A Different Land

A Different Land
Paul Jennings, illustrated by Geoff Kelly
Old Barn Books

We’ve had A Different Dog and A Different Boy, and now it’s a land that’s different. The land in question is in a rainforest location, travelled to by Christopher, his mum and his friend Anton who are fleeing from their war torn home 12,000 miles away.

Of the person they’re expecting to meet them there is no sign, so in the meantime, Christopher sets about rescuing a dog from the path of the train they’ve just left.

Eventually a rather battered vehicle appears from the forest and out steps the driver. Seemingly he’s expecting someone other than the party he finds waiting but then he discovers that the boy’s mother is named Pat. Not quite the ‘bloke’ he’d anticipated but it was she who’d applied for and been given the job at his Last Coach hotel and general store, and he’s far from happy.

Then he learns that Christopher has rescued his dog and his ill temper dissipates somewhat. Crayfish (as he informs them is his name) grants a short reprieve to the three, telling Pat she can help out at the pub for a week, until the next train out is due.

Crayfish is a rough-looking, enigmatic character and his establishment appears anything but inviting especially to Christopher. Why he wonders did Crayfish say his wife Peggy was dead when he overhears talk of him going off to visit her early every Wednesday morning.

So the following Wednesday he decides to confront him and discover the truth.

What ensues is a dangerous battle against the elements and a desperate rescue bid …

Paul Jennings does it again. Totally enthralling and full of nail-biting tension, this twisting-turning short book with its themes of displacement, love, loss, grief and integrating into a new community, and steamy, tropical illustrations by Geoff Kelly, will likely be devoured in a single sitting, leaving your head spinning and your heart in your mouth.

Coping the Change: Charlie Star / How to Feed Your Parents

Charlie Star
Terry Milne
Old Barn Books

Charlie Star is a dachshund with a difference; he suffers from anxiety and it makes him exhibit repetitive behaviours. The creature is frightened that if he doesn’t do certain things such as checking under his bed and always walking the same side of a tree on the way to market, or lining up his toys neatly every night, something terrible will happen. He uses these routines to hold his anxiety at bay: it sounds to me as though he may have OCD.

One day however, an emergency occurs: his friend Hans is in trouble and is in urgent need of Charlie’s help.

Off dashes the dog not stopping to carry out all his usual routine actions to discover that Hans has his head stuck in a length of pipe as a result of a game of hide-and-seek.

Good old Charlie comes up with a clever way of extricating his friend and thus learns that a change in routine isn’t quite so scary after all.

That day his thought as he goes to bed is “Forgot everything today but things turned out okay.”

But what about the following day? Does he revert to his usual routine sequence? The answer is yes but also no for now Charlie knows that the occasional change isn’t a disaster and perhaps it might lead to something wonderful…

I love the focus on the importance of friendship at the end of the story.
The author/illustrator has a daughter who exhibits anxiety and repetitive behaviour and as a result she wrote this story to reassure other children who might have similar struggles. Assuredly, with its wonderfully expressive illustrations, it’s a good starting point for opening discussion on the topic, particularly in the way it demonstrates that change isn’t really so scary as we might suppose.

How to Feed Your Parents
Ryan Miller and Hatem Aly

Matilda Macaroni is an adventurous eater, eager to try new foods, not so her mum and dad. They insist on sticking to half a dozen items – chicken, macaroni, burgers, grilled cheese, pizza and cereal.

In contrast Matilda’s foray into other fare starts when she tastes her grandma’s jambalaya and continues as she tries goulash (at Grandma’s), sushi – at a sleepover and pork paprika on a play date.
She comes to the conclusion that the only way to get her parents to sample different foods is to take over the kitchen and do the cooking herself. With the help of her gran, she soon learns the niceties of knife wielding, cookbooks become her bedtime reading and her babysitter shops at the local farmers’ market for the necessary ingredients.

It’s not long before the young miss has a repertoire of tasty dishes she wants to share with her mum and dad; the next task is to get them to sample some.

She decides on one of their favourites for supper – burgers – albeit with a few modifications.

“There are mushrooms on it. And green things,” protests her mum. But what will be the verdict when they sink their teeth into the only thing on offer that night?

A comic, wackily illustrated role-reversal tale that might even persuade young picky eaters to adopt Matilda’s parents revised attitude at the end of the tale and try anything.

A Different Boy

A Different Boy
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

Following on from the wonderful A Very Different Dog, Paul Jennings has written a second very different, equally gripping book.

Orphan Anton has recently arrived as a resident at Wolfdog Hall, a terrible place where no-one even knows his first name, lessons are miserable affairs, the teachers thoroughly unpleasant.
Pretty soon, the boy makes a break for it, and surprisingly, despite threats to the contrary, he isn’t followed. He is however without money or friends.

Hearing the horn sounding from a ship down the hill in the harbour the boy makes his way to the pier. The ocean liner has yet to leave and Anton watches people making their way up the gangplank, bound for a new land of promise, peace and plenty.

One of the passengers is Max, a rather strange-looking boy with a face resembling a porcelain doll and wearing a jumper absolutely covered with ribbons, labels and badges looking like, so Anton thinks, nothing less than a noticeboard. He’s also wearing a black arm band.
A peculiar exchange takes place between the boys after which at Max’s instigation, they exchange name labels and Max leads him aboard. Unlike Anton, the lad is accompanied by his mother.

Thus begins Anton’s new life as a stowaway.

During the voyage he gradually comes to know more about the rather strange seeming Max who has identical bald-headed boy puppets, one wearing a green jumper, the other a red one.

In tandem readers discover through text printed in italics that he once had a brother, Christopher, who died in a fire while Max was rescued.

Later in the main text Max’s mother explains that this was a recent event, and that now her son needs someone to look out for him in his twin brother’s stead. She also posits the idea that when they arrive in the ‘New Land’ Anton could live with them. A deal is made.

Shortly after, disaster strikes, there’s a rescue, a startling revelation concerning the identity of who had really died in the fire, another startling revelation, about Anton this time. And, there’s a satisfying ending; what more can you ask? Oh yes, there are occasional slightly spooky line drawings too.

Like all books by Paul Jennings, this one (based very loosely on the author’s experience of emigrating to Australia from England as a boy) draws you in immediately and grips you throughout . Like the author’s previous titles too, it’s superbly written without a wasted word. Having said that, it’s also quite unlike any of his previous titles.

Blog Tour – The Wardrobe Monster

A big thank you to Old Barn Books for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for an exciting debut picture book from Bryony Thomson

The Wardrobe Monster
Bryony Thomson
Old Barn Books

As a small child I can remember having a phase of being scared to go to bed. For me the cause of the terror wasn’t a wardrobe monster: I was convinced the resident owl from the oak tree in our garden had fallen down the chimney and was flapping around in there, ready to fly out into the bedroom at any moment. The fact that there was a chest of drawers in front of the fireplace made no difference.
We eventually discovered that a stray branch from a cherry tree in our neighbour’s garden tapping on the window when the wind blew was the cause of the trouble.
I wish I’d had something like Bryony Thomson’s debut picture book to reassure me.

Like many young children, Dora the child protagonist of her story suffers from fears about the dark.
Lack of sleep means that she, along with bedfellows Penguin, Lion and Bear are in a bad mood at breakfast time.

This bad mood lasts throughout the entire day and come bedtime, Dora employs delaying tactics.

What exactly is the cause of the problem?
There are sounds coming from inside the wardrobe – a wardrobe monster no less.
Can Dora and her toy friends face their fears and confront that monster? After all, they only need to open the cupboard door when the banging starts …

The smudgy nature of Bryony’s superbly expressive illustrations makes her characters all the more huggably adorable – even the one responsible for the scary noises.

Red Reading Hub is thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Bryony’s book: here she talks about her favourite childhood books:

Picture books weren’t a big part of my life as a child, I’ve checked with my parents and I just didn’t really have many. Stories and reading, however, were still hugely important and many of my earliest memories involve being read to by my Mum or Dad, snuggled up against them and cocooned in the magical world created by the story.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

Winnie-the-Pooh was a favourite amongst my whole family and I am lucky enough to still have my full colour hardback copy complete with maps of “100 Aker Wood” as endpapers. I was particularly fond of the incident where Pooh goes to visit Rabbit, eats too much honey and condensed milk and gets stuck trying to leave the rabbit hole. The characters all had such distinctive voices and I can still hear them in my head (the way my Dad used to read them). Somehow because the locations in the story are so familiarly English you felt like you were a part of it and when out for a walk might at any moment bump into Eeyore or Pooh or come across a heffalump trap.

There’s No Such Thing As A Dragon by Jack Kent

There’s No Such Thing As A Dragon was one of the few picture books I owned, purchased when one of the travelling book fairs came to our school; I can remember picking it off the shelf! What I loved about the book then, and still do now, is the complicity between Billy Bixbee and the reader who both acknowledge the dragons existence, set against Mother’s complete refusal to see what is going on right under her nose. The illustrations are brilliant as well, there is so much life and character in them, especially the dragon with his obsession for Buttercup Bread.

George Mouse’s First Summer by Heather S. Buchanan

I must be honest I have very little recollection of the actual story of George Mouse’s First Summer. It was published the same year I was born and I think my parents must have started reading it to me when I was very small. I do remember the illustrations which were tiny and beautifully intricate, but what I remember most of all, and what made this one of my all time favourite books, was that one of the mice (George’s eldest sister) was called Bryony. As a child with an unusual name – in the 80s probably even less common than it is now – this was HUGE for me! I felt a sense of ownership over this book like no other before or since.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Ballet Shoes was a book my Mum and I shared together. The book itself was the old hardback copy she had been read when she was a little girl. At the time I was obsessed with ballet myself and so the book had an innate attraction but what really sticks in my memory is the characters rather than the story. They felt like real people and in the differing personalities of the three sisters there was always someone you could identify with.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

War Horse is one of the first books I have a really clear memory of voluntarily reading myself. I’m sure there were others before it but it was the first book which I remember surreptitiously reading under the duvet when I was meant to be asleep. It was the first book that made me cry and the first book that I tried to illustrate; I still read it every couple of years. Again it was the characters that won me over, despite being a horse I felt as though I knew Joey like a friend and when Topthorn died I was devastated. The book gave me a completely new perspective on World War I, which we had touched on briefly in school and awoke an interest in history which has continued ever since.

Thank you Bryony and I hope readers will follow the tour on some of the other blogs; tomorrow is the turn of Playing By the Book.

A Different Dog

A Different Dog
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

When I taught children in KS2, Paul Jennings was one of our favourite authors. His short stories from Unreal, Uncanny, Unbelievable etc. and with younger audiences,The Cabbage Patch Fib, were always much requested both as class read alouds and for individual consumption.. I’ve not kept up with his output of late but was instantly drawn into this one and read it in a single sitting.
It’s a novella, quite unlike any Jennings’ I’ve read before and for such a short book, it spans a great many themes including poverty, loss, cruelty, bullying, trauma and its effects, determination and resilience.

The boy narrator is something of a loner; he doesn’t speak and is tormented by other children. The story opens with him dressing himself in his mother’s pink parka, adding a black bin bag on top and setting out to take part in a charity fun run, determined to win for his mother’s sake especially.

En route to the venue in treacherous weather, the boy sees a road accident and although he is unable to save the driver of the van, he is determined to see the dog to safety.

His subsequent journey, both physical and mental is gruelling yet ultimately uplifting.

Compelling and tersely written – every word counts –this is a book to hold you in its thrall even after you’ve put it aside. Geoff Kelly’s black and white illustrations are atmospheric and powerful.

This is a book that deserves to be shared and discussed widely in school, at home, by teachers and other educators, those who work as speech-language pathologists, (I was interested to learn that the author has worked in this field) and in particular, it offers rich potential for a ‘Community of Enquiry’ type discussion.

I’ve signed the charter  

With Giving in Mind

Little Hazelnut
Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard
Old Barn Books

What a simply gorgeous presentation is this tale of a hazelnut dropped by squirrel …

and buried by a heavy snowfall.
Other woodland animals, furred and feathered, come and go but the nut remains undiscovered.
In the spring, a little tree shoot emerges – literally – and a sapling begins to develop: a little nut tree, no less.

Readers are taken on a journey through the changing seasons in this wonderfully crafted pop-up story. The limited colour palette and occasional patterned backgrounds are most effective and the paper-engineering superb.
A book to share, to treasure and to give.

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Michael Morpurgo has selected a dozen magical tales from different parts of the world for this collection, the final one of which, Jack and the Beanstalk is his own retelling. This first person telling from Jack Spriggins aka ‘Poor Boy Jack’ is especially engaging for young listeners. Morpurgo also provides an introduction as well as an introductory paragraph to each story.
Ten illustrators have been used with Victoria Assanelli and Bee Willey having two tales each. Most arresting as far as I’m concerned are Ian Beck’s wonderful silhouettes for Adèle Geras’ rendition of The Pied Piper.

From Japan comes Yoshi the Stonecutter, retold by Becca Heddle and beautifully illustrated by Meg Hunt, the only non-European offering.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk are ‘almost part of our DNA’ says Morpurgo in his introduction: they are universal.
Perhaps not a first collection but this read aloud volume is certainly one worth adding to a family bookshelf or primary classroom collection.
Not included in the above but certainly magical is:

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

To satisfy his youngest daughter’s wish, a merchant steals a rose from the garden of a hideous-looking beast and Beauty, to save her father’s life, goes in his place to the Beast’s palace, falls in love with him and well, you know the rest.
The classic fairy tale is retold in a truly beautiful rendition – a feat of paper-engineering and lavish, cut out illustrations by self-taught illustrator Dinara Mirtalipova.

She has created six multi-layered scenes by using three layers of paper cut to look 3D, so that each spread simply springs into life when the page is turned.
I really had to exercise my powers of persuasion to get one listener to part with my copy after we’d shared it.

A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Otter-Barry Books

I clearly remember my father reading Robert Louis Stevenson poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses on many occasions; most notably Rain. The Swing, From a Railway Carriage, Autumn Fires, Where Go the Boats? and my very favourite, Windy Nights (which I still know by heart).
Here’s a beautiful book of those same poems that were first published in 1885, and a century later illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully packaged with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith for a new generation of listeners and readers.
For me Foreman is the perfect illustrator for the poems, his watercolours imbuing them with a sense of timelessness and innocence. One for the family bookshelf.

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

There’s plenty to engage young children during the long winter evenings in this space-themed activity book. There are things to count, to colour and to make; plenty of puzzles, wordsearches and more, plus 4 pages of stickers. All you need are pens, pencils, scissors, a paper plate or so, a couple of sponges and 2 rubber bands (to convert your shoes to moon boots) and some basic ingredients for the Stellar Cakes (plus the help of an adult).
With 60 pages of spacey fun, this should help fill a fair few hours of darkness.

Looking for Yesterday / Oh No! Where did Walter Go?

Looking for Yesterday
Alison Jay
Old Barn Books

It’s most often children who live their lives forward, eagerly anticipating what might come next, whereas adults tend to reminisce about what has already past.
In this story though, it’s the little boy narrator who is eager to turn the clock back: thinking nothing can ever be as good, he wants yesterday all over again.
Employing all his knowledge of science, he searches for a way to travel backwards in time …

and eventually turns to his grandad for help.
Instead, Grandad shares his own treasured memories of things he’s done;

but also shows the lad that there is much to look forward to, for every new day brings the possibility of exciting new adventures.
Although comparatively brief, Alison Jay’s text embraces notions of time and space, of hopes and memories, and of happiness.
Her illustrations add a surreal fantasy element to the story encouraging readers and listeners to embark upon their own flights of fancy. The whole book offers plenty to think about and discuss, especially to those teachers who have community of enquiry sessions with their children.

Oh No! Where Did Walter Go?
Joanna Boyle
Templar Publishing

Meet best friends and partners in crime, Olive aka Master of Mystery,  and the Duke of Daring, Walter her parakeet.
One day Walter goes missing and immediately Olive goes into detective mode following footprints, amassing evidence, interviewing the local residents and sticking up ‘Missing’ posters all over town.
Just when the whole search is becoming a tad overwhelming she receives a helpful pointer and off she speeds to the park: a very green place indeed.

How on earth is she to find her friend there among all those trees and bushes?
Undaunted Olive looks high and low but her search is fruitless: Walter is nowhere to be found and now she too is lost.

Will the two friends ever find one another again and if so, how will they manage to find the way back home?
Unless you look at the final page before embarking on the story, it’s not apparent that Walter is also searching for Olive and puts in an appearance on every spread; (although observant readers will probably spot him lurking somewhere as the narrative progresses). This adds a fun search and find element to the whole book and ensures that once the two characters are reunited, children will immediately want to go back and enjoy hunting for Walter all over again in Joanna Boyle’s stylish illustrations be they multi-framed strip sequences or expansive single scene spreads.

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby
Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King
Old Barn Books

A mother and baby, a little boy and a dog are fleeing for their lives. They board a small boat and set sail across the vast ocean.

Soon after, they’re joined by a bird.
Some days later, they espy a polar bear adrift on what appears to be a fridge-freezer. The huge bear clambers aboard their small boat and after their initial apprehension, the passengers make him welcome,

sharing what little they have with the creature as they journey onwards through wind and rain.
Their ursine passenger disembarks upon an ice floe where three cubs are waiting; and the boat sails on through night and day until wind-borne leaves herald their own landfall.

King’s eloquent watercolour and ink tapestry-like strip sequences punctuated by large, full-page spreads chronicle a journey from danger to safety. In combination with Glenda Millard’s prayerful poem (the two worked in close collaboration throughout on an art gallery wall project), the result is a powerfully affecting, deeply moving book that speaks to people of all ages.
It’s a poem for survival: survival of the homeless and displaced, for refugees especially (and sadly there are ever increasing numbers seeking safety in countries other than their own); for the survival of endangered animals too.
This sublime picture book offers a heartfelt message of caring, connectedness, love and hope; it’s one to treasure.

Last Tree in the City / Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Last Tree in the City
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

Edward lives in a city, one that appears totally devoid of beauty or colour. However, he knows of a tiny oasis in this concrete jungle.
At the end of his street stands one last tree and for the little boy (and his companion duck) it’s a place of joy; a place surrounded by nature where the two would spend many a happy time.

One day however disaster strikes: Edward’s tree has gone.

He’s devastated; but then he makes a discovery that brings hope to his heart, a tiny glimmer of hope that just might alter the city’s future in the very best way possible …

With minimal words and superbly eloquent watercolour and ink illustrations, Peter Carnavas has created a modern fable that has much to say to all of us; not only with its subtle ecological message but also with the empowering thought that one person really can make a difference.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog
Lisa Papp
Old Barn Books

Madeline Finn, the story’s narrator, is a reluctant reader: she really does NOT like to read anything at all, not even the menu on the ice cream van. The trouble is that she finds the whole reading thing very hard work and sometimes her classmates make fun of her attempts at reading aloud. “Keep trying,” her teacher tells her giving her ‘Keep Trying’ hearts for her efforts.

Madeline though is desperate for a star sticker but those are only given to ‘good readers’: that teacher really needs to think about what she’s doing there.
On Saturday, Madeline’s mum takes her to the library where the girl reminds the librarian of her dislike of reading.

Miss Dimple however shows her a room where children are reading to dogs and offers her the opportunity to do likewise, introducing her to Bonnie, a large white dog.
Bonnie is a great listener; she ‘s non-judgemental, forgiving and patient; and week by week Madeline gains the confidence to make mistakes, to go at her own pace, and to take risks as she continues to read to the dog.

After many weeks, she is ready to read out loud at school. She starts out a bit wobbly but imagines herself reading to Bonnie and suddenly she’s done it.
Lisa Papp’s gentle watercolour illustrations capture the little girl’s feelings so beautifully in this encouraging story, which has a lovely surprise ending, both for the main protagonist and for readers.

I’ve signed the charter  

Flora and the Peacocks


Flora and the Peacocks
Molly Idle
Chronicle Books
Flora, so I believe, has already starred in two previous picture books though this is my first encounter with the diminutive dancing delight. Herein she encounters a pair of preening peacocks who proceed to use their gloriously coloured tails in tandem with her fan, mirroring her every move until one, the rather more curious of the pair, crosses the gutter and approaches the girl. Thereafter we have a paired dance on the verso and on the recto, something of a solo drama. Eventually however, we have this …


After which Flora reaches out (here readers can lift the tails or lower them as the fancy takes them).


What then follows is a tug of war over her fan,


orchestrated by readers moving an arched page (we know threesomes can be problematic where friendship is concerned) until the delicate fan becomes two pieces and Flora flounces off-stage in despair


leaving the birds to work out a solution – which they duly do – with an amazing fold-out finale that more than makes up for the disaster and places a smiling Flora centre stage in a dazzling display of iridescent beauty and bewitchment.
Beautifully choreographed by Molly Idle, this breath-taking, wordless pas de trois is a real virtuoso performance, both on stage and off, that will have readers transfixed and wanting encore after encore. And don’t you just love the way those wispy willow fronds form a kind of proscenium arch for the whole show.

Those who particularly enjoy wordless picture books may also like:


Dog on a Train
Kate Prendergast
Old Barn Books
This wordless debut picture book begins with a boy dashing downstairs and dropping his hat in his haste to leave the house. His dog spots said hat and chases off down the road after the boy, all the way to the tube station.


‘Dogs must be carried’ says the sign at the turnstile and as luck would have it, a girl comes along and takes Dog down the escalator onto the platform.


Dog then boards an underground train, makes the journey, is jostled by crowds, almost loses the hat and finally catches up with the boy and gives him the hat.
Kate Prendergast’s detailed drawings are beautifully executed in soft pencil, with just the red and white stripes of the boy’s hat and red and white details on his trainers standing out, giving a splash of colour on every spread and drawing the eye to the main characters. The pacing of the story is cleverly managed by the use of whole page, double spread, split page and comic strip images.


A warm story about friendship and determination: wonderful for developing visual literacy.

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Alison Jay
Old Barn Books
Currently living just outside Stroud, Britain’s ‘First Bee Friendly town’ I knew straightway I wanted to review this wonderful wordless book. Wordless it may be but every spread, nay every single picture speaks for itself. The story’s set in a city, a very busy one where, in an apartment block, resides a little girl. Now, like me you probably dislike being buzzed at by bees, let alone stung, so I suspect the girl would have had your sympathies, had she whacked the bee that bothers her. But something stops her. Instead she does this …

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followed by …

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and some time later, she carefully releases the creature, thinking, one imagines, that’s that.
But along comes a rainstorm and what should reappear at the window looking bedraggled and in need of some T.L.C. but Bee.
And that is the start of a burgeoning friendship …

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full of adventures that take the two far afield and back again. Back with some of nature’s bounties

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that will ultimately yield not only benefits, but beauty and joy to those residing in the city, be they human or bee.

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There is gentle humour running throughout this uplifting tale or rather tales, for this is a multi-layered, multi-faceted telling. One facet shows another unfolding friendship – one between the girl and the boy living above in the same block of flats. And there is a multitude of incidental stories to conjure up through the glimpses of other people’s lives shown through the windows of the neighbouring apartments.
Pictures are such a powerful means of storying: in the right hands, as eloquent as words and just as thought-provoking, as Alison Jay so adroitly demonstrates here. Is it the floral curtains that draw Bee to the girl’s apartment? The passage of time is conveyed through Bee’s growth, and the coming of autumn by the leaves blowing through the city street and the pumpkins outside the florist’s shop –

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Words do have their place though – after the story’s end. With a final ‘BEE AWARE!’ information page, giving facts and helpful hints on bee requirements and preferences, readers themselves can take up the vital role of BEE-ing friendly.

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