Lotta Says ‘No!’ / Lotta Makes a Mess

Lotta Says ‘No!”
Lotta Makes a Mess

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford University Press

The Astrid Lindgren reissues continue with two books starring young Lotta who is four in the first book. The episodes in the first are told from the viewpoint of her elder sister, Mary-Lou and seemingly, Lotta is a spirited child with a large personality who’s never far from trouble.

Lotta Says, ‘No!’ has nine brief chapters and in the first we see that really what Lotta wants is to make sense of the world she’s growing up in – “What’s it raining for?” she asks one wet day and later, “What’s dung for?” and her response that afternoon is to stand out in the middle of a dung heap in the pouring rain getting soaked. When asked what on earth she’s doing, she replies, “So I’ll grown and be as big as Joe and Mary-Lou.”

Other adventures in this book include a visit to the dentist for a tooth extraction; a crinkly wool incident while visiting neighbour, Mrs Berg,

a kind of honorary grandmother to Lotta and her siblings; and the occasion when Lotta adorns the tree in which they’re picnicking with pancakes. The others too are full of charm and gentle humour: Mini Grey’s black and white illustrations are really fun and highlight Lotta’s endearing nature as they do in Lotta Makes a Mess.

Now, our young protagonist has turned five and appropriately there are five stories herein, each one as convincing as the previous escapades. In the first, Lotta (having woken in a bad mood) has a disagreement with her mother over what she should wear, cutting up her itchy, scratchy sweater and decides to move out.

The second chapter sees her installed in Mrs Berg’s junk-loft where she remains until she discovers just how dark it gets at night. That’s the end of her stay forever plans and she’s more than a tad relieved when she hears her Daddy’s voice saying how unhappy her Mummy is without her – the perfect excuse to reassess her situation, the consequence of which is that what’s been a truly terrible day ends on an upbeat note.

Both books are ideal read-aloud material for pre-schoolers and those in the foundation stage who will assuredly fall under Lotta’s charms and relish her misdemeanours.

The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice

The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice
A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Mini Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

I was already chortling before I’d even finished reading the poet’s note to readers, let alone any of his advice in poetic form.

This book of awesome delight is the combined effort of two terrific talents, illustrator Mini Grey and A.F. Harrold, the writer and it’s patently obvious that they both relished working on its creation. Indeed, I’ve never seen the poet in better form than here.

The result is a collection of unmissable artistry – verbal and visual – advising on all manner of topics both ordinary and extraordinary from breakfast – both its perils and its lack of boredom inducing properties, to Blackbirds and Bananas, Bins even! As well as ‘… Wobble, wobble, wobble, / gobble, gobble, gulp. … ‘ For, Jelly Is Never Wrong’ (not even the cabbage flavoured variety or the marmite kind) I should hasten to say there’s an entire section of ‘Advice mainly relating to food …”.

When next I see her I’m going to share Useful with 7 year old Emmanuelle after her rather pathetic sausage-eating efforts when last she stayed with us. Having persuaded her dad she “really, really wanted” the sausage dish on offer at the restaurant, she refused to eat any of its main constituent. (they were organic and maybe that was the issue). Had I done so prior to the event I’m sure she would have tried this suggestion: ‘You can balance them on your lip / and pretend to have a moustache / in order to amuse your companions. ‘ I don’t’ think she’s ever been lost at sea, thus needing to ‘attract aeroplanes’ or sharks. But you never know …

Even this zany poet doesn’t advise eating that Bin he writes of; that’s to be found among the 4th and final section containing miscellaneous bits and bobs such as Crosses and Knot Knots – see how cleverly Mini has placed her knotty collection around those. Just one example of her wonderful integrating manipulation (often complete with her own witty asides).

I’ve just read Inside the Anthill to my partner as he’s given to lying flat out in fields to investigate these bumps and lumps, though even his ‘scientific zeal’ hasn’t led him to quite such lengths as trying a cake crumb imitation – at six foot I doubt he’d fool even a single ant.

Not all the poems are totally absurd though: there is a fair sprinkling of the quiet poignant and thoughtful too.

Take the unforgettable, Earthsong: that ends with ‘Some of it is poisoned/ and some of it is dying. / Some of it is silent / and some of it is crying. // Some of it is going / and some of it is gone. / Some of it… ‘

No matter where you open this corker of a book, there’ll be something to love and I can’t resist concluding with the revelatory and entirely apt final verse from Inside: ‘Where am I? / I’m inside, / I’m between the covers. / I’m in so deep. / I’m through the paper door. / I’m breathing the air of other worlds. / I’m exploring. / I’m reading // and I can’t hear you any more.’
Now that is what it’s all about …
Get this – it’s a must for home collections, classrooms, libraries – and I’m sure you’ll never look at anything in quite the same way again.

Emil and the Great Escape, Emil and the Sneaky Rat and Emil’s Clever Pig

Emil and the Great Escape
Emil and the Sneaky Rat
Emil’s Clever Pig

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford University Press

Oxford University Press are gradually re-issuing Astrid Lindgren’s books for a new generation of children to enjoy and now it’s the turn of the high-spirited young Emil who lives with his family on Katthult farm in the Swedish village of Lönneberga.

In the first book of stories Emil gets up to all manner of mischief and derring-do – he manages to get his head well and truly stuck in a soup tureen; then he hoists his younger sister Ida up the flagpole,

and disobeys parental instructions by riding an old mare to the village fete.

In the second, Emil continues to drive his parents and others in the neighbourhood crazy with further scrapes. There’s the time he attempts to snare a rat in a trap and something else gets caught instead. Then having somehow managed to get through the whole of Christmas Day without misbehaving, Emil decides to hold a Boxing Day party, which turns out to be a party like no other.

There are six more Emil adventures in Emil’s Clever Pig including those on one fateful Sunday in June when he makes three disastrous attempts to pull the ‘maidservant’ Lina’s tooth out and decides to give Ida a dose of typhus by means of blue paint.

Then there’s that frog in the picnic basket episode one hardly dares to mention; followed by several days when the lad does some good things but can’t manage to sustain this goodness, for he gets carried away with locking doors and unthinkingly locks his father up in the Trisse hut (aka the old privy).

Finally, it’s almost Christmas again and Emil does something very brave and quite dangerous to save the life of farmworker, Alfred.

Mini Grey’s spirited illustrations are just right for bringing these stories to a new audience of young listeners and readers.

Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard & Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas

Pippi Longstocking
Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard
Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford University Press

I absolutely loved these stories as a child more years ago than I care to remember, and thanks to these new editions splendidly illustrated by Mini Grey and translated by Susan Beard, I find that red-headed rule-breaking Pippi – the ‘strongest girl in the world’ –clad still in her odd (one black and one brown) stockings, has lost none of her wildness and charm.

Nine-year old Pippi lives sans parents in Villa Villekulla – mum is an angel and dad a South Sea Island king she proudly announces. With Pippi lives her monkey Mr Nilsson (a present from her dad), while on her veranda lives her very own horse.

In the first book Pippi meets and makes friends with neighbours Tommy and Annika, gets the better of some bully boys, outthinks some police who come a visiting, is persuaded to go to school (briefly) and gets a bit carried away with her drawing, does some entertaining up an oak tree,

rides bareback at the circus and more.

The second book sees Pippi joining school again – but only to provide the ‘jollification’ on an outing. Other adventures include a face-to-face encounter with a tiger and a surprise visit from Pippi’s dad. Finally Pippi has the chance to accompany her father on his travels. Will she bid farewell to Annika and Tommy and sail away or remain at Villa Villekulla? It’s a difficult choice to make …

The third title is the last of the original Pippi books. Herein Pippi organises a quiz

and then as autumn turns to winter, she invites Tommy and Annika, (both recovering from measles), to accompany her on a trip to the island where her father is king.

As always there are escapades galore including when Pippi seizes a shark, gives it a good telling off and then hurls it back into the ocean. She also manages to protect the island pearls from a pair of would-be thieves and generally have a wonderful time – until Tommy and Annika decide they want to go home for Christmas. They don’t actually make it in time but as always, Pippi finds a way and they don’t miss out altogether on the festivities.

(Happily the mention of cannibals from the original tales has gone but the anarchic Pippi – celebrating her 75th anniversary this year – will surely never lose her power to delight.)

Money-Go-Round

Money-Go-Round
Roger McGough and Mini Grey
Walker Books

Well-loved poet, Roger McGough has penned a witty picture book inspired by characters from Kenneth Grahame’s classic story The Wind in the Willows.

Illustrated by the award winning Mini Grey this longish tale follows transactions made with a shiny gold coin.

It begins when Mr Toad hands it over to Miss Lavender Mole in payment for a room in her Tree House Hotel.

As a result Miss Mole is able to pay Sam Stoat what she owes him for painting the hotel’s front door the week before. He in turn can thus pay his debt to Basil Badger who is thus in a position to pay young Walter Water Rat for the boat trip he took the badger’s family on the previous weekend.

Walter hastens off to pay the rest of what he owed the otters

and so it goes on until finally … that golden coin comes full circle right back where it started.

But that isn’t quite the end of this exceedingly clever story as we discover by reading the lead article in the local rag – The Wild Wood Bugle –  the latest edition of which the final pages of the book comprise.

Mini Grey does the author’s tale proud with her superb art. Both her bordered and unbordered pictures are an absolute delight: full of humour and wonderful details to feast upon.

The Last Wolf

The Last Wolf
Mini Grey
Jonathan Cape

One of this blog’s very favourite stories – the fairy tale from which its name derives in fact – Little Red Riding Hood is wonderfully re-imagined by the fabulous Mini Grey who gives it an ecological twist.

When Little Red dons her hunting gear and armed with popgun and lunch box, sets off into the forest ‘to catch a wolf” her Mum is far from worried; after all it’s been over a century since the last wolf sighting.

Appearances are deceptive however and her initial stalking activities yield only a rubbish bag and a tree stump …

so deeper into the forest our little hunter determinedly goes until she comes upon a door in an enormous tree trunk.
Eventually the door is opened by none other than the Last Wolf in the land.

Within Red discovers a cosy cave that is home not only to the Last Wolf but also the Last Bear and the Last Lynx.

Intrigued by this “human child” the wolf invites Red in for some tea. Red is equally intrigued to learn that the wolf and his pals have acquired the tea drinking habit and over a nice cuppa, they reminisce about the good old days when the forest was extensive and full of delicious things to eat, in stark contrast to the present parlous state.

Seeing the hungry look in the eyes of her hosts, Red decides to share her lunch and as the animals set about devouring the offerings – a hard-boiled egg, a sausage roll and a chicken sandwich – she chomps on her apple and ponders upon their plight and how best she might help them.

Once home, and yes her new friends do see her safely through the Last Woods to her front door, Red and her mum set about project reforestation.

In this ecological fable Mini Grey chooses her words for maximum effect (‘whooling noises and grabby twigs’ and ‘’a thousand tasty grazing beasts to bite …’) though her illustrations to do much of the story telling. And what a powerful impact they have especially this one …

Altogether a terrific book and one that listeners will demand over and over as they are swept along by the drama and flow of Mini Grey’s pictorial sequences: the way she expands the story-telling potential of each spread is genius.
There are witty literary allusions for adults to enjoy too in the portraits displayed on the tree-cave walls.
Absolutely unmissable!

The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show

The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show
Mini Grey
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
The lengths performers will go to in order to be in the limelight is beautifully played out in Mini Grey’s latest extravaganza. It stars – or rather should have starred, the Great Hypno himself but he is currently unavailable, so we learn. A new act has taken his place featuring two mischievous rabbits, Mr Abra and Mr Cadabra. Be warned though, this act is full of dangerous sleights of paw and wand-waving, not to mention outrageously difficult knife-throwing.

Oh and there’s a spot of saw-wielding too …

but those bunnies are not the only ones up to a spot of trickery.
The lovely Brenda is now free, and her upper portion is presently performing a feat of padlock-picking while the roguish rabbits are otherwise engaged attempting to persuade their audience to part with their precious items.

So fixated on their grand finale are the pair that they fail to notice that the show’s rightful star is now on the loose, ready to step in and ensure that the show comes to a conclusion with an ear-splitting BOOM! Although that’s not quite the end of the story …
As always, Mini Grey delivers a top class, show-stopping performance, full of surprises, larger-than-life characters and laugh-inducing scenes. Her comic timing is supreme, herein aided and abetted by strategically placed flaps, cutaway pages and a fold-out.

I’ve signed the charter  

Fast and Furious; Slow and Steady

Daniel devouring the story

 

Space Dog
Mini Grey
Jonathan Cape
It’s 3043 and deep in space, Space Dog is ready to zoom homewards having completed a lengthy problem-solving mission in the Dairy Quadrant. Supplies are stashed and he passes the time with a game of solo Dogopoly before sleeping.
Not far off however, is Astrocat, zooming in his space saucer, or actually is about to plummet into a thick creamy mire. Then it’s a case of operation rescue – for the Astrocat if not his craft. No time for age old enmity now, it’s go with Space Dog or be stranded.

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Once safely in SS Kennel, the two erstwhile enemies sit face to face for a game of Dogopoly, followed by a tasty snack courtesy of Astrocat. Then, co-ordinates set, there comes yet another distress call …

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And another … Moustronaut has been captured, bound and perilously suspended above a chasm of bubbling fondue by the Cheese Ants.

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With another rescue duly completed – well almost – they have to satisfy that drooling, dribbling look in the Ant Queen’s eyes first. Then it really is time to head for home. Of course, poor Moustronaut needs a bit of tlc first; and there’s a whole universe out there waiting for friends to conquer – together. So, it’s Mission UNKNOWN ZONE – after a round or so of Dogopoly that is.

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Wonderful stuff! This action-packed adventure is bound to appeal to the numerous established fans of Mini Grey and will I’m certain, win her a whole host of new ones. This is overflowing with exciting happenings, visual jokes and verbal ones; and every turn of the page brings fantastic and frenzied features to divert and delight.

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Fast and Furry Racers The Silver Serpent Cup
Jonathan Emmett and Ed Eaves
Oxford University Press pbk
Playing fair is at the heart of this riotous romp of a ride (or should it be race) that takes place over land, under sea and in the air. Packed full of alliteration and other tongue-teasing phrases to test the reader-aloud, this story unfolds at breakneck speed.
Everyone’s gathered in Furryville for the race and the line up’s an impressive one. BEEP! BEEP! TOOT! TOOT! There’s Roderick Von Rooster in his Hot Rod rocket car, Stephanie Skedaddle in her super stylish boat, Ollie Octolinni in his submarine – a distinct advantage at times. Then we have Baron Billy Blackstripes aboard his super fast steam train, not forgetting Ella Egghart in her aeroplane. Could she perhaps be the winner after all?

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But foul play has struck, in the form of sabotage and who should be emerging from the depths but Al Mcnasty – a ruthless villain if ever there was one and wearing that smug smile too.

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But things are not quite over yet, for out of the ground emerges Max O’Moley just in the nick of time – a thoroughly deserving and honest winner. Three cheers for Max recipient of THE SILVER SERPENT CUP.

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Ed Eaves’ exuberant illustrations really do give the impression of tremendous speed and those vehicles are just the thing to excite and enthrall young listeners.

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Days with Frog and Toad
Arnold Lobel
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
This is the second of the larger format publications of the classic Lobel Frog and Toad stories. This one offers five more delicious episodes featuring the friends– all an absolute delight – though I might to go for Shivers

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(wherein Frog tells a spooky story) – if I had to pick a favourite; or maybe Tomorrow (we’re all guilty of putting off things we don’t want to do). Then again there’s Toad’s laughable efforts to fly The Kite; and The Hat Frog gives his best pal for a birthday present, to bring a big smile; oh and the final Alone in which Frog goes off to be by himself for a while

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– all equally brilliant and unmissable.
The Frog and Toad books remain unsurpassed in the field of newly independent readers. Three cheers for the two fictional pals and their everlasting friendship.

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Mini’s Detective at Large

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Hermelin the Detective Mouse
Mini Grey
Jonathan Cape
The wonderful Mini Grey has done it again; this time with a new character, Hermelin. Hermelin, a mouse and resident of Offley Street owes his name to a cheese box and is the story’s narrator. When he tries out the binoculars he’s found in his cereal one morning, he starts an amazing, life-changing chain of events; events that involve a type-writer, a noticeboard full of ‘lost’ notices,

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some smart detective work, lots of typed notes and a dramatic rescue. But just who is this amazing Hermelin, the other residents want to know. So, they organize a party at Bosher’s Sausage Shop with Hermelin as honoured guest. Or should that be ‘horrored’ guest ? For as soon as his identity is revealed, terror breaks out and Hermelin dashes for his life.

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The discovery that he is a PEST devastates our hero and he is on the point of moving out when he himself receives a note – a mouse sized one – that signals a new chapter in his life (and I hope, some further episodes involving Hermelin and his new detective friend, Emily.

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Totally brilliant in all respects, this gem of a book is absolutely packed full of treats, visual and verbal – incentives to read if ever there were some. This is one to return to over and over when new and exciting discoveries will emerge at each re-reading. It will assuredly have a very wide age appeal too.
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