finally, the strange case of the travelling astronomer and a gardener who needs some help. All that in just two weeks …

Just right for newly independent readers, these tales with themes of problem solving and fairness, combine Indian culture, folklore and storytelling, and are seasoned throughout with traditional style illustrations that break up the narrative.

Skeleton Keys: The Night of the Nobody
Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Little Tiger

The comic Skeleton Keys adventure series has reached its fourth tall telling and sees wildly imaginative young Flynn Twist and his baby sister Nellie living with Gran in the village of Matching Trousers. As the story opens Flynn is expressing concern about a little boy he’s just seen standing opposite, looking decidedly ’unwell’.

Over dinner Flynn admits to telling his sister a pre-bedtime tale called ‘Sir Flynnian versus the Horrible Darkness’, intending to send her off to sleep but instead she’s making a to-do upstairs. When he goes to investigate he’s faced with a shadowy shape that whispers “No-body”. But that is just the start of freakish happenings.

Soon there’s a knock at the door and who should it be but Skeleton Keys. Flynn is surprised to find that he and Gran have met before. Suddenly a strange girl appears, whom Skeleton Keys introduces as Daisy, his ‘partner-in-problem solving’. When Flynn tells them of his terrifying encounter with ‘The Nobody’, Skeleton Keys thinks it could well be a shapeless Unimaginary searching for physical form, but Gran quickly sends him packing.

Next morning Gran sends Flynn to deliver a letter to Old Mr Nash at The Windmill and as he sets out Flynn notices the boy over the road entering Gran’s house. Why would that be? And what has happened to Mr Nash?
Could there be a connection between the Horrible Darkness in the story Flynn told Nellie and the Nobody? Can Flynn possibly become that brave hero of his imagination, save Skeleton Keys and free the village from the dire danger of the Nobody? Maybe, with the help of Fur …

Crumcrinkles! The whole thing just goes to show the power of a wild imagination, no matter if it belongs to a tiny infant.

Oh my goodness – what a fun mix of terrific characters, wit and frissons of fear, as well as a large number of farts – freakish and otherwise – indeed there’s a throng of flatulent figures – an entire village population of 343 zombie-like nobodies, to be more precise, not forgetting Pete Williamson’s atmospheric black and white illustrations.

The Boys

The Boys
Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie
Little Tiger

From the same team as The Girls, is this, a companion book that presents the story of an enduring friendship between Tam, Rey, Nattie and Bobby who we first meet as toddlers playing together and alongside one another on the beach. Their interests differ: Tam expresses himself through art, Rey makes music, Nattie is bookish and a storyteller while Bobby likes to find out how things work and share his discoveries with the other three. In short they make a great team.

Inevitably though things change as the boys grow and develop: their interests take them in different directions and there’s even an element of competitiveness between two of them. Now it’s individuality that matters most;

but as adults having gone through successes and some of life’s milestones, that need for one another reemerges: those early bonds have been stretched but have always remained strong and become even stronger than ever.

In her narrative Lauren presents friendship from infancy to adulthood as dynamic and respective of individuality while Jenny Lovlie’s illustrations are absolutely splendid – inclusive and full of warmth.
I’d strongly recommend sharing and discussing this in primary and early years classes as well as among family members and between friends.

Thunder Down Under

Thunder Down Under
Timothy Knapman and Steve James
Little Tiger

This is a terrific laugh-out-loud story about a rear end explosion that will be a sure fire winner with youngsters. It had my partner in fits of giggles too; and neither of us were certain whether the diminutive numbat, star of the show, is actually a real animal or not until we looked it up.

The sweet smell of the air heralding the arrival of summer brings the animals outdoors for some boisterous play. So intent on their games are they that they fail to notice one small Numbat looking for food. Then, quite suddenly into that sweet scented atmosphere there erupts an exceedingly obnoxious fart that turns the air green and causes consternation among the animals as to who is responsible.

Eager to make his presence felt, the numbat says, “Ask me!” but nobody listens and the discussions continue with various suggestions being put forward as to the culprit each of which is immediately denied by the accused.

And every so often comes that “Ask me,!” from a certain tiny creature, which of course goes unheeded: only an important, large animal could have created such a stink.

All of a sudden there comes a second ear-shattering flatulus

followed by the moment of revelation … The message is clear, so too is the moral …

Steve James’ wonderfully wacky, expressive scenes of creature consternation combined with Timothy Knapman’s hilarious rhyming text result in a picture book that can’t fail to delight. I suspect an initial read will lead to cries of “again” whether you share it with an individual, group or class. It’s certainly been my experience.

The Crocodile Who Came For Dinner

The Crocodile Who Came For Dinner
Steve Smallman and Joëlle Dreidemy
Little Tiger

Best friends, Hotpot (lamb) and Wolf are out doing a stint of ‘wolfy things’ one night when they come upon a huge egg. Wolf’s first thought is making an omelette, quickly countered by Hotpot’s “No … baby bird.”
Having ascertained from the nest dwellers close by that the egg doesn’t belong to any of them, the friends decide to take it home.
Before you can say, ‘yummy omelette’ the egg cracks and what should pop out but a baby crocodile. There’s only one thing the friends can call it and after discovering that the little creature is omnivorous,

they head off for some shut eye. Guess who makes a bid for Wolf’s bed. Eventually both Wolf and Omelette spend the night snuggled up together on a chair but somehow Omelette makes it to the kitchen first next morning – with chaotic results.

Just as Hotpot and Wolf are preparing to take the newcomer out for a walk, some wolf friends arrive at the door and receive some unexpected affection of the crocish kind. Their game of chase through the woods leads them down the river where Omelette alarms the boating bunnies by diving in for a swim.

Curmudgeonly Badger takes delight in pointing out that while Omelette might be harmless right now, he will grow and grow. Sure enough he does but remains totally lovable to all but Badger.

One night a terrible storm blows up and the forest is flooded. Worse though, Omelette has gone missing but he’s left a trail of footprints that lead to where we see, some baby ducklings are in great danger.
Can they be saved? And if so, by whom? …

Steve’s text is a superb read aloud: I’m sure both listeners and adult readers aloud will find it hilarious. Equally droll are Joelle Dreidemy’s illustrations which contain a wealth of detail and a liberal scattering of speech bubbles in this tale where appearances can be deceptive .

Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom / Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House

These are new additions to popular series both with strong, determined female protagonists

Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom
Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is the third instalment in the Starfell series, starring young witch Willow Moss and her kobold best friend, ‘not cat’ Oswin.

Now Willow has been enrolled in school – a normal school – and it’s the very first time the Brothers of Wol, the order newly headed by none other than Silas, have allowed Starfell’s magical children to be educated alongside their non-magical peers, and her parents think it’s now the right thing. Surely there’s an ulterior motive? Willow has her suspicions from the outset.

On the very first day of term Willow meets Twist, a forthright elf girl and they soon become firm friends. Also willing to accept Willow for who she is, there’s Peg, a human boy. When she learns of the new curriculum that students will study Willow finds it pretty alarming, but Peg speaks out firmly in support of ‘magic people’ and of diversity.

Before you can say ’broomstick’; though, the three of them have escaped the confines of the classroom and are heading to Lael, the elf city made entirely of marble wherein Twist’s aunts Tuppence, Griselda and Dot reside.

All they have to do thereafter is to find the vanished elvish kingdom of Llandunia and get hold of the elf staff before it gets into the wrong hands. Not much to ask then.

Dragons, trolls (including an old friend of Willow’s) and more – even Oswin’s cousin – appear in this terrific fantasy tale, but be warned: it ends on a cliff-hanger.

Somehow, despite Sarah Warburton’s illustrations, the cover apart, being in black and white, many readers will I suspect experience parts of this enormously engaging story in colour, such is the power of Dominique Valente’s writing. Bring on the next book.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Daniela Sosa
Little Tiger

Zaiba has a third case to solve and it’s set in the home of her new friend Olivia. Olivia’s parents have recently bought the run-down Oakwood Manor and Olivia tells Zaiba that her mum thinks the house is haunted. With its plethora of secret passages and hidden rooms it is certainly steeped in history and some strange things have happened but ghosts? Surely not.

Olivia invites Zaiba and Poppy her pal, to come to the house-warming party the following day and then sleepover, as that offers the ideal opportunity to begin their ‘ghost’ investigation. Zaiba has an unexpected offer of assistance from her brother Ali and with her backpack of detective paraphernalia, and fellow Snow Leopard Detective Agency UK members they’re ready to investigate.

Once the party is underway, things get increasingly weird

and sometimes, a tad dangerous. There are plenty of suspects, and in true detective story style, some red-herrings; but this isn’t merely a junior who-dunnit with all suspects present at the final reveal. Zaiba’s family dynamics and the diverse cast of characters add to the reader’s enjoyment of this fast-paced mystery. So too do Daniela Sosa’s black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout and it was good to see the police treating the crime-solving children with respect rather than dismissing them as interfering.

Young would-be sleuths can also enjoy the additional content after the story.

Turtle Rescue

Turtle Rescue
Jonny Marx and Xuan Le
Little Tiger

I suspect the burgeoning of picture books telling of the plastic pollution of the oceans is indicative that the problem is on many people’s minds. Sadly though, not those who continue to throw rubbish onto the beaches or in the sea. One can but hope that Jonny Marx and Xuan Le’s Turtle Rescue will help in this hugely important environmental cause.

Flora, marine biologist and ace underwater swimmer, Fauna, inventor and turtle lover, and their child, Baby Bud, are holidaying at the seaside intending to take it easy for a while. That isn’t what happens however.

Soon they find themselves helping with a rubbish collection during which they’re told it’s hoped it will help bring back the turtles to lay their eggs on the sandy beach once more. Before long the three of them have packed supplies, chartered a boat and are sailing off to investigate the lack of turtles.

As they sail towards the reef, Bud is excited to see all the different sea animals and plants and keeps pointing out what he calls ‘jellyfish’ – the floating plastic bags he insists on counting. Eventually Flora sights a turtle

and carefully follows it until she runs out of air. Back on board the boat again, it’s obvious a storm is looming but eventually it blows itself out and there ahead is an island. Just the place to stop and let Fauna’s queasiness subside. Imagine their delight when Bud notices tracks in the sand leading right across the dunes at the end of which are …

After an eventful and hugely exciting trip, with sail duly repaired, it’s time to head home.

There’s an amazing amount of information about turtles and other marine wildlife packed between the pages of this fascinating part fact, part fiction book.

Never Mess with a Pirate Princess

Never Mess with a Pirate Princess
Holly Ryan and Siân Roberts
Little Tiger

Princess Prudence is a loving little miss who dotes on her royal bear, Little Ted, taking him absolutely everywhere with her – even the loo. Then comes the terrible day when, as she naps ‘neath a shady tree, up creeps a pirate and boldly steals her beloved Teddy right off her lap.

Distraught, Princess Prue hollers so loud that up charges a gallant knight offering to come to her aid. 

Eager to be part of the rescue effort, she pleads with Sir Frank to take her along but meets merely with scorn.

Undaunted plucky Princess Prudence decides to do things her way and off she goes upon a trusty, wait for it … goat! Having searched for most of the day to no avail, she reaches the seashore and what does she spy: somebody being forced to walk along the plank – somebody she recognises – a knight in shining armour no longer.

But our Prue isn’t one to let a gang of teddy robbing pirates get the better of her, or even Frank …

Debut picture book writer Holly Ryan’s rhyming text is a rollicking read aloud and in Princess Prudence she has created a gutsy gal to delight adventure-loving, teddy-hugging little ones. Siân Roberts’ portrayal of the princess and her adventure is terrific fun with every spread providing giggle-worthy incidents from this stirring romp.

All Manner of Board Books

Hello You!
illustrated by Stephen Barker
Campbell Books
With its die-cut cover, this is a smashing book for adults to share with their babies. Herein they can meet familiar family faces : mummy (being funny), daddy doing a wiggly dance, a snoozing grandad and a snuggly grandma.
The final spread is a gatefold guessing game that’s just right for developing early language and there is also an additional peep hole to play peek-a-boo.
Stephen Barker’s alluring captioned images stand out from the brightly coloured backgrounds.

Lizzy the Lamb
Axel Scheffler
Campbell Books
Lizzy the lamb is a lively creature. As she frolics and cavorts in the fields, she sometimes gets splashed by the geese so she shakes her fleece dry before moving on to chase the bunnies, but they’re too quick for her. It’s a tired but happy Lizzy that ends the day bleating her satisfaction, with a “Baa, baa!” to her farmyard pals.
Accompanying the rhyming narrative are Alex Scheffler’s droll illustrations – the full page ones capturing Lizzy’s joie de vivre perfectly and the vignettes that focus on some of the other animal characters. Little ones will enjoy working the sliders and wheel, joining in with the relevant animal sounds and perhaps, adding some leaping, shaking and hopping actions. In so doing they’ll be developing their fine and gross motor skills, and sound/symbol awareness.

Honeybee
illustrated by Teresa Bellon
Campbell Books
A honeybee acts as the narrator of this ‘eco-friendly’ natural history book, introducing little ones to her world through a rhyming text and labelled scenes.
The latter offer a look inside a beehive and a close up of a honeycomb while the bee describes simply, the processes of pollination, the collection and use of nectar in the making of honey, as well as how little humans can help the honeybees that live close to their homes.
Teresa Bellon’s illustrations of bees at work are engaging and playful; most have moving parts to add to the fun. Aimed at encouraging preschoolers to become nature lovers, this is one of a new “My Little Green World’ series that are sustainably made with FSC paper and printed with vegetable inks.

Goodnight Farm
Carmen Saldaña
Little Tiger
Peep-through pages enable little ones to discover a wealth of farm animals and bid them a “goodnight” as, accompanied by a collie dog, and guided by Becky Davies’ brief rhyming narrative, they visit a hillside, a grassy pasture, hen house, a pond, the stable, a flock of sheep in the field as the moon shines bright above.
In addition to the main rhyme, simple farm related facts are scattered throughout Carmen Saldaña’s starlight scenes offering simple snippets of information such as ‘Ducks can sleep right on the water.’ or ‘Pigs sleep a lot – up to 11 hours a day!’ (something even this adult reviewer didn’t know.)
Just right for sharing with sleepy humans just before bed.

Let’s Go! On a Plane
Let’s Go! On a Digger

Rosalyn Albert and Natalia Moore
Catch a Star
Whether they prefer the excitement of boarding an aeroplane and jetting off to a holiday destination in the tropics or keeping their feet firmly on the ground and watching the digger driver hard at work on a construction site, the very youngest children will find plenty to interest them in these new additions to the popular Let’s Go series.
In both books children act as narrators of Rosalyn Albert’s simple text which takes the form of rhyming couplets, while Natalia Moore’s strikingly coloured spreads fill in the detail.

The Long Way Home / Dirty Bertie: Bees!

These are 2 new Stripes Publishing books that are just right for newly independent readers: thanks to Little Tiger for sending them:

The Long Way Home
Corrinne Averiss and Kristyna Little

Baby elephant Otto likes nothing more than adventuring with Nanu and he’s thrilled when Nanu announces they are to spend a day climbing right to the top of Lion Mountain. Old she might be, but Nanu is extremely wise; she’s also brave and bold and shares Otto’s enthusiasm for exploration.

As they prepare to set out Nanu reminds the little elephant what an explorer needs to remember at all times but from the outset, Nanu seems to be having a forgetting kind of day. First she leaves the fruit out of the backpack and then she forgets the name of their destination and once they reach the top of the mountain it transpires that she’s actually left the backpack behind.

All those things are relatively easy to remedy but then as they start back down, it’s evident that Nanu has forgotten the way home and instead has been taking them into the depths of the forest.
Now it’s up to young Otto to remember everything his Nanu has taught him about being ‘a great elephant explorer’ and endeavour to get them safely back home.

Corrinne’s story is a wonderfully warm one that demonstrates pachyderm style, the importance of both family relationships and memories. A warmth that is brought out beautifully in Kristina Little’s gorgeous illustrations: who could resist falling for Otto and Nanu?

Dirty Bertie: Bees!
Alan MacDonald, illustrated by David Roberts

There’s never a dull moment when young Bertie is around and if you were to collect every one of the books regaling all his misdemeanours, they would fill an entire shelf.

This one presents three more. The first relates what happens when Bertie’s taste for the delicious honey he splurges onto his breakfast toast leads him to entertain ideas about becoming a bee keeper like his neighbour, Mr Monk with whom Bertie has previously had the odd run in. That sounds like trouble to me … and sure enough it is.

Story two sees Bertie and his Gran doing a spot of Great Aunt Morag sitting while his parents are otherwise engaged.

Surprises come thick and fast when the three of them head for the park where a nerve-wracking day unfolds.

In the third episode Bertie’s mum wins a journalism award with dinner and an overnight stay for two at a four-star hotel hotel as part of the prize. Just imagine the potential for trouble when Mum manages to bag another couple of tickets for Bertie and his sister Suzy to accompany them. But why does Bertie insist on taking his own duvet? A lively occasion really doesn’t describe it …

With its hilarious illustrations liberally scattered, new solo readers will devour this in a sitting; the episodes make fun short reads aloud too.

Doctorsaurus / It’s So Quiet (A Not-Quite-Going-To-Bed Book)

Doctorsaurus
Emi-Lou May and Leire Martín
Little Tiger

When Doctorsaurus is summoned to the aid of young Triceratops after a chasing accident, little does the Doc. know that it’s not just a broken horn she’ll need to treat when she arrives at the their picnic spot. Stegosaurus has a septic toe;

T-Rex is suffering from an allergic attack and is all stuffed up and as for Brontosaurus, a blocked belly is the problem there and Doctorsaurus has just the thing – a dose of prunes.

Having done the needful, Doctorsaurus receives an invitation to stay and partake of the picnic and while they’re all tucking in there comes an earth moving rumble from a certain direction. Those prunes have worked rather more effectively than anticipated.
Oh the relief!

Time for a boogie, with some special guests to join the party …

Dinosaurs never fail to amuse little ones and I have no doubt Emi-Lou May’s rollicking, prehistoric picnic flavoured with poo – another of youngsters’ favourite topics – will hit the mark in story time sessions.

Leire Martín’s dinosaur depictions are a comedic delight – suitably silly and hugely expressive.

It’s So Quiet (A Not-Quite-Going-To-Bed Book)
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tony Fucile
Chronicle Books

Subtitled A Not-Quite-Going-To-Bed Book, this could equally be dubbed ‘A Not-Quiet-Going-To-Bed Book for as soon as sleepy mama mouse has turned off the light and instructed her little (very sleepless) one to settle down, listen and allow the ‘small sweet sound of nighttime’ to whisper her offspring to slumberland, than a veritable outdoor symphony ensues. It begins relatively softly with the ‘crrr-oak’ of the bullfrog singing, the crickets chirp chirping and the dog’s tail tip-tapping. But this is soon joined by a veritable gamut of increasingly loud sounds both natural and otherwise causing the little mouse to get up, open the window and investigate.

As it reaches its crescendo, the, by this time sleep-deprived little mouse, gets out of bed again, re-opens the window and yells.

Peace is finally restored or … is it?

Guided by the increasing size of the print, little humans will relish joining in enthusiastically with all the onomatopoeic sound effects, as an equally enthusiastic adult sharer reads the rhyming narrative and shows the energetic nocturnal scenes.

I am a Fish / Birch Trees, Bluebells and other British Plants

I am a Fish
Isabel Otter and Fernando Martin
Little Tiger

This is a companion volume to I am a Bird from the same team. Using an un-named fish, youngsters are introduced to the general characteristics of a fish and then dive underwater to discover a variety of aquatic habitats and learn something of fishes’ habits (we meet both herbivores and carnivores),

shapes, size and distinguishing features. Mention is made that ‘rays don’t have bones’ but that they and the sharks illustrated alongside, are cartilaginous fish is not stated.
If you’ve ever wondered whether or not fish sleep, this subject is discussed on another of the vibrant spreads while another spread introduces seahorses, which some little ones might be surprised to discover are actually classed as fish.
The chatty narrative and arresting subaquatic scenes make this a book for early years audiences and foundation stage topic boxes.

Birch Trees, Bluebells and other British Plants
Nikki Dyson
Nosy Crow

Here’s a gorgeous ‘Nature Sticker Books’ to lift the spirits. Published in collaboration with the National Trust, it contains eleven beautiful scenes by Nikki Dyson that are brimming over with the bounties of nature whatever the season.

It starts with spring and its gorgeous insect-attracting blossom and wild flowers aplenty. Summer scenes show gardens are full of bright flowers and butterflies, as well as meadows of poppies, daisies and other composites. Summer’s a good time to visit a pond or perhaps the coast: those locations too, have a wealth of beautiful wild plants and birds. Come autumn ripening berries are waiting to be gathered and the deciduous trees take on their yellow, orange and red hues while in gardens and allotments there are vegetables aplenty as well as herbs to pick and you’re likely to come across lots of minibeasts that also like to have a nibble.
Finally winter comes around when there is much less colour but there are still wonderful flora and fauna to discover when you brave those chills.

Each spread has a couple of introductory factual paragraphs as well as suggestions for adding some of the relevant stickers provided in the centre of the book. There’s also a checklist of the plants in the book so young naturalists can enjoy an additional I-spy element.

Little Tiger Board Books for Little Humans

Day and Night
Harriet Evans and Lirios Bou

There are five different locations – a temperate forest, a desert (wherein I encountered a hyrax for the first time), marshes, a savannah and a steamy tropical jungle – to visit in this ’switch-a-picture’ book, both during the daytime and then, by means of a series of tabs on each recto, at night. Thus for example in the marshes rather than the seeing “Bright dragonflies swarm through blue sunny skies,’ if the tab is pulled, these disappear from the window and are replaced by a much darker sky wherein fireflies make looping patterns. While in the jungle instead of the monkeys climbing trees that are visible in daytime, a pull of the tab reveals bats.
Innovative, and engaging, with attractive illustrations by Lirios Bou and Harriet Evans’ brief rhyming text and additional facts hidden until the tabs are tugged, this is a fun book for day or evening sharing with the very young.

I Can Learn: Dinosaurs
Lauren Crisp and Thomas Elliott

New in the publisher’s I Can Learn series, Dinosaurs has both cutaway pages and flaps. Starting at the Triassic period, then moving to the Jurassic and finally the Cretaceous period, little ones can meet a host of dinosaurs both large and small. Lauren Crisp provides the brief rhyming text and questions that accompany Elliott’s enticing illustrations of the prehistoric animals set against different colour backgrounds.
There are lots of new names to learn (pronunciation provided) and the occasional surprise such as the erupting volcano, the lava of which is only revealed when you lift the flap.

Also illustrated by Thomas Elliott is

How Many Beads?
written by Nicola Edwards

Here’s a book that offers both measuring and counting fun with the aid of the string of ten beads inserted in the back cover.
Collections of items at home, in the sea, in a garden, around town,

‘my things’ and ‘at night’ are each allocated a double spread that contains guiding questions and a wealth of labelled objects. So, little ones can try counting oysters, clownfish, rocks and starfish beneath the sea as well as finding out which of the underwater creatures is the longest. (Once they get used to using the beads for measuring, an adult might introduce the idea of estimating first.)

Plenty to engage little hands, eyes and minds here.

44 Tiny Acrobats

44 Tiny Acrobats
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King
Stripes Publishing (Little Tiger)

When Fry and Sons Circus of Wonder arrives on the common right by Betsy Bow-Linnet’s house just before Christmas, it’s a huge shock for Betsy’s Grandad. More than a shock in fact, it stirs up painful memories of Grandma who used to be one of its performers.

Despite her initial reluctance, Betsy just cannot resist the lure of the big top. So, with her parents otherwise engaged, en route home from the vet’s she buys herself a ticket and in she goes to see the show (accompanied by her mice.)

Betsy is quickly spellbound by the amazing acts and atmosphere of the show and so fails to notice that the latch on the mouse case has been nosed ajar allowing forty three mice to escape … with disastrous results.
Before you can say ‘confession’ Betsy finds herself having to face the loathsome ringmaster, Mr Fry and the next thing she knows, she’s offered herself and her mice as an act for the following day’s show in front of some all-important potential investors in the circus.

How much worse can things get? …

With its focus on Betsy’s problem-solving skills, and also her determination not to upset her Grandad, this second adventure is as delightful and involving for youngsters as 44 Tiny Secrets (although this book’s not without its own secrets). To reflect the razzmatazz of the circus, Ashley King has used a red theme for her wonderfully quirky, spirited illustrations.

Jasper & Scruff Take a Bow / My Robot’s Gone Wild

These are two new titles from Little Tiger’s Stripes imprint both featuring already popular characters. Thanks to the publishers for sending them for review.

Jasper & Scruff Take a Bow
Nicola Colton

The unlikely best friends Jasper, a dapper feline and mud loving Scruff the pup return for a third adventure.
When Jasper hears of the Reach For the Stars talent show to be held at the town hall the following afternoon the two can’t wait to take part. There’s a snag though: Scruff wants them to enter as a dazzling magic making twosome; Jasper wants to do a solo act, one he’s polished up from a previous occasion.

During the heats Jasper’s act fails to impress the judges and he’s eliminated whereas Scruff manages to get through to the finals. Finals for which the winner will receive a Grand Prize – a week on stage performing alongside Marvello the Magnificent. 

It’s a prize that Sophisticat Lady Catterly has set her sights on.
Perhaps now Scruff and Jasper should join forces to try and wow the judges.

Come the finals however, there appears to be some chicanery at work where Lady C and the Sophisticats are concerned. Time for Jasper and Scruff to do a spot of detective work of the underground variety to discover exactly what is going on.

With detailed illustrations that fizz with energy and gentle humour on every spread, this entertaining drama is perfect for young solo readers at that crucial in-between stage. Scruff and Jasper are a hugely endearing pair and there are some interesting bit part players in the cast of characters too.

Equally, Nicola’s lively narrative style with its occasional puns and plenty of snappy dialogue makes the book work well as a read aloud.

My Robot’s Gone Wild
Dave Cousins, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri

Changes are afoot in the fourth of Dave Cousins’ Robot adventures featuring the robot babysitter Robin created by twins Jess and Jake’s inventor Grandma.

As the story opens year six has just ended and the twins, accompanied by a robot (not Robin) dressed to look like Grandma, Ivana and Ali, and Digby dog, are on a train en route to the Scottish countryside. The purpose is a holiday visit to Robin currently in hiding with Grandma at Granny Anderson’s who lives in a remote spot near Loch Wilder. Said Granny (the twins motorbike riding great grandmother) has organised some ‘wild camping’ for the visitors.

The first shock is the nature of the location, the second is the change in Robin. The robot now bears some resemblance to a tree and thanks to upgrades by Grandma, has new feet and hands and sports army-style shorts and shirt. Grandma certainly hasn’t been idle while in Scotland: she’s also created pop-up tents as well as a ‘water-dragon-submarine’ supposedly to help with catching cattle rustlers.

Then a spot of fishing lands Jake (narrator) in icy cold water: this holiday certainly doesn’t look too promising especially when hedgerow stew is served up for supper. 

Surely day two must be better but …

So much happens during the rest of the holiday and by the time they leave, the children have accepted among other things, that it will be without the physical Robin although they take something with them that will make it feel as though he’s still with them.

It seems as though this is the final story in Dave Cousins’ madcap robot series, so amusingly illustrated by Catalina Echeverri. I know a fair few readers who, like Jess and Jake, will be sorry to say farewell.

Rolo’s Story

Rolo’s Story
Blake Morgan
Little Tiger

This book starts with a bad dream, the dreamer being the puppy that acts as the story’s narrator. For the past week he’s been on the run from his cruel ‘Two Leg’ he calls humans and is having a hard time due both to the cold and the lack of sustenance. But then he meets Scrap, another stray; Scrap offers to act as his guide to ‘life on the wild side’ and there’s certainly a lot to learn.

She remains a loyal guide and playmate until one day something terrible happens: Scrap is out foraging for food to share one night but she doesn’t return. Next morning Mutt as Scrap calls the narrator, discovers his friend in a van about to be driven to the dog pound. Scrap persuades her friend not to attempt a rescue and so it’s back to the lonely life for the pup. Time to move on, but not entirely alone for the narrator discovers a scruffy stuffed duck that he takes along as company, calling it Beak Face.

After a day’s journey in the chilly weather, he seeks food and shelter in a village and the pup and Beak Face curl up together in a garden shed for the night.

Next morning a little girl, Freya is surprised to find visitors when she opens the shed door. Strangely this Two Leg seems friendly and thus begins another chapter in the pup’s life. Little by little he comes to trust the kindly disposed girl who, naming him Rolo, keeps him fed and warm; but her mother is another matter.

Can Rolo with the help of Freya, persuade a reluctant workaholic mum to find it in her heart to allow a scruffy, creature that wees all over the floor to stay and become part of the family?

Eventually yes, and there are some even bigger surprises in store before this wonderfully warm, gently humorous story concludes. Or perhaps it doesn’t, for there’s a slight hint that we might be hearing more from Rolo. I’m sure that a good many readers would be pleased should that be so.

Dragon Detective: That a Wrap! / Vega Jane and the Secrets of Sorcery

Dragon Detective: That’s a Wrap!
Gareth P. Jones
Little Tiger

In case you’re not familiar with the titular detective, he’s Dirk Dilly, a mountain dragon who doubles as a crime-buster, all the while endeavouring to keep the existence of dragons secret from humans – not an easy task.

This story set mainly in the USA is the 4th and final adventure in the Dragon Detective series.
Holly Bigsby, her stepmum, her dad, and Holly’s close friend Archie are unexpectedly flown out to LA in a private luxury jet at the behest of billionaire Brant Buchanan for whom Mrs Bigsby works.
Also in LA, making an autobiographical film is Petal Moses (Holly’s ex-room-mate from her boarding school days.)

On her very first day in the city, Holly meets the movie director, who while filming in the desert has captured something on camera that looks suspiciously like dragons. But before anyone has a chance to look closely at the film, it disappears. Holly is convinced it’s a case for Dirk. She rings him urging him come to LA and participate in an investigation – an investigation that involves Californian Desert Dragons. But can they solve the case and find the film before dragonkind’s reality is revealed to the world at large?

An enjoyable romp of a crime-solver, especially for those primary school readers who like fast moving stories that involve the interface of humans and dragons.

Vega Jane and the Secrets of Sorcery
David Baldacci
Macmillan Children’s Books

This was David Baldacci’s first foray into young adult fiction previously published as The Finisher, now re-edited and reissued.

It follows the quest of fourteen-year-old Vega Jane, who when the story starts works as a Finisher at Stacks, creating goods she knows she’ll never afford while living a life of hardship with her younger brother in Wormwood city. The place is surrounded by the Quag wherein lurk dangerous beasties and beyond which, it’s said, nothing exists, consequently nobody ever leaves.

Vega though is different from other Wugs; she’s curious, something that’s strongly discouraged. Then, having witnessed her mentor escaping into the unknown, she discovers a map that seems to suggest a strange world lies beyond the walls of Wormwood.

Thus begins an exciting adventure that follows Vega’s quest for freedom as she moves through time confronting not just all she’d believed was true and those intent on hiding the truth, but also, her own limitations.

Magical artefacts, mysteries, bizarre creatures, thrills aplenty, and Vega’s somewhat unusual manner of narration that blends her thoughts, Wugmort vocabulary (a translation is given at the outset) and formal speech, as well as memorable characters, are all part of Baldacci’s mix in his blend of sci-fi, myth and fantasy elements. Moreover, there’s a cliff-hanger finale that opens the way for further adventures of this strong female hero.

Play and Learn with Board Books

The Touch Book
written by Nicola Edwards
Little Tiger

Here’s a book that invites young children to “Get Hands-on! and explore texture and who could resist those paint-covered fingers of the little girl on the opening page?

In all, ten different textures are presented: fluffy, crinkly, smooth, bumpy, sticky, spongy, furry, rough, scratchy and soft, and each double spread offers three possible synonyms for the one presented. For instance, crinkly alternatives are wrinkly, ridged and ragged.

However it’s not only the sense of touch that’s being developed: ‘run your finger along something crinkly, what kind of noise does it make?’ asks the narrator; while the ‘sticky’ spread talks of sticky things being either tasty or ‘icky’ which might lead into a tasting session. Your fingertips really do stick to the tiny hexagons beneath the dripping honey so ‘tacky’ might be a good alternative though you’d definitely need to taste some honey to decide if syrupy is appropriate.

I like that little ones are invited to describe the textured patch beneath the digger – would they use ‘scratchy’ or perhaps gritty, grainy or raspy?

Full of potential learning opportunities, this sturdy book can be used either in a family or in an early years setting, perhaps as part of a larger sensory theme.

Although not sensory, to add to the overall fun, I’d suggest following up a sharing of the next book with some hands-on experiences

What Are Unicorns Made Of?
illustrated by Louise Anglicas
Little Tiger

A rhyming text guides the adult reader aloud, presenting possible answers to the titular question while Louise Anglicas’s candy-coloured illustrations showing unicorns cavorting across the countryside, through Sweetville, over the rainbow, among the trees and dancing to music offer plenty to explore.

The first consideration of unicorn-ness concerns what’s within: could they be filled with jellybeans, or perhaps ‘yummy pink popcorn?
What about their manes: marshmallow or possibly strawberry ice-cream – maybe but then neither would last long with hungry toddlers in the vicinity! Imagine unicorn rainbow tails all a-sparkle in the sun or horns alive with beautifully patterned butterflies, glittery musical hooves: the only way to discover if any of these might be part and parcel of a unicorn is to close your eyes and wish to see one – ta-da …

Animal World: I Can learn My First Colours
Lauren Crisp, illustrated by Thomas Elliott
Caterpillar Books (Little Tiger)

Four-line verses and images of beady-eyed animals are used to help reinforce, or perhaps introduce, the basic colours to toddlers: thus ‘Crocodile is green / with his teeth sharp and bright. / Whenever he snaps, / he will give you a fright!’ whereas ‘Giraffe is yellow / as tall as can be. / She nibbles on leaves / from high in the tree!’ In addition to the main text, along the edge of each verso asks for instance, “Who else is GREEN?’ Who else is PINK?’

The vertical rod inserted into the cover has 5 flattish cylinders, on each side of which is a small picture of an animal, so that little fingers can spin them around to discover another creature with a colour that matches the one in the main illustration.

The final spread shows a dozen butterflies each corresponding to one of the colours already featured and invites little ones to respond to two questions: “What is your favourite colour? And “What colours can you see high up in the sky?’

There’s a wealth of potential fun learning between the covers of this one.

Love Makes a Family / I Want to Be … a Doctor

Little Tiger have published several board books to start the year: here are two examples:

Love Makes a Family
Sophie Beer

Diverse families demonstrate the meaning of love – family love – through a variety of day-to-day interactions. Starting with an early awakening by two exuberant little ones of their still rather sleepy parents, or it might be baking and sharing a very special birthday celebration cake. Sometimes, something as simple as knowing where that lost toy might be found is an act of love;

but it’s also enjoying playing in the rain, helping a toddler; showing your appreciation of your children’s performance put on specially for you; comforting, bath time fun;

sharing just one more book or that bedtime kiss.
All these things constitute part of something we all need – especially after the past year – and that is LOVE. Joyfully illustrated in bold bright scenes rich in pattern, Sophie Beer’s celebration of simple loving acts shows the very youngest children, what makes a family a family.

I Want to Be … a Doctor
illustrated by Richard Merritt

The small girl narrator peeping through the die hole in the cover explains why her ambition is to become a doctor. Most importantly she wants to help ‘poorly people get better’, but she’s also excited (as we’re shown in Richard Merritt’s illustrations that show our narrator playing with her teddy), about the prospect of wearing a white lab coat and having lots of doctorly accoutrements.

Then there’s the possibility of an ambulance ride, siren blaring and lights flashing while at other times there’ll be patients visiting her surgery (‘office’) when she might need to use some of the instruments from her doctor’s bag.

She shows readers both the stethoscope and an x-ray machine at work, as well as issuing a prescription based on her observations: all in all, lots of reasons that inspire a young child to aspire to become a member of the medical profession but it’s not everybody’s ambition of course, and the final page with its mirror asks about that very thing.

Stick Boy

Stick Boy
Paul Coomey
Little Tiger

Being different is never easy, ditto starting at a new school; but when Stick Boy moved to a new town, he’d hoped that with yet another fresh start, he’d left old problems behind. Seemingly not, for on the opening pages of Paul Coomey’s story we discover the titular character being pursued on only his second day, by the second biggest bully in the entire school, Sam Devine.

Things are not looking good especially when he then meets Gretchen, another bully. The two of them taunt Stick Boy, get hold of the contents of his pockets and proceed to hurl them over a high wall, recording their nastiness to upload onto ‘Vidwire’.

Along comes Ekam and the two boys introduce themselves to one another. and Stick then demonstrates his locker-opening skill before the bell rings summoning everyone to assembly. There the headteacher announces that the opening of the new Baron Ben’s Bargain Bins Magnificent Mega Mall on Saturday will be celebrated with a concert.

Stick’s first lesson is science with Mr Jansari

where Stick meets another friendly face, Milo and discovers that everyone is excited about the prospect of a pupil from the school being chosen to sing at the Friday Factor. Things are looking up for Stick, but not for long as in double ICT, Miss Bird has it in for the newcomer from the outset.
Stick survives the day and then back home learns that his dad has bought a brand new TV from Baron Ben’s Bargain Bins that comes with a free HomeBot – uh-oh!.
Right away the thing starts behaving weirdly.

The following day Stick is late for school and overhears Miss Bird speaking on her mobile and acting scared. Later the two bully girls forced him into unlocking Mr Jansari’s classroom door

and the act is recorded on Gretchen’s mobile.
From then on things just keep on getting worse and Miss Bird definitely appears to be up to something. Could there be s a connection between those Homebots with their increasingly strange behaviour

and the Mega Mall opening?

This fast-paced mystery story about coping with bullies while being two dimensional in a three dimensional, world fizzes with excitement, and the kind of humour – both visual and verbal – that should go down well with older primary readers.

Mermaids Rock: The Midnight Realm / The Kitten Next Door

Two new titles kindly sent for review by Little Tiger’s Stripes imprint, both from authors popular with young solo readers:

Mermaids Rock: The Midnight Realm
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
Little Tiger
The Midnight Realm referred to in the title in this, the fourth of the Mermaids Rock series, is that region of the ocean around 1,000 metres below sea level that is in constant darkness as no sunlight ever penetrates to that depth. A place where, on account of its extreme pressure and freezing temperatures, humans have only recently developed the technology that makes it possible for them to explore. Not so merpeople however and in particular those merchildren, resident around Mermaids Rock – Marina, Kai, Naya, Coralie and Luna. As the book opens these friends are busy working on the design of a poster for their latest project, corals reefs. And as those who’ve read previous books might expect, Glenda is showing off while being full of negativity towards their efforts.

Excitement rises when their teacher announces a three-day field trip that involves camping on a deserted atoll in the South Pacific.

When Marina says that her father has been researching the disappearance of strawberry squid down in the Midnight Zone, the area that the friends want to know more about for their project, it’s a case of Save the Sea Creatures Club to the rescue once again. And that’s despite being warned how dangerous a place this totally dark region is. A plan is formed: can they solve the mystery of the flashing light that Naya has noticed, (the light that then appears in the tunnel) and discover what is happening to the strawberry squid? Perhaps, but a fair bit of problem solving and creativity will be needed if they embark on such a mission.

And even more when they discover a glowing cave wherein lurks a tentacled monster – a monster that entraps Luna. Now Naya’s creative skill is required if she’s to succeed in rescuing her friend.

With black and white illustrations by Mirelle Ortega to enjoy, this story has exciting moments aplenty, strong friendship, and kindness even towards Glenda despite her misdeeds, this will be lapped up by established fans and other young readers with an interest in marine life and environmental issues.

The Kitten Next Door
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sophy Williams

In this latest story in Holly Webb’s Animal Stories we meet young cat lover Sophia. She longs for a cat of her own but her parents say she must wait until her little sister is a bit older. Then, just after Christmas Sophia spies a tiny, hungry-looking calico kitten Willow appears in the next-door neighbours’ garden and falls under its charm straightaway. She tries to spend some time with the kitten every day but as the holidays come to an end, the people next door move away, taking Willow with them, so Sophia assumes.

But shortly after Sophia notices the kitten again. Has she run away from her new home? Sophia is determined to find out. And so she does, but she finds out a whole lot more too and that’s one of the essential qualities of Holly Webb’s animal stories. Here we are reminded of just how scary fireworks can be to small creatures such as Willow, as well as how showing loving care and kindness towards animals can be hugely rewarding, sometimes in unexpected ways.

With its pencil sketches by Sophy Williams wherein she captivates even this cat phobic reviewer, this book is just right for new solo readers, especially animal lovers like young Sophia.

I Love You With All My Heart / The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth

I Love You With All My Heart
Jane Chapman
Little Tiger

When Little Bear’s exuberant music making very close to where his mother is tending her sunflower plant results in a catastrophe, the little creature is worried that his mother will be angry with her offspring – and even worse that she’ll stop loving her.

Admirably, Little Bear owns up right away and happily, Mummy is equally quick in her response. She scoops the cub up in her arms and reassuringly says “I’ll ALWAYS love you,” and proceeds to soothe her by asking that she place her paw on her heart to “feel my love beating on and on for ever”. She goes on to tell Little Bear that a similar “Ba ba boom” beats within her little one’s heart.

Next day at preschool, the little cub draws on that knowledge when she’s upset about losing a race, and then later back in the garden when her new kite is whisked away by an unexpected gust of wind. Seemingly, no matter what upsets life throws at Little Bear, she can draw strength from that never-ending motherly love.

There’s a lovely final twist when Mother Bear’s cake baking is interrupted by her cub’s enthusiastic, mud-splashing announcement about her kite rescue …

Would that all little humans had a mother as understanding and unconditionally loving as Little Bear who is brought to life along with Mother Bear in Jane Chapman’s splendidly expressive illustrations that show just how full of love they are, and how comforting the feel of a heartbeat can be to someone needing a bit of TLC. Yes, this book is brimming over with love but it never becomes sentimental.

The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth
Ellie Hattie and Karl James Mountford
Little Tiger

Now out in paperback is this wonderful magical adventure that unfolds inside The Curious Museum wherein Oscar, clad in his night attire, and mammoth Timothy search for Timothy’s baby brother, Teddy, intent on finding him before the clock strikes one. The hardback version was reviewed on the blog but if you’ve missed the book, it’s definitely worth seeking out the paperback to share with youngsters. There’s SO much to explore in the illustrations and there’s a wealth of information and more to discover behind the flaps.

I Love You more than Christmas / The Snowiest Christmas Ever / Can You Find Santa’s Pants

Here are 3 seasonal picture books from Little Tiger kindly sent for review

I Love You more than Christmas
Ellie Hattie and Tim Warnes

Little Bear love, love, loves pretty much everything about Christmas but what is it that he -and indeed his mother and father- love even more than Christmas? We’ll discover the answer – eventually – but adults will probably guess it from the outset. Every attempt one of them makes to reveal that one better thing is interrupted by something or someone that is part and parcel of the exciting build-up to the big day.

First it’s the mail delivery (Mrs Postman with a sackful of cards), then it’s Daddy Bear bursting through the door dragging an enormous tree to decorate, after which it’s Mummy who’s been hunting for the decorations in the loft; but that’s just the start.

It takes until bedtime before Little Bear is finally able to share that all important message.

Tim Warnes’ wonderfully warm illustrations are an ideal complement to Ellie Hattie’s homely tale of togetherness and celebration.

The Snowiest Christmas Ever
Jane Chapman

In the run up to Christmas things are pretty nearly perfect in the bear family’s cabin but there’s one thing lacking, so says young Button Bear cub, and that is snow. Her brother is equally eager for the fluffy stuff to be ready for Santa’s sleigh to land in. Then come bedtime, lo and behold what should the cubs spy as they peep through the curtains but swirling, whirling snowflakes. As the bears fall asleep snug inside, the snow continues falling all night getting ever deeper outside.

The following morning though, things on the snow front seem to have got rather excessive and it looks as though the entire family is stuck indoors. Was that wish of Button’s a mistake? Will Santa be able to make his delivery to the cabin?

Perhaps the cubs can turn the situation around so they all have a truly memorable Christmas …
This is definitely a cuddle up and share picture book that focuses on the anticipation and excitement of the days leading up to Christmas.

Can You Find Santa’s Pants?
Becky Davies and Alex Willmore

Here’s a new take on the ever-popular subject of pants and on Christmas, that I suspect many youngsters will find irresistible. Just imagine the sight of a bare-bottomed Santa sitting atop his sleigh; but that is a decided possibility when on Christmas Eve he discovers, horror of horrors, that his pants have gone awol. Hang on though; what about all the spare pairs hanging on the washing line? Oh dear me, now they too are playing hard to get as they detach themselves from the line and take flight.

The hunt is on but if Santa can’t locate any of the errant underwear, can he find a suitable alternative so he doesn’t have to expose his rear end to the elements on his chilly delivery round.

An emergency is declared and all his friends – elven and animal – rally round to join the hunt. Will they or won’t they avert a chuddie crisis: it’s a case of …

Told through Becky Davies’ jaunty rhyming text and absolutely hilarious illustrations presented by Alex Willmore (of pea fame), this will be one of the year’s festive favourite for sure.

Board Books for Christmas

Who Said Merry Christmas?
Becky Davies and Yi-Hsuan Wu
Little Tiger

Ho Ho Ho! comes the mystery voice, but who spoke the words? Was it Penguin? Feel the tactile soft tummy (it gives a clue), lift the flap and discover the owner of the jolly utterance. Do similar for the “Tweet!”, the “Roar!”, the “Merry Christmas!” greeting and lastly, respond to the final question above the mirror.
Hide-and-seek fun for the very youngest, engagingly illustrated in Yi-Hsuan Wu’s jolly scenes of Penguin, Mrs Claus, Snowman and Reindeer and the characters hidden beneath the four flaps.

Can’t See Santa!
Mandy Archer and Chris Jevons
Little Tiger

It’s Christmas Eve and all is ready but where oh where is Santa? That’s what the little mouse asks as he searches everywhere both inside the house, and outdoors in the snowy garden where at least there should be signs of Santa’s sled. Then back indoors again the tiny creature’s so downhearted he can’t even face a nibble of his carrot let alone the seasonal fare spread out on the table. Worse still is the complete lack of a single present beside the sparkling tree. Has Santa forgotten our little rodent friend? So miserable does he feel that Mouse heads off to his attic bed. But there’s something he doesn’t know and that’s not revealed until the final flap in Chris Jevons’ festively detailed sequence of story-telling pictures is opened. Mandy Archer’s rhyming couplets tell the tale from Mouse’s viewpoint on the bottom stair, in snow-filled garden, on the table, beneath the Christmas tree or in his bed. With several flaps to explore and assist mouse in his search on every spread, little ones will delight in the hunt and the secret that they might or might not, already know about.

Peas on Earth
Jonny Marx and Lindsey Sagar
Little Tiger

The five little peas in their pod can barely contain themselves so full of festive cheer are they feeling. Indeed, one by one the small spherical objects pop out io their case so great is their excitement once that Christmas wreath is attached to the door. So, we have four left to help decorate the tree one of which needs to get the star bringing their number to three enjoying the view outdoors. Santa’s grotto isn’t too far so off goes another and so on till atop the tree sits just one. It’s she that will delight in the appearance of a pair of booted feet before a special delivery is made and there’s something for them all. HURRAH!
A fun-filled yuletide countdown to share with the very young who will love poking their fingers into the die-cut circles, as well as following the frolics of the peas described in Jonny Marx’s rhyming text and shown in Lindsey Sagar’s jolly seasonal scenes.

My Magical Snowman
illustrated by Yujin Shin
Campbell Books

Oh dear! Santa’s sleigh – so the elves say – is in need of a quick repair before he can start on his delivery round. So who can they call upon to help? Snowman seems willing once his door has been opened (move the slider) and off they all go whooshing over the frozen lake and whizzing down the slippery slope (2 more sliders). Then with a touch of the snowman’s magic, it’s up and away for Santa “Ho, Ho Ho-ing” on his sleigh as he bids all his helpers a “Merry Christmas”.
Simple, satisfying and lots of fun – both in the manipulating of the sliders and the rhyming text that accompanies the chilly wintry scenes of elvish frolics and willing assistance.

Dear Santa
Rod Campbell
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is a board book version of Rod Campbell’s Christmas classic which, almost unbelievably, is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Yes, it’s that enormously engaging sharing of a letter to Santa requesting something special for Christmas and what the old man does and thinks as he wraps up all manner of not quite right gifts before, on Christmas Eve, he decides upon the one that’s just right and much appreciated by the letter writer.
A Christmas must if you have a toddler.

Action and Reaction: Fish / Yawn

Fish
Brendan Kearney
Dorling Kindersley Penguin Random House

Softly spoken yes, but, inspired by personal experience, Brendan Kearney’s picture book about the perils of polluting the ocean with plastic, and how we can all help to improve the situation for the endangered fish and other marine flora and fauna is clear and to the point.

Finn and his dog Skip set out one morning in their little boat, hoping to catch a tasty fish or two for their supper.

After a while when not a single fish has given so much as a tug at Finn’s line, Skip spies something in the waves. Down to the depths he swims and the sight that meets his eyes is horrifying.

Rubbish, rubbish and more rubbish. Back to show Finn with some evidence he goes.

Equally concerned, the man goes on fishing for a while but before long all he has on board is a collection of weird objects.

Fortunately, once back on dry land the two encounter a group of young beach cleaners who are equally alarmed at the load of rubbish brought out of the sea.

Finn explains how he came by it and about the complete lack of fish. What follows are a number of pertinent comments from the young eco-warriors and the following day Finn heeds their words – re-use and recycle – and goes on to join the beach cleaners.

With his engaging narrative, visual and verbal – Brendan Kearney focuses on the crucial environmental issues in the hope – his, mine and countless others – that young children will become part of the movement to clean up our polluted oceans and beaches and of course, it’s never to soon to teach them about the importance of recycling.

Yawn
Patricia Hegarty and Teresa Bellón
Little Tiger

A yawn can be highly infectious as this fun story shows.
Starting with a single feeling from deep inside the little boy narrator, a single yawn quickly becomes unstoppable, passing from the boy to all – every neighbourhood inhabitant, human and animal, until the entire street have gaping mouths.

From here it moves to the countryside and eventually all over the world, not content until every single person and every single creature has the yawns. It even heads off out into space

– it’s ‘gone viral ‘we read. Does that remind you of anything?

Fortunately though, on this occasion the outcome is that when bedtime comes, so does a great big YAAAAAAWN! to send us off into the land of slumbers.
Happy dreams.

It’s is definitely a book to share at bedtime unless that is you want to induce sleepiness at some other time in your home or classroom. Patricia’s rhyming narrative has that soporific feel to it, and if you happen to pause just a little too long on any of Teresa Bellon’s spreads (love those cutaway pages) to enjoy all the funky details, you might just find yourself the next recipient of that repeat refrain ‘YAAAAAAWN! Pass it on!’ Snore …

Nature in Focus – Home / Seasons

Here are two books from Little Tiger that focus on nature and the changing seasons

Home
Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup

‘All of us need a place to rest – / A cave, a warren, a pond, a nest … // Wherever we may choose to roam, / We need a place to call our home.” So says Patricia Hegarty’s introduction to this look at the forest that is home to all kinds of creatures large and small.
In the company of little bear, we visit a variety of animal homes starting with the cub and her family’s cave, dark and deep.

With the advent of spring, the cub ventures out watched by an owl in her tree. He visits the place where squirrels are gathering leaves for their drey; beavers are also building a shelter; a bird is busy nest building.

Further afield salmon spawn in the glistening river, multitudes of minibeasts are hard at work, and underground rabbits are safe in their warren.

As night begins to fall, a pack of wolves begin to prowl, hunting for food; while a flock of arctic terns make ready to begin their long journey before another winter sets in.

Finally as the cold arrives, it’s time for little bear and his family to hibernate ‘til spring comes round once more.

In her lyrical text Patricia takes us through the changing seasons and to the various animal homes. Britta Teckentrup’s signature style collage scenes, with their die-cut pages, follow the action and the bear cub, highlighting the importance of each home mentioned in the narrative as well as showing the seasonal changes in the forest.

Seasons
Hannah Pang and Clover Robin

Author Hannah and illustrator Clover take us to half a dozen different locations in the world to experience the natural world in all its glory through the seasons.

We observe the changes that each season brings, starting with a focus on a mighty European oak tree that stands majestically in a meadow, its spreading branches and roots providing shelter and food for countless creatures – birds, insects and other minibeasts, small mammals and some larger ones too.

Spring, summer and autumn with their flowers, fruits and fungi are times of abundance for the various animals. Come winter, the branches are bare and it’s a hard time for animals, many of which hide themselves away in order to survive. Indeed, change through every season is vital for survival of the tree and the associated wildlife.

The other natural habitats are the chilly Arctic where the change in length of day and night is dramatic,

the wilds of Alaska where rivers freeze in the coldest months; a boggy mangrove in northern Australia – one season teeming with land animals, another with fish; then comes the Yellow Dragon Valley, home to some of China’s rarest animals including the giant panda.

The last stop is on the grasslands of the Kenyan Maasai Mara with its wonderful richness of awesome animals and plant life.

As in the oak tree’s location so it is with all the others: change is vital for survival and the Great Migration of the animals of the final location is, so we read, ‘one of the most dramatic events on Earth. For the animals, … a journey of life and death.’

Since the pandemic struck, I think huge numbers of us have become much more aware of the importance of nature in our lives: this book, with Clover Robin’s richly detailed illustrations and Hannah Pang’s factual text, sings that song loud and clear.

Afraid of the Dark / Noah and the Starbird

Here are two picture books  about dealing with difficult situations – thanks Little Tiger for sending these warm-hearted stories

Afraid of the Dark
Sarah Shaffi, Isabel Otter and Lucy Farfort

Moving to a new home is often scary and so it is for the little girl, Amy, who does so with her Dad and dog, Pickle in this story.
Dad is very positive about the move, but not so Amy and Pickle; it just doesn’t feel like home. Her bedroom seems full of strange sounds and shadowy creatures waiting to leap. A night’s sleep might have sent the monsters packing but still that queasy feeling remains.

A visit to the library helps a little,

especially when the kind librarian finds just the right book to transport Amy to a faraway land of adventure when her  dad reads it to her that night. But once he’s gone from her bedroom, back come those monsters.

Next morning seems a little brighter. Children outside wave and invite Amy to play with them in their den. It looks a bit dark inside, but Pickle is willing to go inside so she follows and lo and behold inside a wonderful warm welcome awaits thanks to Sofia and Bilal.

Could this be the beginning of the banishment of those scary monsters. Can Amy send the lurking shadows packing once and for all? …

Sensitively told, this story, demonstrates beautifully how it always takes time to adjust to new situations; and how love and friendship can make all the difference when it comes to coping with first experience fear. Lucy Farfort captures Amy’s fearful feelings perfectly in her illustrations, as well as her dad’s concern and warmth, and the wonderful kindness of the children who welcome her.

Noah and the Starbird
Barry Timms and Faye Hsu

Noah’s dad is ill and has gone to hospital, so Noah is staying with his kind, reassuring, Granny. As they unpack Noah’s things together, the boy notices a lamp inside which is a bird.
Granny tells him it belonged to her grandma and at bedtime Granny suggests to Noah that the bird might have magical powers.

As the boy lies wide awake in bed worrying about his dad, he’s startled by a sound. It’s the bird from the lamp. She introduces herself as Starbird, promising that his father is safe. She sings a lullaby, pulls out one of her tail feathers and gives it to Noah who eventually falls asleep.

The following morning, on hearing what happened Granny tells Noah he has a special magical friend but even she cannot hasten the process of his Daddy getting well. Instead Starbird provides a listening ear again that night before Noak goes to sleep.
Next day the news from the hospital isn’t what Noah hopes, but with some special strength from the magic feather, he and Granny create a collage bird to keep up their spirits.

Can Starbird use her magical powers to help Noah’s Daddy get well again?

Kindness, courage and friendship shine forth from this gentle story: I think right now, the entire world could do with a feather like the one therein.

Tales from the Forest

Tales from the Forest
Emily Hibbs, illustrated by Erin Brown
Stripes Publishing

This collection of twenty stories – five for each season – takes readers close up to creatures great and small from various habitats in the forest.

There’s a wishful caterpillar discovering its own metamorphosis, an adder that sheds its beautiful patterned scaly skin and the woodpeckers searching for a new tree in which to nest and rear chicks in spring.

Bees busy performing their various roles in and around their hive;

fireflies lighting up the forest at twilight “The stars of the forest, burning bright”; competitive boars that end up wallowing side by side in the mud; bats, and tadpoles turning into frogs,

we meet them all in summertime.

Autumn presents beavers building a dam; the subterranean mole; a little mouse that has a narrow escape from a marauding hawk to tiny ladybird ready to join its fellows huddling close inside a log and a fawn whose spots vanish and his antlers grow.

In chilly winter Spider’s new web holds her pouch of tiny eggs while she finds a warmer place to spend her days till spring;

Black Wolf finds a white female companion to share his days; Squirrel remembers where she’s stashed her nuts; a little fox and his siblings lose their way and finally, an owlet listens to the sounds of the other forest animals before she and her father add their own voice to the nocturnal song.

Amazing animals all, as the author acknowledges in her final factual paragraphs – one each for the twenty featured. Her stories are packed with detailed, description and information in a highly accessible form so that readers/listeners will come away from each one having learned a lot without realising it. And, each story ends with a 4-line verse.

Erin Brown’s finely detailed, painterly illustrations at every turn of the page are an absolute delight adding further atmosphere and detail to each telling.

Skeleton Keys: The Legend of Gap-Tooth Jack / The Thing at Black Hole Lake

Skeleton Keys: The Legend of Gap-Tooth Jack
Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Little Tiger

If you’re looking for a darkly comic adventure story that’s full of mystery, monster chases, and outlandish ghoulish decapitations, (that’s also about friendship, fitting in and finding self-confidence), then accept the invitation of Keys – Skeleton Keys – and allow this character to tell his tale (actually it’s that of Gap-Tooth Jack) that he claims is a “truly unbelievable, unbelievably true’ one.

However, in order for this tale to be unfolded back in the past, it’s necessary to begin in the here and now with a second story and in particular with wildly imaginative, seven-year-old, Kasper. This lad conjures himself up an imaginary friend whom he names Wordy Gerdy. By all accounts (or rather our storyteller’s), this ghost of a girl possessed an amazing ability: once she has in her fragile fingers a pen, she can rewrite any story she cares to, or even as here, she doesn’t.

Oh! We must mention Daisy; she’s Skeleton Keys’ unimaginary partner-in-problem-solving without whom, our bony being storyteller might have been a has been.

Find out what takes place when a highly dangerous, ghasty, goulish unimaginary escapes into yesteryear. Can Jack thwart her malevolent game plan by joining forces with Mr Keys? Plunge into Guy’s spooky saga, full of terrific characters,

extremely quirky humour with Pete Williamson’s fangtastically spooky illustrations and find out. It will definitely make some superbly silly story sessions as a lower KS2 class read aloud.

For a slightly older audience is:

The Thing at Black Hole Lake
Dashe Roberts
Nosy Crow

We’re back at Sticky Pines, the small US town of weird events and secrets lurking in woods, for this spooky sequel to the Bigwood Conspiracy; and once again there are weird things afoot.

We get two perspectives on events, those of Milo and Lucy (currently not on speaking terms). Milo Fisher, loyal son of business tycoon NuCo president – a double-crossing guy; and Lucy Sladen, who’s determined to discover the truth about the mysterious, alien life, Pretenders of Sticky Pines, and protect them from the greedy NuCo company, set on exploiting every one of the town’s resources.

In the previous adventure it was Lucy who made the astonishing discovery but now it’s Milo’s turn, for there’s something very strange in Black Hole Lake; something that will put both he and Lucy in terrible danger. Danger that begins as Milo leaves a party early in order to avoid Lucy, takes a short cut and soon finds himself sinking into the lake and there are eyes watching him from below the surface.

Mesmerisingly brilliant fun., fast-paced with lots of twists and an abundance of ever-deepening mysteries, creepiness and with the philosophical good guy/bad guy dilemma underpinning the tale, this is a stonkingly good, enormously satisfying read.

Midnight Magic / Cally & Jimmy Twins in Trouble

Midnight Magic
Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick
Stripes Publishing, Little Tiger

This is the first of a new rhyming series by author of the A Pinch of Magic books, Michelle Harrison; it’s superbly illustrated by Elissa Elwick and it’s absolutely perfect for young solo readers or for reading aloud.

It all begins when with tummy swollen and heavy, ‘One frosty evening, / A tabby cat prowled / Through white winter fields / While a bitter wind howled.’

Said tabby cat makes her way into a barn and there, watched by the animal residents, produces three kittens that she duly and aptly names Snowdrop, Foxy and Midnight. The third one, born at midnight is different – both mischievous and magical. And this magic seems to be doubling each day and potentially troublesome. Indeed, she soon starts calling herself a ‘cat-astrophe’ and before long forges a friendship with the broom from the barn, naming the thing `Twiggy’.

The two travel together and they’re spotted by a girl named Trixie as she plays in her village.

Trixie takes the kitten home where she’s eventually welcomed whereas the broom is treated less favourably. But with her mischievous nature, will the rest of Trixie’s family allow Midnight to stay?

Trixie is certainly happy with her new friend but it’s not long before sparks start to fly. And then Nan makes a discovery about that broom she’d unceremoniously tossed into the cupboard.

W-hay – it’s up and away …

A magical tale, this surely is; it reads aloud like a dream and is perfect for sharing or independent reading. especially around Halloween time.

Cally & Jimmy Twins in Trouble
Zoe Antoniades, illustrated by Katie Kear
Andersen Press

Meet twins Cally and Jimmy: twins they might be, but you’d be hard pushed to find two more different people. Cally – short for Calista meaning ‘most beautiful’ – the quiet one, is our narrator and is well behaved, most of the time. Jimmy in contrast (his real name is Dimitri on account of having a Greek mother) is far from quiet and his behaviour, not helped by ADHD, leaves a fair bit to be desired. In class, he has a special table right beside the teacher’s desk and far away from his sister’s ‘top table’.

In four short stories we get a pretty clear picture of what it’s like to live with the most-annoying-brother-in-the-whole-wide-world. His actions frequently land them both in trouble, though there are plenty of fun times too. And even after getting into trouble together they often end up laughing together afterwards.

Like the time when they made brownies using dad’s ‘fool-proof recipe’ only they added some rather interesting extra ingredients to the mixture. Not sure I’d want to sample those.

Then there’s the time they contribute to a class assembly, the practising of which doesn’t quite go smoothly.

The final episode sees the celebration of the twins achieving double digits and celebrating it in style.

Other colourful characters include Yiayia (grandma)

and lunchtime supervisor, Mrs Gutteridge.

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking / Little People Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking
Alex Woolf, illustrated by David Shephard
Little Tiger (Stripes Publishing)

‘Be inspired’ says the first line of the blurb of this book. Who could fail to be inspired by reading about Stephen Hawking, an incredible individual who refused to be defined by his illness and which he never allowed to hold him back from pursuing his awesome scientific dreams, and whose life story is told therein by historian Alex Woolf.

It’s both a biography and a science book – ‘A life beyond limits’ as the subtitle says. Alex Woolf explains by means of an informative narrative together with David Shephard’s illustrations and clear diagrams, Stephen Hawking’s scientific discoveries (panels giving theoretical summaries are provided)

and the challenges he faced through much of his life.

There’s just enough detail of the genius’s revolutionary theories and of the key questions cosmologists have sought answers for, to inspire but not overwhelm readers from the top of KS2 onwards.

The narrative begins with a summary of the history of black holes theory, a brief explanation of the space-time continuum and a mention of other mathematicians and physicists involved in the theory.

There’s also information about Stephen’s formative years: I was particularly interested and amused to read of his family’s trip to India when the car got caught in monsoon floods and had to be towed to safety. (Sounds to me like an almost familiar incident!).

Children will be interested to learn that during his under-grad. days Stephen was far from hard-working and later calculated that he’d spent on average just one hour a day studying, spending much of his time rowing or at the boat club; getting by on his utter brilliance and managing to talk his way into getting a first in his Oxford degree.

It was when he became a student at Cambridge that both Stephen’s clumsiness and his resulting focus on his intellect began to take hold. A diagnosis of the incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) might have overwhelmed even the most determined of people. Not so Stephen whose propensity to ask difficult questions and to put forward new theories without fear of being wrong is exemplary.

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. “ So says the final quote – truly inspiring and one hopes, motivating …

Strongly recommended reading for older children.

Little People, Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Olivia Holden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This addition to the popular series of biographical stories presents the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton from the time he was a child growing up in rural Ireland dreaming of wider horizons, when even at a young age, he showed the qualities of a good explorer – optimism, idealism, patience and courage.

We learn of his participation as a young man, in expeditions endeavouring to reach the South Pole. Then how, inspired by Roald Amundsen, he planned to cross Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole.

This expedition aboard Endurance, began in August 1914 with a crew of 28 enthusiastic, optimistic men and assorted animals. After months crossing the ocean, the ship became trapped in ice;

and so it remained for nine months with their calm leader doing his utmost to keep the spirits of his crew high, until the ice began to break up their ship.

Though there was scant hope of a rescue, Ernest never lost hope of saving his crew, and finally he and five of his men reached a whaling station. Then, having found help, he returned and brought his crew back home, Incredible though it may seem, every one of them survived.

With his unfailing optimism, Shackleton, a true inspiration to countless others, died at the young age of 48, as the final timeline shows. A true inspiration to young readers too, especially at this time when remaining optimistic is to say the least, challenging for us all.

Winter Wishes / Frost

Winter Wishes
illustrated by Alison Edgson
Little Tiger

This collection of tales comprises ten illustrated wintry tales each by a different author.

From Caroline Juskus, there’s a lively little penguin Pip, eager to improve his marching in time for The Penguin Parade. There’s a rather confused, large hairy ape-like creature wandering around the snowy forest in Guy Bass’s Finding Bigfoot, an adorable seal pup eager to get in on the act in Michael Broad’s Seeley’s Song.

Caroline Pitchers’s story Is of a husky pup, anxious about her first sledge pull as a member of the team;

Elizabeth Baguley tells of a rather homesick little girl, wishing and an elephant, set in India; while Karen Wallace’s story has a fox cub puzzled about the white ‘feathers’ in the garden in the days coming up to Christmas – he certainly has a lot of learning to do about the season.

Malachy Doyle’s Morning Bear is full of wishing, surprises and lots of guessing; The Kitten in the Snow takes a while to acquire a name in Penny Dolan’s chilly tale; Narinder Dhami’s Tiger in the Night has three fox cubs discovering what it means to be a Siberian tiger and Holly Webb provides the final Just in Time for Christmas, telling how little dog Max leaves the rescue shelter and finds a family home.

Just right to snuggle up and dip into, along with a hot chocolate. Young independent readers might want to read one or two stories a day, or spend a whole afternoon/evening relishing the entire book.
More from the final author in:

Frost
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing, Little Tiger
This story is part of the author’s wintry animal tales that cleverly mixes fantasy and historical fiction to create magical books for younger solo readers, and for reading aloud.

This one features Cassie, often known as William’s ‘baby sister’ and hence frequently left behind when it comes to the activities of the other older flat-living children. But on one occasion being left behind gives rise to her spotting a little fox on the waste ground close to her London home.

Cassie forms a special bond with the fox cub naming it Frost and feeds it regularly till one winter’s night the creature leads her off on a very special adventure, as they time-slip back to the 1683  Frost Fair on the frozen River Thames.

It’s exciting spending time in this other world but Carrie finds herself lost; can she make it safely back to her own time …

In addition to the consideration of urban foxes and the differing viewpoints about these creatures, another element woven into the story is that of the importance of understanding and helping others, herein through Cassie’s developing relationship with her somewhat irascible neighbour, Mrs Morris.

Plenty of food for thought and discussion, as well as a wondrous wintry adventure. (Line drawings from the Artful Doodlers add further atmosphere to Holly’s telling.)

The Hat Full of Secrets

The Hat Full of Secrets
Karl Newson, illustrated by Wazza Pink
Stripes Publishing, Little Tiger

Picture book author, Karl Newson turns his hand to writing a longer story, and with Wazza Pink’s full colour illustrations it has become one of Stripes Publishing ‘Colour Fiction’ series for emergent readers.

It’s a cracking story that starts with young Henry Pepper discovering a ‘secret’- a really big one. He rushes back excitedly to tell his Grandad but finds himself getting tongue-tied as he attempts to do so.

Grandad however understands and suggests that a good place for keeping secrets is under your hat. Henry has no hat, but Grandad comes to his rescue giving him one of his specials, a very large one called a Jones, ‘made for adventures’.

And so it is, for no sooner has Henry set off again down the garden path than strange things start happening in the form of flying luggage labels – five of them – all of which except one, float off in different directions.

Henry picks up the remaining one which reads, ‘Shh! The Egg Box Crown’ and returns to his grandpa to tell him. Grandad too has a label and he tells Henry that they’re his secrets.

As memories come back, Grandad regales the boy with wonderful stories of things that have happened in his life relating to each label that once read aloud, morphs into an item pertinent to the message, before disappearing into dust.

Besides the one already mentioned, there’s a label about a missing Tyrannosaurus Rex Bone, another about The Ice and the Polar Bear, one that says ‘Shh! The Fastest Arrow’ about an awesome drive and the final label, ‘Shh! A Moon with a View’ that results in an incredible lunar happening.

Having shared Grandad’s secrets, it’s time for the wonderful final surprise in the form of Henry’s own secret. What could it possibly be? Is that Jones hat large enough to contain it – I wonder.

I absolutely loved every minute spent reading this gorgeous tale that has at its heart the special relationship between a young boy and his aging Grandad. It truly celebrates the power of the imagination and the magic that memories can bring. Illustrator Wazza Pink succeeds in bringing out these qualities in her scenes of the two characters together.

Lottie Loves Nature: Frog Frenzy / Mermaid’s Rock: The Ice Giant

Here are two young fiction titles with ecological themes:

Lottie Loves Nature: Frog Frenzy
Jane Clarke, illustrated by James Brown
Five Quills

I’d not met nature-obsessed Lottie Boffin in the Al’s Awesome Science series but was excited to make her acquaintance now in her very own-eco adventure series for young solo readers.

In a cleverly and carefully constructed story so that youngsters learn a lot about the natural world as they read, Jane and James include a wealth of information (verbal and visual) via such scrapbook pages,

activities and experiments about such things as ants, worms, the frog life cycle and other froggy facts, hydroponics, potential pond residents and visitors, and creating a wormery.

Lottie, inspired by her favourite wildlife TV show presenter, Samira Breeze, decides to make a pond in her back garden using an old dustbin lid, in the hope that frogs will come and inhabit it and perhaps, if she writes up and sends in her nature notes to the programme, she might even win the opportunity to be a presenter on ‘Every Little Thing’.

However, new next door neighbour, Mr Parfitt with his pristine fake grass putting green is definitely not going to be enthusiastic about Lottie’s plans and he’s far from happy about her pet parrot but maybe she can enlist the help of his son Noah who aspires to become an inventor and programmer of robots. That’s when he made sure that his dad’s back garden is totally minibeast free and it will help him keep fit.

With Mr Parfitt’s ant infestation (on a special cake for a special visitor) to contend with,

not to mention a lively dog, and a plethora of parrot poop, will Lottie succeed in her environmental enterprise?

I look forward to Lottie’s Bee adventure coming early next year. So too, I’m sure will newly independent readers who meet her in this first Lottie Loves Nature book.

Mermaid’s Rock: The Ice Giant
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
Little Tiger

There’s a decidedly chilly feel to the third Mermaid’s Rock adventure.

When Marina announces that she is to accompany her father to the Arctic so he can do his walrus research, her friend Kai is not happy. However Kai’s mum says she can stay with them so long as Marina’s father, Tarak, is agreeable. He is, and she does.

Before he leaves, Marina gives her father a bag of stones, each with an M on and he promises to keep in touch by dropping one each day through the whirlpool. In the meantime there’s the ‘most talented pet’ competition for Marina and her friends to think about.

On the sixth day of her father’s absence, when Marina goes to look for the stone, there isn’t one, nor the next day. Marina and her friends grab some necessary supplies and via the whirlpool, Operation Arctic Rescue is under way.

They soon discover that the ice has begun melting uncustomarily early, spelling danger. Can they find Tarak and get him to safety before it’s too late?

Newly independent readers, especially fans of the series will likely devour this story in a single sitting, enjoying Mirelle Ortega’s black and grey illustrations along the way, and afterwards can learn something about one of the important ecological issues our planet is facing.