Thinking of Presents: Miffy’s Treasury / A Dancer’s Dream

Here are two recent books kindly sent for review by Simon & Schuster Children’s Books that would make lovely presents this year:

Miffy’s Treasury
Dick Bruna

Almost unbelievably Dick Bruna’s Miffy celebrates her 65th birthday this year and this book is an anniversary collection (in larger format than the originals) of five Miffy stories that will most certainly delight little humans as well as their parents and grandparents, who have likely grown up loving this little white rabbit.
The stories, in order and all told in rhyme are, Miffy at the Zoo wherein the little rabbit and her daddy take a train ride to the zoo, visit the animals and as a final treat, Miffy rides a giant tortoise; 

Miffy’s Birthday – a celebration of fun with family and friends, that finishes with a sharing of food before bed.
Next we meet a slightly older rabbit in Miffy at School. Being Miffy she sports a dress of a different colour from her fellow rabbits as they set off together walking to school 

where they’re greeted by a rather stern-looking teacher, who quickly settles them in and plunges them into writing and maths – not the way it’s done now – before introducing some singing, block play, art and some of the more usual activities one expects in an early years classroom, and ending with a story – hurrah!
I wasn’t familiar with Miffy is Crying (must have missed that one along the way). The cause of her tears is that her beloved teddy bear has gone missing while she slept. After spending a rather miserable day, asking friends and family if they know of teddy’s whereabouts, she gets into bed and discovers a lump under the blankets. The final story sees a very regal-looking Queen Miffy though she’s only royal in her dream of dwelling in a white-walled palace and ruling regally and benevolently over her loyal subjects in Rabbit Land. 

(Love the idea of a tree being planted every year as a royal birthday present.)

An ideal gift to give a toddler this Christmas (or any time): as simple as the art might appear, it offers plenty to talk about. Dick Bruna’s Miffy has lost none of her charm so far as this reviewer is concerned.

A Dancer’s Dream
Katherine Woodfine and Lizzy Stewart

For some, Christmas and the Nutcracker ballet (especially The Dance of the Supar Plum Fairy) go hand in hand. Now here we have an utterly enchanting picturebook story that weaves together the well- known tale of the Nutcracker with a dancer’s tale. That of Stana who is selected to dance the role of Clara at the Imperial Ballet School’s debut performance in St. Petersburg where the classic ballet was first performed.

Stana is determined to do her very best especially as her younger sister, Olga, is ill in hospital and her older sister has convinced herself that if she dances well, then her sister will surely get better. Every step taken to Mr Tchaikovsky’s music brings hope of her recovery.

With inherent themes of love and family kinship, the combination of Katherine Woodfine’s powerfully atmospheric writing that really transports you to a distant snowy city with soft echoes of Tchaikovsky’s music in the background, and Lizzy Stewart’s gorgeous, 

mainly richly coloured illustrations make a super book that’s ideal for giving to ballet fans. It’s full of the spirit of dedicated determination, a passion for dance and seasonal wonders.

This Way To Treasure Island

This Way to Treasure Island
Lizzy Stewart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Award winning author-illustrator Lizzy Stewart introduces us to two completely contrasting characters, young Matilda and her dad; he tends to be slow, messy and noisy whereas she is fast, tidy and quiet. No matter how different they are though, they almost always have fun together.

One day at the beach Matilda, in possession of a map, announces that she’s off to find treasure. Her dad, she tells him, can accompany her so long as he agrees to follow the map.

Off they go in an old wooden boat with Dad rowing and Matilda giving directions.

Sometimes, Dad becomes distracted and as a result the two drift far out to sea. Dad’s all for taking short cuts but Matilda isn’t sure. She’s even less sure when the nice big rock they’re circling does this …

Fortunately however, the turbulence takes the boat right close to the shore of their treasure island destination. Thereon more map reading is required and almost immediately the two agree to part company; “We’ll see who finds the treasure first!’ says Dad.

Inevitably without his daughter as guide, Dad is soon totally lost.

Matilda meanwhile, although she finds things a tad on the boring side, continues following the map. Eventually she finds the place where according to the map, she should find the treasure but despite looking under, over and inside things, she can’t find it. Time to return to the boat she thinks.

Dad however is still looking and wondering until …

In case you’re wondering, yes they do discover treasure although perhaps it’s not what they were expecting. And then it’s time to go home, maybe without taking any short-cuts however.

Yet again, Lizzy has created a winner with this. Her characters are convincingly portrayed and their treasure island with its rainbow hued flora and fauna, totally gorgeous.

Rich in classroom potential, this smashing book will be requested over and over.

Juniper Jupiter

Juniper Jupiter
Lizzy Stewart
Lincoln Books
Lizzy Stewart’s debut picture book There’s a Tiger in the Garden was a Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize winner last year. Now she has created a super story with a friendship theme and a super-hero character..

A super-hero girl: that’s got to be a cause for celebration from the outset despite the fact that for Juniper Jupiter ‘It’s no big deal.’ This cool character has super powers in abundance: kindness, bravery, speed and guile, strength and she’s super-smart. She can fly too.

All in all it’s a pretty satisfying life but there are times when she feels lonely, so she decides to advertise for ‘side-kick’ and she’s pretty definite where her requirements are concerned …

There are plenty of people wanting the job but it doesn’t take too long for Juniper to rule them all out. Just when despair is setting in and a super sized sulk about to descend upon her, the final applicant makes her presence felt and guess what; she fits the bill perfectly.

Hooray! Now, with Peanut beside her, our young heroine is doubly super but that as you might expect, is ‘no big deal’.

The chatty matter of fact telling leaves the illustrations to do much of the talking and once again they’re absolutely splendid – vibrant, detailed, and beautifully observed, the feeling bored sequence in particular …


If superheroes are your thing then you might also enjoy:
Molly Mischief Saves the World
Adam Hargreaves
This young female is perhaps every parent’s worst nightmare and when she dons her super hero gear and assumes superpowers, well it’s anybody’s guess what she might get up to.
Find out more in this new adventure wherein the feisty miss discovers that being a superhero isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.

9 Months

9 months
Courtney Adamo, Esther van de Paal & Lizzy Stewart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Designed for sharing between adult and child/children, this is a month-by-month explanatory account of the development of a human embryo from fertilisation until the delivery of the baby and just after. It draws on the experiences of the two authors who have between them, nine children.
Each month is given a double spread: the verso provides general information in the form of a factual ‘Did you know’ about animal baby development; two questions and answers about human foetal development and a comparison with a fruit or vegetable of similar size. For instance, ‘The baby is the size of a blueberry’ – that’s month 2 when, we’re told, the human baby still has a tail.
Or as here …

Small vignettes illustrate the facts beautifully.
Opposite, the recto relates how the mother is feeling, with a full page illustration by Lizzy Stewart …

So, sensitively written, packed with fascinating facts, diagrams and illustrations, (the final spreads provide additional information) this is an excellent book for any family preparing for a new baby; and for anyone wanting an accurate, euphemism-free starting point for discussions relating to pregnancy.

I’ve signed the charter  

There’s a Tiger in the Garden

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There’s a Tiger in the Garden
Lizzy Stewart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What would your reaction be if somebody told you there was a tiger in the garden? Dismissive – pretty much the same as young Nora’s, I expect.
When Nora complains of boredom on a visit to her Grandma’s house, her Gran. suggests she go and play in the garden: “I thought I saw a tiger there earlier.” she tells her … “And dragonflies the size of birds and plants that can …” Reluctantly, accompanied by her pal Jeff the Giraffe, off goes Nora outside muttering to herself when Whoosh! something whizzes right past her nose …

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Slightly impressed by what she discovers but still dismissive of the whole nonsensical suggestion of cannibalistic plants, polar bears and tigers, our young heroine urges Jeff to go home but seemingly one of the plants has designs on a Jeff snack …

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Having duly rescued Jeff, Nora remains unconvinced about the polar bear and tiger until that is, she hears a rather gruff voice and sees …

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Nora’s grumpiness is by now almost equal to the polar bear’s (she’s had to accept him too of course) as she asserts “there is absolutely, definitely one hundred per cent no …

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That is only a part of this terrific tale; for the rest you’ll need to get hold of a copy of your own: it’s a delight from cover to cover. The dialogue is absolutely spot on: “Um … Tigers don’t live in gardens,” says Nora. “Are you real?” “I don’t know,” says the tiger. “Are you?” …

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I have an idea,” says the tiger. ”If you believe in me, then maybe I’ll be real.” “And if you believe in me,” says Nora, “then maybe I’ll be real too!” … helping to make this a wonderful read aloud. And, it’s also a great book for those teachers who use ‘Community of Enquiry’ approaches in their primary classrooms.
I love the way the lush vegetation of Grandma’s garden takes on an increasingly jungly appearance the more Nora forays among the plants – seemingly Nora’s imagination is taking over despite her scepticism; and the animals in those gorgeous paintings would surely convince the most ardent of disbelievers. Oh! And there’s a delicious final twist in the tale too.
With a debut picture book as good as this one, I can’t wait to see what Lizzy Stewart does next.

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