The Curse of the Tomb Robbers

The Curse of the Tomb Robbers
Andy Seed and James Weston Lewis
Nosy Crow

In this puzzling adventure set in ancient Egypt 1422 BCE readers are asked to assist apprentice scribe Nub and his friend Iteti to stop a gang of robbers intent of stealing items from the tomb of Queen Neith.
To do so the two friends need to discover the exact location of the burial place and halt the robbers before a terrible curse is unleashed. 

When they try to find Iteti’s father the vizier to let him know of the robbers, they are told he’s away, so leaving a message with a trusted servant telling him to go with soldiers to Queen Neith’s tomb. they decide to go ahead and follow the robber gang to the pyramids.

There’s a hieroglyph puzzle to solve on most spreads and lots of ‘Did You Know’ information bubbles as the story proceeds, as well as the possibility of whether or not there really was a curse to ponder upon. If you find yourself stuck over any of the puzzles all the solutions are at the back of the book as is a glossary, a codebreaking guide, hieroglyph charts and a list of 70 Egyptian words with their English translations.

Written in collaboration with The British Museum, readers will learn a lot as they participate in this adventure and James Weston Lewis’s stylish illustrations do an excellent job of capturing life in Ancient Egypt. KS2 readers, especially those with an interest in history will enjoy this and it’s a good one to add to primary school libraries too.

Always, Clementine

Always, Clementine
Carlie Sorosiak
Nosy Crow

Clementine is a mouse, an extraordinary one. On account of her altered DNA, from the day of her birth she’s been thinking about prime numbers, sometimes uses Latin and is able to sign to her friend. This amazing book is made up of imaginary letters written from this mega-intelligent mouse to her much-loved chimpanzee friend, Rosie, left behind when she escapes from a research lab. This is thanks to a research assistant who feeling guilty about her treatment, smuggles her and another mouse out of the lab, depositing them in a nearby mailbox. Clementine’s series of reports to Rosie, tell of the wonders of the outside world.

She’s discovered by the kindly Pops and his grandson Gus who on hearing of the large reward being offered for the return of the mice, resolve to keep their whereabouts a secret. This is particularly difficult when they receive a visit from the lab, on account of Clementine’s raspberry aroma. Having considered possible options, Pops decides in an unlikely consultation with Clementine that the best plan is to teach the mouse to play chess and then televise a match, with the intention of creating a public outcry against the lab. A few days later Clementine defeats not one, but five human players simultaneously. Is she now safe?

Clearly interwoven with the main storyline are other issues. The other mouse escapee, Hamlet, also has an amazing talent that is slower to reveal itself than Clementine’s; however it turns out he’s an amazing architect and using wood chips constructs a model of Notre Dame. Thus another issue to ponder is that of alternative kinds of intelligence. So too is why Pops, an erstwhile chess champion, hasn’t played for many years. We discover the reason is a personal one as we do that Clementine too has an image issue.

Friendship and love are key in this poignant, sometimes gently humorous book, as are the importance of social justice and what true goodness really means. Be prepared to lose your heart to Clementine as she bares her soul in her letters. The book ends on an optimistic note and a realisation that each of us must work out our own definition of goodness. Truly awesome writing.

Granny Pip Grows Fruit / 2023 Nature Month-By-Month / The Earth Book

Granny Pip Grows Fruit
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

The focus for this fourth title in Deborah and Julia’s ‘Follow My Food’ series is fruit. It features a grandmother who grows various fruits in her garden, and the granddaughter who assists her. There’s lots of work all year round and we start in the autumn with composting the soil and planting – first raspberry plants and then a gooseberry bush.
Winter is the time to cut back apple tree branches and prune the pear tree. When spring arrives bringing showers and sunshine, there’s weeding to be done to create space for planting strawberry seedlings. Once in bloom these will need to be protected by netting to prevent marauding birds spoiling the fruits as they begin to form.

Watering the soil is vital in the hot summer or the plants will wilt and the crops be lost. Because various fruits ripen at different times, Granny keeps a watchful eye so she knows the perfect time to harvest each kind. Summer’s end is when the apples and pears are ripe and even the windfalls are delicious.
What a rich bounty and as well as consuming lots of fruits almost as soon as they’re picked, there’s plenty either to cook or use for jam-making.
The book concludes with a matching words to pictures spread and a final one with information about the importance of watering, a paragraph on sustainable eating and another on choosing the best place for planting.
With just the right amount of detail and Julia’s simple, bright, bold illustrations this is an ideal narrative non-fiction book to share with younger primary children around harvest festival time or as part of a food topic.

2023 Nature Month-By-Month
Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with The National Trust, this backpack sized almanac is written by nature lover Anna Wilson and illustrated in bold colours by Elly Jahnz. With something to do on every day of the year, it’s bursting with exciting outdoor and indoor creative activities,

games, cooking and crafts, recipes, gardening ideas, wildlife to hunt for in various habitats, with relevant facts, and information on special events, festivals, celebrations and anniversaries.
Great for those youngsters already interested in the natural world as well as those you want to encourage to develop a connection with nature. For the latter, this fifth edition is a good place to start.

The Earth Book
Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook
Little Tiger

In his conversational, accessible style narrative, author Jonathan Litton takes readers on an extensive tour of our planet presenting topics such as how the earth was formed and its physical makeup; he examines forms of life tiny and enormous, both extinct and present now; investigates various ecosystems including rainforests, oceans, deserts and islands; and finally, looks at the impact humans have had and are still having on the planet through a focus on populations and migration.
Thomas Hegbrook’s soft-textured illustrations encourage readers to pause and marvel at Earth’s many wonders, an Earth that is way more fragile than many would acknowledge, let alone work to protect, for much too long. Whether you dip in and out or read it in its entirety, this is a book to add to home and school collections.

All the Animals Were Sleeping / Amazing Animal Treasury

All the Animals Were Sleeping
Clare Helen Welsh and Jenny Lovlie
Nosy Crow

Author Clare and illustrator Jenny transport readers to the dry, grassy plains of the Serengeti where a little mongoose makes his way back to his burrow. As he scurries beneath the darkening sky he encounters in turn giraffes, vervet monkeys, zebras, a herd of elephants – ‘The Elephants’ ears draped like sails. Their trunks muzzled in the dry, dusty ground.’ 

storks, a monitor lizard near the riverbank, 

spotted butterflies and a cheetah family, all of which are sleeping, each in their own way. Finally under a star-filled sky, the little mongoose reaches the burrow where he joins his sisters and brothers curled up with a parent and then he too closes his eyes and at last it truly is a case of All the Animals Were Sleeping.

Lyrically written and strikingly illustrated with gorgeous details of the featured fauna and background flora, this is a gorgeous book to share at bedtime or indeed any time. (After the main narrative are three pages with information about each the animals featured in the story and about the Serengeti itself.)
Add to KS1 topic boxes and family bookshelves.

Amazing Animal Treasury
Chris Packham, illustrated by Jason Cockroft
Red Shed

This large volume brings together all three of Chris Packham and Jason Cockcroft’s titles: Amazing Animal Babies, Amazing Animal Homes and Amazing Animal Journeys.
Chris uses a simple, direct and clear writing style appropriate for the intended young audience and there’s an absolute wealth of information here as readers join a group of explorers who travel the world observing various creatures and in particular their young. There are froglets, baby Komodo dragons, albatross chicks as well as baby earthworms, tiger cubs and meerkat pups and we learn something of how they feed and attempt to stay alive.

Just like we humans, animals need somewhere secure and safe to be a family, a place that is home.
It might be in a building already constructed, it could be underground, in or near water, in a tree but some creatures – banded snails for instance – have ready-made homes. 

Certain animals live in colonies, African termites are one example but others have to work hard to create a safe place just for one (a Bark spider, say). There is so much to discover about Animal Homes and this is a great place to start.

With just the right amount of detail as before, Journeys explains why animals migrate and presents some of those that do including the ‘masters of migration’ – leatherback turtles, red crabs, wildebeest, free-tailed bats, the monarch butterfly and blackcap birds as well as others that make much shorter, but vital, journeys.

For young animal enthusiasts and school collections; it’s ideal for the foundation stage and just beyond.

I Remember

I Remember
Jeanne Willis and Raquel Catalina
Nosy Crow

George’s grandma, Kathleen, is having trouble remembering things, even recognising her grandson. When he visits her one afternoon she’s forgotten that the last time he called was just the previous day. George however, is full of love and acceptance of his grandma’s forgetfulness and they share a wonderful time together as they eat a chocolate biscuit between them and go to play outside in the garden wearing their blue coats. Kathleen has a problem with her buttons

and then as they walk out together she explains how she is able to recall being five but is unable to remember what she did just five minutes earlier.

In the garden George involves his gran in some pretend play with her as an astronaut, himself as pilot of their spaceship (the garden bench) and the pigeons as aliens. When George climbs a tree, Kathleen suddenly becomes anxious but he quickly comes to her rescue and they go in together. There’s further confusion and George reminds her who he is as they look at a photo of when they were both younger.

After shedding a few tears, Kathleen joins her grandson in a song and dance until they’re both in need of a rest.

All ends happily with George knowing that even though her mind might forget, her heart never does: that shared love will always be there transcending all else

This is an important and beautifully told story of the effects of dementia, memory loss and confusion ,, the effects of which some children may well recognise in people they know and love. George’s way of dealing with how Kathleen is affected will reassure youngsters and Raquel Catalina’s brilliantly expressive illustrations portray the intergenerational love between the two characters perfectly. A real treasure for sharing at home or in school.

More Board Book Fun

These are recent board books from Gecko Press and Nosy Crow – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Lionel Eats All By Himself
Lionel Poops
Éric Veillé

Lionel is a lively little lion and in the first story he’s endeavouring to become an independent eater cheered on by a paternal voice as he consumes his peas, his pumpkin, a slice of cake, a banana and some kind of pudding, using either his paws or a spoon. After each food, although most of it has gone into Lionel’s mouth some has splattered onto his mane making it increasingly blobby 

until it’s almost entirely covered. Then after a hearty roaring burp that sends the blobs on his mane flying every which way, the little creature makes it known he wants to get down and as he walks away from his high chair we see a trail of food.
Doubtless little humans will enjoy seeing Lionel’s increasingly messy mane as he receives repeated praise for his eating.

In the second book Lionel is trying to get to grips with pooping in the appropriate place but as he bounces on his trampoline the urge comes upon him and he contemplates dumping elsewhere: on some passing cows, a pair of wild cats, tennis balls, a couple of polar bears, a bus, even the Eiffel Tower and the sun. However with each passing possibility he receives a loud ‘NO, LIONEL, NO!’ aside and it’s that which causes him to seek another possible place on which to poop. Eventually our infant lion bounces right onto his potty and there, not only does he drop his pile of poo but he also has a wee – hurrah! A rousing cheer comes from all the animals and landmarks Lionel very nearly pooped upon. 

Veilllé’s vibrant scenes of the mischievous Lionel in combination with the simple texts with their repeat refrains will delight young humans and will surely make adults laugh too.

Who’s Hiding?
Satoru Onishi

Those who play the Who’s Hiding? game with this book will meet eighteen different animals. For each of the double spreads Onishi uses alternately white or a brightly coloured background. On each of the coloured spreads readers are asked to work out the answer to the titular question with the missing animal(s) merging with the background, although the black and white facial features – eyes, nose and mouth – are still visible.
After the first, which introduces the named characters, on all the spreads with white backgrounds, a creature (or more than one) is in turn, crying, 

angry, with horns, facing backwards, sleeping, facing backwards (the answer is different this time). Finally out go the lights: this spread is black save for eighteen pairs of eyes and the question is “Who’s who?’
An engaging and entertaining alternative to the usual seek-and-find books through which little ones can sharpen their observation skills, for attention to detail is vital and memory is also important. Why does zebra appear to be suffering from the grumps on every spread, one wonders. Is that its normal nature or has something upset this particular animal?

National Trust: Big Outdoors for Little Explorers: Woods
Anne-Kathrin Behl
Nosy Crow

Young children will meet a multitude of creatures in the woodland habitat visited in this book. There’s a woodpecker that creates a loud tap, tap sound as it pecks at the tree trunk with its sharp beak (the slider really demonstrates this well), while among the trees lurks a fallow deer and a hedgehog scuttles by. Minibeasts aplenty are there too – munching caterpillars, ladybirds and a beautiful blue butterfly. Turn the page and a couple of moles have popped up from their tunnels and rabbits hop hither and thither.

Night has come on the final spread bringing out some foxes from their dens and owls are a hunting.

A lovely introduction to some of the fauna, and indeed flora, of a wood.

Kitsy Bitsy’s Noisy Neighbours / Blue Badger and the Big Breakfast

Kitsy Bitsy’s Noisy Neighbours
Polly Faber and Melissa Crowton
Nosy Crow

Life is peaceful in Park View Rise until that is, the sounds of diva Honky Tonk practising her scales and weight lifter Hunky Dory’s exercise regime travels downwards to awaken Tippy Toes’ baby from a much-needed nap, whose wailing upsets Smart Alec hard at work on his latest book. He then resorts to a spot of cacophonous DIY instead and so on until there’s total chaos with flying cakes and other sweet confections.

However just as a fight is breaking out, ground floor resident, Kitsy Bitsy, senses something is amiss and up the stairs she goes to act as peacemaker and guide in how to move forward after the issues her fellow residents have unwittingly caused.

The combination of Polly Faber’s roll off the tongue rhyming text and Melissa Crowton’s comical scenes of the ever increasing chaos and its solution, make this a smashing read aloud to share at home or with a class. Listeners will love the funny names of the characters and their activities, as well as exploring the wealth of detailed illustrations in this celebration of community and high-rise living. 

Blue Badger and the Big Breakfast
Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders
Happy Yak

In this second story, despite a blue tinge around his rear Badger no longer feels blue; how could he when he has a delicious breakfast of blue berries to feast upon. 

His best pal Dog however is decidedly sad on account of his lost ball; but even when he discovers this, Badger continues consuming his berries. Has he though unknowingly consumed Dog’s ball too? Owl’s remark certainly makes him think it’s a possibility so Badger goes off and offers to play with Dog. Will he do anything else besides?

With a witty finale, this tale of friendship and putting right what you may however unintentionally have done wrong, will with its deadpan humour both verbal and visual, make child audiences and those who share it with them laugh. The observant among them will also long to shout out to Badger what they’ve noticed but he obviously hasn’t, so busy sating his appetite is he.

Alice Eclair Spy Extraordinaire!: A Recipe for Trouble / Mouse Heart

These are two gripping adventures set in the past – thanks to Nosy Crow the publisher for sending them for review.

Alice Eclair Spy Extraordinaire!: A Recipe for Trouble
Sarah Todd Taylor

This adventure story is set in 1930s France and stars thirteen year old Alice Éclair who despite her young age, is a highly skilled cake maker and decorator at Paris’s famous pâtisserie, Vive Comme L’Éclair run by her widowed mother. During the day Alice creates scrumptious masterpieces, cakes and pastries for her mother’s fortunate customers. However this girl, aka Little Phantom, also has a burgeoning talent: for several months, she has been leading a double life training as a secret agent. Who the spymaster is, she doesn’t know, but she has her suspicions. 

Then comes the possibility of an exciting mission and Alice truly wants to undertake it for her country. A spy will be travelling on France’s most glamorous train, The Sapphire Express but she of course cannot be a passenger, instead she uses her powers of persuasion and her baking talent to obtain a job as pâtissière aboard the express, Monte Carlo bound. All she has to do now is satisfy the maître d’ and keep her eyes wide open so she can spot the spy L’Anguille without arousing any suspicions. No easy task, in fact it’s a series of challenges especially as the passengers all appear to have secrets; can she trust anybody at all?

The plot – in cake mix style – thickens as she narrowly escapes discovery, putting her very life in danger in a culinary, code-cracking extravaganza confected by Sarah Todd Taylor that makes truly enthralling reading. Grab yourself a chunk of cake, a mug of coffee (iced, if this weather continues) and be prepared for thrills and spills aplenty: satisfaction guaranteed, especially as its finale paves the way for further treats and a new mission for Alice.

Mouse Heart
Fleur Hitchcock

This thrilling tale is set in the reign of Queen Ann 11 and stars thirteen year old Mouse. Mouse by name but anything but by nature, this foundling lives contentedly with the Hawkins family in the Moth Theatre beside the river in Bristol, along with other actors – Walter, Ambrose and Valentina. The Hawkins have two children, Eve who continually makes trouble for Mouse and her kinder brother.

One day a blood-spattered Walter rushes into the theatre saying he’s seen a murdered woman; he tries unsuccessfully to hide himself but is then arrested for the murder and taken off to prison. Certain that her friend Walter is no killer, Mouse determines to find out who did murder Lady Grey. In the meantime she takes food to Walter every night, cooked by Kwadwo a runaway who is hiding in the theatre, mending and cooking for the residents.

However, as further killings take place, the stakes are raised as the plot twists and turns, with Mouse unsure who she can trust but having a strong feeling that Valentina who is behaving very strangely, is the likely murderer. If so, how can she unmask her? Her investigation leads her into some extremely dangerous situations, but it’s not only her own life that is threatened by this mysterious cold-blooded killer. Mouse must be cunning, swift and fearless if she’s to keep those she loves safe!

Another breathtaking thriller from Fleur Hitchcock: full of period atmosphere and theatrical detail, this gripping drama will certainly have readers on the edge of their seats until the curtain finally falls – or perhaps it doesn’t …

The Mermaid Call

The Mermaid Call
Alex Cotter
Nosy Crow

This tale of acceptance and bravery, and a multitude of mysteries, offers an entirely new take on mermaids, and with folklore seamlessly woven into the plot, it’s utterly compelling. The voice is that of Vivien; she lives with her grandmother Mimi, who runs a tourist shop, Enchanted Tails, that pays homage to the legend of the Mermaid of the Lake. Other places also rely on the legend of Lake Splendour: Vivien’s friend Eleni’s family owns the chip shop and another friend, Erik’s Dad works in the tourist office, both of which count on tourists for extra trade. Then there’s the traditional Mermaid Crown competition and costume parade soon to be held unless MPs get their way.

Vivien hopes her mum will arrive in time to see her race in the lake; she’s not been home for three years but she’s in for a disappointment when her mother cancels unaccountably, making her daughter’s level of self confidence plummet. Add to that her best friend’s developing friendship with member of the cool crowd, Hero, and the fact that Vivien now feels she falls well short of her glamorous mum’s idea of beauty, she couldn’t feel much lower. It’s only in the water she feels mermaid-like.

So when Vivien meets Alice de Lacey from the big house it feels as though she’s been thrown a life-line, especially as she starts falling out with her old friends Eleni and Erik. But Alice draws Vivien into a very risky adventure and they discover way more than they ever imagined.

At the heart of this wonderful, thought-provoking story is the importance of being true to oneself, standing up for what you believe in, what real friendship means and being kind not only to those around you, but essentially, to yourself –something that’s vital for good mental health. Dive deep the author urges us, don’t rely on shallow superficiality be it related to gender, history or your essential self.

Another unmissable, unputdownable winner from Alex Cotter.

Lands of Belonging

Lands of Belonging
Donna & Vikesh Amey Bhatt and Salini Perera
Nosy Crow

This splendid book written by Donna and Vikesh Amey Bhatt, with input from Dr Rajbir Hazelwood, historian of South Asia and Modern Britain, is published for the 75th anniversary in August 2022 of the Partition of India. Its reference frame is that there are many ways to tell a story, depending on your viewpoint and experiences. I visit India at least once a year, once spent six months teaching and doing social work in Rajasthan, have made many close friends there and in other parts of the country, – people who have taken me into their homes and their hearts – and was born in Pakistan to British parents, so it is of particular interest to me. Indeed author Vikesh in posing the questions, What Makes You, You? and Where Are You Really From? at the start of the book really made me stop and think and essentially I go along with ‘you are the experiences you’ve had throughout your life’ as what’s made me what I am.

The book’s subtitle is ‘A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain, and this itself indicates that this is a complicated subject. It takes readers on a journey – cultural and historical – through India of the past (that includes today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh) showing how this ancient land was one of big thinkers, inventors and skilled craftspeople and traders, many religions, many kings, rulers and empires.

Next comes a topic that makes me feel uncomfortable – that of India under the English East India Company and the way in which the British gradually took over the entire land and how the British Raj treated those who called it their home. Then come Independence and Partition that resulted without due consideration of the long term effects, in the dividing of a nation and its people that still has repercussions today.

There’s also a look at the global impact of India/Pakistan/Bangladesh both on recent times and today, and at the contributions of some South Asians of today and yesteryear.

One of the things that strikes me anew every time I visit India is its cultural richness, its multitude of cuisines, traditions, (I learned to do and to teach yoga there), its languages, festivals, dance styles, music,

sports and the friendliness of its people. These topics too are covered, and all are vibrantly illustrated by Salini Perera whose art makes me want to jump on a plane, Mumbai- bound tomorrow.

An absolute must have book that makes a complex topic fascinating and approachable: it deserves a place in every school library in the UK.

A Beginner’s Guide to Ruling the Galaxy / Dragon Storm: Mira and Flameteller

A Beginner’s Guide to Ruling the Galaxy
David Solomons
Nosy Crow

Gavin, a pupil at Middling High School prefers to keep himself to himself so he’s far from pleased when a new and exceedingly annoying girl starts following him around. This girl is Niki, who announces she’s a galactic princess and says such weird things as “ I claim this adequately rated secondary school in the name of the Galactic League.” and almost immediately starts tucking into his packed lunch. A boy also joined the school at the same time as Niki and is supposed to be her brother Bart, but we have our doubts from the outset. Surprisingly to Gavin, other members of the school community are ‘spellbound’ by this extraterrestrial female. But what is her secret?

After some time Gavin sees her following what seems to be a talking cat; and then Niki turns round and calls him intrusive. What on earth is going on? Suddenly Gavin finds himself entangled in a situation where the whole of humankind could be doomed unless he can fix the spaceship so Niki can escape from Earth.

Full of twists and turns, this pacy story has lots of humour – some relating to how things work on planet Earth and some I suspect adult readers like myself will appreciate more than the target audience; indeed there’s never a dull moment throughout. There are some great characters and there’s also a lot of heart when it comes to friendship, kinship and family. Gavin is a foster child and desperate to belong; you’ll likely find yourself rooting for Niki too as the tale develops.

All in all, a clever sci-fi comedy for older KS2 readers and beyond.

Dragon Storm: Mira and Flameteller
Alastair Chisholm
Nosy Crow

In this fourth book in the magical Dragon Storm series for younger Alastair Chisholm fans, Mira’s dragon Flameteller is still working out what his special power is. However they both enjoy discovering how things work so when a visit to an ancient waterwheel, The Rivven Wheel, is announced, they are excited and Mira eagerly tries to find out everything about it.

However, on their return to the city Mira hears a worrying announcement: on account of the loss of an ancient magical object – a tool of dragon magic – that was under royal protection, the King of Draconis plans to root out and destroy all dragons and those who work with them.

Then she is given an opportunity to visit a part of the caves that she’s never been to before and see how the Dragonseer Guild is powered. She even has the chance to work with Grimbal who keeps everything going there, although he is not at all enthusiastic about having two assistants. When an issue arises with the magic powering the Guild, Grimbal assures the two that he has it in hand, but they both feel something is wrong.

Can Myra and Flameteller find a way to fix things and so prevent King Godfic’s soldiers finding the Guild and the dragons? They’re certainly going to need help from her fellow dragon seers and their dragons

and they’ll need the materials to do the work required on the machinery; and maybe Flameteller’s special power can come into play too.

With plenty of excitement and superb illustrations by Eric Deschamps, this is another fire-cracking, compelling adventure that will thrill new solo readers.

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Pirates Ahoy!

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Pirates Ahoy!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

Ex-criminal canine cupcake baking duo, Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, embark on a wonderfully madcap adventure at sea when they’re summoned to the good (actually pretty awful) ship The Leaky Lobster by Captain Chucklebeard. He wants to reward his crew for unearthing some treasure by throwing a celebratory party.

Shifty and Sam quickly set to work baking some delicious treats, their pièce de résistance being an octo-cake. Suddenly however the party band troops through the kitchen, taking with them, Sam suspects, one of his iced buns.

When the party kicks off with wild abandon Captain Chucklebeard is foolish enough to show off the pirates’ newly won spoils. Games follow and during that time Shifty and Sam creep off to fetch their octo-cake, but on the way they come upon a truly alarming sight …

Suddenly the penny drops – these guys aren’t musicians at all; they’re criminals of the dastardly kind and they’re escaping with Chucklebeard’s prized treasure. Can Shifty and Sam possibly catch those wicked thieves and bring back the booty? Perhaps with the aid of Captain Chucklebeard’s feathered friend and a huge sacrifice …

Another sure-fire winner for team Corderoy and Lenton. Tracey’s rollicking rhyming narrative is a brilliant read aloud and Steven’s wackily cheery illustrations that almost leap off the page at you, are the perfect combination for a lively story session.

The Consequence Girl / The Secrets of Cricket Karlsson

The Consequence Girl
Alastair Chisholm
Nosy Crow

The only writing of Alastair Chisholm I’m familiar with is the super Dragon Storm series for younger readers on account of which, I came to this novel for older readers with high expectations; I definitely wasn’t disappointed. It’s a brilliant fantasy adventure that starts with a prologue introducing Lilith, a mercenary on a mission to rescue a stolen child. With nothing to lose since her soulmate was killed in battle, she’ll stop at nothing to get baby Cora back.

Forward thirteen years, Lilith now goes under the name Seleen. She lives in an isolated mountainside cabin having brought up Cora out of the sight of civilisation. What are they hiding from? Life is hard and there’s often the need to forage for food to add to that Seleen gets from Recon, the nearest settlement.
Cora possesses a gift she’s forbidden to use by Seleen: if she concentrates really hard she can alter outcomes.
One day though Seleen goes alone to Recon, instructing Cora not to let herself be seen; but she hears a cry for help seemingly close by. Disobeying orders Cora comes upon an injured boy, Kai. Why he’s there she knows not. However after running away at first, she resolves to help him, little realising that it’s a life-changing decision. Later as he recuperates in the cabin, Kai tells Cora things about the world that come as a huge surprise. He also tricks Cora into revealing her secret power to him.

As the story continues to unfold we watch Cora develop her powers as she discovers herself, why she was brought up in isolation, and considers the importance of friendship with someone her own age. She also learns about the township system, the powerful people from whom she has been kept hidden and much more. With his observations on power and prejudice that are so relevant to Britain in 2022, the author’s portrayal of government, church, the resistance movement and the use of technology are spot on.

Showing the importance of the choices we make and their consequences, this is a gripping read from beginning to end.

The Secrets of Cricket Karlsson
Kristina Sigunsdotter (translated by Julia Marshall), illustrated by Ester Eriksson
Gecko Press

At the start of this delightfully quirky novel Cricket Karlsson rates her life as pretty good – chickenpox notwithstanding. However after her one hundred and three chicken pox spots, on her return to school a fortnight later, Cricket downgrades her life to a catastrophe for she discovers that her best friend Noa is totally ignoring her, and is now hanging out with the cliquey ‘horse girls’. To make matters even worse, not long after, her much loved Aunt Frannie (an artist as Cricket aspires to be too) has lost her zest for life and is institutionalised in Adult Psychiatric Ward 84.

This means Cricket now has much to cope with and her way of so doing includes hiding in the school bathroom, 

taking every opportunity to pay secret visits to her aunt, spending sleepless nights – the wolf hour, as her Aunt calls this – outside, standing on a bridge tossing jelly-filled water balloons or even cucumbers over the rail. In addition she has to adjust to having only one person at school who wants to have anything to do with her and that’s the extremely boring sweaty boy, Mitten who has decided he’s in love with her.

The narrator tells it exactly like it is from her life currently in turmoil viewpoint, and includes some revealing lists, for instance ‘Secrets I have told only Noa’, one being “ I sometimes shove a sock in my pants and pretend I’m a boy’; and among ‘Presents I’ve had from Mitten’ – ‘Oven mitts he made in sewing’.

Adding to the impact of the writing are Ester Eriksson’s slightly wacky black and white illustrations giving the entire book a journal-like feeling. I love a quirky book and along with the pre-teen uneasiness, this shortish one, expertly translated by Julia Marshall, has quirkiness in abundance.

Rainbow Grey: Eye of the Storm / Princess Minna: The Unicorn Mix-Up

Rainbow Grey: Eye of the Storm
Laura Ellen Anderson
Farshore

Writing a sequel that’s as brilliant as the magical Rainbow Grey is no mean feat but Laura Ellen Anderson pulls it off and I think, out-dazzles the first of the series.

With those magical powers at her fingertips – more or less – Ray is now fairly used to her life as Rainbow Grey but she can’t resist a little bit of showing off, which is NOT a good idea. Especially when one of her little cousins asks her to demonstrate her rainbow magic to a friend. It’s baby Cloudiculus’ first birthday, which means a puff pod party is being held. Soon, things spiral out of control: the puff pods are all empty, so the infant can’t bond with a cloud-creature. Who or what is responsible for the disappearance of the cloud creatures, one of which is Rainbow’s own much loved cloud cat, Nim? Disaster.

Ray and her friends now have a mystery to solve; Ray is convinced dark magic is behind the vanishings: she really needs to work out this puzzle and clear her name before cloud magic is forever lost.

With a degree of turbulence, brilliant world-building, a superb cast of characters (some new),

Ray’s indomitable spirit and resilience, and an abundance of magic, along with loyal friendship and the importance of team work in the community, not forgetting wonderfully whimsical illustrations all expertly woven together, this is a shimmering triumph.

Princess Minna: The Unicorn Mix-Up
Kirsty Applebaum, illustrated by Sahar Haghgoo
Nosy Crow

With its vibrant colour illustrations, this new Princess Minna adventure will I know be eagerly devoured by many new solo readers, especially those who have read the first book in the funny and enchanting series.

After sleeping badly, (not she thinks on account of peas under her mattress) Minna wakes to screeching squawking seagull sounds she now knows signify all is not well in the kingdom. She dashes down the long windy staircase to report this to her parents who are already having breakfast. The queen is especially anxious her daughter can sort out whatever the problem is as she and the king are expecting guests that very afternoon.

Minna rushes from the castle, soon hearing a cry for help from the T shop. It’s little Tommy Turrett announcing a unicorn emergency, (pause for some amusing wordplay). Said unicorn is apparently trampling through the T shop presumably leaving a trail of trash in its wake. Conveniently, taming unicorns just happens to be one of Minna’s special talents. But with her trusty sword in her hand, things don’t go quite to plan and by now the young princess is terribly tired.

The next thing she hears is a ribbet, followed swiftly by a shout of ‘frog emergency’. It’s fortunate that another of Minna’s special skills is kissing frogs. Unfortunately though, her extreme tiredness leads to a mix-up, swiftly followed by yet another emergency. Where will all this lead?

Happily, this time the princess’s prowess wins her a friend for life;

but that’s not quite the end of the story. Let’s just say there’s not just one, but a plethora of peas awaiting Minna as she finally returns to the castle, peas that provide a reassuring answer to her sleepiness mix-ups and the means of helping to put everything back to rights in the entire kingdom.

I’ll Be There

I’ll Be There
Karl Newson and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow

What a wonderfully reassuring title this celebration of the loving bond shared between parents and their offspring has. Through Karl Newson’s gently rhyming text and Rosalind Beardshaw’s alluring, lively illustrations suffused with gentle humour, we follow a young elephant, led by a parent setting out on its life adventure; watch a polar bear cub wobble tentatively across the ice towards an encouraging adult;

see a baby whale and a big one swimming through the waves side by side. Then come in turn a tiny playful field mouse, a small tiger cub and its watchful, roarsome parent, an owl chick that must overcome its fear of the dark and finally, an adorable little human baby held gently in a father’s hands.

As each of these makes those important first steps in the world and begin to explore what it has to offer, the crucial thing is that each one will know there is an adult to support them in all they do. This is such an important, affirming message for young children, who in addition to enjoying the story will love to join in with animal sounds and the refrain. Make sure you leave plenty of time to explore the final spread so little humans can have fun looking for all the animals featured on the previous pages.

A calming bedtime book to share but also one that can be enjoyed in an early years setting.

How To Count To One

How To Count To One
Caspar Salmon and Matt Hunt
Nosy Crow

Terrific fun – albeit rather a teaser – is this interactive counting book that despite its warning subtitle, may well actually enhance the number skills of little ones way beyond one and make them laugh a lot along the way too.

It starts off in a pretty straightforward manner with a single elephant: no confusion there but turn the page and there are two whales, one of which is sporting a sausage: guess what the equation asks about. The next spread shows three bowls of soup, one with a fly swimming in. You can see how this is going … or maybe not for then comes this …

From then on author Caspar Salmon becomes increasingly bossy, aided and abetted first by Matt Hunt’s dapper duck depictions and the cleverly designed page layout.

Carry on reading/counting (to one only, remember) and you’ll meet worms wiggling their way through the soil, a gathering of mammals together with some reptiles and insects; a spread of framed pictures all hanging neatly arranged – don’t forget what Caspar said now, though you can be forgiven for ignoring the notion put forward on the next page and proceed to this one with a goldfish bowl.

Tee tee! That author is getting a bit too big for his boots though I think he well deserves the prize for what’s on the back endpapers. Outsmarted us, or what? That depends on the one to one correspondence proficiency of the one doing the counting. Oh course, none of this would be half the fun without Matt Hunt’s zany illustrations.

Looking For Emily

Looking For Emily
Fiona Longmuir
Nosy Crow

Having just moved with her Mum, twelve year old Lily’s first impressions of her new seaside hometown, Edge, are not favourable; she misses the bustle of her old city life; moreover her teacher challenges her with weekend homework – she must say hello to someone new.

Walking home along a street she’s not previously explored, feeling disorientated and completely without friends, she chances upon an old museum with the unlikely name The Museum of Emily. Inside she finds carefully displayed such things as recipes for apple pie, books, buttons and pencils. How bizarre. Lily thinks there might be a story here but being new isn’t easy, so who can help her?

Then on Monday morning she is approached by another girl who introduces herself as Sam, thus saving Lily the need to worry about that homework challenge, and they begin to form a friendship. Sam later introduces Lily to Jay and she confides in them about finding the strange museum. They decide to find out more about Emily and so begins an exciting adventure that really draws readers in.

In true detective style the three spend many hours in the library searching through documents looking for leads about who the mysterious Emily was, discovering that she disappeared some twenty years back. Over the weeks they begin to piece together the puzzle, following several leads, the main one being Lily’s encounters with a sinister man who is lurking around the town. The town of Edge has a shadowy history with caves, pirates, a lighthouse and tales of enormous diamonds, so the story moves backwards and forwards in time and is also told from two alternating viewpoints, Lily’s and Emily’s.
There are unnerving events – the room in which they’re doing their investigation is trashed, life-threatening situations, the strong ties of friendship between Lily, Sam and Jay are tested to their limits but amazingly they hold together, thanks in no small part to their determination, trust, courage and bravery.

In her superb debut novel Fiona Longmuir includes pretty much everything a reader could want: a gripping mystery, superb characterisation including “exactly the right curious, incorrigible little girl”, a well paced storyline with some surprising twists and revelations, as well as a lingering aroma of salty chips.

Everything You Know About Minibeasts Is Wrong

Everything You Know About Minibeasts Is Wrong!
Dr. Nick Crumpton, illustrated by Gavin Scott
Nosy Crow

Adopting a gently humorous, entertaining style, the author explores common misconceptions about creepy crawlies in this highly informative, fascinating and entertaining book. Hands up all those who think that all bees die when they sting you: wrong! That’s just one of the almost thirty main myths cleared up in this book, but contained within each topic spread are several others, in the case of bees: not all bees live in hives, in fact over 90% are either solitary or live in small groups; nor is every bee black and yellow, indeed the orchid bee is actually green and some carpenter bees are blue.

Prepare yourself for another surprise (unless you are an entomologist): no centipede in the world has one hundred legs. It’s not possible because the number of pairs of legs a centipede has is always odd – try the maths.

Interestingly, minibeasts aren’t all small. Some – fairy flies for example – are microscopic, but there’s a species of stick insects that in adult form is, at around 64 centimetres, longer than an average cat. And the wingspan of a giant grasshopper is greater than that of a sparrow.

Another misapprehension is that all eight-legged minibeasts are spiders, but as the author tells readers, vast numbers of arachnids including scorpions definitely aren’t spiders; neither are tardigrades.

One particular erroneous piece of information that really annoys my partner who knows a considerable amount about butterflies, is that they all come out of cocoons. It’s a mistake fairly often found in books, especially those for young children. The spread entitled ‘Butterflies emerge from cocoons’ is particularly entertaining with its gentle dig at a very famous picture book creator.

No matter where you open this captivating book, you’ll find superb illustrations by Gavin Scott presented in a variety of ways to heighten visual interest. Including a wealth of statistics, it’s a terrific look at some creatures that are vital to human life. I’d strongly recommend it either for interested individuals to enjoy at home or as an addition to school STEM resources.

Pops / Make Tracks: Trucks

Pops
Gavin Bishop
Gecko Press

With a straightforward, minimal text and close up illustrations, Gavin Bishop zooms right in to the important elements of an activity while highlighting too, the close bond between a child and grandfather (Pops). We see clasped hands – one large one small, as they meet; a single boot and two small bare feet walking, and so on as the two gather together the essentials (some from the garden), for making their sandwiches – one each. They then tell stories to one another and fall asleep side by side. The love they share is palpable in such actions as the tender manner in which Pops extends a supportive hand just in case the little child drops the egg.

Interestingly we are never shown the whole body of either person as they engage in life’s simple pleasures made all the more enjoyable by their close connection. Full of warmth, this is a lovely book for a grandfather to share with a very young child and a good starting point for conversations about special times shared with individual’s own grandparents.

Make Tracks: Trucks
Johnny Dyrander
Nosy Crow

This is a real treat for truck loving young children. In addition to the cover, it introduces five kinds of truck: a forklift, a lorry, a car transporter,

a ‘monster’ truck and a dustbin lorry. The parts of each one are clearly labelled in a large illustration on the verso beneath a two sentence introduction. On each recto is a more detailed scene around which little fingers can manipulate the counter bearing a tiny illustration matching the one opposite. So, for instance in response to ‘Can you drive this forklift around the warehouse?’ children can follow the instruction “Drive up and down the aisles in straight lines.’ and in so doing develop their fine motor skills. On this particular spread there’s also the question “How many lorries are waiting to be loaded?’

Each of the other spreads is equally interactive with a simple counting activity and another question set into the scene. Bright and alluring with the potential for hours of fun learning, what more can one ask from a non fiction board book?

Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush

Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush
Patrice Lawrence, illustrated by Camilla Sucre
Nosy Crow

This wonderfully warm book follows Ava and her Granny as together they search Granny’s trunk one Sunday for a costume suitable for Ava to wear at her school dressing up event to represent someone she admires. Rummaging through the various items of clothing, jewellery and other objects Granny is reminded first of Winifred Atwell on account of the sparkling bead necklace, then Mary Seacole who sometimes wore a red scarf just like that in the trunk, a jacket makes her think of Rosa Parks. In each instance Ava’s grandmother tells her a little bit about each of the women mentioned: the glamorous pianist, the nurse who tended the wounded during the Crimean War, the brave woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus.

Then, hidden under all the clothes, Ava unearths something she’s not seen before: it’s a small cardboard grip in which Granny had carried presents she was given when she left her home in Trinidad and came to England on the Empire Windrush.

As she pieces together a story using the objects – a smooth grey pebble, an empty jar, a small blue hat and a pair of lacy gloves, we learn of the intense feelings of homesickness and loneliness her grandmother experienced; and how she built a life for herself in a new, chilly country, meeting and marrying the man who was to become Ava’s grandad. This woman – her own beloved Granny – is Ava’s real hero, the one she chooses to dress as.

With Patrice Lawrence’s perfectly paced telling and Camilla Sucre’s richly hued, vibrant art, this is a truly moving story that celebrates both the Windrush generation and their achievements, and the bond between Ava and her grandmother.

A superb book to share and discuss with young listeners at home and with primary children both in KS1 and KS2.

The Insiders

The Insiders
Cath Howe
Nosy Crow

This is another unmissable, wise, heartwarming story from Cath Howe; a tale of friendship, family and insecurity. It revolves around close friends Callie, Ted, Zara and Nico who are almost like family to one another, as well as Billy, with the action being narrated by Callie, Ted and Billy, three very different characters.
Callie’s mum is child-minder to her three friends until to cut back on expenses for his own mother, Ted declares he no longer needs a child-minder, little realising how much he’ll miss his pals. Then he’s humiliated during their class assembly by the very annoying Billy and becomes even more distant from the others, feeling and holding onto the pain of the torment in his mind long afterwards.

After school, an envious Ted now looks on from his hiding place next door, Callie finds a gap under the fence in her back garden leading through to the school playground and he watches as she and some of the others squeeze through to investigate, and see a light in the building. That light has been switched on by Billy whose mother is away for a few days holiday and who, having received a less than warm welcome from his father’s new family, in particular his bullying step-sister, has decided to camp out in school to await his mum’s return. When Callie discovers she can get into the school building and finds Billy hiding out, she is drawn into keeping his secret. Can she keep it until his mother is back and if not what will happen?

Ted, now overwhelmed by jealousy definitely makes matters worse by acting in a very unkind manner: with all these changes having taken place, friendships are being tested to their utmost limits.

It feels as though Cath Howe can get right inside the heads of her characters, so empathetic is her writing. As it says on the cover of this unputdownable book, “Sometimes keeping things inside is dangerous’; so many misunderstandings and misinterpretations could have been avoided or sorted out through talking.

Highly recommended for older primary readers either individually or as a class read. If the latter, there’s a wealth of creative potential offered by this superb book.

Tickle!, Roar and Embrace Nature with Board Books

Tickle!
Amelia Hepworth and Jorge Martín
Little Tiger

Little ones will need their fingers at the ready to help the creatures in this lift-the-flap board book wherein Moose has set himself up as the cookie to crack in a tickling contest. An assortment of animals – teams and individuals – try their luck at making the antlered animal laugh using their paws, (team Beaver), an array of tail feathers – that’s the proud peacock, then in turn, gorilla, octopus with an abundance of tickling potential

and finally, in the nick of time, a small child. Now maybe he can find Moose’s weak spot …
There’s so much to enjoy in this story told through Jorge Martįn’s droll visuals, the humorous speech bubbles, the sign (watch carefully what happens to that as the contest proceeds) and the surprise sound hidden beneath the final flap. A hoot from start to finish this.

Look, it’s ROAR ROAR Lion
Camilla Reid and Clare Youngs
Nosy Crow

This is the first in a fun-filled lift-the-flap board book series with a repeat pattern narrative written by Camilla Reid and striking collage illustrations, each with a decorative foil highlight element, by Clare Youngs. In turn Camilla introduces Clip Clop Zebra, Ooo Ooo Monkey,

Munch Munch Hippo and the titular Lion. Hidden behind four of the five felt flaps are mini beasts of which the text asks, ‘But can you see the … ?’ while the final spread recaps the creatures’ sounds and then asks ‘But what do YOU say?’ and when the flap is lowered a surprise, shiny mirror is revealed into which tinies will love to make their very own sound.
Interactive fun and offering just the kind of experiences to help develop that all important books are fun message in the very youngest.

100 First Nature Words
Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

In the same series as 100 First Words and 100 First Words: City, this large format board book has two large flaps to explore on each double spread.The first has a Garden theme, the second shows Seaside themed objects large and small; in the third little ones visit the Countryside,

the fourth has a Forest setting. Next comes a Jungle spread, followed by one rather oddly entitled ‘Cold’ and the final pages are devoted to the Seasons, two per page.
Tinies will certainly have fun looking at each one, naming all the items in Edward Underwood’s bold, bright pictures, revealing the characters – human, animal or plant – hidden behind the shaped flaps. Highly engaging, lots of fun and with great learning potential, this is a super book for developing vocabulary and getting little ones talking about the natural world.

Princess Minna: The Enchanted Forest / The Allotmenteers

Princess Minna: The Enchanted Forest
Kirsty Applebaum, illustrated by Sahar Haghgoo
Nosy Crow

Ideal for solo readers just making their first forays into chapter books, this is one of a new series giving a new, fresh twist to traditional fairy tales. Each spread is enticingly laid out with Sahar Haghgoo’s bold, bright artwork taking at least half of the space.

Residing in Castle Tall-Towers with the King and Queen and a wizard named Raymond, Princess Minna is a confident, determined and capable young girl, always up for a challenge. In this story it comes in the form of preventing a curse taking effect. Said curse was laid by a bad fairy upon Prince Welling-Tunboot on the day of his birth to come into play on his tenth birthday, the day the King and Queen receive urgent pleas for help from the prince’s parents.

Off she goes aback her best friend, dragon Lorenzo, walloooping towards Tunboot Palace in the centre of the Enchanted Forest, pausing en route to come to the aid of various other characters that also come aboard the dragon.

All the while the clock ticks ever closer to the sundown hour by which time the sleeping prince must be awoken or remain asleep for ever more.

With its girl-power element, this very funny subversion of the Sleeping Beauty story will assuredly enchant newly independent readers and leave them eagerly awaiting further episodes in the life of this spectacle-wearing little princess.

The Allotmenteers
Theo Moore, illustrated by Sarah Van Dongen
Ragged Bears

This small gem is full of life lessons for youngsters, especially those just starting out on chapter books. It features the Brown family. Changes are afoot in the family with young Tim about to start ‘big school’ thus enabling Mum to return to her old job at the library. Yes, that means more money but the downside is she’ll no longer have any time to spare for looking after their allotment, something the older children Tom and Sally are very upset about.

Determined not to let it happen they persuade their mum to let them take charge of the allotment and thus they become The Allotmenteers of the title, their first job being to replant the herb garden.
Very soon, the children are able to offer some of the veggies grown to their neighbours thereby changing the diet of at least one of them. Each of the three further chapters tells a different story though they all mesh well together, as more members of the local community are brought into the unfolding events and Tom and Sally become adept problem solvers as well as gardeners.

With recipes and tips on growing, this slim book is full of warmth, charm and community spirit, made all the more so by Sarah Van Dongen’s illustrations.

This Is Not A Dinosaur! / Drawing Outdoors

This in Not a Dinosaur!
Barry Timms and Ged Adamson
Nosy Crow

The NOT dinosaur that the small boy in this story meets is definitely a versatile creature. Said large green, possibly prehistoric being that appears in the playground offers all manner of exciting, special and useful possibilities as a playmate. It can become pretty much anything and everything from a sign-osaur to a soccer star supersonic-kick-osaur; it might morph into a tonsorial wonder-worker trimming and skilfully styling your tresses,

or a fearsome freebooter sailing upon the ocean deep. One thing is certain: should you decide to befriend this beastie, there are fun adventures aplenty in store; you might even find yourself scaling a mountain, flying through the air

or tip-toeing into a creepy haunted house.

With its wealth of wordplay, Barry Timms’ rhyming text combined with Ged Adamson’s funny, action-packed scenes of a burgeoning friendship add up to a super story to share with young humans, definitely NOT dinosaurs around the age of the un-tailed protagonist, be that at home or in school. I’ve no doubt if you read this with a Foundation Stage or KS1 class, they will imagine themselves into many more playful NOT dinosaur situations. The classroom potential this book offers is huge.

Drawing Outdoors
Jairo Buitrago, (translated by Elisa Amado) and Rafael Yockteng
Greystone Kids

Between two lush green mountains, beside a pure blue river in the middle of nowhere stands a small school. Education is far from dull for its pupils however. Through a girl narrator we hear about one particular day when their teacher greets them with the news that their learning will be done outside and she leads them off with notebooks and drawing equipment at the ready. ‘We are explorers” says the narrator. Even the twins who have already walked a long way to reach school leave their reluctance at the door, motivated by the prospect of an adventure day out.

First into view as they reach the river bank, among the lush vegetation stands a Brontosaurus!

Then, there’s a Triceratops,a Stegosaurus, Pterodactyls, a roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex. Finally, the group sit to eat their snacks on a branch “as big as an Ankylosaurus”.

Then with a wealth of drawings it’s back to that school with ‘almost nothing. A blackboard, some chairs. And … a teacher, and a Brontosaurus that’s as big as a mountain.’

With Jairo Buitrago’s spare, matter of fact text, it’s left to listeners and readers to decide whether the dinosaurs we see in Rafael Yockteng’s landscapes are real or not. Their book pays homage to the imaginative teachers who truly value creativity one wishes all children will meet in their time at school. I’m sure re-reads will the requested after a sharing of this story with young children.

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.