The Sloth and the Dinglewot

The Sloth and the Dinglewot
Nicole Prust and Amanda Enright
New Frontier Publishing

Think how many wonderful things you might miss if you never step outside your comfort zone.

That’s exactly what Samuel the sloth does one drowsy summer’s morning. Bored with merely lazing around like his fellow sloths, he takes the opportunity provided by Dinglewot Jinglewot Dingledum Dee, the colourful bird with bells on its feet that offers him an adventure.

Samuel is forced to embrace his fears as he decides to follow the Dinglewot through the treetops, across the grasslands, past the mountains, down a ravine to a dark cave.

Then, after exciting encounters with baboons and later, bats, they finally reach Dinglewotville, the land of the bird’s birth.

There Samuel discovers an amazing carnival and dances the night away – his best night ever.

But eventually for our adventurer it’s time to leave.

He returns to his fellow sloths in the hope that some of them too might set aside their fears and join him and his new friend on another adventure. You never know …

The flowing rhyme of debut author, Nicole Prust’s narrative and Amanda Enright’s richly coloured illustrations make for a lovely storytime read aloud that shows the importance of risk taking and of seizing life’s opportunities.

In My Dreams / Boo Loves Books

It’s good to catch up with some recent titles from New Frontier Publishing

In My Dreams
Stef Gemmill and Tanja Stephani

The jewel-like cover of this book immediately conjures up a magical world of adventures.

‘When the world is quiet and I’m alone, I like to dream’ – the opening lines drifting across the bedroom of a sleeping child draw readers into his dreams; adventures he shares with his toys as he lets his imagination take him to a fantastical land of marshmallow clouds, jelly puddles and showers of strawberry rain.

Then it’s deep down to the ocean floor, and up in the air far away riding upon a dragon’s back …

into jungles with monkeys to make mischief with, across plains to roar and leap with lions

and to frozen lands of snow and ice.

I love how the text gently meanders across the pages even towards the end when we’re suddenly told this: ‘In the darkness, the night shadows try to steal my sleep and things appear menacing …

but only momentarily for the page turn reveals the now frail-looking shadows retreating for ‘They have no power over me.’
We finish up in the light once more, a light that’s warm and shining calling the dreamer back safe and loved, to the haven of his bedroom.

What a gorgeous bedtime tale. Snuggle up and share: this will surely transport little ones into their own dream worlds secure in the knowledge that they too can let their imagination roam freely and safely, inspired by Stef Gamill’s warm, rhythmic text and Tanja Stephani’s spectacular, wonder-filled scenes of tenderness and enchantment.

Boo Loves Books
Kaye Baillie and Tracie Grimwood

Phoebe (like a fair number of young children) finds reading aloud rather stressful: what if I make a mistake, she worries when it’s her turn to read with her teacher.

But then her teacher announces, “No reading at school tomorrow” swiftly followed by “Instead, we’ll be reading somewhere special” and that makes Phoebe’s tummy all of a flip flop. So much so that she informs her mum, “I’ll be sick tomorrow.”

But of course she isn’t and off goes the school bus with Phoebe aboard. Their destination is the animal shelter where the children are to read to the resident dogs. Another stressful situation for Phoebe: her dog is really BIG.

Understanding her fear, Miss Spinelli stays close beside Phoebe, reassuring and encouraging her pupil.

Then secure in the knowledge that the dog too is feeling anxious, the little girl settles down with a book and Big Boo, and a transformation slowly starts to take place in both parties …

A beautifully illustrated, empathetic story that is both encouraging and enabling.

The Crumbling Castle / Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape & Sage Cookson’s Snow Day

The Crumbling Castle
Brenda Gurr
New Frontier Publishing

In these pandemic, physical distancing days lots of people have found a new delight in baking but how many would have this, or similar, said of their efforts:
‘Her cakes are out of this world! But please answer me this. Who is Zinnia Jakes?’

Daughter of globe-trotting food critic father, nine year old Zoe Jones has a special expertise inherited from famous pastry chef her mother (now dead). It’s she who uses the Zinnia Jakes alias to keep her identity hidden, for young Zoe has a real flair for cake creating, something she’d discovered when she baked her Aunt Jam a fabulous birthday cake a couple of years before the story begins. Hugely impressed, her aunt had suggested Zoe should start her own cake-making business. Only her best friend Addie is in on the secret, for orders are always delivered when nobody is watching.

Now Zoe has a new order: a medieval history professor is launching her new book at the medieval fair in two days time and wants ‘an authentic medieval castle’, a crumbling one, to display on her stall.

Zoe has just two days to create something truly impressive. Can she do it in time? Perhaps with the assistance of Coco her cat with special powers and STEM whiz, Addie. But then of course, she still has to deliver the order covertly.

This, the first book of the new The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes series is aimed at newly-independent readers.  Mix together an action-packed narrative, lively characters and sprinkle with magic: the result? A fun offering; and the icing on the cake is that the author has allowed Zoe to share her secret recipe for medieval gingerbread with readers. It sounds yummy.

Also from New Frontier Publishing for youngsters hungry for more books with a cooking theme:

Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape
Sage Cookson’s Snow Day

Sally Murphy

Sage Cookson is the daughter of popular TV chefs, who travel all over Australia tasting new foods, acquiring new techniques and serving them up to their adoring television audience. The good thing is that the Cooksons take Sage with them. That means she misses her friend Lucy, but now her parents have given Sage a mobile of her own so she can keep in touch. She also keeps up with her education by attending local schools or having a tutor.

In the first adventure Sage accompanies her parents to Western Australia where they’re to be guest judges at a cooking contest. Before that, they’re offered a tour of a chocolate factory belonging to chocolatier Marco. The chocolate they taste is absolutely divine but intuitively Sage feels something isn’t quite right, especially when Marco talks of his cocoa plantation. In the Australian bush? Really?

Things hot up when the Cooksons find themselves in an extremely sticky situation and without a phone signal. Will they be able to judge the 10th annual Newhaven Cooking Contest after all?

With its chocolately theme this is a tasty read for young solo readers who will be delighted to discover the Cheat’s Chocolate Fondant recipe after the story.

The second book sees Sage and her family off to Snowy Village in the Australian Alps. Now Page has promised to steer clear of danger. So what will a caring young miss do when she learns that her friend Kyle has gone missing with his snowboard?

Again there’s a recipe after the story – the rather more sophisticated ‘Easy Mille-Feuliie’. This one along with other recipes and activities can be found at Sage’s own website where I also found that Snow Day is actually story number 8 in the series.

Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding / Santa’s Tight Squeeze

Here are a couple of Christmas treats from New Frontier Publishing both written by Alex Field

Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding
Alex Field and Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

Another delightful episode in the life of duck, Mr Darcy and his friends, this time with a seasonal feel.

It’s ‘Stir-up Sunday’ (the day five weeks before the big day, so the final note explains, when the Christmas pudding is traditionally made). Mr D. is busy with Christmas preparations at Pemberley Park.

Having saved his friend Maria from the clutches of Mr Collins the cat, he takes her indoors just before the rest of his friends arrive to help make the pudding.

While they are busy so doing who should appear at the window but Mr Collins looking wan and chilly. Mr Darcy’s reaction is to close the curtains and carry on with the stirring once more.

The sweet, kind Lizzy however causes Mr Darcy to have a change of heart and Mr Collins is allowed in to help with the stirring, till wishes and all, the mix is just perfect.

Come Christmas Day everyone gathers to share in the Pemberley hospitality and all’s right with the world.

Alex Field’s text is as always, wonderfully whimsical and combined with Peter Carnavas’ enchanting illustrations, makes for an enormously enjoyable, thought provoking festive read aloud.
From the same author comes:

Santa’s Tight Squeeze
Alex Field and Karen Erasmus
New Frontier Publishing

As Santa whizzes around the world (love his flying goggles) on his Christmas Eve round, the offerings left by various hopefuls cause his girth to increase considerably.

So much so that well before he’s finished his task, he knows that all his treat eating has to cease: instead he gives the goodies to his reindeers.

Not all of them however, for he saves some for his elves as a thank you for their labours. Then back beside his fire, it’s time for him to tuck into a rather sizeable slice of Christmas cake.

Karen Erasmus’ mixed media illustrations provide the perfect degree of humour to this enjoyable story.

Just right to share with little ones before a sing-along to the nursery favourite ‘When Santa got stuck up the chimney’.

Early Years Christmas Books

Maisy’s Christmas Letters
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy is throwing a Christmas party and she’s been busy writing invitations to all her friends. It’s not long before the replies start coming in, along with other surprise items for Maisy such as a calendar(Eddie), a recipe (Cyril), a tiny joke book (Charley) and a special letter.
Interactive fun for little ones and just right to share in the run-up to Christmas. I suspect Maisy will acquire a host of new human friends with this book.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise
Mark Carthew and Simon Prescott
New Frontier Publishing

Thanks to a surprise gift from her mother on the first of December, and her own thoughtfulness, Marigold Mouse is able to bring Christmas happiness to her best friend Marvin.
Mark Carthew’s lively rhyming narrative and Simon Prescott’s expressive illustrations together make for a warm-hearted seasonal story in the Marvin and Marigold series reminding us all that Christmas is for sharing with others.

Winnie the Pooh: The Long Winter Sleep
Jane Riordan, Eleanor Taylor and Mikki Butterley
Egmont

Who or what is making those Scritch! Scratch! Crunch! sounds as Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood bed down for their long winter sleep, shutting out the cold wind blowing through the Forest? One after another the animals venture out into the darkness in the hopes of discovering the source of the weird noises. What they find comes as a wonderful surprise that warms them both outside and inside.

Jane Riordan succeeds in capturing the essence of Milne’s characters in this charming tale while the illustrators give a slightly carton feel to the artwork.
Also in the same series but in a mini edition:

A Pudding for Christmas
The friends all gather to make a Christmas pudding, “A gigantic delicious pudding as big as Pooh,” announces Christopher Robin. Each in turn adds an ingredient to the mix and then one by one they stir the pudding and make a wish until Kanga realises that Roo is missing. Is he or is he not somewhere in the pudding? It’s probably a good idea to defer cooking it – just in case …
Another enchanting episode for tinies, this pocket sized book would make a good stocking filler.

Vegetables in Holiday Underwear
Jared Chapman
Abrams Appleseed

The eagerly anticipated season of holiday underwear has arrived and there’s seasonal excitement in veggie land. So says the green pea announcer at the start of the latest in Jared Chapman’s zany series.

Readers are then treated to a pants extravaganza that displays underwear of the cosy and scratchy kinds, that to wear inside and outside; to accommodate the Christmas meal there are stretchy pants as well as the inevitable tight pair. Some pants are similar while others are utterly unique. And because it’s Christmas even Santa is suitably ‘panted. Festive silliness for sure.

Scruffle-Nut / Hugless Douglas Plays Hide-and-Seek

Here are two very different stories with a theme of friendship:

Scruffle-Nut
Corinne Fenton and Owen Swan
New Frontier Publishing

‘As winter leaves tumble and twirl / a wisp of memory / wraps itself about me / and whispers me back / to long ago … ‘

So begins a gentle tale told by Olivia whose childhood memories we share in this sensitively told, equally sensitively illustrated story with its soft-spoken bullying theme.

As a young child her Nanny Clementine would take her to the park and there one day she sees a shy stumpy-tailed little squirrel that is chased away by the squirrels with large bushy tails.

It’s the beginning of a friendship that develops between child and squirrel – a squirrel that is, like the girl, a little different from others.

Time passes, the days turn colder until the snow falls and visits to the park come to a halt and Olivia is left wondering whether Scruffle-Nut, as she calls her friend, will be able to ward off attacks from the Bully-Bunch, the name she gives to the bushy-tail squirrels.

Although she never sees her squirrel friend again, he stays in her heart along with the lesson she learned from him so long ago.

Hugless Douglas Plays Hide-and-Seek
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books

Playing hide-and-seek with his woolly friends is somewhat problematic for Douglas; he’s always the one to be found first.

But when Little Sheep invites him to team up and become a seeker, he certainly proves his worth; in fact he’s a little too good.

The game continues apace until there’s only Flossie left to find and then in his enthusiasm Douglas picks up the only possible hiding place remaining, in its entirety, which has the desired result. They locate Flossie but then find that Little Sheep is missing.

Can they discover where their friend is before it’s dark?

Another eventful episode from the adorable Douglas to please his fans and more than likely win him a whole lot more.

My Friend Fred / Pip Finds a Home

My Friend Fred
Frances Watts and A. Yi
Allen & Unwin

An unseen narrator (mostly), dachshund Fred’s best friend tells of the doggy things he gets up to. He loves dog food (disgusting!), chasing balls, sniffing trees and digging holes.

However he doesn’t like stairs unlike his pal; he loves baths, (his friend hates them)

and Fred does some rather odd things like howling at the moon and turning around thrice before sleeping.

Youngsters will delight in guessing the nature of Fred’s best friend (there are some visual clues in A. Yi’s adorable watercolour illustrations) so may work it out before the final reveal. Whether or not they do, with its themes of friendship and difference this is an engaging book to share with your little ones.

Pip Finds a Home
Elena Topouzoglou
New Frontier Publishing

Due to a case of mistaken identity Pip undertakes a long journey to the South Pole for that’s where those that look like him live.

He’s met by four friendly Adélie penguins who want to know what kind of penguin Pip is.

They attempt to identify him but he doesn’t have feathers on his head like a Macaroni penguin, is too short to be an Emperor Penguin and lacks the orange beak of a Gentoo.

Perhaps he isn’t a penguin after all.

Nonetheless he’s made welcome by the Adélies until another black and white bird approaches and then Pip learns his real name.

It’s time to go home …

This simply told, beautifully illustrated in watercolours, tale of friendship, similarities and differences and belonging gently informs young listeners too; and the final three pages give additional facts about the four kinds of penguins and the species to which Pip belongs.

The Caveman Next Door / Twelve Days of Kindness

The Caveman Next Door
Tom Tinn-Disbury
New Frontier Publishing

Penny’s street is perfectly ordinary until a caveman moves in next door to her. He does little but grunt by way of communication, is scantily clad and his only furniture is made from sticks or stones.
Thinking he seems a little lost, Penny decides to befriend him and takes him on a tour of the town starting with the library where he receives a less than welcoming reception.

No matter where they go Ogg seems to manage to annoy somebody or embarrass Penny; seemingly he just doesn’t fit in.

But then, having seen inside Ogg’s cave with its wonderful mural documenting all their adventures, Penny has a great idea;

Ogg will visit her school.
After an initial setback, the headteacher recognises that in Ogg he has not only an interesting artist but someone who can educate his pupils about the natural world.

Tom Didsbury’s fanciful story of friendship and finding a place to fit in, with its wonderfully quirky illustrations will delight and amuse young listeners.

Twelve Days of Kindness
Cori Brooke and Fiona Burrows
New Frontier Publishing

When Holly realises that new girl Nabila is having trouble making friends among her classmates she decides something needs to be done to help her.

Both girls are picked for the school soccer team but despite this her fellow team- mates are not showing any signs of welcoming Nabila. With just twelve days left before the first match, the girls still haven’t gelled as a team.

Nabila and Holly devise a plan: for every remaining day they will do something good and kind for the team and gradually not only does the team come together

but the “Twelve Days of Kindness’ is a winning formula.

An effective lesson about acceptance, welcoming strangers, friendship and of course, kindness, beautifully delivered in Cori Brookes’ straightforward narrative and Fiona Burrows’ powerful pictures of the girls is one to share and discuss in lower classrooms especially.

Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf? / A Home for Luna

Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf?
Kitty Black and Laura Wood
New Frontier Publishing

Not all wolves are big and bad: meet wolf Wilfred; he’s not at all scary despite being a member of a rather unpleasant pack. Their leader despairs of Wilfred’s un-lupine characteristics taunting the poor creature mercilessly

and ordering him to join in the attack on the sheep the following night to learn proper wolf behaviour.

That night however, Wilfred visits Mildred sheep and together they come up with a plan to help the other sheep.

Will their ruse be successful in foiling the wolves’ attack?

Debut picture book author, Kitty Black’s funny tale turns on its head the wolf stereotype (this wolf is a vegetarian) and in best picture book tradition Laura Wood’s hugely expressive illustrations are immediately engaging and extend the narrative.

A Home for Luna
Stef Gemmill and Mel Armstrong
New Frontier Publishing

When Luna is washed up on a strange shore far from her home, hearing nothing but the sound of the waves she feels lonely and afraid.
After spending the night sleeping beneath the container she’d arrived in, she smells a smell not unlike home. Following her nose she comes upon some penguins feasting on sardines and one in particular with yellow eyes catches her attention.

During the course of the day Tiny penguin makes approaches to Luna, offering her a shellfish to eat and the following night Luna joins the colony catching fish, ‘Not exactly like a penguin … but good enough. Then when marauding gulls attempt to steal what she’s caught, Yellow-Eye sees them off ‘Not exactly like a cat … but good enough.’

Little by little Luna gets closer to Yellow-Eye and it isn’t long before she’s become a part of the huddle.

One night a boat nears the shore; the crew are surprised to see a cat among the penguins and want to take her with them. The reaction of the penguins and Luna convey to the well-intentioned fishermen that this is not going to happen; and as the boat sails into the darkness, it’s clear to Luna that she has a new home with the penguin huddle and that’s where she now belongs.

In this tale of displacement and friendship, a spare telling that is in keeping with the stark setting, combined with debut illustrator, Mel Armstrong’s textured illustrations capturing the bleakness of the penguins’ home against the movement of the ocean, and clearly showing in-comer Luna’s changing relationship with the resident penguins, convey something of the isolation felt by refugees in a strange land.

Under the Same Sky / Little Puggle’s Song

Under the Same Sky
Robert Vescio and Nicky Johnston
New Frontier Publishing

Two young children living on opposite sides of the world yearn for friendship.
The boy resides in a city, the girl in a rural area yet it’s he who uses metaphors of the natural world to express his longing – “We are like the sky and sea … always apart. Never touching.’

As he stares out through the window one night, there’s a pigeon sitting on the ledge and that gives him an idea.

Creativity takes over as, with its help the lad finds a way to bridge that seemingly impossible distance and light up the world of the little girl.

The gentle, softly spoken words of the boy demonstrate how with imagination and determination true friendship can endure against the odds and across the miles. Not only does he touch the heart of the one he reaches out to but also that of the reader. The inherent tenderness of the text is reflected in Nicky Johnston’s gorgeous watercolours, which provide a perfect complement to Robert Vescio’s narrative.

Little Puggle’s Song
Vikki Conley and Hélène Magisson
New Frontier Publishing

Puggle the echidna longs to sing but no matter how he tries there’s only silence. Deep down he knows that echidnas can’t sing, nor even make a sound;

but is there perhaps a way he can become a part of the bush choir that has been asked to sing a welcome song for the emu chicks that are soon to hatch.

As the days pass Puggle can merely look on as the other animals under the leadership of Brown Feather, practise their rendition.

Then on the night before the special performance he hears the news – Brown Feather is sick. Can he possibly save the day?

Lyrically told, Vikki Conley’s heartfelt story of determination and fulfilling your dreams reads aloud well and with Hélène Magisson’s beautifully painted scenes of the fauna and flora of the Australian bush, this picture book will introduce Australian wildlife to youngsters outside the antipodes.

Scoop McLaren Detective Editor / Isadora Moon Puts on a Show

Scoop McLaren Detective Editor
Helen Castles
New Frontier Publishing

This is the first of a proposed series featuring thirteen year old Scoop McLaren, editor of Click, an online newspaper. She resides in Higgedy Harbour a place where quite suddenly strange things start happening. Alarming for sure, but even more so is the fact that a brand new rival newspaper, The Dark Times, is reporting these events at exactly one minute past midnight every night.

Could its editor Sonny Fink be connected with all the disasters – the plague of frogs, the torrential rain that hits the town causing a flood, buildings being burned down, to mention just a few?
Scoop, along with her friend Evie, is determined to get to the bottom of things and restore peace and harmony to their hometown; the mayor seems totally disinterested and so it’s down to the two girls.

But just who is this mysterious and unscrupulous Sonny Fink character and is anyone else in town to be trusted to help them discover his identity?

Mixing straightforward narrative, news articles and text messages, this is an amusing, pacey tale that will definitely keep readers guessing as the plot twists and turns its way to the final exposé.

Isadora Moon Puts on a Show
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford University Press

In case you’ve yet to meet young Isadora Moon let me just say that her dad is a vampire and her mum a fairy. That makes Isadora unique – a vampire-fairy no less.

This story starts with the family getting excited about the annual vampire ball, even Isadora who is now old enough to attend. This year it’s going to be super special as it’s being held on the night of a blood moon and all the vampire children are to take part in a talent show. Isadora decides to do some ballet dancing and she has just two weeks to perfect her routine. “It’s going to be an amazing show!’ she tells Pink Rabbit as they snuggle up under the duvet that night.

But then she has a crisis of confidence, changes her mind about dancing and decides to go along with Dad’s tonsorial suggestion. Or does she?

When they get dressed for the ball, Isadora chooses to wear her tutu under her vampire cape. On arrival though she decides to pull out altogether: not going on stage at all. But then she sees a sad-looking little vampire girl who appears a bit different from the others and she in turn notices Isadora’s tutu.

The two begin to talk and Araminta, as the girl is called, reveals something about herself that makes them bond immediately.

An hour later the show is about to begin so Isadora goes to sit with the rest of her family. Will she stay there or could something amazing happen after all …

Let’s just say there’s a glittering surprise in store especially for mum who has told the organisers to delete her daughter’s name from the list of contestants.

As delightful as the black, white and pink illustrations, is the story’s denouement in the latest episode in the life of this zippy character. Her fans will love it! Sparkle with an injection of zesty pizzazz.

Can You Find 12 Busy Bees? / Ten Little Aliens

Can You Find 12 Busy Bees?
Jordon Winch and Patrick Shirvington
New Frontier Publishing

Who wouldn’t want to accept Jordon Winch’s invitation to enter the garden Patrick Shirvington so beautifully depicts on the opening spread, and join in the search for the abundance of wildlife residing therein. I for one couldn’t wait to go through the gate and seek out the lizard basking in the sun.

As we wander, lots of different birds introduce themselves starting with ‘2 patient powerful owl chicks’ nestling in a tall old tree …

as well as ‘3 crafty kookaburras, ‘6 merry magpies’ – these are poking around on the lawn, ‘7 flighty fairy-wrens, (in the bushes), ‘8 carefree cockatoos’ and ’10 rowdy rainbow lorikeets’ sipping nectar. Yes, some of these birds may be unfamiliar to young readers outside Australia but discovering new things is part of the pleasure.

Lolling around in the pond are ‘4 fat frogs’ to find; and there are two different kinds of butterflies making up the 5 fluttering through the flowers. We’re not told what kind they are, nor the identity of the 9 green grubs chomping through the foliage, though I hope few youngsters will fail to name the 11 lovely ladybirds’

or the most vital for us all, the ’12 buzzy bees’ of the title, as they forage for food in the flowers.

All these creatures, and readers too will endorse the final ‘We love our garden. We hope it will be there forever.’ And it definitely acts as reminder to make our own gardens wildlife friendly.

Patrick Shirvington’s love of the natural world shines through in his beautiful watercolour scenes that accompany the simple descriptive narrative.

Ten Little Aliens
Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty
Orchard Books

Aliens of all shapes and hues star in this counting down space adventure wherein the strange beings far from home search for a friendly place to stay.

Seemingly though, their numbers diminish as one receives a FIZZ! from a comet’s tail, another is SPLOOFed by Nova-berries, a Mega-Robot’s honking blasts the next, and a fiery crater fires out bubbling lava at a pink one.
Now we’re down to six and they’re caught in a sudden snowy blizzard. So it goes on with a SNIFF!, a BOING!,

a PARP!, a cry for HELP! as the sat-nav gives up the ghost.

Then, hurrah! Up steps the one remaining – a female alien – with a rescue operation to perform.

Will they ever find a hospitable planet on which to land their space ship? What do you think?

Rhyming fun Brownlow and Rickerty style always hits the spot with little ones and this story on an ever popular topic, with its sprinkling of alliteration is sure to please too.

Leaping Lola

Leaping Lola
Tracey Hawkins and Anil Tortop
New Frontier Publishing

Young Lola the Jersey cow has a penchant for dancing and is energetically practising her steps for the ball to be held that evening in the barn. But then comes information from her mother that entirely deflates Lola: ‘It’s the Black and White Ball’ so a brown cow such as she won’t be welcome.

Having heard her tale of woe, Pearl the pig offers to disguise her friend.

Suitably attired that evening, Lola is admitted to the ball and she’s immediately swept along by the beat of the music as she swoops and slides across the floor, then kicking up her heels she wows the crowd by ‘swirling and twirling her large derrière.’

Then disaster strikes as Lola mistimes her landing and slithers on her stomach through the Friesians

and straight into a tower of milk churns. Chaos ensues as she’s washed clean of her muddy disguise and cries of ‘imposter’ issue from the frightened onlookers. Is that the end for Lola?

Happily not for then up steps the prize-winning bull who urges her to dance no matter what.

And so she does. Led by Lola in a joyful romping, stomping line, all the cows dance the night away.

With plenty of drama, Tracey Hawkins’ lively rhyming text complemented by Anil Tortop’s splendidly expressive illustrations make for a smashing read aloud to share with youngsters who will delight in the spirited mooover, Lola.

The book has much to say about the importance of inclusivity and might well be a starting point for a discussion on the topic of insiders and outsiders.

Eco Rangers: Pelican in Peril & Eco Rangers: Microbat Mayhem

Eco Rangers: Pelican in Peril
Eco Rangers: Microbat Mayhem

Candice Lemon-Scott, illustrated by Aśka
New Frontier Publishing

Seaside dwellers, best friends, Ebony and Jay have a passion for wildlife welfare.

In the first story, the two come upon a half-buried oil drum on the beach; then more alarmingly deposits of thick black sludge and an injured pelican covered in the stuff.

Ebony names the bird Poseidon and together they take it to the wildlife hospital at the conservation centre. There they learn that the black sludge on the pelican is in fact oil.

In addition to assisting with the recovery of Poseidon, the children are anxious to find out what caused the oil leak. Excited to have been called ‘real Eco Rangers’ by the vet at the hospital and fired by Doctor Bat’s comment about the possibility of the oil having come from the cruise ship that has become an all too frequent visitor to the town’s harbour, the children are determined to discover the source of the oil contaminating the waters.

It’s when they turn detective that things really start to hot up, especially when they incur the wrath of the cruise ship manager.

Wildlife lover, Candice Lemon-Scott’s story moves along at a rapid pace sweeping readers along in its action and the children’s enthusiasm and curiosity.

So too does the second story that begins with the friends making use of the Super World Theme Park passes given to them by the docs. as a thank you for their sterling work in the first book.

Needless to say being Ebony, the girl ignores a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign they come upon and the two discover a pair of tiny baby bats in the rubble surrounding a disused ride. Having rescued the little creatures, the Eco Rangers take them to the conservation centre to Doctor Bat and Doctor Tan.

Later on, convinced that there is an entire bat colony in the condemned Wild Jungle ride, the two children head back to the theme park where they discover that indeed there is are more than one hundred bats in the ride’s cave. Thus begins operation ‘save the bat colony’.

Things are not straightforward though. When Ebony and Jay are at the hardware store buying nails to complete the bat boxes they’re building, they see Ms Pitts, manager of the theme park with a security guard. The conversation they overhear sets alarm bells start ringing. It sounds as though Miss Pitts isn’t to be trusted over her promise of a three week hold-off before the old ride is demolished and with it the entire bat colony.

As the deadline draws ever closer, it’s up to the Eco Rangers to get the bats to safety. No pressure then!

With the huge focus on caring for our precious environment, these stories may well help fuel more youngsters to get actively involved in wildlife causes.

Marvin and Marigold: A Stormy Night / Grizzly Boy

Marvin and Marigold: A Stormy Night
Mark Carthew and Simon Prescott
New Frontier Publishing

On a wild windy night, as Marigold snuggles under her blanket, the lights go out and frightened by all the shadowy shapes in her room, she gathers up her blanket, pillow and teddy and hides under the bed.

As she cowers in the darkness there’s a rat-a-tat at her window and she sees her neighbour Marvin Mouse. Marvin is frightened by the wind and also wants to hide.

Marigold invites him in to share her safe place and the two take comfort in each other’s company but not for long.

Soon there comes another knock: it’s Marvin’s grandparents out hunting for their missing poodle. They’ve brought some tasty treats to share

but then comes a howling, a scratch-scratching and a growling outside. Now who or what might that be?
Young listeners will likely anticipate what Marigold finds when she opens to door yet again …

Mark Carthew’s rhyming text bounces along nicely as he creates a mock-scary, ultimately feel good tale of a stormy night.
Simon Prescott adds tension and additional frissons of fear to the mix helping to conjure up the feelings of both the alarm and relief felt by the two small mice.

Grizzly Boy
Barbara Davis-Pyles and Tracy Subisak
Little Bigfoot

Theo wakes up one morning and decides to be a grizzly bear, a very wild and growly one that needs to use the bedpost as a bottom scratcher and doesn’t wear underwear (wait for the giggles) or shoes.

Undaunted, his mum replaces his usual favourite breakfast cereal with fruit and veggies and eventually, with clever use of a poster taped to his bedroom door, manages to pack him off to school.

There, an ursine Theo creates havoc in the classroom and it’s a rather careworn boy who greets his mum back home.

Suddenly however, there’s a turnaround: mum has an attack of the grizzlies and thereafter a compromise is struck as she shows it’s fine to have some wild and free experiences, but in the right place at the right time.

Illustrator Tracy Subisak successfully alternates the two sides of Theo as boy and bear bringing out his changing emotions throughout. With speech bubbles adding to the impact of the author’s storyline, this is a book to spark off discussion about feelings.

Emily Green’s Garden / Hodge Podge Lodge

Emily Green’s Garden
Penny Harrison and Megan Forward
New Frontier Publishing

Emily Green’s house is perfectly lovely, so too is her busy bustling street. It’s the epitome of tidiness; likewise her house.
Emily however is tired of all this; she longs for opportunities to be playful, creative and messy.
One day she discovers a small green shoot poking up between the paving stones and this sparks an enthusiasm for gardening.

At first her parents are happy to allow her fill the house with plants; but little by little her wildness increases and eventually they decide enough is enough.

The garden must move outdoors and so it does …

The transformation is one that pleases not only her mum and dad but everyone in the neighbourhood too.

Emily’s growing passion shines forth from Penny Harrison’s telling, and from Megan Forward’s cover picture and her increasingly horticultural, watercolour spreads

Hodge Podge Lodge
Priscilla Lamont
New Frontier Publishing

In Hodge Podge Lodge live the Pigwigs, a family of very messy pigs. Their consumer life style is such that they accumulate an excess of unnecessary things and inevitably, the packaging that comes with it.

One very windy morning, a strong gust distributes all their rubbish far and wide. The consequences are a disaster for all their neighbours who suffer adversely in one way or another.

So disgusted are they that a meeting is called after which the animals collect up all the scattered rubbish and take it back to the Pigwigs residence.

Fortunately, Little Miss Pigwig decides to put project re-use into action and the result is something that pleases everyone. Moreover, the Pigwigs become reformed characters who think carefully about how they dispose of everything they no longer require.

Priscilla Lamont’s story, an unashamed swipe at our excessive consumerism and the throw away society, is a stark reminder of the importance of re-using, recycling and caring for the environment.

What Should a Horse Say? / Business Pig

What Should a Horse Say?
Fleur McDonald and Annie White
New Frontier Publishing

Farmer Rochelle has a cow that says ‘moo moo’, a sheep that says ‘baa baa’, a chicken that says ‘chick chick’ and a horse that says, err… ‘chick chick’!
It’s not until she receives a visit from Farmer Hayden who brings a box of six baby ‘chick, chick chick’ -ing baby chicks however, that she questions the sound her horse makes.

Surprisingly Farmer Hayden isn’t sure and none of her other friends can help either, although one does have a cockatoo that says, ‘Can I have more chocolate? Squark!’ Eventually they send for Dr Swan the vet.

Can his investigations offer a solution?

Young children will delight in being in the know throughout the story and relish the silliness of the entire tale. Equally they’ll love the opportunity to make a lot of farmyard sounds as they join in with Fleur McDonald’s telling and enjoy Annie White’s amusing rural watercolours.

Business Pig
Andrea Zuill
Sterling

When Jelly Bean the sow gives birth to five piglets, one stands out from all the others. Given the name Jasper by the animal sanctuary workers, this piglet eschews playing in the mud and rooting for grubs and acorns and quickly becomes a firm favourite at the sanctuary. So much so he’s given his own special space.
There he sets about becoming a business pig, helping with the bookkeeping, holding meetings, producing endless charts and more, to the annoyance of some of his fellow residents. Even worse, he can’t seem to interest anybody in giving him a loving home.

Nevertheless, Jasper is determined and proactive and forms a business marketing plan to get himself adopted; after all he is a
‘gen-u-ine Business Pig’ as one of the workers said at the outset.

It’s not long before his efforts begin to pay off; could it be that the perfect home is in sight …

This playful tale with its themes of determination and being true to yourself, successfully mixes humour and moments of sheer heart-warming charm, both of which are brought out beautifully in Andrea Zuill’s splendidly expressive illustrations.

Eva’s Imagination

Eva’s Imagination
Wenda Shurety and Karen Erasmus
New Frontier Publishing

When a little girl announces that she’s bored her mum’s, “What’s happened to your imagination, Eva?” response triggers a wonderful adventure in which she and her canine companion Chops go on a search, although Eva doesn’t know what an imagination actually is.

It’s a search that takes them all over the house as they journey into a forest,

climb mountains, explore a cave, visit a rainforest full of colourful creatures – some a bit scary. They discover a long-lost toy rabbit and some books …

but don’t find Eva’s imagination, or do they?

Eva certainly declares it “the best adventure”.

A wry look at the importance of allowing children to be bored, for that is when the all-important imagination often kicks in. After all, It’s that ability to stand back and say, “suppose that …’ or what if …’ in other words, the power of the imagination that has led to so many discoveries be they scientific, mathematical, technological.

Karen Erasmus clearly understands that as she transforms the interior landscape of Eva’s home into some wonderfully exciting places for the two searchers to explore.

Hurrah for an author and illustrator who understand just how crucial imagination is.

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat / Santa’s High-Tech Christmas / Christmas Gremlins / A Very Corgi Christmas

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat
Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Such is his fondness for taking a snooze that Santa’s fluffy feline Sammy will drop off pretty much anywhere and dream of accompanying his owner on the Christmas Eve delivery run.

What he doesn’t imagine though when he dashes off to Santa’s workshop, is the manner in which that dream finally comes true. The somnolent cat gets parcelled up and dropped in among the other packages on the back of the sleigh and then it’s a case of “Ho! Ho! Ho! “ and off they go.

However, Sammy isn’t the only extra rider on Santa’s sleigh that night. Two wicked robbers, Mischievous May and Bad Billy are ready and waiting to seize their big chance and help themselves to some of the parcels.

Can Sammy save the day? And what is the special present Santa leaves for his pet moggy under the Christmas tree?

Festive fun aided and abetted by a snoozy feline delivered in Lucy Rowland’s bouncing rhyme with the addition of a good sprinkling of elves and excitement in Paula Bowles’ pattern-rich illustrations.

Santa’s High-Tech Christmas
Mike Dumbleton and Angela Perrini
New Frontier Publishing

Santa has eschewed the old fashioned methods when it comes to transport and keeping account of Christmas parcels; instead he uses a motorised sleigh and stores all his lists on his smart new techno-pad. But disaster strikes as he’s whizzing over the rooftops by means of his rocket-pack; Santa’s techno-device plummets to the ground and he’s faced with a blank screen.

Enter Jasmin, a techno-savvy little girl who is more that happy to give sad old Santa a helping hand by showing him how to access all the information he needs.

Not only that but she comes to his aid in another way too: after all Christmas really is all about giving.

Mike Dumbleton’s jaunty rhyming narrative is given added zaniness by Angela Perrini’s illustrations.

Christmas Gremlins
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Chris Chatterton
Egmont

Oh my goodness, those gremlins are at large again in another of the Guillains’ rhyming romps and now they’re on the rampage creating havoc in the run up to Christmas. It seems they’re determined to get in on the act no matter whether it’s decorating the tree, baking mince pies and Christmas cake (or should that be gobbling same?), wrapping up all the presents (and everything else in sight), singing – more like screeching – carols at the door or popping out of Christmas cards. But that’s only indoors. Further prankish doings are likely outside too: nothing is safe from their mischief so let’s hope they’re well out of the way before Santa arrives.

With more than 50 flaps to lift, this madness and mayhem will keep little ones entertained as they play hunt the mischief makers on every one of Chris Chatterton’s jolly spreads.

A Very Corgi Christmas
Sam Hay and Loretta Schauer
Simon & Schuster

The royal corgis are among those not feeling the Christmas spirit, far from it, all except for young Bella that is. Dazzled by the lights and excited by the hustle and bustle outside she decides to go and join in the fun. Hitching a ride in the back of a mail van, she gets out at Piccadilly Circus where everything suddenly feels overwhelming – too bright, too hectic and FAR TOO LOUD!

As luck would have it along comes London savvy pup Pip offering to show her the sights. A great time is had by both but suddenly as they approach the palace, Pip goes missing. Will Posy ever see her newfound friend again? Perhaps with the assistance of a very special royal couple …

Delivered with an abundance of Christmas spirit, Sam and Loretta’s London tale is a charmer.

Friendship Rules: Lucia & Lawrence / The Sasquatch and the Lumberjack

Lucia & Lawrence
Joanna Francis
New Frontier Publishing

Lucia and Lawrence live next door to one another; their interests are very different: Lucia is dreamy, wildly imaginative and creative; Lawrence has an analytical mind, filling his head with numbers.
One rainy day when Lawrence first moved in, Lucia introduced herself with an invitation to play.

She also asked him to imagine a rainbow, something her neighbour couldn’t do; nor did he have the courage to go out and play with Lucia, so she takes matters into her own hands.

Before long the two have become friends. Lucia decides to invite Lawrence to her birthday party but still he cannot bring himself to accept.

Instead, busy in his room, he finds his own way to celebrate the occasion. That night he contacts Lucia again, informing her that he has made something for her.
The wait next day is long but eventually in her inimitable effervescent way, there she is …

It turns out she’s also brought her crayons along and with those puts the finishing touches to her gift. But the very best present of all, both for Lucia and Lawrence, is their togetherness.

There’s a wonderful whimsiness about Joanna Francis’ illustrations for her warm-hearted story of reaching out, find a way, understanding and finally, friendship.

The Sasquatch and the Lumberjack
Crix Sheridan
Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch)

If you don’t know what a sasquatch is, let’s say it’s a kind of yeti type creature, huge and hairy – think Bigfoot.

In this wonderful tale with minimal words, Sheridan creates a tale of a highly unlikely friendship that grows between a woodcutter and a sasquatch after they encounter one another in the forest and experience the seasons in each other’s company.

Together they have a lot of exciting adventures: the richly hued Autumn provides a foragers’ feast.

Winter offers icy surfaces for skating and and snowy ones for ski-ing and sledging.

Spring brings renewal to the forest with fragrant flowers,

hiking and biking while Summer brings surfing, and swimming under golden skies.

Then Autumn is back and the cycle begins all over with the friends ready for a fresh round of delights.

It’s terrific fun and full of heart with Sheridan’s cracking illustrations doing most of the talking.

Mike the Spike / Barkus Dog Dreams


Mike the Spike

Stella Tarakson and Benjamin Johnston
New Frontier Publishing

Small for his age, Mike has red hair; it’s his pride and joy, particularly because it makes him look taller when he’s gelled it into spikes. The trouble starts when his class is busy engaged in hat making for the great hat parade to be held in a couple of days. Everyone’s hat is well under way except Mike’s; he’s having trouble deciding what to make on account of his itchy head, which has been bothering him all day. Dandruff maybe, he wonders. But then as the lad gives his head yet another scratch, something becomes wedged under his fingernail. Oh no! Mike has head lice.

Determined to keep the matter a secret both from people at school and his mum, the boy takes matters in his own hands; but his lice-ridding attempts fail miserably.

Seizing the opportunity to go to the chemist when Mum needs some more contact lens cleaner, Mike asks the chemist for what he thinks he needs.

Eventually though he has the right shampoo for the task, a task he decides must be done in the school toilets. No easy task since the stuff needs to be left on for twenty minutes.

Will he ever rid himself of this pesky problem and can he manage to make himself a stylish hat in time for the parade?

The gigglesome moments as the lad tries to sort out one scratchful incident after another are likely to induce splutters of mirth from newly independent readers whether or not they’ve suffered from having those uninvited guests in their own hair. Watch out when you read this review (or better still, the book,) that you don’t suddenly get that urge to scratch.

A sprinkling of coloured louse-some, laugh-some illustrations from Benjamin Johnson have wriggled their way into the tale.

Barkus Dog Dreams
Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books

Five further episodes, one per chapter, in the life of the mischievous Barkus, his little girl owner Nicky, feline Baby, and their family.

Once again Nicky acts as narrator relating a visit to see Robin the vet on account of a problem with Barkus’ ear (it’s infected);

a birthday party for the town in which they all live when Barkus finds temporary fame as a singer as he comes to the aid of a soprano struggling to reach the high notes;

and a search and rescue for some missing farm animals. Barkus makes friends with the next door neighbour’s dog, Millie and an exchange of toys takes place. The final chapter has Millie and owner Miss Daley staying with Nicky’s family while a storm rages and there’s a power cut.

It’s all highly entertaining, generously illustrated with Marc Boutavant’s bright, funny pictures and there’s just the right amount of action and detail to keep those just starting to fly solo as readers interested and involved.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! / Scaredy Cat

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo!
Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop
New Frontier Publishing

An unusual and unexpected silence greets zoo-keepers Jess and Jack when they open the zoo gates one morning. But where, oh where are all the animals?

The observant young keepers spot all sorts of evidence of their recent presence and realise that the animals have left a trail of feathers, footprints and ‘scats’ (poo).

They decide to split up and Jess’s parting words to Jack as he starts scooping up the poops are to ‘keep an eye out for that rascally rat.’ That’s a wonderful ‘Look – he’s behind you’ opportunity for listeners.

As the sun starts to sink, Jess is still searching when she hears drifting on the breeze, all kinds of musical sounds.

Then comes a FLASH in the sky as a flare goes off, (She’s also instructed Jack to send up a flare should he find himself in trouble – so is he?)

Jess follows the floating feathers towards the light, which as she draws near, she sees is coming from a forest up ahead.

Suddenly from the bushes, Jack emerges and he leads her to where sitting around a fire making music are all the missing animals. They’re having a whale of a time hopping, bopping, tooting, hooting, whistling, and kangaroo plays a didgeridoo – what a hullabaloo. (Wonderful language play in the form of onomatopoeia and alliteration is dropped into the rhyming text here)
What’s it all in aid of though?

Drawing in closer, they see, curled up cosily in a zookeeper’s shoe is a baby roo: – ‘Softly she slept in the warm furry bed, / flamingo feathers tucked under her head.’

Right up beside her however is a coiled snake holding aloft a celebratory offering. Time to waken the sleeper from her slumbers …

Then all that’s left to do is sing a special song before wending their way home by the light of the moon.

With a wonderful assortment of creatures and musical instruments portrayed by Anil Tortop in his effervescent scenes of the animals’ antics absolutely bursting with sound, (that rat manages to get itself into many of them) and Mark Carthew’s splendid read aloud text, the book is a superb amalgam of the visual and verbal. A gift for listeners and readers aloud too: get out those instruments, bring on the HULLABALOO!

More inspired Anil Tortop illustrations can be found in:

Scaredy Cat
Heather Gallagher and Anil Tortop
New Frontier Publishing

A little girl has lost her pet: ‘Have you seen my Scaredy Cat? /He’s afraid of this and afraid of that!’ she tells us as she searches high and low.
Bees, towering trees, Granny’s sneeze – a super duper kind – noises, certain toys, climbing, sprawling, brawling boys, hoses, noses, muck, ducks and garbage trucks,

all these things and more have him running scared: but where has he chosen to hide?

Could it be among the books or hooks? His owner can deal with those (love her attitude)

as well as the crooks, so where has he gone, this hissing, erm … moggie, that object of her affections?
The combination of Heather Gallagher’s frolicsome, bouncy rhyme and Tortop’s funny scenes (love all the varying viewpoints) is a delightfully entertaining romp of friendship and tease.

Is It The Way You Giggle?

Is It The Way You Giggle?
Nicola Connelly and Annie White
New Frontier Publishing

What a wonderful celebration of children, difference and the way the former demonstrate their individuality.

Using a series of questions that centre on four children in a family, Nicola Connelly draws attention to the myriad possibilities that could make each one of us unique: be that eye colour, skin colour, freckles, chin or nose shape; might it be the size of our ears or feet, or our front teeth?

Perhaps it’s our way of jumping super high, our love of dance or singing;

a beaming smile; a particular giggle or wiggle.

We might be good at maths, have an artistic bent, a storytelling prowess,

a particular penchant for some kind of sport,

perform amazing athletic moves, have a bibliographic trait,

exude creativity, or enjoy quiet moments with mini-beasts

No matter what, the author’s bouncing words coupled with Annie White’s exuberant, joyful, slightly whimsical watercolours, are enormously upbeat.

This book cannot fail to make you smile; is a great read aloud and has wonderful performance possibilities.

Let’s hear it for individual specialness.

Mr Pegg’s Post

Mr Pegg’s Post
Elena Topouzoglou
New Frontier Publishing

This is a really sweet story about a lonely girl who lives with her parents in a lighthouse just a little out to sea.
The only other ‘person’ she sees is Mr Pegg the postie pelican when he drops off her parents’ mail.
One day a terrible storm blows up and with it comes a loud THUMP! at the door Anna is safely behind. It’s poor Mr Pegg with a wing injured in the storm.
Kind-hearted Anna, tends his wound, makes him tea and as they chat, an offer: using her rowing boat she’ll help him deliver the mail.

Anna is a wonderful worker and Mr Pegg asks her to help until his wing heals.

During the course of her work Anna makes lots of new friends and that makes her feel happy;

but this happiness quickly starts to dissipate when Mr Pegg announces that his wing is healed sufficiently for him to deliver the post on his own again.

Back home, she feels more lonely than ever, but one morning not long after, a loud THUMP at the door announces Mr Pegg and with him two wonderful surprise deliveries both of which restore her feelings of happiness.

I love the way young Anna is instrumental in elevating her own sense of self worth, as well as the way the story gently reminds readers of the importance of face-to-face contact and real letters in this age of e-mails and social media. Elena Topouzoglou’s digitally finished watercolour and ink scenes really capture the inherent warmth and friendship of her story.

Going Solo: The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday / Hubert and the Magic Glasses

The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday
Shannon & Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

Princess Black has a double identity moving between Princess Magnolia and her black clad alter ego and it’s a pretty full-on, hard going existence and one that causes her to pay the penalty of a lack of a decent night’s sleep.
Now her slumbers are disturbed once again and having donned her transforming dark disguise, despite near exhaustion, she’s ready to leap into action once more.

Consequently when the Goat Avenger (who bears a close resemblance to her pal Duff the goat boy), offers to take over goat-guarding

and keep watch against marauding monsters, thus allowing the black sporting princess to take a much needed holiday, she cannot resist the opportunity.

Bags packed, Princess Magnolia is off on her bike to the seaside.

However her much-needed rest and relaxation are short lived for even on the beach, a monster shows up, emerging from the waves to cause havoc and scare the sunbathers out of their wits.

Time, (while Goat Avenger is still bravely playing the hero back home), to grab that black garb, step up and do battle with the brute.

Of course, in the end, our resourceful princess does finally get that much-needed holiday sans monsters, sans screaming humans, just her and sand, sea, sunshine and the odd bit of shade courtesy of a few coconut palms.
Brimming over with action, humour –due occasionally to the princess not recognising her friends, as well as monsters of the not really scary variety, the Hale partnership has penned another great chapter-book adventure story for readers just flying solo that’s bursting with engaging, action-packed illustrations from LeUyen Pham to smile at. Equally though, plenty of in-built sound effects to let rip with, make it a super read aloud.

Also ideal for new solo readers is:

Hubert and the Magic Glasses
Candice Lemon-Scott and Joe Spellman
New Frontier Publishing

When it comes to soccer, young Hubert’s skills as goalie for the under 12s Goodview Primary Able Ants team leave a lot to be desired: at best he’s mediocre. But then his team itself isn’t likely to be under enormous pressure in their next match when they take on the Wandering Wombats, reputedly the worst team in the district.

We first meet Hubert as he sits in the changing room struggling to tie his own boot laces, so nervous is he feeling while the other players are already on the field warming up. However despite the lad letting several goals in, his team does manage to win that match.

Next, Hubert’s team have to play in the quarter finals – a real challenge against a decent team – but then at dinner Hubert is faced with yet another problem when his mum announces that she’s made an appointment for him to see an optometrist.

The verdict? Astigmatism and Hubert is prescribed glasses: he’s not happy.

Just over a week later though, as he’s attempting to eat his breakfast Hubert is finally persuaded to put on his glasses and from then on everything in his life takes on an altogether different view.

With a new version of their goalie, can the Able Ants eventually win through: after all those glasses of Hubert’s aren’t just ordinary ones.

Issues of confidence building, team relationships, taking charge of your life, peer pressure and more are embraced in this amusing pacy narrative that has cool colour illustrations by Joe Spellman sprinkled throughout.

The Wondrous Dinosaurium / My Perfect Pup

The Wondrous Dinosaurium
John Condon and Steve Brown
Maverick Arts Publishing

Danny is thrilled when his mum finally agrees to let him have a pet and he knows what he wants. Not a common or garden cat or dog but something much more exciting – something prehistoric no less. And he knows exactly the place to go: an establishment belonging to Mr Ree.

His first choice, a Diplodocus requiring vast amounts of vegetation every day quickly proves too much, so it’s back to the shop for something slightly smaller.

In fact Danny returns to Mr Ree’s Wondrous Dinosaurium quite a few times, trying out a range of possibilities …

until finally he comes upon a box in a dark corner of the shop.

His mum thinks he’s brought home a tortoise but she’s in for a surprise when the creature comes out of its shell.

John Condon’s amusing tale about the pitfalls of not doing any research before choosing a pet will hit the spot with both dinosaur lovers and pet people.
Steve Brown’s illustrations of the dinosaur menagerie are at once droll and yet recognisably authentic dinosaur species: avid dinosaur fans may well be able to put names to all Mr Ree’s stock of creatures, one of which was new to this reviewer.

My Perfect Pup
Sue Walker and Anil Tortop
New Frontier Publishing

Siblings Max and Millie have definite ideas about what they’re looking for as they head for the Perfect Petshop, very different ideas. However they both fall for the same beguiling little pup.

Inevitably though, Tiny, as they decide to call him, doesn’t remain so for very long; nor does he live up to Millie’s ‘pretty’ requirement. In fact he’s so far from perfect by both siblings’ standards …

that one day they return him to the pet shop.

Tiny himself has ideas about the perfect owner and when Joe Barnaby arrives on the scene it looks as though he might just be the one.

Joe and his family live on a farm with sheep, and Joe loves to play, to run and sometimes to take a ride on the dog, now named Horse. What better place for a sheepdog?

Expectations, acceptance and being patient are key themes in Sue Walker’s enjoyable story for which Anil Tortop’s spirited illustrations really bring out Tiny/Horse’s personality.

Ash Dresses Her Friends

Ash Dresses Her Friends
Fu Wenzheng
New Frontier Publishing

I’m always interested to discover new illustrators and authors and thanks to New Frontier Publishing I’m meeting Chinese author/illustrator Fu Wenzheng for the first time.
Having grown up in a temple in China she draws on her childhood experiences in her illustrative style employing an, Ink Wash Painting technique (known also as literati) using just three colours to create her multi-layered images.

Her story is simply told and features a shy, lonely, azure-winged magpie named Ash.

One day Ash finds herself face to face with a sad looking elephant. The reason for his sadness is that he wants a new shirt.

Ash decides to help and from a length of red material she fashions him a wonderfully patterned one.

Before long the news of her skill and generosity has spread and one by one, a whole host of other animals come calling hoping for something colourful from Ash’s material, and she’s happy to oblige.

She’s even willing to use her last tiny piece to create a cosy quilt for a baby snail.

Once the cloth has gone, so too seemingly, have all her friends and Ash is alone once more.
Surely that is no way to treat such a kind-hearted creature? Absolutely not; it’s now time for the animals to acknowledge her generosity …

Symbolising good luck, happiness and joy, red is an auspicious colour in Chinese culture and here the predominance of red in Fu Wenzheng’s illustrations emphasises Ash’s friendship and kindness in sharing what she has with others, as well as creating striking images throughout.

The Children Who Loved Books

The Children Who Loved Books
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

The title alone made my heart sing: a story about book-loving children. What more can a book-mad reviewer of children’s books ask? Perhaps just that the book is as good as one hopes, and this one definitely lives up to my expectations.
It features a family of book lovers that have replaced almost everything else with books. There’s no car, no television, and they live in a caravan: no matter: everything they really need can be supplied by books.

There comes a day however, that their home just can’t accommodate any more books: it’s time to take things in hand …

Needless to say, things are NOT the same thereafter: the table is a tad unbalanced; Angus can’t see out of the window and the family, with so much space between them, begin to grow apart.
One day Lucy brings home a library book in her school bag and the magical experience of reading, with its power to enrich and unite, is rekindled, and with it comes a realisation that although it is wonderful to own books – lots of them – libraries have much to offer too.

The undisguised message at the heart of this is two-fold: the first concerns the powerful effects books and reading can have on a family; the second – one we adults need to keep reminding ourselves – is that a lot of material things are unnecessary for happiness.
With visual touches of Bob Graham, and a nod to Anthony Powell’s Books Do Furnish a Room …

Peter Carnavas has created a wonderful celebration of the power of sharing books and of libraries with plenty to think about and discuss with both children and adults.
I’m delighted to see New Frontier Publishing making his enchanting picture books available in the UK.

I’ve signed the charter  

Last Tree in the City / Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Last Tree in the City
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

Edward lives in a city, one that appears totally devoid of beauty or colour. However, he knows of a tiny oasis in this concrete jungle.
At the end of his street stands one last tree and for the little boy (and his companion duck) it’s a place of joy; a place surrounded by nature where the two would spend many a happy time.

One day however disaster strikes: Edward’s tree has gone.

He’s devastated; but then he makes a discovery that brings hope to his heart, a tiny glimmer of hope that just might alter the city’s future in the very best way possible …

With minimal words and superbly eloquent watercolour and ink illustrations, Peter Carnavas has created a modern fable that has much to say to all of us; not only with its subtle ecological message but also with the empowering thought that one person really can make a difference.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog
Lisa Papp
Old Barn Books

Madeline Finn, the story’s narrator, is a reluctant reader: she really does NOT like to read anything at all, not even the menu on the ice cream van. The trouble is that she finds the whole reading thing very hard work and sometimes her classmates make fun of her attempts at reading aloud. “Keep trying,” her teacher tells her giving her ‘Keep Trying’ hearts for her efforts.

Madeline though is desperate for a star sticker but those are only given to ‘good readers’: that teacher really needs to think about what she’s doing there.
On Saturday, Madeline’s mum takes her to the library where the girl reminds the librarian of her dislike of reading.

Miss Dimple however shows her a room where children are reading to dogs and offers her the opportunity to do likewise, introducing her to Bonnie, a large white dog.
Bonnie is a great listener; she ‘s non-judgemental, forgiving and patient; and week by week Madeline gains the confidence to make mistakes, to go at her own pace, and to take risks as she continues to read to the dog.

After many weeks, she is ready to read out loud at school. She starts out a bit wobbly but imagines herself reading to Bonnie and suddenly she’s done it.
Lisa Papp’s gentle watercolour illustrations capture the little girl’s feelings so beautifully in this encouraging story, which has a lovely surprise ending, both for the main protagonist and for readers.

I’ve signed the charter  

Jessica’s Box

Emmanuelle, who starts school this week,  engrossed in the story.

Jessica’s Box
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

Jessica’s mind was too busy for sleep. / Her thoughts are already with tomorrow.’ …
‘tomorrow’ being the day Jessica is starting school. The whole family is excited. She’s determined to make friends and to that end, with her to school goes a large cardboard box.
On the first day it contains her teddybear; but the other children are unimpressed and leave her alone. The second day is really no better: she fills the box with cupcakes.

They quickly draw a momentary crowd, but ne’er even a thank you.
Time for some serious thinking.
On the third day, Jessica takes her dog, Doris in the box. She has a temporary success but then the school caretaker steps in and Doris is returned home.
Day four arrives and Jessica takes an empty box ….

Then a little boy notices her and the seeds of a friendship are sown …

Carnavas’s potent images, with and without full colour, need few accompanying words to relate the emotional rollercoaster of Jessica’s first few days at school. The message is clear, just be yourself: true friends will love you for what you are; you cannot ‘buy’ friendship however hard you try.
A perfect, starting school story; but equally, with its friendship theme, a lovely book to share at any time: the author really does see things from behind the child’s head.

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I Love You / The Chalk Rainbow

I Love You
Xiao Mao and Tang Yun
New Frontier Publishing
The complete title of this warm-hearted picture book is Ti amo, Ich liebe dich, Wo ai ni, Te quiero, Je t’aime. It tells how a pupil in Ms Giraffe’s class learns her teacher’s favourite words. Ms Giraffe writes them on the whiteboard one morning and asks her pupils what they might mean.

Little Badger’s response is just what she was hoping for: “when you say it out loud, the most wonderful things can happen,” she tells her.
Like all enthusiastic learners, Little Badger practises her new vocabulary, addressing the school, plants,

the weather, a bird, her home and practically everything in it, even a new pair of pants, and most importantly, her Mum and Dad.
It’s a wonderful way of showing young children how much pleasure they can get from showing and sharing love, and by appreciating what they have. Little Badger is one cute character and she gets this straightaway, as well as the fact that to make new words your own you need to use them often. All this is shown in Tang Yun’s wonderfully whimsical scenes wherein perspective is employed to great effect.

The Chalk Rainbow
Deborah Kelly and Gwynneth Jones
EK Books
Teachers and other professionals who work with children who have ASD constantly have to think outside the box. So it is here with Zane’s elder sister.
Young Zane isn’t like other children. So says the girl narrator of this story: he has a made-up language, likes to line things up and really hates the colour black. You’ve probably guessed by now that Zane is on the autism spectrum.
His family find life can be challenging, especially because Ollie won’t walk across anything black: that means the pedestrian crossing and the family’s driveway. His parents, in particular Dad, are seemingly unaware of the cause of Ollie’s differences and the result is Ollie goes into melt down.

His sister however is more understanding and comes up with a wonderfully imaginative way of helping her younger brother. She starts by drawing a chalk rainbow on the front steps and with his help, extends it right down the drive. The chalk runs out but his sister comes up with a clever way to extend their creative bridge building …

wherever it’s needed and before long ‘there are rainbows everywhere.’

One hopes this story with its themes of accepting difference, trust and unconditional love, will help readers and listeners to try and see things from behind the head of a child with ASD.

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Swish & Squeak’s Noisy Day / Take Ted Instead

Swish & Squeak’s Noisy Day
Birgitta Sif
Andersen Press
Swish is a mouse with super-efficient ears that she puts into action from those first waking moments of the cacophonous day described in Birgitta’s Sif’s sweet tale.
The CRUNCH CRUNCH sounds she hears coming from downstairs aren’t as she first thinks, a crocodile consuming the kitchen table; rather it’s Squeak, her younger sibling, enthusiastically munching breakfast cereal. And so it goes on with some gentle noises of preparations for school and some not so gentle …

The walk to school and lessons therein are equally full of eeeeks, munches, squeaks, toots, pump ums and bah bas – it’s small wonder Swish’s head is in a spin …

but those ears really come into their own in the melee of the playground at home time.
All this invitingly join-in-able onomatopoeia (great for developing sound/symbol relationships) and more, forms an integral part of Sif’s captivatingly whimsical scenes of sibling affection executed in predominantly soft pinks, rose, purple and teal hues.
A lovely celebration of the sibling bond and incidentally …

of the peace and quiet of libraries.

Take Ted Instead
Cassandra Webb and Amanda Francey
New Frontier Publishing
The 3Rs of reading – rhyme, rhythm and repetition – rule in this tale of a mother trying to coax her reluctant toddler up to bed. The little lad tries putting forward a host of alternatives: the dog, the baby his cat, his older brother, a toy robot, a neighbour and even his goldfish (each has a name rhyming with ‘sleepy head’) …

but Mum is having none of it. In fact she uses Ted and a spot of reverse psychology to get the resister where she wants him.
A fun read aloud for adult and child to share at bedtime. Equally, with the key ingredients for beginning reading integral to the story, and playful illustrations that work with the text, this is an ideal book for children just starting out as readers to try for themselves.

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My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree / Ollie’s Treasure

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree
Maura Finn and Aura Parker
New Frontier Publishing
Get ready for a spot of taste bud tingling when you read this enchanting tale.
It’s told by a young boy narrator who ponders the mouth-watering possibilities of planting and nurturing a single jelly bean till it grows into a fine fruit-bearing tree. Not possible say some, but this lad knows better.

Such care does he lavish on his tiny bean that not only does he have a ‘slurping, dribbly goo’ inducing crop of plump juicy beans, but the tree is sufficiently strong to bear the weight of a tree house built in its branches; one with a twisty twirling slide for rapid descent.

All kinds of creatures, both feathered and furry, will naturally be attracted to the fruits of his labours, but the lad can deal with those and then crown himself jelly Bean King: a sovereign who can dance naked in the rain,

shampoo himself with bean juice and even find time to invite family members to come and visit.
Having the imagination to entertain possibilities, a strong determination to succeed and a caring nature are the requirements for making the bean dream come true: so it is with one small child.
Those are some of the dispositions we need to foster in all children. This mouth-watering debut picture book from Finn and Parker can help spark that imagination. Rhyming text and whimsical, patterned illustrations together weave a lovely read aloud.

Ollie’s Treasure
Lynn Jenkins and Kirrili Lonergan
EKBooks
Young Ollie loves treasure hunts, something his grandma is well aware of, so she sends him a map. Thrilled to bits, Ollie embarks on discovering what the treasure might be. He follows each of the instructions ‘… Skip to the tree with the biggest green leaves … wriggle your toes and feel the grass under your feet … ‘ and so on.

When he reaches the end of the trail he’s more than a little disappointed to discover not the truck or the game he’d eagerly anticipated but a piece of card.

He tosses the card away but as it falls he sees the side he’d not bothered to read. It reminds him of his senses and ends by asking ‘How did you feel?’
Only then does Ollie stop to reflect on the sensory delights of the rose’s fragrance, the tickliness of the grass and more; and in so doing, realises that within himself is the capacity for happiness.
Wise gran: she’s enabled her grandson to begin to appreciate that there’s more to life than material rewards.
Essentially this is mindfulness for young children, the book’s author Lynn Jenkins, being a clinical psychologist. Illustrator Kirrili Lonergan characterises Ollie – a young mouse – as full of energy and thoroughly enjoying his engagement with the natural world. Yes, with its focus on attention, attitude and gratitude, it is a touch didactic but as part of a programme for young children’s mental health and well-being, it offers a good starting point for reflection and discussion.

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The Three Little Pugs and the Big Bad Cat / Happily Ever After: Little Red Riding Hood

The Three Little Pugs and the Big Bad Cat
Becky Davies and Caroline Attia
Little Tiger Press
Move over Big Bad Wolf, you have a rival. A favourite traditional tale is given a contemporary spin with the pigs being replaced by pugs and the big bad wolf by a much less threatening creature, unless of course you are a member of the canine species; in which case it’s your arch enemy, a Big Bad Cat.
The young pugs go by the names of Bubbles, Bandit and Beauty and when the space in the kennel they share with Mother Pug becomes a tad inadequate, they’re dispatched into the big wide world and there to build homes of their own. Their mother fills their rucksacks with snacks, warns them to watch out for the rampaging cat; ensure their houses are sufficiently strong to withstand any moggy onslaughts; and off they go.
It’s not long before Bubbles has stopped, built a flimsy straw house and had it whirred and whooshed to the ground by a certain feline character.
Bandit too builds an insubstantial house: his stick construction soon meets a fate similar to that of his brother. This time however, the weapon of house destruction is, wait for it … a leaf blower.
That leaves Beauty, who has the sense to engage a team to assist in her house construction …

and it’s completed just as her brothers appear warning of the imminent arrival of the fearsome Big Bad Cat.
Unperturbed, Beauty decides it’s time to put plan B into action …
What happens thereafter sees the frustrated house destroyer finally gain entry to Beauty’s brick house …

only to have her victory turn sour in more ways than one. It’s great to see female Pug, Beauty with the brains to be the saviour of her brothers despite her silly pink attire.
Caroline Attia sprinkles her mixed media scenes with much that will make readers smile: photographed pugs digitally adorned with bows, bags, bandanas and blouses populate an animation world of mischief and mayhem.

Happily Ever After: Little Red Riding Hood
Celeste Hulme
New Frontier Publishing
Illustrator Celeste Hulme gives the classic fairy tale a modern twist in her rendition of a favourite tale. Herein Little Red Riding Hood cycles to the shops with her mother and wears her little red coat to school to keep her warm: a coat that she’s been sent as a birthday present by her Grandma. The little girl doesn’t ride her bike through the woods to visit her sick grandma though; she walks alone, meets the wolf and willingly reveals to him her destination. The wolf duly runs to Grandma’s, gains entry, pushes the old lady into a cupboard …

and takes her place in bed.
The traditional exchange about big eyes, big ears and big teeth takes place with the addition of ‘what big arms’ and ‘what big legs you have’ and it’s with those that the wolf leaps from his sick bed intending to dig his claws into the child. Red Riding Hood however is too quick for the beast; she crawls under the bed, dashes to the cupboard and releases her grandmother. In so doing she releases so we’re told, ‘the avalanche’.

This particular lupine creature is something of a coward for he howls, turns tail and beats a hasty retreat, never to be seen again.
If this sounds totally un-scary – there’s certainly no gobbling of gran, nor the need for a woodcutter – some of the illustrations show the wolf as a huge menacing beast, particularly this one of his shadow looming threateningly as he enters Grandma’s house…

In fact lupine shadows are used to great effect in several scenes; there’s one in the woods where Red Riding Hood is completely overshadowed by the beast.
Certainly a book to add to a Red Riding Hood collection in the primary school, as well as one to share at home.

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I Wrote You A Note / Mr Darcy

I Wrote You A Note
Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books
Herein we follow the journey of a note written by a little girl sitting beside a stream, as it travels from her hands until it finally finds its way to the intended recipient.
During its journey the note becomes briefly, a sail for Turtle’s raft; a resting place for some baby ducklings; a bridge for Spider.

Bird then uses it as nesting material; it’s discovered by a restless squirrel; Snail mistakes it for a house; Mouse fashions it into a sunhat;

Rabbit makes a basket from it; Dragonfly rests beneath it; Goat – well he can’t read so abandons it in favour of grass.
Finally the wind whisks the paper skywards dropping it in just the right place for a friend to find. But what does the note say? Aah! You’ll need to get hold of a copy of this enchanting book to discover that.
This is a lovely, rhythmic read aloud with some natural sounding repetition and gentle humour throughout. Lizi Boyd’s gouache illustrations are enchanting. They, along with the stream, seem to flow across the pages as the note makes it journey; and the sender is, all the while, exploring and interacting with the natural world around her. It’s absolute delight from cover to cover, with text and illustrations working so perfectly together.

Mr Darcy
Alex Field and Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing
Meet Mr Darcy, a genteel, refined and shy character living alone on the edge of Pemberley Park. One day he receives an invitation to tea from Lizzy and her sisters who live in an ordinary park. Seemingly considering himself a cut above such creatures, Mr D. tosses the invitation aside

and goes on his way, cutting short the sisters as he passes by.
The following day, Mr Darcy embarrasses himself by crashing right into a tree while endeavouring to ignore Lizzy, and then suffers another disaster of a very messy kind.

Once again its Lizzy together with several others, including Mr Bingley who, despite Mr Darcy’s rudeness, come to his aid.
Grateful for his assistance, Mr Darcy decides after all to accept the invitation to tea and once there, he feels ‘quite loved and not alone at all.’
If any of this sounds familiar, then it’s because the author, a Jane Austen lover, chose to create this rather softer character in her reimagined Pride and Prejudice for young children with its basic plot, main characters and settings remaining intact. Alex Field’s charming tale about shyness, encouragement and the joys of friendship, demonstrates beautifully how easy it is for shyness to come across as rudeness. It’s made all the more enjoyable by Peter Carnavas’s gently humorous, painterly portrayal of the characters.

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Edward and the Great Discovery / Diggersaurs

Edward and the Great Discovery
Rebecca McRitchie and Celeste Hulme
New Frontier Publishing
Young Edward comes from a long line of archaeologists but, despite determined efforts, is yet to make his first discovery. Then one wet night, the lad unearths, or rather falls over something that looks promising; it’s a strange egg.
Edward takes it indoors for investigation and a spot of TLC …

When the egg eventually hatches, Edward is more than a little disappointed to discover that it’s nothing more exciting than a bird; albeit a very helpful, loving one. Disappointment number two comes when Edward realises his bird is unable to fly.

To cheer himself up, the boy takes himself off to his favourite place, The Museum of Ancient Things and it’s there he learns that after all, his find is indeed a momentous one– a Dodo no less.

Now Edward has, not one but two great finds: an extraordinary friend and companion and a rarity from ancient times. He has also earned himself a place on the wall of fame alongside the other esteemed members of his family.
With its scientific underpinning, this is an unusual and enormously engaging tale of friendship and self-discovery. The gentle humour of the text is brought out beautifully in Celeste Hulme’s avant-garde, detailed illustrations: every turn of the page brings visual delight and much to chuckle over.

Diggersaurs
Michael Whaite
Puffin Books
If you want a book for pre-schoolers that rhymes, is full of delicious words for developing sound/symbol awareness, is great fun to use for a noisy movement session and is characterised by creatures that are a fusion of two things young children most love, then Diggersaurs is for you.
A dozen of the mechanical beasts are to be found strutting their stuff between the covers of animator Whaite’s debut picture book; and what’s more they’re all working together in a enormous construction enterprise.

In addition to the huge monsters, there are some hard-hat wearing humans; but you’ll need to look closely to discover exactly what they’re doing and saying. That site certainly appears to be something of a hazardous place to be working alongside those earth-shaking, smashing, crashing, crunching and munching …

pushing and shoving, stacking, spinning, deep hole drilling, moving, sweeping mechanised giants.

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? / My Dad is a Bear

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?
Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle
Puffin Books
With a CD read by Eric Carle, this is a 50th anniversary edition of a truly golden picture book. Yes, as it says on the blurb, it can ‘teach children about colours’ but it does so much more. It’s an iconic ‘learning to read’ book and one I included in a Signal publication I wrote early in my teaching career when I talked about the importance of using visual context cues. This is now something that most teachers who use phonics as the basis of the way they teach beginning readers insist children should not do. How ridiculous! Any book worth offering to learner readers and I stress ‘worth’ has pictures and words working hand in hand, as does this simple, singsong question and answer book wherein you have to read ahead ie turn the page,

in order to get the visual context cue offered by the bright tissue-paper collage picture of each animal being questioned.
A classic; and one all children should encounter in the early stages of becoming a reader.

Also good for beginning readers is:

My Dad is a Bear
Nicola Connelly and Annie White
New Frontier Publishing
What is ‘tall and round like a bear; soft and furry like a bear’; can climb trees and gather in a bear-like manner?

And what has big paws and enjoys a spot of back scratching, not to mention possessing an enormous growl, having a penchant for fishing and a very bear-like way of sleeping?

Why a bear of course. And what is it about young Charlie’s dad that brings the most pleasure of all? What do you think? …
Using ursine characteristics to point up the numerous ways in which a dad is special, debut picture book author, Nicola Connelly paints a pen portrait of a much-loved character.
What an engaging book this is with its lovable characters, two bears plus bit part players, blue bird and rabbit. All are so adorably portrayed in Annie White’s uncluttered paintings that beautifully orchestrate the simple storyline making every page turn a fresh delight. Beautifully simple and full of warmth, it’s just right for sharing with a pre-schooler or with an early years group.

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