On My Papa’s Shoulders

On My Papa’s Shoulders
Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

The little boy narrator in Niki Daly’s compelling picture book has just started school. He’s fortunate to have members of his extended family to take turns to walk with him through the busy town to the school gate.

Mama is a quick walker and so they always arrive in plenty of time for goodbye kisses before the bell rings. Gogo likes to leave early so the two of them can avoid the busy road and along the quiet way they find lots of look at and chat about, and perhaps even pause over.

Gogo is full of wise words, talking to her grandson about how he should be gentle with his friends.

Rainy days are reserved for Tata who is fond of puddle splashing, though his more easily tired legs mean he prefers the shortcuts and needs to pause for a rest en route – the perfect opportunity for a spot of whistling. In addition to whistling, hugs are Tata’s speciality.

“But the days I love the best are when Papa takes me to school.” That’s what our narrator tells us from his vantage point on Papa’s shoulders: it’s a place where he’d like to stay for ever but knows that when they reach the school gate that “I love you” exchange is coming and their parting will only be while Papa goes off to work on a building job while the little one joins his friends in the classroom for a spot of building of his own – make sure you look at his finished construction.

Yes this gorgeous, gently humorous book truly does celebrate that father/son bond, but it also celebrates the bond between the boy and the various other members of his family – each one offering something different.

One I’d strongly recommend adding to foundation stage collections and to family bookshelves, especially if there’s a child around the school starting age. Why not start by sharing it on Father’s Day this June.

Rocket Boy / You’re a Star, Lolo / Charlie & Mouse Even Better

Rocket Boy
Katie Jennings and Joe Lillington
Stripes Publishing

Young Callum has a dislike of broccoli, a fertile imagination, and is passionate about space, Mars especially.

One Saturday he decides it’s time he learned a bit more about his favourite topic, above all, what it would be like to witness a Martian sunset.

Having stocked up on some vital supplies and donned his space boots and helmet he’s ready to board Epic. Then, final checks carried out, comes the countdown …

Out in space he is surprised to discover he has a stowaway, his cat Oscar, and the creature now has the power of speech. In fact Oscar proves to be a valuable crew member when things get tricky on account of a meteor storm and again once they’ve safely landed on Mars, where Callum does finally set eyes on that which he has come to view.

However, as he heads back to the landing module a very strange sight meets his eyes. “What on Mars is that…?” he asks.

Will Callum succeed in returning safely to planet Earth?

Flying a flag for the power of the imagination, Katie Jennings’ story with Joe Lillington’s detailed full colour illustrations on every spread,

should go down well with young, just flying solo readers, particularly space enthusiasts like its main character.

You’re a Star, Lolo
NIki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

This, the third in the series about the adorable, Lolo who lives with her Mama and Granny Gogo contains four episodes for new solo readers to relish.

In the first, Lolo adds a secret ingredient to the soup she makes especially to warm up her Mama when she comes home on a chilly, rainy day.

Next we find Lolo kept awake by a scary sound convincing herself the ‘Ghorra-Ghorra! Hoooaaah! Bwoooooo!s’ she hears are those of a monster, till she and Mama discover what’s really creating such a terrible noise.

The third story starts in school when Lolo’s favourite teacher gives each pupil some seeds to plant. Lolo has tomato seeds from which she learns a lot. So too do the other members of her family; but when it comes to bringing in the results of their labours to show to their classmates, Lolo surprises everyone …

In the final episode Lolo is super-excited when she discovers that she and Gogo are to spend a week of the summer holiday in a seaside town near Cape Town.

The holiday is great but the journey home is more than a little eventful and Lolo wonders if she’ll make it back in time to start school again.

Like the previous books, with its combination of gentle humour and warm family relationships, and of course, Niki Daly’s own  black and white illustrations at every turn of the page, this one is sheer delight.

Charlie & Mouse Even Better
Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books

If you’ve yet to meet the rather mischievous brothers, Charlie and Mouse, now’s your chance in their four latest seemingly ordinary activities.

First of all it’s Pancake Day and Mum receives some rather unlikely requests for pancakes from the boys – baby pancakes, a pancake turtle and even a pancake dragon.

It’s as well that Mum knows just how to curtail all this pancake bingeing before the table is totally full, not to mention two little tummies.

Shopping sees Charlie and Mouse off with Dad on a secret expedition to buy a birthday present for Mum. She’s fond of sparkly things; but what will the boys eventually choose – something more practical perhaps?

In Helping, Dad is busy baking a cake so the boys decide to make some decorations. You are going to love Mouse’s final remark on their endeavours.

Eventually it’s birthday time. Before the celebration actually happens though, Dad and the boys need to do some hasty de-smoking of the house. Then once she comes home it’s down to Mouse to do some clever Mum distracting – four minutes worth to be precise – before the presentation of that special Surprise offering.

In these four short chapters, Lauren Snyder demonstrates the astuteness of her observations of very young children, and of course how parents respond. Equally well-observed are Emily Hughes’ illustrations of the family.

With its gentle humour, both verbal and visual, this delightful book is just right for emergent readers.

Some Recent Young Fiction

Sophie’s Further Adventures
Dick King-Smith, illustrated by Hannah Shaw
Walker Books

This is a new edition containing three books in one, so it’s a bumper bundle of stories about the adorable, animal-mad little Sophie. I remember children in my early days of teaching avidly lapping up the stories when she first appeared on the scene back as an uncompromising four-year old who discovered a snail that led to her passion for all things animal.

In these three adventures she visits the farm, learns to ride, and pays a visit to great Aunt Al in the Scottish Highlands.

I asked the opinion of precocious reader, 6 year old Emmanuelle, who quickly became absorbed in the book. She commented that she particularly loved reading about Sophie riding Bumblebee the pony and later drew a picture of her doing so. She also said it made her want to try horse riding herself.

Seemingly the determined Sophie, still has the capacity to delight especially with Hannah Shaw’s illustrations that give the stories a fresh, present day feel.

Here Comes Lolo
Hooray for Lolo

Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

These books are part of a mini series for new solo readers starring young Lolo, a sparky young character who lives with her Mama and Gogo (gran) in South Africa.

Both titles have four stories each being just the right length to consume in a single sitting.

In the first book Lolo wins a longed-for gold star for reading, loses it, then gives it away; acquires a much-wanted, rather large hat; finds a lost engagement ring in the street;

and reports a lost dog and in so-doing assists in the arrest of a thief.

Along the way, helped by Niki’s delightful line drawings, we discover much about Lolo’s family life, her school life, her friendships and interests.

In Hooray for Lolo, the friendship with best pal Lulu is threatened when Lolo thinks she hasn’t been invited to her birthday party; she becomes a member of the library and chooses her first picture book which subsequently goes missing; wakes up one day with tummy ache and ends up having an operation, and finally, discovers that baby-sitting Bongi is exhausting work.

Sparkly stories all, with lots of gentle humour that will win Lolo lots of friends among young readers who are sure to enjoy making the acquaintance of this enormously engaging girl.

Princess of Pets: The Lost Puppy
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

When Princess Bea discovers a puppy in the fountain of the palace grounds, she knows that she’ll have to find it somewhere else to live for it’s against her father’s rules to have pets in their home. But with frantic preparations for the evening’s banquet under way, not to mention the deportment lessons she’s supposed to be having, keeping a lively puppy hidden at Ruby Palace in the meantime is a huge challenge.

Then there’s the matter of the threat to the café belonging to her best friend Keira’s parents, that, so she discovers over dinner, her father’s guests, are planning to demolish to make way for the mansion they intend to build. Bea is determined to thwart that plan.

Can she achieve both goals? Possibly, with her kind heart and strong resolve, together with help from her best pal and perhaps some special spring rolls from the café.

Fans of the Princess series will likely devour this addition to the series at a single sitting.

Surprise! Surprise!

Surprise! Surprise!
Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books
Mr and Mrs Tati live together in a little yellow house, but one thing is missing from their otherwise happy life: Mrs Tati longs for a “sweet little baby”.
Mr T. visits the Baby Shop asking for a “fat, happy baby” for his wife but all they can offer are all the things that, without a baby, she has no use for at all. On his way home however, he encounters a man offering baby pigs for sale. Could one of those be the answer to Mrs Tati’s dreams?

For a while the Tatis are blissfully happy with the new addition to their family and eventually Potter is old enough to start school and that is when the trouble starts …

Potter’s parents decide their attempts to turn him into a little boy were a mistake and he’s allowed to be messy with mud and sleep outdoors instead of going to school.

Weekends though are inside times; and it’s on one such occasion that Mrs Tati makes another wish. A wish that leads to a whole chain of further wishes culminating in Mr Tata’s wish upon a falling star. “I wish, I wish, I wish, that when we wake up in the morning … we will all look the same.” …
Do you think his wish came true?
This corker – or should it be porker? – twist-in-the-tail story is an absolute delight. With themes of family love, acceptance and diversity, this is perfect for sharing both at home or school. Niki Daly imbues every illustration, large or small, with his wonderful wit and joie de vivre.

I’ve signed the charter 

Nicholas and the Wild Ones

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Nicholas and the Wild Ones
Niki Daly
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Nicholas has just had his first day at school and we meet him at the gate where his mother greets him. “How did you like it?” she asks. “Not one bit,” is his response and on the way home he proceeds to tell her about the Wild Ones, who have made his life a misery all day. There’s the wildest, Charlie who jumps on people, Wedgie Reggie who gets his amusement by pulling his peers by their underpants, Big-Mouth Jake scoffer of other people’s snacks and scariest of all, the huge Cindy Crocker.

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Back home Nicholas’s family suggest ways to handle those bullies and next day armed with strategies Nicholas faces up to the gang and in the course of the day his tactics begin to pay dividends particularly with the number one bully, so much so that by the end of day two, Nicholas has a new friend with whom to share his design skill.

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And it’s this skill that eventually wins over the rest of the gang who are wild no longer. Well maybe just once in a while ….

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but no matter, Nicholas has plenty more designs up his sleeve.

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This humorous book tackles bullying head on, highlighting the fact that girls as well as boys can be bullies. It’s perfect for circle time discussions in primary classes and for individual sharing. I particularly like the way that Nicholas uses creative means to deal with the bullies here and those end papers are great.

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Diverting Dog Tales

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Seb and Hamish
Jude and Niki Daly
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Like this reviewer, (who was mauled by an Alsatian aged five) young Seb suffers from cynophobia. Consequently, when he accompanies his mother on a visit to Mrs Kenny and hears ‘Woof-woof! Woof-woof’ coming from inside when they ring the doorbell his response is “Home.” (think mine would have been too.)

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Seb’s unease worsens when he comes face to face with the high-spirited Hamish but once he’s safely shut away, Seb begins to entertain himself.

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But when Seb stops his toy train for a tea break (courtesy of Mrs Kenny’s freshly baked cookies) he loses the nose button from a cookie and it rolls under a door: The very door behind which is Hamish. The two come finger to tongue

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and then, eye-to-eye, then slowly and tentatively, a new friendship is formed.

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(Did time speed up here, one wonders? Can a deep-seated fear be overcome so easily and rapidly?)
Nevertheless a heartwarming story all in all and it’s good to see that Mrs K. was so understanding and accommodating about Seb’s fear of her pet; not all dog-owners are.
Very engaging watercolour illustrations; I particularly love the littering of canine

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(or rather dachshund) ephemera in some scenes.

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Michael Rosen and Neal Layton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
A witty, offbeat tale of starting school told from the viewpoint of a book-writing dog, whose human, Rover is going to school for the first time. Rex, (who bears a striking resemblance to the author), Cindy – Rover’s mum and Howler (so named on account of her continual Cindy-distracting howls), make up the rest of the cast. Oh and the Monster of the title from whom the narrator seeks to save his pet human. Seemingly the entire family is in a bit of a state judging from the chaotic scenes on the all-important morning

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and the frantic departure, which leaves our canine narrator alone in the house, temporarily at least. But then he makes a break for it, following his sniffer, hot on the trail of Rover

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all the way to ‘a place where hundreds of other small humans are kept. ‘ The determined creature finds a way into the ‘cage’ (full of monsters?) where he proceeds to create chaos and confusion before ascertaining that all is well with Rover; and having discovered she’s actually enjoying herself, goes back home. And there he waits until her return, just like always.
Comical telling and visuals are part and parcel of the package, the third to feature this family and its artistic creators.

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It’s Mums that Make THE Difference

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The Great Cheese Robbery
Tim Warnes
Little Tiger Press
Most of us have something that sends shivers down the spine; I get alarmed when a big dog comes bounding in my direction. Large, strong Daddy Elephant is completely fearless, well not quite; actually he’s terrified of mice. Imagine his response then, when a small grey, furry rodent calling himself Cornelius J. Parker arrives at the door claiming to be a cheese inspector. Ignoring his cowering father, young Patrick helpfully shows CJP the family’s stash which is immediately pronounced “VERY DANGEROUS” and two more mice duly arrive to confiscate the whole lot, fridge and all as a health hazard. But that’s not the only thing Mascarphone and Manchego, for those are the names of Cornelius’ co-workers, proceed to remove right under the trunk of a cowering Daddy Elephant. Before long the whole house is overrun with mice while its contents is gradually disappearing out through the front door.

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In the nick of time however, back comes Mummy Elephant and she, most certainly, is not afraid of mice.

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This one’s been getting lots of laughs from my audiences of under sixes who are particularly taken with the idea of dangerous cheese and the sight of Daddy Elephant being lifted aloft by ‘the whole mouse gang,’ as one boy called all those fiendish, tiny grey creatures.

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Thank you, Jackson
Niki and Jude Daly
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
It takes a boy to show his farmer father the way to get things done in this story set in rural South Africa from the Daly husband/wife partnership.
One morning having toiled up the same hill for years, loaded down with produce for market, Jackson the donkey gets halfway up and digs his hooves in, coming to a complete full stop.
Despite the farmer’s pulling, pushing, and cursing, the donkey flatly refuses to budge. The furious farmer searches for a stick to beat the poor creature.

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Fortunately for him however, the farmer’s wife, who has been watching the action from down below, calls her son, Goodwill and sends him up the hill to assist his father. Goodwill arrives on the scene just in the nick of time and seeing his father about to hit the donkey, calls out and prevents the beating. He then approaches Jackson and whispers in the animal’s ear whereupon much to his father’s surprise, up gets the animal and the three of them proceed to market, sharing the load between them.

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What was it that Goodwill said to the donkey and indeed shamed his father, who realized he’d never used those words to his faithful beast of burden? Just ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ the little ones that his Mama was always telling him make all the difference.
One can almost feel the simmering heat coming from Jude Daly’s dusty rural scenes that accompany Niki Daly’s gently humourous story, a story with a message that we all need to remember no matter who or where we are.

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Inspired by Nelson Mandela

I am re-posting this review now following the sad news of the death of one of my great heroes, Nelson Mandela. Mandela makes an appearance in this story and inspires Malusi, the young herd boy who meets him.


The Herd Boy
Niki Daly
Frances Lincoln
Set in the Transkei region of South Africa, this longish story tells of one particular day in the life of Malusi, a young herd boy whose job it is to take care of his grandfather’s sheep and goats. This is a task that requires courage and skill but Malusi has set his sights higher; he wants to become President of his country. As he walks home with his friend Lungisa and an injured lamb from grandfather’s herd, a smart car stops and the boys are greeted by an old man who tells them he had once looked after sheep and asks them what they want to be when they grow up.


When he hears that Malusi aspires to be the country’s president, his response is “a boy who looks after his herd will make a very fine leader.” This utterance stays with Malusi as he settles down to sleep, for those words had in fact been spoken by none other than Nelson Mandela who had himself come from humble beginnings.
As well as being an unusual story, this uplifting book offers a fascinating and detailed look at a distant rural way of life. With its extended text, it is best suited to top infants and above and would be an interesting addition to any primary school library.
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