Agent Weasel and the Fiendish Fox Gang / Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Great Raspberry Mix-Up

Agent Weasel and the Fiendish Fox Gang
Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

This is the first of a proposed series of adventures starring super-spy Agent Weasel, resident of Flaky-Bark Cottage in United Woodlands.

Nick’s writing is wonderfully silly as he plunges his often inept Agent Weasel, WI6, super-spy of high renown, into all kinds of scarifying scenarios in his efforts to foil the nefarious Fiendish Fox Gang who, so rumour has it are creating absolute havoc with such dastardly deeds as nicking nuts from squirrels and shaving sleeping badgers’ bottoms.

It certainly seems as if Agent Weasel has his work cut out, though thankfully his team-mates – Doorkins, Steadfast, Mole and Muriel Moth are also at work in the woods.

But before you can say ‘catastrophe’ Weasel and his pal Doorkins find themselves taken captive and face to face with the notorious FFG leader Vixen von Fluff …

and what’s this she’s saying about sabotaging the eagerly anticipated Autumn Big Bash?

Can our super agent extraordinaire succeed in extricating himself from a potentially very sticky situation and if so could he possibly pull off what looks like the impossible feat of derailing Madame Vixen’s plan and saving the show?

Chortles galore guaranteed whether it’s read alone or read aloud; with a liberal scattering of Nick’s own hilarious illustrations, this is comedic craziness through and through. More please!

There’s competition chicanery too in:

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Great Raspberry Mix-Up
Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths
Oxford University Press

Young Freddie Bonbon is Belville town’s star baker. He works alongside his manager and best friend Amira who greets him one autumnal morning with the news that she’s been busy doing the maths to see if they can afford to replace their old and far too small cooker but unfortunately they just cannot afford to. Unless perhaps Freddie manages to win the advertised Belville Baking Competition with its £500 prize. He certainly has a fantastic design in mind for his cake.

In a swankier part of town is Macaroon’s Patisserie, run by the curmudgeonly Bernard Macaroon. He’s not at all like Freddie who is willing to offer advice to anyone, even those he knows will be rival contestants in the baking competition. Bernard shall we say, lacks imagination and flair when it comes to baking but his determination that he, not his young rival will win the prize means he’ll go to any lengths so to do.

As competition day draws nearer strange things start happening. First there’s the incident when Freddie out on his delivery round almost runs over Bernard’s beloved cat.

Then comes the disappearance of the remains of the raspberry pink food colouring he’ll need for his competition cake and when he goes out to buy some more, all the shops have mysteriously sold out and the only place he can find any is …

What luck, thinks Freddie but is it?

The day of the event arrives and Freddie is well prepared; but no sooner have the competitors been told to begin than things start going wrong for him.

Is it the end of his chances: or could it be that the kindnesses he’s shown to his fellow competitors might make a difference?

Like Freddie’s cake baking, there’s plenty to spice up Harriet Whitehorn’s story of cooking, community and camaraderie. Young readers will appreciate the way the story is broken up into short chapters that include lists and a generous sprinkling of Alex Griffiths’ quirky illustrations. There’s even a recipe for Freddie’s Raspberry Cupcakes at the end of the book. Mmm! Tasty.

Christopher Pumpkin

Christopher Pumpkin
Sue Hendra, Paul Linnet and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

Who or what would you ask for assistance if you were wanting to throw the scariest ever, totally unforgettable party? Perhaps not a pile of almost forgotten cooking ingredients that just happen to be lying on your kitchen floor; but then you are not a witch with a magic wand like the one in Sue and Paul’s crazy magical rhyming tale.

This witch decides to spell a heap of pumpkins into life, name them – Gnarly, Grizzly, Grunty, Roar, Snaggletooth, Stink Face and err – well she never gets to give a name to the last one for he cheerily informs her that he’s called Christopher Pumpkin and invites his fellow pumpkins to a group hug.

Can this thoroughly ill-fitting, non-scary animated member of the pumpkin fraternity possibly fit in with the witch’s scarifying plans? She decides to give him the benefit of the doubt, albeit while keeping her beady eyes upon him.

Task one is to create decorations that will bring dread and fear into all who so much as glance at them.
Easy peasy thinks Chris but the witch and other veggies are let’s say, underwhelmed. They’re equally unimpressed with Chris’s musical proposition …

So what about the party fare? Of course it’s cooked up in the cauldron and seems suitably disgusting until in walks our pal Chris proffering err, some pretty pink confections.

The witch gives the guy one more chance – be scary or be soup.

Can Chris come up with a scary solution before the following morning: he has just the hours of darkness to work something out or he’s in the pot.

Oddly enough, come morning, there’s an empty bed where Chris had been and the witch is ready to throw open the door to let her guests in …

Terrifically silly but terrific fun, this tale is perfect for showing little ones the importance of being themselves and not letting anyone push them around or make them into something they’re not.

It’s a smashing read aloud that slides and slithers over and off the tongue like yummy pumpkin soup. And as for Nick’s scenes of magic, mischief mayhem and the occasional menace, they’re a totally tasty treat to feast your eyes upon.

What’s not to love? Perhaps though, that rather depends on whether or not you have a penchant for things puffy, pretty and pink.

Simon Sock

Simon Sock
Sue Hendra, Paul Linnet and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

Simon lives in the sock drawer with all the other socks; it’s a cosy place but he feels lonely and unloved. All the other inhabitants go out on adventures and Simon longs to find the perfect friend to roller skate, bounce and hula hoop with; but, as Spotty tells him, Simon is odd.

Then Ted offers his help and thus begins Simon’s search for a stripy matching pair. He meets all manner of possible partners,

he certainly learns a lot and finally discovers Simone.

It turns out though, that his matching pair does not share his thirst for the great outdoors.

Poor Simon; is he doomed to a life without a partner or …

With Nick East’s captivating sock scenarios, this is funny story, about friendship, difference and preconceptions that will make listeners laugh and think; and the ending – yes it is a happy one – will bring delight and a definite feel good factor.
It might even work as a book to give to a significant other on February 14th.

I’ve signed the charter  

Emma Jane’s Aeroplane / Ellie’s Magic Wellies

Emma Jane’s Aeroplane
Katie Howarth and Daniel Rieley
Templar Publisihng
We meet young aviator Emma Jane as she takes off into the night sky heading so it appears for a distant city with its shining lights. London is her first stop-off and approaching the London Eye in the rain, she spots a fox and takes it aboard.

Before long. ‘Up ahead is something bright – it’s a city’s shining lights …’ Paris is the next stop where having looped around the Eiffel Tower, Emma Jane spies on Notre Dame, a rooster and …’So Emma Jane in her aeroplane, / a fox who doesn’t like the rain, / and a rooster who crows wherever he goes / fly on.’ … towards Venice and thence New York, Beijing and Sydney.

By now the plane looks pretty full and it’s heading straight into a storm; a storm that pitches them right into the churning sea. Are the plane and its passengers, not to mention Emma Jane, destined to be lost at sea or do all those animals possess skills that can be called upon in their hour of need?
Let’s just say that all ends happily, with fond farewells as our pilot drops each of her new friends off in their home city before whizzing off once again …
Katie Howarth’s peppy rhyming tale of travel, significant sights, and friendship without boundaries zips along nicely and is fun to share, all the more so if time is given to linger over Daniel Rieley’s delectably droll illustrations be they spread, single page, double spread or vignette.

Ellie’s Magic Wellies
Amy Sparkes and Nick East
Egmont Publishing
I’ve yet to meet a young child who doesn’t love to splosh around in puddles; it’s certainly so with Ellie Pengelly who has just been given a shiny new pair of wellies by her Auntie Flo who has come to do a spot of child-minding while Ellie’s mum visits the dentist. Having donned her polka-dot winged wonders, off heads Ellie in search of some lovely splash-about in puddles. Having located a particularly large one she leaps in and as she does, gets the surprise of her life. What should appear, courtesy of Ellie’s new ‘magical wellies, but a creature introducing itself as a “Flibberty-Gibberty” – a Flipperty Gibberty out of its puddle just waiting to play.
And play they do; the F.G. seemingly having boundless energy.

(Not sure the creature should be encouraging young Ellie to do headstands though, thinks the yoga teacher in me).
Play over, the two go indoors for a spot of something to eat, or rather, that’s the intention but what happens is something quite different and extremely chaos making.
Can they get the house back to its former tidy state before mum’s return? That is the crucial question…

Perhaps so with a little help from those magical wellies of Ellie’s.
Amy Sparkes’ sparkling rhyming text combines beautifully with Nick East’s equally sparky illustrations to produce a lively read aloud that is likely to induce a whole lot of puddle jumping – ready steady SPLOSH!

I’ve signed the charter  

Knock Knock Dinosaur / If I Had a Dinosaur

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Knock Knock Dinosaur
Caryl Heart and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books
Following a delivery to a small boy’s house, in his mum’s absence, a host of dinosaurs invade every room starting with the T-rex that proceeds to consume the freshly baked apple pie standing on the table, followed immediately by two triceratops, three stegosauruses, four velociraptors …

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five allosauruses, six apatosauruses, seven iguanodons – small ones – one of which takes liberties with an item of mum’s underwear. ‘Bras are to put on your boobies, not your ears,’ remarked Ellena, giggling.

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Then come eight gigantosauruses (sporting knickers on their heads), nine oviraptors and finally ten pterodactyls.
The outcomes of all this rampaging is bathwater sploshing everywhere, a smashed mirror, broken bed springs and a smashed vase. By now our young boy narrator has had enough. “Everybody stop!” he yells which prompts the T.Rex to draw the lad’s attention to two important words at the bottom of the delivery note.

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The penny drops which just goes to show that you should always read the small print carefully before clicking ORDER when buying things on the internet. That however is not quite the end of the story. Can they get rid of the chaos and get everything back as it should be before Mum returns? It’ll certainly take some doing … Let operation clean up commence.
Caryl Hart’s rhyming riotous romp is a fun read aloud, but make sure you give your audience – if it’s a largish one – opportunities to explore Nick East’s rainbow-hued illustrations; they’re full of chuckle-worthy details.

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If I Had a Dinosaur
Alex Barrow and Gabby Dawnay
Thames & Hudson
A small girl, would-be pet owner longs for a pet – not a small cat though, she already has one of those. No, something more house sized, something like a DINOSAUR. She then goes on to entertain all manner of possibilities relating to diplodocus ownership. Walks in the park could be just a little embarrassing …

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Her school pals would be mightily impressed, as would her teachers. Providing sufficient drinking water, not to mention a place to swim, might prove a little tricky and he’d definitely need a vegetarian diet.
Dinosaurs certainly do make smashing pets – in more ways than one; walks would be great fun …

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although there would be the question of POOH avoidance …

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The house might need a few minor adjustments – a dino-flap, for instance but the family sofa is plenty big enough for one more, although Dad might get the odd surprise from time to time.

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Not convinced? Then you could try acting on the young narrator’s suggestion, ‘ … just get one and you’ll see!
Dinosaurs are an unfailing source of delight where young children are concerned: Gabby Dawnay’s rhyming contemplation will doubtless provide both fun and opportunities for listeners’ own imaginative musings. They might well, inspired by Alex Barrow’s charmingly witty illustrations, try to create their own If I Had a Dinosaur visuals.

Bear Washing and Bed Bouncing

DSCN7467Do Not Wash This Bear
Sam Hay and Nick East
Egmont Publishing
The particular Dad in this story – so the child narrator tells us – is a disaster area when it comes to doing the washing; titchy T-shirts, pink vests and disappearing socks being examples of the consequences. So, there is a kind of inevitability of mishap when he decides his son’s somewhat stinky ted is in need of a wash. “DO NOT WASH THIS BEAR’ states the label but Dad pays no heed and soon …

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What happens when the cycle finishes and Bear emerges is NOT good. Seemingly the creature has undergone something of a personality change. First there’s this:

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raspberry blowing Bear

And before long there are bubbles all over the bathroom and the bedroom’s full of snow.
Then, when Dad coming upstairs meets Bear bounding down, this is the result …

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Back comes Mum and, having stated the obvious, hangs the errant Bear on the line, which does the trick where mischief making is concerned.
Bear may be back to normal (albeit much cleaner), but …

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The crazy capers herein are sure to be appreciated by the young but equally this one will make the many adults who have had washing disasters, smile too. Nick East’s spirited illustrations capture the shenanigans beautifully and his characters – Bear and human – are charmers.

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There’s a Bison Bouncing on the Bed!
Paul Bright and Chris Chatterton
Little Tiger Press
There’s a big brown bison bouncing on the bed and its great fun, so much so that Aardvark, Chipmunk and Beetle join him. OOPS! All that bumping and thumping …

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will surely lead to one thing – and it does…

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Recriminations follow but oh my goodness! Seems there was someone else in that bed all along – that, or it’s moving on it’s own. Out comes Grizzly Bear and he certainly hasn’t got a smile on his face as he orders immediate repairs.

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But repairs are not the only things about which he issues instructions: there’s something else he wants the bouncers to do – once they’ve fixed the bed of course …
The combination of jaunty rhyming text and giggle-inducing scenes are certain to delight young bed bouncers especially (and that’s pretty much all young children.) My listeners were quick to join in with the rhyme and demanded an immediate re-read. Adult readers aloud – perhaps bedtime isn’t the best time to share this very lively story.

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Magical Journeys of the Night

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Before I Wake Up …
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel Publishing
As she sails away on a flying bed, a little girl narrator takes readers on her dream journey into the glowing moonlit world and, pausing first to take on board her lion friend, into her imaginary ‘world without end’. Cares and worries are left far behind as – child enfolded in Lion’s strong arms – they weather storms …

 

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then rock gently on calmer waters. Leaving Lion aboard the boat, the little girl swims with whales and other marine animals …

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and then the two are transported into a wood dark and deep – a wood full of wild creatures that wander free …

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creatures that present no danger to the narrator. For with her protective lion always close at hand, she feels fearless and longs to remain in the murky world on the shadowy forest. But as morning light begins to show, it’s time to flee from dark and move into the bright of day’s dawn; time to bid a fond farewell to her furry nocturnal friend, safe in the knowledge that after another day, his arms will always be there waiting to welcome her once more.

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I’ve long been a fan of Britta Teckentrup’s work but this one might just be my favourite. Imagined worlds are conjured into being in her wondrous dreamy scenes rendered in a glowing collage style that is densely layered and alternates between rich earthy hues …

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and more subdued ones.
Share this one at bedtime, morning time, any time, but share it you must, it’s a real beauty.

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Goodnight Spaceman
Michelle Robinson and Nick East
Puffin Books
It’s bedtime and we join two small child narrators as they bid goodnight to the various items in their small world space set,

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putting them carefully into the toy box at the end of the day. Then having also bid goodnight to their father’s rocket ship deep in space, the children embark on an imaginary flight far out into the darkest world of outer space. There, they rendezvous with the space station –

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meet the crew …

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and with their dad, enjoy a space walk addressing the extra terrestrial sights as they go. ‘Goodnight Neptune. Goodnight Venus. Goodnight light years in between us. Rocket ships and shooting stars. Saturn, Mercury and Mars.’
All too soon though, it’s time to return to earth and snuggle down in their cosy beds with thoughts of their spaceman dad ever in their minds.
Inspired by the mission of British astronaut Tim Peake, who himself has two young sons, this lyrical space odyssey will delight young listeners around the age of the two protagonists who will revel in the adventure at bedtime or anytime. In all my years of teaching young children I’ve not come across many who do not take delight in space stories and play with small world space theme toys. Let’s hope that this book will, as Tim Peake suggests in his introductory letter to readers, ‘inspire a new generation of boys and girls to look up at the stars and not just ask questions but to go there and seek answers of their own.’ Nick East’s dramatic illustrations should certainly go some way to fuelling that inspiration and their imaginations.

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