Board Books and a Squidgy One

Baby’s Very First Faces
illustrated by Jo Lodge
Campbell Books

With its mirror, crinkly pages and high contrast images and patterns, this hand-washable book is just the thing to share with a new baby. It features in turn a daddy, a mummy, and a baby. In case you are reluctant to take it out of your home, there is a Velcro strap that can be attached to a buggy while you’re out and about.

Where’s Baby Chick?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

Spring’s well and truly in the air: the ideal time to introduce toddlers to some new life with this latest hide-and-seek book. Tucked away behind the felt flaps on the brightly coloured, patterned spreads are Baby Bunny, Baby Lamb, Baby Kitten and Baby Chick. The final spread contains a mirror and asks ‘And where are you?’
Simple interactive delight to share with your little one.

Bake a Rainbow Cake!
Amirah Kassem
Abrams Appleseed
A veritable explosion of colour is the outcome of artistic baker Amirah Kassem’s board book extravaganza.

She gives the essential step-by-step two word instructions at the top of each page, beneath which is a jazzy illustration with either a tab to pull, a wheel to turn or a flap to lift as you ‘Pour it!/ Mix it!/ Colour it! / Bake it!’ and so on until, once the frosting has been applied, it’s time to lavish on the sprinkles and wish. Then turn the page to the final …

Short and VERY sweet! Irresistibly so in fact. Mmm! Yum, yum. Yummy! Second helpings please, will come the cry from the little ones you share this tasty board book with.

Old Macdonald’s Things That Go
Jane Clarke and Migy Blanco
Nosy Crow

There’s a whole lot more sounds than moos and baas down on Old MacDonald’s farm: the farmer has a passion for noisy vehicles, by all accounts.
His car vrooms; his tractor chugga-chugga chugs; the combine goes rattle-swish everywhere. He even has a bus that beep-beeps its way around full of jolly animals.

Seemingly he has extensive farmland for there’s a swoosh-swooshing motor boat and it appears he’s fortunate in having a fire truck on hand to deal with accidents of the incendiary kind, ‘nee-nawing’ into action when things get a bit over-heated.

But there’s even more; I’ll let you work out what choo-choos across the fields and what zoom-zoom’s into the air.

Each of Migy Blanco’s jolly digital spreads shows the farmer and his animals joyfully dashing around in one or more of the vehicles, before the two penultimate tongue-twisting spreads, before the 50’s-looking vehicles whizz towards the finish line. If you can actually slow down though, there’s plenty to pore over in every scene.

Jane Clarke’s rowdy spin off from the classic nursery song will surely have little ones giggling as well as singing along. One wonders what else Old Macdonald might have down on that farm of his; or maybe he could take a holiday and experience all manner of seaside sounds.

Love You Always / Mama’s Work Shoes

Love You Always
Frances Stickley and Migy Blanco
Nosy Crow

There’s a definite autumnal feel to this book portraying the loving bond between a mother hedgehog and her son Hoglet but despite the little hedgehog’s occasional shivers as the two creatures wander home through the woods, this is a warm-hearted tale.

Hoglet notices the season changing and his mother explains that … change makes nature lovlier with every passing day.’ Hoglet then asks, “Mummy … / would you love me more…if I changed?”

As they encounter other mother-child animals – dashing squirrels, fluttering dragonflies, bouncing frogs, fluffy rabbits,

Hoglet asks his question again and on each occasion gets the same response ’I couldn’t love you more’.

Just before they reach home, Hoglet raises the all important “But, Mummy… will love always last forever, / even if I change just like the seasons or the weather?” And as little humans will be eagerly anticipating, her “Always” promise of unchanging love acts as sufficient reassurance to allow her offspring to curl up and having repeated her final ‘Always’ to fall fast asleep.

With its combination of Frances Stickley’s soft-spoken, pleasingly constructed rhyming narrative that mostly works, and Migy Blanco’s richly hued scenes of the autumnal countryside, this is a lovely bedtime story for parent humans and their little ones to snuggle up together with and share just before bedtime.

Mama’s Work Shoes
Caron Lewis and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Little Perry’s mum has a plethora of shoes, a pair for every occasion and Perry knows them well: the ‘swish-swush’ ones for indoors, the ‘zip-zup’ ones for running and skipping, ‘flip-flop’ ones for sunny days and those that go ‘pat put’ in puddles.

One morning Mum puts on a new pair of shoes that go ‘click-clack, click-clack’. They sound interesting but what could they be for, wonders Perry.
When she discovers they signal the start of a new routine that means she and her Mum are to spend time away from one another, Perry is not happy.

Left with her Nan, the child lets her feelings out with a tantrum.

Eventually of course, Mum comes to collect her and back home they go where eventually Mum’s explanation finally reassures her little one that yes those clickity-clack shoe sounds will take her to work but they’ll always bring her back as fast as ever she can.

With Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s bright mixed media illustrations capturing Perry’s changing emotions, Caron Levis’ story will reassure the very young who like little Perry are faced with a parent returning to work.

Superhero Hotel / Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away

Superhero Hotel
Abie Longstaff and Migy Blanco
Scholastic
Have you heard about the exclusive, top-secret hotel atop a hill that’s the number one destination for any superhero in need of a spot of rest and relaxation?
It’s ably managed by young Joe Malone who knows exactly what each of his special guests most needs to restore them to peak form, which is just as well for he suddenly gets an influx of superheroes.
First comes Captain Power in need of a strength recharge. He’s followed by Gadget Girl, Ice Woman (with a sore thumb), The Flame, whose boots need attention, and last of all, Mr Invisible who slips in unnoticed, except by Joe.
Being superheroes though, it’s not long before they’re back to their former energetic selves and raring to go.
Joe meanwhile decides to do some gardening but the by now, bored superheroes cannot resist joining him and are soon at work making their own improvements to the garden.
Before you can say ‘be careful’ Captain Power has tripped over Mr Invisible,

accidentally precipitating a catastrophic chain of events.
Can the combined skills of the superheroes save Superhero Hotel from disaster?

Abie Longstaff’s fast moving tale with its crazy happenings, teamwork and a wealth of superheroes with their unique and diverse attributes provides Migy Blanco plenty of scope to employ his illustrative imagination; his arresting style will certainly engage young would-be superheroes.

Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper edition containing three stories, all featuring flying machines, is a great way to catch up if, like me you’ve missed some of the individual Winnie and Wilbur picture books.
In the first, Winnie and Wilbur: The Broomstick Ride, Winnie tries various other forms of locomotion after a series of accidents while cruising on her broomstick, only to discover that the solution to preventing further mishaps (especially to Wilbur who seemed to come off worst in all the aeronautical disasters), lies not in alternative forms of transport,

but in something altogether different; something that will improve Winnie’s eyesight.
A flying carpet is the subject in the second story wherein we find Winnie, conscientious witch that she is, busy writing thank-you letters for her birthday presents. There’s one letter left to do and it’s proving especially tricky as her much wanted gift of a flying carpet had turned out to be an absolute disaster.
Can she find a way to use the thing so that she has something positive to say about it? Let’s just say it’s surprising how many alternative uses a single item can be put to …
The final tale sees Winnie off to stock up on her favourite vegetables at the farmers’ market, especially her very favourite – pumpkins. These weekly trips leave much to be desired though and so Winnie decides to grow her own at home instead –

with Wilbur’s help of course; and the odd touch of magic to speed up the process.
And speed it up is exactly what her wand waving does, so much so that very soon her whole house is surrounded by a veritable veggie jungle full of enormous, produce including enough pumpkins – Winnie’s favourite – sufficient to feed not only herself and Wilbur but the whole neighbourhood . What though should she do with a gigantic pumpkin shell? Think propellers; think a highly convenient means of travelling to market …
As with all Winnie books, the stories are terrific fun, but it’s their combination with Korky Paul’s hilarious, highly detailed illustrations that make this series such perennial favourites. (You might even find the odd character from another of his books has dropped in.)

I’ve signed the charter  

Here Comes the Sun

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Here Comes the Sun
Karl Newson and Migy Blanco
Nosy Crow
In a treetop way up high, / Little Owl blinks / and rubs an eye.’ So begins an entrancing tale of one small nocturnal bird, who spreads her wings and flies forth with a mission: to extinguish each and every star in the night sky. As she goes, she passes all kinds of snoozing creatures both great and small: there’s Mouse and Squirrel, Giraffe and Elephant,

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Bear curled up in his cave and Tiger atop a cliff, ‘Swooping, looping, left and right, / wishing every star/ goodnight.’ Then on past Whale and Penguin, now in pursuit of an elusive shooting star

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that leads her over woods and waterfalls, seas and sands, jungles and swamps to that very last shining star.
With a final puff, the job is done, every star has gone: just in time for the sun to rise. Then all those sleeping animals begin to stir, stretch, yawn, wash and feed.

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A new day is dawning but for Little Owl, it’s time for a much-deserved sleep.
Superbly somnolent sounding, Karl Newson’s gentle tale has just the right ingredients for a bedtime read aloud: a languid rhyme with repeated refrains, and a hypnotic rhythm; and I love the whole notion of blowing out the stars.
Migy Blanco’s captivating animal characters stand out beautifully against the inky night skies and the landscapes.

Spins on Cinderella

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Interstellar Cinderella
Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt
Chronicle Books
This Cinderella with a cosmic twist is irresistible. I’m a real fan of fairy tale spin offs and certainly was not disappointed by this one. The heroine is cast as a strong, brainy, mechanically minded female who studies rocket ship repair by night, so determined is she to follow her dreams and become an engineer. And so she does. But first, with a bit of help from her fairy godrobot in fixing her own craft,

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she has to use her trusty socket wrench to perform a skilled overhaul of the prince’s spacecraft that has malfunctioned.
Of course said prince, having discovered they have such a lot in common, does fall in love with his saviour, seeks her out and proposes but then it wouldn’t be Cinderella if he didn’t. And being an independent young miss, this Cinderella when she does come face to face with her suitor, having chased after him to reclaim her lost wrench, turns down his offer of marriage but agrees to something much more appealing …

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It’s told in jaunty verse that reads aloud beautifully (love the sonic wordplays) and illustrated with appropriate verve and vigour by Meg Hunt whose choice of colour palette is superb, as is her attention to detail. And those endpapers are genius. The characterization too is terrific – that robot mouse, Murgatroyd is just brilliant and demonstrated thus: ‘Cinderella struggled but the space rope held her tight, till Murgatroyd’s robotic teeth cut through it with one bite.’

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Assuredly a Cinderella of the future; but very much one of the present too – if the positive reactions of my audiences of 5s to 9s are anything to go by.

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Cinderella’s Sister and the Big Bad Wolf
Lorraine Carey and Migy Blanco
Nosy Crow
Cinderella has a third sister, Gertie in this twisted fairy tale and it’s she who does all the chores not Cinderella (a thoroughly lazy sort who just looks on and lets her kind sis slave away while she does nothing more than paint her nails.) Not that all this drudgery seems to spoil Gertie from whom niceness shines forth at all times. Consequently the rest of the Ugly family members keep her out of sight. So, when an invitation inviting them all to a Grand Ball arrives, young Gertie begs to be allowed to attend.

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Mrs Ugly reluctantly agrees and Gertie is duly dispatched to the Wicked Queen to receive a crash course in nastiness.
Her arrival coincides with the Wicked Queen’s attempted poisoning of Snow White with an apple, a plan young Gertie duly foils, infuriating her supposed instructor who sends her back home forthwith to an equally furious mother who agrees to give Gertie another chance at being bad Ugly sister. This time she is sent to the Worst Witch of all and again she foils a murderous plan

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and is once more returned whence she came. However, she’s given one last chance to redeem herself and off she goes to the ‘meanest and nastiest baddie of all’ … .

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Again though, Gertie cannot stop herself mid-lesson and she scuppers the Wolf’s dastardly doings too. Seemingly, she’s about to become his dinner instead however, till she mentions the Ball that is. And from then on, things take a decided turn for the better – for the Wolf and Gertie that is: but not entirely for Cinderella although she does get to go to the ball, thanks to a timely wave of a Fairy Godmother’s wand. A wonderful time is had by all and a wedding occurs soon after. And the fate of Mrs Ugly and the other two Ugly sisters? Well, nobody really knows exactly why they disappeared from the scene but …

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A wonderful time too, was had by all when I shared this one with various groups of under sevens who relished the mixing of several tales and particularly appreciated Gertie’s thwarting of all the wicked plans and Cinderella’s unexpected transformation.

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