The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden
retold by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Margarita Kukhtina
Nosy Crow

If you’re looking for a beautifully designed gift edition of this Frances Hodgson Burnett classic, look no further than award-winning author Geraldine McCaughrean’s retelling with its gorgeous art work by Margarita Kukhtina.

I loved the story as a child and have continued to do so since; I’m sure this version will create a new generation of readers equally fond of the tale of Indian born Mary Lennox who is orphaned and sent to live with her uncle in England, to be brought up in Misselthwaite Manor, a disquietingly gloomy building.
There she meets housekeeper Mrs Medlock

and the kindly servant, Martha. There is a huge culture shock for the spoiled girl who’s more than a little angry at the situation she now finds herself in. She’s lonely too though, until she discovers a walled garden that has been kept secret for years.

In that garden, she meets Ben Weatherstaff, an elderly gardener and his friend Mr Robin. Later she unearths the key and with it unlocks the wonder that lies beyond the garden walls.

First though she finds the gentle Dickon who talks to animals and birds and the sickly Colin: through them she also discovers that making friends like these two can be every bit as life-enhancing as a magical garden.

With Geraldine McCaughrean’s supreme story-telling skill and totally captivating illustrations as rich as the text, this tale of light and darkness is destined to be the go-to way to introduce the story to children of today.

Earth Friends: Pet Protection / Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch

Both books are additions to popular Nosy Crow series – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Earth Friends: Pet Protection
Holly Webb

This is the fourth story about four friends who try to make the world a better place.

Emily longs for a pet of her own but her home doesn’t have sufficient room. Having explored various possibilities with her friends Poppy, Maya and Izzy, she decides to offer her services helping at the Appleby Animal Rescue centre nearby. With her Mum’s permission and approval of the person in charge, it’s agreed that Emily will help out at weekends. But then she learns that owing to lack of finance, the centre is under threat. Emily resolves not to let that happen and straightway starts thinking of ways to raise funds, starting with a tenth birthday party for the centre: no pressure there. First of all they need to find a suitable venue and that in itself is a tricky task.

Then there’s the question of Emily’s new dog walking business, certainly one way to get some cash but what will her Mum say about that?

However Emily is one determined girl and when her mind is set on a good cause, she’s not easily deterred. Can she and her friends ensure that the animals don’t finish up homeless? It’s certainly a challenge … Be prepared for a few surprises in this one.

With an additional focus on girls’ friendships, this is a heartwarming, inspiring story that will appeal especially to readers who want to make a difference.

Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians

I’m a big fan of Mabel Chase aka Magnificent Mabel who returns in three new funny as ever episodes. The first is set at Halloween, a time Mabel loves almost as much as Christmas especially with the opportunities it offers for free sweets. Others in the locality are similarly hit by Halloween fever. But then it seems that an urgent family matter might prevent her from trick or treating, unless that is, Great Aunt Bridget can be persuaded to participate in the festivities.

Next, Mabel’s school has a worry box in the playground. Sure that she’s seen aliens in the vicinity, Mabel posts a note about her concern at the possibility of an alien attack on the school. Having convinced herself that they’re homesick, she enlists the help of her understanding headteacher and the two of them build something to help said aliens go back from whence they came. But that’s only part of the story: the best is yet to come.

In the final episode Mabel has a monster living under her bed but despite that, Mabel’s parents continue to ignore her earnest pleas for that much-wanted ‘up-high’ bunk bed. So she decides to use her initiative and monster blocking skills: will those get Mabel what she wants? …

A chucklesome book with spirited black and white illustrations by Julia Christians that contribute to the drama which follows Mabel no matter where she goes. Share with foundation stage listeners, while slightly older children just flying solo could try reading it themselves.

Flip Flap Zoo / Where’s Mr Fire Engine?

These are recent additions to popular, playful series from Nosy Crow – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Zoo

The zoo is the latest location for Axel Scheffler’s split page animal extravaganza and happily there’s not a cage in sight for the dozen creatures that offer rhyming verses on themselves.
What fun you can have generating your own crazy conglomerates – 121 possibilities according to the frog on the back cover.

What would you get by crossing a lemur with an ostrich?

In case you didn’t guess – it’s a lemich. Then what about a jaguar and a hippopotamus? Roar! Roar! Growl! Growl! that one’s a jagotamus.

Full of zany names, noises aplenty to exercise the vocal cords and all those creature combinations to giggle over, this book will give preschool joiners-in, and Foundation Stage/KS1 children hours of pleasure both visual and verbal.

Where’s Mr Fire Engine?
Ingela P Arrhenius

Four potentially very noisy vehicles lurk beneath the variously shaped felt flaps in the latest of this series that ends with a surprise mirror (or maybe not such a surprise if your little one is familiar with previous titles). Nonetheless the very youngest will enjoy guessing what’s hidden, exploring the bright stylised scenes and joining in with the ‘Here s/he is!’ as the police car, ambulance, helicopter and fire engine are revealed.

Mummies Unwrapped

Mummies Unwrapped
Tom Froese
Nosy Crow (in collaboration with The British Museum)

Ancient Egypt is a popular topic for the KS2 History curriculum but the subject of mummies is given relatively little attention.

Now illustrator Tom Froese reveals their mysteries in this book unravelling both those of humans and animals. To allow them to remain together in the afterlife, sometimes pets were mummified at the same time as their humans.
First of all is an explanation of what a mummy actually is, and the origin of the word. We then learn how a mummy was made. It was crucial to start the embalming process as soon as possible to prevent the body rotting in the hot sun.

An embalmer’s toolkit is depicted and the entire process is described.

If you’ve ever wondered what the wrappings were made of, they were generally linen torn into long strips that look a bit like bandages.

We learn the grisly details of what was done with internal organs (only the heart was left in place as this was thought to be needed in the afterlife), as well as reading of the outcomes of embalmers’ errors.

There’s information about the funeral procession (after 70 days) to the tomb and what took place thereafter. There’s also a spread introducing some of the most famous mummies including Tutankhamun and one called the ‘unlucky mummy’ said to have been cursed.

Unearthed too are stories of tomb robbers, and what took place when archaeologists discovered mummies thousands of years after their burial; there’s mention of fake mummies and other shenanigans. Apparently the French King Francis 1 always carried a packet of powdered mummy with him in case he was ever in need of urgent healing. Bizarre!

Froese’s stylish illustrations have touches of gentle humour, plenty of detail and pattern making this a book I would definitely recommend adding to primary school collections and the bookshelves of youngsters with an interest in ancient history.

Tiptoe Tiger

Tiptoe Tiger
Jane Clarke and Britta Teckentrup
Nosy Crow

Tara is a little tiger cub – a lively one – and so, despite it being sundown in the jungle, she’s not ready for bed just yet.

But who can she find to play with? Could it be the fluttering Butterfly and her spotty-winged friends, the strutting peacock with his beautiful tail, or maybe those hooting owls sitting on the branch?

She’ll surely need to tread warily along the river bank on account of the scary-looking crocodile lurking in the water. I doubt if even Tara’s bouncing and pouncing will scare that away even if it frightens off all the other potential playmates.

This is another of Jane and Britta’s smashing interactive neon bright picture books that will delight little humans at bedtime (or any time). They’ll love delaying their own shut eye as they follow Tara on her nocturnal search helping her on her way with whispers of “Tiptoe, tiger,” spotting the animals lurking part-hidden in Britta’s neon bright, vibrant illustrations, fluttering their arms, stretching them wide, ‘Raaaaar-ing’ and finally, when the cub does settle down for the night, joining in with her yawn and bidding her, ‘Night, night, little tiger. Sleep tight!’

Petunia Perry and the Curse of the Ugly Pigeon

Petunia Perry and the Curse of the Ugly Pigeon
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Gemma Correll
Nosy Crow

I missed this the first time round so I’m please to meet twelve year old Petunia Perry aka Peri in this reissue. Now in her first term at secondary school, Petunia has decided to write her memoirs and is starting to do so from inside her wardrobe.

As the cool chapter headings indicate, she’s beset by problems and presently believes her best friend Cammy hates her and will never speak to her again. There’s also a pigeon of the unpleasant kind, the question of whether she’s the perpetrator of spoon crime, an unwelcome unicorn-obsessed suitor,

a mother who is totally embarrassing at parents’ evening, not to mention that she begins to have doubts about the boy she really likes. Then when The Spoons, the band she’s formed with the inclusion of Cammy’s cat Margaret as lead singer, looks set to hit the rocks, things really can’t get much worse and certainly not any more crazy.
Totally hilarious throughout, but also surprisingly credible. Peri and the other characters – be they classmates such as Smile Boy and Cara, parents, relations, teachers (I must mention Mr Phart of socks and sandals fame) are all wonderfully observed. I love Gemma Correll’s accompanying visuals.

Pamela Butchart has given Peri a strong voice that readers will quickly come to love; she’ll have you chortling thoughout: I certainly was; but there are some serious themes too: forbearance, empathy and kindness being key.
Anybody want a spoon or two, or a kitten perhaps?

The Cat and the Rat and the Hat

The Cat and the Rat and the Hat
Em Lynas and Matt Hunt
Nosy Crow

Comic capers of the daftest kind unfold in Em Lynas’s unashamedly ‘cat-ipalising’ assemblage of sound/symbol associations that she’s fashioned into a sequence of silly scenarios all about various items of attire and the lengths her animal characters will go to, to acquire them.

There’s the cat that plays, sleeps and dreams upon the mat; the rat with a big hat (dayglo pink to match its appendages) – at the start anyhow;

but a tustle ensues …

then there’s the bat sporting a fancy cravat (of the same pink colour albeit with tiny white dots) but also eager to take possession of said hat and willing to perform all manner of acrobatic actions to prevent others seizing the cravat.

Various snatch and grab actions follow but to find out who eventually ends up with which article of adornment, you’ll need to bag yourself a copy of this crazy book and read it yourself. ‘And that is that.’

With those neon bright colours, Matt Hunt makes the entire thing into a laugh out loud reading experience for beginning readers as well as for adults sharing the book with little ones.

The Cartoons that Came to Life / We Made a Movie

The Cartoons that Came to Life
Tom Ellen, illustrated by Phil Corbett
Chicken House

Having recently moved to a new town, Finn Morris (who dreams of becoming a famous cartoonist), finds comfort in creating his own comic strips featuring his favourite characters Arley and Tapper. But when school bully Barney Divney tosses Finn’s sketchbook into a wet hedge spoiling the ARLEY & TAPPER strips FInn loses not only his cartoons but his ideas and self confidence to continue drawing.

Until that is next morning, when he awakes to discover there in his bedroom staring right at him are his two cartoon creations come to life. Surely it must be a dream.

But no, and he certainly mustn’t let his parents discover them for as Finn tells them, “It’s just that people around here aren’t used to seeing cartoons walking around. Especially ones with massive noses and fox ears and floppy tails.” 

Chaos ensues rapidly …

and thus begins a desperate race against time, aided and abetted by his classmate Isha Kapesa to get the characters back to their own Toon World. That entails defeating the heinous Professor Fart-Munch and getting to the bottom of what is going on with Yorky who Finn says is the coolest cartoonist ever.

Utterly zany and huge fun, this is the first of an action-packed comic series, an adventure that in a relaxed manner, deals with the incapacitating effects of children’s anxiety while also celebrating friendship, loyalty and individuality. 

Who wouldn’t find themselves rooting for Finn Morris to find his lost muse? Youngsters will love the combination of Tom Ellen’s telling and Phil Corbett’s wacky illustrations.

We Made a Movie
Charlotte Lo
Nosy Crow

It’s a year since narrator Luna’s family won an island and life, is more or less on an even keel: her dad’s whittling keeps him busy (despite much of it resembling poo) and her mum’s yoga retreats have plenty of takers.

Now property developers are threatening their existence and Luna is determined to put a stop to their plans. No ‘Las Vegas of Scotland’ for her. Opinions are divided among the townsfolk and even in Luna’s family, with her sister Margot and her Dad in support of the proposals.

Luna’s plan is to make a movie showcasing the unique nature of the locality but with everybody trying to get their voices heard, the path of movie making is anything but smooth and disasters ensue. Luna however is passionate about her beliefs, truly wanting to make the area a better place for all – she won’t allow property developers to intimidate her – though she hates being at odds with her sister.

Readers will definitely be rooting for such a girl? But will she succeed in winning the case against the developers?

With serious themes of family loyalties, the importance of local community, conservation and sustainability, the chaos, craziness and confusion aplenty mean that the book is funny and never feels heavy. It’s not easy to achieve this mix but Charlotte Lo does it with panache. If you’re looking for a staycation destination this summer, then where better to spend some time.

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar/ Pizazz vs Perfecto

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Just right for those starting out on chapter books or for reading aloud, this is the fourth in the Magnificent Mabel series and again there are three episodes.

In the first (my favourite) Mabel embarks on a jungle foray and also gets an unexpected lesson in metamorphosis when it’s finally her turn to take care of class caterpillar Steve over the weekend. Of course, she emerges from the events with her characteristic magnificence.

Story two involves know-all Max Roberts, friend of Mabel’s big sister Meg who comes around on Fridays after school so they can do their homework together. It also involves Mabel’s secret friend Marcella who helps her in times of need; oh yes and there’s also a rather large eraser …

In the third story Mabel decides she needs to wear glasses and keep them in a clickety case like her classmate Sophie Simpson. After all she can’t see America from her bedroom window and in Mabel’s own words ‘At school maths is all muddy.” Is it time to visit the optician?

Gigglesome delight all the way through, made even more fun by Julia Christians’ illustrations on almost every spread.

Equally unstoppable and for slightly older readers is eyeball roller extraordinaire, Pizazz, who returns in a third adventure:

Pizazz vs Perfecto
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Life for the reluctant superhero continues to present its challenges, the latest being in the form of Perfecto who happens to be a whole year younger than Pizazz and about to cause a worldwide sweet shortage so it seems.

There’s also the question of the school talent show: perhaps our young superhero and friends Ivy, Molly and Ed should join forces and form a band. Bring on The Cheese Squares … 

Then of course, their actual music making skills will take a bit of perfecting. But what is the motive for participation in this supposedly non-competition: is it to have fun or is it being perfect and defeating Perfecto. It’s a matter that causes huge dissent among the band members.

What do those Aunties, especially the helpful one, plus Gramps and Grandma have to say about things?

The crux of the whole matter is whether Pizazz can possibly pull off her plan of out-perfecting Perfecto … or is there an even better final outcome? Maybe, but unless you get hold your own copy of this hugely enjoyable sizzler of a book, you’ll never know; and that certainly would be far from perfect.

Let’s Go For a Walk / Look What I Found at the Seaside

Let’s Go For a Walk
Ranger Hamza and Kate Kronreif
Ivy Kids

In the company of Ranger Hamza, any walk will be an experience that engages all the senses. No matter where or when you go there’s sure to be a wealth of interesting sights, sounds, smells and exciting tactile things to feel with our hands. Best to do as Ranger Hamza advises though and take a copy of this book along, then suitably attired and with eyes and ears open, everyone is ready to sally forth.

The first focus is colour and youngsters are encouraged to spot red things and of course, what is found will depend on the season and to some extent the surroundings.
Then what about trying to spy things tall, wide or small; or feeling various things like these walkers are doing on the sea shore.

Not all smells are to be savoured; we all enjoy different ones. I for instance would not want to be in close proximity of fresh fish or chimney smoke but would love to inhale the aroma of lavender or baking bread. The important thing is to do as the ranger suggests and ‘use our noses’.

Each double spread has a new focus: there are shapes, minibeasts, sounds,

letters and numbers, pairs of objects, different materials that things are made of. The dark makes everything look different, shadowy perhaps, or you might spot some nocturnal creatures or star patterns if you walk at night.
To see other things up high though, it’s better to walk in the daytime when the clouds sometimes look amazing; while focussing on the ground can be equally rewarding with plants popping up in unexpected places and all kinds of patterns created either by humans or by nature.

With wildlife photographer and CBeebies Ranger Manza as guide and Kate Kronreif as illustrator, this guided book walk is sure to make youngsters want to undertake the real thing. Nature and being able to get outdoors are what have kept so many of us – young and not so young – sane over the past year and now I’m pretty sure that henceforward, none of us will take these things for granted. Are you ready, ‘Let’s Go For a Walk’ …

Look What I Found at the Seaside
Moira Butterfield and Jesús Verona
Nosy Crow

There are wonders aplenty waiting to be found if you take a stroll on the seashore with the characters in this smashing book (a companion to Look What I Found in the Woods), also published in collaboration with the National Trust).

Every spread is packed with exciting things to discover, the first being the wealth of different shaped seashells, be they curly and shining bright ‘like a pearl’,

long and curly, opening like a pair of wings or perhaps a purse.

The rock pools too are full of exciting patterned pebbles, fish and other small sea creatures; among the seaweed too are more treasures and sometimes foraging seagulls. Watch out for crabs scuttling among the fronds or peeping out of shells.

It’s interesting to imagine what a mermaid might keep in one of those mermaid’s purses close to the cave mouth …

There’s much more too if you follow the cliff path; maybe some fossils, butterflies, bees and seaside flowers; and if you are quiet you just might come upon some wonderful sea birds tucked away among the rocks.

Yes, the seaside is a veritable treasure trove but it’s important to collect thoughtfully, doing no harm and leaving nothing but your footprints behind.

Told through a gentle rhyming narrative and also bursting with fascinating facts, and illustrated with alluring scenes of the children investigating the natural world, this will surely get youngsters enthused to get out and explore nature.

When a Dragon Meets a Baby

When a Dragon Meets a Baby
Caryl Hart and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow

In the third story of this series, the lovable little dragon protagonist has a new baby sibling. But what will her reactions be? She might act all huffily and puffily resorting to a lot of slumping and grumping to gain the attention of Mummy and Daddy dragon. On the other hand she might just share her snuggliest toy, fetch the changing mat and nappies when baby has a leaky bottom and help find clean clothes.

Then when others pay a visit will big sis. be a pest or will she show baby’s things to the guests? Poor exhausted Mummy dragon will sometimes be in need of a quick nap but what will happen then? Noisy stomping and a romping or quiet house-tidying and story-sharing with Dad?

Behaving like the perfect older sibling is going to be a challenge and nobody – not even little dragons, can keep their fire inside all the time, surely.

Told in Caryl’s read-aloud-able rhyme, this is a fun, reassuring book that presents the conflicting emotions arising when a new baby arrives in the family and is pitch perfect for little humans who have recently or are about to become big brothers or sisters. Never mentioning a right way but merely offering a little dragon’s way, really works again here and Rosalind Beardshaw’s captivating illustrations showing what happens in this particular family are an absolute delight.

Charlie Chooses / The Truth About Babies

Charlie Chooses
Lou Peacock and Nicola Slater
Nosy Crow

Charlie is an anxious, indecisive little boy unable to make decisions about such small things as light on or light off at bedtime, and what ice-cream to have, wearing spotty pants or stripy ones, which would often result in going without.

So when it comes to choosing what he wants for his birthday, he really is faced with a problem. Lou presents these difficulties uncritically even this biggie, merely allowing Nicola’s illustrations to do much of the talking to young audiences.

We see a downcast Charlie emerging from the library having consulted the ‘perfect present’ book, then suddenly and unexpectedly being offered that hitherto illusive idea – a rescue dog.

Off he goes but uh-oh! At the rescue centre he’s faced with yet another choice and a very difficult one

so Charlie leaves the centre sans pooch but then …

One determined little canine supplies the perfect ending to this story and Charlie ends up with just the right companion to help soothe those choosing-worries henceforward. But what about a name? Maybe …

Most certainly this delightful book is one I would choose to share with little ones, be that one-to-one or as a class.

The Truth About Babies
Elina Ellis
Two Hoots

A small child narrator talks of the arrival of a new baby as his parents extol the virtues of babies in general.

These tiny beings are supposedly beautiful, fond of sleeping, they’re joyful little bundles, sweet smelling

gentle and delicate – perfect angels no less. Or are they?

Now comes the big reveal from our older sibling who nonetheless considers one particular newcomer to the family monstrously, irresistibly lovable …

There’s a touch of Tim Archbold about Elina Ellis’ comical illustrations of a family with a new baby and what that really means rather than what her text says.

Great fun to share and discuss whether or not listeners have experienced (or are about to) a new addition the family.

This is Not a Unicorn / Ruffles and the Red, Red Coat

Two fun picture books from Nosy Crow Books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

This Is Not a Unicorn
Barry Timms and Ged Adamson

This is a wonderfully silly tale of a ‘NOT’ unicorn with a very special horn that is able to morph into all sorts of incredible things. So, be ready for a truly magical adventure wherein, along with a little girl, readers participate in a hilarious corn-u-copia of delight as they experience the appendage that becomes, among other things a trumpet, an ice cream scoop, a pump, a wishing wand, a ginormous fishing net, a feather duster, a helicopter rotor blade, an angle poise lamp,

an x-ray machine, even a space rocket – awesome!

Central to this rhyming romp of a book, replete with fun wordplay, is the warm friendship between the two main characters as they let their imaginations take flight.

Ged Adamson portrays the creature with a rainbow-hued mane, the dayglo pink and other colours being picked out in other details in every one of his wonderfully imagined scenes.

With unicorns remaining one of the favourite characters among younger children, Barry Tims and Ged Adamson created a winner here.

Ruffles and the Red, Red Coat
David Melling

Adorable pooch Ruffles loves to do the usual doggy kind of things such as playing, sniffing, fetching, digging and chewing; but there’s one thing he does NOT love at all and that’s his new red coat. He absolutely hates the thing to the extent that he manages to extricate himself from it and cast it aside. But then he decides that he really wants to go outside in the rain, play in the puddles and have a jolly good time.

Out he goes and soon along comes his friend, Ruby sporting her brand new blue coat. Together they romp, frolic and jump

until some large bully dogs arrive and that’s the end of their puddle. Now Ruffles is wet, cold and grumpy but Ruby is still in a playful mood and tries to encourage Ruffles to play again – with no success.

Off she goes leaving him all alone but then back she comes carrying something red. Can she persuade her Ruffles to think again about his hated garment?

David Melling’s combination of simple text and illustrations that positively exude charm, work really well in what is sure to become a favourite with under fives. Slightly older children might start reading some of the words themselves.

Beatrix and her Bunnies

Beatrix and her Bunnies
Rebecca Colby and Caroline Bonne-Müller
Nosy Crow

For many adults, myself included, Beatrix Potter’s animal stories and nursery rhyme books were part and parcel of childhood. Indeed I had the entire set. How many though, are aware that Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit were real live creatures that the author befriended as she was growing up. That’s getting rather ahead though, for this pictorial biography of Beatrix starts with her childhood when she lived a rather lonely existence in a large London house. Even then she was an animal lover and had lots of small creatures as pets, but nonetheless she longed for a ‘special friend’ with whom she could play.

Rebecca Colby writes of how on family visits to the countryside, Beatrix would search for wild rabbits to play with but none would stay. None that is until Benjamin. A friend at last and one that would allow his carer make lots of sketches of him, honing her drawing skills in so doing. Inevitably though, Benjamin eventually dies and once more, Beatrix feels lonely. She uses drawing and painting to lift her spirits but, it’s only when she visits the countryside that Beatrix’s drawing really flourishes.

Some time later, another rabbit enters her life, it’s Peter, a truly playful and engaging creature, much loved by visiting children.

This gives Beatrix an idea. Perhaps she can write and illustrate a story about her much-loved bunnies so that children everywhere could read about them, and so she does.

Getting Peter’s adventures published is challenging but eventually she succeeds and the book becomes a huge success, allowing her to move to the countryside where she creates lots more stories.

A lovely book for young enthusiasts of her books and of the environment about which Beatrix cared so much. The elements of Beatrix’s life are beautifully interwoven by the author, who also provides an additional final note explaining Beatrix’s connection with the National Trust (who are collaborators in its publishing) – and equally beautifully illustrated by Caroline Bonne-Miller.

Look What I Found in the Woods

Look What I Found in the Woods
Moira Butterfield and Jesús Verona
Nosy Crow

‘Follow me. I know the way. / We’re walking in the woods today.’ So says the child narrator of this book.
The woods are my favourite place to walk and during the pandemic I’ve spent a lot of time so doing in woodlands close to my home, always returning home feeling considerably uplifted. Consequently I was more than happy to take up the invitation to participate in this woodland foray with the three child adventurers shown on the first spread.

Readers are immediately engaged by means of an insert in the bottom right-hand corner that asks us to find one signpost, two butterflies and three bright yellow flowers.
The second spread shows the children making observations while the text provides facts about the trees and a sidebar showing labelled tree shapes.

The subsequent spreads alternate between these two styles of layout

as readers learn about leaves, bark,

fruits and seeds, fir cones and shells while the children continue their exploration discovering exciting ‘treasure’ throughout their walk; treasure that they present on the final spread once back indoors.

This highly engaging nature book published in collaboration with the National Trust, successfully mixes story, non-fiction and search-and-find. Jesús Verona’s illustrations are an absolute delight. Each one offers an immersive scene to linger over and wonder at the fine detail included; and the final endpaper shows the children’s creative efforts with some of their findings.

How To Be a Hero / The Broken Leg of Doom

How To Be a Hero
Cat Weldon, illustrated by Kate Kear
Macmillan Children’s Books

Life as a trainee Valkyrie is not going at all well for young Lotta; she’s in danger of remaining forever stuck in the lowest class. Matters get even worse when the trainees are sent out to bring back a fallen warrior.

Mistaking young Whetstone, an unconscious viking thief as a fallen hero, Lotta carries him back up to Valhalla, and that’s where the real trouble starts. Live humans are not allowed in Valhalla.

Whetstone, a human who wants only to prove himself and achieve fame and fortune, has let himself be talked into crime. He steals, hides and loses a precious talking cup – a cup that trickster Loki desperately wants and will go to any lengths to get hold of.

Now anxious to make amends, Whetstone and Lotta have to try and work together as they embark on a journey to find the cup before Loki.

There’s even more trouble for the pair though when they manage to lose a crucial Dwarf harp as well as rousing a slumbering dragon.

Now Whetstone really MUST pull out all the stops and prove himself a hero after all. Can he do so; and does Lotta finally manage to move on from being that class three trainee?

This is a highly entertaining, fast-paced romp with some crazy situations, fun and interesting characters, dragons and more. Kate Kear’s zany illustrations are just right for the playful telling. This book will surely appeal especially to youngsters with an interest in mythology. but anyone who likes a good yarn should give it a go. It’s the first of a trilogy so look out for further episodes involving Whetstone et al.

The Broken Leg of Doom
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham
Nosy Crow

This the tenth story in the hilarious series, is narrated by Maisie’s friend Izzy. Maisie has broken her leg doing some ‘extreme dancing’ and is taken to hospital.

That in itself is bad but things are about to get even worse, starting with the fact that following e-rays, Maisie is sent to ward 13 and she’s terrified of that particular number.
Enter (he’s actually already a patient), a rather strange boy Seb, who sits down beside the sleeping Maisie’s bed and starts going on about a curse. Talk about weird. But that’s only the start of the strange events in ward 13.

Later Seb says that the curse has now sneaked inside Maisie’s cast and is causing problems. That however isn’t all we hear of curses, but there are other strange things too: somehow the sprinklers get turned on, flooding – you can guess which ward. And what about the ’mummy’ that’s roaming around. By this time it seems that only Maisie among the children isn’t talking of THE CURSE.

Then a certain very special cuddly toy suddenly goes missing, followed not long after, by the appearance of creepy messages on Maisie’s cast.

Oh yes, there’s some weird shenanigans concerning the sandwich trolley too.

Will Maisie and her pals ever get to the bottom of all the mysterious events and break that terrible curse once and for all. It’s certainly going to need some outstanding investigative skills.

Pamela Butchart capitalises on the vivid imagination of children, allowing her group of young characters to get carried away – just take a look at their expressions in Thomas Flintham’s wacky drawings in this zany adventure. It’s assuredly one that will have both individual readers and primary class listeners laughing out loud.

Out of Nowhere

Out of Nowhere
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Nosy Crow

Following his superb The Suitcase picture book, Chris Naylor-Ballesteros has created another compelling tale, this time on the theme of enduring friendship.

The story begins as the friendship is in its first stage with the arrival ’out of nowhere’ of caterpillar into the world of a beetle (the narrator). The two become friends eating together, and watching the moon come up.

One morning the beetle awakes to find no sign of caterpillar and unaware of the presence or significance of something close by…

Beetle waits, scouring the landscape until eventually he spies through his binoculars something that could be his friend. Heavily weighed down by a basket and trying to feel strong, he treks off through the forest to search,

until he discovers that it’s not her after all – he’s made a huge mistake. Now what? Feeling tired and dejected our seeker decides to rest and revive himself before attempting that long return journey. While so doing, ‘out of nowhere, someone suddenly arrived’

After closer inspection, glimmerings of recognition give way, to absolute joy and a celebratory sharing of food …

Chris’s portrayal of a friendship that changes and grows, (as cherished friendships do) is uplifting and profound. His uncluttered illustrations rendered in a minimal colour palette are highly effective and simply stunning, showing young readers/listeners the way to be a true friend.

A House for Christmas Mouse / The Lightbringers / Magnificent Mabel and the Christmas Elf

A House for Christmas Mouse
Rebecca Harry
Nosy Crow

On a snowy Christmas Eve an excited Mouse arrives at Treetop Forest in search of somewhere to call home – somewhere cosy and warm, with food and friends.

Coming upon a little rabbit outside his burrow she knows she must stop and help him light a fire within and so she does. She also stops to assist Fox in his cake making

and Bear with hanging up Christmas decorations, but having done so it’s almost sundown and Mouse still hasn’t found her new home.

Suddenly a gust of wind sends her tumbling into the deep snow and when she gets up, there before her is something that might just be the perfect place to make her home. On closer inspection it seems far from perfect though, so off she goes to search for leaves to make a bed. As she looks, who should come hurrying by but Bunny, followed soon after by Fox and then bear, each carrying something with them.

Where are they going and why?

With its wintry woodland setting and sparkly touches, Rebecca Harry’s lovely gentle tale of kindness repaid is just right for sharing with the very young this festive season.

The Lightbringers
Karin Celestine
Graffeg

This is the first of a new four book series, Tales of the Turning Year. With a combination of folklore and nature the author weaves an uplifting, hopeful story that retells an ancient renewal tale found in various parts of the world in honour of the winter solstice. Assuredly during this current covid lockdown we would all welcome a visit from The Lightbringers – small beings that gather embers and put them into their seed lanterns.

Karin explains how the seasons change as the earth breathes, with a particular focus on the increasing darkening with the approach of December 21st, the winter solstice – a turning point that heralds the spring and longer, lighter days.

Her words are simple but impactful, accompanying her atmospheric, beautifully composed photographic tableaux of the natural world populated by her felted animals, particularly the Lightbringers led by Hare – the caller. With its reassuring final, ‘The light will always return because it is guarded by small beings and they are steadfast in their dark’ this is a book to share and be cheered by in these dark days.

For new solo readers is

Magnificent Mabel and the Christmas Elf
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Mabel of Rabbit Riot fame returns to relate three further episodes in which she demonstrates her magnificence. In the first we find our young narrator in the sweetest of moods as she unearths her Christmas Elf from the box of decorations. She tries to get her classmate Edward into the Christmas spirit too but without much success; but she’s more successful in allowing her naughty little elf get her into big trouble over Christmas presents.

In the second story Mabel tries her very best to befriend a new boy and also finds out that once in a while school can be really interesting.

It’s toddler-minding that gets our young heroine into a tizzy in the final episode, and that’s after she’s declared that looking after toddlers is ‘easy and fun’. Really – Even cousin William?…

Huge entertainment from such a delightful character: Ruth Quayle really does appear to have the ability to see things from the viewpoint of six-year-olds, and Julia Christians’ black and white illustrations are a spirited delight.

The After Christmas Tree / Dinosaur Christmas!

The After Christmas Tree
Bethan Welby
Scallywag Press

Here’s a debut picture book festive story with a difference: it features a little boy named Brian who comes upon a discarded Christmas tree by the roadside while out walking with an adult one grey January day. Feeling sorry for the abandoned tree he takes it home, promising to care for it.

However, once back indoors he’s the only member of his family who is pleased about his find, particularly as he moves it around wherever he goes.

By bedtime even Brian is feeling unhappy and Mum offers to help him take it outside. However, the boy insists on doing the job himself and it’s left outside in the snow overnight.

Brian meanwhile has an anxious night but when sleep finally comes, he has a wonderful dream – or is it? …
Both words and pictures are presented with sensitivity: the telling is straightforward leaving plenty of room for Bethan’s expressive illustrations to do much of the talking and with a knowledge of the huge number of Christmas trees that are merely thrown out every year, the message about sustainability is clear and important.

Dinosaur Christmas!
Penny Dale
Nosy Crow

Penny Dale’s terrific dinosaur team are back and now it’s Christmas Eve and they’re called to the aid of Santa. In order to rescue him they have to make their way through a swirling, whirling snowstorm. Be they at the wheel of a snow plough crunching over the snowy road, whizzing along on snowmobiles, zooming Whoosh! Whoosh! over the water on a hovercraft or chugga chugging in search of Santa’s house,

the crew will be there in the nick of time to unearth (or un-snow) the old man’s sleigh and make sure he’s suitably fuelled with seasonal fare. Then with presents duly loaded (courtesy of the helicopter dinosaurs), it’s up and away with a Ho! Ho! Ho! leaving the dinosaurs time to make their own preparations for the big day. Will Santa be kind to them too?

Young dino. fans will thoroughly enjoy the return of the prehistoric brigade showing their manoeuvres in new forms of locomotion for the festive season.

Monster Clothes & Monster Food/ Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Monster Clothes
Monster Food

Daisy Hirst
Walker Books

Here are two monstrously enjoyable board books from Daisy Hirst. The first introduces a host of delightful little monster characters to show little humans what they like to wear. There’s hat wearing Harriet, socks sporting Simon, pants parading Pauline, and Terrence with a tomato titfa’. That’s three out of four with their chosen garments upon their heads. 
Of the next four, three are relatively conformist in how they wear their gear but divergent Cassie chooses something completely unexpected … 

Then come Vera and Duncan, each conventionally clad, followed by leafy Lester, Beatrice with booted hands and feet, which leaves just Evie and she’s been unable to make up her mind and appears shall we say, somewhat over-dressed.
Love the alliterative descriptions of the endearing fashionistas as well as Daisy’s eye-catching, funky illustrations.

Monster Food sees nameless monsters devouring fruits, while others chew chairs – yes really – and some nosh on noodles or stew leaving one to chomp upon a shoe. 

Cereal is preferred by one, another breakfasts (unhealthily) on cake but I can’t see the allure of that rake, nor the mechanical items selected by some. Instead, they should take the advice of the child and her monster pal on the final spread and stick to putting food in their bellies. Nom, nomm exceedingly tasty fun – well mostly!

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow

Yu-hsuan Huang populates her delightful version of the ever popular nursery song with small anthropomorphised animal, in particular a bear and a rabbit. These two cute-looking characters meet up and cycle off into the night. After parking their bikes, they walk until they find a suitable spot to make a camp and enjoy a sing-song under the stars,

before snuggling up for the night.

In addition to enjoying joining in the song, (there’s a QR code to scan for an audio version) little humans can have fun manipulating the sliders, talking about the details in the illustrations and following the story as it unfolds in Yu-hsuan’s beautifully coloured spreads.

Olga: We’re Out of Here! / Judy Moody Goes to College / Zara and Moonbeam

Olga: We’re Out of Here!
Elise Gravel
Walker Books

Olga and her ‘adorable’ albeit rather smelly creature Meh (found in her rubbish bin) return with Olga – fed up with annoying humans – considering leaving Earth and moving to another planet. Perhaps they could even find Meh’s home planet.

Actually, there are several humans that Olga’s not fed up with including her pal, the dog loving Chuck and librarian extraordinaire, Ms Swoop. The latter might just be able to help with Olga’s possible foray into space.
But then Meh starts having digestive problems and before long is so poorly that Olga is truly concerned especially when she notices some unpleasant pimples on the creature’s belly.

Time to visit the library for a bit of investigation, but when Olga gets there she finds not the friendly Ms Swoop but the grumpy Mr Gumstrap on duty. Maybe a trip to the vet’s is a better option. Or is it? …
All ends happily however, and with some exciting news about Meh’s mystery ‘illness’.
Wonderfully quirky and with such an unconventional, research-loving outspoken protagonist, this illustrated notebook style story is such a fun read for primary children.

Judy Moody Goes to College
Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books

The latest story of Judy Moody finds the girl struggling with maths according that is to her sweet obsessed supply teacher, Mrs Grossman. The reason for this is that being unimpressed with said new teacher, Judy’s concentration is on anything but the measurement topic that’s being taught. Home goes a note to Judy’s parents who decide that their daughter needs a tutor. Stink, her little brother teases her talking of ‘baby flashcards’. Unsurprisingly Judy is not impressed with this tutor idea either but then she discovers that her tutor is a college student and that she too is going to college – sort of!

Pretty soon, Judy declares that having a tutor like Chloe is ‘crucial’ – ‘maths is everywhere. Maths is life.’ However, less impressed with this new-found enthusiasm of Judy’s are her school friends and it’s not long before she’s playing alone and lunching solo. Moreover, she finds herself sent to the attitude tent by Miss Grossman who’s finding her lippiness just a tad too much. Can Chloe help Judy sort this out too? Perhaps, with a bit of calming, peace-inducing yoga …

Huge fun whether or not the reader is an established Judy fan. I love Peter H. Reynolds illustrations.

Zara and Moonbeam
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Is this really the 15th magical story set at Unicorn Academy, the school on Unicorn Island where you meet your very own unicorn and have awesome adventures together. Now it’s Zara who is eagerly waiting for her unicorn to reveal her magic power. But Moonbeam keeps seeing pictures in her head and saying strange things: surely that can’t be connected to her magical power, or can it?

Suddenly who should appear but school inspector, Mr Longnose: could he perhaps be connected with the awful heatwave they’re experiencing? Zara and her friends are determined to find out. When Moonbeam keeps seeing the same images over and over she starts to think she can see into the future.

Then a school field trip is announced and after a while, Zara climbs an enormous rock and finds herself in trouble. Can Moonbeam find her magic power in the nick of time and save the girl?

With Lucy Truman’s black and white illustrations adding to the drama, Unicorn School enthusiasts especially, will devour this adventure, probably in a single sitting.

Love, Hide-and-Seek and Night-time Board Book Style

Little Love Bug
Illustrated by Emily Dove
Chronicle Books

Author/illustrator and nature enthusiast, Emily Dove, uses a popular minbeast as the featured creature in her latest in the finger puppet series to share with babies. We see a parent and little bug spending a busy day together snuggling, meeting friends, taking a slow wander, enjoying a dance and having a goodnight hug. No matter the time of day you can find an opportunity to show your love.

Bright, cute and sturdily built for lots of reading together times.

Where’s Mrs T-Rex?
illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

There’s a decidedly dinosaurish theme to the latest in Nosy Crow’s ever-popular felt flaps series with that final mirror that tinies love.. In this one you can introduce babies and toddlers to the four dinosaurs that are playing hide-and-seek from various minibeasts, a pterodactyl and a turtle.

It’s never too early to expose them to such names as Stegosaurus (Mr) Diplodocus (Mrs), Triceratops (Mr) and T-Tex, herein set against vibrant, patterned backgrounds. What fun!

Shhh … Good Night
Nicky Benson and Thomas Elliott
Caterpillar Books

With Nicky Benson’s gentle, rhyming text and Thomas Elliott’s gorgeously hued illustrations, this lovely book with its die-cut pages, showing a mother bird and her baby, a baby squirrel with its parent, a big and small firefly and deer, little and large, settling down for a night’s sleep, this book is a lovely way to bid little humans goodnight; they’ll surely sleep well after this dreamy meditative experience.

And if you missed the paperback version of Britta Teckentrup’s beautifully illustrated Moon, reviewed already on this blog, Little Tiger have now published a die-cut paged board book edition showing animals around the world at night-time.

Skeleton Keys: The Legend of Gap-Tooth Jack / The Thing at Black Hole Lake

Skeleton Keys: The Legend of Gap-Tooth Jack
Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Little Tiger

If you’re looking for a darkly comic adventure story that’s full of mystery, monster chases, and outlandish ghoulish decapitations, (that’s also about friendship, fitting in and finding self-confidence), then accept the invitation of Keys – Skeleton Keys – and allow this character to tell his tale (actually it’s that of Gap-Tooth Jack) that he claims is a “truly unbelievable, unbelievably true’ one.

However, in order for this tale to be unfolded back in the past, it’s necessary to begin in the here and now with a second story and in particular with wildly imaginative, seven-year-old, Kasper. This lad conjures himself up an imaginary friend whom he names Wordy Gerdy. By all accounts (or rather our storyteller’s), this ghost of a girl possessed an amazing ability: once she has in her fragile fingers a pen, she can rewrite any story she cares to, or even as here, she doesn’t.

Oh! We must mention Daisy; she’s Skeleton Keys’ unimaginary partner-in-problem-solving without whom, our bony being storyteller might have been a has been.

Find out what takes place when a highly dangerous, ghasty, goulish unimaginary escapes into yesteryear. Can Jack thwart her malevolent game plan by joining forces with Mr Keys? Plunge into Guy’s spooky saga, full of terrific characters,

extremely quirky humour with Pete Williamson’s fangtastically spooky illustrations and find out. It will definitely make some superbly silly story sessions as a lower KS2 class read aloud.

For a slightly older audience is:

The Thing at Black Hole Lake
Dashe Roberts
Nosy Crow

We’re back at Sticky Pines, the small US town of weird events and secrets lurking in woods, for this spooky sequel to the Bigwood Conspiracy; and once again there are weird things afoot.

We get two perspectives on events, those of Milo and Lucy (currently not on speaking terms). Milo Fisher, loyal son of business tycoon NuCo president – a double-crossing guy; and Lucy Sladen, who’s determined to discover the truth about the mysterious, alien life, Pretenders of Sticky Pines, and protect them from the greedy NuCo company, set on exploiting every one of the town’s resources.

In the previous adventure it was Lucy who made the astonishing discovery but now it’s Milo’s turn, for there’s something very strange in Black Hole Lake; something that will put both he and Lucy in terrible danger. Danger that begins as Milo leaves a party early in order to avoid Lucy, takes a short cut and soon finds himself sinking into the lake and there are eyes watching him from below the surface.

Mesmerisingly brilliant fun., fast-paced with lots of twists and an abundance of ever-deepening mysteries, creepiness and with the philosophical good guy/bad guy dilemma underpinning the tale, this is a stonkingly good, enormously satisfying read.

We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt / Winnie and Wilbur Around the World

We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt
Goldie Hawk and Angie Rozelaar
Nosy Crow

Based on the nursery favourite ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’, I’m surprised nobody thought of a pumpkin-themed variation before. It’s definitely a goodie.

Herein we join three fearless pumpkin hunters – a little skeleton, a witch and a slightly unravelling little mummy – as they sally forth one beautiful night. Needless to say their path is obstructed by various things that they can’t go over, under or around.

First it’s watchful green-eyed moggies meow-meow(ing); then cobwebs – the sticky spiders’ variety – just right to ‘tickle-swish’ through.

Yikes! What about those ‘Flap-flap’ flapping bats – fortunately they look quite friendly, and then the trio come to a house, old, dark and spooky of course. Could a pumpkin be hidden therein?

There’s only one way to find out and that’s in …

and over those creaky-squeaky floorboards and of course, our adventurers aren’t scared, are they? …

Happy trick or treating …

At every page turn, day-glo colours leap out from Angie Rozelaar’s anything but scary spreads showing the mock-spooky sortie, and Goldie Hawk’s clever adaptation of a popular join-in narrative, this will assuredly enchant, rather than scare, young listeners and solo readers around Halloween time. (or any time come to that.)

Winnie and Wilbur Around the World
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

Inspired by a visit to the library and animal books in particular, Winne and Wilbur embark on a world trip with the aim of visiting all the animals featured in the book they’d seen (and decided to borrow).

All it takes is a hastily packed suitcase, duly attached to the broomstick, a glance at the book and a wave of Winnie’s wand;  up and away they go to land in a tree house surrounded by giraffes – very hungry ones.

Prompted by picture two (and sans lunch) they whizz on to an oasis where dates, camels’ milk and an exceedingly hot, bumpy ride await.

A spot of kangaroo bouncing (Wilbur) comes next, followed by some panda spotting (Winnie finds the creatures dull); then a too close for comfort encounter with an enormous whale …

and a polar bear.

An elephant, an aardvark and meerkats (not cat eaters happily) rendezvous leads them on to the final page and a jungle full of monkeys. Their mischief-making might well have caused the demise of both our plucky travellers but fortunately, all ends happily. With thoughts of their favourite animal in mind, and with the book duly returned to its place in the library, its time for the intrepid adventurers to relax.

What more can the countless fans of the duo want than this high-octane world trip by their favourite witch and her trusty moggy. Probably another reading of same, followed by further adventures. Perfect for Halloween and other story times.

Jeremy Worried about the Wind

Jeremy Worried About the Wind
Pamela Buchart and Kate Hindley
Nosy Crow

Young Jeremy is a worrier par excellence – we all know one I’m sure. Risk averse he surely is, and a highly sensitive little chap to the extent that he avoids pretty much anything and everything from overly crunchy crackers to dinosaurs …

and squirrels to shoelaces. His biggest worry though, is the wind.

One day he meets and befriends Maggie – she of the untied shoelaces and “What’s the worst that could happen?” attitude. Immediately Jeremy decides that she’s in need of care and protection. Taking her under his wing, he teaches her all manner of ways to stay safe.

Then comes that hugely wildly blustery day when Maggie inevitably decides to throw all caution to the wind. Out she dashes with Jeremy in hot pursuit (or maybe a cold sweat). And that’s when he finds out about the delights of living dangerously.

Bursting with zany humour, Pamela’s text will lift your spirits – it’s a great read aloud likely to help even the worst worriers among your audience to unwind a tad, (and perhaps offer a warning word or two to any Maggies sitting alongside); while Kate’s splendidly expressive scenes of the perils – possible and real, excitement and effervescence, will enchant and entertain. Make sure you slow down when you get to the wordless spreads so your listeners can savour every single tiny detail.

Ridiculously brilliant in every way.

Wanda’s Words Got Stuck

Wanda’s Words Got Stuck
Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Written by speech and language therapist Lucy Rowland, this is an enchanting story of little witch Wanda who, determined as she might be, just can’t get her words out.

Then a new and very shy little witch Flo joins her class at school. Wanda notices and empathetically and wordlessly makes her feel welcome using alternative means of communication.

Before long the two become inseparable and the following day teacher Miss Cobweb announces a Magic Contest. The friends spend all their time after school trying out spells but still for Wanda, words won’t come.

Come Friday evening, it’s contest time: Flo’s full of excitement; Wanda’s full of fear. The spelling gets under way but quickly spirals out of control putting Flo in great danger.

Can Wanda finally summon up her courage and some magic words to save her best pal?

As a primary/ early years teacher I have over the years, worked with a great many children who for one reason or another struggle with their words. It’s terrific to have a story such as Lucy’s, wonderfully illustrated by Paula Bowles, that provides an opportunity to see things through Wanda’s lenses. Not only is it helpful to fellow strugglers, but equally their classmates and friends will likely become more aware and empathetic towards others like Wanda, who even on the final page, knows that words aren’t always the best way to express how you feel about someone especially your bestie.

In her captivating, warm illustrations. Paula captures Wanda’s feelings – her anxiety is palpable, as is her fondness for Flo.

A perfect foundation stage story time book that speaks for itself.

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Minibeasts / Flip Flap Snap! Pets

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Minibeasts
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

Award-winning illustrator Axel Scheffler has created another in the Flip Flap series and the possibilities just might be even more bonkers than ever with this one of minibeast muddle ups that can be created from the dozen real minibeasts – over 120 if my reckoning is correct.

So, what would you get if you cross a butterfly with a bluebottle? That would be none other than a buttottle – Flutter! Flutter! Bzzz! Bzzz!

And what about an earthworm with a grasshopper? That, naturally (or rather unnaturally), is an earthwopper.

Youngsters (and grown-ups) will delight in discovering all kinds of splendidly silly creatures and their weird and wonderful sounds in this playful book.

Giggles galore for sure thanks to Alex Scheffler..

You’ll have to wait till early September for this one:

Flip Flap Snap! Pets
Carmen Saldaña
Templar Books

Want to meet a rabbigar? Or maybe you’d like to see a gecky? By flipping the flaps little ones can create some petty permutations at the same time as learning a little from the pet narrators whose rhyming information is accessed by lifting the flaps on the left-hand side of each double spread.

The fun pop-up facial features that are part and parcel of Carmen Saldaña’s amusing illustrations will likely encourage toddlers to play for some time with this jolly mix-and-match book.

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.

Octopus Shocktopus!

Octopus Shocktopus!
Peter Bently and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

‘One day, we found an octopus / had come to live on top of us.’

What a wonderfully wacky notion and one that instantly grabs the reader’s attention – well, with those eight day-glo orange limbs and body what else would you expect?

Said octopus has descended upon the narrator’s neat-looking house on the cliffs causing consternation with neighbour, Mrs Antrobus who calls the fire-brigade.

However they fail to shift the creature and so it remains, limbs a-dangle and looking decidedly bored with life until the children invite it to play.

It’s great fun for all concerned and they quickly discover that there are lots of other advantages to having a gigantic octopus for a pal. (Pitch that one to a class of five year olds and see what  they can come up with.)

But then comes the fateful day when the roof is bare save for the tidy rows of blue tiles. Tears are shed all round but worry not; a splendiferous finale awaits …

With themes of acceptance and friendship Peter Bently’s rhyming narrative is sheer delight to read aloud and Steven Lenton’s wacky scenes are a visual treat: the octopus’s eyes are just wonderful

and there’s SO much to explore on every spread. Make sure you peruse the endpapers too.

A treat from team Peter and Steven that’s bound to be requested over and over …

Board Book Fun Galore

Let’s Go! On a Tractor
Let’s Go! On a Train

Rosalyn Albert and Natalia Moore
Catch A Star

These two new titles in the Let’s Go! transport series offer further journeys of discovery for toddlers.

Told in Rosalyn Albert’s catchy rhyming story-telling narratives and Natalia Moore’s bright, lively scenes they’re just right to engage the very young.

The tractor driver in the first title takes readers around the farm introducing the farmer, crops, animals and their sounds, and some very squelchy mud – it’s all in a days work.

The train of the second book is an old-fashioned steam train – a very shiny one. We meet the driver and a ticket collector as the train wheels click clack through the countryside with the two young narrators relating the events of their long journey that lasts from morning to evening.

These sturdy books are just the right size for small hands to hold while they retell themselves the stories once an adult has shared them.

Gregory Goose is on the Loose! At the Fair
Gregory Goose is on the Loose! Up the Mountain

Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley
Catch A Star

Gregory Goose is on the loose again at new locations in two new catchy rhyming hide and seek adventures.

Gregory is an ace when it comes to hiding himself away in plain sight – even this adult reviewer had to search really hard a couple of times to locate him, so these books will certainly hone the observation skills of your little ones.

Whether you’re feeling in summery style or a snowy wintry mood, Mandy Stanley’s bright, captivating illustrations provide plenty to talk about on every spread, and what delight to discover the whereabouts of Gregory at every turn of the page.

Where’s Mrs Queen?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

This addition to the deservedly popular. sturdy, felt flap series follows the same 5 spreads format with the final flap covering a surprise mirror – something that fascinates even babies just a few months old.

Here the location is London, and in the search for ‘Mrs Queen’ little ones will find a policeman, (I’d have preferred officer here), the driver of a double-decker bus, a soldier wearing a busby, said Queen in a carriage before they all assemble to ask ‘And where are you?’

With those attention grabbing, bright, retro style illustrations of Ingela Arrhenius, this board book is great of fun for the very youngest.

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Rome

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Rome
Fatti Burke
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with The British Museum, this is another Fatti Burke search-and-find story that plunges young Tom and his adventure-loving archaeologist Granny Bea’s mischievous cat Digby back in time, on this occasion, by means of a coin from the time of Hadrian.

As with his previous adventure, Tom visits all the major sites and his first stop in Rome is the bustling market forum. Where though are Granny Bea and Digby? The search is on but there’s so much else to spot at the forum before moving on to the next location – Circus Maximus where there’s a chariot race under way.

From there Tom tries the beautiful Pantheon building,

a sculptor’s studio; a busy aqueduct building construction site, blocks of flats called insulae (Latin for island); then further up the street, the public baths.

Still Granny and Digby remain illusive so he tries the harbour, two villas – one with a banquet under way,

and even catches sight of the emperor in a chariot as he searches the street, finally ending up at the huge Colosseum amphitheatre. Could it be that here he’ll finally catch up Granny and her cat?

All ends happily of course with the three reunited and back in their own time.

Every alluring spread is packed with fine details to pore over as well as a list of items to find (from a bird nesting in a centurion’s helmet to a fainting lady) and plenty of facts in bite-sized chunks.
Also included – solutions (in case you can’t find all the 100+ items), a glossary and index.
Especially worth getting hold of if your child or class is studying Ancient Rome but it’s lots of immersive fun learning in any case. Perhaps just what’s needed right now.

Building a Home

Building a Home
Polly Faber and Klas Fahlén
Nosy Crow

Most young children are fascinated with construction – their own and that which they see on a building site, especially all the big machines, so this book will certainly appeal.

It’s superbly illustrated by Klas Fahlén with just the right amount of detail and action,

and full of interesting characters – its great to see both men and women involved throughout – as readers follow the transformation of an old, edge-of-town office block into fine new homes for lots of people.

Writer, Polly Faber talks directly to her intended young audience including occasional rhyme and alliteration in her engaging narrative. She’s also included a pictorial glossary of the people and machines involved in the building’s transformation.

A thoroughly inclusive book with enormous potential for encouraging conversation and questioning, this is one to add to nursery, KS1 and family collections; especially the latter just now when one of the few things not completely closed down is building work, at least if my locality is anything to go by.

Talking to the Moon

Talking to the Moon
S.E.Durrant
Nosy Crow

What with Dad’s repairs to her bedroom and two year old twins to contend with, home life for Iris has become way too chaotic and stressful so she’s temporarily living with her highly unusual grandmother Mimi.

There though Iris soon discovers challenges and chaos of a different kind. Gran wants her to go swimming in the freezing cold sea and there’s no hot water to warm you up afterwards; and the place is full of bits and pieces Mimi has collected over the years, mostly boxes of old photos taken and developed by Mimi herself.

It’s not long before Iris begins to notice increasingly strange behaviour on Mimi’s part and it surely can’t all be down to her quirky nature. ‘It feels like Mimi’s getting holes in her memory. It’s scary,’ she tells readers.

Into the story steps the irritating, marble-obsessed boy Mason, who has observed some of Mimi’s behaviour from next door.

Despite all her intentions to wait until secondary school before forming a proper friendship, the two start spending time together. Mason’s granddad too has memory loss and the boy becomes increasingly involved in iris’s efforts to unravel the mystery of Coral, shown in one of Mimi’s photographs. Who is she and what happened to her?

Tenderly written, S.E. Durrant’s poignant story gently tackles the difficult subject of dementia and at the same time explores how the 11 year old narrator navigates her own tricky family circumstances.

We really feel we’re standing right beside Iris as she attempts to protect her beloved Mimi while dealing with the unsettling nature of her own life.

This utterly compelling book finishes with a beautiful and uplifting scene on Brighton’s seafront that brought a tear to the eye of this reviewer.

Wigglesbottom Primary: Break Time Bunnies / Lottie Luna and the Bloom Garden

Wigglesbottom Primary: Break Time Bunnies
Becka Moor and Pamela Butchart
Nosy Crow

It’s always a delight to read of the exploits of Class 2R in their school where pretty much anything can happen.

Here we have three new fun, beautifully observed episodes wherein the children allow their imaginations to take flight. In the first story it’s a case of bunnies running riot in the playground: could they be ATTACK BUNNIES and why are they there?

The second tale, has class teacher Miss Riley announcing the imminent arrival of a ‘special guest’. Is the man who sits at the back of the class a TV talent spotter or has he another purpose for watching the goings on of teacher and pupils?

In story number three the children all sign up for violin lessons but their music teacher, Miss Stein looks really spooky. Could she perhaps be a witch – a bewitching witch?

It’s so easy to get sucked into 2B’s zany premises in these enormously enjoyable stories and the final revelations are always delicious.

As ever Pamela Buchart has done a brilliant job illustrating these small sparkling stories. She catches the zaniness of Becka’s tellings SO well making every page turn not only a verbal but a visual treat.

Bring on the next one.

Lottie Luna and the Bloom Garden
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Meet Lottie Luna, star of a super new series by Vivian French.
Lottie is a werewolf, but a very special one with extra powers on account of her being born during a full lunar eclipse. Hence she’s super speedy, super strong, has x-ray vision and has super hearing. Oh yes and she’s also a princess on account of her father inheriting a kingdom.

This however means that she’s had to move home to the crumbling Dracon Castle and consequently has to start at a new school mid year. Like many youngsters, Lottie is nervous about this and certainly doesn’t want it known at Shadow Academy that she’s special even if that means not revealing her real self.

Lottie’s class teacher announces a pupil project – to create a design to transform the wasteland behind the school into a beautiful garden and the winning design will be used for the purpose.

Before long Lottie finds she has two friends, and decides that the head of her new school is amazing – a kindred spirit too; perhaps things won’t be so bad after all.

As for the garden design, Lottie is the winner but once the garden creation begins,

more challenges arise – there’s a Bloom Garden saboteur at work.

Now Lottie must do all she can to save the enterprise from road developers; but can she do it? Perhaps it’s time to draw on those superpowers of hers …

Friendship, determination, being true to yourself, courage, resilience and forgiveness are at the heart of this smashing story Vivian has woven.

Nathan Reed has done a terrific job with his black and white illustrations; they’re offbeat and splendidly playful.

More please!

Mr Brown’s Bad Day / Bunnies on the Bus

Mr Brown’s Bad Day
Lou Peacock and Alison Friend
Nosy Crow

Mr Brown is a Very Important Businessman with a Very  Important Briefcase that he takes to his Very Important Office where he spends his time signing Very Important Letters and attending Very Important Meetings.

Every lunchtime clutching his Very Important Briefcase he leaves his office to eat his lunch in the park.

One Tuesday however, a baby elephant snatches the briefcase while Mr B is busy thinking important thoughts.

There follows a frantic chase on foot and by tricycle as said briefcase is passed relay style onto the back of an ice-cream trolley and then in the possession of a group of children, onto the fairground’s big wheel, and the bus back through the town to school.

Mr Brown finally catches up with it when the bus stops to disgorge the passengers.

Eventually with darkness falling it’s a very weary tiger that heads home clutching his briefcase. Once there he checks to make sure the contents are safe before heading up to bed for a well-earned rest and some more ‘Very Important Business’ …

But what was inside that briefcase? Now that would be telling and I’m no story spoiler.

Great fun with a wonderful final surprise revelation. Alison Friend’s illustrations are a treat too with plenty of detail and action to engage your little ones as they listen to Lou Peacock’s tongue-in-cheek tale.

Bunnies on the Bus
Philip Ardagh and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

TOOT! TOOT HONK! HONK! Madness and mayhem abound as the bunnies take to the bus one summer’s day in Sunny Town, so the rest of us drivers and pedestrians had better steer well clear as the bunny driver has clearly gone rogue, careering past the bus stops narrowly avoiding the other animals going about their daily business.

The bunnies meanwhile are having a ball aboard FLUFF 1, cavorting down the aisle; there’s even one up on the roof.
Where is this vehicle bound for you may well be wondering as it suddenly leaves the road completely.

No matter, for at the next stop, those bunny passengers instantly set their sights on another mode of transport as they make their exit and err … where one journey ends another begins so to speak …

Anarchic fun for your bouncy little ones created by the terrific Ardagh/ Mantle team whose combination of energetic rhyme (Philip) and cracking illustrations jam-packed with gigglesome details (Ben) is perfect cheering up material.

Board Books and a Squidgy One

Baby’s Very First Faces
illustrated by Jo Lodge
Campbell Books

With its mirror, crinkly pages and high contrast images and patterns, this hand-washable book is just the thing to share with a new baby. It features in turn a daddy, a mummy, and a baby. In case you are reluctant to take it out of your home, there is a Velcro strap that can be attached to a buggy while you’re out and about.

Where’s Baby Chick?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

Spring’s well and truly in the air: the ideal time to introduce toddlers to some new life with this latest hide-and-seek book. Tucked away behind the felt flaps on the brightly coloured, patterned spreads are Baby Bunny, Baby Lamb, Baby Kitten and Baby Chick. The final spread contains a mirror and asks ‘And where are you?’
Simple interactive delight to share with your little one.

Bake a Rainbow Cake!
Amirah Kassem
Abrams Appleseed
A veritable explosion of colour is the outcome of artistic baker Amirah Kassem’s board book extravaganza.

She gives the essential step-by-step two word instructions at the top of each page, beneath which is a jazzy illustration with either a tab to pull, a wheel to turn or a flap to lift as you ‘Pour it!/ Mix it!/ Colour it! / Bake it!’ and so on until, once the frosting has been applied, it’s time to lavish on the sprinkles and wish. Then turn the page to the final …

Short and VERY sweet! Irresistibly so in fact. Mmm! Yum, yum. Yummy! Second helpings please, will come the cry from the little ones you share this tasty board book with.

Old Macdonald’s Things That Go
Jane Clarke and Migy Blanco
Nosy Crow

There’s a whole lot more sounds than moos and baas down on Old MacDonald’s farm: the farmer has a passion for noisy vehicles, by all accounts.
His car vrooms; his tractor chugga-chugga chugs; the combine goes rattle-swish everywhere. He even has a bus that beep-beeps its way around full of jolly animals.

Seemingly he has extensive farmland for there’s a swoosh-swooshing motor boat and it appears he’s fortunate in having a fire truck on hand to deal with accidents of the incendiary kind, ‘nee-nawing’ into action when things get a bit over-heated.

But there’s even more; I’ll let you work out what choo-choos across the fields and what zoom-zoom’s into the air.

Each of Migy Blanco’s jolly digital spreads shows the farmer and his animals joyfully dashing around in one or more of the vehicles, before the two penultimate tongue-twisting spreads, before the 50’s-looking vehicles whizz towards the finish line. If you can actually slow down though, there’s plenty to pore over in every scene.

Jane Clarke’s rowdy spin off from the classic nursery song will surely have little ones giggling as well as singing along. One wonders what else Old Macdonald might have down on that farm of his; or maybe he could take a holiday and experience all manner of seaside sounds.

The Pirates are Coming!

The Pirates are Coming!
John Condon and Matt Hunt
Nosy Crow

Can there be room on the shelf for yet more pirate books? It’s pretty likely as children seem to have a penchant for things piratical; and John Condon and Matt Hunt’s salty offering will definitely be a crowd pleaser.

It tells of young Tom who daily climbs the hill overlooking the sea in the hope of spying a pirate ship; and one day he does – so he thinks.

He rings a bell and all the villagers dash for cover; turns out though, that it’s a case of misidentification. Tom’s dad reminds him pirates have ‘BIG’ ships. Undaunted, Tom continues his daily watch but again and again he gets it wrong, needlessly sending the villagers into hiding.

Unsurprisingly they begin to get blasé and so the next time Tom yells “PIRATES” as he rushes down the hill,

not a single person hides – until that is, they hear the tell-tale “squawk!’ of a parrot.

Here, the tale takes a twist and the finale is a wonderful surprise. I certainly don’t want to be a story spoiler so I’ll leave the villagers in hiding and the pirates sailing silently into the harbour, gangplank at the ready …

John Condon’s story is full of drama, and superbly paced, with plenty of laughs along the way: further laughs will be induced thanks to Matt Hunt’s splendid illustrations. On every spread there’s something giggle worthy – rather, make that several things.

If you enjoy putting on a performance with your story sharing, you’ll absolutely relish reading this one with a group of youngsters and they’ll love it too.

Magnificent Mabel and the Rabbit Riot

Magnificent Mabel and the Rabbit Riot
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Mabel Chase is a spirited girl. She sees how things ought to be and knows what she wants – kind of. It’s pets that she wants in the first story finding it totally unfair that her parents deny her one. Even more unfair is that Mabel’s big sister is given a pet rabbit, Henry for her birthday and she doesn’t appear very interested in the creature; after just one morning she leaves him behind while she gallivants off to spend her birthday money. Of course, Mabel cannot resist stepping into the caring breech

and pretty soon the place is in chaos. Not only that but she decides to clean out the hutch; this involves using a green fluffy duster that doubles up rather well as a broomstick – uh oh!

The strange thing is Mabel comes out of the whole episode squeaky clean and being showered with praise.

Oh, and she seems to have replaced her penchant for rabbits with a different kind of animal …

There’s another crisis situation in the second story – it happens when Mabel discovers she has suddenly developed a wobbly tooth and she’s anything but keen on the tooth fairy. Time to put her ‘spare time’ dental skills into practice. Despite her best efforts the tooth does eventually fall out and then she has to work out how to deal with that tooth fairy. I’ll leave her pondering the dilemma and merely add that it’s not the only one Mabel faces in this episode.

The third story has Mabel complaining about the unfairness of life AGAIN. Now it’s on account of not having a sprinkler in the garden. However Elsa Kavinsky does have one so perhaps it’s time to work on cultivating their friendship.

Maybe then she’ll let Mabel have a play in hers … This episode has “Pixie Play Date’ in its title but if you want to know how pixies come in you’ll need your own copy of Magnificent Mabel and the Rabbit Riot.

I’d most definitely recommend getting a copy if you have a newly independent reader in your class or family; it would make a super fun book to share too. I love the way it’s presented from Mabel’s viewpoint; she’s a totally endearing narrator and SO good at keeping calm when faced with emergencies. I love too Julia Christians’ plentiful illustrations; she’s captured Mabel’s character splendidly, and those of her family and friends.

This is a series that could run and run.

Little Bird Lands

Little Bird Lands
Karen McCombie
Nosy Crow

‘Fifteen years ago, my mother looked down upon me – cradled and broken in her arms – and made a wish. She wished that I might live, since it seemed likely that I would not.’ So begins Karen McCombie’s sequel to the superbly written Little Bird Flies. (If you’ve not read it you might want to start there.)

The brave, determined Bridie aka Little Bird, and her father and brother Lachlan have now been in the US for two years and are in a snowy copper mining settlement in Michigan. Here they face plenty of challenges: a fever lays Bridie low but happily there’s a woman doctor temporarily lodging with them at Hawk’s Point; the mine in which Lachlan has found work is said to have a Chippewa curse on it, and a ghost of a Chippewa maiden supposedly haunts the entire town.

When Dr Spicer suggests to Bridie that she gets involved in the setting up of a school for the local children and the newcomers, the girl’s initial reluctance at the idea of teaching quickly gives way to excitement and resolve.

The issues of taking land from the Native American peoples, of reservations and of the incomers’ selfishness rear their ugly heads. So too does that of who has the right to the education the doctor and Bridie are offering; as well as the question of whether or not ‘servant’ Easter – as she’s deemed by ‘cocky’ boy, Charlie – and Bridie can become true friends.

Then comes a disaster at the mine causing terrible injuries to many of the workers. Is this remote place ever to feel like home? Especially when Bridie discovers the secret that Easter has been keeping about her mistress for many months …

Later, when she finally understands what Lachlan has been trying to tell her about this ‘mistress’ and comes face to face with her, she realises that the young woman has the knowledge and the power to ruin her life and those of her father and brother all over again …

Totally engrossing throughout: McCombie’s carefully researched, compelling story chronicling Bridie’s experiences as an immigrant, is superbly woven and ultimately uplifting; all its characters really come to life; and there’s SO much to think about.

If you’re searching for a book to offer a confident upper KS2 reader, or want something of a historical nature to share with a class, this is a smasher.

The Monster in the Lake / Unicorn Academy: Isla and Buttercup

Here are the latest stories in two magical series from Nosy Crow

The Monster in the Lake
Louie Stowell, illustrated by Davide Ortu
Nosy Crow

We’re back in the magical world Louie Stowell took us to in Dragon in the Library with youngest magician in the world, Kit Spencer. Beneath that library in Book Wood, she’s having ‘spelling’problems. She hasn’t been distracted, her pronunciation was spot on as were her hand gestures; so why, oh why, are her spells going haywire?
Then Kit and her pals learn two things: one: they can understand what the animals they encounter in the park are saying and two: Dogon the delightful dragon dog is poorly, very poorly.

Definitely time for a spot of investigation …

Almost before you can say ‘weird’ the friends find themselves face to face with a strange creature calling itself Lizzie and saying it’s a Lesser Nessie from Scotland.

After a conversation with Lizzie, the friends return to the library and before long they’re embarking on a double rescue undertaking in Scotland, via one the library’s portal books.

Once there they discover a mobile library and its librarian Duncan. Then follows a terrific adventure full of mermaids, ancient curses and much more. It’s dangerous, nail-bitingly tense and absolutely perfectly paced.

Once again Louie Stowell’s telling with its mix of magic, friendship and bookish references works a treat, and with Davide Ortu’s stylish illustrations, the result is another spellbinding foray into the world of Kit, Faith, Josh and Alita.

An absolutely brilliant, unmissable story for primary readers: and what a superb final observation by Faith, “Whatever else changes, whatever threats we face … We will always have books.”

For slightly younger readers:

Unicorn Academy: Isla and Buttercup
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Can it really be the 12th visit to the magical Unicorn Academy? I know one girl, now seven, who has lapped up all the stories so far and has been eagerly awaiting this new one. I’m sure she will devour it in a single sitting.

The term is drawing to a close and Isla is eager to graduate along with all the other girls. When her unicorn Buttercup discovers that his magical power is ‘finding magic’ Isla hopes that he’s capable of using this special power to find the evil Ms Willow who has disappeared.

Does 2nd year student Valentina know anything about her whereabouts – she’s certainly acting strangely. Why is she receiving so many letters, and who is sending them?

Once again, teamwork is key in this adventure: Will the girls find the missing teacher; will Isla finally believe in herself and will everyone receive their graduation scroll at the end of term?

Getting Ready for Spring / Make and Bake

Getting Ready for Spring
Kathryn Selbert
Nosy Crow

I’ve no doubt that we’re all looking forward to the arrival of spring. I’ve already seen snowdrops and the occasional primrose but have yet to spot any baby deer like those shown in this sticker storybook created in collaboration with the National Trust; and, inevitably already as I write, the supermarket shelves are stacked with hot cross buns and other Easter fare.

Herein we see a family picnicking beside a lake, children decorating Easter eggs, birds being fed in a garden, spring cleaning on a rainy April day.

There are more preparations for Easter, a family visit to a farm, the children bake Easter treats with Grandma and when the festival day arrives there’s an egg hunt and an Easter parade.

The final pages comprise a ‘Can you spot?’ feature with over 30 items to find in the preceding spreads, and 3 pages of stickers to add to the named pages.

Seasonal fun to engage little ones and there’s plenty of interest to discuss on each of Kathryn Selbert’s main spreads.

If your opportunities to get outside with youngsters are limited in this unpredictable weather, then this book will help them anticipate the delights of what is to come in the next two or three months.

Also useful on days when the weather tends to keep youngsters inside is:

Make and Bake
illustrated by various artists
Oxford University Press

This is part of the OUP ‘Read with Oxford’ series that uses ‘step-by-step’ stages and is phonic based. Many readers of my blog will know that I’m anything but a fan of the approach to reading that underlies this way of learning to read. However, this non-fiction title offers six fun activities for those in the early stages of becoming readers.

Young children can, guided by the six sections make frog cards (and paper plate animals that could become puppets – children can think up their own animals too);

enjoy some pancake making (with an adult); create a sock goblin hand puppet; find out something about growing foods you might eat on a picnic; discover how to grow strawberries and eventually make ‘Strawberry Mess’ and enjoy eating same; the final part, ‘Snack Attack’ is about what constitutes a healthy snack. Readers follow two characters who visit a market and on their return, make the snacks using what they bought.

Also included are simple activities such as matching animal pictures with their names; sequencing instructions, sorting, unjumbling letter sequences to make food words and a word search. A mix of photographs and illustrations by various artists

help make everything clear.

Superhero Gran

Superhero Gran
Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger
Nosy Crow

Timothy Knapman children’s author, playwright and lyricist teams up with illustrator Joe Berger for I think, their seventh in the Superhero family series.

Most young children I know think their grans are amazing humans and so it is with the gran in this story.

No she doesn’t fly through the air, battle villains, control minds or wield an indestructible shield; instead she makes the days her grandchildren spend in her company the very best possible.

Her house is full of exciting paraphernalia for creating disguises.

Her stories are enthralling, the Tickle Monster Test tale being the very best of all. especially when accompanied by tasty cookies.

Unlike mum and dad, she doesn’t put a limit on the consumption of these treats.

As for her garden, it’s blooming brilliant and great for games of hide-and-seek; moreover she knows when, at the crucial time her grandchildren want to stay, to make a call to Mum and Dad suggesting the little ones remain with her for a sleepover.

Super powers indeed; and what a thoroughly heart-warming, vibrant celebration, verbal and visual, of a loving grandmother.

It’s just perfect for grans and little ones to enjoy reading together.

Board Book Delights

Both Walker Books and Nosy Crow publish smashing board books – here are some of the latest:

Little Baby’s Busy Day
Little Baby’s Playtime

Nick Sharratt and Sally Symes
Walker Books

These ‘Finger Wiggle Books’ are full of adorable babies doing everyday things, the action being supplied by inserting a finger through the two die-cut holes that go from cover to cover in each book.

Busy Day portrays wake up time, breakfast, looking smart ready to go out, shopping, having a wee, inviting a tummy tickle, a sudsy bathtime and finally, arms extended for a bedtime cuddle. Nick Sharratt supplies the bright jolly visuals in his unmistakeable bubbly style and Sally Symes has created the brief rhyming ‘One little baby … Wiggle wiggle … ‘ narrative.

Little Baby’s Playtime opens with travelling in a sling, then moves to a playground swing, a wizz down a ‘slippery slide’, a tricycle ride, a dig in a sandpit, a game of peek-a-boo, excitement at the sight of a butterfly and finishes with a farewell wave.

Terrific for sharing; and with their patterned text and inviting scenes, these two spell out loud and clear to tinies that all important ‘books are fun’ message.

If You’re Happy and You Know It!
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow

This addition to the ever -popular ‘Sing along with me!’ series is another established nursery favourite. Here the main characters are bears with other creatures playing the bit parts. We first see the bears cooking together, after which they go out shopping together before returning home. Then small bear then goes out to meet some friends.

As they sing along, little ones can use their fingers to make the small bear clap, stamp, nod and on the final spread, reveal his friends and everyone can join in with the “we are” finale.

There’s a bar code to scan which will provide a version of the song to sing along to. With its cute illustrations, this will become a favourite in the series, I suspect.

Seasonal Junior Fiction

The Naughtiest Unicorn at Christmas
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Egmont

It’s time to don those festive jumpers and get ready to join Mira and her friends along with their UBFFs (unicorn best friends forever) in the week before Christmas.

Mira hopes that she and her unicorn Dave will be given the lead roles in the school play The Legend of the Snow Unicorn.

In the meantime here’s a question asked by her friend Darcy: “What goes RAINBOW thump, RAINBOW thump, RAINBOW thump, RAINBOW thump?

It’s Dave rolling down a snowy hill entangled in the long rainbow scarf, teacher Miss Glitterhorn was endeavouring to wrap around him. And following this spectacle said unicorn merely snorts and produces an enormous frozen poo. Not a very promising start when the auditions for that all important play are to be held imminently.

Inevitably things get increasingly chaotic when Dave is involved and yes the play does eventually take place, but as to who are the star performers – the best way to find out about the drama that’s performed is to get your hands on a copy of this fourth episode of high jinks Mira and Dave style.

As usual David O’Connell livens things up even more with his smashing black and white illustrations.

Princess of Pets: The Snowy Reindeer
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

In her latest adventure Princess Bea is excited to be staying with her Great Aunt Sylvia but she really wishes that her snowy castle had some animals she might make friends with.
Then when out playing in the snow she discovers a little lost reindeer, despite her aunt’s residence being a humans only place, Bea knows she simply has to get the creature safely inside the castle.

Having done so though her challenges have only just begun, for party preparations are underway and she needs something to keep her new friend in, not to mention food. Then cousin Annie discovers Marshmallow, as the reindeer is now called, but Bea is determined to keep his presence a secret from the grown-ups – no easy task as the animal has a mischievous streak and a voracious appetite. When rule-abiding big sister Natasha too learns of the visitor things get even more tricky.

Can Bea ever manage to reunite Marshmallow with his family?

I know a good many fans of the series who will be lapping up this wintry episode in the life of animal helper extraordinaire, aka Princess Beatrice. Olivia Chin Mueller’s numerous illustrations add to the enjoyment of young solo readers.

Amelia Fang and the Lost Yeti Treasures
Laura Ellen Anderson
Egmont

Amelia and her best friends are spending a couple of days at the chilly Yeti Mountain Pits where Florence’s Grand-Yeti Clemence is celebrating her 350th birthday. Florence is a terrific character and it’s good to see more of her in this story. As for Amelia though, she badly wants to attend two parties over the weekend and tries her best to find an opportunity to break the news to her that she can only spend one night at Clemence’s birthday bash.

With the party in full swing precious things start disappearing

and then, even worse, the pits themselves and thus the homes of the yetis start to collapse. Before long comes a declaration from the Unicorn Detectives: Yeti Mountain Pits are not safe and need to be evacuated.

With a mystery to solve, Amelia and her friends need to move fast but very carefully or risk being trapped forever underground.

Fast paced this story surely is, and cleverly woven into the zany plot is a key message about friendship: ‘Make new friends but keep the old’ as the song goes. This is something that Florence’s Grand-Yeti Clemence and Amelia have a heart-to-heart about during the party and is later discussed by Florence and Amelia.

Terrific fun and thought-provoking too: Amelia enthusiasts will relish this mix of warmth and ‘yuck’ provoking disgustingness. No matter if readers haven’t read the previous books in the series, they can still enjoy this one, but better still start from the beginning and work through all the adventures giggling at all Laura’s wonderful illustrations along the way.

Mouse’s Night Before Christmas

Mouse’s Night Before Christmas
Tracey Corderoy and Sarah Massini
Nosy Crow

Tracey and Sarah’s version of the classic poem offers an utterly delightful new twist in the character of a little mouse.

Tracey cleverly interweaves occasional lines from Clement Clark Moore in her rhyming narrative that tells of Mouse’s Christmas Eve adventure which all begins when he makes a wish in front of the festive Christmas tree that stands in the hall. For as we hear, there actually is a creature stirring in this particular house. And having done so and made that wish he encounters a lost Santa who is more than grateful to have him act as guide for the remainder of his round.

When the deliveries are done, it’s time for Mouse and Santa to part company but Santa hasn’t forgotten his tiny helper’s wish: he gives Mouse not one but two presents and a map …

Could it be that not just one but two tiny creatures are to have their Christmas wishes fulfilled?

Beautifully told – Tracey’s text is sheer pleasure to read aloud – and Sara’s illustrations with all those gorgeous details – despite the snowy landscapes, positively radiate all that’s warm about Christmas.

Share with little ones at home snuggled up with hot chocolate, as well as in foundation stage settings and expect requests of ‘again’ as soon as you try to close the covers. Tracey and Sarah’s little Mouse is an adorable character.

Board Book Christmas

Just Right for Christmas
Birdie Black and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow

A board book version of a Christmas favourite from a few years ago unfolods over two days.

It begins on a snowy Christmas Eve with the king walking around the market. His purchase of a roll of beautiful red cloth to make a cloak for his daughter results in the left-over scraps of fabric being placed outside the back door.  Jenny the kitchen maid finds them and makes  a jacket for her ma. The remaining scraps are turned into a hat for Bertie Badger’s pa, then gloves for Samuel Squirrel’s wife and a scarf for Milly Mouse’s little one, and all just in time for Christmas Day.

A warm, feel-good story ‘… just how Christmas should feel’ celebrating the pleasures of giving, made all the more so with Rosalind Beardshaw’s, mixed media illustrations that help stitch the narrative together beautifully.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
Little Tiger

In this board book, using two enchanting elf characters and her trademark die-cut collage style illustrations, Britta Teckentrup presents a favourite seasonal song aimed at the very youngest listeners. As the song progresses, one verse per spread, the gift is revealed through the cut out. Then on the fourth day additional die-cuts are used to accommodate the 4 colly birds and so on until the eleventh day. On day twelve all the gifts are revealed around the tree on the recto while in the bottom corner on the verso the elves give each other a Christmas kiss.

Just right for tiny hands and there’s plenty of counting fun to be had too.

Wake up, Santa!
illustrated by Pintachan
Words & Pictures

With cleverly designed paper engineering and digital illustrations, this bright, jolly interactive board book will get little ones and their sharers in festive mood as they waken in turn Santa, the elves, Rudolph and a teddy bear.

There are things to find, name, count and talk about all in a tiny, fun-filled ‘Little Faces’ package.

Christmas is Awesome!
Sabrina Moyle and Eunice Moyle
Abrams Appleseed

The Moyle sisters go to town to demonstrate the veracity of their latest board book’s title.

Popping with neon pink, Eunice provides lively scenes of assorted animals getting into the festive spirit with ‘twinkling lights, silent nights, being nice ‘(of course) and much more.

Humorous touches abound with ‘ugly sweaters’, a dachshund sporting one such takes the opportunity to get beneath the mistletoe and bestow a long-tongued lick upon the cat’s beaming countenance; and don’t miss the lump of coal getting in on the act by knitting itself a sweater from ‘darkest black abyss’ yarn. And the nativity scene is priceless: Mary and Joseph are two birds looking benevolently upon their newborn baby Jesus – a haloed egg.

Sabrina’s rhyming narrative orchestrates the celebrations concluding thus: ‘Joy and kindness, love and fun, Christmas is for everyone!’ Their portrayal is certainly a whole lot of fun.

Busy Reindeer
illustrated by Samantha Meredith
Campbell Books

As an adult reads the rhyming couplets, little fingers can manipulate the sliders to activate Santa’s reindeer Ruby, then watch the sleigh take flight over a snowy landscape, help Santa down the chimney and finally, open the stable door for him to thank and bid goodnight to his number one helper. All of this is illustrated in Samantha Meredith’s bright, jolly scenes of a busy Christmas delivery round.

Snow Still / Flip Flap Frozen

Here are two decidedly shivery offerings from Nosy Crow Books

Snow Still
Holly Surplice
Nosy Crow

A young fawn experiences the world while taking its first steps in a snowy landscape.

Told through a sequence of rhyming couplets beginning ‘Snow white. // Snow slide. // Snow chase. //Snow hide. and gorgeous visuals, we follow the little creature through a series of beautiful watercolour scenes that show a game with rabbits; an encounter with a group of perching birds; an owl gliding high overhead across a silent empty plain;

a squirrel curled up in the hollow of a tree … and finally as the fawn struggles with the extra depth of a further snowfall, we meet the adult deer ready and waiting to provide a warm safe haven for their little one.

I love all the different perspectives used and how the seeming simplicity of the words allows the visual landscapes plenty of space to convey the beauty and starkness of the countryside – its woodlands with the berries all aglow, the umbel seed heads a-sparkle with touches of silver, and the vastness of the open field. (This is some of the best use of silver highlighting that I’ve seen in a picture book certainly this season).

Lyrical and lovely; a beautiful book to share with the very young on a chilly winter’s day.

Flip Flap Frozen
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

There’s a decidedly icy feel to the latest in Axel’s terrific Flip Flap series.

Readers can discover what happens when a polar bear is crossed with a walrus (you get a polrus), or a reindeer with an orca (a reinca – naturally!) and a host of other brilliantly bonkers species as they play around with the spit pages.

Samuel experimenting with combinations

Of course if you play it straight then Axel’s animals have provided factual rhyming descriptions about themselves and they even accompany them with their characteristic sounds.

Guaranteed hours of fun whether consumed solo or with the help of an obliging adult reading the main text and a youngster making the noises and flipping the flaps.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Snow Goose / Unicorn Academy: Violet and Twinkle

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Snow Goose
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press

There’s trouble in the Magical Kingdom of Birds: the amazing Silver Snow Goose normally appears to open the Winter Festival and the snow geese then start to migrate south for winter but this year there’s no sign of him, so winter cannot come.

Uncle Astor is causing problems again. He’s furious at not being  guest of honour at the festival and this is the result.

Can Keeper of the Book, Maya, and her friends, uncover the whereabouts of the missing snow goose, and bring winter to the kingdom, even if it means Maya taking her longest ever flight?

With the popular mix of magic and bird facts, Anne Booth’s Maya and her new adventure will certainly please her numerous already established followers and she’ll no doubt win new enthusiasts with this wintry tale. Rosie Butcher’s black and white illustrations and beautiful borders are likely to seduce readers whether or not they’re familiar with the series.

There’s plenty of magic too in

Unicorn Academy: Violet and Twinkle
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Can it really be the 11th adventure set in the school where magic is part and parcel of the pupils’ lives?

Violet is eager to graduate from Unicorn Academy along with all her friends. First though she needs to bond with her unicorn Twinkle and becoming true friends with this creature inclined to put his hoof in it when he speaks and thus hurt other people’s feelings isn’t straightforward.

What’s more he doesn’t really listen to Violet or think about what she wants to do.

In the meantime there’s the identity of the cloaked figure to be discovered.

Her unmasking precipitates an alarming event that sees Violet and Twinkle cascading towards the Frozen Lagoon where almost before you can say ‘binding spell’ they find themselves taken prisoner.

Can Twinkle discover his magic and save not only the two of them, but also all the friends who come searching for the missing pair? A very daring rescue is called for.

Certainly for young solo readers, the magic still holds good.

Earth Heroes

Earth Heroes
Lily Dyu
Nosy Crow

In this timely book from travel journalist Lily Dyu we meet twenty individuals – conservationists and inventors from around the globe who are actively engaged in their work to save the world, to counter climate change and save its humans and our precious wildlife.

Familiar names such as Greta Thunberg, Sir David Attenborough and Stella McCartney are present, and we read fascinating information about their backgrounds and what set them on their paths.

Alongside these are less well-known people whose work is also inspiring: these include Mohammed Rezan, architect of floating schools in Bangladesh; Isabel Soares from Portugal a pioneer of cutting down food waste by persuading people to use ‘Fruit Feia (ugly fruit)

and the ingenious Chewang Norphel who was responsible for the building of artificial glaciers in Ladakh that have transformed thousands of lives.

Great for individual reading or classroom use, Lily Dyu’s engaging text is readable and pitched just right for its intended audience of young readers and cover designer Jackie Lay has provided splendidly designed art with a relevant and inspiring quote to introduce each entry.

Lily’s final words speak to us all ‘ … we need to fight for the planet we love. The future is ours for the making. You too can change the world.’ A powerful rallying cry for sure.

Board Book Miscellany

Goodnight, Rainbow Cats
Barbara Castro Urio
Chronicle Books

The setting is a big white house wherein sleeps Little Red Cat. How do we know this? Because on the recto we see a die-cut window coloured red, while opposite on the verso is a Little Green Cat about to cross the book’s gutter and enter the door of the house. And the text bids ‘Goodnight, Little Red Cat.’

When the page is turned it’s evident that the Little Green Cat is now inside and Little Yellow Cat (from the verso) will be next to enter.

All the while the narration is presented in a conversational style above the awaiting cat. For instance we read, ‘Up to a room in the big white house!/ Goodnight, Little Yellow Cat. / Look who is waiting outside. / It’s Little Brown Cat! / Where are you going, / Little Brown Cat?’ (Each new cat is introduced with its own colour font which will help little ones predict what colour window will appear next in the house.)

When all twelve cats are safely indoors and asleep in the big white house it’s time to bid ‘Goodnight, rainbow cats!’A fun bedtime wind down for little humans and one that’s sufficiently strongly built to stand up to the frequent readings youngsters will likely insist on.

A to Z Menagerie
Suzy Ultman
Chronicle Books

With wonderfully quirky illustrations some of which have lovely touches (the horse wears ‘high-tops’) Suzy Ultman has created a distinctive board book picture dictionary with a pullout tab highlighting each letter.

Every page features one letter that fills up with colour when its tab (placed halfway down the edge) is pulled; for instance the C becomes a caterpillar and O an owl.

The vocabulary is interesting and will likely introduce young users of the book to new words such as axolotyl, challah, iguana, pennant and zooplankton, as well as including some vocabulary you might expect.

The whole alphabet is introduced by a page inviting little ones to “look and touch’ and there’s a concluding A to Z asking users to choose a favourite discovery.
Idiosyncratic, gently educational and great fun.

Now for two Nosy Crow titles new in board book format both of which were smashing picture books previously featured on this blog:

Neon Leon
Jane Clarke & Britta Teckentrup

A book about a chameleon that’s great for audience participation and features colours, counting, camouflage and different environments.

There’s a Bear on My Chair
Ross Collins

This features a little mouse upon whose chair a huge bear has placed his bottom and it’s clearly going to be a difficult task to get him to shift it. So much so that the little rodent narrator decides that the only solution is to quit the scene and let his paws take him elsewhere.
Wonderfully droll illustrations and a superb monologue in a small package for small hands.

At the Beach, On the Farm, In the Forest, Under the Ocean
illustrated by Nancy Bevington
Catch a Star Books

Four Can You Find? board books designed to encourage the very youngest to learn new words are illustrated by Nancy Bevington. Her brightly coloured, amusing images of animals, plants and the occasional human are clearly labelled.

Of the eight double spreads in each book, the first seven are introduced by a sentence such as ‘Under the ocean there are …’, or ‘At the beach there is … ‘ and the final one asks ‘Can you find all the things under the … ? inviting users to turn back and look again at the previous pages.

Adults/infants can play other games such as finding all the things with wheels in the Farm book; there’s plenty of potential for extending the use of each book depending on the interest of the little one involved.