Pirates vs. Monsters / The Knight Who Might

Thanks to Maverick Publishing for sending these two picture books for review

Pirates vs. Monsters
David Crosby and Lee Cosgrove

Three pirates, Hector (tall, strong and bold), Sue (curly haired and fearsome) and George (rather rotund) meet in their local hostelry one foggy night.

They boast about their monstrous conquests; Hector’s of the poison-spitting Hockler;

Sue’s of the double-headed Crunk …

and George’s of the limb- gobbling Muncher that had feasted on one of his lower limbs,

regaling one another with their modes of over-coming the gruesome beasties.

Truth or fantasy? That is the question.

Meanwhile through the fog a ship approaches … Fiction or phantom? Err … now that WOULD be telling.

This rip, roaring rhyming yarn from debut picture book author David Crosby exudes daftness and delicious mock-scariness, brought into being so the characters almost leap off the pages in Lee Cosgrove’s zany scenes of groggy picaroons and maniacal monstrosities.

I envisage this one becoming a much requested storytime tale in foundation stage classes and families with young landlubbers.

As will this one, coming soon:

The Knight Who Might
Lou Treleaven and Kyle Beckett

With her repeat refrain ‘ “You might not” said the … / (It was a magic …. ) / “But I might,” said the knight.’ (insert ‘sword’, or ‘helmet’ where it fits), Lou Treleaven entertains with her tale of yore wherein the inept titular knight aspires to attain knightdom but discovers that it’s a long road so to do.

Yes, he has the accoutrements,  (or rather he did have); but with their scathing comments– “He’ll be exhausted,” (that’s the horse.) “He’ll be cut to pieces,” (spoken by the sword) and “He’ll lose his head,” (helmet’s put down)

our hopeful champ of derring-do sets out on foot to meet his first combatant ‘The Lord with the Scary Looking Sword’ in a tournament.

After a change of heart, those bit part players (now out of hiding) are somewhat more upbeat than their owner, as the two contestants gallop towards each other.

If you want to know the outcome of their combat, then you’ll need your own copy of Lou’s olde story of trying, replete with its puns and onomatopoeia. It’s illustrated with appropriate verve and humour in Kyle Beckett’s slapstick style scenes of clanking-clonking, stomping, donking and plonking.

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.

Mister T.V.

Mister T.V.
Julie Fulton and Patrick Corrigan
Maverick Publishing

It’s great to see more picture book non-fiction coming from Maverick with Julie Fulton’s STEM story based on the life of one of television’s inventors, John Logie Baird.

John grew up in Helensburgh, Scotland and was fortunate in that his parents filled their house with books. A sickly lad, he was often too poorly to go out and play with his friends so he pondered upon ways he might be able to communicate with them. That led to the linking of telephones from his house to theirs. It worked fine until a storm blew down one of the many lines, causing the driver of a horse-drawn cab to be knocked out of his seat. Additionally when the real phone company discovered his construction, he was ordered to stop. So came plan B.

Then with his mind whizzing away on super-drive he went on inventing – a diamond-making factory (a failure); a never rust glass razor blade (err … they all broke); air bag shoes – POP!; undersocks to keep feet dry – SUCCESS!

But the result of all this brain overload was a visit to the doctor who prescribed a seaside break.

This though didn’t stop him reading and he learned of someone who’d tried building machines to show real live pictures to people in their homes. Collecting began again (an old electric motor, a hat box, a bicycle lamp, a biscuit tin, a needle, batteries, wax and string). Eventually he got pictures but fuzzy ones, followed by …

until eventually with the help of a strategically-placed doll’s head, the picture was clearer. Then it was time to try with a real person … HURRAH! William Taynton appears live on TV for the very first time in 1925, albeit to a solo audience of one – John.

And the rest is television history … live pictures went from London to Glasgow and New York, and to passengers aboard a ship in mid Atlantic. Then in 1929 the BBC began making programmes using John’s machines, even the prime minister had a TV.

That’s not quite the end of the story for both colour TV and 3D followed.

There’s a history timeline in parallel with one for John, as well as fact boxes after the main narrative, the latter being sprinkled throughout the text too.

Patrick Corrigan’s illustrations nicely set the scene in a historical context as well as making the character of John Baird spring to life on the page in similar fashion to how the subject’s televisions sprang into being.

Now if this book’s subject isn’t an incentive to young creative minds I don’t know what is.

Definitely add a copy to primary school class collections and family bookshelves.

What Not to Give an Ogre for his Birthday / Caveboy Crush / Iguanas Love Bananas

What Not to Give an Ogre for his Birthday
Will Hughes
Little Door Books

Stanley and Martha love buying birthday presents for people and always manage to find just the right thing; but when it comes to their new neighbour, Len the friendly ogre, the task is shall we say, a challenge. The usual things – a bike, clothes, a theatre trip or a pet don’t really fit the bill and a ride in a hot air balloon would be somewhat problematic.

Can the two come up with an idea that could make Len’s birthday the best he’s ever had?

This story of determination and friendship is the first of the Little Door Debuts imprint and it appears as though the publisher has found a new talent with Will Hughes, whose scribbly style illustrations are great fun, putting me in mind slightly of Quentin Blake’s work.

Caveboy Crush
Beth Ferry and Joseph Kuefler
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Here’s a sweet story of a first crush Neanderthal style.

Meet caveboy, Neander, who falls for the ‘most beautiful girl in the prehistoric world’ short, hairy Neanne, who is perfect in every way. His parents accurately diagnose the problem when he becomes all moony.

Armed with flowers picked from The Field of Bees, Neander rushes off to try and woo the little cave-girl but …

and there she isn’t.

The disappointed caveboy decides a grander plan is needed but this too is a dismal failure of the CRUSH kind and Neanne decides her wooer is just a little a bit crazy.

Could it be a case of third time lucky perhaps …?

A fun tale with splendidly expressive illustrations should make for an enjoyable, somewhat noisy storytime as youngsters enjoy the opportunity to let rip with a CRUSH or two during the telling.

Iguanas Love Bananas
Jennie & Chris Cladingbee and Jeff Crowther
Maverick Publishing

I suspect the authors of this crazy rhyming narrative about animals and their food predilections are fans of Kes Gray & Jim Field’s ‘Oi!’ picture books.

In this story we meet all kinds of creatures, large and small, dining on their favourite foods much to the consternation of the humans from whom they steal or otherwise procure such things as fajitas – that’s cheetahs; sausage rolls – the water voles raid a picnic basket for theirs; vindaloos, though these are seemingly paid for at the take-away, but the people on whom they sneeze on account of the spices are less than impressed.

I’m unsure how the manatees got hold of a crate of blue cheese but the end result is constipation, so we’re told.

I have to say though, that I’m with the guy on the final page who is the only one relishing Brussels sprouts. Yummy!

Jeff Crowther clearly enjoyed himself creating the illustrations for this culinary romp; his scenes of all those animals stuffing themselves are full of gigglesome details.

It’s MY Sausage! / The Cutest Thing Ever

It’s MY Sausage!
Alex Willmore
Maverick Publishing

One fat juicy sausage, five cats all with designs on it. The mustard coloured moggy lays claim, having so we hear ‘seen it first’ but has decided to delay gratification.

A dramatic comedy then unfolds as the others endeavour to procure the desired item by means of a rod and line, a ball of wool …

and some acrobatics.

Deceptively simple and hugely expressive illustrations of the rival felines tell much of the story along with a brief discourse provided by mustard moggy and punctuated with descriptive onomatopoeic sound effects and exclamations by the competing cats.

Who actually gets to eat the tempting morsel though? That would be telling wouldn’t it …

A hugely entertaining romp of a picture book.

The Cutest Thing Ever
Amy Ignatow and Hsinping Pan
Abrams Appleseed

A small purple bat narrator poses the question ‘Want to see the cutest thing ever?’

We turn the page to find a cuddly looking monster. Our bat friend then goes on to present an assortment of alternative possibilities adding kittens, hats and a unicorn to ride on. Not satisfied he continues with ‘A parade of koala bears’ – musical making ones, dancing bunnies, and then the whole show goes crazy with …

These astronauts eventually surround the rest of the competing crew before the bat, now appearing absolutely desperate to please, proffers one last suggestion … could that reveal the cutest ever possibility.

Little ones will certainly enjoy the finale. Silly nonsense but I imagine cries of ‘again’!

The Stolen Spear / Buttercup Sunshine and the House on Hangman’s Hill

Here are two recent additions to Maverick Publishing’s junior fiction list

The Stolen Spear
Saviour Pirotta, illustrated by Davide Ortu
Maverick Publishing

The first in a new series set in the Late Neolithic period, on an island in the Orkneys, this is exciting historical fiction for primary age readers.

The focus is on the narrator, young Wolf, and his endeavours to discover who is really responsible for the disappearance of the sacred spear that is stolen from a burial mound during the midsummer celebrations.

And after a journey that takes him far from his village and community, from one island to another, discover the thief he does with the help of his trusty dog Shadow and friends he makes along the way.

By the time he reaches home once more, not only has Wolf secured the spear, but he’s also discovered his path in life. Tough and strong he may not be, but he’s destined to become a very special person in his community,

With illustrations by Davide Ortu adding to the atmosphere, there’s trickery, plenty of thrills, friendship, hope and determination aplenty in this twisting, turning Stone-Age tale for which the author draws on real historic links and places about which he talks in a note at the end of the book.

Buttercup Sunshine and the House on Hangman’s Hill
Colin Mulhern
Maverick Publishing

Colin Mulhern tells a tale that blends together comic horror and the classic story of Frankenstein that sees the return of Buttercup Sunshine.

As the story begins there’s been a zombie invasion of Buttercup’s locality (even her gran has been zombified) and she’s on her way to inform the town’s powers that be, when she meets a postman who begs her instead to go first to Hangman’s Hill to deliver a package to a house that has suddenly appeared as if from nowhere.

What follows is a bizarre encounter with the extremely weird and seemingly totally mad scientist calling himself Dr Frankenstein and what’s more he has a monster and a storeroom full of jars containing human brains.

Buttercup is desperate to find a cure for the zombies but as she discovers, the doc. has other plans of the world destroying kind. So when he sends her to fetch one of those brains – a very particular one – from the store, she knows she has to do something or she might even find herself becoming part of his very unearthly experiment.

I’ll say no more other that the words ‘bunny rabbit’ and the hope that she succeeds.

Totally crazy but enormous fun and ‘a bit carroty’ in its final moments.

The Spacesuit

The Spacesuit
Alison Donald and Ariel Landy
Maverick Publishing

Over the last week many of us have been enthralled to watch the first moon landing in 1969 relived on our televisions screens for its 50th anniversary; but how many of us thought about what went into the designing and making of the protective spacesuits worn by the three Apollo astronauts, and in particular, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they walked on the moon.

These suits were the work of a team of women, led by Ellie Foraker, who were employed by the manufacturer of Playtex bras.

Even as a child, Ellie had loved designing and sewing on her machine and when an adult she got a job making garments with ILC Dover in the Plaxtex division. It was there that the quality of her work caught the attention of a company engineer. He asked Ellie if she was interested in entering a competition to design and make a prototype for a spacesuit that would be worn on the moon.

The competition was fierce with teams of engineers and military designers also participating but Ellie had a great team of hard workers determined to complete the task in time.

Their suit was to be flexible, have lots of soft, thin layers and protect the wearers from extremes of temperature.

Working all day and into the night, the women stitched and glued the layers until eventually the AL7 spacesuit was done – all 21 layers of it.

The entries were tested by the judges and finally the winner was declared. It was Ellie and her team’s AL7.

Alison Donald’s straightforward, accessible narrative focuses on Ellie Foraker’s skills and her determination to win the NASA competition, making it one of a very few moon-related books I’ve seen this past few months that has chosen to put the spotlight on women and their role in helping to send men to the moon.

Ariel Landy’s digitally worked illustrations too capture the resolve of Ellie and her team throughout the task, showing the tension when things get tough as well as the times when the mood was upbeat.

Along with the facts included in the story itself, the inside covers have short snippets of space travel information and there’s a glossary and a space time line extending from1957 and the launch of the 1st Russian satellite, through to the 1969 moon walk.

All in all an inspiring picture book for young readers. I received my copy after returning from a few days away so was unable to beat the 20th July commemoration but nonetheless this is well worth seeking out whatever the date.

The Moosic Makers / The Pirate Who Lost His Name

The Moosic Makers
Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos
Maverick Publishing

Farmer Joni loves the ‘MOO-grass’ music her cows Celery and Nutmeg create, although the other animals are less enthusiastic wanting instead mandolins and singing lessons.

But when a wild storm rips the roof from Joni’s barn all the animals are ready to pitch in and raise money for a new one.
While the cows busk, Billy and Esme hold the hat. They’ve only managed to get three coins when a snappy dresser calling himself Georgie Smarm rocks up offering to make them rich and famous so long as they take up DisCOW instead of their MOO-grass music.

Leave it all to us, the cows tell Esme and Billy as they send them back to the farm and embark on their new career.

DisCOW music as delivered by Nutmeg and Celery is a huge success and they play to packed houses.

What of that fortune they’ve been promised? It seems Smarm is nothing but an exploiter who has no intention of handing over the money they’ve earned.

After almost thirty performances the two conclude it’s time to go  home and they return without a single coin.

Undaunted and determined to raise the money for the new roof, the cows decide to do it their way and so, with the help of Billy and Esme, a brand new kind of music festival is announced.

Will the animals raise sufficient funds for the much-needed repair to that barn? What do you think?

Full of MOO-puns and craziness, Heather and Barbara’s teamwork has created a satisfying tale of determination and cooperation that will be a hit with young listeners.

The Pirate Who Lost His Name
Lou Treleaven and Genie Espinosa
Maverick Publishing

Lou Treleaven and Genie Espinosa’s take on the seemingly ever-popular pirate tale features a very forgetful piratical character.

So bad is his memory that, despite having all the other necessary pirate requirements, he’s forgotten his own name.

His pirate pals all have suitable names but the nameless pirate is too embarrassed to ask them for help so instead he sets out on a quest to find his name. The journey takes him to several possible memory-jogging locations but neither the Captain Dreamboat’s residence, nor Captain Anorak’s Collector’s Cave can help; not even Pirate Lop-It-Off’s barber shop yields what he needs.

Our nameless pirate despairs. Then his parrot lets him know he’s hungry so they stop and buy some seed at Pirate Duff’s on the way home.

There the name forgetter learns that on his previous visit, he’d left behind his pirate membership card; I wonder what he might find written thereon?

That isn’t quite the end of Lou’s rollicking tale but let’s not spoil the surprise throwaway finale, which will likely make young listeners squawk with delight. They’ll also delight in Genie Espinosa’s zany, larger than life characters executed with a super-bright colour palette.

I, Pod / Don’t Eat Pete!

I, Pod
Rebecca Lisle and Richard Watson
Maverick Publishing

Little stone age boy, Pod returns for another adventure and it’s certainly action-packed despite beginning when little Nim’s mum assigns him the role of babysitter.

Determined to get the infant to say his name, Pod repeats it over and over but the baby comes up with plenty of close alternatives until when she says “Poo!” Pod decides it’s time to do something else.

With Little Mammoth’s help, he constructs a swing, sits Nim on and starts pushing – rather too enthusiastically …

… sending the babe right into the river.

Fortunately for both of them the river is fast moving and little Nim, a quick thinker for she saves herself with one deft move after another as a green snapper, a sabre-toothed tiger

and a huge eagle attempt to make her their next meal.

She’s not safe yet though for her craft is heading towards the waterfall. Happily Little Mammoth is also close by and his accidental action saves the day.

Pod is able to scoop up Nim forthwith and none the worse for her adventure, albeit rather wet.

Can Pod talk himself out of this one when they return home to find Nim’s mum already waiting for them?

Pod fans will thoroughly enjoy his latest, fun-filled book and he’ll likely the win a lot more enthusiasts thanks to Rebecca and Richard’s latest verbal and visual accounts of his exploits.

It’s not baby-sitting but puppy-sitting that provides the action in:

Don’t Eat Pete!
Sue Walker and Carlo Beranek
Maverick Publishing

It’s Moll’s Uncle Boll who is given the task of minding puppy Pete when she goes off to work having first ensured there’s plenty to eat and said quite forcefully, “DON’T EAT PETE!’ As if … comes the assurance.

But then Uncle Boll starts to consider the cute little furry bundle and the more he interacts with Pete, the more tempted he feels.

He diverts himself with biscuits followed by a tasty bacon snack but still, despite the reminder notice

and scoffing the entire meal, the greedy troll is still salivating.

Poor Pete in the meantime is becoming increasingly hungry and he eagerly anticipates what Moll will bring home to satisfy his now enormous appetite.

But can he manage to wait until her return to fill his rumbly tum?

With debut author Sue Walker’s droll rhyming narrative and Carlo Beranek’s deliciously expressive illustrations, this is a tasty book to share with little ones either at home or in an early years setting. They’ll certainly relish the final surprise twist in the tale.

The Rescue Princesses: The Amber Necklace / Arlo, Miss Pythia and the Forbidden Box

The Rescue Princesses: The Amber Necklace
Paula Harrison
Nosy Crow

In the 15th and final adventure in the series, it’s up to Zina and her friends to save the tamarind trees of their rainforest home. These trees are the only ones that provide year round food for the lemurs but they’re scheduled to be cut down to make way for the carnival that has been re-routed on account of the usual road being flooded.

Princess Zina is horrified at the prospect; but the princesses must use their intelligence, co-operative skills, kindness and courage to protect the animals and their precious tamarinds.

With their camouflage ninja gear and Zina’s special amber necklace, said by her grandma to hold the heart of the forest it might just be possible to persuade Ando and his workmates to find another path. If not, could the amber jewel works it magic? …

Another exciting tale with short chapters, plenty of line drawings and an exciting and intriguing plot to keep readers turning the pages, this is ideal for new solo readers.

For readers who like longer stories there are two new fiction titles from Maverick Publishing coming soon: one is

Arlo, Miss Pythia and the Forbidden Box
Alice Hemming, illustrated by Mike Garton
Maverick Publishing

4X have become 5P and they’re back with another highly unusual teacher, not from the stone age this time but nevertheless there’s something not quite normal about Miss Pythia.
For a start, she always seems to know exactly what is about to happen; she has a weird-looking symbol tattooed on the back of her neck; she never seems to change her clothes, and there’s that box she keeps on her desk. Mmmm! And could it be sheer co-incidence that she shares her name with a priestess of the Ancient Greek world?

When I taught nursery children we often did an activity called, ‘What’s in the box?’ Singing a little ditty based on those words served to arouse the children’s interest and enthusiasm before the lid was lifted and we investigated its contents. And that is just what Miss Arlo does when she instructs her class that opening the particular box she has in her safe-keeping, is strictly forbidden.

But then 5P are selected to participate in A Play a Day, electing to perform a version of Pandora’s Box and Arlo is chosen to act as director. Can his classmates resist the temptation to open Miss Pythia’s actual box as they rehearse?

What Arlo doesn’t immediately spot as he gets engrossed in his directing role is that the replica box made for the drama has been switched.

Then with the play in full swing a terrible realisation comes upon him …

Another winner from Alice Hemming; it’s full of suspense, gently humorous and splendidly complemented by Mike Garton’s lively, expressive drawings, which provide additional details and humour.

Now set fair to become a super series, this story is great for solo reading as well as highly appropriate as a class read aloud especially if the Ancient Greeks are on the agenda.

Not Yet a Yeti / Froggy Day

Not Yet a Yeti
Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal
Maverick Publishing

High up in the snowy mountains live George and his family.

All George’s family are yetis: “When will I be a yeti?” the little creature asks.

Having consulted in turn, his grandfather, his dad, his big sister and his mum, George concludes that he lacks the necessary qualities for full yeti status. He has no desire to terrorise visitors to the mountain,

leave scary footprints in the snow (his feet are too small anyway), or chase ramblers like other family members.

Suddenly George knows what he wants to be …

Lo and behold as he speaks, a horn grows from his forehead, his limbs grow hooves and he acquires a swishy tail and mane.

Alarmed, Mum consults Dad and a compromise is reached: after all if his other family members continue eating hikers, the human race faces extinction.

An offbeat tale of having the courage to be yourself and acceptance that manages to include the creature that seems to be every young child’s favourite at present – the unicorn. For this reason, if nothing else, it’s likely to become a crowd pleaser. Tony Neal’s entire family of yetis are, despite their claims, thoroughly unscary and totally likeable creatures as is George himself.

Froggy Day
Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos
Maverick Publishing

Imagine watching the weather forecast on the TV and being told “Today is going to be froggy, very froggy!” by the forecaster. That however is what happens in Heather Pindar and Barabara Bakos’ zany book.

No sooner are the words out of her mouth than chaos descends in the form of little green amphibians. They create havoc in the streets, on the bus, the supermarket is over-run with the creatures,

the building site workers are totally bemused, animals stampede and frog horns boom out warning the sailors at sea.
There isn’t a single place in town without an invasion of frogs – imagine the uproar in the classroom.

Then comes the evening weather forecast: now what might that hold in store, I wonder …

Crazy as Heather’s tale may sound, I was once in Udaipur, Rajasthan during the monsoon season and as we emerged from a café into sudden torrential rain, it did seem as though it was raining frogs: the tiny creatures (not green ones but brown) fell in thousands from the rooftops of all the buildings. Goodness knows how they got up there in the first place but the sight was truly bizarre.

Heather Pindar’s play on words is a great starting point for her gigglesome story and Barbara’s illustrations of the frogs’ frolics are a real hoot.