Brave Dave

Brave Dave
Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Orchard Books

Reading Giles and Guy’s fantabulous book made me want to get up and dance around the room in delight: it’s absolutely brilliant and maybe for me even outshines Giraffes Can’t Dance.

It’s the story of little bear Dave who reveres and is awed by his braver, stronger older brother, Clarence. he even tries to emulate his big bro. until one day this little bear who much prefers gentle creative pastimes, decides he’s no match for Clarence. Sad and lonely off he goes for a solo walk
but on the way home something catches his eye that lifts up his heart and soul.

Next day he starts collecting beautiful things but fearing ridicule, off he goes to hide himself away each night. Little does he realise that others are watching him however.

One day when he’s summoned up sufficient courage he calls all the animals to his den and then gives something to his brother

before going on to reveal how he’s been spending his time.

Be brave enough to be yourself and celebrate your uniqueness: what a terrific life-affirming lesson for little Dave and there’s an important life lesson for his fellow animals too: accept people for what they are and celebrate difference.

Giles’ rhyming narrative is a joy to read aloud and what a fabulous finale. Guy’s illustrations are out of this world gorgeously uplifting. I can’t wait to share this far and wide; it’s a must have for classrooms and family bookshelves.

I am NOT a Prince!

I am NOT a Prince!
Rachael Davis and Beatrix Hatcher
Orchard Books

Somewhere on the shores of a misty lagoon, every springtime under a silver mist, so the rhyming narrative says, magic frogs gather in anticipation of a magical transformation. A dip in its waters and each one will emerge as a prince. All except one that is: Hopp has absolutely no wish to be a prince despite what the other frogs say. “It’s not for me. That’s not what I am meant to be.” is Hopp’s response to being told becoming a prince is a frog’s duty. Consequently the naysayer is banished from the lagoon and the lonely creature sets forth to the stream unsure which way to go.

Before long Hopp has come to the aid of a little Mouse in trouble, a stuck grizzly bear and a dragon, each one thanking the frog profusely and calling Hopp a prince. As night falls, poor Hopp is in despair,”I’m not a prince -they’ve got it wrong! / Oh where, oh where, do I belong” comes the cry. But then …

The kindly wizard completely understanding why those helped have called Hopp a prince, issues an invitation to the frog, “Well, tell me what you are instead.” Hopp whispers in the wizard’s ear and he in turn bestows upon the little frog a wonderful gift.

Meanwhile back at the lagoon, realising they’d been too judgemental, the other frogs are now concerned for Hopp’s well-being; will their fellow amphibian ever return? Then from the bushes they hear a BOOOO! and there is Hopp, safe and sound, totally transformed and almost bursting with pride. Hopp’s isn’t the only transformation however, for now each spring down at the lagoon something wonderful takes place …

Bursting with colour, this is an empowering read aloud with magical happenings that celebrates being true to yourself and remaining so in the face of opposition.

All Because You Matter

All Because You Matter
Tami Charles and Bryan Collier
Orchard Books (Scholastic)

This wonderful, empowering celebration of young Black lives is for everyone, not just those with black or brown skin. Herein author Tami Charles’ lyrical prose poem, an ode to a ‘dear child’ spoken by a parent reads like a love letter to said infant whom we watch in Bryan Collier’s sequence of tender, mixed media portraits, grow from new born infant, to toddler taking his first steps, to story sharer,

to school child, mocked on occasion by cruel classmates.

The author uses ‘matter’ as both verb – ‘The words and pictures / coming together like / sweet jam on toast / … sun in blue sky … / all because you matter.’ And as noun: ‘But in galaxies far away, / it may seem that / light does not always reach / lonely planets, / covered moons, / stars unseen, / as if matter no longer exists.’

Ancestors are recalled – queens, chiefs, legends – but the focal point is always the child being addressed. Yet, this book reassures all youngsters that no matter what, they are loved and cherished ‘strength, power, and beauty lie within you’.

Affirming, awe-inspiring, and acknowledging and remembering those victimised by racial violence – teenager Trayvon (Martin), 12 year old Tamir (Rice) and young man Philando (Castile),

as well as for me, the not mentioned young Damilola Taylor who lost his life in the UK twenty years ago to the day as I write, when just short of eleven years old. What we have here is a great starting point for a conversation that puts forward the notion that Black Lives Matter, indeed, All Lives Matter at all times in their homes, in their community, in the entire universe.

Everyone is an amazing individual; everyone has something to offer whoever and wherever they are; but it starts with children … Parents know that, we teachers know that; it’s up to us to make sure youngsters know that. One way so to do is to share this book at home and in classrooms.

The Goody

The Goody
Lauren Child
Orchard Books

We’ve probably all met them – the goody goodies; but Chirton Krauss is by all accounts, ‘the very goodest’. He even does good things without being told. He consumes his least favourite vegetable, broccoli, washes his hands thoroughly after using the loo and goes to bed on time without so much as a murmur.
His sister Myrtle on the other hand is anything but a good child. She never cleans out the rabbit hutch when it’s her turn – why would she when Chirton will do it for her?

Nobody invites her to parties any more and she’s been told she’s not good so many times, she now has a reputation to live up to. Moreover their parents have given up trying to make her do the good things her brother does without question.

But then he does start to question: why should Myrtle not have to eat her veggies and why should she be allowed to stay up late watching TV, stuffing herself with choco puffs and dropping them all over the floor?

Maybe, just maybe, being a goody isn’t actually so good after all.

Could it be that a change is about to come upon our erstwhile goody, goody boy? And what about Myrtle? Might changes be afoot in her too? …

Delivered with Lauren Child’s unique humour and charm, and her idiosyncratic illustrative style she presents a smashing ‘goody versus naughty’ story that demonstrates how important it is for children to be allowed to be themselves and to be kind.

Whatever way youngsters present themselves to the world, they’ll love this book with its wonderfully textured art, credible characters and wry look at family life Krauss style.

Marie Curious Girl Genius Saves the World / Cookie and the Most Annoying Girl in the World

Marie Curious Girl Genius Saves the World
Chris Edison
Orchard Books

This is the first of a proposed new series featuring twelve-year-old inventor Marie Curious.

Marie is mega-excited when she receives an unexpected parcel containing a message from one Sterling Vance head of a high-tech corporation in California, inviting her to spend her summer holidays at Vance Camp in his high-tech headquarters. Marie can hardly believe that her robot project has won her a place among thirty other mega-bright young scientists and the theme of the camp is to be robotics. Perfect.

There she and the other campers get the opportunity to attend tutorials and workshops given by the world’s top scientists, test some incredible gadgets and to build robot entries for the competition, the winner being given a year’s apprenticeship and an all expenses paid trip to the world’s biggest tech fair.

Something’s not quite right though. First there’s Marie’s roommate who is very standoffish and then it appears that somebody is sabotaging the campers’ robots. Vance had told Marie when she arrived that there was a spy in the camp but who could it be?

Next comes talk of a computer virus that will create havoc the world over. Competition or no competition, Marie decides that teamwork is key if they are to outwit the culprit and prevent a catastrophic outcome. No pressure then …

A gripping story that will keep readers guessing almost to the big reveal.

Cookie and the Most Annoying Girl in the World
Konnie Huq
Piccadilly Press

Cookie returns and now, as she celebrates her tenth birthday, she finds herself having to cope with the world’s most annoying girl, Suzie Ashby.

Disappointed in discovering that Suzie is holding her birthday party on the day of Cookie’s actual double figures birthday, the day she intended to hold her own party, and even worse, that she is inviting everyone in the class, is only the start of Cookie’s problems.

Next she discovers that her own mum has already committed them to spend the day at Uncle Mehdi’s house for a family reunion making matters worse. Plus, instead of the bike she really, really wants from her mum and dad, all she gets is a token for £25 for the local bike shop.

But then she’s given two tickets to see popstar, Aliana Tiny: perhaps things will start looking up after all.

Or perhaps not: enter Mrs Edmonds, supply teacher, who seems intent on dishing out detentions to Cookie and her pals – except that they’re not really all her pals right then for she’s managed to fall out with both her besties Keziah and Jake.

Then said teacher starts a misleadingly titled club that isn’t at all what Cookie et al. are anticipating. Turns out though that, ex army Mrs E. isn’t quite as awful as they’d first thought, especially as she organises a weekend camping trip; and pretty eventful that proves to be.

But can Cookie manage to win back Jake and Keziah, save the planet and get that much longed-for bike? Now telling would be story-spoiling so I’ll say no more other than there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this enormously appealing sequel throughout which Konnie Huq has liberally strewn hilarious drawings to accompany Cookie’s narrative.

My Pet T-Rex

My Pet T-Rex
Fabi Fantiago
Orchard Books

Nobody supposes that looking after a new pet is easy but when young Kiki becomes the owner of Petunia, it might just be that it’s an overly ambitious project, for Petunia is none other than a massive T-Rex, albeit a supposedly friendly one.

Cleanliness, comfort, feeding and of course, cleaning up after her are certainly going to keep Kiki pretty busy;

and apparently even dinosaurs need to visit the vet for their vaccinations. Now there’s a thing.

When it comes to basic training it’s important that your pet doesn’t take your instructions too literally and no matter how careful you are about the words used, there may be the occasional misunderstanding …

Exercise for so large a creature is absolutely crucial although it might be as well, should you visit the Dino Park, to steer clear of certain of the amusements on offer. Oh dear. It looks as though this pet care business is proving rather too much for a certain T-Rex owner.

However even dinosaurs have feelings and roaring at them might just make them feel unwanted, for now Petunia has disappeared, but where to? Maybe she just wants to make friends again …

Full of gigglesome moments, Fabi’s new story will be a huge hit with the countless young dinosaur enthusiasts out there; her illustrations are an absolute hoot. I often wonder on receiving a new dinosaur book whether youngsters will want yet another dino. story but I wouldn’t mind betting that the answer will be a resounding YES! when it comes to this one.

Sea Keepers: The Mermaid’s Dolphin / Museum Kittens: The Midnight Visitor

Introducing two new younger fiction series:

Sea Keepers: The Mermaid’s Dolphin
Coral Ripley
Orchard Books

Meet Emily, Grace and Layla. Emily’s parents have just bought Mermaid Café; Layla lives just up the hill and Grace’s grandfather is a fisherman. The three team up to rescue a dolphin from a fishing net and find themselves plunging into a wondrously magical adventure with Marina the mermaid princess.

The three girls are unexpectedly chosen as the new Sea Keepers – guardians of the underwater world (a role not needed for hundreds of years). But human Sea Keepers? Humans have earned themselves a bad reputation with the Mer king and queen on account of their ocean polluting, whale killing and fishing, so the three girls will really have to prove themselves worthy of such a role.

They’ll need to confront Effluvia, the evil mermaid responsible for stirring up rubbish storms; she who has set her sights on finding the magical Golden Pearls; she with the power to mesmerise others.

Stop her they must, for the future of the underwater world is at stake; they simply have to find at least one of those magic pearls. Are they up to their task?

With talking sea creatures and much more, this magical story has at its heart the serious problem of ocean pollution. It’ll certainly immerse a certain section of young independent readers, and with still two pearls unfound at the end, this is just the first adventure of the Sea Keepers.

Museum Kittens: The Midnight Visitor
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sarah Lodge
Little Tiger

This is the first of a new series by cat-loving author Holly Webb who got her inspiration from stories of real-life museum cats from the British Museum and the Hermitage in Russia.

The appearance of a small black kitten on the museum steps one night has the majority of the feline residents of the museum all in a tither. The creature introduces himself as Peter and kitten Tasha at least, is eager to hear the story of this little scrap of a thing from ’Out There’.

Tasked with showing the incomer around the museum, the three resident kittens lead Peter through the various galleries but when they hear visitors the others hide leaving the newcomer alone.

Tasha returns to find him, taking him on a rat hunt during which they hear strange sounds coming from the Dinosaur Gallery; marauding rats perhaps, or something else?

Disaster strikes as an incident results in the famous T-Rex losing a bone:

the search is on … Will it be found and will Peter ever feel as though he fits in?

Young moggy lovers especially will lap up this story. Holly Webb has created some interesting cat characters, young and not so young; and Sarah Lodge’s black and white illustrations add further atmosphere and humour to the telling.

There’s a Lion in the Library!

There’s a Lion in the Library!
Dave Skinner and Aurélie Guillerey
Orchard Books

Here’s a simply delicious reworking of The Boy Who Cried Wolf fable starring a little girl named Lucy Lupin. Lucy might appear a little sweetie but in fact she’s a holy terror whose favourite thing is to tell lies – absolute whoppers!

It all begins one Monday morning when this young miss makes the titular announcement to the librarian, claiming the creature is chomping through the history books.

An emergency is declared and the library evacuated while a search takes place.

A similar thing happens on the Tuesday when our mischief-maker informs the caretaker that the lion is devouring books in the romance section. Then come Wednesday the announcement is made to the coffee shop manager who insists all library visitors run for their lives.

For the third time the search for said creature proves fruitless.

The three library workers have a meeting to consider this mysterious visiting creature. Could it perhaps be that when it comes to sweet-looking little girls, appearances can be deceptive?

A day or two later, young Lucy Lupin returns to the library. On this particular day however, things go a little differently …

I’m a terrific enthusiast when it comes to fractured fairy tales and fables, and this one is a cracker to read aloud. Aurélie Guillerey’s illustrations have a slightly retro look reminiscent of Roger Duvoisin and her characters both human and leonine are splendid.

Oh, Christmas Tree! / The Twelve Unicorns of Christmas / Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Christmas

Oh, Christmas Tree!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Macmillan Children’s Books

There’s seasonal silliness in abundance in team Sue and Paul’s rhyming tale of a Christmas tree that doesn’t want to be. Said Tree is determined not to be dressed in baubles, tinsel and other festive fripperies so it decides to take a stand; or rather it decides to do anything but. Instead it’s dashing madly away from its decorative pursuers.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not Christmas the tree hates, rather it’s the idea of being instead of doing that’s really needling its branches.

“I truly love Christmas” asserts the tree and the idea of presents is appealing and that’s what gives Belle an idea. A new outfit might just suit the occasion especially if it equips the recipient to participate in winter sports. But perhaps there’s more to Belle’s clever gift than meets the eye …

The Twelve Unicorns of Christmas
Timothy Knapman and Ada Grey

With the seemingly never waning enthusiasm a certain section of the population has with unicorns, I have a feeling there’s an inevitability about this book.

Narrated by a character who is pretty close to those I refer to, clad in her unicorn onesie a bright eyed miss starts the countdown informing readers that on the first day of Christmas she receives, courtesy of mum and dad, along with 1 sparkling tree, ‘a real-life unicorn’.

From then on, said unicorn is included in the festive giving both as giver and receiver of surprise presents. Unsurprisingly with a high-spirited unicorn on the scene there are a few mishaps as the days go by

and the creature begins to lose some if its sparkle. Come Christmas morning though a big surprise awaits him …

With her zesty illustrations that offer plenty of things to count, Ada Grey captures the inherent humour in Timothy’s telling ensuring a giggle at every page turn of this festive romp.

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Christmas
Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson
Orchard Books

It’s Christmas Eve and as usual Oscar the Unicorn is hungry, exceedingly so. He’s already started scoffing the stockings belonging to the royals, not to mention a large part of the Christmas tree and to Santa’s horror he’s had a go at the presents too. Then shock horror Santa discovers that the magic reindeer food has disappeared

and without food the creatures won’t be able to fly, which means Santa can’t complete his delivery round. I love Nikki’s exuberant scenes of Oscar’s chaos creating frolics and especially the sight of the far from happy reindeer on the final spread.

But we know where that food has gone; so perhaps little Princess Oola’s suggestion for a substitute sleigh puller might just save the special day.

Delightfully daft but Oscar’s fans will relish it for sure.

Seasonal Stories for Young Solo Readers

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford University Press

In case you missed the hardback publication of this wintry wonder last year then grab it now; it’s perfect seasonal reading for new solo readers.
Full of sparkly magic and fab. pink and black illustrations of the half fairy, half vampire star of the show, her friends and family members, this is first chapter book bliss for a certain section of the population.

Isadora feels more than a tad disappointed not to have been invited to her friend Oliver’s ice-skating birthday party, something her parents notice once she’s back home.

To cheer her up Mum suggests inviting her snow fairy, Aunt Crystal, over instead. Isadora has terrific fun with Pink Rabbit playing in the snow and ice her aunt makes ; even more so when the adults go indoors and the snow boy she’s built and Pink Rabbit’s snow bunny come magically to life.

But as her mum tells her, “Magic can’t always last forever … even magic snow melts eventually.” Can the Snow Fairy Queen who lives in the Land of Ice and Snow help? It’s certainly worth finding out …

A charmer best enjoyed along with a cup of hot chocolate after which there are all the festive activities at the back to try.

More seasonal magic in another chapter book:

Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise
Laura Owen and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press

Picture book favourites Winnie the Witch and her forbearing feline, like countless others are eagerly anticipating Christmas. The excitement mounts as the Advent calendar is opened each day, but it’s presents that occupy their thoughts in the main and especially presents for Santa himself. “Proper presents that are more than a drinkie and squince pie?” wonders Winnie.

Before you can say, ‘Christmas stocking’ the two W’s are on the case. Perhaps the staff and pupils at the local primary school could help with suggestions for a perfect Santa pressie.

Then it’s off to the North Pole – brrrrrrr! Make sure you wear your fur-lined undies Winnie. But will they arrive in time to deliver his Santa-ness the gift of a lifetime and still reach home to celebrate the big day with all their friends?

Zany madness that’s full of the joys of the festive season.

The Pug who wanted to be a Reindeer
Bella Swift, illustrated by Nina Jones
Orchard Books

It’s December and a year since Peggy the pug found her forever home with the Jackson family. Now though the prospect of Christmas isn’t making Chloe feel at all cheerful and the rest of the family seem to be down in the dumps too.

When even the school Christmas fair fails to cheer Chloe up, Peggy resolves to become a reindeer. That way she could use some reindeer magic to make the person she loves most in the world feel happy again. It’s not quite as simple as she anticipates though – there’s the question of antlers for a start.

In the end Peggy decides she needs a new plan, one that involves going to the North Pole and enlisting the help of Santa himself. With less than a week to go before he leaves for his Christmas Eve delivery round there’s no time to lose.

Can Peggy possibly fix things so that not just Chloe but the entire Jackson family find their festive spirit in time for the big day?

Another warm and snuggly Peggy the Pug story about thinking of others at Christmas time.

A Christmas Carol / A Cat’s Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
retold by Tony Mitton, illustrated by Mike Redman
Orchard Books

In faultless rhyme, poet and author Tony Mitton tells the story – albeit a somewhat shortened one – of the Charles Dickens Christmas classic that begins on Christmas Eve with the miserly Scrooge responding to his clerk Bob Cratchit’s Merry Christmas wishes thus “Christmas? Humbug … A feast for foolish men.”

Then back in his room, come the ghosts – first that of Marley and later in turn, those of the Ghost of Christmas Past,

the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future, each one eerily portrayed in Mike Redman’s atmospheric filmic spreads.

As you’ll know, the vision of Bob’s invalid son looking so frail and ill, and that of all the working poor toiling to earn but a pittance, result in a change of heart in old Scrooge who instead of Scrooge the Miser is transformed into ‘Scrooge, the Man / who keeps as kind a Christmas / as any person can.’

This book offers a highly accessible introduction to the famous seasonal classic for children.

A Cat’s Christmas Carol
Sam Hay & Helen Shoesmith
Simon & Schuster

It’s Christmas Eve and closing time in the large department store. The shoppers have gone and the staff are on their way out bidding each other a “Merry Christmas”.

That leaves just Clawdia the security guard’s cat and a trio of mice that have come in out of the cold. Clawdia attempts to apprehend them but they lead her on a merry chase all round the store, stopping from time to time to point out things that make her ponder on the past, present and future,

and begin to question her “Christmas is for sillybillies” attitude.

But then she receives an unexpectedly kind invitation from the tiny rodents she’s been chasing. That’s not quite the end of the kindness though: there’s an even bigger surprise in store and it’s one that results in a wonderful family Christmas Day for the moggy, the mice and the warm-hearted, welcoming humans with whom she gets into proper festive mood.

Helen Shoesmith’s hilarious scenes of the chase around the store

and the superbly expressed feelings of both animal and human characters bring out the warmth and humour of Say Hay’s story: just right for spreading some seasonal cheer at home or in the classroom.

Dinosaurs vs Humans

Dinosaurs vs Humans
Matt Robertson
Orchard Books

Can dinosaurs and humans co-exist harmoniously? Seemingly not: the humans do things that annoy the dinos. and the dinosaurs tease the humans.

One day though, one little human, Pearl by name and one little dinosaur, Dexter, both decide to take a walk and they bump into one another – literally! Surprisingly they get on well and before long have become besties – ‘a Human-Dino team’ no less. Needless to say this incurs the wrath of their respective tribes.

Time to seek a new place to enjoy themselves they decide and off they go.

Suddenly though disaster strikes and the friends find themselves in great danger.

Their cries for help are heard by both tribes and each rushes to the rescue but neither the humans nor the dinosaurs can reach sufficiently far down to where Pearl and Dexter are trapped.
Is it perhaps time to set aside the antagonism towards one another and join forces?

Told in rhyme, this unlikely adventure with themes of friendship, community spirit, and respecting and celebrating differences, offers plenty to ponder upon and discuss with young listeners, some of whom will doubtless enjoy pointing out the impossibility of the two sets of characters ever meeting. Matt Robertson’s delightfully daft scenes of dinosaurs and early humans certainly provide lots to explore and giggle over.

The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen
retold by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Laura Barrett
Orchard Books

Like everything else she writes, award-winning author, Geraldine McCaughrean’s retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic tale is simply stupendous: the way she uses words herein is sheer enchantment: ‘From that moment, Kai was full of goblin mischief … and empty of joy. … And when in the market square, he saw the beautiful lady again, in her curlicue silver sleigh, he just climbed in beside her. Had to. Something made him. A magic bigger than mischief.’

That’s when Kai disappears in the company of the wicked Snow Queen and thus begins the search for Gerda’s dearest friend.

During her search Gerda encounters a kindly witch, a clever crow, a prince and princess,

a den of robbers and in particular a Robber Girl. It’s the latter who gives her a pet reindeer to ride.

At the top of the world she comes to a house wherein dwells a wise woman who knows the way to the palace of the Snow Queen. This woman urges Gerda to find courage and sends her on her way.

And find Kai she does, once the Snow Queen has departed leaving him with a puzzle to solve, but convinced he’ll fail.

However with Gerda at his side, a word takes shape …

and then it’s time to flee for their lives, Gerda, Kai and two brave reindeer …

Geraldine’s out of this world telling has the perfect illustrator in Laura Barrett. Putting me in mind rather of Lotte Reiniger and Jan Pieńkowski’s work, her silhouette illustrations are incredibly beautiful.

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid
Geraldine McCaughrean and Laura Barrett
Orchard Books

Storyteller extraordinaire Geraldine McCaughrean retells the Hans Christian Andersen classic tale as only she can, making it a real joy to read aloud.

Delphine the youngest of six mermaid sisters hears from her siblings of the wonders of the world above the sea’s surface and can hardly wait for her special coming of age birthday when she too will be allowed to venture up.

When the great day arrives it’s a joyful Delphine who swims to the surface and begins to sing in her wonderful voice.
As she does so another celebration is taking place aboard a great ship anchored close by. The sight of the prince’s face sends her heart spinning but suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, there comes a huge storm engulfing the ship entirely beneath the waves.

Delphine manages to rescue the prince taking him to a safe place on land not far from what she thinks must be his palace home, and there she leaves him knowing she must never be seen by human eyes.

As her songs grow ever sadder fuelled by her nightly swims to the cove near the palace, it becomes clear to her sisters that she has fallen in love with the prince.

Determined to become his wife, Delphine visits the sea witch and a deal is struck – a potion to render her human in exchange for her beautiful voice.

But that is just part of the enormous price Delphine has to pay. It’s not she who marries the prince but another beauty.

The tragedy doesn’t end there, as those familiar with the original will know

and others must learn from this utterly enchanting rendition that is made all the more magical by Laura Barrett’s silhouette style illustrations.

Assuredly a book for lovers of fairy tales, young and not so young; buy it to keep and buy it to give; buy it for home and buy it for school.

Can You Find 12 Busy Bees? / Ten Little Aliens

Can You Find 12 Busy Bees?
Jordon Winch and Patrick Shirvington
New Frontier Publishing

Who wouldn’t want to accept Jordon Winch’s invitation to enter the garden Patrick Shirvington so beautifully depicts on the opening spread, and join in the search for the abundance of wildlife residing therein. I for one couldn’t wait to go through the gate and seek out the lizard basking in the sun.

As we wander, lots of different birds introduce themselves starting with ‘2 patient powerful owl chicks’ nestling in a tall old tree …

as well as ‘3 crafty kookaburras, ‘6 merry magpies’ – these are poking around on the lawn, ‘7 flighty fairy-wrens, (in the bushes), ‘8 carefree cockatoos’ and ’10 rowdy rainbow lorikeets’ sipping nectar. Yes, some of these birds may be unfamiliar to young readers outside Australia but discovering new things is part of the pleasure.

Lolling around in the pond are ‘4 fat frogs’ to find; and there are two different kinds of butterflies making up the 5 fluttering through the flowers. We’re not told what kind they are, nor the identity of the 9 green grubs chomping through the foliage, though I hope few youngsters will fail to name the 11 lovely ladybirds’

or the most vital for us all, the ’12 buzzy bees’ of the title, as they forage for food in the flowers.

All these creatures, and readers too will endorse the final ‘We love our garden. We hope it will be there forever.’ And it definitely acts as reminder to make our own gardens wildlife friendly.

Patrick Shirvington’s love of the natural world shines through in his beautiful watercolour scenes that accompany the simple descriptive narrative.

Ten Little Aliens
Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty
Orchard Books

Aliens of all shapes and hues star in this counting down space adventure wherein the strange beings far from home search for a friendly place to stay.

Seemingly though, their numbers diminish as one receives a FIZZ! from a comet’s tail, another is SPLOOFed by Nova-berries, a Mega-Robot’s honking blasts the next, and a fiery crater fires out bubbling lava at a pink one.
Now we’re down to six and they’re caught in a sudden snowy blizzard. So it goes on with a SNIFF!, a BOING!,

a PARP!, a cry for HELP! as the sat-nav gives up the ghost.

Then, hurrah! Up steps the one remaining – a female alien – with a rescue operation to perform.

Will they ever find a hospitable planet on which to land their space ship? What do you think?

Rhyming fun Brownlow and Rickerty style always hits the spot with little ones and this story on an ever popular topic, with its sprinkling of alliteration is sure to please too.

Secret Agent Elephant

Secret Agent Elephant
Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins
Orchard Books

Ever thought about becoming a secret agent? That’s what the large pachyderm in this story has set his sights on; but can he get through the required training course? There’s a pretty rigorous selection process.

The first rule is secrecy about the role: that’s something Elephant definitely needs to do some work on. Hiding is a vital skill but if that’s not possible, perhaps a disguise might do instead …

Our elephant candidate surely does look pretty dapper in that tuxedo: seemingly the tailor can after all, perform the odd miracle.

So, it’s ‘Agent 00-Elephant’ welcome to the Secret Service and now on to your very first mission in double quick time before the dastardly feline Vincent Le Morte, notorious international supervillain presses that big red button of his and wipes out the entire world.

No pressure then Agent Elephant.

It’s time to take that enormous leap.

Hurrah! Vincent’s super-secret hideout located.

All that’s left to do now is discover the whereabouts of Vincent himself without letting your purpose be discovered.

Agent Elephant gets a sighting so he begins tracking his prey who just happens to be heading for that red button.

There’s the occasional hazard en route – sharks for instance as well as the odd distraction of the edible kind.

Oh my goodness, it seems as though someone is expecting a visitor but hang on a minute. Could it be that the latest recruit to the spy fraternity might just be about to save the world …

A pizza-fuelled piece of comedy theatre of the tastiest kind is this picture book collaboration between Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins.

Every spread is sure to induce giggles and the way the text works in tandem with the visuals is masterful.

Adults will have great fun sharing this with young audiences; I certainly did.

My Pet Star / Little Fish

My Pet Star
Corrinne Averiss and Rosalind Beardshaw
Orchard Books

Beneath a tree one night, a little girl discovers a star. The star has been hurt by its fall and its glow has gone, so she takes him home.

There she acts as a ‘cosmic super vet’ tenderly nurturing her ‘pet’ star, sharing books with him

and cuddling up with him at bedtime.

The days go by and the young narrator finds out a great deal about her star and his habits and all the while, the star glows brighter. She misses him during the day when he sleeps a lot; and he eschews her games merely looking on silently and benevolently.

At night though, he comes to life, his sparkle preventing the girl from sleeping as he twinkles above her bed – until she makes a decision.

Leaping from her bed she opens wide her window and … whoosh! Away flies her astral friend, fully restored, back into the dark sky where he belongs, from there to brighten up the sky and his new friend’s life from afar.

Corrinne’s magical story demonstrates the importance of kindness, altruism and friendship; it’s beautifully illuminated by Ros. Beardshaw in her mixed media scenes. Her narrator is shown as an adorable child who seems to live alone in a shepherd’s hut or travellers’ caravan.

Little Fish
Emily Rand
Thames & Hudson

Five vibrant, layered neon scenes of life beneath the ocean waves pop out of this book, the covers of which can be tied back to create a standing carousel.

A short rhyming narrative introduces two orange goby fish playing among the corals. The duo become separated when a large shoal swims past sweeping one of them with it, into a dark patch of kelp in which rests a friendly-looking turtle.

Less friendly though is the hungry grouper that lurks in the cave nearby eyeing the little goby. Then, even more scarifying are the white teeth of a marauding shark that appears on the scene snapping its jaws threateningly.

Happily though, the little fish finally makes it back home where it re-joins its playmate on the reef.

A lovely way to introduce your little ones to marine life, but equally this would be great as part of an early years display for a sea-related theme.

Oink! / Daddy Fartypants

In your face or subtle, toilet humour books are always winners with young children: here are a couple of recent, contrasting examples:

David Elliot
Gecko Press

David Elliot tells this hilarious tale entirely through delicate watery scenes of a pig’s bathtime along with onomatopoeic sound effects, mostly animal but punctuated by ‘Knock! Knock! (s)

It starts with pig climbing into his, one assumes, eagerly anticipated steaming bath-tub; but he’s no sooner sat back for a relaxing soak when ‘ Knock! Knock!’ “Maaa?” a sheep clad in pink frilly skirt and clutching a toy boat enters and proceeds to climb into the tub. (Her utterance, one assumes is a polite request).

Further knocks see more unruly creatures, first a horned bovine character …

followed by an ungulate (donkey/horse?) ensconcing themselves in pig’s increasingly noisy bath.

Pig though utters not a sound but then … One tub-emptying action later


things – or actually animals – start to move …

Peace at last! Time to top up the hot water and relax. Ahhhh! Bliss.

No telling – just showing – and absolutely brilliantly done in Elliott’s subtly comic, brilliantly expressive pencil and watercolour scenes.

An absolutely smashing pre-bedtime sharing book for which your little humans will delight in supplying the various noises. If I was in an early years setting I’d set up a small world play scene complete with tub and animals for the children to act out the tale.

Daddy Fartypants
Emer Stamp and Matt Hunt
Orchard Books

Meet dad bear, farty bum extraordinaire. The trouble is no matter how clear it is that’s he’s the culprit when it comes to noxious rear end emissions, he never never owns up to his trumps and parps. Instead he blames others, no matter who, no matter where, no matter when.

Not a single apology or pardon so much as reaches his lips, no not ever.

One day when collecting his forbearing son from school, Daddy Fartypants encounters an attractive new teacher, Miss Lovelybear and as he eagerly approaches, she lets loose a gargantuan gust from her derrière. And does that teacher issue an excuse? Oh dear me, no she does not: instead she points the paw at guess who … Outrageous!

Game, set and match to Miss L. Her terrible toot triggers a realisation on Daddy F’s part. Repentant, he promises to become a changed character when it comes to rear end rumbles and so far as we know he’s been true to his word.

Totally terrific fun, Emer Stamp has come up trumps with this thoroughly moral tale, and Matt Hunt’s splendid, sonic blast, pant-ripping illustrations speak volumes – quite literally. PHOOAW! Your little ones will relish this book as did this reviewer whose partner could give Daddy Fartypants a run for his money when it comes to windy issuances – he does own up though, I hasten to add.

Monty + Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Astronauts

Monty + Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Astronauts
Carly Gledhill
Orchard Books

Space exploration picture books seem to be all the rage at present and here’s another.

We first met this terrific, best pals twosome in A Tale of Every Day Super Heroes and now they are in training to become space explorers. Really? Yes really and thus far their regime has lasted around 20 minutes – we’re allowed to watch Sylvester demonstrating his astro lunge in preparation for their mission to the depths of dark space to find an undiscovered planet and hence become famed as astronauts. Well, let’s see.

Their friends are not totally convinced of the likelihood of their space success telling them so in no uncertain terms.

Undaunted however, the two approach the launch pad where Monty’s ship is at the ready.

Following a successful launch their rocket heads towards ‘deepest, darkest space’ with the crew keeping an eye (or four) out in case of aliens, black holes, or meteors, and hoping to spot an undiscovered planet. All seems to be going well until a black hole looms large …

Fortunately more by luck than judgement, they manage to avoid it, only to run into a meteor shower of galactic proportions. Their meteor shield fails dismally. Could that spell the end of Monty, Sylvester and their mission?

Let’s merely mention little green aliens, leave it there and allow readers to imagine what might happen thereafter; and having done so, head off to the nearest bookshop to grab a copy of this super, silly space tale.

Like her two characters, it seems Carly’s imagination knows no bounds; her scenes of comic chaos are simply out of this world and I love the way she seamlessly integrates the visual and verbal narratives.

Bring on the next adventure says this reviewer who is heading off to grab some more little ones to share this howlingly funny book with.

When the Crocodiles Came to Town / My Funny Bunny

When the Crocodiles Came to Town
Magda Brol
Orchard Books

One day to everyone’s surprise two crocodiles turn up at Dullsville town and judging by their luggage, it seems they’re there to stay.

The problem, so our young narrator explains, is that they look different and behave differently and when it comes to the town’s rules, they show a complete lack of understanding which infuriates the inhabitants, and the mayor more than most, especially when they cavort on the precious golden donkey.

As for their ice-cream stall, that proves too messy and way too much fun for the killjoy Dullsvillites. In no uncertain terms, the crocs are given their marching orders.

That night however, as they pack up their belongings, two other outsiders, Glen and Freda Grabbit creep into the sleeping town helping themselves to items from all the houses.

Their eyes though are on the main prize – that precious golden donkey – and as a result they hurtle straight into the leavers.

A chase ensues but unbeknown to the robbers, the crocs have their own special weapon and it’s a highly effective one when it comes to apprehending the thieves.

Could it be that at as a result of the narrator’s plea to the Dullsville mayor, two leavers are about to become remainers after all?

Debut picture book author/illustrator, Magda Brol has created a very funny story with a very serious message about rejecting prejudice, and accepting and celebrating difference. Her zany illustrative style is action-packed and each spread has a wealth of details to chortle over.

My Funny Bunny
Christine Roussey
Abrams Books for Young Readers

In her latest ‘pet’ book, Christine Roussey features a rabbit and a small boy.

It’s the boy’s sixth birthday and he receives a large gift box from his favourite uncle. Eagerly anticipating the dwarf rabbit of his dreams the lad opens it to discover, yes a bunny, but this one resembles a large potato with yucky, clumpy fur and wire-like whiskers. Hmm!

Thoroughly disappointed, the boy lets off steam in his room before telling his new acquisition that he was unwanted and unlovable; and then going on to carry out a series of destructive acts before collapsing in a sobbing, snivelling heap.

The bunny however, isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. He leaps from the box and makes soothing advances to his owner.

Before long, with damage repaired …

and temper tantrums assuaged, the two have become firm friends, celebrating a funny bunny birthday together and forging a lifelong attachment.

An adorable furry character and an emotional little boy narrator show young readers the importance of getting to know someone or something rather than making a snap judgement.

Roussey’s characteristically quirky illustrations and her outspoken narrative work beautifully in tandem making for a lovely story to share.

Hello Lighthouse

Hello Lighthouse
Sophie Blackall
Orchard Books

Standing on ‘the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world’ is a lighthouse; it beams out a guiding light for ships at sea.

To this lighthouse comes a new keeper to tend the light, maintain the logbook, paint the round rooms.

He also finds time to fish for cod through the window, make tea, cook his meals and write letters to his wife, which, enclosed in bottles, he tosses into the waves.

It’s a lonely existence but one day a ship arrives bringing not only supplies but also his wife.

A fog descends covering everything; the keeper rings a warning bell, but one night a boat is wrecked and he has to rescue the sailors.

When the sea turns to ice the keeper is sick so then, in addition to acting as his nurse, it’s the wife who tends the light and keeps up the log.

Before long there’s an addition to the family – also logged.

Then one day. the coast guard arrives with a brand-new light that is run by machine: the lighthouse keeper’s job is no more. It’s time to pack and leave, ‘Good bye, Lighthouse! Good bye! … Good bye! … Good bye!’

The dispassionate present tense chronicle reads like the keeper’s log and the vertical rectangular format of the book reflects the external form of the lighthouse itself. Opened out there’s space a-plenty for Sophie Blackall’s dramatic Chinese ink and watercolour seascapes, as well as scenes of life within the confines of the tall circular building. The perspectives she uses, many viewed from above, or seemingly seen through the lens of the keeper’s spyglass, echo the circularity of the rooms and some of the furnishings.

I found myself reading and re-reading these pictures, discovering ever more domestic details, and wondering at the power and majesty of the ocean and the amazing talent of this illustrator.

With its look at a bygone era, this book would be a wonderful addition to any topic about the sea: the author provides detailed notes contextualising many of the events in her story on the final pages.


Zana Fraillon and Grahame Baker-Smith
Orchard Books

The only world Idris knows is a shadowy one of tents and fences; this is the world he was born into. Dirt, darkness and emptiness are everywhere surrounding the inhabitants of tent city and completely obliterating their memories of their former lives.

One day, into this desperate life a wisp of light appears unnoticed by all but Idris.

With the whisper of a single word, the Wisp brings a smile, a reawakened memory and a ‘hint of a hum’ to an ancient man, to a woman, a memory and a lessening of her sadness.

Days go by and more Wisps are borne in on the wind with their whisperings of ‘onces’ that release more and more memories.

One evening a Wisp lands at Idris’s feet but the boy has no memories save that surrounding black emptiness. Instead for him, it’s a Wisp of a promise that brings light and joy to his world as it flies up and up, infecting not just the boy but all the people in the camp until light, not dark prevails.

Told with such eloquence, this heartfelt story brought a lump to my throat as I read it first, but ultimately, it’s a tale of hope, of compassion and of new beginnings.

Eloquent too are Grahame Baker-Smith’s shadowy scenes, which as the story progresses, shift to areas of brightness and finally, to blazing light.

When all too many people are advocating walls and separatism, this book of our times needs to be read, pondered upon and discussed by everyone.

Mole’s Star

Mole’s Star
Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books

Mole loves to watch the stars; they help to alleviate his feelings of loneliness that are sometimes brought on by the dark. Every night he sits on his favourite rock star gazing and enjoying their lights that twinkle in the sky.

One night he sees a shooting star and makes a wish. Finding himself immediately surrounded by tall ladders stretching all the way up to the sky, it seems his wish to own all the stars in the world can really come true.

Up and down the ladders Mole hurries, as he fills his burrow with starlight, giving not a thought to the consequences of his actions.

So much does Mole love the new brightness of his home

that it’s a while before he pops his head out of the molehill again. Total blackness meets his eyes; then he learns how his actions have affected the other woodland animals.

Ashamed of his thoughtlessness Mole wanders deep into the forest where he suddenly comes upon a dim light glinting in a puddle.
Voicing his regret at his ill-considered action has a surprising effect; the faded star twinkles and …

Mole knows exactly what he must do and happily his friends are ready to lend a paw, hoof or wing to help him.

Picturebook star Britta Teckentrup’s magical story highlights the importance of sharing, demonstrating how the wonders of the world belong to all its creatures. Her characteristic digitally worked collage style illustrations show the beauty of the natural world, while in this instance her sombre colour palette allows the night’s twinkling lights to shine through with dramatic effect.

Happy To Be Me

Happy To Be Me
Emma Dodd
Orchard Books

Emma Dodd’s simple rhyming celebration of all kinds of human bodies as presented by the six small children in her new book, is both wonderfully upbeat and inclusive.

The toddlers are happy in their own skins with mouths for smiling and laughing, wiggly toes, fingers and thumbs that can do so many different things

as well as hands that touch and hold; ears for listening; eyes for seeing; a head bursting with good ideas, arms for hugging, a nose for smelling; a tongue that tastes; legs that can fold up to make a lap – just right for a cosy napping place for a pet.

Thanks too, go to lips and teeth for facilitating eating and drinking; but most important of all to our hearts that let us love. And love is what shines forth from every spread.

With its adorable little individuals and two supporting adults, this book provides a great way for adults, either at home or in a nursery setting, to talk with very young children about their bodies and being thankful for the amazing things they can do.

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn
Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson
Orchard Books

Unicorns are very much THE favourite among young children at the moment but I’ve never come across one with quite such a winning expression as Oscar.

Having eaten himself out of house and home – literally – the chubby creature is on the hunt for a new place to live.
The trouble is, his habit of sinking his teeth into pretty much everything he sets eyes on, means he’s far from popular with the witch, the pirates, the fairies and the dragons he encounters.

The giant is willing to accommodate Oscar but not quite in the way Oscar hopes, so his home certainly won’t do.

That leaves just one option: he has to try his luck on the other side of the bridge.

This doesn’t look too promising however …

Fortunately though, a certain young princess Oola just happens along and she’s been on the lookout for a unicorn FOR EVER. So maybe …

With its sparkly cover and Oscar’s irresistible allure thereon, Lou and Nikki’s character and his all-consuming escapades will satisfy lots of unicorn-hungry little ones; my review copy has already been appropriated by one such.

The Way Home for Wolf

The Way Home for Wolf
Rachel Bright and Jim Field
Orchard Books

Fiercely independent, little wolfling Wilf considers himself big, strong and tough, so when it’s time for the wolves to find themselves a new cave, he’s eager to lead the way. “One day,” comes the response from the others.

Their journey through the snowy arctic tundra is a struggle for all members of the pack but despite his strong will, Wilf struggles to keep up finding the gap between himself and the adults growing ever larger until exhausted and out of breath, he loses his way in a blizzard. Too proud and indeed hoarse to howl for help he’s forced to spend the night alone beneath the stars.

Suddenly the ice beneath him shatters sending him cascading into the chill inky depths.

Rather than the end he fears, Wilf finds himself being rescued by a sea unicorn (narwhal) that takes him safely back to shore.
From there a host of other arctic animals, large and small, assist the little creature

until finally he’s reunited with his pack.

Thankful to all his rescuers, Wilf makes them a promise, “If ever I meet one who’s strayed off their track, / I’ll help them along by guiding them back.”

Wilf’s journey, both emotional and physical is truly testing, indeed too much for the young wolf to cope with alone.

Rachel Bright’s narrative style, at times poetic and at times matter-of-fact, allows young humans to come to an understanding that there are times when asking for help is exactly the right thing to do; and that team work is as important as going it alone, often more so.

Jim Field’s illustrations rendered in hues of indigo, white, cream, purple, silver and brown have a luminosity that invokes a sense of awe and wonder, making the arctic tundra a truly beautiful mystical place imbued with its own natural magic. I absolutely love the way the essence of the animals is shown in the aurora borealis both when Wilf is lost and when he’s safe once more.

A beautiful book to share and to return to, over and over.

The Little Green Hen

The Little Green Hen
Alison Murray
Orchard Books

Alison Murray has reworked the original Little Red Hen traditional story giving it an environmental slant. Herein her main character resides in the hollow trunk of a large apple tree growing atop a hill.

The Little Green Hen cares for the tree and sows the apple seeds to grow more trees. Before long an orchard has sprung up and she’s in need of some assistant cultivators.
Who would like to help me tend the apple trees?” she asks. Peacock is too busy preening himself but Dog offers his help as assistant pruner.

Requests for assistance with bug control and seed sowing are turned down by Fox and Cat respectively but she finds willing helpers in Sparrow and Squirrel. Throughout the year the new friends tend the orchard and all are rewarded by its bounties.

As autumn turns to winter, down comes the rain, day after day, week after week.

The industrious friends are safe, warm and dry in the old apple tree but Peacock and Fox are flooded out of their homes and seek refuge on Cat’s log.

Fortunately for the trio, The Little Green Hen is big-hearted enough to offer them a place of safety and together they wait for the flood waters to recede.

When the sun finally reappears, it’s time to clean up.

How will the Little Green Hen’s call for help in cleaning up the mess be received by her guests?

Fortunately for all the animals and of course, the orchard, the word is now teamwork.

Thanks to this and the thirsty roots of the new young trees, a new orchard grows up providing food and shelter for all to share.

Alison Murray’s crisp, clean-cut illustrations have a pleasing freshness and the body language and facial expressions of her characters capture their changing feelings eloquently.

Great for individual or story time sharing.

Hero vs. Villain / Monty + Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes

Hero vs. Villain
T. Nat Fuller and Alex Eben Meyer
Abrams Appleseed

Using comic-book style images, the creators of this little board book manage to provide an engaging storyline while at the same time demonstrating opposites – hero/villain, smile/frown, up/down, build/destroy, truth/ lie

and enemies/friends – in just eight spreads.
Toddler super-hero enthusiasts will love the female sporting cloak and mask and laugh over the mock-scary, tooth-snapping, top-hat wearing crocodile villain and delight in the surprise finale. As a tool of conciliation, the cupcake rules!
Conflict resolution for tinies and a satisfying adventure is pretty good going in so brief a book.

For slightly older superhero fans:

Monty + Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes
Carly Gledhill
Orchard Books

Meet best pals Monty (mouse) and Sylvester (bear), new super heroes on the block. They’ve already got the gear, read the manual and followed the training regime and now they’re ready for operation ‘Save the World’.
RING! RING! It’s a call for help and off they go for their very first emergency.

Now this looks tricky but suddenly Mouse has a light-bulb moment and using their faithful vacuum cleaner, mission one is soon successfully completed.
Word of their skills spreads and everything is going swimmingly until …

This rascally rat mounts a counter-attack that really tests the abilities of the friends and makes them wonder if they’ll ever see the light of day again.
Rest assured though, thanks to a deft flick of this …

they do and gain a few extra helpers too.
With its delicious characters, (love the hatching on Sylvester) this is a book to appeal to young listeners especially would-be superheroes. Carly Geldhill’s illustrations are sprinkled with splendidly silly, giggle-inducing details both visual and verbal.

The Little Mouse and the Red Wall

The Little Mouse and the Red Wall
Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books

Little Mouse lives in a community surrounded by a big red wall. It’s always been there but why? And what lies beyond?
When she asks the other animals, each one comes up with a different reason – for protection, thinks Scaredy Cat; Old Bear cannot remember; Fox doesn’t care and Lion Who Had Lost His Roar says  ‘just a big black nothing’ is behind the wall.

None of these responses satisfy Little Mouse but then one day she meets a Bluebird. Thanks to the bird, she is able to discover the answers to her questions.

What she sees – a world of freedom and beauty – and an ensuing conversation with the Bluebird are life changing, altering completely her way of seeing and being in the world.
They were looking with fear… YOU are looking with wonder. You were brave enough to find out the truth for yourself.

Little Mouse goes back to her friends and tells them of the wonders she’s seen and one by one they walk through the wall, all except Lion, although one day he too is ready to join the others in the land beyond.

Despite the simplicity of her telling, Britta Teckentrup’s beautifully illustrated story is profound and would be an ideal starting point for a community of enquiry style philosophical discussion.

When we in the UK, and other countries, seem to be putting up boundaries, its timely themes of discovering freedom and embracing change, both personal and in the world, will resonate with both children and adults.

Ella Bella Ballerina and The Magic Toyshop

Ella Bella Ballerina and The Magic Toyshop
James Mayhew
Orchard Books

Alongside his books focussing on famous artists and their work, James Mayhew has created the Ella Bella Ballerina series to introduce children to famous ballets and this is his latest.

When young Ella enters her ballet class and steps onto the stage, her teacher invites the children to dance with the toys placed around the magical music box.

Staying behind after the lesson to help, Ella replays the music, starts to dance and finds herself outside an enchanted toyshop.

Therein she discovers an amazing world of dancing dolls and other fantastic objects all cared for by a kindly toymaker and his apprentice.

Particularly exciting is a pair of can-can dancing dolls that are in love.

But when two families come into the shop, both demanding to buy them, it seems as though the pair will be separated.
They’re heartbroken at the thought: could there perhaps be a way that Ella can help them to stay together forever?

Mayhew’s introduction to the classic ballet ‘La Boutique Fantasque’ is utterly enchanting. His vibrant scenes will captivate all who love ballet, young and not so young; and for those who want to know a little more, the final page provides information about the origins of the ballet, first performed in London in 1919 by the Ballet Russe.

Frankenbunny / Ten Little Superheroes

Jill Esbaum and Alice Brereton

Youngest of three brothers, Spencer, knows monsters don’t exist until his siblings Leonard and Bertram start talking about the terrible Frankenbunny just to scare their little brother.
It’s relatively easy being brave during the daytime when mum or dad are on hand to reassure him that monsters aren’t real,

but come bedtime it’s much harder to ignore the graphic descriptions of “crusty fangs, ginormous jaws and flashing red eyes”.

Having made it through the night however, Spencer discovers something in his cupboard next morning that enables him to start planning his revenge on his brothers.

And indeed, it’s truly satisfying.
Light and dark are used to effect in this first person narrative that provides just the right frisson of fear without overdoing it; and shows youngsters it is possible to overcome your own fears in the end.

Ten Little Superheroes
Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty
Orchard Books

Riotous play superhero style begins when in mid flight, the Ten Little Super-Kids spy the League of Bad Guys plotting in their lair.

And then it’s a case of action stations, as they set about saving the city from the dastardly plotters.

Full of pows, vrooms, bishing, bashing, boshing, splats, zaps and more: can those Super-Kids overcome the very tricky Monstro’s Gang and thwart their villainous attack on Metro Hall? If so they’ll have to contend with cyclonic firing, sticky resin and Kraken’s flailing tentacles, not to mention a sonic boom and a hypnotic yogini.

I suggest a few practice run-throughs before reading this aloud to a group of small super-hero enthusiasts; it’s pretty fast paced and needs lots of ‘wellie’ to deliver the onomatopoeia-packed action.

However thereafter time will be needed to explore the kaleidoscopically coloured scenes of mischief and mayhem.

I’ve signed the charter  

Festive Fun for the Very Young

Listen to the Christmas Songs
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow

Half a dozen favourite seasonal songs are illustrated – one per spread – and each one can be brought to life by pressing the sound button on the respective spread.
(Adults can turn off the switch at the end of the book when they’ve had enough of the jollity.)
Interactive, sing along fun for the very young illustrated with bright animal scenes of festive fun and frolics.

Snow Dog
Puffin Books

To share with the very youngest, a dog-shaped board book with short rhyming text tells how the playful Snowdog runs and jumps, chases his ball and generally enjoys the company of his friends be they of the snowman or human kind.
Five snowy scenes show all the fun of the chilly outdoors.

Make & Play Nativity
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

Here’s a nice strong, easy-to-assemble Nativity scene for small fingers.
It comprises twenty characters, some human, others animal that are easy to slot together, and in so doing, youngsters can hone their manipulative skills as a lovely seasonal scene is constructed.
Joey Chou’s artwork has a delightful simplicity that may well inspire users to make some of their own figures to add to the completed scene.
I’d suggest sharing the Nativity story included in the latter part of the book before starting on the construction. Once this is complete, then there are other activities including making an adventure calendar, songs to sing and more.
A festive delight that can (the pieces are easy to take apart after Christmas) be used over and over, either in a nursery setting or a family.

All I Want for Christmas
Rachel Bright
Orchard Books

In this short rhyming tale we join penguins – one Big, one Little- as they count down the days to Christmas.
There is plenty to keep them busy: baking, wrapping presents, making cards and decorations and seemingly, the entire penguin population is eagerly anticipating what will be under the Christmas tree.

There’s one penguin however who has no need to join the queue to post a letter to Santa, for the one thing Big really wants above all else is right there all the time: it’s a 4-lettered word beginning with l: can you guess what that might be?

Never Take a Bear to School

Never Take a Bear to School
Mark Sperring and Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books
The creators of the gorgeous Your Hand in My Hand have teamed up again for this starting school or nursery story; and according to the two of them, there is only one rule: ‘you just cannot take your bear into school.’ As if!
After all he’d scare everyone silly with that huge bulk and gigantic paws;

he’d sabotage the child-sized furniture and fill the room with ill-timed growls and grizzles. Then, come lunchtime, nobody else would get a look in …

Imagine his crushing capacity in a PE session; and he’d completely trash your role-play area: his havoc wreaking potential just makes the whole idea a complete no-no. And anyhow you’ll be far too busy getting to know the ropes, making friends, even making a picture of your favourite thing …

Much better then, to have that ursine pal waiting by the school gates at the end of the day, when he’ll welcome you with open arms; and you can walk home together talking about that important first day. Then once at home well, you can do whatever you want – just you and YOUR BEAR!
The possibilities entertained in Mark Sperring’s funny rhyming narrative lend themselves so beautifully to Britta’s picture making. Her scenes of chaos and consternation among the children are a treat for those around the age of the little boy and his classmates; equally so, the fun times boy and bear have together at the end of that first school day. Yes it’s a lovely starting school story but too much fun to keep just for those run up to it days, or those in the little boy’s situation: it’s a wonderful ‘what if ’ story for foundation stage audiences no matter when or who.

I’ve signed the charter  

Sprinkle with Kisses / I Love My Grandad

Sprinkle with Kisses: A Spoonful for Bunny
Sprinkle with Kisses: Sweet Dreams, Baby

Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
Two board book recipes, full of love: one for a tasty cookie mixture comprising tickles, giggles, smiles, cuddles, sighs,

snuggles, hugs and kisses; the other a formula for a peaceful, good night’s sleep. For this you need a cosy bed, a warm hug, a favourite teddy, a soothing lullaby, not forgetting that ‘sweet kiss goodnight.

With super-cute illustrations of adorable infants and gentle rhyming texts, what more can any baby ask, other than a loving adult to read these enchanting books?

I Love My Grandad
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
The toddler narrator of this celebration of the love between a grandfather and grandchild clearly demonstrates how much the youngster relishes the time he spends with his own special Grandad: an amazing assembler and supplier of explanations; full of wisdom; adventure loving; a fun-fan; up for anything, even when it’s exhausting. This grandad is ready to play whatever the weather; loves to reminisce and is the perfect person for a prolonged chat. Seemingly too, he is able to pack a great deal into a single day demonstrating his love in so many different ways.

Celebrating another special relationship, this new addition to the ‘I Love’ series exudes warmth and tenderness with every turn of the page and is just right for sharing with that very special grandad.

I’ve signed the charter  

Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas / Be Brave Little Penguin – Stepping out of your Comfort Zone


Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas
Aaron Blabey
Scholastic Children’s Books
Brian is anything but your normal piranha; Brian feeds on fruit and veg. – bananas, silverbeet, (the Australian word for chard) peas,


and plums; and he’s on a mission to convert his fellow piranhas to a similar diet. They instead gorge themselves on feet, knees and bums! They’ll need to nibble through those boxers first though …


Despite their fervent declaration “We don’t eat apples! We don’t eat beans! We don’t eat veggies! We don’t eat greens! We don’t eat melons! We don’t eat bananas! … “ can he persuade them to sample something from his tempting-looking fruit platter?


Perhaps; but the allure of bum consumption will surely reign supreme.
Brian’s dietary requests will undoubtedly resound with many adults trying to persuade their offspring, or others to eat more healthily; young children will definitely laugh uproariously over the use of ‘bum’ and both will appreciate the subtle visual differences between Brian (no warts, no red tinges to the sclera of the eyes, even perhaps a slightly healthier-looking green hue about his skin) and his fellow piranhas. They’ll also love Brian’s wonderful facial expressions.
Flesh-eating, fruit eating, rhyming hilarity but with an important message too. Sample and see!


Be Brave Little Penguin
Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Orchard Books
Pip-Pip is a tiny penguin, smaller than all the other penguins and he has a problem: he’s too scared to go in the water. He gets taunted by his fellow penguins which makes him sad and sometimes, lonely. His dad insists he should be brave; but mummy penguin takes over with a more gentle approach leading him by the wing towards the icy-looking water.


Brrr! It looks freezing and there might be monsters waiting to eat him. He clearly has a fertile imagination so his mum capitalizes on this, suggesting an alternative for him to imagine;


and step-by-step they go till Pip-Pip’s right at the water’s edge. He just needs to take that final plunge …
A gentle rhyming story with important messages about risk-taking for both children and adults. Parker-Rees’ icy-fresh illustrations convey the Antarctic chill but there’s also a warm glow to the sky making it less threatening for Pip-Pip and his young audiences alike.

Fairytale Frankie and the Mermaid Escapade / The Opposite


Fairytale Frankie and the Mermaid Escapade
Greg Gormley and Steve Lenton
Orchard Books
This was eagerly seized upon by one of my readers who had enjoyed Fairytale Frankie and the Tricky Witch. This time, fairytale lover Frankie encounters a mermaid at the seaside, a mermaid who is reluctant to join her for a swim on account of the BIG sea monster. Frankie reassures her and the two frolic in the shallows until the coastguard issues a warning.


Frankie suggests a strength in numbers approach and after encounters with a surfing prince and a beardie pirate, both of whom are fearful of said sea monster, the young girl and her fellow monster anticipators watch as the sea starts to stir …


“I’m a little bit frightened of this story now, ” one of my listeners said and was clearly empathising with Frankie and the mermaid as everyone else takes evasive action…


leaving Frankie endeavouring to protect her mermaid friend.
Are the two of them, not to mention those who’ve temporarily disappeared from the scene, about to become the next meal of a BIG, MASSIVE, seriously HUGE, GIGANTIC sea monster? Let’s just say that what emerges from the deep isn’t quite what they’ve all been anticipating.
With its larger than life characters superbly portrayed by Steve Lenton, excitement throughout the tale, and a fun finale, this is sure to be a crowd pleaser where young audiences are concerned.


The Opposite
Tom MacRae and Elena Odriozola
Andersen Press
This was MacRae’s picture book debut around ten years back and if you missed it then, this paperback is definitely worth getting hold of especially if you like quirky humour and a story with a twist or two in its tail.
Our first encounter with ‘The Opposite’ is hanging upside down from Nat’s bedroom ceiling ignoring the lad’s “Get down!” instruction. A disconcerting sight if ever there was one especially as it’s clad in a kind of onesie that matches the wallpaper. “Dad! There’s an Opposite on my ceiling!” Nate cries but ‘The Opposite had already happened, and it wasn’t there any more.’
The thing reappears on the kitchen worktop during breakfast …


sabotaging Nate’s milk pouring efforts, sending the liquid upwards to the ceiling and then down onto the tablecloth, which of course, displeases his Mum.
There’s more Opposite trouble at school where paint ends up everywhere but on Nate’s paper.


Then it’s time for Nate to begin thinking in ‘Opposite’ ways …
Elena Odriozola’s pen and watercolour illustrations, although brighter, have a hint of Edward Gorey about them and the characters’ flatness gives them a touch of spookiness: altogether an ideal complement for MacRae’s text.
Satisfying and slightly enigmatic both.


Being in the Present: One Minute / Love You Hoo


One Minute
Somin Ahn
Chronicle Books
Have you ever thought about what you can do in a minute? If you’re a teacher of young children, you may well have done some playful activities on that theme: How many times can you write your name? How many cubes can you join together? How many times can you bounce a ball? and so on.
Here, after providing a few basic snippets of information: ‘In one minute, the second hand moves sixty times while the long hand moves once.’ Or ‘In one minute, you can blink your eyes 20 times …’ artist Somin Ahn offers some ideas for filling that unforgiving minute: hugging your dog; saying hi to a neighbour or planting seeds …


She then goes on to explore the way time can apparently expand or contract according to the particular situation: a roundabout ride makes a minute feel very short, as does playing in the park with your friends …


whereas that same time spent in the dentist’s chair feels like a long time …


We also discover that in one single minute a life can be saved, a train can be missed.
Observant listeners and readers will have noticed that the little girl’s mother is pregnant and this fact is used in the final two spreads: ‘In one minute, someone can leave’ shows the child tearfully hugging her mum farewell. Turning over, we have ‘And someone can arrive.’ – presumably a new sibling for the little girl.


Sensitive and thought-provoking, this small book offers much to ponder and discuss with nursery and infant children.


Love You Hoo
Rachel Bright
Orchard Books
Woo-hoo-hoo! It’s snuggle time for little ones; but first, one particular Big Owl wants to share some very important thoughts with Little Owl, thoughts about the wonderful times the two have shared together and the wonderful times that are yet to come. Parent and offspring are alternately teacher and learner in this relationship,


a relationship that is always sunny no matter what the weather; a relationship full of promise …


and the occasional mishaps …


The most important part of the message though is the final one and something every infant needs to hear: “Whoever you are going to be … Whatever you may do … Wherever you may choose to fly … I’ll always love you – hooooooo!
With a tenderly composed rhyming text and amusing scenes of the totally delightful owls, this is one to share with the very young. I’d suggest reading the text aloud to yourself first though as the phrasing of the rhyme is a little tricky on occasion.

The Koala Who Could

The Koala Who Could
Rachel Bright and Jim Field
Orchard Books
Some of us find it harder than others to step outside their comfort zone; one such is koala, Kevin. This enchanting, cuddlesome creature is totally change averse and has three things – relaxing in the sun, clinging on and napping, and munching on a leaf-bun down to a fine art. Technically I suppose that’s four but for the sake of the story let’s not quibble. Our Kev. is ‘King of the Staying-Still Kings’. Put another way, he just stays put high up in his tree.
Down below the other animals race about enjoying themselves and making a lot of noise – it all seems far too large and strange for him, and despite invitations from the likes of Wombat,

and encouragements from the dingoes and kangaroos, nothing can shift cling-on Kevin. Occasionally he might have ideas about joining in but it never happens; his life just stays the same day in, day out.
Then one day something happens that undermines his whole raison d’être. Can Kevin finally let go of his safe, or now decidedly unsafe, existence?

The answer lies in just two little words.
I loved Bright and Field’s previous offering The Lion Inside with its African landscapes. Now we have a tale set in Australia, land of the eucalyptus trees that Kevin is so firmly attached to. What delectable scenes Jim Field has created to accompany Rachel Bright’s catchy, fun to read aloud, rhyming narrative. Kevin is a real heart-stealer; he might do nothing much, but his changing expressions as captured by Field, are a whole comedy in themselves. There’s so much more to delight though –the animated antics of the other animals, and the delight on the faces of one and all on the final page – that pretty much sums up the whole thing …

What are you waiting for? Join the new Kevin and give it a go.

A Minibeast Bop & A Crunching Munching Pirate


Twist and Hop Minibeast Bop
Tony Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees
Orchard Books
Come, come, come with me, to the stump of a fallen tree, there’s something there you really must see: minibeasts both large and small, are gathering to have a ball. Actually it’s a bop but hey, it’s loads of fun and you’re sure to see tiny creatures in all their glory gathering to dance till they drop. There are ants, shiny-shelled beetles, slithery slugs, head-turning ladybirds and dazzling butterflies to wow us all.


But, as the band strikes up and the dancing starts, someone is notable by their absence: snail is missing all the wiggly rumba, cha-cha-cha and jittery jiving fun. Will he arrive before the final grand boogie? Suddenly from the rim there comes ‘a RUMBLING sound’ … and ‘a rolling rock that SHAKES the ground’; now what could that be?


WHOPPEE!! It’s that slow-coach at last and he’s about to prove himself …


Wonderfully exuberant rhythmic, rhyming fun: you really must join the dance-along, shout-along, clap-along romp BOP composed by Tony Mitton, master of rhyme, and depicted by Parker-Rees in wonderfully upbeat style.
Wherever you are home or school, your feet just won’t be able to keep from moving; for sheer exuberance, it’s hard to beat.


Munch, Crunch, Pirate Lunch!
John Kelly
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Pirate leader, Heartless Bart is a pretty fearsome-looking character and when he discovers that one more of his crew has been consumed by the Beastly Pirates, he is determined to take on his dastardly enemies, and has an evil plan up his sleeve to boot. A few days later the ‘good ship’ Beastly Pirate looms into view and this cry is heard “A Jolly Roger! Dead ahead! It’s time for dinner. Beastlies. GET THE OVEN ON!” When the Beastlies have made their capture, it seems they might have bitten off more than they can chew for who should leap aboard their vessel but …


and he’s making a challenge rightaway: “I’ve come to end the terror of your culinary reign. You’ve had your last pirate repast. You shan’t eat us again.
A fearful battle ensues with charging, biting, whacking and worse but nothing is a match for Bart, not even the unleashing of a cannon ball …


As Snapper and Bart are about to embark on a frontal attack, there’s a thunder crack and a storm blows up. The two assailants fight tooth and nail and it begins to look as though Bart might just be the victor: then down comes a huge iron hook and up goes a certain metal-clad bully and down comes a thunderbolt – one hundred thousand volts of it.
To discover who is finally victorious, you’ll need to beg, borrow, or preferably buy a copy of this mock-scary story and read it for yourself but here’s a clue …


Told in appropriately rollicking rhyme, with a bunch of deliciously hideous-looking characters engaging in alarming and awful antics, this is likely to send shivers of delight down the spines of young audiences and have them cheering at the finale.

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Eat Your People!


Eat Your People!
Lou Kuenzler and David Wojtowycz
Orchard Books
Calling all those who are food defensive, have a picky eater of a child or know one, this book is a MUST for you. No! Make that a must for everyone who enjoys a deliciously funny picture book. Mealtimes will never be the same after consuming Lou Kuenzler and David Wojtowycz’s tale of food-refusing monster, Monty. The young chap is assuredly, no carnivore: people-eating repulses him. So much so that his vociferous protests at mealtime anger his parents …


but delight big sis. Monica, a real omnivore who guzzles everything on her plate as soon as it’s put before her, and is more than happy to take some tasty tidbits from Monty’s.


I’ll eat ALL my vegetables!” declares Monty. “But I WON’T EAT MY PEOPLE!” No pudding then declares Mum, which is followed with people prodding by Monty, and an angry comment by Dad. Mum starts counting … “One, two …” In goes a person – gulp – rapidly followed by …


Nobody is amused; no that’s wrong: Monica laughs so much that orange drink exudes from her nostrils. There follows a spot of negotiating between Monty and Mum during which the latter mentions “an extra big MONSTER-SIZE helping” of Monty’s favourite pud. A deal is struck and … in goes an enormous scooping of ‘crunchy, wriggly, jiggly, sour’ people …


He’s licked the platter clean so to speak: it’s ready and waiting for the promised pudding … TA-DAH!
What a yummy tale; despite being a confirmed veggie I simply lapped this up and then went back and started all over. The ending is a simply scrummy surprise that is sure to send splutters of giggles through any audience you care to share this with. The telling (largely in dialogue) is spot on, the pacing ditto and Wojtowycz’s illustrations are guaranteed to bring on a side spitting response from all humans, child or adult.

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Facing the Truth

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The Truth According to Arthur
Tim Hopgood and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The relationship between Arthur and The Truth is in crisis thanks to a deed done – despite his mum’s warning not to – by the young lad, which has resulted in …


(that’s Mum’s car and big bro’s bike.). Inevitably his friends ask him about the incident and first Arthur BENDS the truth getting him this response …


Then he S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-S it “I was just having a little go on my brother’s bike when an alien asked if he could borrow it … I think he thought it would fly.” to which Lula responds similarly. Clearly more drastic action is required thinks Arthur; but his attempts at covering up The Truth, disguising it and hiding it all fail dismally. Maybe ignoring it altogether will work.

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Seems Frankie is suitably impressed …


but what about his Mum? “Do you have something to tell me?’ she asks Arthur who is then faced with a moral dilemma. What do you think he did? …
Suffice it to say, Arthur and The Truth are now the best of friends …
The Hopgood/Tazzyman combination works a treat in this, their first partnership book. Giggles aplenty are assured when you read this fanciful fibbing fiction aloud to a group of under 7s. In addition to being a fun story to share, it’s just the thing to kick off a discussion on the topic of telling the truth; and Tazzyman’s wonderfully quirky illustrations are likely to prompt satisfied listeners to imagine and create their own flights of fancy on the busted bike/scratched car theme.

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Prince George and the Royal Potty
Caryl Hart and Laura Ellen Anderson
Orchard Books
Never has a royal baby been the star of so many picture books as young Prince George and now here he is again to share his potty training regime with us. Thus far, the infant prince has, so we are told, presented no problems to his household; he’s minded his ps and qs and always kept himself nice and clean …


but then comes a day when, despite his dad’s reluctance to rush the lad, his mum tells him it’s time to stop wearing nappies,. And further incentive comes later in the day when he discovers that dragon hunting armour and nappies just don’t go together …


With the potty-using decision made, George then realises that he has no idea how the thing works.
Next day he still hasn’t gone nappyless and the royal guards are far from impressed when he decides to join them on a march past. Eventually the king is called and it’s from him that Prince George receives sterling advice: “Just choose a good book from the shelf. Then sit on the potty and read it. The rest will come all by itself.” Lo and behold in a few days, the little fellow is a potty ace sporting appropriately trimmed pants and with a portable pot on hand whenever he feels the urge …

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Caryl Hart’s right royal rhyme in combination with Laura Ellen Anderson’s exuberant scenes make for a romping good read.

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Let’s Hear it for Dads

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Baking With Dad
Aurora Cacciapuoti
Child’s Play
When a little girl (the narrator) and her dad, oh, and there’s a moggy assisting too, spend the day baking, magic happens. But this isn’t any old baking day – it’s a special day for someone.
Let’s go back to the start though: first task (having donned chef’s hats) is to select the ingredients …


Then it’s time to get them into the mixing bowl, starting with the eggs …


followed by the sugar and a bit of mixing and shaking. Next comes the flour – a rather large quantity


and butter and milk, plus fruit to finish the whole thing off.


Now let the baking magic commence.
But why are the cooks now bustling around with bunting, crayons and more? To find out, you’ll just have to get hold of this sparkling story to see for yourself.
Aurora Cacciapuoti’s illustrations, in combination with her brief text, have made for a gigglesome delight to share around Father’s Day. But it’s way too much fun to restrict to then: this one’s a winner any day and in addition to a read aloud, it’s ideal for those beginning to read for themselves.

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Amazing Daddy
Rachel Bright
Orchard Books
I’ve come across very few children who don’t think their particular dad is THE best and so it is with the little panda narrator of this wonderfully warm story. Of course, like most dads, Daddy Panda has to go to work but before that there’s usually time for a snuggle up together …

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and maybe even a shared breakfast.

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At weekends Daddy might be busy in his shed, working on important projects …

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but other days are spent just playing and even when little panda misbehaves, his dad remains cool and calm.
For all these reasons and many more – best of all being the shared bedtime stories – there’s no other dad that can come close to the amazing superhero daddy whose virtues this little panda extols.
A smashing celebration of the relationship between father and child: Rachel Bright’s illustrations are full of tenderness and sufficient gentle humour to please the adults who share this with young children.

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Your Baby’s First Word Will be Dada
Jimmy Fallon and Miguel Ordóñez
Hodder Children’s Books
Two dads, one a relation, the other a friend have said to me in the last couple of weeks that their offspring have started talking and guess what the first word said in both instances was: “Dada”. So too here – or rather that’s the intention of the various animal fathers – in this hoot of a book. However paternal coaching doesn’t yield the desired results as we are shown – most merely proffer the characteristic sound of their species …

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though there is the odd exception …

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Maybe a more regimented group effort will bring on the all-important D word.

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That’s better, proud fathers all round … Well, almost: there’s always one …
Comedian and actor, Fallon has combined forces with Spanish illustrator, Ordóñez and it’s the artist who really makes this extended joke work.


I Love My Daddy
Jonathan Litton and Fhiona Galloway
Little Tiger Kids
Dads come in all shapes and sizes and, according to their offspring in this board book celebration of father figures be they Lion, Penguin, Cheetah, Hippo …


Goat or Dog, deserve rewarding in one way or another.
Attractive illustrations with a die-cut star on each spread that is part and parcel of a special gift from child to dad, are a key feature here; and the combination of Litton’s rhyming text and Fhiona Galloway’s bright scenes make for a jolly book for very littles to share with their special Dad figures around father’s day or any time.

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Super Stan & Steven Seagull – Action Heroes

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Super Stan
Matt Robertson
Orchard Books
Meet two very different brothers, Jack and Stan. The latter always seemed to be the centre of attention, which is hardly surprising as he excelled in everything; moreover he had an AMAZING superpower enabling him to …

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You can imagine how this made Jack feel on the 364 days of the year when it wasn’t his birthday; but surely young Stan wouldn’t do anything to spoil his big bro’s special day would he? He’s certainly very excited and that’s before he starts …

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Not to mention wrestling with a lion and engaging in a game of soccer with the giraffes …

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Jack is not happy.
Suddenly though, a scream pierces the air, a scream the significance of which only Jack knows.

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At last it’s his turn to do something that puts him in the limelight for a change; something that proves to be a turning point in the relationship between Jack and Stan …
Choosing a suitably limited colour palette in keeping with the superhero theme, Matt Robertson delivers spread after spread full of comic humour. Don’t you love the way Jack deftly snatches Stan’s teddy from the clutches of the bear, for instance…

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Altogether a super debut picture book.

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Steven Seagull Action Hero
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press
Steven is a seagull – a retired cop so we are told. Now there’s a crazy scenario if ever there was one. But it seems his retired status is about to change: his ex-partner Mac, needs his assistance and he needs it right away to assist in the search for Beach City’s sand thief. The two consult …

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and then head off to the scene of the crime in search of likely suspects.
First stop Harry’s ice-cream van but Harry has an alibi so it can’t be him. Nor is it Lola the lifeguard – her day’s been spent saving not digging but what about Rick? Looks like he’s a reformed character although his volleyball skills need a bit of polishing. Steven is at a loss but who is the builder of this magnificent edifice?


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Bingo! It’s the handiwork or rather claw-work of Claude Von Crab and he has weapons of destruction up on those ramparts.
Can Steven pull out all the stops and save the day? Perhaps, with a little female assistance …

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Totally off the wall but this one did appeal to my sense of the ridiculous – particularly this throwaway comment of Mac’s …

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Tiger in a Tutu

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Tiger in a Tutu
Fabi Santiago
Orchard Books
Not so very long ago in Paris, so we are told, there lived a tiger by the name of Max. Now what on earth was a tiger doing in Paris you might well be wondering, but this particular tiger was not like your average wild cat; he was a much more cultured beast. Indeed he was a pupil at Ballet School, which he attended daily in the hope of furthering his dream of becoming a ballet dancer. Max however, didn’t have the usual garb – ballet shoes and tutu; all he had was ‘music in his heart’ and the determination to follow that dream. A dream that takes him pirouetting and prancing, leaping and twirling right to the very top of the tallest building in the city …

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Fantastic – definitely; but without an audience to see this great toe-teetering tiger, what chance does he have for fame and fortune? Hang on though; seems there’s one little dancer, Celeste who hasn’t disappeared and what’s more, she has a plan …

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Will his pliés and pirouettes be appreciated when he comes under the spotlight

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or are Max’s dancing days over before they’ve ever really begun? That would be telling …
A dazzlingly and uplifting tale of holding on to your dreams against the odds. With a background of Parisian splendour, Fabi Santiago’s retro style spreads are cracking scenes filled with tigery treats and (mostly) comical characters. A debut picture book par excellence for Fabi Santiago.

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Warthog / Ten Little Monsters

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Birdie Black and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
This rhyming tale of young warthog’s wanderings incorporates counting to ten as our forgetful little chap savours a scoop of honey – one (that’s breakfast taken care of) encountering two angry bees in so doing; his wanders then take him to a pool wherein he splashes, finds three pebbles

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which are actually …

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Off goes warthog swishing through the long grass wherein he finds five flowers behind which flutter six butterflies. By now our brave little wanderer is far from home and his mum – a little hungry perhaps? But those seven berries he spies have all been claimed by hungry birds – can you see which of the eight is going without a meal?

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Enjoying the birds’ song, warthog keeps on wandering quite oblivious to the fact it’s now sundown; he’s more interested in the nine monkeys and ten footprints which of course our curious fellow cannot resist following.
No they don’t lead him back home – not quite, although it’s not long before there IS one little warthog hot -footing it right back where he came from and he arrives …

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If you’re wondering why he returned so suddenly and so hastily, then turn back to the first spread and look carefully. And then get hold of this wonderfully interactive, playful counting book and see the rest of the action. Observant youngsters will most likely notice the wily watcher on some of the other spreads as you enjoy the story together.

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Ten Little Monsters
Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty
Orchard Books
We’ve had pirates, princesses and dinosaurs; now it’s the turn of monsters to invade the pages of Brownlow and Rickerty’s latest counting extravaganza.
It’s night time but that’s the time for little monsters to wake up and go about their spooking of a castle and its environs. (Not sure why they’ve chosen now to publish a book wherein the characters go trick or treating but never mind): off go the ten on their spooking way until that werewolf lets out his howl …

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and thus begins the one by one decrease in their numbers as those would-be scarifiers encounter a headless knight, a ravenous raven, a large arachnid …

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a raucous, zapping robot, a zombie gang …

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some skeletons (hilarious demolition details on this spread), cackling witches, a grotesque green ghost and then we’re down to just one terrified monster and he alone must summon up all his courage to open the door and …
Well, that would be telling.
So many counting opportunities, so many story telling opportunities, so many visual jokes but most important of all – so much romping, stomping fun.

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Jane Ray’s The Nutcracker

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Dolci is entranced by the story.

The Nutcracker
Jane Ray
Orchard Books
From its peep around the curtain opening I was totally captivated by Jane Ray’s rendition of the well-known Nutcracker story. With one breathtakingly beautiful spread after another she turns it into something truly magical – a must have book for this Christmas season (and all year round).
The tale of Clara and her unusual gift – the toy soldier Nutcracker from her toymaker godfather – is tenderly and eye-wateringly rendered as readers are treated to first, the anticipation of things to come in the welcoming guests to the party…

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the gathering around the tree scene and the arrival of Herr Drosselmeyr. Then follows Clara’s sadness at the accidentally broken arm of her Nutcracker, followed by another happy gathering – around the dinner table this time.
Possibly my favourite view of all comes next: the one Clara sees having crept downstairs from her bed when ‘The house was shadowy in the moonlight. The candles were all snuffed out and the fire had burnt down to a heap of glowing embers. The only sounds were the ticking of the grandfather clock, and an owl calling from the snowy garden. ‘ (How beautifully the prose flows.)
In a dark corner by the tree, Clara could just make out tiny lights glowing.’

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Next come scenes of the mouse army and the toy soldiers rallying and the challenge of the Mouse King by a transformed Nutcracker who, aided and abetted by Clara, sees off the attackers. Thereafter comes the voyage of Clara and the Nutcracker to his realm, the Kingdom of Sweets, to see the Sugar Plum Fairy …

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and the other amazing dancing delights from every land. This, as adults know, culminates in an invitation for Clara and the Nutcracker to join the dazzling dance …

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and the dream fades … to Christmas morning.
The awed silence of my audience, quickly followed by “again, again” requests, speaks for itself.

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Fairy Tales Old, Fairy Tales New

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The Orchard Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Savoiur Pirotta and Emma Chichester Clark
Orchard Books
Readers and listeners enter a world full of enchantments, mystery and a scattering of frights when they open the covers of this re-incarnation of ‘The Sleeping Princess” first published in the early 2000s. The magic still holds good though as each of the ten stories is visited or revisited through Pirotta’s appropriately direct retellings of favourites such as Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, Rumpelstiltskin, the Twelve Dancing Princesses and Snow White and Rose Red.

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Emma Chichester Clark’s wonderful jewel-like illustrations – large and small – bring an extra glow, an occasional frisson of fear;

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and in many cases, a degree of gentle humour …

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to the verbal renditions.

Equally full of enchantment, occasional scares and sadness, and plenty of Celtic humour is:

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edited by Siobhán Parkinson, illustrated by Olwyn Whelan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘New Fairy Tales by Irish Writers’ this collection of stories has many of the same ingredients: princesses, (one features in a tale by John Boyne), frogs – ‘the other’ one gloriously named Hildegard. I love this story with its princess who wears a red cloak and happens upon a wolf as she walks in the forest;

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it comes from the pen of Ireland’s first laureate for children’s literature, Siobhán Parkinson.
Then there’s an ogre – gruesomely green although he, Finbar the Furious, is capable of no wrongdoing.

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Every one of the seven stories reads aloud beautifully and Olwyn Whelan’s gorgeous watercolours delight at every turn of the page. Here’s one from Darragh Martin’s ‘The Sky-Snake and the Pot of Gold’

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This wickedly funny story had my audience in fits of giggles, especially over the stripe-stretching Síle transforming himself into what young Nora refers to ‘GIANT’S STICKY SNOT’
A book to treasure alongside other fairytale collections.

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Finding Winnie

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Finding Winnie
Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall
Orchard Books
When already past bedtime, young Cole requests a story, a true one, about a bear he gets just that. And so do we in this enchanting book about one that became the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh. The story is told by the great granddaughter of Captain Harry Coles a vet ,who met and bought an orphan bear cub on a station just as he was about to depart for a World War 1 training camp.

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Named Winnipeg (after his home town), the bear captures the heart of Harry’s Colonel and is allowed to join the troops, becoming their mascot and eating them out of house and home. When they reach camp, Winnie becomes a fully fledged army member and even accompanies the soldiers across the Atlantic to England.

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Once there she has to contend with the rigours of regimental training on Salisbury Plain; but it’s there in the depths of winter that the call to fight comes. Harry then has a difficult decision to make; should he find a safe place for Winnie? It’s then that mind wins over heart: London Zoo is that safe place and there Winnie is soon charming its many visitors.

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There one story ends – kind of – and another begins for one of the zoo’s visitors is young Christopher Robin Milne. And the rest, we know is storybook literary history. A final ‘Album’ includes pertinent photographs (snapshots of Winnie, Harry and the soldiers, and Winnie and Christopher Robin), as well as some documents.
How deftly and magically the author weaves this historical story: it’s one that includes not only history but geography too. I particularly like the way Cole’s interjections move the story forwards: “ What do trappers do?” asked Cole.
It’s what trappers don’t do. They don’t raise bears.” comes the response.
Equally magical are Sophie Blackall’s watercolour illustrations. Brilliantly expressive

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and gently humorous, every one is a delight to behold.
A winning combination through and through.

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Box & Hop Along Boo

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Min Flyte and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
Those of us who have dealings with young children know that they love to play with, in and on, boxes, the bigger the better. The idea is delightfully explored with Thomas, Alice, Sam and Nancy in this book subtitled ‘What would you do with a box?’
Thomas’s box is the smallest; he and we ponder over what might be inside and then open the flap to reveal …

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a drum.
Then it’s bang, bang , march to see Alice and her medium-sized box containing …
Well you can guess by the pedal, pedal manner in which she visits Sam and his very big box with a blanket within …  Last comes Nancy with her ENORMOUS box wherein there’s not one but four further boxes

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and finally  the real fun begins – imagine …

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Imagine ….

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And imagine again …

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They might even make a bed and snuggle down for some well-earned rest.
With those adorable preschoolers, an interactive text and a surprise constructive opportunity inside the back cover, this is a great book to share with an early years group and I suggest you make sure there are plenty of boxes at the ready thereafter. There’s tremendous potential for mathematical learning and creative play from this beautifully simple book.

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Hop Along Boo Time For bed
Mandy Sutcliffe
Orchard Books
Belle and her bunny Boo return for a nocturnal foray.
As the moon peeps through Boo’s window he hears Belle strumming and singing him a lullaby down below.

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Young listeners can join them in an enchanting pyjama-clad adventure wherein they’ll meet cowboys, dancers, fairies, elephants,

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babies, pirates even, on the way to the world of slumbers.
Beautifully dreamlike and soporific are Mandy Sutcliffe’s rhyming text and appropriately cosy bedtime scenes.

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Showing and Sharing Love

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Say It!
Charlotte Zolotow and Charlotte Voake
Walker Books
A small girl and her mother walk together enjoying ’a golden windy autumn day.’ “Say it,” urges the child as she clutches a leaf.
It’s a wild, wondrous, dazzling day,” comes the response and they move on encountering a little black cat

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and then pausing beside a pond: ‘and the trees in the pond shivered into a million zigzagging streaks of colour.’ – What wonderful images Zolotow conjures. The mother describes it as …”a golden, shining, splendiferous day!” But that’s not what the little girl wants to hear either.
Neither the amber-eyed, leaping dog nor the fluffy floating seeds …

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can illicit the longed-for words – what a tease that mother is – and eventually after an affecting walk they approach home once more and the little girl is finally rewarded for her persistence …

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Zolotow’s uplifting poetic text (originally written well over thirty years ago) has the perfect complement in Charlotte Voake’s warm pen-and-ink and watercolour illustrations. The scenes are alive with autumn colours and the tenderness that so evidently exists between mother and daughter.
An appealing and engaging autumnal book for sure, but equally one that might be shared around Mother’s Day or to illicit discussion about showing rather than telling (in this instance in relation to parental love).

The special love shared between grandparents and grandchildren is simply and beautifully explored in:


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I Love My Granny
Giles Andrea and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
The toddler narrator shares the delights of a day spent with granny – ‘She’s like a mum, but unlike mine, she seems to have just loads of time.’ It’s a day that can be spent close to home or going out for special treats …

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It might hold exciting adventures or baking yummy things …

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but no matter what, a day spent in the company of a granny is sure to be full of fun and warmth. Both of which are captured delightfully in Giles Andrea’s rhyming text and Emma Dodd’s affectionate scenes.

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