The Hundred Decker Bus / The Hundred Decker Rocket

The Hundred Decker Bus
The Hundred Decker Rocket

Mike Smith
Macmillan Children’s Books

New to me but a reissue of his debut picture book is Mike Smith’s The Hundred Decker Bus. Tired of his usual routine, the bus driver takes inspiration from a passing hot air balloon and decides to take a new route that he’s never before noticed. Imagine being on that bus: what would your reaction be to a diversion to nobody knows where? That of the passengers (whose numbers increase en route), is one of happy abandon, as after a day’s driving the bus reaches …

But that is only a small part of their adventure about which I’ll say no more other than the sky’s the limit … or maybe it’s not.

This fantastical story with its awesome fold-out page will grip youngsters as they explore not only that spread but every one of Mike Smith’s humorous, highly detailed scenes be they large or small.

Share this uplifting picture book reissue either with one child, a group or a whole class. It has huge potential in the classroom.

So too does The Hundred Decker Rocket. This begins in Ivy’s bedroom where she’s just finished creating a massive telescope through which she sees a strange and beautiful ‘something’ glimmering in the sky far off. An adventure beckons Ivy and her trusty dog Eddie, but that will require another round of constructing.

Several days later the two are blasting off skywards in their rocket, landing unceremoniously, after what seems an incredibly long journey. on a planet entirely covered in rubbish.

Eddie learns from the resident environmentally un-savvy aliens that they’ve messed up their home and now want to leave and find a new place to live – if Ivy and Eddie help them build a spaceship that is. The construction continues apace as more and more aliens appear and yet more rubbish accumulates and is used, leaving the planet much cleaner.

With a hundred decks duly built, they deem the rocket ready for boarding and blast off takes place that night.

Eventually the aliens agree on what they feel is a suitable new planet and down they go … but there’s a strange familiarity about it …

With a great final twist, incredibly detailed, zany scenes that youngsters will pore over for hours revelling in the wealth of humorous touches, including speech bubbles and onomatopoeic noises off, and its fold-out page, this is a cracking book. Highly relevant is the vital environmental message about the importance of caring for our planet.

If you’re after a fun story or a super starting point for an ecological discussion that will galvanise children to take care what they throw out and where/how they dispose of it, this is it.

Ruffles and the Teeny, Tiny Kittens / I am Dog!

Ruffles and the Teeny, Tiny Kittens
David Melling
Nosy Crow

Puppy Ruffles is in many ways similar to a little human as he learns about the world – its ups and downs. There’s much he enjoys but if there’s one thing he particularly dislikes it’s teeny tiny kittens. So you can imagine his feelings when five lively kittens of the teeny tiny kind come to stay. He is far from happy about their high-spirited actions, their noises and their poo. They follow him wherever he goes and try to do whatever anti-sharer Ruffles does. Worst of all is that they want to enjoy the delights of his Big Blue Blankie.

When a tug of war over this special object occurs the kittens’ game results in catastrophe.

Can these frolicking felines perhaps help Ruffles learn one of life’s important lessons – that sharing is the best way to make friends and have fun.
Once again David’s observations are spot on and this funny follow up to Ruffles and the Red, Red Coat is sure to be another winner with youngsters of the human kind. With its text closely matching the terrific illustrations this is also an ideal book for young learner readers.

I am Dog!
Peter Bently and Chris Chatterton
Macmillan Children’s Books

We meet another playful pooch herein, this time acting as the book’s narrator and telling of a day in its life from its very own doggy viewpoint. And what a clever creature to speak in clipped canine rhyme about liking such things as ‘beggy-beggy trick’ and ‘fetchy-fetchy stick’.
This canine can’t resist a watery chase,

a race or ‘feeling wind in face’, not to mention rolling in strongly ponging foxy droppings.

However, like the majority of canines, our narrator has a great aversion to the moggy residing next door.

Much more enjoyable are cosy cuddles, ‘lap-lap-lappy puddles’, sniffing the rear ends of fellow dogs and the ‘sniff-sniff’ aromas emanating from the tasty meal laid out on the table. But therein lies both disaster and satisfaction:

now what does the little human residing in the same home think of all this? …

Chris’s action-packed scenes portraying the predilections and pranks of Dog are hilarious and provide the perfect complement to Peter’s bouncy, splendidly onomatopoeic text.

Jack and the Beanstalk & Cinderella / Vocabulary Ninja Workbooks

Jack and the Beanstalk
Cinderella

Stephen Tucker and Nick Sharratt
Macmillan Children’s Books

When I was a KS1 class teacher these lift-the-flap fairy tales were very popular with children just taking off as readers. The fact that youngsters were in the main already familiar with the stories, their rhyming texts, and Nick’s trademark cartoon bright, bold humorous illustrations made them ideal choices for confidence building as well as entertainment and getting across the vital reading is fun message.

Now with new editions that include a QR code to scan to access audio versions read by actor Anna Chancellor, the playful, witty tellings will be sure fire winners with a new generation of learner readers and listeners in school or at home.

Vocabulary Ninja Workbooks
Andrew Jennings
Bloomsbury Education

This series of six vocabulary books is intended to support home learning. There is one for each year group from Y1 through to Y6 ie covering both KS1 and KS2 and providing the vocabulary likely to be needed in the National Curriculum topics such as geography, history and science.

With most children missing a lot of school over the past eighteen months these books are likely to be a boon for parents struggling to help their youngsters and not knowing where to turn.

Aiming to extend vocabulary and literacy skills in general in a fun, imaginative way, the activities on the pages of each book are grouped into levels: grasshopper, shin obi, warrior, samurai, assassin and grand master. In his introduction, the author (a teacher) suggests that a child should attempt to do the first two levels as independently as possible while from level three and beyond, he recommends some adult support to ensure full understanding. However those of us who are teachers or work in education will know that a great deal of differentiation may be required within a class, so parents will have to be guided by their own judgement and assuredly children will enjoy some adult interaction.

With their colourful graphics, straightforward instructions and activities that never overwhelm,

these books offer engaging and much-needed support and empowerment for learning at home, especially at present.

Wild Child

Wild Child
Dara McAnulty and Barry Falls
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is such a beautiful book written by award-winning author of Diary Of A Young Naturalist and gorgeously illustrated by rising star, Barry Falls.

With his distinctive voice, Dara McAnulty invites readers to take a close look at the world around, journeying into and exploring with all your senses, the five different locations that he describes both poetically and scientifically.

First off is a look through the window, after which we go outside into the garden, wander in the woods, saunter up onto heathlands and meander along the riverbank. At each location we pause while Dara provides a lyrical introduction to the habitat followed by a wealth of factual information about the wildlife – both flora and fauna – to be found there.

This includes a discovery spread where in turn, you can learn the collective nouns for eleven different birds,

take a look at classification, find out how various trees propagate

and about migration and metamorphosis.

An activity to do once you get home concludes most sections: make a bird feeder, make a terrarium, create a journey stick (I love that).

Assuredly this will help any reader, young or not so young, connect more deeply with the joys and wonders of the natural world, and find their inner wild child.

The author finishes with some sage words about the fragility of nature and caring for the countryside, plus a glossary.

Altogether a smashing book for families and schools.

The Bookshop Cat

The Bookshop Cat
Cindy Wume
Macmillan Children’s Books

In rising star Cindy Wume’s new book we meet a bibliophile black cat.

One day, while out exploring the city, said young moggy lands his dream job at the children’s bookshop thus acquiring his titular name too. He’s certainly an ideal assistant and before long proves himself both to his family who had despaired at his insistence on putting reading before achieving, and to the shop’s young customers for each of whom he manages to find just the right book.

Then one morning, disaster strikes: torrential rain causes the pipes to burst and a flood in the bookshop; outside is also under water. The result is that for several days nobody at all comes to the shop: both young Violet the owner’s grandaughter and the Bookshop Cat are thoroughly downcast.

Back at home, the Bookshop Cat’s family decide to pitch in and help. Happily Violet comes up with a wonderful idea:

if the children don’t come to the bookshop, the bookshop must go out to them. Indeed the entire city is transformed into a library and not only that, the workers find a way to get the customers back into the shop. Hurrah!

It’s an absolute delight with superb detailed illustrations; and what a wonderful demonstration of the power of reading, of books and bookshops, as well as an affirmation of the Bookshop Cat’s words early on in the story, “With a book, I can go anywhere and be anything.”

Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door / Mirabelle’s Bad Day

Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door
Lola Morayo, illustrated by Cory Reid
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is the first of a sparkly new series starring Aziza who is fanatical about all things fairy; she’s even named after a type of fairy creature from West African folklore.

On the day this tale unfolds, Aziza is celebrating her birthday and is especially excited by the mysterious parcel containing a fairy door with DIY instructions, that arrives from she knows not where.

The intrigue increases when having found a place to stand it (she’s a flat dweller so it’s not easy), Aziza lying in bed that evening hears a knocking sound seemingly coming from the other side of the decorated door. When she touches its knob, the door opens and she finds herself transported to Shimmerton where she soon makes friends with Princess Peri and nose-twitching shapeshifter Tiko. 

Just the characters she needs to help her take on the Gigglers aka Kendra, Noon and Felly who take possession of the doorknob thus leaving Aziza trapped in Shimmerton without her only means of returning home. This threesome need to learn a few lessons, not least about taking things that don’t belong to them without asking and about kindness and fairness.

With the help of her new friends, will Aziza manage to make it back to her family?

By creative duo Tólá Okogwu and Jasmine Richards writing under the pen name Lola Morayo this is a thoroughly engaging magical story about perseverance and earning respect among other things, that’s just right for new solo readers. In their fantasy setting, they introduce readers to a diverse host of fascinating characters not least a curmudgeonly anthropomorphic clock and a talking unicorn shopkeeper. 

Cory Reid’s black and white illustrations have an appropriate quirkiness about them and are a perfect complement for the text.

I’m sure the delightful Aziza will have youngsters eagerly awaiting her next adventure beyond that Secret Fairy Door.

More magic in

Mirabelle Has a Bad Day
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford Children’s Books

We all have days when everything seems to go wrong and so it is with half fairy, half witch Mirabelle. She’s actually set herself up for one the previous evening by not putting away her spell ingredients before going to bed, as well as forgetting to bring her broomstick in from outside. 

The day in the title begins when she sees the state of her hair on waking and then at breakfast time learns that her brother has finished the rose petal fairy flakes leaving her no option but to have some of the batwing porridge her mum’s made instead. And as for her broomstick …

From then on things get even worse: she arrives at school late and sopping wet, her best friend is absent and she can’t join in the playground games on account of her over large borrowed attire.

Later, at home even bigger disasters are waiting to happen, in part due to the transformation potion Mirabelle made in class, a portion of which she was allowed to bottle up and take home; 

that and the fact that her infuriating brother has gobbled every single one of the remaining chocolate biscuits and is playing with her pet dragon.

Will Mirabelle end up going to bed in a foul mood or will things get better before she closes her eyes?

This enchanting book with its dramatic illustrations ends with some magical Mirabelle extras including a recipe for witchy cakes.

Established fans will likely gobble this (not the cakes) in a single sitting and Mirabelle is sure to gain some new followers too.

Sometimes I Am Furious

Sometimes I Am Furious
Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger
Macmillan Children’s Books

Who can fail to fall for the adorable little person standing in angry mode on the cover of this book. She’s the narrator too, so we get the picture straight from the toddler’s mouth as she talks of life as she sees it – the high points and the lows. The times when you feel like sharing some of the good things, or being helpful perhaps; even when one of your special grown-ups has made a mess of things.

All too often it seems though, things just don’t feel fair AT ALL: your parents boss you around, your favourite cake has sold out; your body in your tights feels all wrong and your yummy ice cream splats on the floor. These things are totally INFURIATING.

It’s at times like that when you need a good cuddle and some welcome words of advice spoken softly.

Then next time those ‘not fair’ feelings start to bubble you know some lovely deep breaths, slow counting and a happy song will take care of your fizzly emotion – well almost always.

What a smashing way to present to little ones (and grown ups) the gamut of emotions that are part and parcel of toddler life, as well as some simple strategies to deal with life’s lows. In their dynamic delivery – verbal and visual – of one of life’s vital lessons, team Timothy and Joe have created a cracking book that is just the thing for sharing and discussing with little ones at home, or in an early years setting. (Perfect for supporting PSED.)

Exploding Beetles & Inflatable Fish

Exploding Beetles & Inflatable Fish
Tracey Turner and Andrew Wightman
Macmillan Children’s Books

Sam, narrator of this funky STEM information book is totally obsessed with all that’s weird and wonderful about members of the animal kingdom. (There is mention of the occasional plant too.) He keeps four pets – stick insects of the Indian variety named Twiggy and Wiggy, a goldfish named Bob (deemed boring by Sam’s elder brother) and a hamster, Letty. Readers learn a fair bit about these creatures along the way including the fact that stick insects often eat the old skin they’ve shed and as a defence mechanism, they might exude from their joints a foul-smelling liquid or spray attackers with a nasty chemical substance. Best not to attack a stick insect then.
I should say at this point that throughout the book Sam has drawn or rather claims to have done (actually Andrew Wightman is the illustrator) all kinds of funky creatures eating, pooing and just generally going about their lives.
On the poo topic, did you know that a fair number of animals including woodlice eat their own? (they never ever wee though) Or that wombats have cube-shaped poo – how on earth do they manage excreting that without discomfort?

I’m pretty sure your reaction to the revelation that bombardier beetles can explode like toxic water pistols will be similar to mine – best to steer clear of their bums.

Much of this fascinating information is related during a hunt for Twiggy. Sam discovers that the little creature has gone awol from his vivarium when he goes to spray water inside.

Happily she is eventually found (hiding in plain sight) but not before Sam has shared a considerable number of amazing factual snippets with readers.

Terrific fun and gently educational too.

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.

Aunt Amelia’s House / We Want Our Books

Aunt Amelia’s House
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books

When it comes to aunts, Aunt Amelia, is surely unique. Now the children are mega-excited as they’re off to stay at her house for the very first time.

Arriving with high expectations of lots of fun, they certainly aren’t expecting her to present them with a long list of jobs that need to be done.

However, whether it’s watering the plants, picking fruit and sharing it with the neighbours, feeding her pets, hanging out the washing, cleaning the windows,

or entertaining visitors, Aunt Amelia has her own highly unusual way of doing it. And the children need not have feared about chores being enjoyable: done Aunt Amelia style they are enormous fun, albeit pretty exhausting.

As always, Rebecca’s illustrations are full of fun, fascinating details making each spread one to linger over, while both words and pictures exude warmth and a gentle humour that celebrates the special relationship young children have with aunts (or other family members).

With its unexpected ending, this is a super story, to share at home or in the classroom, that will likely spark discussion of what is special about listeners’ own aunts or other relations.

We Want Our Books
Jake Alexander
Two Hoots

When Rosa visits her local library she discovers that it’s been closed. Horrified, she seeks advice from her elder sister who says that a protest is what’s needed. However their ‘SAVE OUR LIBRARY’ poster fails to impress and so the girls try to enlist help from other people in the town but they’re all too busy even to see them, or to hear their voices.

The girls aren’t giving up that easily though, so they up their game much to the disapproval of the developer.

Determined to thwart the planned closure, the family stands outside the library where they soon discover that they’re not the only ones who feel strongly about saving what is very much a vital part of their community.

Finally it’s a case of mission accomplished and rather than losing interest in using the facility, the community members make the library a thriving establishment; and it was all thanks to one little girl who reignited their enthusiasm.

Powerfully illustrated and simply told using Rosa as narrator, this story of determination and community beats the drum for local libraries, too many of which have already had their hours drastically cut or been forced to close altogether, and demonstrates the importance of protesting peacefully for what we believe in.

The Pet

The Pet
Catherine Emmett and David Tazzyman
Macmillan Children’s Books

Young Digby David is a demanding sort of a boy, especially when it comes to wanting a pet, and happily for him, his dad is an obliging sort of guy, maybe somewhat over indulgent. So when the lad issues one of his urgent stipulations, what does Daddy do (after his hair has turned slightly grey that is) but pick up the phone to the pet shop. Before long there they stand in the shop with Digby insisting on having, contrary to the owner’s advice, the hairiest rodent there. Dad offers double the price and off they go. Digby is a loving guinea pig owner – but for a mere half day, after which the poor creature is left untended in her hutch.
Things continue in similar fashion. Digby wants to better Lily Jean’s cat,

Lola’s frog, and Dipak’s froggy threesome and each time it’s a case of Dad gaining a few more grey hairs, calling the pet shop and making an extravagant purchase.

But then what should catch young mister ‘I WANT’s eye but Gus the gorilla.
Mr David parts with all his cash (is he crazy?) and finally Digby is happy. For a while at least, but then as the novelty wears off, so does the attention Gus is paid.

What does a bored gorilla do? This one decides to make a break for it. And we’ll leave the large hairy creature there …

But what of Digby, you might be wondering. Sorry but I’m going to leave that matter hanging too …

Delivered in jaunty rhyme that reads aloud brilliantly (so long as you can resist the urge to dissolve into giggles), and David Tazzyman’s wonderfully droll, scribblesome illustrations, this is a corker of a cautionary tale showing how crucial it is to take proper care of your pets – whatever they are. Oh! and stop and think before you wish …

Destined to become a firm favourite with both adult sharers and their young audiences.

Investigators Take the Plunge

Investigators Take the Plunge
John Patrick Green
Macmillan Children’s Books

Top agents and crime busting alligator duo Mango and Brash have a new mission involving a rocket containing stolen code that can turn any machine into a combitron (a device able to stick any two things together). They are able to stop the rocket from causing total destruction in the city; but by inadvertently pressing the wrong button, they transmit the code and it falls into the wrong hands – those of a robot. YIKES! – a robot they most definitely have to track down.

There’s another problem though: also hunting for this bot is their arch enemy Crackerdile, ex SUIT agent and presently in a fragile, easily dissolvable state. This creature intends using the combitron to merge himself with something that would make him a while lot stronger and thus better placed to get revenge on the Investigators.

Then another wrong move while down in the sewers results in a flooded city and demotion for Mango and Brash who are replaced by the B-team (badgers).

Meanwhile some weird combinations have occurred:, a scientist now has banana hands and a plumber and an anaconda have combined. However, the A-team aren’t ready to give up that easily. Who will crack this increasingly crazy case: Team A or Team B or might a spot of collaboration work? …

Delivered in zany, graphic novel style, this is assuredly another fast moving instalment of mayhem and madness that’s brimming over with ridiculous names, puns and other rib-tickling wordplay. Moreover, it ends with an indication of more to come and that’s sure to be welcomed by fans.

Beyond the Burrow

Beyond the Burrow
Jessica Meserve
Macmillan Children’s Books

Rabbits prefer to stay close to their cosy burrows with other rabbits for company and juicy carrots for sustenance. When it comes to other creatures, particularly large hairy ones with claws, they’re considered terrifying, avoid at all costs, beasties.

When the Rabbit protagonist in this story discovers what looks like the most delectable breakfast carrot, little does she know that it’s about to change her life.

In attempting to reach said carrot, she takes a tumble and finds herself entering the wrong hole. Not only that but when she emerges it’s to feel herself plunging into the depths of a river. Happily she surfaces and is able to cling tight to a passing log but she’s far from her burrow. But then comes a face-to-face encounter with a not-rabbit that has all the alarming features Rabbit most fears.

Time to make a rabbity leap for safety and dig for all you’re worth.

Is this the end for our long-eared friend? She fears it might be so. Instead however, the not-rabbit pushes something towards her and such is Rabbit’s hunger that she risks a tiny bite.

Then follows an entirely new, brave idea that results in her climbing way up out of her comfort zone until she sees …

Despite claws and hairiness, the giant not-rabbit turns out to be ‘no so very scary’. Likewise the other not-rabbits that have gathered up in the treetops. Mutual acts of kindness ensue and Rabbit decides that falling can sometimes be fun.

That night though, she stays awake thinking about home and come morning, she spies a familiar sight far away. Time to try to reach it, but with friends in tow everything feels less scary

and eventually her burrow is in hopping distance …

Can things get any better? Perhaps, but to find out, you’ll need to get hold of a copy of Jessica’s book …

With plenty of dramatic moments, and full of warmth and humour, the story is huge fun to read aloud. Jessica’s depictions of ‘NOT very rabbity’ behaviour and indeed the antics of the treetop dwelling menagerie are highly entertaining. So too are the plethora of signs scattered strategically in various places throughout Rabbit’s adventure.

A Poem for Every Spring Day / The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems

Here are two recent poetry collections from Macmillan Children’s Books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

A Poem for Every Spring Day
ed. Allie Esiri

This is the third in the seasonal series – almost every one of which is taken from Allie Esiri’s A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year and once again it’s brimming over with poetry to lift your spirits.
Among the offerings herein you’ll certainly find many old favourites – lots took me right back to my days in primary school and even before that when my dad read A.A. Milne and Lewis Carroll aloud to me, as well as unearthing some new treasures.
As with the Autumn and Winter books, there are two poems for each day from 1st March through to the end of May and again Allie provides an introductory paragraph for each of her selections. Most of us associate spring with new life and yes, there are plenty of entries reflecting that aspect of the season but it’s more than just longer days, birdsong and buds opening and A Poem for Every Spring Day reflects this. There are poems commemorating specific occasions such as Rachel Rooney’s First Word (After Helen Keller) where she writes of Helen feeling water flowing from a pump with one hand while the letters for ‘water’ were spelt on her other palm. That moment took place on April 5th.
Another one that is hugely moving and also new to me is Duranka Perera’s Bitter State. The poet is also a doctor living in the UK and native of Sri Lanka where horrendous terrorist attacks took place on 30th March. It begins thus: ‘I was angry when it happened. / I was angry when the numbers continued to rise. / I was angry when bitter tongues lashed old wounds. / I was angry when a dying monument drew more /money than / The dying themselves.’
From John Agard to William Wordsworth, whatever your taste in poetry, there will be plenty to savour in this collection.

The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems
chosen by Brian Moses

Poet Brian Moses has chosen an assortment of splendidly silly poems for this compilation of over a hundred giggle inducers.
The selection has ten sections, each named with a line from or title of, one of the poems included. Thus for example we have ‘The red ear blows its nose’ from Robert Schechter’s What’s Mine for the first – Silly and Even Sillier Poems.
The teacher part of me wanted to turn next to the Headmaster’s Welcome where among the thirteen I totally loved Brian’s own The School Goalie’s Reasons
The writer/reviewer part of me just had to turn next to the Fantasy and Fairy Tales offerings where there are some terrific four liners including Rachel Rooney’s Epitaph for Humpty Dumpty: ‘ Beneath this wall there lies the shell / Of someone who had talents. / But (as you can probably tell) / One of them wasn’t balance.’ What a great starting point for a bit of epitaph writing in the classroom using a nursery rhyme theme. On the subject of the classroom, in the Funny Poems About Poems section is Joshua Seigal’s terrific I Don’t Like Poetry that offers a smashing lesson on similes, metaphors, alliteration, onomatopoeia and repetition. An invitation to youngsters to play around with words for sure.
Should your taste be more for pets, dinosaurs, family, space or things spooky, never fear: you’ll find all these covered too.
We all need something to cheer us up at the moment so why not start with this collection: it will long outlast the current pandemic however.

How Do You Make a Rainbow? / Finney’s Story

Positivity shines through in both these recent picture books:

How Do You Make a Rainbow?
Caroline Crowe and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Macmillan Children’s Books

Rainbows have always been symbols of hope but during the last year have come to symbolise not only that hope of better things to come, but also our appreciation of NHS staff and other key workers with children everywhere creating their own rainbows to say thank you.

This book starts with a little girl and her grandad looking out on a grey rainy world and the child asking for his help to create a cheering up the sky rainbow. Rather than offering a scientific answer, Grandad explains that rainbows aren’t really painted; rather they’re created from kindness and hope, love and thinking of others.

Then, taking one colour at a time,

he goes on to give examples of small, everyday things that bring and give cheer both to others and ourselves.
Told in Caroline’s jaunty rhyme and through Cally’s playful, vibrant illustrations that exude positivity and kindness,

this is a hugely heartwarming book (with two final spreads of activities), for sharing both at home and in foundation stage settings. Definitely one to reach for if you’re feeling a bit down; it will surely act as a reminder of focusing on the positive things in life.

Finney’s Story
Alana Washington and Charlotte Caswell
UCLan Publishing

Finney the fox is an aspiring book author but he has a lot to learn about the whole process of authorship. Fortunately however, he has a moggy friend that is ready and willing to offer some helpful advice, or should that be, criticism. The trouble is, does Finney really have any ideas of the original kind,

let alone an understanding of what that word actually means.

Cat’s suggested visit to the library …

leaves him even more dispirited “All the original stories are gone,” he reports. Finney does notice something else however, something that might just be of assistance. But will this ‘ideas machine’ as he calls himself ever actually produce the goods?

Listeners will love being in the know with Cat as Finney puts forward his proposed storylines from traditional tales in this dialogue between the two friends. They’ll love too, Charlotte Caswell’s bold illustrations with their silhouettes depicting the fairytale characters Finney mentions in his story openers.

There’s a QR code inside the front cover which when scanned gives access to a free Sarah-Ann Kennedy audio reading of the book.

Beauty and the Bin

Beauty and the Bin
Joanne O’Connell
Macmillan Children’s Books

For Laurie Larksie things seem to have improved since she started at secondary school. It’s sufficiently far from their home not to invite her new friends around, something she’s anxious to avoid as her eco-warrior parents are, despite their best intentions, an embarrassment to her. Their house is also a hydroponic growing farm, and her mum and dad involve both Laurie and her younger sister, Fern, in salvaging food from supermarket bins despite Laurie’s determination not to become as she says, ‘Garbage Girl’. While she’s happy to go along with most of what her parents do, they refuse to listen to how she feels about this particular activity. After all she just wants to fit in – buy herself some new clothes, have hot chocolate after school with her friends Zainab and Emilia, and use social media.

When an inter-school competition for young entrepreneurs is announced, Laurie sees it’s a great chance to showcase her homemade skin and beauty products that use only natural ingredients – Beauty in the Kitchen – and before you can say ‘enterprise’ she finds she’s been approached by Charley (the school’s uber-cool girl) as her partner.

Before long though, conflicts of interest begin to arise: Laurie’s family want her to be fully involved in the fast approaching March4Climate protest, so she has to try and juggle family commitments with the competition, while not losing her two best friends.

Can Laurie manage to stay true to her principles and continue working with somebody who thinks she’s always right? And who will eventually win that competition?

The author’s inspiration for her thought-provoking, humorous debut book came after spending a year as a journalist writing about food waste, so she really knows and feels strongly about waste and sustainability. Alongside these themes though she explores the personal journey of her chief protagonist, Laurie, as she learns what real friendship means.
(Also included are some beauty recipes, and ‘top tips’ from Laurie on how to avoid wasting food.)

Strongly recommend for upper KS2 readers and those around Laurie’s age just finding their feet at secondary school.

Murder on the Safari Star

Murder on the Safari Star
M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Pagnelli
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tickets ready? Then climb aboard the Safari Star.

Harrison Beck is somewhat underwhelmed when he receives his Christmas present from his Uncle Nat until he discovers that the small tin contains more than just the sticks of charcoal. Inside too is a train ticket: at half term he and his uncle are going to South Africa for the trip of a lifetime all the way from Pretoria to Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia in a luxury train.

So begins another fast-paced, twisting turning, hold on to your seats adventure.

Aboard the train are a host of interesting characters from various parts of the world and even before they’ve departed Hal has made friends with Winston the son of the train’s safari guide; with him is Chipo, Winston’s yellow mongoose. There’s one passenger that almost everyone takes an instant dislike to, that’s Mervyn Crosby, an extremely rude character who boasts about having heads of four of the Big Five animals on his wall and lacking only the rhino. He also says he’s brought his rifle along – which is strictly prohibited.

No sooner is the journey under way than the two boys are off exploring the entire train and finding out what they can about their fellow passengers.

But then one of them meets with a terrible accident – or is it? At any rate there’s a fatality aboard and almost everybody is under suspicion.

Before you can say ‘rhino horns’ Hal, his uncle and Winston are investigating a mystery and it’s one that has to be solved before the train reaches the Zambian border.. It’s as well Hal has brought along his essential equipment – his sketch pad and drawing tools. He’ll certainly need to make full use of his wits, his observation skills and his powers of deduction in this life and death conundrum that involves poisonous snakes, 

hidden compartments, smuggling and more. And, there is time to see some incredible wildlife such as a rhino, zebras, elephants and impalas too. I loved the conservation element of the story.

Once again Elisa Paganelli’s illustrations are superb.

How To Be a Hero / The Broken Leg of Doom

How To Be a Hero
Cat Weldon, illustrated by Kate Kear
Macmillan Children’s Books

Life as a trainee Valkyrie is not going at all well for young Lotta; she’s in danger of remaining forever stuck in the lowest class. Matters get even worse when the trainees are sent out to bring back a fallen warrior.

Mistaking young Whetstone, an unconscious viking thief as a fallen hero, Lotta carries him back up to Valhalla, and that’s where the real trouble starts. Live humans are not allowed in Valhalla.

Whetstone, a human who wants only to prove himself and achieve fame and fortune, has let himself be talked into crime. He steals, hides and loses a precious talking cup – a cup that trickster Loki desperately wants and will go to any lengths to get hold of.

Now anxious to make amends, Whetstone and Lotta have to try and work together as they embark on a journey to find the cup before Loki.

There’s even more trouble for the pair though when they manage to lose a crucial Dwarf harp as well as rousing a slumbering dragon.

Now Whetstone really MUST pull out all the stops and prove himself a hero after all. Can he do so; and does Lotta finally manage to move on from being that class three trainee?

This is a highly entertaining, fast-paced romp with some crazy situations, fun and interesting characters, dragons and more. Kate Kear’s zany illustrations are just right for the playful telling. This book will surely appeal especially to youngsters with an interest in mythology. but anyone who likes a good yarn should give it a go. It’s the first of a trilogy so look out for further episodes involving Whetstone et al.

The Broken Leg of Doom
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham
Nosy Crow

This the tenth story in the hilarious series, is narrated by Maisie’s friend Izzy. Maisie has broken her leg doing some ‘extreme dancing’ and is taken to hospital.

That in itself is bad but things are about to get even worse, starting with the fact that following e-rays, Maisie is sent to ward 13 and she’s terrified of that particular number.
Enter (he’s actually already a patient), a rather strange boy Seb, who sits down beside the sleeping Maisie’s bed and starts going on about a curse. Talk about weird. But that’s only the start of the strange events in ward 13.

Later Seb says that the curse has now sneaked inside Maisie’s cast and is causing problems. That however isn’t all we hear of curses, but there are other strange things too: somehow the sprinklers get turned on, flooding – you can guess which ward. And what about the ’mummy’ that’s roaming around. By this time it seems that only Maisie among the children isn’t talking of THE CURSE.

Then a certain very special cuddly toy suddenly goes missing, followed not long after, by the appearance of creepy messages on Maisie’s cast.

Oh yes, there’s some weird shenanigans concerning the sandwich trolley too.

Will Maisie and her pals ever get to the bottom of all the mysterious events and break that terrible curse once and for all. It’s certainly going to need some outstanding investigative skills.

Pamela Butchart capitalises on the vivid imagination of children, allowing her group of young characters to get carried away – just take a look at their expressions in Thomas Flintham’s wacky drawings in this zany adventure. It’s assuredly one that will have both individual readers and primary class listeners laughing out loud.

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.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas
Alex T. Smith
Macmillan Children’s Books

Creator of the wonderful Claude books, Alex T. Smith presents a comical sparkling new take on the seasonal classic song. Herein the narrator is a stylish young miss and ‘my true love’ has been replaced by a generous grandma. To call her merely generous might be somewhat inaccurate for despite starting off relatively sensibly – the partridge in a pear tree on day one, the two turtle doves along with the partridge in its tree on day two but by day five things have begun to get a tad out of hand,

and thereafter, particularly from day seven things are completely crazy …

And as for that final twelfth day gift, I’ll leave you that to discover what it is and how it’s received … I’m pretty sure it’ll make you splutter; I certainly did!

There’s some delicious alliteration, and

an abundance of visual hilarity – heaven help the post-person who has to deliver all that lot. Alternatively titled ‘Grandma is Overly Generous’ is most definitely no exaggeration (unless the grandma in question happens to be giving a copy of this book; in that case, she’s perfectly generous.)

Tinsel / Santa Gets A Second Job

Tinsel
Sibéal Pounder
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Being given her first ever Christmas present – a red bauble – by a strange old woman as she walks the streets of London in 1895, is only the first unexpected thing that happens to Christmas-hating Blanche Claus. Moving on she comes upon a seemingly abandoned horse Rudy, that she strangely finds herself aback – riding – almost. For no sooner is she up than she’s cascading down onto the snowy pavement and almost immediately is hauled up by a girl of roughly her own age. 

This helpful female introduces herself as Rinki. She’s dressed in what Blanche terms a ‘spectacular’ outfit comprising largely, Christmassy bits and pieces she’s picked up on the London streets, and proceeds to invite Blanche to a mince-pie picnic.

Like Blanche, Rinki is an orphan but unlike her, she’s upbeat and optimistic about life and its possibilities. Fashioning two golden rings from thread she pulls from the red bauble, Blanche gives one to her new friend and then winds one around her own middle finger too, promising to return the following day. (and every day thereafter) And that’s how for the very first time in her life, she feels something of the magic of Christmas. Next day though, there’s no sign of Rinki.

Fast forward five years. Blanche disguised as a boy, has a job as a carter at the docks where she’s known as Flimp. She’s about to make a delivery and to make a wonderful discovery concerning her erstwhile friend, Rinki.

What ensues is a magical twisting turning story with terrific characters including an elf (or several) called Carol, a visit to the North Pole, a mix of warm friendship and chilly weather, a celebration of feminism, making a difference and much more.

Surely a seasonal classic to be; mince pies anybody? Read with hot chocolate and a snuggly blanket.

Santa Gets A Second Job
Michele D’Ignazio, illustrated by Sergio Olivotti, trans. Denise Muir
Macmillan Children’s Books

Poor Santa. Things have become more than a tad troubled for the seasonal worker extraordinaire, who has eleven months annual holiday Now however, the International Postal Service is broke and even Santa hasn’t received his pay for the last three years. Moreover, he’s in rebellious mood over their latest announcement. Then out of the blue comes a letter: Santa has been sacked! How on earth will the children receive their Christmas presents, he wonders.

Equally pressing, Santa needs to find a new job, so first of all a mini-makeover is required.

However, finding work is far from easy: it’s no go at the restaurant, ditto as children’s entertainer (ageism), so when the call centre offer him a job he can’t wait to get stuck in; but when he discovers it involves cold calling, Santa quickly walks out, deciding to have one last try. 

Then what should he spy but a public notice: the council requires binmen. Success at last! A community role and even better, he meets up with an old pal, Winnie, who’s also having to take a second job.

Now little does Santa know but he has a neighbour, Bea who only recently found out who he was, and she certainly has no idea he’s now her refuse disposal officer.

Meanwhile funnily enough, Santa sees several similarities between his old job and his new one; he also makes some interesting discoveries about what can be done with the things people put in the rubbish bins. A wonderfully enterprising idea strikes him and before long, he and Winnie take to the skies once more. At the International Postal Service though things are NOT going well …

There’s also the question of some lost letters from way back sent by someone very eager to meet Santa. Can he find the writer and grant their wish in time for Christmas Day?

Absolutely certain to induce giggles, this is a smashing seasonal read (aloud or alone); it’s full of heart, festive magic and contains a large sprinkling of wry humour, and superbly droll illustrations by Sergio Olivotti at every page turn.

A Poem for Every Winter Day

A Poem for Every Winter Day
edited by Allie Esiri
Macmillan Children’s Books

I’m still relishing my daily reading of A Poem for Every Autumn Day as I start writing this review of Allie Esiri’s latest selection, the first month of which is December. The riches herein take us through, with two offerings per day, to the end of February, by which time one hopes, we’ll have a spring selection.

As in the previous book, Allie prefaces each of her selected poems with a brief introductory, background paragraph linking it to the date on which it appears.

You’ll surely find some of your favourites and take delight in making some new discoveries too: I was excited to find a fair few that were new to me and lots of familiar ones both traditional and new, from Coleridge to Wendy Cope and Robert Louis Stevenson to Benjamin Zephaniah.

Ist December remembers and celebrates Rosa Parks and all she stood for, with a poem by Joseph Coelho, and another by Jan Dean, both superb; also on the theme of Black American experience is Maya Angelou’s very powerful Still I Rise that follows straight after.

Wearing my teacher hat, I was enormously moved especially to discover spoken word artist, George Mpanga’s (aka George the Poet) The Ends of the Earth. It begins ‘A child is not a portion of an adult. It’s not a partial being. /A child is an absolute person, / An entire life.’ And concludes ‘Go to the ends of the Earth, for children.’ Equally moving and as pertinent now as when W. H. Auden wrote it in 1939 is Refugee Blues chosen here for 10th December which is Human Rights Day.

Inevitably snow features several times: there’s Brian Patten’s Remembering Snow that talks of the transformative effect on a little residential street and Snow in the Suburbswherein Thomas Hardy highlights its effects on animals. Then as expected there are a number of poems celebrating aspects of Christmas both secular and religious.

Strangely, three consecutive early January choices, Sara Coleridge’s The Months, A.A. Milne’s Lines Written by a Bear of Very Little Brain and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost) are poems I’ve learned by heart and can still recite – the first at primary school, the second at around the same age, at home, and the third at the beginning of secondary school.

What more uplifting way than Edward Thomas’ Thaw to look forward to the coming of Spring: ‘ Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed / The speculating rooks at their nests cawed / And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flower of grass, / What we below could not see, Winter pass.’

This superb seasonal celebration is an ideal companion for dark chilly evenings and bright days too, to read alone and to share with the family.

Coming to England

Coming to England
Floella Benjamin and Diane Ewen
Macmillan Children’s Books

In a colourful autobiographical picture book story of her own life and that of her family, Floella Benjamin celebrates the Windrush Generation, many of whom have been so badly treated as a consequence of our government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy.

It’s a beautifully written and illustrated account of the move from her childhood home in Trinidad

to England, undertaken first by her Dardie and then a year later by her Marmie and two siblings; then finally Floella and her remaining two brothers.

This new version will surely open the eyes of young children to long voyages undertaken during the middle of the twentieth century, by many, many families from Caribbean Islands who came to England. Certainly it was a shock in so many ways, not least being the cold and greyness in stark contrast to the vibrancy and warmth of Trinidad.

It still hurts to read of the treatment she and her brothers and sisters initially received from other children when they started at school in London;

but the book ends on a happy upbeat note with Floella receiving recognition for all the incredible work she has done for children.

Apart from one or two scenes of England, Diane Ewen’s mixed media illustrations are aglow with rich colours that really make the images come to life on the page.

The way to overcome adversity is through courage and determination: Baroness Floella’s life is an inspiring example of this, and it’s fantastic to see a version of her life story for a younger audience than her earlier 2016 memoir.

All KS1 classrooms need this special book.

Turns Out I’m an Evil Alien Emperor / The Orphans of St Halibut’s

Turns Out I’m an Evil Alien Emperor
Lou Treleaven
Maverick Publishing

A month on from saving Earth from an alien invasion, things have got even weirder for Jasper and his sister Holly. He now knows that his true parents are slugs and that he too can turn into one  (especially at inconvenient times and often triggered by anger), as well as that he’s heir to a planet full of green slime.

Peculiar enough and more than enough to come to terms with surely, but not so. Despite reservations on the part of his foster parents (soon to be his adoptive ones), Mary in particular, Holly drags him off to her teen pop idol, Harry Handsome’s concert. Naturally Jasper has an ulterior motive for going however.

Thus begins another intergalactic adventure wherein seemingly HH is up to his old tricks helping Andromeda invade Earth and brainwashing the whole planet starting with the concert attendees. Why though; and what role is the Asbi supermarket chain in all this shenanigans?

Add to the mix, fluffy balls aptly named Fluffians, assorted aliens and robots, a spindly spider receptionist, an army of clones, plus coping with a surge of hormones and changes in Jasper’s body, as well as an upcoming adoption party; oh and regular things like attending school, and what readers have is an action- packed, slimy, fast moving story that will keep them turning the pages right through to the final Fluffy chirrup.

Can Jasper save the Earth again and can he do so in time to attend his adoption party? Pressure? Who says? After all’s said and done, ‘ It’s a wonderful world’  …

Another winner from Lou Treleaven, Jasper et al.

The Orphans of St Halibut’s
Sophie Wills
Macmillan Children’s Books

Readers who are fond of dark stories will love this grisly comedy of errors.

It stars eight year old Herc, his older sister Tig and their friend Stef, the only three orphans remaining at St Halibuts home for Waifs and Strays in the aptly named town Sad Sack. Also playing a significant role is Pamela, a goat.

Indeed, they’re now the only residents, due to an unfortunate freak library accident (for the matron who lost her life) and ‘Happy’ for the children,

After careful consideration, the children accept the utter importance of keeping their new-found freedom secret and thus some semblance of normality must be shown to the town’s inhabitants even though most rules are tossed aside with joyful abandon.

Into the midst of this jubilant happiness comes a letter duly delivered by postie Maisie. “DEATH is coming’ announces Tig, DEATH being The Department for Education, Assimilation, Training and Health coming to inspect the orphanage. The intention is to ensure the highest of standards are being adhered to; and should the residents not manage to deceive the inspector they’ll be sent to The Mending House of Sad Sack for troublesome children.

For sure the three have a pretty big task, but they’re both shrewd and clever. Is that sufficient to keep them living the good life?

Full of wonderfully funny, twisting, turning antics, mischief and mishaps, superb wordplays and delicious description, not forgetting the sprinkling of fantastic fiends, Sophie Wills’ comedic Victorian story world is one children will relish, (along with a game of football with a broccoli muffin) as will adult readers aloud.

A Poem for Every Autumn Day

A Poem for Every Autumn Day
ed. Allie Esiri
Macmillan Children’s Books

Allie Esiri has selected 61 autumnal poems for this terrific poetry collection to take readers through from 1st September to 30th November.

For this poetry-loving reviewer much of it was a trip down memory lane, some of which, including Christina Rossetti’s Who Has Seen the Wind?, William Blake’s The Tiger, Someone Came Knocking (Walter de la Mare) and Leigh Hunt’s Abou Ben Adhem took me right back to my primary school days when I learned them by heart.

I’m back in my secondary classroom with my English teacher reading us Edward Thomas’ Digging, Hardy’s Drummer Hodge, Betjeman’s Diary of a Church Mouse and Robert Frost’s The Runaway with that beautiful soft Welsh lilt to her voice.

Then I’m up on the stage in my final year at the same school performing those lines from Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.

Some of my favourite poems are included: there’s Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 ; and Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken; I can think of no better way to start October than with that.

It’s great to discover new things too.
Surprisingly I’d not comes across John Agard’s terrific poem about bullying, The Hurt Boy and the Birds, beginning ‘The hurt boy talked to the birds / and fed them the crumbs of his heart’ , the final lines of which are, ‘But the hurt boy talked to the birds /and their feathers gave him welcome – // Their wings taught him new ways to become.’

Bang up to date is Michaela Morgan’s Malala: the opening verses  are: ‘A girl with a book. A girl with a book. / That’s what has scared them – / A girl with a book. // They get on to the bus. / They call out my name. They aim. And they fire. / A shot to the brain.’

I was greatly moved by all the war poems chosen for November, and by James Berry’s Benediction, also new to me, that goes like this:
‘Thanks to the ear / that someone may hear // Thanks for seeing / that someone may see // Thanks for feeling / that someone may feel // Thanks for touch / that someone may be touched // Thanks to flowering of white moon / and spreading shawl of black night / holding villages and cities together’

Reminding us of the way smell and taste can bring back long forgotten memories, Crab Apples (Imtiaz Dharker) is another exciting discovery for me: ‘My mother picked crab apples / off the Glasgow apple trees / and pounded them with chillies / to change / her homesickness / into green chutney.’

Much as I really don’t want the summer to end, this treat of a book will assuredly help me feel my way through the shortening daylight hours as I read A Poem for Every Autumn Day.

The Little War Cat

The Little War Cat
Hiba Noor Khan and Laura Chamberlain
Macmillan Children’s Books

This story was inspired by a real man ‘the cat man of Aleppo’, Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, a truly kind individual who set up a sanctuary that became home to hundreds of cats in his home city after his family left for safety.

It became a place not only for the cats; adults young and not so young also came ‘to help and play, making it a place of love and hope for everyone’. So Hiba tells readers in a note at the end of her story, a story that begins with a little grey cat living a contented life in Aleppo. But that was before the war which brought with it terrible changes including those tramping big boots and a lack of food for the little cat .

As time passes, the scared creature kept to the shadows, his hunger inceasing.

Then one day she sees someone different – a gentle, soft spoken person – and she follows him until almost at the point of exhaustion, they reach somewhere safe and she hides herself away till the kind man sees her, feeds her and stays with her the entire night.

The following morning restored and sated, the grateful cat notices something and she knows just what to do … It’s time to pay forwards the kindness she’d been shown.

Hiba Noor Khan and Laura Chamberlain together show the transformational effect of kindness; something the author writes of in relation to the war in Syria, but it’s also something that many of us have discovered during the pandemic.

Attack of the Heebie Jeebies / A Case of the Jitters

Attack of the Heebie Jeebies
Tom Percival
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tom Percival is extremely empathetic and skilled when it comes to creating highly engaging picture books dealing with children’s emotions – think of Ravi’s Roar and Ruby’s Worry for instance.

Now comes the Dream Team series (this is the first) that aims to help slightly older readers explore childhood emotions.

Meet Erika Delgano who is far from happy. Her baby brother is getting away with everything, ruining her favourite toy, scribbling on her pictures and generally making an atrocious noise. Worse than that, her parents are too tired or even too busy to talk to her.
Angry to the point to exploding,

Erika stomps off up to bed; but, going to bed angry can result in bad dreams, an Angermare indeed. Uh-oh!

She finds herself in a very strange world with rainbow coloured trees, bouncy grass and waterfalls that flow in an upward direction. This world powered by dream crystal is the province of the Dreamteam whose role it is to protect children from Angermares and Anxietymares. However, weird creatures called Heebie Jeebies (fluffy beings with fangs) have invaded Erika’s dream and are consuming it.

They also steal a vital object – a powerful dream crystal – that could assist the girl in returning home safely, worries overcome, before the end of the dream cycle. The alternative is that she remains forever trapped in the Dreamscape.

With a host of weird characters in addition to the titular ones,

including a stoneman Wade and Madam Hettyforth, Tom has deftly, sensitively and with gentle humour, woven together a wonderful story with several threads, that explores angry feelings and their management.

With a purple colour theme, his fantastic illustrations are full of wonderful details and add to the impact of the book.

The development of emotional literacy in children is crucial if they are to grow up confident, happy, well-adjusted individuals. Tom deserves accolades for his contribution to that end in a way that encourages both self-reflection and conversation.

Whether or not there’s a new sibling at home, this is a corking book for home or school reading.

A Case of the Jitters
The second adventure begins with Erika contemplating a notice about the school talent show and desperately trying to think of a talent of her own to perform when suddenly she receives a communication via the magic crystal from Silas of the Dream Team. They have a rather tricky case and her help is required  with a girl named Chanda Anand.

Chanda is decidedly lacking in confidence, her dreams being haunted by a jittery dark shadow that refuses to go away, even in the daytime, such is its power.

Now it’s up to the Dream Team to help her regain control of both her dreams and her life. It certainly won’t be an easy task, but courageous Erika isn’t one to give up easily. Could it be that she does indeed have a special talent?

Another superb read (you have to work on your inner demons in order to deal with those outside of you) wherein friendship features strongly, anxiety is got to grips with and self-belief emerges. And, another set of terrific illustrations, this time with yellow, and some great new characters including a boxing kangaroo.

What next for Erika in Dreamteam story 3?

The Monsters of Rookhaven

The Monsters of Rookhaven
Pádraig Kenny, illustrated by Edward Bettison
Macmillan Children’s Books

Prepare to be intrigued, startled, uncomfortable, terrified and mesmerised as you follow orphan siblings Jem and Tom through a rip in the air and into the grounds of an other-worldly manor house, Rookhaven and almost into the mind, much of the time, of Jem herself.  She is welcomed by one of the residents, Mirabelle, and thus spends time with other members of The Family while her brother recovers from his sickness.

I’ve not come across the work of Pádraig Kenny before but he’s an enormously talented writer who, in this instance, has interwoven motifs from both contemporary and classic stories producing a book that, rather like the carnivorous flora standing sentry on the Path of Flowers therein,

grips the reader tightly; it feels as though it will become a neo classic.

There are monsters,

notably Piglet, a misunderstood character who plays a key part in the resolution of the story in a totally unexpected, but wonderful way; and then there’s Mr Pheeps who will certainly make you shudder at the way he manipulates others.

Equally as brilliant as the writing are Edward Bettison’s black and white woodcut style illustrations that show detail but never too much;

and his Flowers of Divine Lapsidy are truly horrifying.

Both timeless and a story of our times, this is a tale of division, empathy, high drama and healing that will make you think and keep on thinking long after you’ve closed the covers of the book.

Just One of Those Days

Just One of Those Days
Jill Murphy
Macmillan Children’s Books

Four decades on from their first picture book appearance in the now classic Peace at Last, the adorable Mr and Mrs Bear and Baby Bear return for a third story. It begins with a late awakening Mr and Mrs Bear leaping out of bed and preparing for work, leaving Baby Bear to his dinosaur dream.

Once awake though, the little one has to get ready for nursery, a particularly protracted process on this occasion and then it’s raining, all of which means that Baby arrives late at Nursery. It’s no surprise when he’s reluctant to go in but a story does the trick and off comes his coat.

Then there are problems over a dinosaur toy but Baby Bear isn’t the only member of his family whose day doesn’t go well.

Mrs Bear sits on her glasses; Mr Bear spills coffee all over some important papers – and that’s only the morning’s mishaps.

Afternoon nursery continues to be a trial

and by the end of the session it’s a very sleepy Baby Bear that greets his Mum before they walk home through the rain.

Back indoors, the two get themselves togged out in their PJs just in time for Mr Bear’s return. Not only is he carrying a large pizza box but he also has a carrier bag containing a special surprise for Baby Bear.

Then it’s time to share that delicious pizza and exchange a few comments about their respective days, which Mr Bear aptly sums up with the title line.

As wonderfully warm as ever, this is another tour de force for Jill Murphy; a celebration of a loving family and a story that parents, carers and little ones will immediately relate to.

A must have for family bookshelves and early years collections.

Hello Friend! / Bunny Braves the Day

Hello Friend!
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books

It’s the mismatch between what is said by the small girl narrator and what is shown in Rebecca Cobb’s enchanting, warm illustrations that make this book such a winner.

From the start the girl enthusiastically shares everything during playtime both indoors and out, at lunchtime, during quiet times and noisy ones.

What is evident though is that the boy on whom she focuses all this sharing attention is going to take much longer to feel ready to share in the well-intentioned advances of the little girl.
However, a friendship does develop …

and it’s one where both parties are equally enthusiastic about their togetherness.

This is a gorgeous story to share with youngsters especially those starting school; it offers plenty to reflect on and talk about, both at home and in the classroom.

Bunny Braves the Day
Suzanne Bloom
Boyds Mills Press

It’s Bunny’s first day of school but he wants nothing of it: he doesn’t know anybody, supposes nobody likes him; his socks are too short, his shorts too long and he can’t tie his shoes. Oh woe!

Big sister cajoles him with plenty of empathy and ideas,

but with a hurting tummy, it’s decided … ‘I’d better not go … Because I don’t even know how to read!’

After more loving comments, ‘Sometimes you just feel like crying before you feel like trying. You’ll find a friend. Not all shoes use laces. And teachers love to teach reading…’ and listing things little bro. CAN do, he’s almost ready to surrender but not before one last try, ‘Mom will miss me.’ (Said parent has uttered not a word in all this, though she does take a photo).

Finally, it’s time to face up to the inevitable and once more it’s down to big sis. to deliver the final upbeat reassurance at the classroom entrance.

The entire text takes the form of the dialogue between the bunny siblings –blue for the new boy and red for older sister; while Suzanne Bloom’s watercolour and pencil illustrations highlight the feelings of the two characters beautifully.

Just right to share with little ones, especially in families where there’s likely to be starting school nerves; or with children in a nursery setting.

New in Town

New in Town
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books

Despite its shaggy dog narrator, Marta Altés latest book is anything but a shaggy-dog story.

After a long and tiring journey, said narrator, in search of a new home, arrives at a large town.

After asking around and looking in lots of places, and in spite of all the wonderful sights, sounds and smells, he still hasn’t found anywhere that feels just right.

The people are a delight despite their rather different ways of doing things

but everyone seems just too busy, and nobody can understand, or perhaps even see the home seeker

untll the dog has a chance encounter with a little girl who is lost and wants to go home.

As they look for the child’s home together, the feelings of loneliness (the dog’s) and of being lost (the child’s) grow less

but then it’s time to say goodbye – or is it?

Warm and funny – the illustrations especially – this tale of kindness, friendship and accommodating differences needs to be read several times to appreciate all that’s going on in Marta’s splendid scenes of bustling city life.

The Teeny Weeny Genie

The Teeny Weeny Genie
Julia Donaldson and Anna Currey
Macmillan Children’s Books

There are faint echoes of the traditional Aladdin and The Fisherman and his Wife in this wonderfully funny tale of wishing that gets totally out of hand.

It all begins down on the farm when Old Macdonald decides to do a spot of cupboard cleaning. Having given his dusty old teapot a good wash, he’s rubbing it dry when out through the spout wafts the resident teeny weeny blue genie. The genie offers the farmer a wish.

It’s not too long before not only does Old Macdonald have that bright red tractor he so wanted, but a wife, a wardrobe, a cradle with a bawling baby,

a host of noisy animals; he’s called the fire-brigade to rescue a cat,

the crew have joined in with the wishing, and then there are superheroes whizzing every which way. The poor long-suffering genie can stand no more.

Powerless to make a wish for himself, he sneaks back into the farmhouse and back to his teapot home. So delighted is he at the sight of it that he gives the teapot a stroke, after which something wonderful and surprising happens …

Now should any of you lovely readers come upon a red teapot with white spots somewhere totally unlikely and feel the need to make a wish, then please be very careful what you wish for.

As always, Julia Donaldson’s zany story is a delight to read aloud, offering as it does, plenty of noisy joining-in opportunities for enthusiastic listeners who equally, will delight in Anna Currey’s watercolour scenes of the mounting mayhem that all began with a single wish and The Teeny Weeny Genie. Like the characters in the story, youngsters will certainly wish for more.

Adventures on Trains: Kidnap on the California Comet

Adventures on Trains: Kidnap on the California Comet
M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elise Pagnelli
Macmillan Children’s Books

In this sequel to The Highland Falcon Thief 12 year old Hal Beck is on another railway trip. Now he’s with his journalist Uncle Nat, embarking on a three day journey from Chicago to San Francisco.

Before they’ve even boarded the California Comet, Hal has his sketchbook out and has started recording what he sees. He’s also met up with Mason and his sister Hadley who tells him later on that she practises magic.

Shortly after, he meets Marianne, daughter of August Reza, the billionaire technology entrepreneur whose press conference Uncle Nat is to report on.

Hal encounters a host of other unusual characters, including Seymour Hart who always wants to stay close to his briefcase, and teenager Ryan whose speech is hampered by the dental braces he wears, but wants to communicate with Hal all the same.

As the train speeds on across the plains, Hal feels increasingly uneasy; something strange and possibly dangerous is going on.

Around 7.30pm, Hal sees a girl in a yellow dress being dragged into the boot of a waiting car that drives away into the night. Seemingly, Marianne has been kidnapped.

Can he possibly discover exactly what is going on? Perhaps, with the help of his new friends, Hadley and Mason.

Full of mystery and intrigue, this cracking story is full of interesting details and dropped hints.

It’s not only Hal (aka Sherlock da Vinci) who has an extremely deft hand when it comes to sketching: Elisa Paganelli’s smashing, sometimes finely detailed illustrations add considerably to the atmosphere of the twisting, turning adventure.

Lovers of trains and detective stories especially, will devour this; so too will anyone who loves a gripping yarn.

Arlo, the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep

Arlo, the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep
Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books

Catherine Rayner has created an absolute stunner of a bedtime book in this story of Arlo the insomnia-suffering lion. He’s tried everything without success and now he’s feeling fed up and thoroughly exhausted.

But then he has an encounter with Owl

an expert at sleeping when it’s noisy and hot, and in her sing-song voice, she teaches Arlo how to wind down ready to fall fast asleep.

It works wonders and the lion feels rejuvenated after a long sleep. So much so that he bounds off to tell Owl, waking her up in so doing.

Arlo reciprocates with a sleep-inducing song for his feathered friend.

Both creatures are delighted. Their celebratory cheer in the evening however, doesn’t go unheard but perhaps the words ‘Have a good stretch from your nose to your toes. / Do a little wriggle, let your eyes gently close … As you fall into calmness, so comfy and deep / Your mind will rest and you’ll drift off to sleep’ sung as a duet will prove even more soporific where it’s needed.

Perfectly paced, the combination of a calming narrative with its in-built repetition of mindful meditative verses, and totally gorgeous, amazingly textured illustrations that take your breath away, this is sheer delight no matter how many times you read it.

I can think of no better book to share with little ones at bedtime; it’s brilliant through and through.

InvestiGators


InvestiGators

John Patrick Green
Macmillan Children’s Books

Here’s a zany graphic novel- the first of a series – that features alligator pals Mango and Brash and as the story opens they’ve just received an undercover assignment as agents for SUIT (Special Undercover Investigation Team).

World-famous Chef Mustachio has gone missing just as he’s about to reveal his latest culinary offering and Mango and Brash must go undercover at Batter Down bakery to discover what’s happened to him.

No problem then. Just a bit of diving down into toilets and moving through city sewers, an explosion at the Science Factory thanks to the delivery of a gigantic birthday cake from Batter Down,

disappearing ovens and a crocodile that has fallen into a vat of radioactive cracker dough and come back to life.

Green has conjured up a cast of assorted humans and reptiles, and weaves together a multitude of threads in his rapidly moving plot that’s full of groan-worthy jokes, puns and other word play.

Like this reviewer you might find your head spinning by the time you reach the end of this frenetic, fizzily funny  story. (It’s not though as we discover, the end of Mango and Brash, they are destined to return in at least two more mysteries.)

Green provides two final spreads showing how to draw the InvestiGators and a couple of others from the crazy cast.

I Can Roar Like A Dinosaur

I Can Roar Like a Dinosaur
Karl Newson and Ross Collins
Macmillan Children’s Books

What is it about a certain Mouse that causes him to keep on making ridiculous claims? Last time we met him he told his fellow animals that he was a tiger and now, so he’d have them all believe, he’s a fearsome ROARing dinosaur – well briefly …

Never mind; one can always turn to the trusty ‘How to Roar Like a Dinosaur’ guide book with its step-by-step instructions and why not give your pals a lesson too?

Now having watched Mouse in action, I know that he’s got absolutely no clue about how to be an effective teacher; hurling insults at the learners is not a good way to go.

Time to teach the teacher a lesson or two … Perhaps a spot of Mouse-baiting might be effective in unleashing the diminutive rodent’s ROAR.

Success of a kind – but chicken or no chicken, no creature in its right mind would try to teach its grandmother to suck eggs, so to speak …

I’m going to leave our Mouse friend rather precariously balanced upon the branch of a tree; safe in the knowledge that he’ll manage to use his imagination and extricate himself from what looks to be a rather perilous perch.

Yet again team Karl and Ross have created a pricelessly absurd ace of a book that’s full of funny foolishness, brilliantly portrayed pupils and cover to cover entertainment of the first order.

Conjuror Cow / Where’s William’s Washing?

Conjuror Cow
Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt
Macmillan Children’s Books
Although Julia Donaldson’s rhyming in this lift-the-flap- book is impeccable, Conjuror Cow’s magic skills are decidedly lacking as she makes several abortive attempts to produce a white rabbit from her top hat, a cake, a trap door in the floor and a snazzy table cloth,

before Nick Sharratt’s vastly amused mouse and pig onlookers give her the instructions that finally lead to a surprise revelation.

As you would expect Nick’s illustrations are alive with his trademark zany humour. Who can fail to fall for the charms not only of Conjuror Cow but also the team of bit part players?

Fantastic fun for toddlers and readers aloud too.

Where’s William’s Washing?
Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster

What a delight to be back in Treacle Street on a breezy summery afternoon. William Tripehound is taking advantage of the breeze to dry his washing but all of a sudden, WHOOSH! The wind whisks the contents of William’s washing basket and the clothes he’s just pegged onto the line up and away.

The search is on aided and abetted by young listeners who will love to help lift the flaps and discover the whereabouts of William’s red striped apron, his checked trousers, his socks,

and his underpants.

Happily, thanks to audience assistance, by the end of the story William has all his washing back save one item, the new use for which is just too ideal to reclaim, and the pooch is more than happy to serve yummy pie and gravy teas as thank yous to all the Treacle Street helpers.

With her playful text and delectable, slightly retro, detailed illustrations the third visit to Kate Hindley’s Treacle Street is every bit as enjoyable as the previous ones.

The Singing Mermaid Make and Do Book / Jumbo Pad of My First Puzzles, Jumbo Pad of Brain Teasers, 501 Dinosaur Joke-Tivities

The Singing Mermaid Make and Do Book
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Here’s an activity book based on the popular The Singing Mermaid picture book from a few years back that’s especially apt for fans of the story and those who enjoy creating.

There are more than a dozen art/craft activities many of which are mermaid related such as the seaweed crown and tail patterns. For their simplicity I particularly like the ‘Mermaid Tail Footprints’ that can be turned into merpeople

and the sea creatures made from shells and pipe cleaners .
Having made the circus performers, those who want something more sophisticated, can go on to create a circus tent theatre and even put on a show.

Most projects have a lead-in quote from the story, and all have a list of items required, clear step-by-step instructions, some ‘tips, tricks and twists’ and funky illustrations by Lydia Monks. There are also 200+ stickers and some templates should youngsters feel the need to use them.

With school now over for the holidays, this book provides hours of crafty fun.

Jumbo Pad of My First Puzzles
Jumbo Pad of Brain Teasers
501 Dinosaur Joke-Tivities
Highlights for Children

Hours and hours of puzzling for youngsters can be found between the covers of these three.

My First Puzzles is aimed at under 6s and the Brain Teasers are for those age 6+, while both age groups will find plenty of things to enjoy in Dinosaur Joke-Tivities.

Younger puzzlers can hunt for hidden items in a variety of scenes, or search for things that are the same and different, or begin with a given letter sound to look for matching pairs, there are mazes, pictures to colour and to adorn with some of the 150 stickers provided, and a wealth of ‘silly things’ to find.

There are over 125 Brain Teasers some of which are of a mathematical nature. Others offer thematic words to unscramble, puzzles that require logical thinking to solve, words to find that rhyme with a given one, quizzes, riddles and much more. (all solutions provided).

With cartoons, tongue twisters, riddles and of course, jokes, there’s silliness galore in 501 Dinosaur Joke-Tivities as well as plenty to exercise the little grey cells of users. There’s even a story to finish. Here’s one of the jokes: ‘What dinosaur loved playing with blocks?’ – answer, Lego-saurus.

With long holidays now upon us, these offer indoor, screen-free fun aplenty.

Be Kind

Be Kind
Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill
Macmillan Children’s Books

Now, more than ever, it’s vitally important for everyone to act with kindness and thoughtfulness to others, no matter who they are.

Here’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking look at what it means to be kind and how kindness can spread.

It begins when a little girl, Tanisha, spills juice all over her new dress one lunchtime to the amusement of most of those in the room. The narrator tries instead words of kindness …

Tanisha however runs off leaving her friend in thoughtful mode and as she paints she muses on the nature of kindness.

It could be many things shown through actions such as giving, helping or paying attention; or perhaps by thanking someone or merely using their name – all relatively easy to do.

Sometimes however it’s more difficult …

but small acts of kindness can have a ripple effect, growing worldwide even

and … “All the way back to Tanisha and me. So we can be kind. Again.”

Throughout the author leaves space for readers/listeners to reflect on the narrator’s words, which never once become preachy.

Jen Hill’s illustrations are enormously appealing capturing so well the feelings of Tanisha, the narrator, their classmates and the wider community.

This is most certainly a book to share and discuss both at home and in primary classrooms.

Moomintroll Sets Sail

Moomintroll Sets Sail
Alex Haridi, Cecilia Davidsson & Filippa Widlund
Macmillan Children’s Books

This adventure in the magical world of Moominvalley that so many of us loved to escape to as children, is an adaptation from the Tove Jansson classic by Alex Haridi and Celia Davidsson with illustrations by Filippa Widlund.

It all begins with Moominpappa leading Moomintroll, Little My and Sniff through the forest to reveal his latest enterprise, a sturdy boat he’s named Ocean Orchestra.

There’s a distinct snag though: the boat is on land and far too heavy to drag to the river. Instead the river must come to the boat. And so it does, courtesy of a creature called Edward the Booble. Then it’s all aboard (not the Booble) and away down the river and out to sea.

It’s not all plain sailing though for there’s a rescue (Hemulen’s aunt in a very bad mood – to start with but it improves after a night’s sleep),

a visitation from niblings, one of which gets left behind aboard the Ocean Orchestra; and as a second night falls, a huge storm blows up.

Can the Ocean Orchestra make it safely back to Moominvalley with all the Moomin family or might it be a case of lost in the storm?

As always this is full of the usual Moomin idealism, sensitivity, kindness and courage – sheer delight.

What the Ladybird Heard at the Seaside

What the Ladybird Heard at the Seaside
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

When the ladybird takes a trip to the seaside, one July day, the sea lion roars, a seagull shrieks, a crab snaps, a shark gnashes and a whale’s tail splashes; but what the observant ladybird hears and sees are the dastardly duo Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len and they have a despicable plan.

They have designs on the mermaid’s beautiful fair hair, which they plan to cut off at midnight and fashion into a wig to sell to ‘a famous star’ and make a fortune in so doing. This isn’t to be a one off attack though, for once her hair has regrown, they’ll cut it again … and again … and again – ad infinitum.

The ladybird passes on the information she’s gleaned to the sea animals and they resolve to come to her aid.

They devise a clever ruse to foil the plan of the wicked two.

When they take the plunge at 12 o’clock could it be that Hugh and Len are about to attempt to chop off more than they can actually hack with their snip, snip, snipping scissors?

With the combination of Julia’s faultless rhyming narrative and Lydia’s sparkle-scattered scenes of the sea and its swimmers, this is another adventure of our silent Ladybird that’s sure to make a terrific SPLASH with both young listeners and adult readers aloud.

Welcome to Moomin Valley: The Handbook

Welcome to Moomin Valley: The Handbook
Macmillan Children’s Books

I’ve been an ardent Moomin fan since first reading Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll and Comet in Moominland as a child of primary school age. So, I was thrilled to receive this handbook for review. Written by Amanda Li, it’s based on the animated TV series that sprung from the wonderful world of Moominvalley that Tove created. I was fascinated to learn from the introductory ‘How it All began’ that there’s even been a Moomins opera made.

Essentially though this colourful book is a guide to the world of the Moominvalley animation, the illustrations being based on Tove Jansson’s classic art.  First we meet the family (that includes special friends who when staying in the Moominhouse, become temporary family members), after which Moomintroll, Moominmamma and Moominpapa each have a page devoted to them describing their main characteristics and in the same section we’re provided with a brief Moomin history.

Next come the diverse group of the family’s visitors including the romantic Snorkmaiden who is besotted with Moomintroll.

The Moomin family residence is in the peaceful Moominvalley where they live in harmony with their environment. Due to their plethora of visitors they’ve had to extend their cylindrical home and it’s now the tallest building in the valley.

We read of their adventures, both at sea and on land, and

learn how they love to celebrate. We humans could do well to learn from them for they frequently ‘find meaning in the little things in life’. There’s magic too in the valley, especially at midsummer.

One chapter that immediately caught my attention was that called Rule Makers and Rule Breakers, the latter being of particular interest. There was of course Little My, rule breaker par excellence and a character after my own heart,

as is Snufkin, disliker of petty rules and regulations.

Further chapters are given over to ideas of the bright kind; kindness, the natural world of the valley and in Misunderstood Creatures we’re introduced to the likes of Groke and the hattifatteners. As anywhere there are seasonal changes in Moominvalley and these too are discussed. Then, beautifully rounding off the book, on the final 3 spreads, there’s ‘An A-Z of Moominvalley.

Tove Jansson died almost 20 years ago and since then there has been an enormous renewal of interest in her work. The Moomin books with their original artwork have been reissued as well as her fiction for adults. There have also been exhibitions and a biography in 2014 marking the centenary of her birth.

Moomins will never go out of favour so far as I’m concerned and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in this book.

Egg

Egg
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnett
Macmillan Children’s Books

Team Hendra and Linnet (of Supertato fame) have created something delightfully different with their terrific tale of an upside down egg. And, they tell this tale with but a single 3-letter word and a sequence of delEGGtable illustrations.

Here’s what takes place. Into a group of pointy topped, bulging bottomed ‘normal’ eggs, comes our upside downer. The group members are at pains to point out how an egg ‘ought’ to look …

but undaunted, the newcomer proceeds to demonstrate its skills with some clever moves.

These seem to impress the others, so they decide to adorn it …

But this new look turns out to be merely temporary: our upside-downer has something else on its mind here and it looks like a lot of fun. Hopefully not of the shell-shattering sort, however.

Hang on though – might that mean that it’s fine to be an ‘invert’? Acceptance at last? Maybe; but that’s not quite the end of the story …

Accepting and celebrating difference are at the yolk of this Eggstraordinary book that will have you cracking up with laughter.

If you want an Easter offering that will last and last, way beyond the bank holiday, then Egg is the perfect treat. I’m certainly going to be giving a few.

The Grizzly Itch

The Grizzly Itch
Victoria Cassanell
Macmillan Children’s Books

What do you do if you wake from your winter slumbers with an itch? If you’re a bear of the grizzly kind then you’d most likely go in search of a tree for some scratching relief. That’s exactly what Victoria Cassanell’s Bear does in her debut picture book.
There’s a major snag though, in the form of a rather large queue at Bear’s favourite scratching tree.

Even worse, when it comes to his turn, this happens …

The beaver in question is apologetic and being a beaver, is also fond of trees and familiar with a good many in the vicinity. He takes Bear and together they hunt in the forest.

After seeing several that just don’t cut it as a suitable back scratcher, they come upon one beside the river that looks promising. Up Bear climbs, wobbles along a branch and …

Wet through, Bear despairs of ever finding a tree to do what he so badly desires. Beaver sitting beside him, is sympathetic and as it happens rather more …

By nightfall a firm friendship has been forged: I’ll say no more on the matter, other than this is a delight to read aloud and Victoria’s illustrations are smashing. Her portrayal of both the animal characters and their natural habitat, painted in ‘layered watercolour’ are captivating. I love the different view points especially that of Beaver and Bear looking upwards to the top of the tree Bear then climbs; and that back view of the two animals sitting side-by-side.

Funny, full of heart and a pleasure to read aloud, this story has vital messages about the relative importance of friends and ‘things’, and the surprising things that can happen if you offer help to others.

Board Book Treats

Dress Up!
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing

Little ones can make sure the characters in Jane Foster’s Dress Up! are suitably clad whatever the weather or what they want to do.

Bear needs to go out but there’s a downpour so a coat and wellies are required. Hamster is thinking of a stroll in the sunshine – a pair of sunglasses and a hat are a good idea for her.
Brrr! Cat is venturing into the snow: warm mittens and scarf are just the thing.

Frog on the other hand needs to be geared up with goggles and armbands for swim time.

It’s the end of the day when we meet Monkey. Once he’s got on his PJs and slippers, it’s time to say “toys away” and bid him ‘Goodnight’.

On each recto, opening a flap on Jane’s vibrantly portrayed animal, and a slider alongside, enables your little one to assist the animal with its snazzy outfit. A simple descriptive phrase followed by ‘Can you put on … ?’ set against a bright background poses the challenge.

Interactive fun, a predictable text and alluring art – what more can a toddler ask of a board book – oh yes, the chance to develop manipulative skills too.

I Forgot to Say I Love You
Miriam Moss and Anna Currey
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is a sweet story to read with the very young and it’s now available in a sturdy board book format.

It’s time Little Billy Bear was up, dressed and having his breakfast ready for nursery but he’s procrastinating on account of Rabbit his favourite soft toy. Mum though hasn’t time for his dawdles or she’ll be late for work.

Consequently she hurries him along

all the way to where Mrs Brown is waiting at the nursery door where she hands him over and dashes off.

Poor Billy is more than a little bit upset as Mum has left without saying that all important “I love you” to her son; moreover she still has Rabbit in her bag across her back.

Billy is convinced that Rabbit’s lost. Mrs Brown tries to placate the little bear who is now distraught, when suddenly in bursts Billy’s mum with Rabbit safe and sound and she’s ready to comfort him and tell her son she loves him. Then all is finally well.

Anna Currey beautifully captures both Billy’s changing feelings and the inherent warmth of Miriam Moss’s text with her scenes of the early morning rush that include details that make you want to slow down

and savour them rather than rush along with the characters.

They Did It First:50 Scientists, Artists and Mathematicians Who Changed the World

They Did It First: 50 Scientists, Artists and Mathematicians Who Changed the World
Julie Leung and Caitlin Kuhwald (edited by Alice Hart)
Macmillan Children’s Books

This book profiles 50 STEAM boundary-breaking trailblazers – pioneering artists, scientists and mathematicians – each of whom overcame enormous challenges to make incredible contributions in their own fields, and in one way or another, change the world for the better.

Some Julie Leung selected will already be familiar to readers – Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing,

Jane Goodall, Toni Morrison, Aretha Franklin, for example, but  that many others will probably not be.

It’s clear that the author has made an effort to feature men and women from around the world, as well as choosing from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Thus she highlights Nikola Tesla, the first person to invent the AC motor (1887) Johanna Lucht the first deaf engineer to help manage a crewed NASA flight from mission control – “Never give up” she advises aspiring deaf engineers and scientists” with time and patience … “you will gain hearing allies.” along with the first Chinese woman – Tu Youyou – to be awarded a Nobel Prize (2015) in Physiology or Medicine.

New to me are Alexa Canady who faced an uphill struggle as a woman of colour, to become the first female African American neurosurgeon;

she specialised in paediatric care, saving numerous young lives.

I’d not heard either of Riz Ahmed, first EMMY Award winner for acting (2017) who is of Asian descent;

and other than her name I knew little about Zaha Hadid, the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004).

The subjects, arranged chronologically, mostly came to prominence in the 20th or 21st centuries, although Isaac Newton (1668) is there, as are two 18th century people Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an Italian mathematician, and German astronomer Caroline Herschel.

Like me, I suspect youngsters reading this fascinating and inspiring compilation, will be prompted (perhaps by their motivational quote) to do their own digging to discover more about some of these incredible people starting perhaps with some of those for who a vignette portrait with a sentence beneath and a brief paragraph on the next spread, are all we’re given. To that end there is a final list of books and other resources.

Also at the end of the book is a time line, as well as a note from the illustrator, Caitlin Kuhwald whose stylised portraits, painted digitally, are instantly eye-catching..

Role models for aspiring youngsters, all.

I Am NOT An Elephant

I Am NOT An Elephant
Karl Newson and Ross Collins
Macmillan Children’s Books

Hurrah! Team Karl/Ross have created a splendid sequel to their I am a Tiger with star of the show, Mouse, returning in all his naysaying glory, as he struggles against the odds to convince various beasties “I am NOT an elephant.” The odds being in turn, a lizard – who starts the concatenation of pachyderm positive ID-ing, followed by porcupine.

This sets our little rodent off doing some noisy acrobatics as evidence.

It’s of little use though, for up rocks a third creature going on about poor Mouse’s pong.

This leads him to make a shall we say, unwise claim, which almost ends in disaster; but our quick thinking Mouse tries another tack that includes some rather creative thinking,

culminating in a flying leap into unknown territory.

But hey! What’s this? If you’ve been observant from the outset, you’ll have noticed that Mouse reclining against a large subungulate foot nibbling a tasty fruit, and by now he’s rather anxious to finish dining so long as he’s not put off by any unexpected malodourous whiffs … after which it’s probably time to do away with his final claim and break into rhyme.

That way leaves the stage wide open for a third glorious episode of hilarity courtesy of Karl and Ross. They’ll be hard pressed to get Mouse to out-perform his show-stopping theatrics in this superb piece of silliness though.

Runaway Robot

Runaway Robot
Frank Cottrell-Boyce, illustrated by Steven Lenton
Macmillan Children’s Books

After being in a road accident, twelve year old Alfie has been fitted with a prosthetic hand – this makes him ‘a bit bionic’ he tells us. Along with the loss of his hand though, the boy has lost his confidence.

He explains how he bunks school( aka Limb Lab) – ‘swerving school’ he calls it, and instead of joining in the “New Life’ lessons he goes to hang out at the arrivals lounge of the airport.

On one such swerving occasion Alfie accidentally loses his state-of-the-art hand. At lost property, instead of his hand, the lad finds Eric, a six-foot tall, metal robot with a propensity for singing the national anthem. “I AM YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANT” Eric announces and “I CAN ANSWER ANY QUESTION” (except the ones he doesn’t know the answer to, that is.)

Eric too is missing a limb, one if his legs. Despite this, unlike the other robots Alfie decides Eric is anything but ‘a disappointing robot’. Indeed, he declares him ‘the most-not-disappointing robot you could ever meet’.

It’s no surprise then that the boy will do everything he can to keep the illegal Eric from being crushed at the R-U-Recycling scrapyard.

No easy task as despite his fine manners, Eric takes instructions literally, which inevitably gives rise to a fair few problems.

But with reports of a rogue robot at large terrifying the estate, should Alfie even be bent on saving Eric?

Alfie’s world might be full of things robotic (he does make some new human friends too) though in essence this story is about what being human really means.

With a plot that makes you both laugh and cry, that’s what makes Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s highly original book so satisfying. Add to that a sprinkling of Steven Lenton’s smashing illustrations and what you have is an unmissable treat.

 

Max & the Midknights

Max & The Midknights
Lincoln Peirce
Macmillan Children’s Books

Author/cartoonist Lincoln Peirce mixes comic strip and conventional prose to plunge readers back to the Middle Ages in this enormously engaging, madcap tale of young Max who longs to become a knight.

Max, (who acts as narrator), lives with Uncle Budrick, a totally inept troubadour in whose footsteps, as tradition dictates, the youngster is supposed to follow.

When ‘Sir Budrick’, as the side of his wagon announces, is taken captive by the evil throne usurper King Ghastly, Max and some other kids form The Midknights with the intention of storming the enormous castle where Budrick is imprisoned, rescuing him and restoring kindness to the kingdom.

First though they have to do battle with wicked sorceress, Fendra,

and ghastly, grimy, winged rats; oh and there’s a dragon too.

Then of course, there’s the thorny issue of gender – only boys can be knights – and the fact that your uncle can by accident, become a duck.

The dialogue between the young characters is entirely child appropriate and funny, and there’s plenty of word play and jokes as well, along with lashings of kindness and bravery.

Cleverly woven into the mix too are thought-provoking ideas relating to gender and being able to determine your own future no matter what. I absolutely love the King’s final declaration and the children’s confirmation that “Any child, boy or girl, may become a writer … or a magician … or a knight”.

Finally, a new chapter begins in Byjovian history and Max’s armour certainly shines bright.

Oh, Christmas Tree! / The Twelve Unicorns of Christmas / Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Christmas

Oh, Christmas Tree!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Macmillan Children’s Books

There’s seasonal silliness in abundance in team Sue and Paul’s rhyming tale of a Christmas tree that doesn’t want to be. Said Tree is determined not to be dressed in baubles, tinsel and other festive fripperies so it decides to take a stand; or rather it decides to do anything but. Instead it’s dashing madly away from its decorative pursuers.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not Christmas the tree hates, rather it’s the idea of being instead of doing that’s really needling its branches.

“I truly love Christmas” asserts the tree and the idea of presents is appealing and that’s what gives Belle an idea. A new outfit might just suit the occasion especially if it equips the recipient to participate in winter sports. But perhaps there’s more to Belle’s clever gift than meets the eye …

The Twelve Unicorns of Christmas
Timothy Knapman and Ada Grey
Egmont

With the seemingly never waning enthusiasm a certain section of the population has with unicorns, I have a feeling there’s an inevitability about this book.

Narrated by a character who is pretty close to those I refer to, clad in her unicorn onesie a bright eyed miss starts the countdown informing readers that on the first day of Christmas she receives, courtesy of mum and dad, along with 1 sparkling tree, ‘a real-life unicorn’.

From then on, said unicorn is included in the festive giving both as giver and receiver of surprise presents. Unsurprisingly with a high-spirited unicorn on the scene there are a few mishaps as the days go by

and the creature begins to lose some if its sparkle. Come Christmas morning though a big surprise awaits him …

With her zesty illustrations that offer plenty of things to count, Ada Grey captures the inherent humour in Timothy’s telling ensuring a giggle at every page turn of this festive romp.

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Christmas
Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson
Orchard Books

It’s Christmas Eve and as usual Oscar the Unicorn is hungry, exceedingly so. He’s already started scoffing the stockings belonging to the royals, not to mention a large part of the Christmas tree and to Santa’s horror he’s had a go at the presents too. Then shock horror Santa discovers that the magic reindeer food has disappeared

and without food the creatures won’t be able to fly, which means Santa can’t complete his delivery round. I love Nikki’s exuberant scenes of Oscar’s chaos creating frolics and especially the sight of the far from happy reindeer on the final spread.

But we know where that food has gone; so perhaps little Princess Oola’s suggestion for a substitute sleigh puller might just save the special day.

Delightfully daft but Oscar’s fans will relish it for sure.