100 First Words / Betsy Rabbit in the Park & Ralphie Dog at the Station

100 First Words
Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

This large format board book has seven spreads each devoted to a different theme – farm, outdoors, wild animals, the home, vehicles, about us and finally, bedtime.

Around fifteen named items are illustrated for every topic with additional objects hidden under flaps (two per spread) to further engage the very youngest.

The brightly coloured images are seductively arranged in a mosaic of contrastingly coloured frames of varying sizes. Each image is clearly captioned in an easily read font so that the book could also aid those beginning to learn English as an additional language.

Betsy Rabbit in the Park
Ralphie Dog at the Station

Melissa Crowton
Nosy Crow

This pair of interactive first story, board books have flaps – felt and cardboard – and mirrors (one a-piece) to help engage little ones in the narrative.

The first features Betsy who cycles to the park to meet her pals and enjoy sharing time together.

Ralphie has his suitcase with him as he heads to the station to buy a ticket. It’s a busy noisy place to wait before he boards a train bound for the seaside.

Both books have plenty for toddlers to enjoy as they listen to the simple narrative, hunt for items named, begin to count, look for differences and compare.

Unobtrusively educational and more important, fun to share.

 

Out and About: Night Explorer / Animal Homes

Out and About: Night Explorer
Robyn Swift, illustrated by Sara Lynn Cramb
Nosy Crow

Created in collaboration with the National Trust, this is an excellent little book if you’re planning on doing some exploring after dark with youngsters or are off camping somewhere.

It’s packed with information about such things as suitable clothing, creating a night-time den, star gazing, nocturnal creatures – from minibeasts to moths and mammals including bats, plus owls and amphibians; and, it’s good to see several spreads on night-time flowers.

There are lots of helpful hints on such things as tracking animals by means of footprints and poo deposits.

No matter the season there’ll be ideas herein: how about creating a house for creepy-crawlies in your garden during winter; or setting up a hedgehog feeding station?

I especially like the idea of making a sensory map at night, particularly focusing on sounds and smells as you walk and then repeating the same route in the light and comparing what you notice.

There are even suggestions for games, a quiz and a glossary.
All in all, with its plethora of very attractive labelled, coloured illustrations by Sara Lynn Cramb, this is ideal for encouraging young explorers (with an adult or older sibling) to get closer to nature at night.

Animal Homes
Clover Robin and Libby Walden
Caterpillar Books

Wherever we walk there are likely to be animals living either in the earth beneath our feet, at eye level, or high up above our heads. We currently have a bees’ nest in our chimney.

Illustrator Clover Robin and author Libby Walden offer us an insight into six different animal homes, in various parts of the world.

After a general introductory page, we visit a beehive;

a beaver lodge; the nest (eyrie) of a North American Bald Eagle; a rabbit warren; a termite mound and the earth of a Red Fox.

As well as the habitats themselves, each spread (one per home) provides factual snippets about each of the inhabitants and their habits, some of which is hidden beneath flaps.

It’s unlikely that young children will encounter these particular habitats but nevertheless this little book, with its attractive collage style illustrations will encourage them to keep their eyes open for animal homes in the environment. Should they find any it’s important to remember Libby’s final rules: ‘Find, Look, Leave’.

Some Recent Young Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

Here Comes Lolo
Hooray for Lolo

Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wigglesbottom Primary: The Classroom Cat

Wigglesbottom Primary: The Classroom Cat
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Becka Moor
Nosy Crow

This contains three more stories set at Wigglesbottom Primary.

In the first the appearance one Monday morning in 2R’s classroom of a very large stripy cat causes their teacher Miss Riley to jump almost right out of her skin in surprise at the sight of the creature sitting on her keyboard.

But is the cat actually trying to communicate something to the children and if so what on earth does the message WURGLERSSSHHHH that emerges from the printer mean?

Then the creature starts perambulating along the bookshelves and paying particular attention to a cookbook. It isn’t long before Evie MckIntosh is telling the others that the intruder is warning them about the fish soon to be served up for school lunch and Irfan is 99% certain the message is that the fish is dangerous.

Maybe the children don’t want to consume it but what about a certain feline? And was the fish dangerous or not? You’ll need to read the end of the story and make up your own mind.

The second story centres upon the vexed question of whether or not eating a crisp that you’d dropped in a puddle could give you a serious disease – Puddle-pox – for instance, said by Y6 children to be like the plague but even worse.

Imaginary Margaret as the third story is called, is supposedly Joel Jack’s imaginary friend who accompanies the class on a school trip to the museum. He says she’s 100% real and the one responsible for crisps being scattered all over the museum floor, not to mention the loo roll that comes hurtling over the cubicle wall at Jayden King; and even worse, the handprints on the newly painted Viking boat.

Becka Moor’s engaging, wonderfully expressive illustrations are the ideal complement for Pamela Butchart’s super-silly stories that are just right for newly independent readers to giggle their way through.

The Dragon in the Library / The Day I Found a Wormhole at the Bottom of the Garden

The Dragon in the Library
Louie Stowell, illustrated by Davide Ortu
Nosy Crow

Kit is anything but enthusiastic about reading; she much prefers to be playing outdoors and the library is definitely not her choice of destination on the first day of the summer holidays. But when her friends manage to persuade her to accompany them she discovers that she’s a wizard. Not just any wizard though, possibly the youngest ever wizard. The librarian doubles up as a wizard too.

Before long Kit learns that she has to play a crucial role in protecting the dragon sleeping in the library. The existence of the library itself is at stake though (the villainous Salt is determined to destroy it and it seems as though he knows too much about that dragon).

There’s another snag however, over-enthusiastic Kit is, shall we say rather impetuous in the use of her new-found power and it might be that her action has put not only the library but the entire world in danger.

The plot moves at a rapid pace and with its plethora of wonderful one-liners, allusions to other children’s books, and excellent characterisation, Louise Stowell’s debut story is a cracking one. Throw Davide Ortu’s illustrations into the mix and the magic becomes even more potent. ‘True magic’ indeed as the final words of the story say.

The Day I Found a Wormhole at the Bottom of the Garden
Tom McLaughlin
Walker Books

This book is totally crazy; it’ll likely have you giggling your way through in one gulp as you encounter its diverse cast of characters. There’s metal detecting enthusiast Billy and his trusty dog Shakespeare, Billy’s nan (who loves to snooze and in between bakes cakes (rocky ones) and watches television. Then come – thanks to the wormhole of the title – Queen Victoria, Roman warrior and wonky road builder Atticus, Einstein (self explanatory), Shakespeare – the real one this time and Professor Jones, scientist specialising in time travel and consumer of quantities of his favourite dunkable chocolate biscuity confection.

How on earth can all those co-exist you may be wondering; it’s on account of that time portal aka wormhole. When you toss into the mix a whoopee cushion, (it reminds Queen Vic. ‘of my Albert after a pork-pie session’),

a toaster – which according to HRH “has utterly blown one’s mind.”, a dinosaur and the frantic race to close that wormhole before the whole of history is forever altered, you’ll be sure Tom’s day cannot get any more complicated.

Splutter-inducing dialogue, a plot that moves so fast you almost have to run to keep up, and a liberal scattering of suitably silly drawings by none other than Tom himself, not to mention a quiz, a maze and instructions for making an olde quill pen, make for a terrific adventure to tickle the taste buds of independent readers.

It would make a super class read aloud too – as long as you don’t laugh so much you lose the plot.

The Princess and the Shoe

The Princess and the Shoe
Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton
Nosy Crow

Young Princess Jasmine, hater of fancy frills and beribboned gowns has much better things to do than think about dancing with a prince, let alone getting one to kiss her. She’d far rather run about playing on the green with the other children, so when she spies a poster announcing a cross country race scheduled for the following Sunday, she’s determined to enter.

First though, she has to practise, which proves something of a challenge, especially as she ends up waist deep in muck.

And then she discovers that the date of the race clashes with her Big Birthday Ball.

It’s a rather downcast young Jasmine who sits in her window that night contemplating her lot. Suddenly out of the darkness there appears …

The tiny being offers to grant young Jasmine her wish and with a swish of her wand she produces some super go-fast shoes, saying that the magic runs out at midday.

On race day, Jasmine is ready at the starting line and sets off confidently, looking as though she’ll easily finish in time to get to the ball. But then as she’s crossing a sticky, muddy patch disaster strikes and one of her shoes is washed away down the stream.

Does the princess give up in despair: oh no she doesn’t. On she strides wearing just one red trainer gaining speed all the time …

Guess who makes it first through the finishing tape where a welcome party awaits.

Was her win due to those magic trainers or could it have been Jasmine’s self-belief and determination?

As always Caryl’s faultless rhyming narrative slides off the tongue making it a joy to read aloud, while Sarah’s scenes are sheer delight, brilliantly expressive and full of sparkle without the need for any added glitter or foil adornment.

A deliciously different Cinderella tale.

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut / Make & Play: Space / Balloon to the Moon

Here are three very different books all with a space theme:

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut
Ruth Quayle and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow

Space engineer, Suzy Orbit lives with her boss, Captain Gizmo in a lunar space station.

One morning they learn that aliens have been spotted within range of their location and they need to act quickly to launch their space pod. The Captain orders one forthwith but it arrives without batteries and those the Captain has don’t fit.
Furthermore his shiny new space suit is way too small and as the aliens have by now arrived, it’s pointless trying to get a new speak-o-phone.

Happily though, the aliens are peaceable beings but they have bad news to share. Earth is about to be blasted by a meteor storm unless Suzy and her boss can stop it. No pressure there then.

Fortunately Suzy, with her tools always to hand, is an engineer extraordinaire and just happens to have a wonderful new invention ready and waiting. It’s as well that one of the team realises that it’s better to rely on ingenuity than ordering things on the net. Before you can say ‘blaster’ the two are heading out into the meteor storm with Suzy at the controls to do battle with those errant meteoroids. Can they save the day and see off the storm?

It’s great to see Suzy as a positive STEM character in the role of engineer/inventor in Ruth Quayle’s quirky tale. Jez Tuya’s bold illustrations show her as having determination and resourcefulness – exactly what’s needed in the face of the Captain’s lack of drive and inability to show any innovative aptitude.

Make & Play: Space
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

The latest of Joey Chou’s Make & Play interactive activity book series is sure to please young space enthusiasts.
It contains eight pages of bold, brightly coloured, double-sided press-out play pieces that can be used to create a space scene (some have a hole to suspend with thread while others slide together to stand). The entire set would make a great diorama with space dogs, aliens, astronauts and spacecraft, though if desired, the pieces can be fitted back into the spirally bound book for safe keeping.

There are also other space-related activities – a fruit rocket made from fresh fruit pieces; a song to learn; a ‘blast-off rocket’ science experiment, alien models to create (they could be made into puppets perhaps) and more.
There are hours of fun to be had with this, whether used by an individual, or a small group of young children.

For older space enthusiasts is:

Balloon to the Moon
Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielson
Big Picture Press

Rather than concentrating on the Space Race, this takes a historic look at the steps that began in the late 18th century with the Montgolfier brothers flight of a large unmanned balloon and led on to their sending a variety of animals skywards on a 3km flight three months later.

In the same year came the first manned untethered flight by inventor Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes who flew 8km in a Montgolfier balloon. Hot on their heels came the first woman to do similar, the following year (1784). There’s a whole spread given over to this balloon bonanza.

The narrative then shifts to the first half of the 20th century with a look at some aviation pioneers, followed by a focus on some iconic planes.

I was especially pleased to find some literary references on the opening page of the ‘rockets section’ where there’s a mention of both Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne. The author uses numbers in her selection of what she includes so we have, for instance ‘8 Rockets’

and ‘Into the Unknown 7’. The seven referring to the seven animals that became the first astronauts; and this chapter cleverly links these with an explanation of g-forces and their relation to fighter pilots and astronauts.

Much of the remaining part of the book provides information on the endeavours of the US and the Soviet Union to win the space race; and what happened thereafter. In conclusion there’s a quick look at some of the new information the Apollo Moon flights gave us; what ‘space travel has done for life on earth’ and a final look to the future.

Christopher Nielson’s retro style illustrations are full of humorous touches adding to the allure of the book and the enjoyment of the whole narrative.