Sneaky Beak

Sneaky Beak
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Little Tiger

The dangers of succumbing to advertising are hilariously explored in this tale of friends and house-sharers, Bear and Hamster.

First, Bear allows himself to be persuaded by Sneaky Beak that his bed had lost all its bounce when he’s summoned in response to the previous evening’s TV ad.

Not only does Sneaky rock up in his van, but he brings an entourage of bunnies to help clinch a deal for the ‘Snores-Galore Mega bed’.

Poor Hamster is less than pleased when his things are moved out of the bedroom to accommodate Bear’s purchase.

But worse is to come. That Sneaky Beak leaves a leaflet about a very special kind of bathtub. Bear’s determination to resist lasts only until bathtime when he’s on the phone again and guess who he’s calling …

Not a wise move, Bear; and nor was his ‘twirly thing’ investigation …

I’ll leave readers of this romp to decide themselves which is more catastrophic – that, or his next purchase, revealed at breakfast time the following morning, which results in …

That definitely doesn’t have the Hamster mood-lifting effect Bear’s hoping for.

So why oh why is he letting that wily Sneaky Beak beguile him into making yet another purchase?

Disastrous as the Beak’s new sale might have been, it actually provides Bear with some much-needed thinking space

and all ends happily – with some serious recycling and a certain salesbird’s beak somewhat out of joint.

The combination of Tracey’s tongue-in-cheek telling and Tony Neal’s superbly entertaining scenes of the results of falling prey time and again to a determined capitalist’s sales patter, make for a crazy consumerist caper that is bound to bring on fits of laughter on the part of both listeners and readers aloud.

Joy / Harris Finds His Feet

Joy
Yasmeen Ismail and Jenni Desmond
Walker Books

A little grey and black kitty is in effervescent mood as she goes ‘Bounce bounce, ding-a-ling, ring ring, let’s sing! And who can resist her invitation as the happy creature plays with her favourite toy

and then in her glee, narrowly avoiding a large canine in front of her, uh-oh, down she tumbles ‘trip, trip, slip, flop and …

Happily however, there’s a parent not far away ready with a little hug, a kiss, a squeeze and a quick check the little kitty is okay after a bit of a tumble.

What a wonderfully upbeat, rhythmic text to read aloud is this one from Yasmeen and unusually, she hasn’t done the illustrations. Jenni Desmond did those and they’re equally joyful and brilliantly expressive; the two together have created a smashing book to share with your little ones.

And for those interested in developing young children’s sound/symbol awareness, this picture book is in an entirely different league from those specifically designed for that purpose.

Harris Finds His Feet
Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger

I adored this book when it first came out over ten years ago so was thrilled to get this board book edition to share with even younger little ones.

Meet Harris a small, very large footed hare. One day he asks his grandfather, “Why do I have such large feet, Grandad?”

Smiling, Grandad explains he and all other hares have big feet and goes on to demonstrate the benefits of same.

Together they spend time hopping, springing and mountain climbing with Harris copying his expert grandparent until he has mastered each skill.

They explore the world creating resting places as well as being active with Harris learning more every day …

until Grandad decides Harris is ready.

Then he explains gently that it’s time for Harris to discover more about the big wide world for himself and that is what the now stronger, bigger young hare does by using all the skills his Grandad has helped him to learn.

Every spread of this book is pure pleasure, as the little hare bounds gleefully across Kate Greenaway medal winning Catherine Rayner’s wonderful watercolour-washed spreads, pausing sometimes for discussions on his journey towards independence.

A must have addition to your board book collection.

Sea: A World Beneath the Waves / Dolphins

Sea: A World Beneath the Waves
Britta Teckentrup and Patricia Hegarty
Little Tiger

In her latest non-fiction, die-cut peep-through picture book, in a series of wondrous scenes Britta Teckentrup plunges us beneath the ocean waves, way, way down to view the wonders of the deep.

Amid the corals and seaweed fronds we see small fish, sponges, tiny graceful sea horses; a baby dolphin and its mother chirping and clicking in communication, a Lionfish with its poison spines ready to use should it be attacked.

Suddenly there’s a feeling of fear: the fish sense danger as a great white shark casts its shadow. The other sea creatures though, employ their defence mechanisms while the tropical fish swim in formation and all is well.

Night comes and the ocean is a-glow with light;

his song echoing far the humpback whale sings for all to hear, the manatee glides through sea grasses and the corals provide safe spaces for small ocean creatures.

Patricia Hegarty’s lyrical text ends with a plea to protect ocean life by keeping the oceans clean and free from rubbish.

Dolphins!
Laurence Pringle and Meryl Henderson
Boyds Mills Press

Pringle immediately grabs readers’ attention with his introductory ‘If you were a young dolphin, your mother would keep you close, feed you milk and teach you’ that could almost be referring to a human mother. The remainder of the paragraph however negates that with its ‘Soon you would learn to swim fast and catch fish to eat. And sometimes you would leap from the water, high into the air!’ while his final statement on the first page “People would be very curious about the secrets of your life beneath the surface’ sets the scene for the remainder of this fascinating book.

It covers many aspects of the thirty or so dolphin species including classification, morphology and physiology. There’s a fascinating account of dolphins’ use of echolocation;

another of feeding – dolphins are predators, consuming huge amounts of food daily –

and communication. I learned that in addition to sounds, dolphins send messages with their bodies, sometimes by rubbing skins, at others, by touching flippers.

All this and more is related in the author’s highly readable prose that is superbly illustrated by Meryl Hendersen in watercolour and pencil.

Although it’s likely that this will be read by individuals, this book also works really well if read aloud – a testament to the quality of the author’s writing.

Choo-Choo Peekaboo / Marvel Alpha Block / Where Do Pants Go?

Choo-Choo Peekaboo
Gareth Lucas
Little Tiger

Artistically minded Zebra sets out one fine morning eager to spend a day engaged in his favourite pastime, painting. Seemingly however, his animal friends and acquaintances have other ideas.

Chaos ensues wherever poor Zebra stops and begins his artistic endeavours, be it city,

riverside, by a lake, deep in the countryside,

even atop a mountain he finds no peace. Surely nothing can disturb his nocturnal attempt though? Errrm!

It looks as though there is only one way to please everyone … BEEP BEEP! TOOT TOOT! And off they go …

With paint-daubing primates, a loop-the-looping porcine, roller-skating rabbits, cable-car riding cows, a space-ship sortie by sheep even; all of which are revealed from behind the gate-fold flaps, this interactive book will delight tinies, especially those with a penchant for noisy vehicles, madcap animals and surprises – that covers pretty much all of them.

Add to the mix, laugh-out loud scenarios, speech bubbles and a highly satisfying finale, I’d say Gareth Lucas has a hit on his hands with this sturdy board book.

And adults will enjoy the visual references to famous artists along the way.

Marvel Alpha Block
Peskimo
Abrams Appleseed

Bristol based illustration/design partnership Peskimo have chosen scenes and characters from the Marvel Cinematic
Universe for their latest Block Book. As usual it’s a chunky board book with flaps and splendid action scenes, that feature herein everything from Ant Man to Falcon,

and Pepper Potts to Xandar, Yondu and Zuri, before the entire cast assembles in alphabetical order on a grand finale fold-out.

Amazingly, each superhero represents a letter of the alphabet – a large cut-out capital letter that leaps up from the centre of the spread and beneath which lurks the superhero in an action scene (along with other characters who may or may not share the same initial letter).

Watch out for punch packing potential should more than one little would-be superhero get their hands on this simultaneously. With its super art, it surely is a winning alphabet book that I suspect, adults will enjoy almost as much as their young ones.

Where Do Pants Go?
Rebecca Van Slyke and Chris Robertson
Sterling

A fun interactive book about getting dressed takes toddlers through the routine dressing ritual. To avoid confusion, adult sharers not in the US should be forewarned that “underwear’ is used for pants and pants herein refers to trousers, so readers aloud will probably want to make some adjustments as they read the question and answer narrative with tinies.

Said tinies will doubtless delight in the cumulative, predictable text with its repeated final ‘and underwear on your bottom!’

and giggle over the silly placements of the various items of clothing in this book that reminded me somewhat of Shigeo Watanabe and Yasuo Ohtomo’s How Do I Put It On? that features a muddled little bear.

A satisfying finale sees all the fully dressed little ones enjoying some outdoor play together.

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? / I’m Not Grumpy!

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep?
Anna Kang & Christpoher Weyant
Hodder Children’s Books

Little Frog is anxious to fall asleep and asks readers to help him for if he doesn’t get sufficient sleep his mother won’t allow him to participate in the Frogatta boat races the following day; in other words he’ll be in BIG, big trouble and there’s no fooling his observant mum.

He tries our (supposed) suggested counting sheep, a bedtime book – definitely not the best idea – and a chat with last year’s prize caterpillar toy all of which fail and then he recalls his teacher, Miss Chon’s advice to breathe long and deep then mind travel to his ‘happy place …

and joy of joys, zzzzzzzz.

Whether the final wordless spread is Monty’s blissful dream or the young frog’s elated presence (along with his parents) at the next day’s Frogatta is left open to readers to decide: no matter which, one cannot help but root for little amphibious Monty in this frog-a-licious bedtime tale.

With Christpher Weyant’s super, lively, cartoonish scenes of Anna Kang’s dramatic telling, the book is enormous fun for pre-sleep sharing, especially for little ones with a touch of insomnia.

I’m Not Grumpy!
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger

Waking up to discover a huge furry bottom blocking your door might put most of us in a bad mood; it certainly does Mouse whose mood further deteriorates when he’s splatted on the nose by – so he thinks – a splashy raindrop.

In fact it’s a tear shed by a distraught little badger just outside his window wailing, “Where’s my Mummy?”

Together the two animals set off in search of the Mummy Badger only to find themselves lost.

Encounters with Squirrel and Owl both of which recognise Mouse as ‘that grumpy mouse”, (hotly denied by said Mouse), are willing to help in the search and off they all go deep into the forest.

There they come upon a large bear. On learning that Mouse is in fact helping Little Badger get home, the bear changes his grumpy accusation to “a kind friend”; a first for Mouse.

They travel deeper into the forest until Mouse becomes overwrought

which results in Owl giving him a cheer-up hug – another unusual event for the little creature. Suddenly out of the bushes emerges a very scary, very hungry predator.

Does that mean Squirrel, Badger, Owl and Mouse become a lupine’s evening meal?

Happily not. I won’t divulge the ending, but what ensues will certainly bring a happy smile to the faces of young listeners.

With opportunities for audience participation, Steve’s warm-hearted story with Caroline Pedler’s expressively portrayed woodland animals provides a good starting point for circle time discussion with early years children on themes of friendship, kindness, and on how their moods might affect other people.

The Tide

The Tide
Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay
Little Tiger

What a heart-wrenchingly beautiful story Clare Helen Welsh’s little girl narrator tells as she talks of her beloved Grandad. ‘Mummy says that Grandad loves me very much but that sometimes he gets confused.’

We then spend a day with the family at the beach – the child, her mum and Grandpa set up camp and as Mum watches, child and Grandad build sand castles and forts, crown themselves ‘king and queen of net and shells’. They all share a picnic (Grandad gets confused and buries the sandwiches) and then they go rock pooling (Grandad and granddaughter) and watch the movement of the tide as it comes in.

Mum likens Grandad’s memories to the tide – ‘sometimes near and close and full of life. Other times, far away and distant.’

Their musings are broken by voices and the family proceed together to buy ice-creams and again child and grandfather watch the tide

before becoming ankle deep in sea-water.

All too soon it’s time to go home but first they must shake away and wash off the sand and salty water.

Then it’s back home to talk lovingly together about their shared day.

The likening of Grandad’s memory to the ebb and flow of the tide is both moving and enormously powerful: Clare has chosen the perfect figurative language to help children to begin to understand dementia and be at ease with the subject. And, I can think of no better illustrator than Ashling Lindsay whose work I’ve loved since seeing her very first picture book. Her warm colour palette here is just gorgeous, radiating the unconditional love that so clearly exists between family members, especially child and Grandad.

A must have for family collections and for primary schools to share and talk about together.

Stephano the Squid: Hero of the Deep

Stephano the Squid: Hero of the Deep
Wendy Meddour and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

Life for Stefano squid is far from easy. Why is it that the unique characteristics of a squid go unappreciated? That is what Stefano ponders upon.

His fellow deep sea creatures offer reasons relating to his lack of colours, being unbat-like and not being shaped like a hammer …

while the dolphins suggest he should endeavour to look more intelligent; the sea dragon favours looking more leafy and the sea cucumber’s suggestion is to look more vegetable-like.

All the while Stefano is at pains to point out that being a squid makes their suggestions impossible, and when the anglerfish  asks about his weaponry, all the squid can do is to go and hide himself away in a cave.

There he receives some words of comfort from the Sea Cucumber but they are immediately negated by the comments of the limpets.

However, when Sea Cucumber points out one of the diving crew is in trouble, it’s down to Stefano to come to his aid; small and insignificant as he considers himself to be, he just can’t swim away and do nothing.

Rescue mission achieved, or rather,  the little cephalopod and his pal get the surprise of their lives – make that two surprises -when the identity of the rescued diver is revealed; but the second one comes the following day and to discover what that is, you’ll need to get your fins on a copy of this thoroughly immersive book.

Wendy’s telling is great fun but at the same time reminds us of the importance of self-worth and self-belief. Duncan’s terrific undersea scenes are splendidly expressive and comical, and I love his marine colour palette.

There are talking points aplenty once you’ve shared this super splashy story.