Spaghetti Hunters

Spaghetti Hunters
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

Poor Duck is nonplussed; his spaghetti has gone missing. Enter right, atop the tea caddy, Tiny Horse, self-declared greatest ever spaghetti hunter, promising to ‘save the day.’

Rest assured Tiny Horse has all the necessary gear at the ready

and once it’s safely stowed in Duck’s backpack the hunt for this particularly problematic pasta is ready to begin.

Things don’t go as Duck expects but Tiny Horse is confident in her plan and soon has – to her friend’s consternation – amassed a fair bit of the missing spaghetti.

Or perhaps not!

Utterly infuriated Duck returns to the sanity of his teapot and a good book, but he soon has an uninvited visitor disturbing his peace

and criticising his culinary skills.

However, the proof of the spaghetti is in the sampling but Tiny Horse being Tiny Horse, just has to have the last word (or two, to be precise).

For me this is Morag Hood’s best yet – and that’s saying a lot. Splendidly silly, it was all I could do not to splutter my coffee all over my Mac as I was composing this review.

Sophie Johnson Sports Superstar

Sophie Johnson Sports Superstar
Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Young Sophie Johnson appears to have an ever-increasing number of strings to her bow – Unicorn Expert, Detective Genius and now Sports Superstar. Is there no limit to her talents, one wonders.

As the story opens, Sophie is engaged in her training regime and while so doing she tells readers about all her preparations for a ‘Big Race’ . She eschews assistance from her mum as she goes about her work-out. (Since when was raiding the sweet jar good for training miss Sophie?)

The girl has what she calls an ‘Excellent Plan’. This appears to involve consuming vast quantities of fast food and doing the occasional exhausting workout.

Come the big day she’s raring to go

but it would appear that in her enthusiasm there’s one very important skill she’s omitted to hone …

As always, spending time with young Sophie is sheer delight. Team Morag and Ella together have created another funny episode in the life of Sophie Johnson and once again it’s the clever way the quirky pictures and the dead pan words tell rather different stories that make the book such fun.

I love the fact that in this athletic endeavour Sophie is still sporting her tutu throughout and every spread has deliciously diverting details to chuckle over.

The splendidly spirited Sophie’s a winner in my book no matter what she does.

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius
Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster

Unicorn expert Sophie Johnson now extends her skills to detecting; she’s a self-confessed expert, ably assisted though she won’t admit it, by fussy eater, anti-outdoors pooch, Bella.

Sophie knows of a ‘terrible crime’ that needs solving and fuelled by the thought of the reward, she’s on the case, determined to discover the perpetrator.

Suspects are arrested and finger-printed while Bella constantly tries in vain to draw something to Sophie’s attention; but so absorbed in her own detecting is Sophie that she’s unable to see what’s right under her nose.

Detecting is tough work but some are more adept at it than others – it’s just a matter of deciding who …

I won’t be a story-spoiler; however observant readers and listeners will likely be making their own predictions well before the final denouement of Morag’s clever, dead pan telling.

Ella’s hilarious scenes of Sophie and her assistant on the case provide the perfect foil for the droll text; and do look carefully at the back cover whereon Sophie’s library is shown.

What will Sophie turn her attention to next? No matter what, bring it on. Meanwhile, for sure, the adorable Sophie will win a lot of new fans with this latest book.

Aalfred and Aalbert

Aalfred and Aalbert
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

Aalfred and Aalbert are two aardvarks with adjacent burrows. Nevertheless their paths never cross on account of their totally different sleep cycles: Aalbert sleeps at night, Aalfred in the daytime.

Despite the occasional yearnings of each to be part of a twosome, this pattern is permanent. Or is it?

Perhaps a plan can fix things; a plan executed by a little blue bird involving strategically placed broccoli (Aalfred’s favourite) and a ball of string.

I’d hate to spoil this story of friendship against the odds, so I’ll say no more on the matter other than to urge you to get hold of a copy of Morag’s latest book. Once again it’s brilliant. Her narrative voice is like no other, wryly funny and absolutely to the point. She conveys so much in relatively few words and delicious bold artwork,

and every one of her characters is priceless.

In the aardvark tale though there’s a real tenderness: let it sit with you, let it simmer. I think it’s my favourite so far.

This treat is not to be missed; in fact you really shouldn’t miss any of Morag’s books.

Molly’s Magic Wardrobe: Search for the Fairy Star / Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert

Molly’s Magic Wardrobe: Search for the Fairy Star
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Garry Parsons
Egmont

I have to admit that with its pink sparkly cover I was tempted to put this book aside but decided that it was unfair not to bother reading it and I’m glad I did. The Guillain’s rhyming text reads aloud very well –that was no surprise though – telling of an adventure its young protagonist Molly has when she dons a fairy costume found in her granny’s wardrobe and then, in Lion, Witch and Wardrobe style, proceeds to step inside and through to a magical place – fairyland no less.

There she meets a distressed fairy, Flo, who has lost the star from her magic wand.

Molly offers to help and together they begin to search. Their quest takes them inside a castle, through an enchanted wood and into a garden and there are encounters with a giant, a wolf and a witch. These characters are anything but the normal fairytale stereotypes proving friendly (giant),

helpful (wolf) …

and far from wicked (witch) but none has seen the missing star.

The witch does have a wishing well in her garden though.

With the Guillains’ accomplished storytelling, Gary Parsons’ bold, bright scenes of the magical happenings and the added fun of wings and a wand inside the covers of the book for individual magic make-believe, the book’s creators look set to have the start of a winning new series here.

Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert
Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

The narrator of this book clearly has a thing for unicorns and a wonderfully off-beat imagination. She introduces us to her charges, all seventeen of them and goes on to explain what hard work they are even to a unicorn expert such as herself.

The creatures need lessons in magic,

in hunting for food and in safety – especially where balloons are concerned.

Even when they shed their horns,

make mess all over the house …

or need protection, no matter what, young Sophie is always up to the job.

Ella Okstad’s quirky illustrative style is perfect for Morag Styles’ first person narrative. Her pictures show much more is going on than Sophie Johnson is aware of and that’s what delights listeners who relish being in the know– mine did at any rate.

I Am Bat

I Am Bat
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

Morag Hood is a visual storyteller par excellence and in her usual fashion, she couples that with a minimal text of perfectly chosen words.

With his Dracula-style teeth, Bat is a somewhat irascible character and he most definitely does not like mornings. What he does like though are cherries, lovely juicy red ones and he guards them fiercely.

Woe betide any creature that so much as touches even one; that will cause bat to unleash leonine-like ferocity.

Surprisingly though, Bat leaves his precious cherries unguarded and they start to disappear.
Readers, although not Bat, will be quick to notice that the culprits are animals; he even has the cheek to accuse us having stolen his hoard.

I will never be happy again,” he declares; but then what should appear right before his eyes but a luscious alternative.

Fickle Bat now has a new favourite fruit to sink his fangs into.

Who could fail to have a good laugh at this small melodrama: an utterly batty book that will have a wide audience appeal.

When Grandad was a Penguin / Snip Snap Croc

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When Grandad Was a Penguin
Morag Hood
Two Hoots
When is a Grandad not a Grandad? That’s the dilemma facing a little girl when she goes to visit her Grandad. His behaviour seems somewhat out of character, he looks a trifle different, he keeps talking about fishing, his clothes are ill fitting and he keeps turning up in unlikely places such as …

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Could it perhaps be his age? Fishy indeed.
Can a timely phone call, followed by a trip to the zoo, sort things out? Grandad certainly looks at home in his icy surroundings, so will he agree to another change of environment?

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Unlike the child protagonist in this latest Morag Hood delight, young readers and listeners will happily go along with the whole crazy situation, aware that they’re being taken for a ride, so to speak; and they’ll certainly have a good giggle over the silly scenarios. Best shared with a Grandad, but shared it needs to be. The restricted colour palette, controlled ink and lino print scenes and a simple direct text delivered by the child narrator combine to make a delectably droll drama …

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and that final twist is inspired.

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Snip Snap Croc
Caroline Castle and Claire Shorrock
QED
This tale takes us to the River Nile, where, should you happen to be wandering along its banks, you might encounter Snip Snap Croc. If so beware: this creature boasts of sixty snip snipping teeth just waiting to ‘nip, nip, nip’. Mama Baboon, Mama Meerkat,

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and Mama Lion, whose homes are along the river all urge their little ones to stay close to their sides.
On the bank meanwhile Snip Snap Croc is busily engaged digging and very soon TAP! TAP TAP! and out come …

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Soon she has twenty three new born baby crocs to take care of; but it looks as though she’s gobbling them up – at least, that’s what the other baby animals think …

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Mama Croc – the newest mama on the riverbank has a secret though – a protective one; and once she has moved her offspring to a suitable spot, she opens her enormous jaws and plop, plop, plop: out come the twenty three babes, with a word of warning from their mama, “Stay close by me and / no harm you’ll meet./ For I love you more/ than the river is deep.” As it is with the other mothers, so it is with Snip Snap Croc. Now, as day gives way to evening, all the animals know they can rest content that night.
The text moves in and out of rhyme as the story flows merrily along and Claire Shorrock’s illustrations have a droll humour about them, which adds to the enjoyment of the shared joke between author and readers.

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Be Who You Are

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Introducing Teddy
Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
There’s been a fair bit about gender identity and transitioning in the media of late; finally it has become more acceptable: now here is a picture book on the theme. It’s subtitled ‘A story about being yourself’ and this is what it celebrates: something that is of vital importance to us all, whoever we are. Equally it’s a celebration of friendship and in particular the friendship between Thomas the teddy and his pal, Errol who play together every day.

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One day though, Teddy seems sad. Errol hopes a trip to the park will cheer him up …
but even the swing doesn’t work its usual magic. “What’s wrong, Thomas? Talk to me!” Errol urges.

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And reluctantly Thomas explains. “I need to be myself … In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy. I wish my name was Tilly, not Thomas.” Like the true friend that he is, Errol assures his pal that no matter what, Teddy and henceforward Tilly, is his friend. And when another friend, Ava arrives on the scene, Errol introduces the re-named Tilly to her. After minor adjustments to her adornments, Tilly joins the others in a session of swinging, see-sawing and generally enjoying being themselves …

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Tenderly told and empathetically portrayed with just the right degree of gentle humour, this is a book to share with young children at home or in school.

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Colin and Lee Carrot and Pea
Morag Hood
Two Hoots
Lee is a small green pea; Colin isn’t. Unlike all Lee’s other pals, Colin is a tall carrot stick. They’re close friends despite the fact that Colin isn’t any good at rolling, bouncing …

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or playing hide and seek with the other peas. He does however make a superb tower as well as …

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all of which combine to make him a smashing individual to have as a friend: those unique carroty characteristics are what count where friendship is concerned.
In this quirky celebration of individuality, Morag Hood – with her unlikely characters – brings a fresh spin on uniqueness and being yourself, whatever you are. I love the fact that she created her funny collage and paint pictures with the help of supermarket plastic bags. A great debut; I eagerly anticipate what comes next.
As well as being a great book to share in an early years setting, the simplicity of the text makes it ideal for beginning readers: they surely deserve unique books not dull, uninspiring fodder.

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