Shiny Red Objects – Misidentifications

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Toad and I
Louise Yates
Jonathan Cape
I’ve loved all Louise Yates’ Dog Loves … books so couldn’t wait to read this one. It’s altogether different; Dog is nowhere in sight but we meet some congenial new characters.
Herein we meet young Kitty who, by dint of searching for her lost ball, comes upon the resident of a large tree – a Toad no less; not the kind that on receipt of a kiss becomes a handsome prince, but one that is eager to invite Kitty into his hole of residence aka his treehouse.

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And it’s one that has all mod cons as Toad is only too happy to point out …

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but while he’s so doing, the pair are interrupted by the arrival of Squirrel who announces an injured owl without. Having hastily donned suitable gear, they hurry out to repair the damage so to speak and in so doing, they discover its cause: “A meteorite,” said Owl. “It knocked me off my branch.

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Next stop is back inside – the observatory in case of further meteorite fall. In comes Shrew with another announcement, concerning his house this time. There follows further investigations of a somewhat crazy kind …

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until finally, Kitty takes matters into her own hands, unearths the root of all the trouble and guess what: it’s that small, once spherical object that she’d been playing with at the start; and it had set in motion a whole catastrophic concatenation of Owl displacing, house squashing and hedgehog hitting. Fortunately nobody really minded and even more fortunately Toad and Kitty are able to repair all the damage …

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in time for a game before teatime.
With a lovely final twist – or should that be bounce, we leave the friends to their farewells and promises of further meetings …
What a delicious cast of characters Louise Yates has conjured up here: I hope she brings them back for further adventures.

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The Mouse Who Reached the Sky
Petr Horâček
Walker Books
Co-operation is key in this gorgeous follow-up to The Mouse Who Ate the Moon. Herein Little Mouse spies a shiny red ‘marble’ hanging in a tree, wants it and tries unsuccessfully to reach it.

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Determined to get it however, she enlists the help of Mole who decides it’s a balloon but is equally unsuccessful in reaching the object so they ask Rabbit, who assures them it’s a ball. But can they come up with a plan that will enable them to reach the spherical object, bring it down and finally, identify the thing? Maybe – so long as they work as a team …

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They try their best but despite all their stretching they can’t quite get there … “Oh no!” – “Whoops!” … CRASH! But all is not lost – definitely not, for down it comes together with hundreds more and at last identification done, let the feast commence …

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With a cut-out page and a fold-out, the bright, richly textured, collaged mixed-media illustrations are enormously tactile, appealing to both children and adults. The former will delight in peering down Mole’s hole …

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and then out when the page is turned; and opening the vertical gatefold to reveal the teetering trio.
A beauty from start to thoroughly satisfying finish.

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Fairy Tale Imaginings

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Use Your Imagination
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow
Like its predecessor, this delicious book comes with a warning on the cover – (Rabbit’s suggestion I imagine judging by what ensues therein.). Open up to find a fantastic lesson in storytelling courtesy of one large lupine librarian – who ever heard of such a thing? – and one small and so he proves – highly imaginative Rabbit, not to mention the brilliant Nicola O’Byrne.
Feeling bored, said Rabbit wishes aloud for something to happen and this comment happens to be overheard by said librarian His suggestion is to co-write a story. Having got over (more or less) his surprise at the size of the librarian’s ears – “All the better for listening to stories with, my dear,” and his eyes “All the better for reading with,” the next thing is how to begin. USE YOUR IMAGINATION! – how else? So off we, or rather they, go… ‘Once upon a time.’ That’s the beginning dealt with and oh, it has to be a fairy tale; characters next and the requirement here is a baddie. Size is important; not too small and not too big…

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wolf size is perfect. Then there’s the hero (dress unimportant) and a setting. Again, imagination comes to the fore or should that be forest, here.
Now that’s all settled, let the story start –

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Time to decide who is really calling the shots thereafter and quickly too. Over to you Rabbit…
Cheeky humour, verbal and visual, mixes perfectly with fairytale frights and just the right degree of suspense in this superbly imagined (what else?) book.
It’s one of those that makes you want to wave it from the rooftops and shout come and listen to this NOW.
I had pretty much the same reaction to:

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Dog Loves Fairy Tales
Louise Yates
Jonathan Cape
As he dusts his bookshelves, Dog comes upon a long-lost book of Fairy Tales and in so doing, steps right into an adventure. His first encounter is with an imp who insists he is under a witch’s curse and must remain in his jar. Dog however disagrees. We must find the witch and break the curse he asserts leading the imp out into the Enchanted Forest.

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Now this imp is a thoroughly pessimistic character and no matter what Dog says, he counters it with negativity.
On their journey to find the witch, Dog and imp encounter Goldilocks (in the three bears’ cottage), three little pigs on their construction site,

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Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood in the wood, Rumpelstiltskin (but not Rapunzel; she was not at home – thanks to imp’s bad luck) and more than one big bad wolf before finding the witch.

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She turns out to be anything but wicked and cures imp of his pessimistic streak once and for all leaving Dog and his impish pal to continue together right to THE END and their very own ‘happily ever after’.
This thoroughly engrossing story is brimming over with fairy tale allusions, (some spoken, others shown) making this not only a delight for young audiences but also an absolute gift for teachers. It’s great to read aloud and a super starting point for an exploration of traditional tales in the primary classroom. As with her previous Dog stories, the characters are beautifully portrayed in Louise Yates’ wonderful, very funny watercolour illustrations. She manages to convey the entire range of emotions seemingly effortlessly with that light touch of hers. Cool endpapers too.
It’s me, not the imp who is bewitched where this book is concerned.

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Witches, whales, washing and wandering

Rich Witch Poor Witch
Peter Bently and Jim Field
Macmillan pbk.
Meet twin witches, poor Rose who provides her services free to the ordinary folks and rich Rita whose wealthy clients include royalty. Indeed it is the King himself who calls asking for help to cheer up the young Princess Anna Lucinda Cecelia Grace who just will not smile. However, no amount of wand wielding and magical trickery makes one iota of difference to the gloomy miss. Before long the whole palace is in utter chaos with drapes aflame and tables trashed but what of the princess? It’s left to butler Mort, to announce not only the arrival of Witch Rose but also the whereabouts of the missing Anna Lucinda. Both are outside playing chase and yes! the Princess has an enormous smile on her face. Magic or what? Definitely not explains Rose; all that the princess needed was someone to play with.
This rhyming tale fizzes and sparkles with energy and the appropriately gaudy illustrations abound with visual jokes.
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The Storm Whale
Benji Davies
Simon and Schuster pbk.
Noi lives a rather lonely life in a beach-side house with his fisherman father and their six cats. One morning after a stormy night, he goes down onto the seashore and as he walks he comes upon a small whale left high and dry by the storm. Noi manages to get the whale home and into the bath where he tells it stories about his island life. Concerned about his dad’s reaction to the newcomer, Noi keeps quiet all evening but finally his secret is discovered. Then he has to face the fact that his new friend belongs in the sea and together father and son return the whale to its rightful home.
A gentle tale of loving and caring enough to let go. I love the fact that Noi is shown playing records of Sounds of the Sea and Handel’s Water Music to the whale in the bath. Understated as it is, this warm-hearted book packs a powerful punch.
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How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth
Michelle Robinson & Kate Hindley
Simon and Schuster pbk.
Presented as an instruction manual, a small girl narrator provides a step-by-step guide to performing a very tricky and likely to be, protracted, operation – Woolly Mammoth washing or rather, bathing. Should your mammoth need this treatment, make sure you don your mackintosh and wellies and have to hand: a broom, spooky mask, skateboard, heavy-duty crane, cake, and of course, shampoo. Just make sure the latter doesn’t go in its eyes though. Oh, oh! … for STEP EIGHT: To get said ‘wet woolly mammoth down from a tree you’ll need … a very STRONG trampoline.’ To discover the remaining steps, you’ll just have to get hold of a copy of this delightful book. Beautifully understated, simply told in dead- pan style, the text leaves Kate Hindley plenty of scope to exercise her sense of the ridiculous in both her full-page scenes and smaller comic cut capers.
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Maxine Lee
Caterpillar Books pbk.
Meet the fearless Pi-Rat and his mates as they sail the high seas. Seemingly nothing daunts them be it crocodiles, sharks or the darkness but when the brave pirate captain sights a hairy paw through his telescope it seems the hearty crew are about to meet their doom.
The visual clue to the setting of this adventure is the name of Pi-Rat’s craft on the back cover and the first spread. This bath-time tale of the imagination is told almost entirely through speech bubbles and bold visuals that zoom right in on the action. There is plenty to laugh at in the larger than life illustrations inspired by the treasure trove of bath-time and everyday toys; I love the space- hopping and pogo-sticking crew members as they leap and bounce across the crocodile-infested waters. I envisage this one being asked for over and over again.
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Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo
Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie
Red Fox pbk.
When the boy narrator receives a letter announcing he’s won a prize, off he cycles to run a zoo for the day. And what a strange, chaotic place this turns out to be. Its inmates include the growling Grimblegraw, the dangling Dinglebee, the Morph, Quees, Furry Furbles and horror of horrors, the child gobbling Squirgal, to mention just some of the crazy creatures he encounters. But in our small, prize-winning hero, those recalcitrant rioters more than meet their match.
Crying out for audience participation, this story certainly went down well with several groups of under fives who loved the tongue tingling rhyming text and crazy mock scary monsters.
It’s a good one to stimulate young children’s artistic and verbal creativity: have huge sheets of paper, paints and large pens at the ready.
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Dog Loves Counting
Louise Yates
Red Fox pbk.
Louise Yates’ endearing bibliophile Dog returns for a third adventure. Now he’s looking for alternatives to sheep to count, so that he can get to sleep. And the vehicle for his search is of course, a book.; a Big Book of Curious Creatures wherein he discovers all manner of fascinating things to innumerate, beginning with one baby dodo that emerges from a large egg. The two of them continue through the book encountering in turn, a three-toed sloth, … a five-lined skink… to a ten-legged (pincers included) crab and so on to an infinitely grained sandy desert whereupon the the all-important number one is counting stars. And we leave the whole cast star gazing and still counting, until … it’s morning again, the start of another day filled with books, friends and, let’s hope, many more adventures.
This flight of fancy is another winner from the inspirational Lucy Yates. It’s wonderfully imagined, cleverly constructed and brilliantly portrayed through both words and pictures. Moreover, it is likely to make young listeners enjoy counting just as much as the chief protagonist who has already encouraged countless children to become like him, lovers of ‘Books’ and ‘Drawing’.
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The Acorn
Edward Gibbs
Templar Publishing (BF&F) pbk.
This wonderfully simple book has lessons a-plenty between its covers – reading lessons and science lessons but more important than those, the whole thing is a real pleasure to share with the very young.
A little yellow acorn falls from a tree, a little acorn with a large purpose. But there is a problem – also large –all manner of hungry forest animals think that an acorn would make a tasty tidbit. Such are the acorn’s powers of persuasion ‘Oh, please don’t eat me now, … I’ll be even tastier later.’ that it manages to escape the jaws of white mouse, orange squirrel, blue bird, grey rabbit, brown boar and red deer. Then the acorn begins to grow, time passes and true to its words, it becomes a huge shelter-giving tree with acorns aplenty. And, in familiar folk-tale, patterned text style, the whole thing begins over again…
Each spread is cleverly linked to the previous one so that every turn of the page serves to move the visual narrative seamlessly forwards. Gibbs’ delightfully scribbly animal images on the forest floor are a treat in themselves, and, there is a further fold-out surprise at the end.
Perfectly predictable, endlessly re-readable.
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