Mind and Me / Barney the Horse

Mind and Me
Sunita Chawdhary
Knights Of

This funny story is about much more than just losing your pet rabbit, which is what Maya, the girl narrator of this book does. 

When she wakes one morning she discovers her beloved Pooey is missing from his house beside her bed. Mysteriously it appears that the rabbit must have opened the door herself.

It’s also about lies and their consequences; determination, lots of poos (rabbit ones for the most part), identical twin cousins – the daughters of Maya’s favourite aunt who has a ‘way of sprinkling happiness over everyone’ – a warm, loving family and Mind. Mind is Maya’s own mind that acts as a kind of prompt, voice in the head alter ego. Into all this, author Sunita Chawdhary weaves occasional snippets of information about Indian customs and life in India, (Maya’s mother is from India), a few pearls of yoga wisdom, lots of humorous black and white illustrations and more.

Most of the book relates what happens when Maya, aided (sort of) and abetted by cousins Tanya and Anya search for Pooey, though it’s only Maya who knows what they’re actually looking for.

There’s plenty to delight younger solo readers in this, Sunita’s debut chapter book; this adult reviewer loved it too.

Barney the Horse
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This book contains three short stories set in turn at Nethercott farm, Treginnis and Wick Court which constitute the Farms for City Children Organisation set up by the author and his wife to give city children, (who come to stay along with their teachers), experience of such things as feeding sheep, milking cows, looking after horses and generally interacting with other animals and the natural world.

The first, Missing! is a little boy’s account of what happened when he and his classmates went to feed the sheep and discovered that one of the lambs wasn’t there. The farmer declares that the one who finds the errant lamb will be awarded the ‘farmer of the day’ badge. This results in the narrator straying a bit too far, just like the object of his search, in what turns out to be a very dramatic rescue.

In Bird Boy, story two, Matt is staying away from home for the first time. Despite enjoying the stories by the fire in the evenings, the berry picking, eating the beans he’s helped to gather, and the interactions with the animals, the boy feels homesick. It’s the wealth of birdlife though, that makes all the difference for Matt. He especially likes to observe the swallows that have nested in one of the barns and are rearing their young. 

What he doesn’t anticipate is that he will play an important role in the early life of one of the little chicks.

The third story is a retrospective one told by an adult narrator and contains an empowering message.. Go For It was the motto of the narrator’s Grandma and it was this catchphrase and her gran’s birthday gift that were responsible for the story teller going to stay at Wick Court with her primary school friends. She tells how her interactions with the horses there, especially Barney, completely changed the course of her life.

For younger readers, these gentle tales, accompanied by Guy Parker-Rees’ plentiful, spirited black and white illustrations, convey the lasting effects a stay on a child-friendly farm can have.

My Father is a Polar Bear

My Father Is A Polar Bear
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Felicita Sala
Walker Books

Drawing on his own experience, Michael Morpurgo wrote this story over fifteen years back with the insight of adulthood. It’s hugely poignant as, starting in 1948, we read of two boys, Andrew and big brother Terry and their search for their biological father. Andrew is aware that he has two fathers; Douglas the one the boys live with, and the one who is never spoken of.

When his brother shows him a picture of a polar bear in a Young Vic Company’s dramatisation of the Snow Queen and says it is his father, five year old Andrew is more confused than ever. However, Andrew’s father is an actor. playing the role of the polar bear and it is that which triggers their search. It’s one that takes many years until eventually both Andrew and his brother

find the way back to their birth father and to a healing acceptance.

Michael’s beautiful prose and Felicita Sala’s drawings both capture so well, the child Andrew’s view of the world in this short pensive book.

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast / The Giant’s Necklace

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast
Sue Whiting
Walker Books

Ten year old Pearly Woe is an inveterate worrier; her chief worry being that she’ll never be brave enough or sufficiently clear thinking to become a member of The Adventurologists’ Guild, a group of stealth adventurers founded by her Grandpa. However she does have talents: she’s a multi-linguist and can even speak animal languages, most importantly with her unlikely pet, Pig.

Quite suddenly she finds herself with very big worries: her parents have gone missing and Pig is pig-napped. After an encounter with villainous Ms Emmeline Woods, Pearly becomes a stowaway on an icebreaker bound for Antarctica, transporting readers along too on a dangerous rescue mission: but then she discovers Ms Woods is actually in charge of the Might Muncher. She also discovers that her parents are not as she first thought, on the ship.

Fortunately for the girl, numbered among his skills, Pig has a finely-tuned snout that can sniff out all forms of trouble; he’s also bold, brave and helps to keep Pearly relatively calm and focussed on the task in hand – and trotter. What a great, albeit unlikely, team they make.

What exactly is Ms Woods’ purpose in undertaking this trip; what is her interest in finding the Great Hairy Beast?

With danger at every turn – next in the form of an Antarctic blizzard – Pearly must muster every possible bit of courage, bravery and initiative if she’s to have any chance of saving the Great Hairy Beast, her parents and a displaced animal.

I shivered my way through every twist and turn of this thrilling, pig-pun scattered, adventure – the first of a new series – with its engaging protagonist and splendidly quirky sidekick – unable to pause until I reached the rules, guidelines, survival tips and ways to survive a sticky situation for Young Adventurologists at the end of the story.

The Giant’s Necklace
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Briony May-Smith
Walker Books

This is a small masterpiece, a ghost story and an adventure about eleven year old Cherry, on holiday with her family. During her time away, Cherry has been collecting cowrie seashells to make a necklace fit for a giant; the trouble is giants’ necks are very large and an awful lot of shells are required. Now it’s the final day of the holiday and despite her mother urging her to leave her creation as it is, (5,325 shells in all) Cherry is determined to add more before they leave the following morning. 

With her mum’s permission, off she goes to the beach to continue her search. So engrossed does she become though that she fails to notice the huge black clouds rolling in and the increasing size of the waves. Now the tale becomes much darker, for Cherry becomes cut off from the cove and at the mercy of the violent Atlantic waves. Her only way of escaping to safety is to climb the steep rock face: can she do that and what of the shells she’s risked life and limb to collect? Then she remembers the mine tunnels her father had spoken of – definitely worth a try. Increasing eeriness now pervades the events as Cherry encounters spirit people and then comes the final shocking twist …

Thrilling and tense with powerful word images and an important message about safety beside the sea; and beautifully illustrated by Briony May Smith who captures the tension perfectly, 

readers cannot help but root for Cherry all the way, hoping for the best but perhaps, fearing the worst.

Thanks to Walker Books for sending these smashing books for review.

When Fishes Flew

When Fishes Flew: the story of Elena’s war
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by George Butler
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The first novel for a couple of years from storyteller extraordinaire Michael Morpurgo is well worth the wait. With three time settings and two locations, the stories of Ellie and Nandi weave together ancient history and myth, contemporary life and World War Two experiences.

As the story opens Nandi, who lives with her parents in Melbourne, Australia, thinks of herself as Greek. Her father’s family came from Ithaca, the Greek island that is still home to her beloved great aunt Ellie.

Until fairly recently Aunt Ellie was a regular visitor to Melbourne but now she’s become too old (and troubled by the impact of flying on global warming) to make the journey. Nandi misses her greatly, especially those wonderful tales from Greek history and mythology she’d tell whenever she visited. Now Nandi must do the visiting, she resolves.

So, as soon as she’s left school and saved sufficient money, Nandi travels to Ithaca; (what happens is told in the form of her journal called ‘My Odyssey’).

However, when she finally reaches her aunt’s home, Ellie isn’t there, hasn’t been seen for a month and nobody, not even her special friend Maria, knows where she’s gone. We readers can’t help but share Nandi’s sadness but as she sits writing her diary one day she ‘hears’ a voice. A voice that seems to be calling her, beckoning her to take the plunge and dive into shoals of fish that spin around the end of the jetty. One fish though, isn’t like the others, this one is a silver flying fish and needs saving, so Nandi must take the plunge. Into the water she goes and rescues the fish.

It’s through this creature, (Proteus in another form) with which she forms a friendship, that she learns the amazing, unimaginable story of her great aunt: ‘a modern Greek hero, a hero of today and yesterday and tomorrow’ as the fish tells her.

Truly that fish was right: I felt tears welling up as I read the last entry in Nandi’s journal written ten years on from the main part.

Totally gripping (I read it a single sitting) is this tale of love, courage and rescue, of personal discovery and belonging, that will remain with readers long after they’ve put the book down.
George Butler’s black and white illustrations too will stay in your mind; it’s amazing how he imbues them with the spirit of myth, of mystery and of love.

A Song of Gladness

A Song of Gladness
Michael Morpurgo and Emily Gravett
Two Hoots

We’ve all in one way or another been affected by the lockdowns over the past year or so. This gorgeous timely book was inspired by a blackbird in Michael Morpurgo’s garden during the first lockdown and truly it is as the front cover says, ‘a story of hope for us and our planet’.

It begins with the author standing having a ‘conversation’ with said blackbird wherein he tells it of the sadness everyone is feeling. This precipitates an idea in the blackbird’s mind and he sings it out to the still sleepy fox near the shed. And so begins a chain reaction with the song passing from one to another with creatures all over the world, each in its own way joining in, 

until the entire animal world is singing a song of forgiveness. 

Not yet though the author who asks and receives permission from the blackbird to sing with them.

One can truly hope that humans the world over will during this last year or so, have rediscovered their connection with the natural world, and as Michael Morpurgo reminds us, will now take responsibility to care, not only for our fellow humans but for all living things on our precious planet.

Beautifully told with the author’s characteristic empathy and gentleness, this very personal, moving story speaks to us all, children and adults, capturing both our shared experience and our hearts. Emily Gravett’s illustrations brilliantly express the vital interconnectedness inherent in the text, as they carry us along from page to page swept up in the musicality both of Michael’s words, and the animals’ voices united in a final glorious harmony.

The Puffin Keeper

The Puffin Keeper
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Benji Davies
Puffin Books

National treasure and author Michael Morpurgo has written this story about puffins with Puffin Books’ 80th birthday in mind. Michael is the son-in-law of Allen Lane the founder of Puffin Books whose metaphorical lighthouse lamp definitely illuminated my childhood. Here he has interwoven his own family history, the Scilly Isles, a threatened bird and his fascination with lighthouses, to create a truly memorable read for all ages.

The extraordinary tale begins one dark stormy night just off the coast of the Scilly Isles when bound for Liverpool from New York, a four-masted schooner with its masts broken and sails in tatters, starts to sink with thirty passengers and crew aboard. The event is watched from high up in his lighthouse by the keeper, Benjamin Postlethwaite who risks life and limb to rescue everyone including the story’s narrator, then five years old, and his widowed French mother.

Making several journeys in his tiny rowing boat this brave man rows back and forth five times until everyone is safely on the island. Then in his lighthouse, he silently brews pot after pot of tea, ensuring that all the rescued were kept warm. The boy, an observant lad, is amazed by the paintings of boats done on cardboard scraps and bits of wood each one signed merely BEN, that adorn the walls. The following day when those from the ship are taken from the island, Benjamin gives the boy a painting of a four-masted schooner similar to that from which he’d been rescued.

The boy and his mother then go to live on Dartmoor with his mother’s dour in-laws. Among the horrors the lad has to cope with are Miss Duval (or Devil) a cruel nanny cum governess; following his ultra-strict grandfather’s regime, and at age eight being sent to boarding school where cross country running meted out as punishment becomes a pleasure

and then a medal-winning success. The boy also discovers the joys of painting and reading storybooks but never does he forget Benjamin Postlethwaite.

Having come across an article about the rescue in an old magazine, the boy writes to Benjamin asking if he’d mind a visit from him one day. Around the address he paints a copy of the picture he’s been given. But no reply does he receive.

One day, informing his mother that he’s going on a journey of exploration, he leaves (with her approval) on his bike.

Where is he going? …
That’s nowhere near the end of this wonderful tale but if you want to discover what happens, then get yourself a copy.

In Michael’s prose no matter what his subject, there’s a simple eloquence and perceptive pitch-perfect beauty; and this story with its soft-spoken conservation message and themes of hope and fresh beginnings is, ultimately, uplifting. I can think of no better artist for the book than Benji Davies, whose illustrations with their subtle shades, somewhat reminiscent of Ravilious, truly bring to life the characters, the various settings and the feelings evoked in the text.

A book to have, to hold, to share and, to treasure.

Flights of Fancy

Flights of Fancy
Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Browne, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Lauren Child
Walker Books

Now in paperback, here’s a truly special gem of an anthology subtitled ‘Let your imagination soar with top tips from ten Children’s Laureates’. It brings together the ten awesome authors and illustrators who have held the title (given in celebration of their outstanding achievements) and first awarded to Quentin Blake in 1999.

To open, Michael Morpurgo explains how the original idea of the role (each person holds it for two years), was first thought up by himself and Ted Hughes, the then Poet Laureate.

You might be especially interested in poetry, rhyme and wordplay, if so head first to the sections from Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. Michael in Poetry Belongs to Everyone talks about playing around with a word to create a poem. Julia Donaldson’s Plays to Read and to Write discusses one of her own plays that she based on the Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, offering a fun, lively 6-parter

If you’d rather be playful in the visual sense then Anthony Browne’s The Shape Game could be your starting point: having talked about how to play it, he showcases some examples from 3 other famous illustrators to whom he gave the same shape to play as the one of his own shown in the book. The potential with this one is endless. Probably that is the case with most of the chapters however.

In The Only Way to Travel, Quentin Blake writes with reference to  Dahl’s stories, about how when illustrating someone else’s texts it’s important to ‘put yourself inside their story’ and capture the atmosphere before diving in and drawing those fabulous illustrations of his.

More about how other fabulous illustrators approach their drawing and what provides their inspiration comes from Chris Riddell –

make sure you check out his brilliant cartoons of all ten Children’s Laureates in the final section – and Lauren Child.

How fantastic and moving is Michael Morpurgo’s Find Your Own Voice that tells children how to do so in ‘I Believe in Unicorns’.
I thoroughly enjoyed too, Malorie Blackman’s Taking a Word for a Walk using SEA as her example,

before she moves on to discussing from whose viewpoint a story is being told when one writes.

If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom; not only will it do just that, but it will also ignite or add fuel to a passion for reading, writing and illustrating. (BookTrust, which manages the Children’s Laureate gets 50p from every sale.)

Waiting for Anya

Waiting for Anya
Michael Morpurgo

This month Egmont publishes Michael Morpurgo’s superbly plotted, totally gripping story Waiting for Anya with a film tie-in cover.

It’s set in France, in the mountain village of Lescun during World War 11.

A twelve year old shepherd boy, Jo whose father is a prisoner of war, is alerted by Rouf, his dog, to the presence of a bear. Now wide-awake, Jo dashes to warn the other villagers and the creature is hunted down and killed.

In search of Rouf, Jo returns to where he saw the bear;he encounters a man whom he discovers is reclusive Widow Horcarda’s son-in-law, Benjamin and that he’s in hiding.

Watching him through the widow’s home window, Jo recalls that he’s seen the man the previous summer holding tightly to the hand of a little girl.

He then learns that Benjamin has become separated from his daughter, Anya and that he believes that eventually they will be reunited.

As a trust grows between the widow and her son-in-law, and Jo, it’s revealed that Benjamin is Jewish and while he waits for that hoped for re-union, he is involved in a dangerous mission – leading other Jewish children away from the Nazis over the mountains, across the border to safety in Spain.

Jo is determined to help and starts bringing supplies to Benjamin’s hideout.
But then war makes itself well and truly felt in Lescun with the arrival of Nazi soldiers in the village: their eyes and ears are everywhere, and it’s announced that anyone helping fugitives will be shot. A curfew is imposed.

Jo is surprised to learn that not all the German soldiers are totally evil when he develops an unlikely friendship with a German Corporal through their shared interest in bird-watching.

Then despite the dire warnings the villagers plan to help another group of twelve children hidden away in a cave.

Just one slight slip up and lives will be lost …

There certainly isn’t a happy ever after ending to this tale; it’s tense, not everything goes well and there is one poignant final surprise. What for me resonates especially though, is the way the author shows the French villagers living alongside the Germans, not all of whom are bad. In the final pages we’re told, Jo ‘had come at last to see him (the Corporal) as a man in the uniform of the enemy, a good and kindly man … but nonetheless an enemy too’ – a ‘confusion he did not wish to confront.’

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon / On Angel Wings

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon
Michael Morpurgo and Helen Stephens

I’d not until now come across this story, despite it originally being published five years ago and subsequently made into a musical play. It’s said to be inspired by the author’s visit to a village in Switzerland some years earlier and tells of a fearsome dragon that lives in her castle lair high in the mountains, and a little girl, Mimi who lives in the village below.

One snowy Christmas morning Mimi discovers a baby dragon in the woodshed.

As the entire village population, her father among them, had been chanting ‘Death to the Mountain Dragon!’ the previous day, she knows she must keep him a secret and get him back to his mother as soon as possible.

Waiting until everyone else is safely inside the church for the Christmas service, she bravely sets out alone up the mountain.
Once at the castle, Mimi almost decides to flee when she finds herself face to face with the terrifying Mountain Dragon; but before she can move, the baby launches himself towards his mother and the two are reunited.

With mother and baby dragon now back together, Mimi is no longer scared but she knows she must get back down to the village. She also knows that the disaster that happens thereafter has nothing to do with the Mountain Dragon as the villagers suppose.

All ends happily thanks in fact, to the dragon …

With the folk style feel to Michael Morpurgo’s Christmassy telling and Helen’s equally folksy illustrations, this is a timeless book that can be enjoyed and revisited year after year.

On Angel Wings
Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake

Created by dream team erstwhile Children’s Laureates Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake, this is a beautiful reworking of the nativity story for older readers/listeners.

Imbued throughout with warmth and humour, Michael Morpurgo’s telling captivates from its opening lines, ‘The truth is that once we weren’t children anymore, we never did believe Grandpa’s story, not really—as much as we might have wanted to…. We still loved listening to it, though. Christmas nights would never have been the same without it.’ This sets the scene for Grandpa, then a young shepherd boy, to tell his tale of what happened on the night Christ was born.

A family of shepherds is visited by the angel Gabriel: “Oh dear … I can see you are going to need some convincing,“ he says in response to their questions but convince them he does (with the aid of a host of angels).

Off they set towards Bethlehem leaving the far from happy youngest among them to mind the sheep, despairing of the unfairness of his situation.

But then Gabriel appears before the boy

saying “So I’ve had this idea, to make it a little fairer. I could fly you there and back, lickety-split, and no one would ever know you’d been gone.” (I love that use of colloquial language.) And so he does with the result that the lad is the first visitor to the stable.

He leaves the infant his very own shepherd’s crook before Gabriel wings him back to the flock of sheep, though that isn’t quite the end …

Quentin Blake’s distinctive ink and watercolour illustrations deepen both the wit and poignancy of Morpurgo’s telling making this a book to cherish.

Grandpa Christmas

Grandpa Christmas
Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field

When one of my very favourite authors and favourite illustrators come together in a seasonal collaboration, the result is, so I anticipated, something special. And this is truly something very special; it’s not just a Christmas book, but one for all times.

Herein, narrator mum Mia tells how every Christmas she shares with her family a letter from her Grandpa, (sent one year instead of a Christmas card or present) kept safe in her diary. The reading of this letter, inspired by visits to his home from a much younger Mia that brought him joy, has become part and parcel of their family day.

Grandpa’s letter tells of his deep concerns about our fragile planet and its wildlife. He talks of the rapid rate at which its precious resources are being depleted and makes a prayerful plea for a new world and time where ‘we grow and eat only what we need … and learn to share all we have, so that no-one anywhere goes hungry again’; a world without pollution

and global warming,

where wild animals live free, and war and waste are no more.

Morpurgo’s poignant words are a powerful antidote to the gross consumerism and waste that the Christmas season has become, and a stark reminder of the original message of goodwill and giving.

Jim Field’s illustrations echo the deep sadness inherent in the text but at the same time bring out both the hopefulness in Grandpa’s heartfelt litany

and the loving bond between Mia and her grandfather.

This treasure of a book is, I think, my favourite Christmas publication of the year.

Christmas Gifts That Last – Magical Myths and Legends / The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty


Magical Myths and Legends
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Former Children’s Laureate and award-winning author, Michael Morpurgo has chosen his favourite magical tales from all over the world for this bumper gift book of ten stories.

Morpurgo retells Gawain and the Green Knight himself and the other storytellers are Michaela Morgan, (3 tales), there’s a retelling of Icarus from Susan Gates; Jeanne Willis has versions of the wonderful legend from County Durham, The Lambton Worm, (one of my favourites) and a King Arthur adventure – The Giant of Mont Saint-Michel.
Both Thor and the Hammer and a tale of the Roman Fire God entitled Vulcan and the Fabulous Throne come from Tony Bradman while Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway is a John Dougherty retelling.

Each tale is beautifully and distinctively illustrated providing nine different illustrators an opportunity to showcase their work.

Whether you prefer interfering fairies, talking frogs, or giant worms,

you’ll surely find something to enjoy in this timeless treat.

The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty
Jessica Courtney-Tickle and Katy Flint
Lincoln Children’s Books

The Christmas season is a time when families visit the theatre perhaps to see a pantomime or performance of a ballet such as the Sleeping Beauty. Here’s a book (the third of The Story Orchestra series) providing a musical journey into the classic ballet story with words and pictures to add to that magical theatrical experience; or to enjoy in its own right.

Each spread includes a ‘press here’ button that when pushed, plays a brief well-known excerpt of Tchaikovsky’s music.

We start with the party thrown by the King and Queen Florestan in celebration of the birth of their baby daughter princess Aurora.
Then in comes the Lilac Fairy with her gift-bearing fairy godmother troupe each of whom performs and bestows a gift.
Suddenly through the window comes the evil fairy Carabosse who places a curse on the infant princess.
The Lilac Fairy is able to modify this death curse with a good spell so that the Princess will fall asleep for 100 years, unless her true love awakens her with a kiss..
Sixteen years later as the Princess is celebrating her 16th birthday Carabosse returns; this time with a disguised spindle on which Aurora pricks her finger and falls asleep. Thereafter the hunt is on for someone who is able to break that evil curse

and the rest is fairy tale history …

The book concludes with notes on the composer and the ten soundscapes.

Beautifully illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, this Story Orchestra presentation adds an additional sensory layer to the whole production.

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.
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.

Plants and Animals: Fact & Fiction


How Plants Work
Christiane Dorion and Beverley Young
Templar Publishing
A sequence of questions is used to introduce nine topics relating to the world of plants in this book that’s jam-packed with information. Each question is explored in a stylishly illustrated double spread, the first being ‘Why do plants have flowers?’ However an even more fundamental consideration: What is a plant?’ is discussed on the fold-out flap on the side of this spread.
This is followed by how plants grow from seeds, what plants feed on and how, defence, habitats and the importance of trees …


We’re then introduced to some of the ‘weirdest’ plants, the edible ones and the final spread focuses on some of the uses of plants including some ideas that have come from observation of particular plants such as that by Swiss engineer George de Mistral who got his idea for Velcro from the burrs that attached themselves to the fur of his dog.
There are lots of flaps and tabs to explore; and the superb paper-engineering from Andy Mansfield really brings the whole thing to life. (Some of the tabs are not very robust and may not stand up to the enthusiastic handling of classroom use so it may be better to give this to individual readers.)


Knowledge Encyclopedia ANIMAL!
written by John Woodward
Dorling Kindersley
This truly is a weighty, although not a heavyweight, tome. After the contents page, introductory ‘What is an Animal?’, discussions on ‘Evolution and Extinction‘ and a classification diagram, the book is divided into six sections: Invertebrates, Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and finally, Mammals.


The first spread of each section explains the meaning of the class as well as providing some general information.
I learned a fair bit (even with zoology as part of first degree studies) from this fascinating book including meeting some new animals such as the Sugar Glider and the Blue-Tongued Skink (note the helpful thumbnail picture, beside a human hand to give an indication of real size).


The 3D photographic illustrations are very impressive and many of the animals appear to be leaping right out of the pages, and the textual information has been authenticated by the Smithsonian Institution for accuracy.
A book for the family, for animal lovers young and not so young, and a worthwhile addition to the primary or secondary school library.
For those who prefer animals in stories take a look at:


Greatest Animal Stories
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press
Author, former Children’s Laureate and co-founder of the children’s charity Farms for City Children, Michael Morpurgo has selected seventeen of his favourite animals tales from various parts of the world for this anthology.
These traditional tales are retold by ten different authors and illustrated by a dozen different artists.
Some of the stories can be read in a few minutes, others such as Pippa Goodheart’s lively telling of Puss in Boots


Puss in Boots is confronted by the ogre – a   Thomas Radcliffe illustration

and Morpurgo’s compelling rendering of Peter and the Wolf take a fair bit longer. No matter which story you choose to share at any particular time, make sure you allow time to explore the illustrations – every story has superb illustrations at every turn of the page.
All manner of animals from tricksters such as Anansi the Spider, Brer Rabbit, and Baboon to talking cows and cats are featured and Morpurgo provides a brief introduction to each of the tales outlining its origin, underlying message and something to ponder upon.
One for the family bookshelf or classroom library, or to give as a present perhaps.

Red Squirrels

These two stories are part of a new series for Barrington Stoke specially designed to be as the publishers say, ‘dyslexia-friendly’ ie care has been taken to make each one easy to read in terms of story syntax, legibility/clarity – choice of font and print size with black print text set against a plain background. The intention is to provide support for those who find reading a challenge be they child or adult as well as any less confident readers such as those learning English as an additional language.


All I Said Was
Michael Morpurgo and Ross Collins
Red Squirrel Books pbk
A boy narrator shares what happens when, looking up from his book, he spies a bird and tells it his wish – to be able to fly anywhere.


Amazingly, the bird has a desire to read a book and so the pair swop places. Flying is fantastic, thinks the boy (now bird) until he encounters a flock of antagonistic-looking gulls near the beach. Changing course results in a mobbing by crows and then a fracas with a furious farmer.


Books are a much better option decides the frightened flier; reading about being a bird is preferable to the actuality. Time to return to the safety of his bedroom but on arriving, he discovers that the bird has taken on his human form and he remains avian


and worse is to come – if the words of the story in the book are to be believed anyway…
The essential Morpurgo magic is retained here despite textual tweakings, in a testament to the imagination and the power of books to transport their readers wheresoever they wish. Ross Collins’ aerial and earthbound watercolour paintings add to the story’s potency.
Buy from Amazon


Itch Scritch Scratch
Eleanor Updale and Sarah Horne
Red Squirrel pbk
A rhyming story wherein a boy gives a hilarious account of the days when nits invade and take-over his head: Close encounters of the lousy kind are what we get in this one.


Comical illustrations in rainbow colours portray the itch-making creatures and, one particular mum’s fight, to rid her offspring of their accursed visitors.


Those crazy little creatures are enough to get you reaching for that lavender oil right away, even if you won’t get the day off school proposed here.
Buy from Amazon

Find and buy from your local bookshop:http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch