One Button Benny and the Gigantic Catastrophe / Bad Cat!

One Button Benny and the Gigantic Catastrophe
Alan Windram and Chloe Holwill-Hunter
Little Door Books

Young robot Benny returns for a new adventure (hurrah! I hear fans shout) and now the Cool Cat competition is fast approaching so, like all his friends, Benny has to get his moggy Sparky super shiny and sparkly for the big event – having done the wretched washing up, that is.

Disaster strikes though, for the next morning every single one of the cats has disappeared. An exhaustive search of the town reveals only a note on the ground: the cats have all been kidnapped.

This certainly warrants the pressing of Benny’s (only to be used in pukka emergencies) red button assures his mum.
Having duly done the deed, something unexpected happens: Benny’s button opens like a door, disgorging two rolled pieces of paper.

There’s only one thing to do if Benny and his friends are to get their pets back safely and that’s work together following the instructions on the paper

and Trojan Horse style, build an enormous scrap metal cat in which to hide and wait for the return of the alien kidnappers who will surely come and steal this massive cat once they hear about it.

And sure enough they do. Fortunately all this cat-napping has made the aliens sleepy and once back on their own planet they fall fast asleep leaving the rescuers to find their missing moggies.

Things don’t go exactly to plan thereafter but I’ll leave Benny and his friends being chased by the wobbly alien cat stealers and you to get hold of a copy of Alan (author) and Chloe – illustrator’s – wacky tale of teamwork, forgiveness and dish washing to discover what happens subsequently.

Bad Cat!
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow

Nicola O’Byrne’s feline character Fluffykins may have a cute sounding name but this moggy is anything but cute. Indeed he creates a chain of havoc as he knocks down a vase of flowers, tangles up the knitting, unwinds the loo roll, plays havoc with the venetian blind, leaves a large puddle on the floor and that’s not all.

Now I’m not a cat lover, nor am I familiar with cats’ behaviour, but it appears from his expressions that in his boundary pushing actions, Fluffykins knows exactly what he’s doing despite his owner’s warnings and chiding. On the other hand it might just be playful oblivion. In this story Nicola O’Byrne leaves it open for readers to make up their own minds.

With a text addressed directly at the mischievous moggy and so much white space around the action, this latest offering is certainly something altogether different from her previous books.

Young listeners will probably relish Fluffykins sheer devilment; this ailurophobic reviewer certainly would steer clear of his abode.

The Rabbit, The Dark and the Biscuit Tin

The Rabbit, The Dark and the Biscuit Tin
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow

It’s almost bedtime but rabbit is not  ready for sleep. Suddenly, while out in his garden he has a bright idea: If it doesn’t get dark then he need not go to bed at all. Grabbing his best biscuit tin with a single remaining biscuit inside, he heads back outside to find The Dark.
An easy job and Rabbit offers it the biscuit but as Dark reaches out, SNAP goes the lid of the tin: Rabbit has caught The Dark inside.
From inside the box comes a voice chastising Rabbit for his thoughtless action. What about all the animals that get up as night falls: The Dark is vital for them.

Selfishly Rabbit goes inside clutching his tin of Dark. Their conversation continues with The Dark pointing out what his captor will miss unless he frees his prisoner. Rabbit’s mood deteriorates and he stomps back outside clutching his tin tightly.

What he sees and feels – a very hot, sad looking place full of very hot sad-looking animals and even worse, his favourite carrots have all wilted.

The Dark makes one more plea for release: “I want to show you how wonderful I can be …” he says.
This makes Rabbit really think and slowly, slowly he opens the lid to find …

Dark points out some further good things he has to offer, not least of which is bedtime stories. Now though it appears that he’s too tired even for one of those.

Nicola’s lovely story is perfect for bedtime reading. It gently and unobtrusively introduces the idea of nocturnal animals as well as only thinking of oneself.
With gorgeous illustrations and a pop-out surprise to open, this book may well cause little ones to delay bedtime to hear the story ‘just one more time’.

What’s Next Door?

What’s Next Door?
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow

Carter the crocodile from Open Very Carefully appears to have got lost and landed up between the covers of a book, -this book – and he needs our help to get home. He’s not above issuing threats either, judging by the sign he’s clutching.

Much better to do as he (and the narrator) request; we certainly don’t want him getting cantankerous: those barbed teeth of his look pretty scary.
This will entail exercising drawing and thinking skills, and a bit of pushing and shoving, together with some deft manipulation of the book itself, as Carter requires -heaving, blow drying, having his tummy rubbed to warm him up and fanning to cool him off, before he finally arrives back home, safe and sound.
Nicola O’Byrne talks directly to the reader in her engaging, chatty style narrative but despite her best efforts and those of readers, the croc. ends up in some totally inappropriate places en route – a salty sea,

a chilly snowy landscape and a scorching desert .
Carter’s progress through the various doors and the die-cut pages of the book itself, are documented in the author’s superbly expressive scenes that show Carter’s reactions to all our efforts,

along with some animal friends he acquires during the course of his adventure.

Dear Dinosaur

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Dear Dinosaur
Chae Strathie and Nicola O’Byrne
Scholastic
Dinosaurs are an ever-popular theme in picture books but how to give it a new slant? Chae Strathie does it with letters.
After a visit to the museum, young Max writes to his favourite exhibit, the T.Rex and after a long wait, is super-excited to receive a reply – albeit a slightly alarming one …

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Thus begins an exchange of written communications between boy and dinosaur wherein each reveals a variety of facts and figures about himself. For instance six year old Max learns that his dino. pal is 65,999, 999 older than he is; and hears all about how his favourite T.Rex celebrated his birthday – playing football just like Max himself. Or maybe not exactly like: there wasn’t a vase-breaking mammoth at Max’s party.
In exchange, T.Rex learns a little about ballet dancing and sandcastle construction.

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Summer holidays over, Max and his family return to the dinosaur museum where they discover that things aren’t quite as they were on their last visit …

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Now why might that be? And what is his special friend doing with a rubber duck?
Certain to appeal to dinosaur fans, this funny epistolary tale has great potential for primary teachers wanting to encourage writing. Children could perhaps pair up and, with one acting as human and the other, dinosaur, send letters and other communications to each another.

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The Great Dragon Bake Off

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The Great Dragon Bake Off
Nicola O’Byrne
Bloomsbury Children’s Book
Followers of TV cookery shows will chuckle at the names of the characters in this tasty treat of a book. There’s chief protagonist, Flamie Oliver – a dragon, enormous and terrifying; well, that at least is the impression he gives but in fact, Flamie isn’t ‘very, very good at being very, very bad.’ This is clearly going to be a bit bothersome when he joins the Ferocious Dragon Academy for the most ferocious dragons-in-training where all his classmates are excellent do-badders.
The other thing about Flamie is his particular penchant for pastry of all kinds.

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So whilst his classmates hone their dragon skills, off goes Flamie to have a bake-up; and having perfected his pastry he moves on to more fancy fare. The snag is there’s nobody to share the fruits of his labours with, but even worse Flamie has been neglecting those dastardly dragon skills he was supposed to have been working on.
Consequently, when finals day dawns the lad feels singularly unprepared, even more so as he watches classmates, Heston Blowitall, Scaly Berry and Paul Firewood do their stuff and delight teacher, Miss Puffitup.

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Flamie of course, fails to delight, fails all his exams to be precise, leaving him just one way to graduate. “You must kidnap a princess and eat her!” Miss Puffitup declares.
Sick at the thought, but sicker at the prospect of not graduating, off flies Flamie to capture himself a princess. Having secured one, he sits in his kitchen contemplating his next meal – not an appetising sight …

 

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and muttering to himself about sauces when Princess Rosewater speaks up. Before long the two of them are busy concerning themselves with a suitable accompaniment to the princess dish; but nothing seems quite right. Fortunately the princess has an idea: can it be successfully served up for a Dastardly Dragon Skills degree though? Suffice it to say, the proof of the baking is in the much appreciated tasting: a degree? – that would be telling.

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This truly mouth-watering tale is a treat to share with young listeners. My audience drooled over the delicacies, despaired at the prospect of the princess’s demise and clapped at one particularly mouth-watering spread; and one girl was thrilled to see a dragon wearing specs similar to hers.

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The Last Book Before Bedtime

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The Last Book Before Bedtime
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow
I’m a huge fan of books that play around with fairy tales and loved the author’s previous Open Very Carefully and Use Your Imagination so couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this one. It more than lives up to expectation.
The stars are three porcine siblings – a soccer enthusiast, a bibliophile and er, a cake lover and of course, where there are three little pigs, there absolutely HAS to be a BIG BAD WOLF.
Right! Intros over, it’s time to get on with the bedtime story – the most important story of the whole day no less. There go the little pigs on their house-building sortie and as we all know, Number One Pig is going to construct with straw – or maybe not for, before that “… out of straw!” utterance has left his lips he’s interrupted by a certain young miss demanding inclusion in the storybook; moreover she’s already setting her sights on a movie and associated merchandise. And with such comments as “No one’s going to want to watch a film with you pork chops in it.” miss Cinderella is something of an insult hurler too.
Despite all this, and some reluctance on the pigs’ part, the narrator seems ready to include young Cinderella and cast the three of them into HER story. At least one little pig is happy to go with the flow though.

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Oh oh! Now who’s this demanding to be part of the plot? And she’s got a BBW in tow. Time for a quick cast reshuffle.

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Here we go again … “Once upon a time there was a little girl whose cloak had a beautiful red hood … beware of the BIG BAD WOLF!” (Thought it was too good to last; but we have got to page fifteen before he puts in an appearance and even then it seems he’s about to get the brush off.) “… Cinderella, you can be Little Red’s mother, pig number two, you’re the granny. And wolf, you’re not in this bit.” (There you are.) Seemingly even those who DO have parts are not satisfied …
So, off skips LRRH and whom should she meet …

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More dissent, followed by a narratorial ticking off of the cast and can you believe it – yet more dissent; those characters really do need taking to task before something truly terrible happens.
WHAT? I cannot believe my eyes …

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With the book in tiny pieces, is that the end before the whole thing’s even really begun? Or can that motley crew possibly co-construct a plot to please them all? Perhaps, but only if it’s got romance, humour, danger – no prizes for guessing who asks for that, excitement and one more vital ingredient – cake!
On with the show … let’s hope that no matter what, it has a suitably soporific outcome …
A riotous metafictional romp if ever there was one; and a real gift to those who, like this reviewer, enjoy throwing themselves heart and soul into reading aloud.
All my audiences of 5 to 8s have demanded immediate rereads.

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The cast of characters from one group

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Bob & Flo, Penguin & Pumpkin, Alfie & other Little Stars

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Bob and Flo The Missing Bucket
Rebecca Ashdown
Oxford University Press
Sporting a new bow and carrying a bucket containing her packed lunch, Flo goes to nursery for the very first time. There she meets Bob. Flo is interested in painting: Bob is interested in Flo’s bucket.

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Indeed he finds all manner of uses for said bucket both practical and imaginative …

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Lunchtime comes and goes; Flo heads off to the slide where she discovers her bucket at the bottom and then, Bob. Now it’s time for Flo to make use of her bucket – for a while anyway.

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With so much of the mystery of Flo’s missing bucket being told through the charmingly simple illustrations, it’s very much a case of showing not telling. A perfect lesson of the power of pictures and indeed picture books, and their vital importance in the journey to true literacy.

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Penguin and Pumpkin
Salina Yoon
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
Unlikely as it might sound, young Penguin, curious about autumn, sets out with Bootsy on a trip to a distant farm to discover what the season has to offer, leaving behind a sad younger brother Pumpkin who is just too little. Having arrived at the farm, Penguin sees pumpkins everywhere and unsurprisingly they remind him of his little brother. So the adventurers decide to harvest their own autumn surprises to take back for Pumpkin. He meanwhile, has found his own autumnal adventure but it’s not the real thing – that’s still to come, thanks to Grandpa, Bootsy, Penguin and …

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With its spare text and plethora of endearing penguin characters with their distinctive accessories, this is an appealing seasonal tale for tots.

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Alfie in the Garden
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
We join little Alfie rabbit on his flights of fancy as he helps his mother bunny in the garden. He explores the jungly vegetation where he becomes a ‘bouncing, pouncing lion’, then an elephant,

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makes a rainstorm and a swishy swashy summer breeze before his leafy wings carry him back to his nest and into Mama-Bun’s arms for a cosy, snuggly nap.
A gentle tale for the very young, the majority of whom just like Alfie, enjoy imaginative play. The muted watercolour pictures with their soft black outlines are a delight. The larger than life landscapes immediately attract tinies who become engrossed in a cosy world of make-believe conjured up by Alfie’s (and their) everyday playthings.

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My Little Star
Mark Sperring and Nicola O’Byrne
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
A lovely bedtime treat, not so much a story more a gentle lullaby rhyme with gorgeous pictorial accompaniments of adult animals and their offspring. Every double spread is a portrayal of tenderness; it’s difficult to choose an outright favourite – each one provides an ‘aaah!’ moment – but I think it has to be either the nuzzling giraffes or the snuggling elephants.

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Just the thing for sharing with the very young: it draws you in and makes you feel safe, warm and loved.
When the day is done and sleep draws near,
When the moon’s aglow and stars appear.

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Fairy Tale Imaginings

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Use Your Imagination
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow
Like its predecessor, this delicious book comes with a warning on the cover – (Rabbit’s suggestion I imagine judging by what ensues therein.). Open up to find a fantastic lesson in storytelling courtesy of one large lupine librarian – who ever heard of such a thing? – and one small and so he proves – highly imaginative Rabbit, not to mention the brilliant Nicola O’Byrne.
Feeling bored, said Rabbit wishes aloud for something to happen and this comment happens to be overheard by said librarian His suggestion is to co-write a story. Having got over (more or less) his surprise at the size of the librarian’s ears – “All the better for listening to stories with, my dear,” and his eyes “All the better for reading with,” the next thing is how to begin. USE YOUR IMAGINATION! – how else? So off we, or rather they, go… ‘Once upon a time.’ That’s the beginning dealt with and oh, it has to be a fairy tale; characters next and the requirement here is a baddie. Size is important; not too small and not too big…

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wolf size is perfect. Then there’s the hero (dress unimportant) and a setting. Again, imagination comes to the fore or should that be forest, here.
Now that’s all settled, let the story start –

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Time to decide who is really calling the shots thereafter and quickly too. Over to you Rabbit…
Cheeky humour, verbal and visual, mixes perfectly with fairytale frights and just the right degree of suspense in this superbly imagined (what else?) book.
It’s one of those that makes you want to wave it from the rooftops and shout come and listen to this NOW.
I had pretty much the same reaction to:

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Dog Loves Fairy Tales
Louise Yates
Jonathan Cape
As he dusts his bookshelves, Dog comes upon a long-lost book of Fairy Tales and in so doing, steps right into an adventure. His first encounter is with an imp who insists he is under a witch’s curse and must remain in his jar. Dog however disagrees. We must find the witch and break the curse he asserts leading the imp out into the Enchanted Forest.

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Now this imp is a thoroughly pessimistic character and no matter what Dog says, he counters it with negativity.
On their journey to find the witch, Dog and imp encounter Goldilocks (in the three bears’ cottage), three little pigs on their construction site,

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Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood in the wood, Rumpelstiltskin (but not Rapunzel; she was not at home – thanks to imp’s bad luck) and more than one big bad wolf before finding the witch.

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She turns out to be anything but wicked and cures imp of his pessimistic streak once and for all leaving Dog and his impish pal to continue together right to THE END and their very own ‘happily ever after’.
This thoroughly engrossing story is brimming over with fairy tale allusions, (some spoken, others shown) making this not only a delight for young audiences but also an absolute gift for teachers. It’s great to read aloud and a super starting point for an exploration of traditional tales in the primary classroom. As with her previous Dog stories, the characters are beautifully portrayed in Louise Yates’ wonderful, very funny watercolour illustrations. She manages to convey the entire range of emotions seemingly effortlessly with that light touch of hers. Cool endpapers too.
It’s me, not the imp who is bewitched where this book is concerned.

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