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.