Winnie And Wilbur:Winnie’s Best Friend / Barkus:The Most Fun

Favourite characters return in these two books:

Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie’s Best Friend
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

After more than thirty years during which witch Winnie ’s original fans have likely introduced her to a new generation, we have a story that takes us right back to the time when she met her constant and faithful black moggy companion, Wilbur.

But even that’s getting a bit ahead of this story that starts with the newly qualified witch living in that black house with which we’re now so familiar, but she’s all alone until that is, she decides to invite her three sisters to come and stay to help. They certainly alleviate her loneliness but it’s not long before sisterly squabbles begin, soon followed by cat fights. Enough is enough for Winnie so off they go but then she’s lonely once again.

A wave of her wand results in a parrot but that’s a short-lived visitor and her next attempt brings forth a little dragon though obviously with it comes danger of the fiery kind.

Will Winnie ever find an ideal companion to share her home and her life? No prizes for guessing the answer to that one …

Delivered with their characteristic verve and humour, team Thomas and Paul have conjured forth another magical Winnie and Wilbur story that will delight readers young and not so young.

Barkus: The Most Fun
Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books

The lively, lovable dog, Barkus, is back in a third sequence of four lively, entertaining episodes, along with his human family – the child narrator, her mum and dad plus little moggy, Baby.

In the first story, the family set off for a camping trip leaving Baby in the safe care of Miss Daley, or so they think. However, on arrival at the camp site it’s revealed that Barkus has been harbouring a secret – a tiny feline one – and to the surprise of the rest of the family, the stowaway appears to enjoy camping just as much as all the others.

The second episode – a springtime one – sees the entire family visiting grandfather Jess on his farm. Barkus seems drawn to the cows and they to him and is especially happy when a baby calf is born to Dora.

Autumn is a special time for Barkus on account of the fun he can have with the fallen leaves; he also steals the show at the annual parade.

The final adventure has a chilly, wintry feel as the family take a trip to their cabin for some skiing but a big storm keeps them snuggled up indoors enjoying some storytelling.

With its mix of humorous colour illustrations and engaging text this is just right for readers just starting to fly solo.

Not An Alphabet Book: The Case of the Missing Cake

Not an Alphabet Book: The Case of the Missing Cake
Eoin McLaughlin and Marc Boutavant
Walker Books

If ever there was a book that immediately snares the attention it’s this one.

A serious crime has been committed, so the bear narrator of this intended ABC would have us believe on page 1: the enormously tempting creamy, lavishly sprinkled chocolaty cake meant to represent the letter C on page 5 has been stolen. Poor bear is beside himself and entreats readers to assist in tracking down the perpetrator of the act whose hiding place is somewhere between the covers of the book.

Off we go then, to interrogate potential suspects; first stop the letter A where the response is ‘no comment’.

Even at this early stage, if you’re sharing this story with little ones, the clues are evident and they’ll be relishing their inside knowledge.

Okay, on we go again, whizzing past Bear’s B page – uh-huh! – and we know C won’t yield anything helpful so the next stopping point is D where fearful Dog has an alibi, so we see.

We move on and there’s a wonderful cross-questioning of a couple of traditional tale characters to relish on F and G.

Bear’s narrative is superb, as tongue-in-cheek, he thinks aloud rather than quizzing H, I, and J before receiving a lightning blow on the next page and down he plunges for a spot of restorative TLC from the character representing N.

Octopus however is far less tender-hearted, indeed it’s downright suspicious but Bear hastens on to P where there’s a wrongful arrest of an unsuspecting porcine creature …

all of which takes us onwards letter by letter to V and W where a certain character is almost, but not quite, rumbled and we might leave him basking in his own glory but that is not quite the end of the story …

What an absolutely tongue-tingling, delightfully delicious book author Eoin McLaughlin and illustrator Marc Boutavant have conjured up between them. Everything about their delectable detective daftness is brilliantly done and I’ll guarantee any audience you share it with will immediately demand second or even third helpings.

Mike the Spike / Barkus Dog Dreams


Mike the Spike

Stella Tarakson and Benjamin Johnston
New Frontier Publishing

Small for his age, Mike has red hair; it’s his pride and joy, particularly because it makes him look taller when he’s gelled it into spikes. The trouble starts when his class is busy engaged in hat making for the great hat parade to be held in a couple of days. Everyone’s hat is well under way except Mike’s; he’s having trouble deciding what to make on account of his itchy head, which has been bothering him all day. Dandruff maybe, he wonders. But then as the lad gives his head yet another scratch, something becomes wedged under his fingernail. Oh no! Mike has head lice.

Determined to keep the matter a secret both from people at school and his mum, the boy takes matters in his own hands; but his lice-ridding attempts fail miserably.

Seizing the opportunity to go to the chemist when Mum needs some more contact lens cleaner, Mike asks the chemist for what he thinks he needs.

Eventually though he has the right shampoo for the task, a task he decides must be done in the school toilets. No easy task since the stuff needs to be left on for twenty minutes.

Will he ever rid himself of this pesky problem and can he manage to make himself a stylish hat in time for the parade?

The gigglesome moments as the lad tries to sort out one scratchful incident after another are likely to induce splutters of mirth from newly independent readers whether or not they’ve suffered from having those uninvited guests in their own hair. Watch out when you read this review (or better still, the book,) that you don’t suddenly get that urge to scratch.

A sprinkling of coloured louse-some, laugh-some illustrations from Benjamin Johnson have wriggled their way into the tale.

Barkus Dog Dreams
Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books

Five further episodes, one per chapter, in the life of the mischievous Barkus, his little girl owner Nicky, feline Baby, and their family.

Once again Nicky acts as narrator relating a visit to see Robin the vet on account of a problem with Barkus’ ear (it’s infected);

a birthday party for the town in which they all live when Barkus finds temporary fame as a singer as he comes to the aid of a soprano struggling to reach the high notes;

and a search and rescue for some missing farm animals. Barkus makes friends with the next door neighbour’s dog, Millie and an exchange of toys takes place. The final chapter has Millie and owner Miss Daley staying with Nicky’s family while a storm rages and there’s a power cut.

It’s all highly entertaining, generously illustrated with Marc Boutavant’s bright, funny pictures and there’s just the right amount of action and detail to keep those just starting to fly solo as readers interested and involved.

Barkus / Lulu Gets a Cat

Barkus
Patricia Maclachlan and Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books
Meet large brown dog, Barkus, “Smartest dog in the whole world.” So says globetrotting Uncle Everton when he arrives on the doorstep one day with what he calls “a present” for the young narrator, his niece Nicky. Nicky is reassured to learn that Barkus doesn’t bite and thus begins a beautiful friendship.
Over the next four short chapters we learn how Barkus follows Nicky to school and is adopted as the class dog; celebrates his birthday in a very noisy manner;

discovers a kitten and is allowed to keep it, naming it Baby; and finally, camps out for the night and enjoys an autobiographical story by torchlight.

The five amusing episodes are linked but the separate events provide suitable stopping points for readers just embarking on early chapter books.
Marc Boutavant provides appropriately cheery, retro style illustrations that range from full page to vignette.
All in all an upbeat, engaging read about family, friendship and the benefits of having a winningly positive attitude to life and its possibilities.

Lulu Gets a Cat
Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw
Alanna Books
In her latest story Lulu wants a cat and sets about showing her mum that she’s ready to have one by doing some research on their care and putting in some practice on her cat toy. Eventually Mum is persuaded and off they go together to the cat shelter.

There, Lulu doesn’t so much choose a cat, but is chosen by one of those she’s shown.
Cat shelter worker, Jeremy provides some helpful advice; they go home and make preparations; and return next day to collect the new pet. Lulu gives her cat the beautiful name, of Makeda, which means African Queen and after a period of adjustment, it’s not long before Makeda is well and truly settled into her new home.

Lulu never fails to delight: this new story, endorsed by the National Cats Adoption Centre, ticks all the boxes for showing the very young that becoming a pet owner involves considerable responsibility, as well as introducing the basics of adopting a cat.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Tickled Tiger, A Best Birthday Present, A Hide-and-Scare Bear

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Never Tickle a Tiger
Pamela Butchart and Marc Boutavant
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
Like lots of children, Izzy finds it extremely difficult to keep still; she just cannot help shuffling, jiggling, squirming, twitching, wriggling or fiddling. It matters not where she is – home or school, at parties even, Izzy is constantly a-fidget.
When her class goes to visit the zoo, Izzy gets the fidgets as soon as they’re through the gates. Before long she’s stroked the snakes, excited the elephants, bothered the bears and much more.

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“… never tickle a tiger!” warns Miss Pottterhurst. But after lunch, Izzy, feather in hand is immediately heading for the tiger enclosure. Confronted with a large striped tail, the opportunity is just impossible to resist. Out goes that feather and …

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Raa-aa-ah! “ roars the tiger triggering a concatenation of action and reaction

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culminating in an enormous … SLPAAAASH! as hippo is cascaded into the penguins’ pool.

 

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Then it’s down to Izzy to quell the brouhaha she’s instigated. But has she been cured of her predilection for poking and prodding?
This fun-filled tale managed to keep even the Izzy’s among my audience riveted as they followed the action in Marc Boutavant’s exuberant, energetic, playful pictures, relishing each and every occurrence of ‘Izzy- itis’ as one among them commented. I suspect that hedgehog enjoyed the fun too.

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The Best Birthday Present Ever
Ben Mantle
Macmillan Children’s Books
Squirrel’s determination to give his best friend Bear, the very best birthday gift results in a great deal of thought on his part. That Squirrel is something of a creative thinker comes through loud and clear when we see what he finally decides upon. Satisfied with his choice of gift, Squirrel wraps it carefully disguising it well and soon it’s party day – Big Bear’s Birthday Bonanza no less.
When it comes to present-opening time –after the dancing, games and cake eating – it’s clear that Bear has some pretty impressive gifts

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and finally it comes to Squirrel’s offering. By this time, Squirrel is starting to feel just a little nervous and initially Bear himself appears nonplussed when he unwraps his package.

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It’s in response to the comments of some of the other animals however, that Bear then demonstrates that he, like his best friend, Squirrel, is indeed a creative thinker. And the following week, he goes on to demonstrate just how, until their very favourite stick game (poking things) results in –

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Squirrel rues the passing of said stick but Bear quickly realizes that two sticks can be better than one.

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Can you read it again,” was the instant response after I shared this one with some 4s to 6s. What further accolade could an author want? Before doing so however, we spent a considerable time relishing the delicious details in Ben Mantle’s amusing illustrations.

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The party scene is a visual treat in more than one sense.

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The Hide-and-Scare Bear
Ivan Bates
Brubaker, Ford & Friends (Templar Publishing) pbk
The large ursine character in this rhyming story is badly behaved and rude: worst of all though is his frequent playing of his “Hide and Scare” game. This involves hiding behind a tree and then leaping out and roaring at unsuspecting passers by.

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Eventually the woodland animals decide something must be done and call for a brave volunteer to stand up to Bear. Rabbit steps forward offering to help, not with anger however, but with kindness.
So, as the next ‘ROAR!’ sends the other creatures scattering, Rabbit stands firm to face the bear and waits patiently for her opportunity to deliver her lesson in kindness. Then it’s Bear’s turn to provide some hugs and soon it’s not only Rabbit on the receiving end of those Big Bear squeezes.

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The text lollops along rhythmically making it a pleasure to read aloud and the woodland watercolour illustrations are delightfully expressive.
Here’s the response of one of my five year old listeners …

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