Not a Cat in Sight / Ruffles and the New Green Thing

Not a Cat in Sight
Frances Stickley and Eamonn O’Neill
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Mouse sports a snazzy pair of specs so how come he is completely oblivious to the presence of a very large cat following his every move on this warm, sunny day? I’m sure young listeners to Frances’s splendidly rhythmic, rhyming narrative will, in addition to joining in the repeat refrain ‘with not a cat in sight’, be wanting to shout out to the little creature in best pantomime style, “Look out he’s behind you” as debut illustrator Eamonn O’Neill shows him in his suitably playful scenes dressing and venturing outdoors to spend an almost unimaginably ‘perfect day’.
Determined to make the very most of his day we see Mouse teeter across a tightrope, try a spot of skydiving,

delve deep in the compost for treasure, play at being a pirate, and more besides.

It’s sheer theatrical delight as myopic Mouse frolics hither and thither, his stalker ever on his trail until a comic slapstick moment involving a pooch coming to his aid, almost certainly saving him from a catastrophic demise.

But will our Mouse ever realise that during all of his wonderful adventures something has been right on his tail?

Ruffles and the New Green Thing
David Melling
Nosy Crow

When it comes to canine things Ruffles is pretty much like most other dogs; however he’s somewhat averse to anything new and different. It’s certainly true when he spies something green in his bowl: what ever is this green item unlike anything he’s ever seen before?
His initial sensory investigations yield no ideas but then he’s distracted by the arrival of his pal Ralph. Ralph is the dog that can dig deeper, find bigger sticks and jump higher than Ruffles but they both share a love of …

Having spend some playful energetic time together with his friend, Ralph decides to chomp at the new green thing and then it’s a case of anything Ralph can do … and suddenly the bowl is completely empty. What’s more Ruffles has a new favourite food. So Ruffles loves new things? Errr! …

With its clever mix of droll humour in the illustrations and a straightforward narrative, Ruffles fans will eagerly gobble this new episode up and I have no doubt the adorable pooch will add to his following too.

The Light Hunters / Dragon Storm; Ellis and Pathseeker

The Light Hunters
Dan Walker
UCLan Publishing

Prepare to be immediately swept up in this rip-roaring, action-packed fantasy adventure. ‘You ask me what light is? Light is everything. Every single thing . The very fabric of our world is made up of this force – people, trees, … Few can access Light, control it. You are one.’ So writes Professor Medela before the real story begins; but it’s key to the entire thing.

Twelve year old Lux lives with his ailing Grandpa and Miss Hart, his grandfather’s carer (but much more besides) in Grandpa’s clock repair shop. At school Lux, his best friend, tech-loving Maya and their fellow students are drilled in what to do should there be a Monster attack. For centuries the Light Hunters have, for the benefit of the townsfolk of Daven, done battle with these terrible creatures, not always successfully. In one attack a decade back, Lux’s immediate family along with half the town’s residents lost their lives, turning the people against Light.

Lux is on a mission to save his Grandpa’s life and to this end has been told to search for a book called Investigations into Light and Healing by a former Light Hunter. Now Lux himself has a secret: not only is he able to wield light, there’s a possibility he might be the finest Light Healer ever. Against his Grandpas’s strict instructions never to reveal his secret, Lux first uses his healing power for saving Maya when she receives a life-threatening injury from a Monster. However this deed draws to the town, one Deimos, a fallen Hunter determined to harness Lux’s power for his own dark and nefarious ends.
Readers join the hero on a journey with lightships, heart-stopping sights and perils unbounded, in this deft amalgam of relatable real-life emotions, a vividly conjured world, a race against time, humour and some wonderful characterisation. What more could one ask, other than, when is the second episode coming?

Dragon Storm: Ellis and Pathseeker
Alastair Chisholm, illustrated by Eric Deschamps
Nosy Crow

In the kingdom of Rivven dragons are forbidden. However, hidden from normal people and their King is The Dragonseer Guild, a place for a group of people with a special power enabling them to see beyond the human world. Ellis and his dragon Pathseer are part of this secret league.

Now it’s the Maze Festival in Rivven, and Ellis and Pathseeker are set on being first to complete the three mazes in the the king’s palace grounds and become this year’s tournament winners. But in the mazes they discover a mysterious girl who has her own reasons for wanting to win the tournament and she’s secretly using dangerous dragon magic by wielding a strange necklace.

Now there’s much more at stake for Ellis and Pathseeker. It will take all their courage and expertise to find a path back out of the mazes; yes Pathseeker does eventually discover her power. But can they keep the existence of dragons and the Guild a secret from King Godfic?

This third Dragon Storm adventure is every bit as exciting as the previous two and existing fans as well as new readers will be swept up by the narrative, but want to pause to enjoy Eric Deschamps’ illustrations along the way.

A Trio of Board Books

Sophie has Lunch
Sophie Goes to Sleep

Templar Publishing

Designed to foster routines that create happy mealtimes and bedtimes, these two board books feature a giraffe toy from France, ‘Sophie la girafe’.

In the first it’s 12.30pm – time for the little giraffe to have her lunch. Before that though, as per the instructions, she should wash her hooves (the text says, “Before we eat, we should wash our hands.’) Then having done so and helped set the table, we see what foods are on offer – it’s good that there are several vegetables and Sophie tries cucumber for the very first time. Seemingly she enjoyed her first course for her plate is almost empty and she’s ready to choose something sweet and healthy from the fridge.
In addition to the simple main, always upbeat narrative, each double spread has a helpful tip for adult sharers.

In the second book Sophie is almost ready for bed. But first she should tidy away her toys, enjoy a splishy splashy bath, brush her teeth – as per the instructions, then put on her pyjamas. Clever Sophie! She appears to have done this by herself and once in bed, it’s time for a bedtime story and a cuddle before she snuggles right down under her favourite blanket and light dimmed, drifts off to sleep.
With brightly illustrated, textured pages, practical tips from Lizzie Noble and simple home-related language, there’s lots of learning potential for little ones here.

Bizzy Bear My First Memory Game : Animals
Benji Davies and Camilla Reid
Nosy Crow

There’s an abundance of animals large and small to be discovered in the four settings – the farm, the zoo, beneath the sea and in the park – that Benji Davies illustrates in his busy scenes for this large format board book. At each location, Bizzy Bear has a different role: he brings food for the farm animals, acts as ranger driving around visitors to the zoo, is at the helm of a submarine under the sea and enjoys a cycle around the park.

There are three memory games for each location: hide and seek wherein all the sliders start closed and then a little hand should open them one at a time and search in the full page scene opposite for the creature revealed beneath each slider. Matching pairs is game two where memorising the animals’ positions beneath the sliders is required

and the third is a search and find game with three questions, the answers to which are found in the relevant large picture.

With a wealth of fun language possibilities, memory building and more (depending on the age of the child) this is recommended for family enjoyment especially, though I’m sure imaginative early years practitioners can also think of ways to share it with small groups.

Sam Plants a Sunflower / Tilly Plants a Tree / Shelly Hen Lays Eggs

Sam Plants a Sunflower
Kate Petty and Axel Scheffler
Tilly Plants a Tree
William Petty and Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with the National Trust, these lift-the flap books each with a strategically placed pop-up are just right for helping young children discover the delights of growing things for themselves.

As Sam cat basks in the sunshine a passing ladybird responds to his “Why can’t the sun shine every day?”with a suggestion that he should plant sunflowers. We then follow the process as he chooses a suitable day, a suitable spot in his garden, plants and waters his seeds and waits. And waits … Beneath the soil (and a series of flaps) an earthworm watches adding comments until a few days later, Sam discovers a row of sprouting leaves. As it gets hotter Sam worries about how to help his sunflowers grow and receives advice from the ladybird. The plants continue getting ever taller until eventually buds appear but still Sam waits for his big yellow sunflowers until at last there to his delight, that of his friends and of readers, they are.

As summer ends the petals fall, the leaves wither and there again is the reassuring ladybird telling Sam to remove the seeds, share them with his pals and plant them the following spring.
If by chance, the story hasn’t made youngsters eager to plant sunflowers, there’s a final page of helpful tips.

Tilly, the main character in the second story is a squirrel. One day she rushes home from school with exciting news; everyone in her class is going to grow an oak tree. Grandma takes Tilly to a woodland full of majestic oaks and beneath Grandma’s special tree the little squirrel finds an acorn. Gran knows just what to do to get the acorn to germinate and after more than a year, with the help of ladybird and worm too, Tilly’s sapling is ready to be planted out in the wood near her Grandma’s.

With its straightforward explanatory narrative and a final page of tips I’m sure many little humans will be eagerly collecting acorns for planting this autumn.
Ideal for sharing with foundation stage children and for home use, both books have bright, expressive illustrations from Axel Scheffler that young children and readers aloud will enjoy.

Shelly Hen Lays Eggs
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

This is the third in the Follow My Food picture book series aimed at helping young children understand where their food comes from. We join a little boy as he watches Shelly a free range hen as she takes a dust bath to get rid of mites, feeds on bugs in the grass and herbs she comes upon, clucks with her friends in the flock, returns to her coop at sundown, settles down in the nesting box and at dawn, lays an egg ready for the helpful little boy narrator to collect along with the other eggs later in the morning. It might even be the one he eats for his tea.
After Deborah Chancellor’s straightforward narrative accompanied by Julia Groves’ bright, cut paper illustrations comes a trail-type quiz based on the facts of the story, where youngsters match words and pictures. There are two further information pages with paragraphs on ‘Happy Hens’, ‘Tasty Eggs’ and Chatty Chickens’.
Food is a popular theme in foundation stage settings so this would be a useful book to add to school and nursery collections.

Max Counts to A Million / Wigglesbottom Primary: The Talking Lamb

These are both very funny books from Nosy Crow – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Max Counts to A Million
Jeremy Williams

Those first days of lockdown in March 2020 are probably still lingering in the minds of many of us in the UK whether we are adults or like Max, a child at primary school. Max, so he tells readers, is an ordinary eight-year old boy living an ordinary life with his father, a hospital doctor, and nutritionist mother. Then Covid 19 happens: like the rest of us he is scared, frustrated, confused, often bored, missing close contact with family and friends, and thinking it can’t last for long. But it does; schools close and for Max it means that his father goes to stay in a hotel to keep family members safe; he’s under his mother’s feet much of the time and his Grandad is briefly hospitalised with the dreaded virus.

Max doesn’t actually plan to count beyond the hundred he’s told to, it just kind of happens when after an upset with his mum he announces, “Fine” … I’ll count to a million.” This extraordinary statement, crazy as it may sound, becomes not the way to distract himself the boy first intends, but a protracted act that over the weeks, with the help of family, friends and neighbours, brings together a whole community and raises vast sums for NHS charities.

Poignant, honest, humorous – I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions – and splendidly told in a chatty style by Max himself a keen observer who shares his ups and downs, this ultimately uplifting book perfectly captures a moment in recent history we’re unlikely to forget.

Wigglesbottom Primary: The Talking Lamb
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Becka Moor

It’s always fun to be in the company of Miss Riley’s Class 2; in this eighth book are three further lively episodes. The first tells of what Theo Burke decides is probably the best day of his life, a trip to a petting zoo. Having visited and appreciated – mostly – several animals everyone sits down for lunch on the picnic benches beside the lambs. And that’s when the real fun begins: one of the lambs puts in a request.

Or does it? Be it yes or no, the result is considerable chaos, some chastisement and a surprise revelation.

The same is true when a new art teacher arrives. Dev, as she asks to be called, rather foolishly – but then it’s her first encounter with Class 2 – asks them as she sits on the floor, to “Paint! Paint your passion! Paint off the paper!” Enough said …

In the final episode of this book (but hopefully not of the series), despite it being almost the end of the summer term, and Year 6’s final day ever because they’re off on a week’s residential trip, members of Class 2 are surprised when they are approached by the leavers, who pass on instructions that as of now it’s down to them to protect “the school secret”. To reveal what this is would be to spoil the story but let’s just say it involves a very big box and something potentially very dangerous.

Laughs aplenty guaranteed for readers be they the solo kind or adult readers aloud. As always Becka Moor’s illustrations are a hoot and play a significant part in the hilariousness of this series. ( Her portrayal of Dev is splendid.)

Natural History Board Books

Who’s Hiding: In the Garden?
Pintachan and Amelia Hepworth
Little Tiger

Having lost her five babies, Mummy Snail needs help to find them. First she asks Frog and thanks to him, locates the first of her missing offspring. Following Mouse’s suggestion, she discovers baby number two and Puppy’s advice enables her to find the third. With two still in hiding along comes Butterfly as she approaches the strawberry plant. You can guess what’s beneath one of the juicy fruits … and that leaves just one. Now where can it be? …
With flaps for little fingers to manipulate in Pintachan’s bold, bright cut away spreads of the search, a simple narrative with speech bubbles and sounds coming from the baby snails to join in with, Amelia Hepworth’s countdown narrative provides plenty to engage little ones who participate in Mummy Snail’s hunt.

One Little Seed
Becky Davies and Charlotte Pepper
Little Tiger

It never ceases to amaze this adult reviewer how from one tiny seed, a lovely flower can grow, often indeed many, many beautiful flowers. It all depends on what kind of seed whether you get a single bloom or a multitude all blooming on one plant and we see both examples in Charlotte Pepper’s bright, alluring illustrations.
In her text for this biggish board book, Becky Davies’s engaging narrative certainly encourages young children to go outdoors with an adult, involve themselves in nature and use all their senses to investigate the flora, (along with the fauna and natural environment in general) around them,

preferably with the book to hand.
There’s a spread with information about how to grow your own flower from seed, and/or a bulb; another showing some of the delicious fruits and vegetables flowering plants produce; we visit a community garden and finally are reminded of the cycle of life in which every one of us, young and not so young can play a part. With a wealth of flaps to explore – several per spread – with further information – visual and verbal – beneath each, this book will one hopes, motivate little ones to be outdoor explorers.

The Tree Book
Hannah Alice
Nosy Crow

Illustrated by Hannah Alice, this large format book was produced in consultation with Simon Toomer, recently appointed Curator of Living Collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The sturdy, see-through pages contain a considerable amount of information written in a young child-friendly style. Interesting, fun and interactive, it introduces users to the inner workings of a tree.
The cut out, see-through pages allow you to ‘look inside’ each part of the tree – roots, trunk, branches and leaves – and see how it functions and grows. Each page presents a different tree-related topic such as new leaves, flowers and pollen, leaves and photosynthesis,

fruits and seeds, mighty minibeasts, underground roots of different types of trees.
The written narrative, with corresponding stylised but clear pictures, takes us through the four seasons and concludes with a look at the importance of caring for and perhaps planting new trees. Without these wonderful plants, none of us would have fresh oxygen to breath.
Walking in a place that has lots of trees is one of my favourite things to do, and I’d certainly suggest it’s never too early to start fostering a love of trees in children; this book could be a good place to start.

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny / Sweet Dreams, Bruno

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny
Emily Ann Davison and Deborah Allwright
Nosy Crow

Little bunny Yo-Yo finds it impossible to keep still and going to bed at night, she just can’t sleep. One day Grandpa has a bright idea: he’s going to teach them some yoga he tells the little ones. Roxy and Flo soon manage the bridge and mountain poses; not so Yo-Yo who waggles, wiggles and jiggles. And when it comes to trying tree, two little bunnies can do the breathing and the balancing whereas their sibling is distracted by a passing butterfly which she just has to follow.

Before long she’s lost in a shadowy forest and starts to panic. But then having flopped to the floor she begins to recall some of the things her Grandpa has taught her. First comes the slow breathing and as she calms down she recalls the yoga shapes she’s been shown

and with her thoughts no longer whizzing, she’s able to imagine the route that will take her all the way home. Once there she finds the others still doing yoga. Can she join them and this time, stay calm and still?

Following debut author Emily Ann Davison’s sweet story, are instructions and demonstrations by Yo-Yo of six yoga poses, to help young children breathe, stretch and feel calm. Deborah Allwright’s amusing illustrations made the yoga teacher part of me giggle as I recalled some of the Yo-Yos I’ve encountered in classes over the years.

Published in collaboration with the National Trust, there’s a QR code inside the front cover of the book which if scanned with a mobile provides a free reading of the book.

Sweet Dreams, Bruno
Knister and Eve Tharlet
minedition

Despite it being that time of year, young marmot, Bruno is reluctant to settle down for a long winter sleep. Various other of the animals offer alternatives: goat suggests spending winter climbing on
the slippery rocks; jackdaw says he can share her nest high up in a tree; he could brave the moggies in the farmhouse and move in with mouse, join hare and romp in the snow or even accompany the swallows and winter in Africa. However none of these are feasible for the little creature and with a yawn and a sigh, Bruno decides, “I guess everyone spends winter in their own way. For a marmot hibernation’s the best.” Bidding a temporary farewell to his friends, he settles down in his cosy den and falls fast asleep.

His dreams provide Bruno with the action and exciting adventures he eschewed in real life as he leaps from mountain top to mountain top – ‘Hooray!’, floats up to join jackdaw in her nest – ‘Amazing!’ and even accompanies mouse on a cat hunt – ‘Woo-hoo!’

There’s further fun too, lasting until voices break into his dreamworld as his friends call him to action for a long summer of togetherness.

Eve Tharlet’s seasonal scenes are at once naturalistic and whimsical adding gentle humour to Knister’s straightforward telling. A story for bedtime sharing or KS1 story sessions.

Every Cloud / You’re Not the Boss of Me

Every Cloud
Ros Roberts
Little Tiger

Moving from primary to secondary school is a big change for everyone, but nothing is going right for eleven year old Amy. She’s already had to move house and that means she’s no longer in the catchment area of the secondary school her best friends will be going to. Moreover with Amy’s supposed best friend Cassie being unaccountably mean and Pop’s dementia getting worse, so much so that she and her Mum are to spend the holidays on the other side of town with Pops and Gran. Things can’t really get any worse.

However, to Amy’s surprise, living across the road from her grandparents is Jay a quiet, kind boy from her primary school who is going to her designated secondary school. Pops confuses him with his erstwhile best friend Spinney whom he hasn’t seen for many years and the two of them start playing shove ha’penny together.

As a friendship develops between Jay and Amy, she discovers that friendship can mean much more than she originally realised: having somebody you’re comfortable talking to, someone who listens attentively, is just as vital, maybe more so, than any other quality.

During her stay with Gran and Pops, a lot of surprising things happen and towards the end of the holiday Amy has an important decision to make: one that will affect the next stage of her life. How will she respond?

Exploring the importance of family, friendship and growing up, this empathetic story will appeal particularly to those readers around the same age as Amy.

You’re Not the Boss of Me
Catherine Wilkins
Nosy Crow

Loud and proud, positive but far from perfect, Amy Miller truly is a force to be reckoned with.
When the lower school comedy show is announced, she signs up immediately; she can’t wait to start writing some sketches; but then their drama teacher puts Harry in charge. Initially Amy doesn’t understand why he blocks her writing submissions and is extremely unpleasant towards her. She thinks that he just doesn’t like her but then she sees other girls also being sidelined and realises it’s more than that. Harry is being sexist, her elder sister, Caz informs Amy. Moreover, Mrs Hague who appointed Harry her shadow director, won’t listen to anything Amy says about her treatment. Fortunately Caz provides Amy with the information she needs to show how unfair the planning and organising of the revue really is, preparing her to do battle to fight for her rights.

Meanwhile at home Amy’s determined efforts to make life for her entire family better, have the completely opposite effect; the same is true, when she does likewise for school friends.
On a more positive note, Amy begins to forge a new friendship with Lexi who becomes her musical collaborator for the show. Anil too (her erstwhile best friend) also steps up to the mark, but then declines to own his part in Amy’s plan.

By the end of this laugh out loud story, Amy has learned a fair bit about herself, not least concerning her misguided helpfulness both at home and with best pals Mai and Sadie; she also finds out more about Anil and gains an insight into Harry’s behaviour.

Showing that everyone has the right to demonstrate their passions in a way that feels right for them, Catherine Wilkins’ brilliantly observed tale of determination and drama in the face of sexism and misogyny, is a great one for older readers.

The Girl Who Planted Trees

The Girl Who Planted Trees
Caryl Hart and Anastasia Suvorova
Nosy Crow

On learning from her grandpa that the mountain at the foot of which their village home is situated was once covered in a green forest a little girl becomes distraught.

The following morning she sets out up the mountain and at the top begins to dig. Then she plants a single pip and returns home forgetting to water it. When she returns there’s no sign of a shoot and back home Grandpa explains that without water a seed will never grow. Later on she enlists the help of other villagers and after a week she’s ready to return up to the mountain top with a large number of seeds all shapes and sizes. She does this day after day always remembering to water the seeds and it’s not too long before seeds are sprouting up.

Eventually she’s able to show her grandpa the results of her endeavours – a patch of green atop the great grey mountain. But then a fierce storm destroys all the trees.

Refusing to give up, the girl suggests planting more seeds and keeping them close to their home until they’re strong. She and her grandpa do just that and over the weeks their yard becomes filled with pots of thriving seedlings. Then comes the time to transplant them, but the little girl is despondent as she sees that even after all their hard work, it will take ‘a thousand years to cover the whole mountain by ourselves.”

Happily they don’t have to for the little girl has inspired the entire village to help restore the forest to its former greenness – a place where future generations too will appreciate the beauty and richness of nature.

Caryl Hart’s powerful story with its ecological theme shows the importance of conserving our precious trees and is superbly complemented by Anastasia Suvorova’s illustrations showing the changes brought about over the months and years, and all thanks to the determination and resilience of one little girl and a whole lot of pips. A terrific book to share, and bursting with potential for KS1 teachers.

Goddess:50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief

Goddess:50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and other female figures who have shaped belief
Dr Janina Ramirez, illustrated by Sarah Walsh
Nosy Crow

With its more explanatory subtitle ’50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and other female figures who have shaped belief ‘ and published in collaboration with the British Museum, this book showcases the lives of female figures whose qualities and skills as creators, warriors, leaders, healers, and protectors of the mystical kind have helped shape belief today.

Organised into five sections – Ruling and Guiding, New Life, War and Death, Love and Wisdom and, Animals and Nature, cultural historian Dr Janina Ramirez presents stories of fascinating female figures some of which will likely be familiar to readers, others who probably will not.
First though comes an introduction that shares ideas about how the meaning of the word ‘goddess’ has changed over time.
Thereafter, each double spread presents a different character with associated legends and is brought to life by Sarah Walsh’s bold, bright illustrations together with photographs of objects from the collections of the British Museum.

You’ll read about figures from Greek, Celtic and Norse mythology, as well as those from further afield -West African,

Indian and Native American – mythology. From Ariadne, Asase Yaa and Anat to Sarasvati, Tiamat and Xiwangmu there’s a connecting thread – that of the power of the female – that runs throughout the book.

Both educational and entertaining, this fascinating celebration of woman power in its many forms should definitely find a place in school topic boxes, libraries, and home collections.

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms / Escape Room

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms
Jamar J. Perry
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Drawing on West African and Igbo culture and mythology the author has created a powerful, multi-layered fantasy quest.

Twelve year old Cameron is of Igbo descent and having lost his parents two years earlier, is living with his grandmother in Atlanta. From time to time he has strange experiences but puts them down to his prolific imagination. Cameron is forbidden to enter the attic wherein is kept The Book of Chidani, a family heirloom which he’s been told not to touch.

At the start of the summer holidays, he and his two best friends Aliyah and Zion are having a sleepover. Drawn by the book, Cameron’s last connection to his parents, they sneak into the attic to read it and in so doing, open the portal to the kingdom of Chidani.

There he learns that he’s now the Chidani people’s Descendant and is tasked with saving the country from a power grab by the Queen’s sister Amina. That means he, with the help of his friends has to retrieve three stolen magical artefacts while at the same time face monsters, gods, and their personal fears. They have just three moons in which to do it: will they find all three in that time?

A gripping adventure of loss and love, courage and perseverance.

Escape Room
Christopher Edge
Nosy Crow

Christopher Edge’s story sucks you in right away. Full of twists and turns, it’s a fast-paced adventure, a mystery and a game all in one and will have special appeal to fans of computer games.

The narrator is twelve year old Ami, who is given a ticket to an escape room as a birthday gift from her dad. On arrival she’s expecting to participate in a game but having checked in, met her fellow players – Adjoa, Ibrahim, Oscar and Min – Ami learns from the Host that they have been chosen to save the world and they must work together to find the Answer.

However, when he locks them inside the first room, they quickly realise this is no ordinary game. It’s essential that this disparate group learn to work together, drawing on individual’s strengths in order to solve all the problems they confront in the various chambers they enter. There’s a chess computer to beat, a vast dusty library, a Mayan tomb, a shopping mall that’s deserted save for extinct animals, as well as the commando module of a spaceship bound for Mars. Is there no end to the dangers?

Time is running out: Ami just needs to find the Answer …

There’s a brilliant final twist to this hugely thought-provoking, topical tale and it’s one that lingers long after you’ve put the book down. Just superb.

Memorable Characters Return – Pizazz vs the Demons / Magnificent Mabel and the Very Bad Birthday Party

Pizazz vs the Demons
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Super-talented Sophy Henn’s fourth book starring the irrepressible, eye-rolling, weirdly super-powered 9½ year old superhero, Pizazz sees her having to face not one but five Demon Pizazzes on account of that super bad Copycat with her Super Power Duplicator.
But how does this dastardly device actually work? That is what Pizazz must find out; but the really big issue is that she must defeat those deadly demons or maybe they’re only ‘five awesome but slightly bad’ alter egos, all on her own.

One thing is certain however and that’s the urgent need for an unlimited source of snacks to help things along.
Next day when it seems the situation can’t really get any worse, Mrs Harris picks our narrator(s) to read in the following week’s special happiness assembly.
Can Pizazz possibly get the better of so many demonic selves in this, her trickiest ever undertaking?

Fans of these part graphic novel style stories will devour this in a single sitting and it’s likely Pizazz will also win some new followers too.

Magnificent Mabel and the Very Bad Birthday Party
Ruth Quayle and Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Young Mabel unleashes her magnificence for three further episodes in this, her sixth book.
In the first, it hardly seems fair that on 25th August, her birthday, despite all her best plans Mabel ends up writing and sending out party invitations to every one of her classmates. It’s either that or face a distinct shortage of presents on the big day.
Then comes the question of those packed lunches her parents send her to school with. Cheese sandwiches, yogurt and a measly apple every day is pretty terrible, especially when one of her classmates, Elsa Kavinsky is allowed to consume such alluring items as Star Bars: it’s enough to leave her weak with hunger. Time to procure one of the tasty treats for herself – uh-oh! But whose lunches contain those most important muscle-building vitamins?
It’s holiday time in story three but rather than being the restful time Mabel so hoped for, her family members are always doing something or other and like them, she doesn’t get a minute to relax. Can Mabel discover the delights of being busy too or is she doomed to have a horrible time away?
At the end of the day, no matter what happens, wherever she goes, whatever she does, this young narrator always emerges as magnificent.

Ruth Quayle’s amusing writing again presents ideas that young children relate to and together with Julia Christians’ equally amusing illustrations aplenty, this is spot on for young readers just starting to fly solo. It would also make a fun read aloud for reception classes.

Frank and Bert

Frank and Bert
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Nosy Crow

What is more important to you: is it being a winner or being a really good friend? That question is explored in Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’s new story starring bear Bert and Frank, a fox who acts as narrator.

Their favourite game is hide-and-seek in which Bert is sure he’s an ace hider and loves to do so. The trouble is the bulky bear is far from an expert and inevitably Frank finds him easily every time, which Bert puts down to not being given sufficient time to stow himself away.

So, instead of the usual count of ten, Frank decides to give Bert a hundred before he starts to search.

Can he now find the perfect place to hide?

The crazy comic capers of the adorable duo are brilliantly highlighted by their day-glo bright garments be they in their appropriate places or gradually becoming unravelled across the lumpy, bumpy landscape.

Hugely entertaining yes, but with a moral dilemma at its heart. It’s great for sharing with a class, group or individual, though equally, the simplicity of the language makes it a rewarding story for learner readers too. An absolute gem of a book in every way.

Rabbit’s Pancake Picnic / Little Owl’s New Friend

Rabbit’s Pancake Picnic
Tegen Evans and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Rabbit is a determined, independent character and insists she’s going to make pancakes for her picnic all by herself. That’s the plan but then she discovers her recipe book is missing from the basket she’s packed. Botheration! She’ll have to wing it she decides as she starts adding ingredients to her mixing bowl.

In go first, strawberries (10) then syrup (9 spoonsful), followed in decreasing numbers by apples , lemons, bananas, cheese chunks, tomatoes, blobs of cream, spoonsful of sugar and finally a single pinch of salt. All the while she firmly resists her friends’s suggestions, but the end result is a ghastly-looking mess. Poor Rabbit; she dashes off to the woods to hide herself away.

But then along comes Bear and he has something that might just save the day …

A sweet, but unlike Rabbit’s mixture – far from sickly tale of teamwork, listening to the advice of one’s friends and the delights of working together. There’s so much for young listeners to enjoy including the adorable characters, the repeat refrains to join in with, the counting opportunities and then there’s the bonus of Rabbit’s Perfect Pancake recipe at the end. MMM!

Little Owl’s New Friend
Debi Gliori and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In this new Little Owl story, the chief protagonist is far from happy when his mum interrupts his play with his toy hedgehog, Hedge, announcing that “Small Squirrel has come to play.” A flat refusal comes from Little Owl: no way is a new friend joining in their Hungry Lion game.

Now Mum needs to use some clever tactics,. Can cinnamon buns (now I’d certainly weaken at the mention of those), change her offspring’s mind?

Small Squirrel seems to like them. If not perhaps a bear hunt, picnic-marauding Snaffleworms, or even a ‘Hush-Hush’ might save the day?

There’s SO much to talk about here. Both author Debi and illustrator Alison beautifully capture the feelings of youngsters who are apprehensive about making new friends. Young children will delight in Mummy Owl’s clever ploys while also empathising with both Little Owl and Small Squirrel.
Add to early years collections and home bookshelves if you have little humans of the preschool kind.

Dragon Storm Tomas and Ironskin / Dragon Storm Cara and Silverthief`

Dragon Storm Tomas and Ironskin
Dragon Storm Cara and Silverthief`

Alastair Chisholm, illustrated by Eric Deschamps
Nosy Crow

As the son of a blacksmith it seems as though eleven year old Tomas is destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. Then strange things start happening. First he sees a dragon face in the flames of the fire and then after watching Tomas wield a sword, a man returns offering the lad an apprenticeship. With his parents in financial difficulty, it’s an offer not to be refused.

Off he goes to the city leaving his parents far behind and it’s not long before he learns a secret. Despite what he’s been led to believe, the dragons are anything but extinct, at least not in the land of Draconis, and Tomas’s apprenticeship is with the secret Dragonseer’s guild. There’s a lot to learn as Tomas and his fellow apprentices discover during their training with their dragons.

Soon a problem rears its head for Tomas: Ironskin, his dragon reminds him of home and he misses his parents. This gets in the way of him forming a true bond with her, meaning he has to leave. Then a fire breaks out endangering his parents’ lives … Seemingly real trust between boy and dragon is the only thing that can save them and get everyone out of a desperate situation.

Fast moving and full of excitement, this is ideal for newly independent readers, and Eric Deschamps black and white illustrations make the book even more appealing.

The second magical adventure in the series focuses on Cara and Silverthief, her dragon. Cara, whom we met in the first book, has spent her earlier life on the streets and consequently is unused to having friends (other than the voice in her head,) nor trusting others.

What is it that they’re not being told? What lies on the other side of the stone door not to be entered?
Trust is again key in this gripping tale of derring do; so too is friendship; but then really the two are interconnected; so will rule-breaking Cara become part of the Dragonseer family or will she return from whence she came? The choice is hers …

It’s really good to see a series that both boys and girls will enjoy.

Board Books Small and Not So Small

Hello Frog
Sophie Ledesma and Isabel Otter
Caterpillar Books

Having greeted Frog as he sets out through the jungle, toddlers can then join him in saying ‘hello’ to in turn, Hummingbird, Snake, Monkey and Moth on subsequent spreads, as well as other creatures that have hidden themselves away behind flaps shaped as lily pads, flowers, leaves and fruit.
Then, come nightfall, as the little amphibian closes his eyes after an eventful day, it’s time to bid “Goodnight Frog” and, prompted by the question on the final spread, turn back to the beginning and search for the twelve labelled items.
With Sophie Ledesma’s bold, bright, patterned illustrations, lots of interactive features and a simple repetitive text, this is a board book little ones will want to return to over and over.

Where’s Mr Puffin?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

In her bold bright scenes, the illustrator Ingela P Arrhenius introduces toddlers to in turn, a kingfisher, a blackbird, a swan and a puffin each of which is all but completely hidden behind a felt flap in this addition to the super hide-and-seek series published in collaboration with the National Trust. They’ll also meet a fish, a buzzy bee, a frog and a gull before the final ‘And where are you?’ spread whereon a mirror is revealed when the yacht sail is flipped down.

When You’re Fast Asleep
Peter Arrhenius and Ingela Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

Subtitled “Who Works At Night-Time’ this large format board book is a collaboration between team Arrhenius. With a largely urban setting, Ingela’s first six lively scenes show a busy bakery kitchen with a team of people hard at work making bread and biscuits; fishing boats setting out to sea;

a guard on the night shift of an art gallery; a train driver whose train is just emerging from beneath a bridge in the moonlight, a hospital doctor doing the ward rounds; a street deserted save for the half dozen hard-hatted men and women mending the road. FInally, as a new day begins the same street shows the night workers leaving their places of work and some other people whose days are just beginning while in his rhyming narrative, author Peter Arrhenius asks youngsters to “Remember all the special things the night workers have done.’

A fun, gently educational book to share just before little ones snuggle down at bedtime.

Great Britons

Great Britons
Imogen Russell Williams, illustrated by Sara Mulvanny
Nosy Crow

Who could fail to be moved by the stories of the fifty people featured in this selection of biographies of key figures who have made Great Britain their home, have made great contributions to society and had a significant impact upon the ways we live, think and feel in today’s world, of which Great Britain is but a small part.

Coming from many different walks of life and eras as far back as Boudicca, the warrior queen of early Britain who led the revolt against the Romans, to contemporary authors Malorie Blackman,

and Lemn Sissay, and Malala Yousafzai, who continually fights for every girl’s right to an education, each of the men and women has added to the rich diversity and talent that is Britain. Every person is allocated a bordered double spread wherein author Imogen Russell Williams highlights the key events of his/her life and their achievements, and is thoughtfully illustrated by Sara Mulvanny.

Herein readers can meet inspiring contributors to medicine, science, engineering, sport, the arts, activism, and the environment including Edith Cavell and Elsie Inglis, Alexander Fleming and Tim Berners-Lee,

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Mo Farah and Tanni Grey-Thompson, Shirley Bassey and Freddy Mercury, Paul Stephenson and David Attenborough. One name is new to me so I must mention Olaudah Equiano once a slave, who as a writer and abolitionist made an enormous difference to the fight against slavery.

A book to add to primary school libraries and family collections.

Following Frankenstein

Following Frankenstein
Catherine Bruton
Nosy Crow

This is a terrific book inspired by Mary Shelley’s gothic story. It begins in Victorian England and is narrated by Maggie the daughter of a Frankenstein obsessive Captain Robert Walton who has dedicated his entire life to tracking down the iconic monster created by Victor Frankenstein. Already this obsession has cost Maggie and her family dear – and now her father is staking all on one final voyage to the Arctic in search of the elusive monster that he considers his destiny.

Unbeknown to her father however, Maggie, accompanied by her pet mouse Victor, boards the ship, a whaler named Moby Dick.

It’s not long however before the girl is discovered by the Captain Ishmael but instead of throwing her off, he makes a pact with Maggie: “Between you and me we will see Captain Walton through the storm and bring him back to safe harbour once more.”

The journey takes them to the icy Arctic Tundra where a horrific revelation is made, then to New York, which couldn’t be more different, and for Maggie, separated from her father, on through America towards Canada. It’s a journey of adventures, terrors, of monsters and heroes and Maggie is a strong character, caring, kind and prepared to take enormous risks for those she loves.

Once again Catherine Bruton has created a gripping story with superb descriptions of the various landscapes but fundamentally this tale is about love, family, loyalty and friendship, accepting difference and looking for what’s good. It will enthral readers and listeners keeping them on the edge of their seats until the final page: unable to put it down, I read the book in a single sitting.

In a word – brilliant!

Sunday Funday

Sunday Funday
Katherine Halligan and Jesús Verona
Nosy Crow

Subtitled A Nature Activity for Every Weekend of the Year and created in collaboration with the National Trust, this bumper book, written by Katherine Halligan and organised by season offers a smashing way (or rather fifty two ways) to encourage youngsters to make the most of what the natural world has to offer.

As a seasoned teacher of primary children, many of the activities are familiar but no matter, they probably won’t be to families using the book for whom in addition to the main part of the book, there are four ‘key kits’ lists (craft materials, kitchen equipment, adventure items and garden bits and pieces), as well as a list of safety tips; and, the yoga teacher part of me was delighted to find the ‘Be a Tree’ spread.

There are recipes, gardening projects for both indoors and out, and much more. In the spring section I particularly liked the ‘Noisy Nature Concert’

and the idea of a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in summer sounds lots of fun, especially the suggestion of using old sun hats to create small hanging gardens.

Lots of people take photos of walks they’ve enjoyed to act as reminders: the ‘Nature memory Jar’ suggestion in the Autumn section is a great way to make a different sort of memory of a enjoyable day out

and I’m definitely going to try making the ‘Gorgeous Granola’ using the recipe in the same section. It’s good to see the rangoli design idea for the festival of Diwali using such items as leaves as well as the more traditional materials.

Although I’m not really ready to think about winter just yet, I will start collecting fir cones when out walking in preparation for making some ‘Pine Cone Pals’ with youngsters when winter arrives.

Each activity is colourfully and alluringly illustrated by Jesús Verona. Be it rain or shine, you’ll find something to tempt you in this book that will last not just one but several years.

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.