I DIdn’t Do It!

I Didn’t Do It!
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press

In his haste to see the finish of the Big Cycle Race would-be champion bike racer and proud owner of a new bicycle, Milo,

precipitates a concatenation of escalating chaos through the town, shouting “I didn’t do it” at every consequence of his determined haste to arrive before the competitors take the flag.

He does so, reaching the finish line just as the participants are about to make their final sprint,

and just in time to set off in hot pursuit after the thief as he makes off with the prize trophy.

Will Milo succeed in apprehending the dastardly cup snatcher?

What will happen to the baby that’s hurtling through the air and who will secure the prize trophy?

In this story Michael Foreman lets his wonderful watercolour illustrations do most of the talking, keeping the text to a minimum.

As a result, not only is this superb piece of slapstick a terrific read aloud book, but, with its speech bubbles and noises that orchestrate Milo’s journey, it’s also great for children in the early stages of their journey as readers. Make sure you read it to them first though.

One World

One World
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press

Even more pertinent today than when it was first published thirty years ago is Michael Foreman’s almost prophetic One World.

As she looks up at the night sky a little girl contemplates all the creatures that share in the sun’s warmth and the moon’s silvery light.

Next morning she and her brother visit the seashore and together they create their own miniature world from items drawn from a rock pool: a ‘new world with its own forests, its own life.’

As they continue adding items during the day, they realise that their actions have altered the environment around understanding how easy it is to spoil the beauty of the world: the world into which various kinds of poisons are being poured, where forests are disappearing, where creatures all over the planet are no longer safe.

Can they in their own way, do at least something to counter the pollution?

First they remove a tarred feather and the tin can from the pool then with another feather skim off the surface oil before dropping back into it the items they’d collected.

As they leave for home that night the sister and brother decide to ask other children to help them in their cause:

after all, ‘They all lived on one world. And that world too, they held in their hands.’

Stunningly beautiful and thought provoking as it was then and is now, with Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion taking up the cause, this is such a timely re-issue.

A book that needs to be read and discussed in every primary classroom from reception through to older juniors, after which let the action begin or continue … We don’t have much time.

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press

Here’s a book that leaves you with a warm glow tinged with sadness. Published in time for the centenary of the armistice of the First World War, Michael Foreman presents in his own unique style, the true story of Sergeant Stubby, the dog who served in WW1 and became the most decorated dog of the war.

His story is told by Corporal Robert Conroy, an American soldier who adopts Stubby during training in Connecticut, and with a little help of his friends, manages to smuggle the dog aboard the troop ship and all the way to the front line in France.

It’s a tale that brings home to readers the terrible dangers faced by, and amazing bravery of, those who fought in WW1.

Stubby is badly injured

but manages to survive thanks to the care he received alongside the wounded troops and he’s back in action on the day peace is declared.

It’s an enthralling read, with a happy ending. Sadly though, that wasn’t the case for so many of the brave soldiers who lost their lives in that a brutal war. It’s so important that we continue to remember these men, particularly now as there are so few war veterans remaining alive. It’s through such superbly told and illustrated books as this that one hopes we will never forget.

Thanks to Foreman’s wonderful scenes, Stubby and his soldier friends will linger in our minds long after this treasure of a book has been set aside.

Share it widely, pause to remember, and give thanks for the contribution those who served in both World Wars made to our all too fragile peace

With Giving in Mind

Little Hazelnut
Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard
Old Barn Books

What a simply gorgeous presentation is this tale of a hazelnut dropped by squirrel …

and buried by a heavy snowfall.
Other woodland animals, furred and feathered, come and go but the nut remains undiscovered.
In the spring, a little tree shoot emerges – literally – and a sapling begins to develop: a little nut tree, no less.

Readers are taken on a journey through the changing seasons in this wonderfully crafted pop-up story. The limited colour palette and occasional patterned backgrounds are most effective and the paper-engineering superb.
A book to share, to treasure and to give.

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Michael Morpurgo has selected a dozen magical tales from different parts of the world for this collection, the final one of which, Jack and the Beanstalk is his own retelling. This first person telling from Jack Spriggins aka ‘Poor Boy Jack’ is especially engaging for young listeners. Morpurgo also provides an introduction as well as an introductory paragraph to each story.
Ten illustrators have been used with Victoria Assanelli and Bee Willey having two tales each. Most arresting as far as I’m concerned are Ian Beck’s wonderful silhouettes for Adèle Geras’ rendition of The Pied Piper.

From Japan comes Yoshi the Stonecutter, retold by Becca Heddle and beautifully illustrated by Meg Hunt, the only non-European offering.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk are ‘almost part of our DNA’ says Morpurgo in his introduction: they are universal.
Perhaps not a first collection but this read aloud volume is certainly one worth adding to a family bookshelf or primary classroom collection.
Not included in the above but certainly magical is:

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

To satisfy his youngest daughter’s wish, a merchant steals a rose from the garden of a hideous-looking beast and Beauty, to save her father’s life, goes in his place to the Beast’s palace, falls in love with him and well, you know the rest.
The classic fairy tale is retold in a truly beautiful rendition – a feat of paper-engineering and lavish, cut out illustrations by self-taught illustrator Dinara Mirtalipova.

She has created six multi-layered scenes by using three layers of paper cut to look 3D, so that each spread simply springs into life when the page is turned.
Magical!
I really had to exercise my powers of persuasion to get one listener to part with my copy after we’d shared it.

A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Otter-Barry Books

I clearly remember my father reading Robert Louis Stevenson poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses on many occasions; most notably Rain. The Swing, From a Railway Carriage, Autumn Fires, Where Go the Boats? and my very favourite, Windy Nights (which I still know by heart).
Here’s a beautiful book of those same poems that were first published in 1885, and a century later illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully packaged with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith for a new generation of listeners and readers.
For me Foreman is the perfect illustrator for the poems, his watercolours imbuing them with a sense of timelessness and innocence. One for the family bookshelf.

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

There’s plenty to engage young children during the long winter evenings in this space-themed activity book. There are things to count, to colour and to make; plenty of puzzles, wordsearches and more, plus 4 pages of stickers. All you need are pens, pencils, scissors, a paper plate or so, a couple of sponges and 2 rubber bands (to convert your shoes to moon boots) and some basic ingredients for the Stellar Cakes (plus the help of an adult).
With 60 pages of spacey fun, this should help fill a fair few hours of darkness.

Hello, Mr World

Hello, Mr World
Michael Foreman
Walker Books
Two small children dress up and play doctors. Their patient is Mr World and he’s not feeling good. In true GP fashion the children ask, “Now what seems to be the matter?
As the doctors go about making their diagnosis, taking his temperature, listening to his chest and running him through the X-ray machine, Mr World talks of raised temperature and breathing problems and we are shown in Foreman’s telling watercolours the consequences of his malaise. Habitats are under threat;

towns and cities choking with filthy, toxic fumes …

drastic consequences of climate change are evident everywhere and, as the doctors decree, “You must look to the future or things will just get worse …
The solution is in the hands of Mr World’s human inhabitants; and, to the joy of the doctors, and the threatened animals,
the young children acknowledge that they have a huge responsibility; but it’s a challenge well worth taking up.

If only it were that simple. Fortunately, the final three pages offer a brief real world diagnosis and some small but important actions that children themselves can take to help with the crisis.
Foreman’s treatment of a red-hot topic is powerfully affecting. Almost every day one hears on the news or reads of the adverse effects of climate change: only recently we heard that many children playing outside in their school breaks are breathing toxic fumes for instance, so his book is all the more timely. Likening the world to a patient subject to the diagnosis of two small children at play is a stroke of genius, and makes what is a global issue comprehensible to early years listeners

who are likely to inherit the problems we’ve all helped to create. Seize the day!

I’ve signed the charter 

Jamal’s Journey

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Jamal’s Journey
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
Young camel, Jamal does little else but walk, walk, walk across the desert following his mama and baba, the boy and other riders; he watches the falcons too sometimes, as he plods along. Then one day a sandstorm blows up – roaring, whooshing and whirling sand into Jamal’s mouth and eyes. When it’s passed, the little camel finds himself alone looking up at a star-filled, moonlit sky …

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The sand has been completely smoothed: of his Mama or Bapa’s footprints there is no sign, let alone their riders.
As dawn breaks Jamal discovers that other animals are close by – a jerboa, a spiky monitor lizard and a brown hare;

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but Jamal’s request for help goes unheeded: the animals are too busy fleeing. What can have frightened them?
Looking skywards, Jamal spies a tiny dot – a falcon is spiralling towards him. Jamal though isn’t scared and he follows the falcon’s looping flight across the sand, up the hills towards the distant dunes and the shining sea before which stands a huge city. Then coming towards him out of the dust cloud, there emerges a wonderfully welcoming sight: his Mama, Baba and, joy of joys, his friend, the boy.

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After the reunion, it’s time to explore the city …

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and one day perhaps, even more.
Michael Foreman created this book after a visit to Dubai and in his introductory note writes, ‘When you are in Dubai, among its glistening towers, it is easy to forget that this city was built in a desert and its roots are firmly in the Bedouin culture. Central to that culture … the camel.’ Everything about this tender tale of friendship, determination and adventure evokes, and pays tribute to, the desert and to that Bedouin culture: one can almost feel the shimmering heat and respond to an urge to cover eyes and ears as the sandstorm approaches
Little Jamal’s feelings – panic, fear, hope, surprise, delight, and finally, joy, are all shown through Foreman’s superbly expressive camel eyes. The word ‘jamaal’ in Arabic means beauty and some people think there is a link between its J-M-L root structure and ‘jamal’ meaning camel (which has the same root). True or not, Foreman certainly, in this book, has created something beautiful.

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Tufty/The Grumpy Pets

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Tufty
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
Subtitled ‘The Little Lost Duck who Found Love’ this story starts in the grounds of Buckingham Palace where we meet a family of ducks and in particular the youngest, Tufty who we are told ‘always struggled to keep up.’

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The Royal residents of the palace – the Royal Duck and Duckess – (looking decidedly like the feathered residents) feed the duck family when they take their lakeside perambulations and keep them entertained with grand parties in the palace ballroom.

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With winter fast approaching, it’s time for the ducks to fly south to warmer climes Father Duck announces, and very soon, they’re on their way. Unable to keep up, Tufty is left behind and flies down to a subway on a traffic island where he discovers a kindly homeless man. The man takes Tufty back to his makeshift shelter in a hollow tree and there he looks after him …

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right through the long winter months.
Come spring, Tufty is much bigger and stronger and one day he sees his family overhead flying back to their lake in the palace grounds. Tufty joins them and as the number of ducks on the palace lake increases day by day, he notices one particular little duck that takes his fancy. Soon after, the two of them return to the lake in the woods where the kindly man warmly welcomes them.

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Foreman’s glowing watercolours are unfailingly wonderful, particularly in their portrayal of the contrasting scenes of the lush green palace grounds and the high-rise blocks of the city skyline; and the rainy urban roundabout and the peaceful hollow chestnut tree abode of the man beside the small lake.
Readers and listeners will warm to the plight of left-behind Tufty and the kindness of the man who gives him shelter and food, despite having very little of his own.

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The Grumpy Pets
Kristine A. Lombardi
Abrams
When a mother takes Billy and big sister Sara to Perfect Pets, the animal rescue shelter, it’s in the hope that it will give her somewhat disagreeable son something to smile about. Seemingly everyone else, including Sara, has managed to find their ideal pet …

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but young Billy remains decidedly sombre.

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Off he goes to look around the place, a place that seems full of happy animals, not his thing at all. But then he hears ’BARK!’, ‘GROWL!’, ‘Hisssss!’ which leads him to …

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and in particular one that’s ready to give as good as it gets and more …

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resulting in an “I’ll take him!” from Billy who knows when he’s met his match. Thus begins, one suspects, as we see boy and dog heading home, a wonderful friendship that will bring a whole lot more smiles where Billy is concerned.
Populated by endearing characters human and animal, this is a warm-hearted story of mutual rescue that is most likely to appeal to pooch lovers and those who sympathise with small, sometimes grouchy boys.

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The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army!

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The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army!
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
One rainy day when newspaper boy Joey hears from The Little Bookshop’s owner

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of the mayor’s plans to demolish the bookshop and replace it with a superstore he immediately takes action calling upon his erstwhile Super Hero ally, Origami Girl; and instantly she is there. She and Joey, with the help of the bookseller, set about transforming pages from favourite children’s titles

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into an Origami Army of best-loved children’s characters.
Then, off they all fly towards Parliament forming as they go a huge rainbow of fairytale, myth and legend, before descending and charging right into the Great Hall of Government to discover a room full of sleeping ministers.
The disillusioned troops hastily return to the bookshop only to be confronted by the Mayor, surveyors and a whole lot of destructive machinery. Undaunted, Origami Girl heads off to the obvious place to recruit reinforcements – the Public Library – and soon an enlarged army is ready to do battle. The Mayor’s derisory “They are only made of paper … ” is countered by army members’ responses of “We are made of IDEAS!” together with, “And IMAGINATION… We are made of things you can never destroy!” and more.

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But it’s not until the builders begin to recognize the likes of Elmer, Peter Pan, Alice, the Walrus and the Carpenter and The Little Princess that things really start to turn in favour of the bookshop protectors.
Does the Origami Army finally defeat the Mayor and his dastardly plan? Well, I’ll leave that to your imagination and just say that thanks to the builders, there’s a rainbow-hued ending.
Unequivocally a fine testament to the power of books, bookshops, reading and of course, ideas and the imagination: and with Foreman’s masterful watercolours what else could one ask – an army of readers to save all threatened bookshops perhaps? Bring them on, say I.

Use your local bookshop localbookshops_NameImage-2

Seeds of Friendship, Flowers of Love

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The Seeds of Friendship
Michael Foreman
Walker Books
Adam, new to high-rise city life, certainly does sow the seeds of friendship in more ways than one in this uplifting modern fable. Adam however, has come from a distant part of the world and his parents helped him keep his memories alive by sharing stories that he responded to by making pictures of the fauna and flora of his old home country.
Outside meanwhile, everything looks grey and cold and his shyness prevents him from leaving his tower block and making approaches to the children he sometimes sees below. But then one morning his view outside is completely blocked by frosty patterns on his window. He does what most children find irresistible– draws pictures on the windows, not only his own but every one available; pictures of animals that live in the frozen forest ‘canvas’ nature has already created for him.

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That night snow falls and next morning Adam ventures out into a wonderful world of white where other children are making a snowman. Brrr!

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But Adam builds something completely different and surprising to the others, who are soon drawn into a co-creative enterprise on a very large scale.

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A few days later when Adam starts his new school, he discovers some of his new-found friends and he finds something else equally important and exciting – a garden. Not a large one, but one from which his teacher gives Adam some seeds to take home: seeds that grow and multiply so that after a few months, Adam is able to invite his friends home where they all help him create a glorious roof garden. And we all know what seeds have a tendency to do – SPREAD – which is just what happens here. Thanks to teamwork, Adam and his friends transform the whole locality into a gloriously glowing city of gardens

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whose colours will be different every season –that and those seeds of hope and friendship which can go on for ever …
Just perfect – what more needs to be said.

For a younger audience is:

 

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Lulu Loves Flowers
Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw
Alanna Books
The adorable Lulu is back with a book-inspired activity: this time she wants to be like Mary Mary in her favourite poem from the garden poems anthology.

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So, armed with library books on gardening, and help from her Mummy with the buying and planting of seeds, her garden is under way. Though of course those flowers won’t grow up overnight, so in the meantime Lulu decides to make her own flower book, string some shells and beads and make a little Mary Mary character of her own. Then one warm, sunny day, joy of joys, her flowers have opened to greet the sun.

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Time to hang up those shiny bells, Lulu, before your friends come round to see that special garden and to share some of the produce.
Absolutely charming – both words and pictures are full of warmth; and as always Lulu is such a good advocate for books and libraries. Would that every young child had parents like her ready to encourage and support all those activities that are so important for young children – reading, writing, growing things and developing their creativity.

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Unlikely Friendships

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Cat & Dog
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
We had an unlikely friendship between a cat and a fish in Michael Foreman’s Friends: unlikely friendship is again at the heart of his latest offering
When Cat leaves her kittens to go in search of their breakfast, little does she suspect that she’ll be carried off far away from her offspring.

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Along comes a scruffy dog as the kittens huddle together to await the return of the fish van and with it, their mother. His first thought is “breakfast, lunch and dinner”; his second is that like him, the kittens are all alone in the world, so he beds down to sleep close by and before long, he and the kittens are snuggled up together. Morning comes and with it the van’s return and joy of joys, there is Cat in the driver’s arms. There’s a happy reunion but then Cat notices the old dog and turns on him.

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The kittens tell her how he has befriended them and they settle down together to hear of Cat’s seaside adventure. Next time that van heads off to the sea, the fish man has some additional passengers aboard and their arrival is just in time to see a beautiful sunset which is followed by supper

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and some fishy moonlit thoughts on the pier.
As ever, Foreman’s lyrical watercolours have that wonderful quality of luminosity; those seascapes are just glorious. I particularly like too, the scenes from below the city bridge with graffiti and the multitude of greetings in a whole gamut of languages from Hindi to Swahili and Hebrew.
Buy from Amazon
Andersen Press have also reissued an old Foreman classic from the 70s

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Moose
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press pbk
Herein we meet the horned animal of the title who is disturbed by the shouting match between Bear and Eagle. Moose fails in his efforts to resolve the conflict but ends up constructing – with the help of others who had got drawn into the combat – a wonderful place where all can meet harmoniously. But what of Bear and Eagle? Well seemingly they never learn but perhaps one day …
Buy from Amazon

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Bluebird
Bob Staake
Andersen Press pbk
With its New York City setting, this wordless picture book is a portrayal of a friendship that develops between a boy and the Bluebird of the title. Said bird watches the boy through his schoolroom window as he is taunted and shunned by his classmates, then follows him homewards.

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They share a cookie, visit the park and sail a boat.

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The boy is set on by a gang of bullies who attempt to snatch the boat, hurl a stick at the boy and kill(?)

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the bird. Then a veritable host of birds of different colours fly down, lift the boy, who is still clutching his friend, bearing him skywards towards the clouds,

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where we watch him release his blue friend to fly heavenwards, up, up, up …
It’s the feeling of hope that transcends all the other powerful emotions – loneliness, bullying, guilt, grief – embraced in this eloquent story told through moving, multi-framed pictorial sequences rendered in blues, greys, white and black. The total absence of words (other than streetscape signs) allows space for readers to bring their own interpretations to the nuances of the story.
Not a book for everyone; rather it’s one for individuals to peruse and ponder over, with new meanings and possibilities emerging with each reading.
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The Zebra Who Ran Too fast
Jenni Desmond
Walker Books
Triangular friendships are often tricky to sustain though Zebra, Elephant and Bird have done pretty well. Elephant would entertain Bird and Zebra with his curious facts; Bird made Zebra and Elephant laugh with his jokes and Zebra, the fastest runner, knew the best games. Then one windy day Zebra’s zest for life makes the others feel dizzy but he ignores their requests to stop.

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Next day he is shunned. Zebra spends a hot, lonely time pondering on his pals and their pastimes and his behaviour until, along comes wise, kindly Giraffe. The two bond and by nightfall, Zebra is feeling better. His erstwhile pals meanwhile are frightened by the storm that has blown up and are missing their friend. Off they go in search of him and before long it’s a case of “Four best friends together.”

 

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This beautifully portrayed story about the real meaning of friendship set in the African savannahs is a visual delight, particularly the range of expressions on the animals’ faces. The vastness of the African plain and sky with the gathering storm are so powerfully evoked one can almost feel the wind and hear the thunder.

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Conflict and Resolution

 

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Nina loves the idea of odd socks

Two Giants
Michael Foreman
Walker Books
How wonderful to see that Walker Books have brought back a Foreman story first published in the 1960s – one of his very early titles.
We meet two giants, great friends who live in a beautiful country where they make the birds sing and some even nest in their beards. Friends, that is, until one day they discover a pink shell and then oh dear, both want it for personal decoration. There follows a huge falling out,

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stones are thrown, a flood comes and the giants find themselves on opposite sides of a cold sea. In a continuous winter, the fight carries on; rocks are hurled, each giant scoring multiple hits and all the while their anger is growing. The thrown rocks become stepping stones for Sam, armed with huge club, to visit a sleeping Boris. Boris however wakes and a world shaking, club-waving charge takes place.
Just in time though the two notice their footwear (muddled in the scramble to escape the flood) and standing stock still, remember the old days of friendship but not what the fight was about.

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Time for a reconciliation … clubs tossed aside, the giants return to their islands, the sea recedes, wild life returns and before long all that separates the two mountains is a beautiful tree-filled valley where the seasons come and go once more and peace and harmony reigns. Guess what the friends now do as a reminder, no matter what …

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It’s interesting to see how Foreman’s style has evolved over the years. For this gently humorous fable he has used paint and torn or cut paper collage to build up the scenes.
A book that is likely to appeal to children’s sense of the ridiculous, particularly those, and I do know some, who like to wear odd socks.
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There is arguing too in this Hueys story newly out in paperback:

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The Hueys in It Wasn’t Me
Oliver Jeffers
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
The usually peaceable Hueys are having an argument; what is it all about? One of their number, Gillespie wants to know but his question merely provokes further squabbling among the others. He asks again, “What ARE you fighting about?” Hmm – good question but can they come up with an answer?

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Maybe distraction is a better form of conflict resolution in this situation …

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oh have we come full circle here? Bzzz…
You need to start reading this hilarious book before the title page where the cause of the argument is visible; thereafter it becomes transformed into a bird, a flying teacup, a winged horse, even a flying elephant as the squabble escalates until Gillespie steps in and points out something that is lying lifeless on the floor.
Simple but certainly not simplistic is the manner in which Jeffers has depicted the Hueys and their trouble. The course of the argument is presented in speech bubbles and shown contained within a cloud above the Hueys’ heads

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– very clever and a highly effective means of representation.
Assuredly one to have on the family or classroom bookshelf for those inevitable times of conflict, although once read it will quickly become an oft requested,
any time story.
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Cantankerous King Colin
Phil Allcock and Steve Stone
Maverick arts publishing
When King Colin wakes up feeling cantankerous he finds himself getting into all manner of minor conflicts with his wife Queen Christine.

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Rosa and Nina sharing in King Colin’s cantankerous behaviour

She tries ruling against eating a ‘yucky and mucky’ breakfast, his refusal to wash his hands after using the loo, and his wearing of a shirt stinking of the previous night’s dinner.
Every time Queen Caroline said, “You can’t …”, King Colin’s response was the same: “I can,” and of course, because he was king, he could and he did. Hmm…silly, dirty, smelly King Colin. A sulky Colin decides to go for a horse ride. Imagine his displeasure then when he discovers his favourite horse, Pink Nose unsaddled.
More conflicts ensue during the ride and a furious Colin returns to the palace where, you’ve guessed it, he causes more upsets

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until his roars of “I can!” are overheard by somebody who has the power to overrule our grumpy, crazy, lazy naughty monarch; it’s none other than Great Queen Connie. Guess where she sends her badly behaved son.
A humorous story illustrated in cartoon style with appropriately garish colours to match Colin’s over-the-top character and told through a patterned text; children will relish Colin’s somewhat disgusting habits and enjoy joining in with the Queen’s ‘ You can’ts ’ and the oft repeated, ‘ “I can,” said King Colin … because he was king.’ They could also offer suggestions as to how the king could mend his undesirable ways and present them in poster form perhaps.
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Football Fantasies

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Wonder Goal!
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press pbk
All the boys in newcomer to the team’s story, dream that impossible dream of becoming famous footballers, but none more so he who has just had his shoelaces tied together, the teasing all those new to the squad are subjected to.
The tale begins one Sunday with a Lowry-like portrayal of this particular boy’s debut game on a chilly-looking pitch – one of many – in an urban neighbourhood behind which chimneys belch out filthy smoke.

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The narrative structure – both visual and verbal – is somewhat complex for, as the match starts, the story takes on a timeless ‘out of body’ dimension as it moves between the real and imagined and back and forth in time:
It was perfect.”
“Head over the ball, ”
“balance, power, timing . . .”

 

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“As soon as he kicked it, ”
“he knew it was going to be a goal.
It was a screamer.

So, one minute we are there at that first match, the next in his dad ‘s boyhood bedroom with its wall-to-wall soccer heroes, then fast forward to another wonder goal some time in the future.
The personal and impersonal sit side by side in this story. The sound of the quietly understated text has an impersonal tone whereas visually, the paintings are rich with passion and vibrancy. And, the back endpapers are frames from the author’s own sketchbooks of soccer scenes from troubled regions as far afield as the Berlin Wall

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and the Golan Heights from 1970 to the foot of Mt. Fuji in 1997 and Marseille in 1999.
With the football fascination set to be on the rise with the World Cup looming large, this is one for fans of all ages from about six upwards.
Buy from Amazon

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Football Star
Mina Javaherbin and Renato Alarcao
Walker Books pbk
Set in Brazil, the story centres around a group of young children living in poverty. Their days are full of work, their heads, of dreams. These dreams, in particular those of  narrator Paulo Marcelo Feliciano who says he will lead his team to the top, bring a special energy and light to the hardships of everyday life

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and the daily evening soccer game is a treasured, shared time. Paulo Marcelo Feliciano has a younger sister Maria and they have a reciprocal arrangement: she teaches him the maths she’s learned in school, he teaches her football moves. There is one problem though; the football teams are girls only. But then comes the day when one of Paolo’s team is injured during a game: time to rethink the boys only stipulation …

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The final spread, like the story, is alight with hope, strength and the affirming lights of the hillside homes.

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Believe in yourself, listen to your heart, follow your dreams are the themes that shine forth from this empowering story.
Great World Cup reading – before and beyond.
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Love and Friendship

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I Love You, Too!
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
Father Bear has finished Little Bear’s bedtime story but Little Bear does not want to sleep. Instead he tries some of delaying tactics, telling his dad how much he loves him in all kinds of ways. Dad reciprocates, out-loving Little Bear’s love each time until they complete a full circle of love and then a-a-a-a-h-h-h. It’s Dad who finally falls asleep. And his offspring? Having tucked Dad in, he picks up his book and starts reading it all over again …
It’s great to see a father/son bedtime story session.
Foreman’s watercolour illustrations are as alluring as ever; here, extending the text into playful scenes of the two bears having fun together, sometimes clad in their pyjamas and dressing gowns and other times wearing more appropriate apparel.

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Beautful to share at bedtime or any other time.
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Alex and Lulu Two of a Kind
Lorena Siminovich
Templar Publishing pbk
Can you be best friends despite having some very different interests?
That’s the question at the heart of this story featuring best pals, Alex, a lively adventurous dog and Lulu, a thoughtful, artistically minded cat. Of course they do have some common interests such as going to the park but it’s when they get there that their differences manifest themselves. Alex climbs trees and swings from high branches,; Lulu stays still observing ants, intending to paint them at home later. On the way home in the rain, Alex cannot resist splashing in all the puddles; Lulu hurries ahead keeping her feet dry. “..we are just SO different,” she remarks.
Back home Alex begins to wonder if they are too different to be best friends. There follows another day of differences and more worries for Alex.
Then it is down to Lulu to explain how differences can actually enrich and enhance their friendship. It’s a case of opposites attract, their bond of friendship is strong enough for all their differences.
Filled with bright colours, patterns and textures, Siminovich’s illustrations are immediately attractive. Her images are outlined with a thick black line making them stand out against the patterned backgrounds.

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A charming and reassuring exploration of friendship.
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Laika the Astronaut
Owen Davey
Templar Publishing
Laika, the first creature to be launched into space, has her story told and given an alternative ending by the wonderful artist. Owen Davey.
Taken from the Moscow streets as a stray, she, along with other dogs, was trained and tested to undertake the next step in the Soviet space programme intended to maintain their supremacy in the space race. In 1957, Laika was blasted off into space in a rocket and after only a few hours, her craft developed a fault and Laika perished. (Seemingly she would have done so even without this catastrophe, there being no means of returning her craft to earth anyway.)
Davey chooses a happier ending with the lonely Laika finding a new family to love and cherish her. His use of muted tones, stylized images and shadowy figures give a vintage feel to the scenes and it is Davey’s illustrations that are the strength of the book and what make it work seeking out.

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This fanciful story could be a good starting point for a space theme in a primary school with children then going on to research factual reports on the Laika story.
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Doug the Bug That Went Boing!
Simon & Schuster pbk
Sue Hendra
Doug the Bug is in trouble. Not only has he had a quarrel with his best pal Trevor while playing ball, but on top of that, he’s been unceremoniously separated from him by a large shovel. So, can he manage to find his way from atop the tower block back to Trevor and put things right with him? Assisted by a grateful fly, Doug finds himself having a thrilling time, narrowly missing falling into the loo before ‘boinging’ into all manner of strange places – a fried egg yolk, in a shower of pepper, a sponge cake, a pedal bin, even right through a slice of toast.

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But anything is worth a try so that he can get back to Doug and put things right with him.
Bright bouncy illustrations, with some hair-raising scenes, are part and parcel of this light-hearted, action-packed adventure.
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Miki and the Wishing Star
Stephen Mackey
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
In this, the third story about Miki, Penguin and Polar Bear, the three friends share a birthday and are celebrating together, each making a birthday wish. Penguin has first wish but this (to be the biggest penguin in all the world) results in all manner of challenging situations for the threesome. All ends happily however in this gentle, atmospheric tale of magic, wishing and friendship. Makey’s soft-focus illustrations have a dreamlike quality and it’s these that are the main strength of the book.
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Rules of Summer
Shaun Tan
Hodder Children’s Books
If you want to be challenged, made to think deeply and interpret, look, look and look again, then try this latest work of Shaun Tan. It’s dark and mysterious, disturbing even; and both simple and complex – a real paradox – leaving much to the imagination. Is it about rules, challenges, friendship?  Or perhaps all of these as seen through the eyes of one of the boys.
In Tan’s own words, it’s a picture book about the relationship between two boys who could be brothers or close friends whose friendship is tested by challenging situations.
He presents readers with a sequence of thirteen scenes of the two boys each with a single sentence beginning ‘Never …’ placed opposite a enigmatic illustration rendered in oil paints, that is open to interpretation.

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Never argue with an umpire.

After this are three wordless double spreads, two scenes each with a sentence beginning ‘Always…’ then one saying ‘Never miss the last day of summer.’,  a double wordless spread and a final ‘That’s it.’ set opposite a scene of the boys sitting together seemingly watching television.
Definitely a book that raises more questions than it answers and one that readers will respond differently to on each re-reading
I can envisage this book being discussed by groups of children/adults in both primary and secondary schools; indeed, each scene and accompanying text could form the basis of an enquiry.  Just what are those dark, sinister looking birds doing, for example.
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