You Can!

You Can!
Alexandra Stick and Steve Antony
Otter-Barry Books

Here’s a book that began with children: those children from diverse backgrounds who responded to Alexandra Strickland’s question what they would say to their younger selves to inspire, reassure and enthuse them about the future. This wonderful book with Steve’s brilliantly inclusive illustrations using fourteen child characters, represents their answers.

We then follow these characters as they grow from babies (on the front endpapers), to toddlers, to young children, to older children and finally, into young adults (on the back endpapers). The cast of characters truly is diverse, as their wide variety of interests, identities, friendships and futures develop as readers turn the pages.

It’s definitely no holds barred: you can be anything you want, do anything you want (including ‘love a good picture book whatever your age’) hurrah! –

safe in the knowledge that it’s fine to be sad or angry, to talk about your feelings and discover what makes you happy.

Equally, it’s important to have big dreams and pursue them using whatever path it takes, be a leader or a follower, not forgetting to make time for playfulness and silliness along the way.

It’s important to realise that those fears of yesterday will be today’s challenges and tomorrow’s achievements, practice can be fun and learning should be enjoyable.

We see that seemingly small individual actions can inspire other people and together all those small somethings can and do make a difference. Equally though everybody has rights.

Not everybody needs to do things in the same way, but all honest ways must be equally valid: doing something differently is doing it nonetheless.

On this journey through life, it’s crucial to know that making mistakes is an integral part of the learning process; it’s important too, that you forgive yourself as well as others, and ask adults for help if you need. Be yourself, for yourself, determined, supportive, an individual who doesn’t allow others to categorise you, is kind and empathetic: self-belief is key probably now more than ever.

Hugely empowering and inspiring, this a book that needs to be in every home and classroom. Children and adults will love the gentle humour and playfulness in Steve’s illustrations: each spread deserves close study.

One Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra

One Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra
James Mayhew
Otter-Barry Books

You can tell a story with words, you can tell a story with pictures and you can tell a story with music; you might perhaps use them all. In tandem with his book creating, that is the way of life for James Mayhew.

The six stories in this book are tales that were the inspiration for some of the best known classical music in the world and each one is illustrated and told with James’s consummate skill and artistry.

What better way to introduce Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice music than to share the story of the broom that the young apprentice brought to life and in so doing caused a flood? Or maybe youngsters would enjoy doing battle with a host of hungry trolls, they of the scary eyes and crooked teeth conjured up In The Hall of the Mountain King.

How about visiting Tuonela, the realm of the dead underworld in Finnish mythology and there encountering The Swan of Tuonela, the sacred bird that swims on the black river? I found myself searching out Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s rendition of Sibelius’ symphonic poem after reading the story and being so moved by the mother’s search for her son.

A wonderful precursor to hearing Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee is to get to know the tale of the prince who morphs into a bumblebee to find his true love.

Switzerland’s most famous folk hero William Tell, the brave archer who risked his life to stand against an evil tyrant for the sake of his fellow Swiss countryfolk, may well be familiar to readers: Rossini based his opera on a play by German poet Friedrich von Schiller and that story too is retold herein. It’s almost impossible to keep still if you hear the finale to The William Tell Overture.

Another famous Rimsky-Korsakov masterpiece, Scheherazade was inspired by the remaining tale, wherein we meet Sinbad the Sailor who was swept from a ship by the flick of a terrible sea monster’s tail when working aboard. Just one of the stories told to the Sultan by the titular Scheherazade..

I love so many things about this book, not least being the clever way in which snippets of musical notation form part of the stunning illustrations on every spread.

(Backmatter includes a paragraph about each work and its composer as well as recommended sources of recordings of the music.)

This is a book that surely deserves a place on family bookshelves and in classroom collections.

A Cat Called Waverley

A Cat Called Waverley
Debi Gliori
Otter-Barry Books

Born in a park in Edinburgh, moggy Waverley has learned much about life, not least being how to make friends, his very best friend being Donald with whom he has supper every night for years.

Then one day Donald packs his bag and leaves his place of residence instructing Waverley to stay behind. One after another, all the cat’s other friends vanish from his life and unbeknownst to Donald who is at war,

his house is demolished.

What next for Waverley?

Off he goes to the railways station to wait for Donald. He waits and waits and it’s not long before people notice him, take photos and even bring him food, though he allows nobody to pick him up.

But despite the kindnesses shown by the station staff, nothing assuages his loneliness. Indeed Waverley misses his best pal more and more over the years.

Then one day as he makes his way down onto the platform, the cat hears, “Spare change. Spare a few pence for the homeless.” Surely that familiar voice belongs to his beloved Donald?

Debi’s story is written and illustrated with such empathy and sensitivity, it will surely bring a tear to your eye as you turn the pages of this book. Perhaps even more so when you read at the end that it’s about a real homeless war veteran for whom she wrote the book (as well as for all the countless other homeless people who share our world.)

Beep Beep!

Beep Beep!
Max Low
Otter-Barry Books

Prepare yourself for a very noisy book session when you share this with little ones.

Not only will they relish beeping along with driver Big Bobby’s yellow bus – punctual as always, but there’s also Friendly Fern’s fire engine NEE NAWing its way to the rescue, Tremendous Tracy’s tractor

and Little Lemmy’s extremely lengthy limousine driven in a novel way by the owner. Then who could resist the offer of a spin in that sports car belonging to Super Speedy Susan – once she gets through those traffic lights, of course; or perhaps a ride on board Trudy’s spotty train. If you reach the sea, there’s always the enormous parp parp-ing ship with Captain Cool at the helm.

However if your preference is for flight, then why not accompany Harold in his helium balloon, RWAAAR! off with Jennifer in her jumbo jet (along with a host of feathered friends), or maybe if you hear that WUM WUM of Zappy Zurgle’s spacecraft you’d like to join the alien in a spin around the galaxy.

Hey! They’re all offering a lift so if you could only pick one, what it might be. Think I’d stick with that moggy character on the final page: now what would that entail?

With Max Low’s characteristic playfully quirky illustrations and all those sound making opportunities there’s plenty to entertain young audiences here.

Nikhil and Jay Save the Day / Nikhil and Jay The Birthday Star

Nikhil and Jay Save the Day
Nikhil and Jay The Birthday Star

Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Soofiya
Otter-Barry Books

The main focus of these two delightful books of short stories is preschooler, Jay and his elder bother Nikhil. Jay finds it frustrating when he cannot do all that his brother can – climbing the apple tree in their garden and lifting up Nana’s heavy bag, for instance. However, when it comes to blowing out his birthday candles and cutting the cake, he’s ready to accept a bit of brotherly assistance, both of which enable him to adopt a ‘we do’ attitude. That story is in the first book. 

There are also episodes telling of a visit to Grandpa and Nana’s home without the green story dragon that Grandpa bought for Jay; then comes the weekly pancake making day when Amma makes the dosa that the boys love so much. Again patience is needed on behalf of Jay whose eyes might prove to be bigger than his tummy. (At the back, Chitra has included a recipe for those, and chutney especially for those who fancy trying to make their own, ‘ the Chennai Granny way’).

The final story tells what happens when the boys make their regular Saturday visit to the library and discover it’s closed ‘forever’ 

– or is it? Perhaps not when the local community gets involved in a protest.

In The Star Birthday, there’s huge excitement in the household as Granny and Grandad from Chennai come to stay. 

One of the first things they do is take the boys to the nearby Indian market to buy fruit and vegetables. Seemingly they ate the mangoes in similar fashion to the way my partner does (although he doesn’t sit in the bath) but he does suck the contents through the peel having made a hole in the top.

After Granny and Grandpa have stayed a week, it’s only one more before it’s time to celebrate Nikhil’s birthday. So why does Granny insist they celebrate on that particular Saturday, calling it a ‘Chennai birthday’ and not on the following week?

Then all four grandparents and the boys plan a visit to the park but first they have to make sure they have the right things to carry the food in – definitely no plastic; and the boys conclude that it’s the best picnic ever.

In the final story the boys prepare to bid farewell to their Chennai grandparents but there’s talk of them paying a visit to Chennai at Christmas. Perhaps this might be the topic of the next book – I hope so. 

It’s lovely to see these books for newly independent readers (or for reading aloud) starring a British Asian family. Chitra draws on her own South Indian background and the stories are illustrated with gently humorous line drawings by Soofia on every page.

Caterpillar Cake

Caterpillar Cake
Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Krina Patel-Sage
Otter-Barry Books

This is performance poet Matt Goodfellow’s second poetry book and it’s aimed at younger children. Embracing a wide range of topics in his sixteen poems – playing on the beach, space, wild animals, play, movement,

school related things – a visit from the school photographer, a classroom carpet session for instance, as well as things related to the natural world. Here are the opening verse and the final one of My Shell: ‘there is a shell / alone on a beach / over the sand-dunes / out of my reach // we’ll sing of the sun / and the salt and the sea / together forever / just my shell and me’.

Perfect for reading aloud to young children and once they’re familiar, perhaps those in KS1 could read some to one another. Which ever you do, take time not just to enjoy Matt’s writing but also debuting illustrator Krina Patel-Sage’s inclusive, vibrant digitally created illustrations. So, if your taste is for pebble skimming, a slice of chocolate caterpillar cake, the smashing word play of Kitty Cat, or a gentle River Lullaby at the end of the day, you’ll find it herein.

If you want to engender a love of language, this is definitely one to add to early years settings, KS1 classrooms, and family bookshelves (if you have little ones).

Babies, Babies Everywhere!

Babies, Babies Everywhere!
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Otter-Barry Books

An absolutely gorgeous and inclusive celebration of babies during their first year of life. Now I’m no lover of babies, (though I have particular fondness for one particular little girl, now a toddler, a few months beyond her first year), but this book is a delight from cover to cover.

We follow the ups and downs of that first year with five families all of which welcome a new little one (or two) into their lives. To start with there’s a lot of sleeping, crying, milk drinking, burping and naturally, pooing and weeing. Then comes limb waving and laughing,

followed after a few weeks with facial recognition of those they see daily. Next is the grabbing, grasping stage often accompanied by much gurgling and cooing,

after which sitting and rolling ensue. By around six months the infants are usually ready for some solid foods – often a very messy time as can be the mobile stage when bottom shuffling and crawling, and beginning to get onto two feet, frequently leads to the little ones opening cupboards, etc and enjoying scattering the contents everywhere.

That’s nothing compared to what they can get up to once they start toddling …

One thing’s for sure though, there’s never a dull moment as Ros’s wonderfully detailed, amusing illustrations show (I love the soft toy’s thought bubbles). Mary’s straightforward narrative has a gentle playfulness with lots of baby sounds and comments from family members. (There’s a reminder on the dedication page, that babies develop at different rates and not all of them do things at the same age.)

Great fun for sharing with babies. toddlers who will enjoy spotting things at every page turn, not least the purple elephant, as well as for including in a ‘Families’ topic box in the foundation stage.

The Language of Cat

The Language of Cat
Rachel Rooney, illustrated by Ellie Jenkins
Otter-Barry Books

This is a reissue of Rachel’s first and award winning collection of poems and what a smasher it is, brilliantly inventive and inviting readers to look at the world and things in it, in an entirely fresh way.

Some such as Post are deliciously droll. Take this wherein a queen, ‘Fed up bored, decided to quit / so used her head and some royal spit. / Flicked through a book, picked a random address : / 5, The High Street, Inverness. / Stuck her face on a card, destination beneath. Does one fancy a swap, Ms Morag Mackeith? / Posted if off, didn’t delay.’ (Sadly however said queen receives no response.)

It’s absolutely impossible to choose favourites, I’m likely to change my mind at each reading of the book but today some I especially enjoyed are Defending the Title which begins ‘I am the word juggler’ and concludes ‘I am the champion’ both of which are entirely applicable to the author.

O the Wonderful shape of an O is a superb example of a shape poem – 


Gravity made me smile: the thought of ‘ripe conkers, bombs, cow dung, / those pencils we lose / from coat pockets, high jumpers / like large kangaroos, / confetti, leaves, litter, a melee of fruit, / all those sticks thrown for puppies / and those footballs we boot.’ all whirling around in space if it weren’t for gravity.

Predictive Text really made me laugh as I’m forever cursing my Mac for changing things I write and need always to be watchful and check blogposts at the last minute (pooing and weeing just now got altered to posting and seeing).
Then there’s Bookmark that strongly appeals to my bookish nature.

Altogether the book’s a testament to the power of language and its versatile nature; there’s something to please all tastes here. Quirky stylised drawings by Ellie Jenkins grace many of the pages.

The Corinthian Girl

The Corinthian Girl
Christina Balit
Otter-Barry Books

To the ancient Greeks, female babies were dispensable: it was up to the father to decide whether or not to participate in a special naming ceremony giving the child the right to be a citizen. Sometimes it was a difficult decision for girls were expensive and one day would need a dowry, and so it was for the father of the Corinthian Girl in this story.

He wraps the child in swaddling rags, ties a Doric coin around her neck and leaves her on a stone bench, hoping somebody – perhaps a childless couple, or a merchant wanting a slave – might take her away.

Eventually an elderly slave from Athens takes her home to his master’s house where he raises her with the other slaves. Now the Master of the house, Milos, happened to be an ace javelin thrower and Olympic hero, with just one of his sons, Dion, still at home.

Sometimes Dion would invite the Corinthian girl to play with him and one morning his father stops to watch them. Wondering who this athletic girl is, he calls his son to bring her to see him right away.

Next day sees the start of a year’s training for the Corinthian girl in preparation for the Heraean Games (women only version of the Olympics), during which time she becomes super tough, lithe, fast and courageous.

When spring comes Milos, Dion and the girl go to the stadium of Olympia for the games. There, not only does she prove unbeatable in every event she enters, but she is given the name Chloris by Milos who also announces to the crowds that she is his adopted daughter.

As Chloris carves her name on the column of Hera’s temple somebody in the watching crowd sees the coin around her neck and remembers …

Christina Balit’s painterly illustrations have a power of their own, capturing superbly the slave girl’s spirit, determination and athleticism. Although the characters in her exciting, inspiring story are inventions, the details of place and time are accurate. Further details of the Heraean Games are given in a final factual spread.

Being Me

Being Me
Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha, illustrated by Victoria Jane Wheeler
Otter-Barry Books

I’ve tended to use picture books to open up discussions about feelings in the classroom, especially with younger children but now this, subtitled “Poems about Thoughts, Worries and Feelings’ is a superb anthology of poems by three accomplished contemporary poets that would definitely work equally well with children from KS1 up.

Speaking directly to youngsters are almost fifty poems focussing on the topics that they care deeply about and unless they have opportunities to talk about how they feel about say, loss or sadness, feelings of isolation can be the result.

One way to counteract such feelings is to take a walk in nature as Matt suggests in Forest Song: ‘there is music in the forest / every leaf a different note / as the wind -conducted branches / play the tune the raindrops wrote // so, walk beneath the canopy / and know that you belong / to the purest ancient melody / as forest sings its song’. I’m sure those words will resonate with all of us after everything that’s happened during the past year when so many of us have found comfort in the natural world.

Another of Matt’s poems talks about those awful butterflies that are the result of first day nerves and how one understanding teacher, Mr Mawhinney made all the difference.


Books are one of my first go to comfort places and Liz’s In the Heart of a Book speaks to the power of story; Here’s part of it : ‘ I found myself a story / with a place in me to store it // I found myself a wide, new world / so set off to explore it //… I found a pool of sadness / and the strength to manage it // … I found place to rest my head // while my worries unplug / I found a curl of comfort / where each word was a hug // … I found a pair of magic wings / and flew into the light

Feeling alone in your sadness? What better place to visit than Laura’s The Land of the Blue to know that feeling sad is OK. The final verse says this: ‘Across the valley it waits for you,/ a place they call The Land of Blue / and going there will help you know / how others feel when they are low.

Sometimes there’s nothing better than the kindness of a Friend as Laura shows here:

Discovering your own kindness within and sharing it with others is equally powerful as the final words in Liz’s Kindness acknowledges ‘and where you give it grows and grows / until one day it overflows

Finally (although I could go on talking about every poem in this book) in Bottled Up Laura highlights how crucial it is to be able to open up about whatever it is that’s troubling you …

Very much in tune with the feelings the three poets have written of are the quirky black and white illustrations by new illustrator Victoria Jane Wheeler; and the book concludes with a note from developmental psychologist Dr Karen Goodall that includes some suggestions as to how an adult might open up a discussion.

A special book that I strongly recommend for both school and home collections.

Shu Lin’s Grandpa

Shu Lin’s Grandpa
Matt Goodfellow and Yu Rong
Otter-Barry Books

Shu Lin has recently come from China and with very little English, is struggling to fit in at her new school.

At lunchtime the other children are fascinated as they watch her tuck in to her little boxes of food. On the way home, one of her classmates recalls when he too was a newcomer but it’s not until Shu Lin’s grandpa visits the class with his Chinese paintings that anything really changes.

No words are needed as the children look in awe at his scrolls with their amazing scenes.

Then as silently as he arrived, Shu Lin’s grandpa leaves the classroom. That afternoon, the class teacher gives the children the opportunity to try painting their own pictures in response to what they’ve seen.

Matt Goodfellow’s text is presented through the narration of one of Shu Lin’s classmates and this is highly effective in that the boy relates his own experience to that of the newcomer showing understanding throughout the book, while Yu Rong’s illustrations, including a gate-fold that opens to reveal a remarkable Chinese scene, are absolutely superb.

That art is a hugely effective way of helping to develop empathy with other cultures comes across with a quiet power in this story that celebrates the imagination while demonstrating the importance of reaching out to others.

An important book to include in primary school class collections.

The Lost Child of Chernobyl

The Lost Child of Chernobyl
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

With their highly visual format, graphic novels are a highly effective medium when it comes to presenting complicated ideas and issues to young readers, especially those who may struggle with long texts, and Helen Bates has already shown herself adept at so doing with Me and Mrs Moon and Peter in Peril.

Now she does it again: through this book, inspired by the events of 26th April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear explosion that caused horrendous environmental damage globally, we experience the disaster close up, and then in this fictional account, see its aftermath through the eyes of two women, Klara and Anna.

After the explosion, animals run wild causing a road accident from which a child flees into the surrounding forest. Villagers around the fire station notice strange things happening and as the radioactive cloud spreads, they’re told to evacuate their homes but the two women refuse to leave.

Nine years later a wild child appears at their door. This little girl has been living with the wolves in the forbidden zone; the women take her in and care for her,

knowing that eventually they will have to give her up to the authorities and perhaps find some of her family. Is that even possible after such a long time?

Powerfully affecting and highly relevant to the present and future dilemmas facing us all, with its themes of survival and healing, this is definitely a book to introduce to older KS2 readers and beyond, either as part of a modern history topic and how it informs future actions, or as part of an exploration of the environmental issues impacting upon our planet.

Not In That Dress, Princess!

Not In That Dress, Princess!
Wendy Meddour and Cindy Wume
Otter-Barry Books

Full of spirit and exuding energy from cover to cover, this is the story of how a strong-minded young Princess Bess tosses aside gender stereotyping norms – “There are things we DON’T DO in a dress!” …

“a princess must always impress” and does exactly what she wants to do, proving that dress notwithstanding, there is absolutely nothing, this determined female can’t do.

Her brothers, the princes More and Less, along with a host of animals large and small, watch in awe as she scales tall buildings, hikes, skis through a storm, goes on safari,

cavorts with a wizard and much more.

Eventually the queen, her highness Gloriana Stephaness, realises that it’s a case of no holds barred: her daughter’s behaviour IS truly impressive. She even decides to make a public announcement concerning dress code; moreover it’s not long before other, unlikely royals, are also sporting dresses.

Wendy Weddour’s jaunty rhyming narrative will have young listeners joining in with the oft repeated “in my dress” as they relish the sight of Bess (Cindy Wume shows her in a different dress for every activity) having the most incredibly exciting time beyond the confines of the palace.

I’ve always had a soft spot for children – real or in stories – who push the boundaries, challenge and subvert pointless rules and are ready to break out of their narrow confines: Bess joins their number

Storm Dragon

Storm Dragon
Dianne Hofmeyr and Carol Thompson
Otter-Barry Books

Faced with the furious wind and rain buffeting their tiny seaside cottage, Grandpa suggests it’s the ideal time to go on a storm dragon hunt. Armed with shield and spy glass off they go TRIP! TRAP! STOMP! STAMP! down the rickety walkway and onto the beach.

Following the dragon footprints, Grandpa is in playful mood as he stops to collect dragon’s paws and claws.

Then on they stamp through the ‘dragon’s jewels’ skittering, scattering, clattering and splattering until again Grandpa stops. Now he’s found a ‘dragon baby’, which can mean only one thing – the close proximity of its mother. They can both smell her as she puffs towards them. There’s only one thing to do: climb into that pirate ship and continue the dragon watch from on board.

She’s definitely there and coming ever closer … leaving the adventurers no choice but (with a nod to We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) to retrace their path …

all the way back home.

With Carol Thompson’s splendidly spirited illustrations accentuating the intergenerational relationship and the power of imaginative play, and a smashing read aloud text, this is a MUST to share with foundation stage listeners. They will delight in joining in, first with the wonderfully alliterative sounds and then, on a second or third reading acting out the trip-trapping, stomp stamping, harrumphing and galumphing, jumping, tramping, climbing into the boat, raising the spyglass and then finally clatter and splatter, running all the way back, pushing open the door and hiding from …

Just Like You

Just Like You
Jo Loring-Fisher
Otter-Barry Books

The nameless little girl narrator is just like other children everywhere. ‘I’ve got two eyes. / I’ve got two ears. / I’ve got one mouth. / And one nose.” she tells us …
‘My feet can take me a long, long way.’

Like other children too, she sometimes feels happy

and sometimes feels sad. She loves cosy cuddles and has dreams when warm and safe.

However, as the penultimate spread shows, this little girl is going on a journey and as we see at the end, as she speaks she’s living in a refugee camp and that is what makes her different from most others. Nevertheless, ‘I am just like you.’ this brave girl concludes.

This simple, beautiful, moving story with its surprise final spread exudes warmth and empathy. Equally important though, it is infused with hope.

Jo’s compelling images ensure that the feeling of togetherness is indisputable as the narrative takes us towards its final revelation.

If you are looking for a powerful picture book to introduce the theme of refugees or displacement to young children, this is one I’d strongly recommend.

The King with Dirty Feet

The King with Dirty Feet
Sally Pomme Clayton and Rhiannon Sanderson
Otter-Barry Books

This is a retelling of a folktale from India and Bangladesh. It tells of a king in India who hated to wash until so malodorous does he become that even he can’t stand the stench. Off he heads down to the river, closely followed by lots of his subjects who want a good view of their ruler performing his ablutions.

After a hugely satisfying scrub, complete with his bath toys, the king emerges squeaky clean and calls for his Royal Towel. However once he sets foot on the ground this is what happens …

and even after a rewash and scrub of those tootsies they are still muddy.
Furious, the king summonses his trusty servant Gabu, ordering, “Get rid of all this dirt, so my feet stay clean.” His ultimatum gives the poor Gabu just three days so to do or lose his head.
A frenzied two days go by with first a dust-swirling sweeping and then a washing of the land.

Finally on day three, some swift stitching yields a huge patchwork covering of cloth. Fine, so far as keeping the king’s feet clean but now the kingdom has another problem. Nothing will grow if the entire land is covered, as a little old man points out.

Happily that same man has the perfect solution

and thus a wonderful invention is created …

Folktales have a timelessness that offers both simplicity and profundity: Sally Pomme Clayton’s lively version retains the essential inherent humour and directness making it great for reading aloud. Rhiannon Sanderson’s beautiful traditional style illustrations capture both those qualities making this a book that deserves a place in family and primary classroom collections

Saving Hanno

Saving Hanno
Miriam Halahmy, illustrated by Karin Littlewood
Otter-Barry Books

Rudi is a nine-year old Jewish boy who, as the story starts at the end of 1938, lives with his parents and older sister, Lotte in Frankfurt, Germany under Hitler’s rule.

When things get increasingly bad for Jewish people, Rudi’s parents take the decision to send the children to England on the Kindertransport, telling them that they will follow later on. Meanwhile Rudi and Lotte will live with an English family where they’ll be safe from the Nazis. Rudi is devastated as he won’t be able to take his beloved dachshund, Hanno with him. Amazingly though, Rudi’s family find a non-Jewish man who volunteers to take Hanno to England when he goes and then after a period of quarantine, Rudi hopes he can be reunited with his pet.
Once in England Rudi and Lotte are placed in different homes not far from one another: Rudi’s carers are kind and considerate;

not so those with whom Lotte is sent who force her to act as a maid.
After some time things in England get worse and Britain declares war on Germany. As a consequence, the children are to be evacuated to rural parts but then comes news that pets are to be put down before rationing starts. Now again, Rudi is faced with finding a way to keep Hanno safe before he relocates yet again …

With empathetic illustrations by Karin Littlewood, this is a holocaust story with a difference, and told from Rudi’s viewpoint, it’s one that primary school age readers will certainly relate to. The author confirms in her after story note providing additional background information, that it’s based on fact. Many primary schools include WW2 as part of their history curriculum and while there are many stories about that terrible time, I would definitely advocate adding this one to the books to be shared.

Stars with Flaming Tails

Stars with Flaming Tails
Valerie Bloom, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
Otter-Barry Books

How exciting to have a book of new poems from Valerie Bloom after quite a long while; but Stars With Flaming Tails with more than sixty offerings was definitely worth the wait.

Arranged under five headings – Family and Friends, Fun with Forms, Our World, Animals and Unbelievable?, this is a veritable treasure trove of delight encompassing such diverse topics as pancakes and piranhas, the elements, grandparents, siblings, parents,

the ordinary and the extraordinary (though nothing is the former when Valerie works her magic on it).

You’ll laugh, feel saddened, ponder upon, puzzle over, empathise, wonder, and with all your senses aroused, discover many things anew. It’s amazing how totally different moods can be evoked by just four lines; take for instance EclipseA huge space giant saw the sun, / he thought it was a currant bun, / so he took an enormous bite / and turned the daytime into night.

and Dawn – ‘Sunlight pries open / the hands of the mimosa / which all night had been clasped / in prayer.’

On the shortest day of the year, that has also been extremely wet and cheerless, one of the poems that really made me smile ends thus: ‘But all’s well, we’re rich and happy (so I had to beg his pardon), / and he’s charging folk a pound to see the dead giant in the garden.’ Can you guess who the ‘he’ is in this one – hint it’s a character from a traditional tale.

No matter how you’re feeling though, you’ll discover something to suit your mood, or to lift you out of it perhaps. Ken Wilson-Max’s black and white illustrations serve the poems well providing an additional reason to smile wherever you open the book.

Weird Wild & Wonderful

Weird Wild & Wonderful
James Carter, illustrated by Neal Layton
Otter-Barry Books

James Carter’s selection of his own works might be divided into the three sections of its title, but for me, every one of the fifty herein is, in its own way, wonderful.

The first part – ‘Weird’ – contains those poems that their author calls daft or cheeky, or perhaps both. My favourite is Spot the Fairytales (aka Ten Tiny Senryū) or 17 syllable present tense haiku. Here are some examples: Enter if you dare – / three breakfasts; one broken chair. / Off to bed? / Beware … // A cute bird calling / an urgent word of warning – / ‘THE SKY IS FALLING!!’ // … She’s poshed up in bling – / grooving with the future king. / Slipper fits. KERCHING!

Among the daft is a clever shape poem (one of several ) called Lullaby for a Woolly Mammoth that you can sing to the tune of Twinkle, twinkle …

Among the entirely new poems and included in the ‘Wild’ section is The Elephant’s ODE to the DUNG BEETLE. That one really made me laugh and I love Neal Layton’s illustration of same.

Not all the poems are light-hearted though. Anything but is another shape poem Who Cares? … a stark warning against the thoughtless and selfish ways people are harming our precious wildlife.

In the final ‘Wonderful’ part are some of James’ science poems and quiet poems. One of the latter that spoke to me immediately is another new, and timely one – It’s … Kindness. On this particular day I’m also drawn to That’s Poetry, Where Do You Get Your Ideas From? and, School Library!. Here are its first and last verses: Where are doorways made of words? / That open into other worlds? / Welcoming all boys and girls. // SCHOOL LIBRARY // … Tempted? Go on, have a look. / You never know, you might get hooked. / Your whole life changed by just one book … // SCHOOL LIBRARY! Who knows? It just might be this smashing book of poems – there’s something for all tastes therein: it most definitely hooked this reviewer. The book fairy in another of Neal’s terrific illustrations awaits to lure you in.

Fearless: The story of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Fearless: The story of Daphne Caruana Galizia
Gattaldo
Otter-Barry Books

In this book paying tribute to his friend Daphne Caruana Galizia the fearless journalist assassinated in Malta in 2017, illustrator/artist Gattaldo has created his first children’s book.

Herein he shows her as a lover of stories and reading from an early age. A person whose reading taught her to think for herself, no matter what.

A person unafraid to expose wrong doing in her journalism.

A person whose belief that peaceful protest could change people’s lives and resulted in her being arrested during a protest gathering and put in a dark cell for two nights. A person who, despite being called a witch and having other awful things done to her by those fearing exposure, continued through her journalistic writing, to fight for what she believed in, and to make the world a better place.

Cognisant of the fact that children love to read about fictional detectives and investigators as he did as a child, Gattaldo’s powerful illustrations and succinct writing style capture the spirit of his friend effectively making this, not only a tribute to one person, but also a contribution to the importance of freedom to choose for ourselves and to freedom itself.

Part of the book’s aim is to promote good journalism to children through the story of this inspiring investigative journalist, the investigation into whose untimely death is still ongoing. Children are always asking questions: it’s how they find out about the world in which they live: here’s something that will, hopefully, inspire them to continue so to do.

(Additional biographical details and some family photographs are included in the back matter.)

Both Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders endorse this book; it’s an important one that should be in every primary school collection.

Crocodile Tears

Crocodile Tears
Roger McGough and Greg McLeod
Otter-Barry Books

‘The crocodile said to the chimpanzee, “Chimpanzee, I want to be free. The jungle jangle’s not for me.” Said crocodile goes on to utter a similar sentiment to other jungle residents – mosquito,

parakeet, alligator, hippo, a piranha fish, as well as mum, faithfully promising to write to her.

Then with rucksack on back, the crocodile glides off downstream heading seawards. Once there a clever disguise is donned and breathing deeply, the creature dives beneath the waves, jetting towards a banana boat. This little croc seems to have everything worked out.

Safely aboard, our traveller spends much of the voyage sleeping and the rest consuming healthy fare. Then, having docked, it’s more stowing away, now on wheeled transport, destination the big city.

First job in this strange new environment is to honour that promise to mum. The start of a series of Dear Mother letters is penned, telling of London’s dreary strangeness.

These epistles continue over time as croc. sees the sights of the city by day …

and by night. Then comes the snow and enough is enough for our roving reptile: the jungle calls once more and so …

This is an absolutely brilliant read aloud tale (make sure you read it carefully to yourself first though). Roger McGough’s narrative verse is bursting with wit as are those affecting letters crocodile writes home. The inherent humour is wonderfully reflected in animator Greg McLeod’s delectably quirky scenes of the intrepid traveller undertaking the journey of a lifetime. The crocodile’s eye views of our capital city are absolutely priceless.

Assuredly it’s a case of ‘east, west, home’s best’. I can’t wait to share this with young humans.

The Jackie Morris Book of Classic Nursery Rhymes

The Jackie Morris Book of Classic Nursery Rhymes
illustrated by Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

This is a wonderful new edition of Jackie Morris’ selection of forty nursery rhymes. In her introduction Jackie talks of their crucial importance and vitality in our modern digital world.

Of those included here, some will likely be familiar: there’s Ride a Cock-Horse, Hickory, Dickory Dock, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep and Sing a Song of Sixpence, for example;

whereas others – The Hart and the Hare, To the Bat and All the Pretty Little Horses, for example might be new discoveries.

The entire book has a dream-like, timeless quality to it thanks to the exquisite watercolour paintings that grace every spread. It’s virtually impossible to choose a favourite but on this day of writing and sweltering heat, I was drawn to the absolute tranquillity of Baby’s Bed’s a Silver Moon.

There’s humour, the beauty of the natural world, surprises and more; in fact pretty much everything you could wish for in a book that’s an absolute treasure, not just for the very youngest, but for anyone who loves art and language.

Sadly many young children nowadays don’t have that bedrock of nursery rhymes that we nursery and reception class teachers tended to take for granted when little ones began school decades back; but giving a new parent a copy of this stunningly beautiful book might just start a child off on a journey of becoming a lover of words, stories and reading.

Belonging Street / Dear Ugly Sisters and other poems

It’s always exciting to receive new poetry books and these two from Otter-Barry Books are smashers.

Belonging Street
Mandy Coe

In this collection Mandy Coe has written about urban life, wild life and family life, sometimes all of them in the same poem. There’s definitely something for every taste and every mood from story poems, puzzling ones, riddles and those that really touch the emotions.

What Mandy does so well is to help readers to see the beauty and the magic of the everyday world whether she’s writing about Helping Hands:
Grandad’s hands are brown / and rough with oil. / Grandma has a green thumb / potatoes pushing up the soil. // My aunt’s hands are pale, / inked with many colours. / My uncle’s hands are strong. / dusted with sugar and flour. // My stepdad’s hand uncurls / to reveal a coin’s bright shine. / My mother’s strong hands / sew each stitch in time. // And when any of us fall, / these hands will help us stand, / these mending, baking, making, / lending, helping hands.

Or talking of butterflies as in She Belongs to the World:
Drifting through Albania / from mountain tops to forest floor, / she is flutur.
In Norway, / among black pines, a brilliant jewel, / she is sommerfugl’ … ‘Tumbling from the sky, / summer has arrived. / She is Butterfly.’.

And how magical-sounding are these lines from Animals Name the Constellations:
What’s in the stars up above?
asked Tadpole of his father.
It’s Silver Spawn in the Black Pond,
the Lily, Carp and Beaver.
Have they been there long?
Forever my love, forever.

Love Mandy Coe’s illustrations for this poem

And I’m definitely going to try The Rhythm of Sleep if I find myself unable to drop off at night. It would also make a marvellous relaxation ending to a yoga class except that one doesn’t actually want the participants to ‘slip into sleep.’ Not until they get home anyhow.

Dear Ugly Sisters and other poems
Laura Mucha, illustrated by Tania Rex

This is Laura Mucha’s debut collection although readers may have come across her poems through workshops, festivals, anthologies and other places where poetry is celebrated including the Caterpillar Poetry Prize that she was awarded in 2019 for the title poem. Now we have an entire book and that is most certainly something to be celebrated.

Her writing is wide-ranging and there are several other fairytale-related offerings such as Rapunzel, Did You Sleep Well? – a superbly playful take on The Princess and the Pea from the viewpoints of the pea, the prince and the princess; and Three Bears VS Goldilocks where Goldilocks puts her case concluding it thus: ‘ The Three Bears need to drop their charges, or they’’ll be / contested. / Their lodgings are so terrible, that THEY should be / arrested.

Each one fresh and accessible, there are shape poems, haiku, poems constructed for the sheer joy of hearing their words said aloud as in Words That Make Me Smile that starts like this:
Tog, toggle, goggle, wiggle / wriggle, giggle, gnu ‘ and Listening To – an onomatopoeic immersion in birdsong.

You might choose to celebrate Ash’s Birchday, or while reading Dear Key Workers pay tribute (along with the child collaborators) to all those who have contributed so much during the coronavirus pandemic ; or perhaps ponder upon the plight of those children who in 2018 were separated from their parents after so it was said, illegally entering the United States that Laura speaks so movingly of in How Long Until I Can See My Mum?

Whether your penchant is for science, space, nature or things literary you’ll find a poem here, many of them quirkily illustrated by Tania Rex.

Although a lover of Shakespeare I found myself spluttering with delight at Compliments of Shakespeare (inspired by the bard’s insults); and celebrating the joys of reading with the penultimate, rhyming Travel By Book, the final verse of which is: ‘I’ve met many people, I’ve made many friends, / and though I’ve felt sad when I came to the end / of the journey I’d made – I can make it again / with the words of a wonderful book.’

And, what we have here IS a wonderful book. (You can even use the QR code on the back cover on your smartphone for a free audiobook narrated by Laura herself – how fab is that?)

Rocket Boy / You’re a Star, Lolo / Charlie & Mouse Even Better

Rocket Boy
Katie Jennings and Joe Lillington
Stripes Publishing

Young Callum has a dislike of broccoli, a fertile imagination, and is passionate about space, Mars especially.

One Saturday he decides it’s time he learned a bit more about his favourite topic, above all, what it would be like to witness a Martian sunset.

Having stocked up on some vital supplies and donned his space boots and helmet he’s ready to board Epic. Then, final checks carried out, comes the countdown …

Out in space he is surprised to discover he has a stowaway, his cat Oscar, and the creature now has the power of speech. In fact Oscar proves to be a valuable crew member when things get tricky on account of a meteor storm and again once they’ve safely landed on Mars, where Callum does finally set eyes on that which he has come to view.

However, as he heads back to the landing module a very strange sight meets his eyes. “What on Mars is that…?” he asks.

Will Callum succeed in returning safely to planet Earth?

Flying a flag for the power of the imagination, Katie Jennings’ story with Joe Lillington’s detailed full colour illustrations on every spread,

should go down well with young, just flying solo readers, particularly space enthusiasts like its main character.

You’re a Star, Lolo
NIki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

This, the third in the series about the adorable, Lolo who lives with her Mama and Granny Gogo contains four episodes for new solo readers to relish.

In the first, Lolo adds a secret ingredient to the soup she makes especially to warm up her Mama when she comes home on a chilly, rainy day.

Next we find Lolo kept awake by a scary sound convincing herself the ‘Ghorra-Ghorra! Hoooaaah! Bwoooooo!s’ she hears are those of a monster, till she and Mama discover what’s really creating such a terrible noise.

The third story starts in school when Lolo’s favourite teacher gives each pupil some seeds to plant. Lolo has tomato seeds from which she learns a lot. So too do the other members of her family; but when it comes to bringing in the results of their labours to show to their classmates, Lolo surprises everyone …

In the final episode Lolo is super-excited when she discovers that she and Gogo are to spend a week of the summer holiday in a seaside town near Cape Town.

The holiday is great but the journey home is more than a little eventful and Lolo wonders if she’ll make it back in time to start school again.

Like the previous books, with its combination of gentle humour and warm family relationships, and of course, Niki Daly’s own  black and white illustrations at every turn of the page, this one is sheer delight.

Charlie & Mouse Even Better
Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books

If you’ve yet to meet the rather mischievous brothers, Charlie and Mouse, now’s your chance in their four latest seemingly ordinary activities.

First of all it’s Pancake Day and Mum receives some rather unlikely requests for pancakes from the boys – baby pancakes, a pancake turtle and even a pancake dragon.

It’s as well that Mum knows just how to curtail all this pancake bingeing before the table is totally full, not to mention two little tummies.

Shopping sees Charlie and Mouse off with Dad on a secret expedition to buy a birthday present for Mum. She’s fond of sparkly things; but what will the boys eventually choose – something more practical perhaps?

In Helping, Dad is busy baking a cake so the boys decide to make some decorations. You are going to love Mouse’s final remark on their endeavours.

Eventually it’s birthday time. Before the celebration actually happens though, Dad and the boys need to do some hasty de-smoking of the house. Then once she comes home it’s down to Mouse to do some clever Mum distracting – four minutes worth to be precise – before the presentation of that special Surprise offering.

In these four short chapters, Lauren Snyder demonstrates the astuteness of her observations of very young children, and of course how parents respond. Equally well-observed are Emily Hughes’ illustrations of the family.

With its gentle humour, both verbal and visual, this delightful book is just right for emergent readers.

Invisible Nature

Invisible Nature
Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson
Otter-Barry Books

Here’s a book to amaze and inspire youngsters, one that looks at the invisible natural forces that have an enormously powerful influence on life on our planet. In it Catherine Barr covers such diverse topics as microwaves, ultraviolet and infrared light waves, electromagnetism, ultrasound and smells.

Say the word ‘microwave’ to young children and most will think of the small oven in the kitchen used to heat food quickly. But there are also microwaves in space and scientists have invented machines that make microwaves that are put to many uses: in medicine, in computers and mobile phones, as well as in navigation by airports and ships.

Each topic has two double spreads, the first explaining how animals use these remarkable powers, the second discusses how humans too have learned to exploit them.

Did you know that some animals rely on UV light for their very survival? For instance it makes lichens glow enabling reindeer to find this much needed food in barren Arctic habitats of Canada, while Sockeye Salmon are able to spot the plankton they feed on when it shows against the UV light of shallow waters.

Much more familiar is the importance of UV in the creation of vitamin D, so vital for maintaining strong muscles and bones in humans.

In all there are fourteen alluring and wonderfully coloured spreads by illustrator Anne Wilson displaying the ways in which these unseen mysterious powers impact upon life on earth

– that ‘secret world beyond our senses’ – making this a book to fire curiosity and ignite the imagination of primary children.

Mrs Noah’s Garden

Mrs Noah’s Garden
Jackie Morris and James Mayhew
Otter-Barry Books

The terrific team that is Jackie Morris and James Mayhew have created a sequel to Mrs Noah’s Pockets that moves forward in time with the Noahs now safely aground high on a hill where Mr Noah is hard at work fashioning a home from their enormous ark.

Mrs Noah meanwhile is missing her garden and as the story opens has just found a place to start creating a new one.

She enlists the children’s help, first in building walls and terraces on the hillside and then in planting. For not only had the ark carried animals two by two but also all manner of plants – bushes, bulbs, trees and shrubs. And in those deep pockets of hers Mrs Noah had even thought to stow away seeds.

With the planting done, she sets about creating a beautiful willow bower complete with gorgeously scented honeysuckle and jasmine. The children are expecting the seeds they’d help sow to start bursting through the warm earth right away, so Mrs Noah pauses to explain that germination takes a while.

After a day hard at work outside Mrs Noah has more to do, this time with fabric; what can she be making? Mr Noah thinks he knows.

Time passes and the garden thrives becoming alive with both flora and fauna till Midsummer morning arrives. Now nature’s own magic has truly done its work

and there’s a very special surprise awaiting Mr Noah when he follows the children outside. What could it be?

With themes of fresh beginnings, nature’s bounties and enjoying the safety of one’s abode and its surroundings, (and there’s new life too), Jackie Morris’ beautifully crafted fable has a magical feel to it.

Alive with magic too, are James Mayhew’s fantastical illustrations. Using a mix of collage, paint and print techniques he makes many of them absolutely dance on the page. At other times, the richly textured images and colour palette conjure a feeling of peace and tranquillity as in this Midsummer’s Eve scene.

Only a Tree Knows How To Be a Tree/ We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Changing Seasons

Only a Tree Knows How to Be a Tree
Mary Murphy
Otter-Barry Books

There are SO many things about a tree to appreciate and take delight in. First and foremost is its inherent and unique beauty, but it also provides shelter for all manner of insects, birds,

and other small animals, for as the author says ‘Only a Tree knows / how to be a tree.’

In similar enthusiastic fashion, Mary talks of and celebrates other things in the natural world – birds, dogs, water with its plethora of fish,

Earth whereon all the things mentioned have their homes, but also for its turning that brings both night and day, and the seasons; and there’s the universe with its multitude of planets … “But Earth is our home / and only Earth knows how to be Earth.’

There are people too of all kinds to celebrate every one special and different: these are represented by a host of joyful children

playing, talking, pretending, one even meditates. Indeed children feature in all but one spread. I love Mary’s inclusive, brightly hued, detailed pictures of them all. These alone offer plenty to look at, enjoy and talk about.

Nothing is too insignificant to celebrate here from the tiniest creature to the entire universe. Share, pause, reflect and feel awe.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Changing Seasons
illustrations by Max Williams/ Bear Hunt Films Ltd. Susanna Chapman
Walker Entertainment

No matter the weather or the season, youngsters will find something of interest in this interactive seasonal guide. There are a number of weather related investigations some of which can be done at home, others will involve going out doors. You might make your own rain gauge; or perhaps find a good spot for some cloud spotting.

On a clear wintry night, what about some moon spotting or looking at the stars? Or on a fine spring day, why not take the opportunity to get outside and look for signs of new life – there might be baby animals around.

Then once back indoors you can adorn a field with spring flowers using some of the stickers provided at the back of the book.

There are also seasonal recipes, crafts and I particularly like the idea of ‘Go green lucky dip’ where you can use the discs provided but also add you own counters.

With plenty of fun, learning opportunities, certainly this is a sticker activity book and much more.

It’s Rhyme Time with Big Green Crocodile and Seagull Seagull

Two exciting books that celebrate rhyme and encourage a love of same:

Big Green Crocodile
Jane Newberry, illustrated by Carolina Rabei
Otter-Barry Books

This collection of original play-rhymes for the very young comes complete with how to ‘act out’ instructions for adult readers aloud. Wearing my foundation stage teacher and advisory teacher for language hats, I know that it’s never too early to start sharing rhymes with little ones, first and foremost for the sheer pleasure they afford, but also for enjoyment of the inherent 3Rs (rhythm, rhyme and repetition) and here’s a book with sixteen new ones to enjoy.

Several of the rhymes feature aspects of the natural world – Five Buzzy Bees, a tree to tap, a Tickle Beetle, fishes, a Big Green Crocodile, while others are about things little ones adore hearing about (or will once you’ve read them a rhyme on the topic) such as monsters, a Wibble-Wobble Clown,

a Moon Rocket a dinosaur (Brontosaurus Ride), and sharing baking and sharing yummy ‘ICE-CREAM, COOKIES / AND CHOCOLATE CAKE!’ when The Queen Comes to Tea.

Whether your children are babies, soon to start reading at school, or somewhere in between, this is for you.

Caroline Rabei’s wonderful illustrations showing enthusiastic young child participants in all the action make this an even more delightful sharing experience for both children and adults.

So, jump up, shout for joy and move that body.

Seagull Seagull
James K. Baxter, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
Gecko Press

Opening this book on the page opposite the contents, I read ‘Grasshopper green, / Grasshopper grey, / Why do you sit and fiddle all day? // Grasshopper grey, / Grasshopper Green. / Tell me of the wonderful things that you’ve seen.’
I know that poem I thought to myself and then realised why.
This is a new edition of New Zealand poet, James K. Baxter’s classic poetry – a selection of 20 poems from his book The Tree House, written for his class when he was a primary school teacher. The Tree House first published I think in the 1970s, is a book I had in my collection of poetry books at one time and his poems have been frequently anthologised by people such as myself.

Equally, I can recall reading Jack Frost to some of my classes way back in the 1980/90s. That’s the one that begins, ‘Look out, look out, / Jack Frost’s about! / He’ll nip your ears / And bite your snout!’ How well I remember those lines and my infants shouting it when the frost set in.

The more I read, the more excited I became: it was a real trip down memory lane to come upon Andy Dandy again, as well as meeting again The Old Owl as it sits on the branch of a gum tree telling listeners and readers, ‘There’s nobody here / But the moon and me:’ …
‘I’m as old as old, / And wise as wise, / And I see in the dark / With my great round eyes. // “So hurry and scurry,’ / The old owl said – / Pack up your toys / And get ready for bed.’
What wonderful images these words conjure up: and they surely have for Kieran Rynhart whose lovely illustrations grace the pages of this book.

I have no idea what happened to my copy of The Tree House but I shall most definitely enjoy sharing Seagull Seagull with children at every opportunity.

There’s a Crocodile in the House / The Magic of Mums

Celebrating two smashing new Otter-Barry Books compilations of performance poets writing:

There’s a Crocodile in the House
Paul Cookson, illustrated by Liz Million

It’s great to see another book by performance poet Paul Cookson and it’s full of zany offerings to delight both adult readers aloud and primary school readers. Lots of the poems are absolute musts for classroom audience participation.

Take the very first poem that gives the book its title; it simply bounces along and with children chanting each line after you, it becomes a double bounce every time.

Then what about The Toilet Seat Has Teeth! What fun to have a whole class of 6/7 year olds yelling ‘OW!’ and bouncing up off their seats whenever you read that line, ( nine times by my reckoning).

This one seemed even more hilarious when I read it because the book arrived on the same day we’d had our new Japanese toilet installed. Now it may not have teeth but it does have all kinds of other interesting features.

As does Paul’s giggle-inducing book for not only is there a croc. but there are also such creatures as The T Rex That Rocks, The Warty Hog and The Porky Pine;

not forgetting the riot-rousing Bottoms! – “Bottoms that are twitching / Bottoms that are itching / Bottoms that are slipping / Bottoms that are tipping / Wobble Bottoms / Jelly bottoms / Wriggle bottoms / Smelly bottoms.’. How such a plethora of bottoms wriggled their way into Paul’s hilarious collection is his only to know.

What this erstwhile infant teacher, reviewer knows though is that your class will be reduced to hysterics, not to say any KS1 or nursery teacher that shares it.

I wouldn’t mind betting that Liz Millions had a good giggle creating the smashing illustrations for this cracking book.

The Magic of Mums
Justin Coe, illustrated by Steve Wells

With Mother’s Day coming up on 22 March, this is the ideal time to grab a copy of this super compilation celebrating The Magic of Mums, another terrific read aloud, and I’m pretty sure young readers will find their own particular special mother figure lurking somewhere within its covers: and to make life easier, Justin has penned a poem (or two or even three) for every letter of the alphabet.

So if you think your mum is let’s say, an Anxious Mum, there ‘s a poem ready and waiting; there’s also Action Mum and Adoptive Mum representing A.

Everyone knows how hard their mum works so there’s a One-Hundred- miles-an-Hour Mother as well as this special tribute to a Diamond Mum …

For me the Dad-Mum is also a true diamond: ‘ I know I do not have your mother’s magic. / I just cook the recipes / that keep her in our memories / and try to keep the house / as she would have it. // And because your mum / could never bear / to see you sad, / I do my best to love you / twice as much / for both of us / be both / your mum and dad.’

Not all the mums featured are of the human kind however; there’s Earth Mother, Queen-Bee Mum and the enormously moving Tree Mum too.

Steve Wells captures the spirit of every mum he’s illustrated (and that’s most of them) in his line drawings.

Altogether a super celebration of motherhood in all its shapes and forms for individual reading, or even better, reading aloud to that certain awesome mum, or perhaps Two Mums, for as a little girl narrator of Justin’s poem of that name says, ‘ I have two mums to love me / so there’s two mums I love.’

Wild Wolf

Wild Wolf
Fiona French
Otter Barry Books

The inspiration for Greenaway medal winner, Fiona French’s Wild Wolf story was an Algonquin folktale called ‘Moowis’. However, a sighting in the Rocky Mountains of a single black wolf by the author some ten years back inspired her to write a different ending from the original folktale’s sad conclusion.

It’s a story of pride and its consequences for Proud Girl and Bravest Warrior. There’s rejection, anger, revenge,

love,

remorse, forgiveness and the life saving action of the wise guardian spirit narrator Wild Wolf.

Finally though, it’s love that wins out.

The bright artwork executed in oil crayons, with added graphite and coloured pencil detail, is arresting and stunningly beautiful. Fiona’s illustrations are inspirited by First Nation costume, quillwork, embroidery and beadwork of the Algonquin people of Canada and North West USA. Every single spread is a visual feast; what a wise choice of the publishers to use matt paper for the pages. (Make sure you check out the gorgeous patterned endpapers.)

This wonderful book is rich in potential for classroom use and I have no doubt many readers, either at home or in school, will be reaching for oil pastels/crayons to experiment with their own designs after studying the art herein.

(A donation from sales of the book will go to the Katarokwi Grandmothers’ Council of Kingston, Ontario.)

What’s that Noise?

What’s that Noise?
Naomi Howarth
Otter-Barry Books

Naomi Howarth introduces young readers and listeners to seven wonderful Arctic animals in her latest story.

Set in the frozen north we meet first of all, a ringed seal Magnus, a very fine creature that is woken one morning from his deep slumbers by a loud, low rumbling that he doesn’t recognise.
Could it be the wind perhaps, or the sea, or even a crumbling iceberg? Eager to identify the sound he sets off, asking first his friend Hare but Hare is equally puzzled.

Over the ice they go together, stopping by the forest to ask Owl. She knows it’s not the trees creaking but nothing more, so they travel further.

Neither Fox on the snowy rocks,

nor Polar Bear beside the icy river knows, but when they reach the sea they meet Walrus who has a suggestion that might just help find the source of those rumbly emanations …

Mystery solved, the animal friends enjoy a feast and then settle down to sleep … rumble, rumble, rumble – now what could it be this time?

Naomi Howarth’s gently humorous telling with its simplicity and repeat pattern has the feel of a folk tale while her watercolour illustrations are outstandingly gorgeous. She succeeds in portraying the animals realistically in their Arctic setting and yet readers can relate to them as real characters capable of showing feelings.

Make sure you peruse the back inside cover where there are key facts about the creatures from the story.

The History of Prehistory

The History of Prehistory
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

Team Manning and Granström present another first-rate non-fiction book for young readers.

We join their two child protagonists as they set off on an incredible adventure that takes them back 4 billion years to the time when Earth was volcanic and still way too hot to support life.

To travel from those fiery beginnings of Earth and Moon right through to the Bronze Age (5.300 to 3,200 year ago) is an awesome journey that encompasses a stop to investigate the explosion of life during the Cambrian period,

followed by a canoe trip to view the giant fungi of the late Silurian Period.

From then animal life proliferates and the time travellers encounter an incredible array of creatures including giant dragonflies, the first completely land-based reptiles; and even more awesome they get to fly on the backs of Pterosaurs above such dinosaurs as Diplodocuses.

Having investigated the Periods when dinosaurs ruled, they pause to spend a while with tree-dwelling mammals before they join the clever apes of the Miocene Epoch as they swing above the forest floor and on to the Pliocene Epoch to meet our earliest two-legged human ancestors.

With a lively narrative that respects young readers by using the correct terminology and splendid, gently humorous scenes of the various creatures, as well as a glossary and timeline game, this exciting book will be avidly read by individuals fascinated with past times as well as being welcomed by teachers using it to support the primary curriculum.

The Last Tiger

The Last Tiger
Petr Horáček
Otter-Barry Books

Animal freedom and conservation are the themes underlying Petr Horáček’s stunningly illustrated, ominously titled new book that begins in the jungle where there dwells a fearless tiger, the strongest, most powerful creature of all.

When a group of hunters come to the jungle, the other animals are alarmed and flee into hiding, urging the tiger to do likewise.

Undaunted the tiger ignores their warning and he’s spotted by the men who are determined to capture the beautiful creature.

Back to the city they go only to return with more men and a plan.
Luring the tiger into a net, they catch him, and he’s taken away and put in a cage for all to see.

In captivity, the unhappy tiger dreams only of running free in the jungle and gradually wastes away. The humans lose interest in him

and one night he’s able to slip between the bars of his cage.

Free once more, the tiger regains his strength and stature while always remembering that what he values most is being free.

Very much a modern fable, this thought provoking book with its vibrant, richly patterned art invites readers of all ages to consider the fragility of freedom itself.

Fiddle Dee Dee!

Fiddle Dee Dee!
Dianne Hofmeyr and Piet Grobler
Otter-Barry Books

This trickster tale featuring a clever monkey had its origins in a collection of South African folktales but for her retelling, Dianne Hofmeyr has changed the villainous wolf for a hyena.

Monkey comes upon a strange-looking object while digging around beneath a tree. As he plucks it out comes a sound, “Fiddle dee dee! Look what I see! / A musical bow. / Lucky monkey! Lucky me! / Luckiest monkey in the whole country,” he sings.

Along comes Hyena claiming the bow to be his and threateningly accusing Monkey of stealing it.

To solve their dispute,Tortoise advises them to consult Lion and off they go to find him.

Lion however, is not the fair and just creature he’s reputed to be and demands the bow for himself.

Monkey begs to be given a final chance to play the instrument and Lion accedes.

The music he plays enchants the other animals, including Lion and they start to dance. Monkey plays faster, the creatures dance faster and faster

and eventually as night falls, they’re all completely exhausted.

Taking advantage of the situation Monkey makes another request and finally secures the bow once and for all.

In her usual animated fashion with plenty of dialogue, Dianne Hofmeyr has refashioned this folk tale from the African continent that is a lively read aloud. Grobler’s scratchy characters are a mix of endearing humour and downright scariness. They certainly snare the attention and whether one is alarmed or amused, each scene offers a wealth of quirky detail to pore over.

Binky’s Time to Fly!

Binky’s Time to Fly!
Sharmila Collins and Carolina Rabei
Otter-Barry Books

Binky has always wanted to be a beautiful butterfly but when his big day finally comes, he discovers to his dismay that instead of powerful wings, despite their shape, his are fragile, holey things, so wispy they won’t lift him up. Dreams in tatters, he creeps away to hide.

Some time later, two other butterflies that had emerged at the same time discover him and offer to help.

Seeking the assistance of the silkworms, the spiders and the bees, the team work away until at last Binky’s wings are transformed.

They look amazing but will they allow him to take off ?

Acknowledging his inherent difference but thankful and full of hope, Binky watches as his friends flutter above and then responding to their call, “It’s time to fly!’ he carefully unfurls his wings and at last …

Incorporating themes of inclusion and empathy, this movingly told and illustrated story demonstrates the power of co-operation and determination.

As Sharmila, the author says in a final note, this is a book about hope and freedom. Her eldest daughter, the inspiration for the story, has the fragile skin condition epidermis bullosa and to aid the finding of a cure, Sharmila founded the charity Cure EB to which her royalties will be donated.

Rich in pattern and texture Carolina Rabei’s expressive mixed media illustrations are reflective of the softly spoken, uplifting narrative.

The Yum Yum Tree

The Yum Yum Tree
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

This, the third story to feature the Five Flamingos begins with a cry for help from Monkey. Her baby is stuck up in a Yum Yum Tree.

While the other animals are debating the unlikelihood of such an event on account of its difficulty to climb, evidence of the baby’s position comes in the form of a cascade of fruits from above.

That precipitates a series of rescue operation proposals first from Hippopotamus (his bouncy belly is offered as a soft landing); followed by an attempt to use said belly as a springboard by Zebra, which fails even more dramatically.

Crocodile gets his just desserts (not the baby monkey) for his wily attempt leaving just the Five Flamingos to show the way and they’re pretty convinced their idea is going to work.

Seemingly the quintet know something about baby monkey psychology

and not long after all the animals are participating in a celebratory party thrown by a grateful mum Monkey; or maybe not quite all the animals …

Absolutely bound to induce instant delight is the surprise finale of Jonnie’s smashing tale of problem solving and community.

Brita’s comical illustrations are a treat making every spread a giggle worthy delight for both listeners and adult readers aloud. If you’ve yet to encounter this particular group of African animals then start here, but be sure to catch up with their previous adventures.

Some Recent Young Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

Here Comes Lolo
Hooray for Lolo

Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerald the Lion

Gerald the Lion
Jessica Souhami
Otter-Barry Books

In a departure from her more usual folk tale renditions Jessica Souhami sets her tale of Gerald in an urban jungle.
Full of boldness Gerald the lion – a character youngsters will instantly see is a domesticated grey cat – decides to explore his neighbourhood jungle.

It’s an environment full of strange sounds and sights – there’s the roar of creatures in the tree branches,

weird beings from outer space (a trio of snails); hungry crocodiles swimming in the lake, and some giants stop to speak to him when he pauses his perambulation.

Suddenly there appears a fiery dragon that causes Gerald to leap in alarm

and then he finds himself lost and completely alone.

Poor Gerald: will he find his way back home?

We all, but especially young children, hear strange noises from time to time imagining all kinds of scary things might be lurking, and so it is here in Jessica’s simple but clever tale: a tale wherein the incongruity between her telling of the extended joke and her hallmark bold, bright collage style illustrations work perfectly together.

With its large clear print this book is ideal for early reading as well as for sharing with little ones during story sessions where I envisage it becoming a firm favourite.

My Friends

My Friends
Max Low
Otter-Barry Books

We don’t actually meet the narrator of this book until the final endpapers but that’s getting ahead of things, so let’s be content and accept the invitation to meet ‘My Friends’.

An interesting and diverse lot they definitely are, starting with Mossy, the perfect friend for some quiet interchange or silent contemplation.
Then comes lion-loving Archibald …

followed by cloud watching Ezra who points out all manner of interesting shapes drifting across the sky.

There’s Pepper who cooks tasty food; Olga, the music lover;

Herman the knitter (or should that be, tangler); the inventive Lina ; Bert who cares for minibeasts on account of their smallness and his bigness

as well as Plim and an imaginary friend, Klaus.
Each is unique, special and loved; but occasionally it’s good to be on your own.

And as for the narrator, I’m not revealing the identity of same – you’ll have to get hold of a copy of the book to find that out.

This quirky, playful look at friendship offers a great starting point for exploring the topic with young listeners who will readily relate to rising star, Max Low’s bold bright images.

Why not treat your friend to a copy to celebrate International Friendship Day on 30th July?

Astro Girl / Where’s Mr Astronaut?

Astro Girl
Ken Wilson-Max
Otter-Barry Books

Space and stars enthusiast Astrid wants to become an astronaut, so she tells Jake her best pal as they lie stargazing.

She goes on to tell the same to her papa over breakfast.

He challenges her assertion with comments about orbiting the Earth in a spaceship, dining on food from tubes and packets, becoming used to zero gravity, conducting scientific experiments …

and sleeping alone among the stars: he seems pretty knowledgeable about life in space. Astrid assures her Papa that she can manage all those things even the solo sleeping.

The day comes for the two of them to go and collect Mama in the car.

It’s then that we discover the possible reason for Astrid’s enthusiasm about space and her Papa’s knowledge.

A joyful reunion takes place and thereafter the little girl starts reading avidly to learn as much as she can about how to achieve her ambition, and about some of those trailblazing astronauts who went before, several of whom were women.

Simply and beautifully told, Ken keeps readers interested in the theme by showing us space related items such as Astrid’s t-shirt, her breakfast cereal, Papa’s T-shirts, the cookie shapes they bake together, pictures, a toy – all of which help in the build-up to the grand finale.

A smashing book for young space enthusiasts and perhaps to share on Father’s Day.

For a younger audience is:


Where’s Mr Astronaut?
Ingela P.Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

Vibrant, immediately appealing illustrations characterise Ingela P.Arrhenius’ latest title for the ‘flaps and mirror’ series in an amusing introduction to space exploration for the very youngest.

The space travellers hidden herein are a delightful mix of human, canine and alien. There’s Mrs Engineer, Mr Space Dog, Mrs Alien,

Mr Astronaut and finally, whoever happens to be looking in the mirror tucked beneath the felt moon flap.

This one’s sure to add to the deserved popularity of the hide-and-seek series.

Me and Mrs Moon

Me and Mrs Moon
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

In her familiar graphic novel style, Helen Bate tells a powerful story of how two children, narrator Maisie and her friend Dylan, set about helping their beloved friend and neighbour Granny Moon as she shows signs that all is not well.
Granny Moon has looked after the children during holidays for years filling their days – rain or shine – with fun and adventure.

One day though, things start going wrong.
First Granny Moon is talking about a sister Julia she doesn’t have and later the film about aliens she takes the children to scares Dylan and they have to leave.

As Christmas approaches, things get worse. At the school concert Granny causes disruptions and other children start making fun of her.

Time passes but there are further problems. Granny Moon convinces herself that a little girl is trapped in her radiator and then Dylan’s dad notices her unusual behaviour and is doubtful about whether she should still be allowed to look after his son.

Eventually Maisie’s mum decides to phone Granny’s daughter, Angela in Australia.

Maisie and Dylan then worry about the fate of Granny Moon and her beloved dog, Jack; will Angela decide to put her in a care home? Worse, the friends return home late from school after a café visit with Granny Moon to find a fire engine outside and fire-fighters waiting for them. Thankfully though, there’s no serious damage.

Next day Angela arrives and is extremely troubled by what she finds. She decides there’s only one thing to do. Granny Moon’s house is put on the market and happily it’s not a care home that she’s going to but Australia to live with Angela and her family.

Three days later, fond farewells are exchanged and Angela and Granny depart. A certain animal isn’t accompanying them though, he has a new home – next door with Maisie who now has a companion to share memories about her erstwhile owner with whenever she needs.

The final page lists organisations that offer help for people with dementia, their families and carers.

Love and devotion radiate from the pages of this intensely moving story (based on actual events); but it doesn’t gloss over the enormous challenges those caring for someone with dementia are likely to face. Rather, it offers young readers an opportunity to better understand something of the condition and perhaps be better prepared should they encounter someone living with it.

This is a book that deserves to be in every school and should be read in all families. Particularly, as I was reminded by a charity worker from The Alzheimer’s Society who stopped me as I left Waitrose recently that while I might not know anybody with Alzheimer’s, over a quarter of the population knows someone who has this form of dementia alone.

Migrations Open Hearts Open Borders

Migrations Open Hearts Open Borders
Introduction by Shaun Tan
Otter-Barry Books

llustrators from all over the world responded to the request by The International Centre for the Picture Book in Society (based at the University of Worcester) to create an original postcard for the 2017 Migrations exhibition to be displayed at Bibiana, Bratislava. The exhibition’s creators felt that the installation should reach a wider audience and this wonderful book is the outcome, although the fifty or so images representing 32 countries reproduced in their actual size herein, are only a selection of the hundreds of postcards they received.

Each of the postcards in its unique way focuses on the positive impact of the migration of peoples the world over, showing how the flow of ideas and cultures transcends borders, barriers and even bans.

The book is divided into four themes: Departures, Long Journeys, Arrivals and Hope for the Future.

I would love to show every single one of the awesome, enormously moving postcards but can only make a very small selection for this review, so have included representatives for each of the themes, which spoke to me on my very first reading.

Departures: In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take./ It begins with a single step …                 Rhian Wyn Harrison – UK.

Long Journeys: The skies have no borders.      Christopher Corr – UK

Arrivals: New friends coming from afar / bring us different tales!                        Marcelo Pimentel – Brazil

Hope for the Future: Share the world in peace and freedom. / The Earth and its people have no owners.           Isol – Argentina

On another day I may well have picked completely different ones, such is the power of each contribution, some of which use quotes from writers including John Clare, WB Yeats, Anita Desai and Robert Macfarlane.

If ever there was a time in our increasingly fractured world when we need this treasure of a book, it’s now. Let’s hope that those of us with open hearts who want open borders continue working to make a difference for, as Shaun Tan writes at the start of this book ‘All migration is an act of imagination, a flight of imagination. A hope that frequently exercises a previously unknown human potential. … What can be done? … That’s for us, the living, the thinking and feeling: descendants through millennia of successful migration – whose ancestors dreamed of something better … It’s left for us to imagine what to do, to pass on the dividends of hope that have been invested in us.’

Re-reading his message in its entirety in a week when our UK politicians continue wrangling about how – the universe forbid it happens – we should leave the European Union, brought tears to my eyes. Everyone needs a copy of Migrations; it reaches out to us all, offering another beacon on the uphill climb towards the creation of a better world for everyone, young, old and in-between.
(All royalties are donated to Amnesty International and IBBY)

Early Years Round-Up

Father’s Day
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

A gorgeously warm celebration of moments shared with a beloved dad are woven together to make a super little book for dads and their very little ones to share around Father’s Day, or on any other day. There’s a lively early morning awakening and musical rendition at breakfast time and a walk to playgroup. The highlight though is a day spent at the beach, playing, snoozing, sandcastle building and picnicking. Then it’s back home for bathtime, a spot of first aid,

a goodnight story and some moon spotting.

Bliss! And who better to show all that than the wonderful Shirley Hughes.

Maisy Goes to a Show
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy and friends are off to the theatre to see a performance of Funny Feathers, starring Flora Fantastica. Maisy finds it hard to contain her excitement as they queue, browse a programme and eventually take their front-row seats just as the music starts and the curtain lifts for the drama to begin.

During the interval, there’s time for a loo visit and snacks before the bell rings for curtain up again and the cast, led by Flora, sing in the big city of their desires before heading back to their jungle home, and a curtain call farewell.

Maisy fans will love it, and she’ll likely win some new followers with this latest “First Experiences’ story.
More new experiences come in:

The Scooter
Judy Brown
Otter-Barry Books

Twin rabbits Bruno and Bella and back in a second story. Bruno is thrilled to bits with his brand new scooter, practising eagerly using alternate legs and travelling at different speeds in different places. The only trouble is he forgets to perfect one crucial aspect of the entire process: how to use the brake. This precipitates some high drama as he whizzes downhill, through fields, a garden, the market and the park before Bella finally catches up with him – almost.

Anyone for a repeat performance?: Bruno certainly and I’m pretty sure very little humans will demand a re-run too; it’s smashing fun and who can resist Bruno’s enthusiasm?
And for slightly older listeners:

Sandy Sand Sandwiches!
Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick’s ‘sticky stickers’ awarders, The Little Adventurers return with their zest for life and bonhomie. It’s a very hot day as they assemble in their HQ shed, collect the necessary items and await one of their number, Finnegan who eventually turns up already sporting his snazzy trunks.

Off they go to the beach in his daddy’s car, arriving full of enthusiasm but with a modicum of good sense as they share the safety rules before heading onto the sand for some sculpting.

Masterpieces complete, it’s time to stand back and admire each one in turn.

Then after ice-cream treats it’s off for some paired rock-pooling,

followed by shell collecting and an unplanned treasure hunt. Then it’s time for a quick dip before they all head home with a few grains of sand to remind them of their day and back at HQ, a final sticker awarding, including one to Snub for his very helpful ‘mouse-sitting’.

Brimming over with silliness, friendship, sandy treats and other adorable delights (including the occasional fact), this is a treat for littles around the age of the characters herein.

Finally, if you missed the original, there’s now a board book version of:

Princess Mirror-Belle and the Dragon Pox
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Now a tiny version of a favourite spotty tale for very littles.
Ellen has chicken pox; she’s covered from head to toe in horribly itchy spots; and what does she want to do to those spots? Scratch them, especially the one right on the tip of her nose. As she gazes in the bathroom mirror, about to do the deed, she hears a voice – no, not mum’s but Princess Mirror-Belle’s.

Thus begins a funny story, delivered for a change in prose rather than Donaldson’s more usual rhyme. Lydia Monks’ sparkle-spangled, collage constructed illustrations offer readers an abundance of opportunities for visual and tactile exploration.

 

Brian the Brave

Brian the Brave
Paul Stewart and Jane Porter
Otter-Barry Books

Paul Stewart’s story stars a curly-horned, white woolly sheep going by the name of well, Brian.

It all begins one sunny day with Brian busy nibbling in a grassy meadow when along comes curly-horned, black woolly sheep Rose. The two agree to become friends and are happily playing chase when along comes Stanley. This sheep wants only to play with Rose on account of their both being black. Hmm – you can see where this is going. Poor Brian is now excluded and he feels sad.

Two spotty sheep arrive; they share the horny characteristic with Brian and Rose leaving a fed up Stanley out of the gang.

Up trot a hornless striped trio, Cassidy, Lou and Hamish, Brian suggests they all become friends but the three snub his invitation.

Enough is finally enough for Brian: He tells them ” We are all sheep, … We should all play together!” It looks as though things might just work out well for all but suddenly things kick off again leaving blue-eyed Brian exceedingly downcast and isolated.

Off he walks, looks at his reflection in a lake, continues his stroll up a hill, through a forest and there comes face to face with …

He dashes away, hotly pursued by the hungry lupine creature, to warn his fellow sheep. The situation is grave: somebody has to do something and fast.

Good old Brian steps in as operation attack-wolf co-ordinator and happily his fellow sheep co-operate until their joint biffing (the curly horners’ contribution) and butting (by the noses of the hornless ones) sees off their would-be guzzler once and for all.

There are SO many ways you can interpret this book in our increasingly troubled, B–X-T times but however you do – and it might be different on different days – it’s definitely a biffing, butting, cracking celebration of courage, self-belief, acceptance, co-operation, difference and friendship.

Jane Porter’s various sheep characters are splendidly portrayed in her dramatic, often funny, colourful collage scenes of the ups and downs of life ovine style.

Joseph’s Cradle

Joseph’s Cradle
Jude Daly
Otter-Barry Books

I’ve admired the work of both Jude and Niki Daly for many a long year and so was thrilled to see this, Jude Daly’s new picture book.

At the heart of a village in Africa stands an enormous, ancient tree. It’s loved by all the villagers, particularly Joseph who had climbed to its very top as a boy. Now Joseph is a grown man and one stormy night, his favourite tree is blown down.

Joseph feels sad that his soon to be born baby will never be able to climb the tree but he saves a piece of its trunk and little by little fashions it into a beautiful cradle. He also plants a new young tree to replace the old one.
When the new baby, Sisi, is born, Joseph is thrilled and every night until she outgrows it, he and his wife Mandisa sit beside the cradle singing the baby an African lullaby.

Thereafter a tradition begins: every new baby would sleep in Joseph’s cradle until they outgrew it and Joseph would add its name to those carved into the cradle’s side.

When the time comes for SIsi’s own grandchild to be rocked in the cradle, disaster strikes: a fire rages across the veld towards the village destroying Joseph and Mandisa’s home and everything in it.

The villagers build a new home for Joseph and his wife but what of the cradle; is it forever gone?

Let’s just say that Joseph isn’t the only person dancing in joyful thanks that day …

Inspired by a true story set in Australia, Jude Daly has set her telling in South Africa, home to the aptly called Cradle of Humankind, one of eight South African World Heritage Sites. It’s both moving and a reminder of the importance of continuity and renewal.

The painterly illustrations are a fine portrayal of the life of a village over several generations.

Dance, Dolphin, Dance

Dance, Dolphin, Dance
Patricia MacCarthy
Otter-Barry Books

Out in the surging, swishing swooshing ocean, deep down in the kelp forest, is playful Dolphin. He dances with a shoal of sardines and the sea lion;

then as the sea becomes rougher, the tuna.

As he dances over a big Blue Whale …

he suddenly encounters a Great White Shark.

The shark attacks but moving faster, Dolphin evades its jaws but the chase is on.

Where can he hide: not in the deepest depths of the forest for there lurks a Killer Whale.

Now with two huge predators hunting him, Dolphin must dance for his life. Dance, Dolphin, dance.

Then, bang! A huge wave hits the hunters, ‘boom-boom boom-boom.’ Dolphin has a chance to make an escape …

Set in the Western Gulf of California, this dramatic deep sea chase involving a Bottlenose Dolphin, provides a wonderfully rich experience for both ears and eyes – try a telling with an ocean drum. Patricia MacCarthy’s poetic text is full of action and excitement, and her illustrations are amazing.

After an initial reading to savour those illustrations and another to search them for the 36 sea creatures and birds, shown in the final spread, this book, which blurs the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, offers a superb dance/drama opportunity for a class or group.

Peter in Peril

Peter in Peril
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

Let me introduce Peter, although as narrator of Helen Bate’s debut graphic novel, he introduces himself in this true story of a six year old Jewish boy living in Budapest during World War 2.

Peter always makes the best of things; he trims the sides off newly baked cakes and frees buttons from his mother’s coat to use in his play

but when his beloved Roza (who lives with the family and helps his mother) has to leave as she’s no longer allowed to work in a Jewish household, the lad is bereft.

That though is only the start of the upsetting things that happen but Peter’s story is not all dark and bleak. Despite the fact that under Nazi rule, Peter’s family were forced to leave their home, split up and had then to live in hiding in constant fear for their lives, there’s humour too; it’s rightly subtitled ‘Courage and Hope in World War Two’. Indeed with its fine balance between horror and humour, it’s pitched just right for 9+ children.

Thanks to enormous good fortune and the amazing kindness of individuals including a soldier,

Peter and his parents escaped a number of nightmarish situations and survived, although (as we learn in the afterword) his grandmother, aunts and uncles were killed in concentration camps.

Moving, accessible and offering a less well-known perspective on WW11 and the Holocaust, with its skilful balance of illustration and text, this is definitely a book to include in a primary school KS2 collection.

With Holocaust Memorial Day coming shortly, if you missed this poignant book when it was first published, it’s worth getting now. It could also open up discussion about other children, victims of more recent horrific events, who on account of their ethnicity or religious faith for instance, find themselves victims of persecution and perhaps forced to become refugees.

Particularly in the light of recent and on-going conflicts in various parts of the world and the current upsurge of nationalism, we would all do well to be reminded of Amnesty International’s endorsement statement on the back cover, ‘ it shows us why we all have the right to life and to live in freedom and safety.’

Tiger Walk

Tiger Walk
Dianne Hofmeyr and Jesse Hodgson
Otter-Barry Books

Tom’s visit to an art gallery and Rousseau’s famous painting, Surprised! inspire the boy to create his own large tiger picture.

Little does he imagine though that this is to lead to an amazing nocturnal adventure, for out of the shadows in his bedroom appears a large, stripy animal inviting him on a moonlit walk.

Somewhat fearful by nature, Tom mounts the tiger’s back and off they go into a forest alive with bears, foxes and lions.

In the tiger’s company they turn out to be playful rather than the scary creatures Tom has anticipated.

The adventure continues with a river crossing,

a fairground ride and an encounter with what seem at first to be frozen tiger forms.

All of these too engender fearful feelings in the boy, but somehow with his own tiger friend beside him Tom is emboldened. He swims, flies round and around aboard a merry-go-round and dances in an icy cave till sleep overcomes him and it’s time to return home.

Your senses are immediately stimulated as you start to read Dianne Hofmeyr’s dramatic present tense telling of this entrancing tale of a little boy’s transformation from fearful to fearless; and with the side lining of art in the curriculum it’s fantastic to see a painting such as this one of Henri Rousseau’s used as the starting point for the story. Suspense is built by variation of sentence length and conjunctions strategically placed at page breaks, while Tom’s anxious “I’m a little bit scared of …’ iteration followed by tiger’s assurances add to the power of the narrative.

Jesse Hodgson’s arresting tigerish scenes are more mannered, bright and colourful than Rousseau’s windswept, storm-tossed jungle and have just the right balance of ferocity, realism and reassurance as befits a bedtime story.

The Mud Monster

The Mud Monster
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

What on earth is the terrible mud monster that is sending all the animals into a panic? Despite the fact that not a single one of them has seen it, they know for sure it’s huge and horrible.

One day as the monkeys are playing among the creepers they spy something: “Help! It’s the mud monster!” comes the cry. Despite being covered in mud, it isn’t a monster, merely five flamingos, mire-bespattered and desperately in need of a bath in the river. The monkeys are happy to carry them there.

They’re not the only animals to ‘see’ the Mud Monster though. Warthog and rhinoceros also mistakenly identify the moving creature as that which they fear before they too join the throng heading to the river.

When they finally reach their destination, there before them is something huge and exceedingly muddy: surely it couldn’t be that which they dread …

Hilariously illustrated and full of fun, this second tale set in the African rainforest to feature the five flamingos, is one of teamwork and overcoming imaginary fears, and comes from Jonnie and Brita, two people who have a special interest in Africa and its wildlife. Jonnie’s royalties are donated to support conservation projects in Africa, details of which are given at the back of the book.

Short Fiction Roundup: A Case for Buffy / Dear Professor Whale / Corey’s Rock

A Case for Buffy
Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee
Gecko Press

Detective Gordon (a philosophical elderly toad) returns with a final case to solve. This, the most important one in his whole career, sees him and young detective, cake-loving mouse Buffy attempting to solve a mystery that takes them to the very edge of the forest as they endeavour to discover the whereabouts of Buffy’s missing mother. In their search, they’re aided by two very new recruits,

who accompany the detectives, as they follow clues across a mountain and over water, all the way to Cave Island.

There’s an encounter with Gordon’s arch-enemy, a wicked fox who might or might not make a meal of one of the detectives.
All ends satisfactorily and there’s a sharing of cake – hurrah!

I’ve not encountered this charming series before but this one is a gentle little gem made all the more so by Gitte Spee’s whimsical illustrations.

Read aloud or read alone, either way it’s a delight.

Dear Professor Whale
Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Gecko Press

Professor Whale is now the only whale remaining at Whale Point and thus feels more than a little bit lonely. He remembers the days when he was surrounded by friends and they participated in the Whale Point Olympics.
In an attempt to find some new friends the Prof. sends out letters to ‘Dear You, Whoever You Are, Who Lives on the Other Side of the Horizon’ His only reply comes from Wally, grandson of an old friend. After getting over his initial disappointment, Professor Whale is inspired, to organise, with Wally’s help another Whale Point Olympics. It’s full of exciting events such as The Seal Swimming Race and The Penguin Walking race and there’s also a Whale Spouting Contest.

Friendship and kindness abound in this gentle tale, a follow-up to Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, which I’m not familiar with. However after enjoying this warm-hearted story, I will seek it out. With it’s abundance of amusing black and white illustrations,

It’s just right for those just flying solo as readers.

Corey’s Rock
Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray
Otter-Barry Books

After the death of her young brother Corey, ten year old Isla and her parents leave their Edinburgh home and start a new life in the Orkney islands.
So begins a heart-wrenching story narrated by Isla wherein she discovers an ancient Orcadian selkie legend.

This becomes significant in her coming to terms with her loss and adjusting to her new life.

It’s beautifully, at times poetically written, interweaving elements of Isla’s dual heritage, folklore, the Hindu belief in reincarnation, coming to terms with loss, making new friends, family love, rebuilding lives and more.

Equally beautiful are Jane Ray’s illustrations that eloquently capture the tenderness, beauty and the magic of the telling.

This is a treasure of a book that deserves a wide audience and at the right time, could help grieving families come to terms with their own loss.