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.

Dark Sky Park

Dark Sky Park
Philip Gross illustrated by Jesse Hodgson
Otter-Barry Books

To say this book is extraordinary is no exaggeration.

Crafted with consummate skill every one of the poems is a gem, not least those that make up the four Tardigrade Sagas. There are, so Philip Gross tells us in a note, over 1000 tardigrade species; they’ve been on earth for 500 million years and are known also as water bears or moss piglets.
Tardigrade in its Element begins thus: ‘This is the kingdom of the Water Bear. / To enter here, you have to shrink / and slow down, down. / A day is one tick of the clock, one blink // of the sun’s eye.’

In Tardigrade in the Cambrian Era we learn: ‘I was there from the off – / the sound of life revving up all over. / This was, oh, a cool half billion years ago.’ Amazing, tiny eight-legged creatures, who can but marvel at such small wonders less than ½ mm. long? Here’s Tardigrade in Focus: ‘OK, so you imagine it: something / a thousand times your size – // a medium village, maybe, or a cloud / with an enquiring mind – // stops. Bends down very close … / Gets out its magnifying glass // and looks at you.’

In complete contrast very recent happenings are powerfully evoked in Aleppo Cat. Herein Gross describes a cat’s wanderings in the ruined city: ‘ First, months / of flash, thud, shudder. // then the wailing … // Months , // that’s half a young cat’s life’ … ‘Where the bread smells came from … // Gone. //And where the fish man // tossed the bones. // Gone. // Where the children chased her // with fierce cuddles, too young // to know their strength. // Gone.’
I have Syrian friends who came from that city a couple of years back with their two young children; this one made me shudder.

There’s humour too however, as in Extreme Aunt who ‘set off to school // with her four huskies, mush, mush! // to outrun the polar bears’; remembered as being ‘poised // on the diving board, the top, //with the wind in her hair. // She had to go further, further and it seems, // too far.’ Now she’s vanished and presently there’s a submarine searching for her.

There’s an Extreme Uncle and Extreme Dining too, if you’re fond of things in the extreme: the latter, a French establishment boasts ‘Pick our Own. // The whole garden’s underwater, a mangrove swamp. // You pay your money, you get your canoe, // (in the shadows, dark ripples and a sluggish // splash … ) your Swiss Army knife and harpoon.’ … Seemingly ‘It’s true // what the menu says: Our food’s so fresh // it bites. Eat it before it eats you’.
I think I’ll give this place a miss; it definitely doesn’t sit well with my vegetarian sensibilities.

Instead I’ll head over to The Extreme Music Festival and perhaps listen to The Storm Harp: ‘Tune up the mountain to the pitch // of music. Set each blade quivering. // Turn up the wind // until the hillside shudders like an animal // shrugging its pelt to scratch an itch.’ // Hear its sigh. Bring on the bad maraccas / of the slipping scree. The landslide starts.’

So vivid, as is, Moon Music: ‘She longed for night. // Now she sits with heavy // curtains open just a chink – a slant, a glint, a cool spark // in the darkened room, // hears how light pings // a prism off the mirror’s edge, // her glass of water tinkling // at its wink.’ Awesome.

Gross invites children in a footnote, to imagine their own kinds of extreme music noting, “The fantastical answers may turn out to say a lot about a real place, or person”.

This is a book to make its readers wonder, imagine, look, look and look again, listen and then wonder more. Gross’s poetic voice is enormously enriching, sometimes challenging, but always accessible.

Illustrator Jesse Hodgson has done a fine job illuminating many of the poems; her inky drawings are on occasion funny, beautiful, arresting or even downright scary,

sinister even.

If you want children to be tuned in to the magic and music of language, and who doesn’t, then this treasure trove is your book.

How Rude!

How Rude!
Sarah Arnold
Otter-Barry Books

When Pig, out driving his sports car, spies Mole with a huge box at the roadside, he kindly stops and offers him a lift.
His deed precipitates a chain of action and reaction that begins when he asks Mole what he has in his box. “None of your business!” comes the firm reply. Pig responds thus …

Pig’s pals are sympathetic calling Mole’s reply rude but they too are eager to discover the contents of that box so first they investigate.
Then they speculate

until back comes Mole clutching a key.
He unlocks the box and dashes inside, shutting the door behind him. “How rude!’ say the friends, stating their intention to shun Mole and his box.

Suddenly the door bursts open and a paw beckons them to enter. In go the friends and Mole slams the door shut after them.
Fun over, he looks around for further amusement but nobody is there.

From the box however, music, laughter and song issue forth and as you’d expect, Mole wants to know what’s happening within.

“None of your business!’ comes the response and this time it’s Mole’s turn to feel left out. How rude!

When he unlocks the door, an accident occurs as everyone bursts out, then it’s a case of apologies all round; and a fun time for everyone ensues. HURRAH!

A thoroughly enjoyable story full of expositions and some fun onomatopoeic sounds for listeners to join in with, lively endearing characters both animal and human, and lots to ponder on and discuss about kindness, forgiving, sharing and getting on together: all in all a super book for class, group or individual sharing.

Travels with My Granny

Travels with My Granny
Juliet Rix and Christopher Corr
Otter-Barry Books

Granny is a traveller; she’s visited such distant places as China, Russia, Egypt and Peru. She’s traversed rivers, scaled mountains, and explored jungles and cities.

Now though her legs can do little more than get her to the door, though in her mind she still visits places far afield, sometimes with her grandchild narrator.

Together they travel to see the sights of Rome, London, New York and Jerusalem.

Granny, so the grown-ups say, really doesn’t know where she is; she’s confused.
Not so, thinks our narrator recalling other exciting places they’ve visited and things they’ve done together.

On occasion gran gets ahead of herself, leaving her companion waiting for her to return.
Her memory is only for things long past; she can’t recall what she did yesterday but it doesn’t matter, for the narrator can; without her Gran though, she cannot have wonderful world-travelling adventures. Bring on the next one.

The story doesn’t mention that the child’s Granny has dementia. However the child allows her beloved grandparent to be happy in her mind travels and enjoys joining her therein whenever possible.

Told with warmth and understanding by Juliet Rix and beautifully illustrated in glowing colours by Christopher Corr, whose gouache art of distant lands will be familiar to many adult readers; this is an important and welcome book.
It’s for families whether or not they have a relation affected by dementia as well as to share and discuss in primary schools.

A Kid in My Class

A Kid in My Class
Rachel Rooney illustrated by Chris Riddell
Otter-Barry Books

This is an absolutely smashing collaboration between prize-winning poet Rachel Rooney and former Children’s Laureate, illustrator Chris Riddell.

As the author says at the outset, readers will likely see elements of themselves in not just one, but several of the characters portrayed in her superb poems and Chris’s awesome artwork.
It’s pretty certain too that school-age youngsters will be able to say, ‘that person’ in any of these works ‘is just like so and so’. I recognise all of the members of Rachel’s learning community; I suspect I’ve taught each and every one of them, many times over. There are those who’ll drive you crazy, make you laugh, cry, leap for joy; but no matter what you’ll love them all.

There’s First; this pupil is always first to arrive in the playground; first on the register; first to put her hand up to answer a question; first to have that new item that becomes a craze. This young miss can be more than a tad annoying.

As a teacher I’ve always had a soft spot for a Daydreamer; one who’s head and mind are somewhere far away from classroom reality perhaps during circle times or when the register is called.

I could have been the model for A Girl; the bookish child with ‘a farway look. // Head in the clouds. Nose in a book.’
… ‘Views the world in black and white. … Thinks. //… has pale, thin skin. // Bones of a bird. Heart on a string.’ Still am pretty much, even now; that’s me.

Then there’s The Artist, the inveterate doodler who cannot resist adding the personal touch to the photos in newspapers, who fashions a tattoo ‘ a black and blue rose’ around a bruise, or adds creatures to crawl up the brickwork.

I could go on raving about each and every person that is part and parcel of this class; imbued with one of childhood’s most crucial features, a boundless imagination, they can all engage in flights of fancy, imagining him or herself as fighter of a grizzly bear and astronaut in training (Don’t Walk, Run!);

or ‘speedier than googling Wikipedia’ potential Thesaurus, Wordsmith; even the class pet hamster has the ability to see itself as  muscle exerciser, French learner, Kandinsky recogniser.

Recently it’s been reported in the news, that poetry doesn’t really have a place in classrooms nowadays. What utter rubbish. It’s a book such as this that will most definitely demonstrate the absurdity of such a statement. Share a couple of these poems with a class or group and I’ll guarantee they’ll be clamouring to get their hands on a copy.
Totally brilliant!

Can You See a Little Bear?

Can You See a Little Bear?
James Mayhew and Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

Stunningly beautiful illustrations by Jackie Morris accompany James Mayhew’s sequence of rhyming statements relating to a variety of animals and a question ‘Can you see a little bear …?’ as we accompany the young polar bear on a fantasy journey.

It takes us through a medieval landscape during which he encounters hot air balloons, entertainers of various kinds, a camel train and a host of exotic creatures including an elephant, musical mice, parrots, peacocks, a walrus, zebras and a whale, beautiful moths, foxes, dolphins and geese.

Little bear engages in activities such as balancing on a ball, and head standing; he tries on items of the performers’ attire

and even participates in a performance.

Then, towards the end of the book into the array comes a big bear carrying a light to guide the little one homewards

for a bath, some tea and then, as he’s drifting into slumbers, bed.

The patterned text and questioning nature of the rhyme serves to draw the listener’s focus into the spectacular scenes, gently guiding attention towards the little bear’s named activity among the wealth of gorgeous detail on each spread. For example ‘Parrots can be green / and parrots can be red, / Can you see a little bear standing on his head?’

Full of mystery and magic and along the way introducing colours, opposites and contrasts: this book was first published over a decade ago. If you missed it then I urge you to get hold of a copy now: it’s sheer, out of this world bedtime enchantment for both child and adult sharer.

Please Mr Magic Fish!

Please Mr Magic Fish!
Jessica Souhami
Otter-Barry Books

Jessica Souhami has taken the traditional story of the fisherman and his increasingly greedy wife and turned it into something even more magical, tossing in some silver sparkles along the way.

Here the fisherman goes by the name of Jack, and his insulting, constantly complaining wife is Liz.

Their wish to the magic fish Jack catches and agrees to release,

for a ‘small dry cottage, a blue teapot and some bread and cheese in the larder’, once granted, soon won’t do

and escalates first to a large sunny house, then after another week, to a palace full of luxurious items fit for a lord and lady.

Now that obliging fish grants all these wishes without receiving a single word of thanks from the acquisitive couple until finally he’s had enough, so when they return for yet another, instead of making them King and Queen of the land he gives Jack and Liz the biggest surprise of all.

I wonder if they were ever satisfied … Did they learn from the error of their ways? What do you think?

The direct manner of telling as befits the tale works so well as a read aloud and those stylish collage illustrations for which Souhami is renowned are just SO superbly expressive.

If looks could kill, those the fish bestows upon the greedy couple would knock them stone dead in an instant.

How the Borks Became

How the Borks Became
Jonathan Emmett and Elys Dolan
Otter-Barry Books

Who better to introduce the concept of evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection to primary age children than author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Elys Dolan?

So let’s take a journey to a distant planet, quite similar to earth, named Charleebob, home to a species going by the name of Borks.

When we arrive a group of llama-like Bork mothers has just given birth to a large brood of Borklings, long-necked, shaggy, yellow creatures, each one slightly different.

They didn’t always look that way though: long, long ago their appearance was altogether different: their fur was short, smooth and blue and their necks short and thick, at least that’s how most of them were. A few exceptional ones had shaggier fur – not ideal for hot weather but when the chilly time arrived later in the year, they were the ones that survived.

Over the next couple of generations, more changes took place; first instead of all the offspring having blue fur a few were bright yellow.

This meant that the latter blended in with their surroundings so that when a Ravenous Snarfle was on the lookout for its lunchtime feed, the blues were hastily consumed

leaving the yellow-furred few to thrive and breed the next Borkling batch – all yellow, the majority with short necks, a few with long skinny ones.
You can guess which ones survived the drought that year, saved by their ability to feed on the thick leaves high up in the Ju-Ju-Bong trees. And that’s it – evolution in just four generations of Borks.

Clearly changes don’t happen that fast, but artistic licence on behalf of the book’s creators demonstrates how three key environmental factors – climate, predation and food availability brought about evolutionary changes with only the fittest surviving by natural selection.

The combination of Emmett’s brilliant, quirky rhyming narrative and Elys Dolan’s wonderfully witty, whimsical illustrations is an enormously enjoyable amalgam of science and storytelling, which offers a perfect starting point for the KS2 evolution topic.

(At the end of the book it’s explained that the Borks’ evolution story is a hugely speeded up account of what really happens: evolution happens at a much, much slower rate and the changes are smaller and more gradual so that an earth animal could take millions of years to change.) While you’re looking at the back matter, do check out the quirky end papers.

Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey Backwards
Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin
Retold by Sean Taylor and Khayaal Theatre, illustrated by Shirin Adl
Otter-Barry Books

I first came across stories of Nasruddin, a comic figure in Islamic folklore many years ago and often used them as assembly stories so was delighted to get this collection of tales so beautifully illustrated by Shirin Adl.

Sean Taylor is a superb storyteller and here he has collaborated with Khayaal, a theatre and drama education company to bring twenty-one of the tales to youngsters in the UK. The result is a cracking collection that is guaranteed to make you chuckle your way through from start to finish not to mention your audience.

First comes an introduction wherein we’re told Mulla Nasruddin is a trickster and a few other snippets of information about him, one being that he likes to ride his donkey backwards; Nasruddin provides the answer at the back of the book.

All the stories are very short, ‘Tell Me One Thing’ being only three lines long but there’s wisdom and humour in each one.

It’s difficult to choose a favourite today though the three that suited my mood best were:
‘What Are You Doing?’ wherein we discover why the Mulla was spooning yogurt into a lake …

Drawing a Blank’ a story telling how when Nasruddin was a schoolboy, he fell asleep in class having been asked to draw something and came up with a quick- witted response to his teacher’s expression of displeasure at the lad’s blank page.

The third, ‘A Cow up a Pole‘ shows Nasruddin’s foolish side: he’d managed to save some money and was concerned to find a safe place to hide it, eventually putting his purse full of money at the top of a very long pole in his garden.
However someone had seen what he was doing, stolen the purse and left a lump of cow dung in its place. Nasruddin’s reaction some weeks later on discovering the dung where his purse should have been was, “How on earth did a cow manage to climb up a pole?

Ask me again on another day and I may well choose different stories.

If you’ve never come across Mulla Nasruddin before, then this is the perfect collection to start with. They’re just right for classroom use across a wide age range as well as great to share as a family. The tellings are enormous fun and Shirin Ald’s humorous collage illustrations an absolute delight; don’t miss the splendid Islamic tessellation style endpapers

Is it a Mermaid?

Is it a Mermaid?
Candy Gourlay and Francesca Chessa
Otter-Barry Books

When is a mermaid not a mermaid? That is the question explored in this enchanting picture book.

Bel and Benji are playing on the beach one morning when they spy something emerging from the sea: Bel wonders what it could be. Benji says it’s a Dugong, which the creature immediately denies, insisting she’s a ‘beautiful mermaid’ and pointing out her tail – a rather large one.

Benji is having none of it even when the Dugong bursts into song – not very tunefully.

Into the ocean plunges the ‘mermaid’ – not very elegantly – intent on demonstrating her graceful swimming, immediately followed by Bel and Benji,

the latter firmly pointing out the Dugongness of the creature’s anatomy and calling her a “SEA COW”.

This results in a tearful Dugong, an apology from Benji and the forging of a new friendship as children and sea creature spend a happy day frolicking in the ocean waves before bidding one another fond farewells.

Beautifully portrayed in richly coloured scenes and told with gentle humour, this slice of tropical life will delight and amuse young listeners – it’s a treat to read aloud.

There is however a serious side to the book: the final page gives factual information about Dugongs explaining how their seagrass habitat is being destroyed, thus placing the creatures on the list of vulnerable species.

The Carnivorous Crocodile

The Carnivorous Crocodile
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

What would you do if you were a thirsty creature desperate for a cooling drink from the waterhole, but the animals warned you of a carnivorous crocodile lurking within and claiming ownership of its waters? Probably you’d stay safely on the bank, but that is not what the five flamingos do.
We’re not frightened of a silly old croc,” is their response on hearing about the likelihood of being crunched by said croc. as they sally forth into the water.

As expected the resident crocodile happens along, jaws agaping and threatening, “I’m a carnivorous crocodile who crunches creatures like you. And this is MY waterhole.
Did those flamingos flinch or show any other signs of fear? Oh no; instead they responded thus: “We are flamingos. WE are pink and beautiful. And WE are NOT FOR EATING! If you eat us, you will have horrible hiccups!
This possibility does not appeal to the crocodile and off it swims.

Heartened by this display of bravado, and encouragement to “Be brave”, three giraffes gingerly enter the water. Before you can say ‘snap’ who should be there repeating his threat but that crocodile, only to be greeted by the same “We are flamingos …” mantra and amazingly off swims the jaw snapper.
Next comes a family of monkeys and off we go again.

This time though the crocodile is a tad suspicious but he swims off nonetheless.

Two eager elephants march confidently forwards and they too claim to be flamingos – pink and beautiful.
The crocodile may not fall for this subterfuge again but he’s certainly in for a surprise, for elephants have other, shall we say, more weighty characteristics …

This learning to share story certainly appeals to children’s (and adults’) sense of the ridiculous; and readers aloud will relish the opportunity to ham it up – certainly this reviewer did. Debut author Jonnie Wild, is passionate about environmental issues and is donating his royalties to charities supporting African wildlife conservation.

Brita Granström’s scenes of the various animals shape-shifting attempting to emulate the flamingo pose and take on the flamingo characteristics are highly inventive and delightfully droll; even the elephants make a brave attempt.

A highly successful collaboration and a great book to share; don’t forget to check out the information on some of the animals and conservation on the final page.

Emmanuelle engrossed in the antics of the animals

With Giving in Mind

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

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

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

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

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

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

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

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

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

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

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

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

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

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

Run, Elephant, Run

Run, Elephant Run
Patricia MacCarthy
Otter-Barry Books

As a storm gathers, lashing the vegetation of his Indonesian rainforest home and pelting down upon Little Elephant, he becomes separated from his mother.
The storm gets increasingly wild but there’s something even more fierce close by. It’s a tiger.
Little Elephant battles against the whirling, swirling elements, the creature hot on his trail. With no time to hide, Little Elephant has to run for his life through the slippery mud.

He slips and falls, whooshing pell-mell down a muddy slope right into his anxiously searching mother.
There’s only one thing to do: make as much noise as possible; so they trumpet and stamp till suddenly

the tiger turns tail and dashes away.
Eventually the storm blows itself out and with the change in the weather, the herd moves on. The weather isn’t all that’s different though: thanks to his adventure, one small pachyderm has changed on the inside. He now feels bigger and braver as he sploshes and splashes with the other elephants in the rain pool.

With its wealth of onomatopoeia this is a great book for adding sound effects during a story session. Children could use their voices, found objects or musical instruments – possibly ones they’ve made themselves – to orchestrate the reading.
First though, read the story, look closely at the superb visuals and then, using the final puzzle spread, go back through the book and search for the thirty odd rainforest creatures in the richly coloured illustrations.

The Creature

The Creature
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

Cats have a habit of dragging things in from the outside; usually it’s a bird or small rodent.
Not so with marmalade cat, Alfie however. What he deposits on the mat is a strange little creature, bedraggled yes, but growly and frightening.

Once inside though, the creature seems to want to stay and when spring comes, smell not withstanding, it’s well and truly settled in and part of the family …

It certainly enjoys a rather strange diet; cardboard, banana skins, plastic and toast being its breakfast favourites.

Night is for roaming; that appears to be part of the creature’s nature, but come morning, it never fails to reappear.
Autumn turns to winter once more and there are clues that the Creature is up to something on the top bunk.

By Christmas however, everyone has forgotten all about it. Has that Creature perhaps got a very special seasonal gift tucked away up there?

With its quirky illustrations, surprise ending and rhyming text that echoes the rhythm pattern of “The Night Before Christmas’, this is a fun read aloud that leaves plenty of gaps for readers to fill.

Mrs Noah’s Pockets

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

This totally fresh and original take on the Noah’s Ark story is an absolute bobby-dazzler and what an inspired author/artist pairing.
Jackie Morris’ s powerful prose is honed to perfection so that not a single word is superfluous: here’s a taste:
This rain came from a sky
dark as a bruise,
falling hard and fast,
beating the earth,
washing down tracks,
making streams of pathways
and rivers of roads.

I love that Mrs Noah is portrayed as a subversive character who, instead of snipping, threading, tacking, tucking and stitching what her husband assumes are curtains for his ark windows, is in fact fashioning herself a multi- pocketed cape within which to stash all the ‘troublesome creatures’ that Mr Noah has on his list to leave behind when they set sail on their voyage. Genuis!

James Mayhew has used a strikingly brilliant, new style for his atmospheric illustrations – a mix of collage and print-making …

The design too is superb and those vignettes are little beauties.

This, I think, is destined to become a classic: it deserves a place on every family bookshelf and would make a great addition to any primary classroom collection.

Pirate Baby

Pirate Baby
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Otter-Barry Books

Yo ho ho! me hearties, there’s a brand new crew a’sailin’ on the high seas and we all love a good pirate yarn. This one though is altogether different and an absolute humdinger.
The crew of the Ramshackle are more than a little discombobulated when they discover a bawling baby bobbing about on a raft;

all the more so when they find out that the object they’re trying their level best to feed is actually a girl baby.

That’s only the start of their adventures however. The crew become the owners of a nanny-goat which they aptly name Nana; very useful when it comes to providing nourishment for the babe. Spoons the cook turns his hand to stitching nappies and other baby attire; and Red Bart the bosun even makes the infant a toy squid from a pair of old gloves.

None of your stereotypical pirates these.
As time passes and the babe, now named Isla, becomes mobile, the pirates, bothered by their lack of piratical action, resolve to plunder the next ship they spy. They think better of their plan though, when they discover the crew is all women.
Then an enormous sea monster looms up from the deep. The crew fear for their ship and their lives; and it’s Isla who saves the day with a truly selfless deed.
Thereafter, she’s recognised as “a true Pirate Baby” with a dazzling piratical future to look forward to.
No pirate crew is really complete without a parrot and a cat; these vital bit parts are admirably played here by McSquark and ship’s moggy, Plunderpuss.
Who better than Ros Asquith to bring out the humour of Mary Hoffman’s salty story? Awash with chucklesome details, her jaunty, swashbuckling scenes are set fair to create a splash with landlubbers young and not so young. A real treasure.

I’ve signed the charter  

My Daddy is a Silly Monkey / The Dictionary of Dads

My Daddy is a Silly Monkey
Dianne Hofmeyr and Carol Thompson
Otter-Barry Books
A little girl shares with readers, the characteristics of her dad, likening him first thing in the morning, to a huge, yawning, grizzly, grouchy bear. Then as he performs his ablutions, a toothily grinning crocodile …

He becomes octopus-like as he texts, brushes her hair, overturns a chair, burns the toast, spills the milk, ties shoelaces and prepares her lunch. PHEW!
His chitter-chatter monkeying around makes our narrator late for school too.
Afterwards though at the pool, he’s a …

And then after a spot of kangaroo bouncing, he turns into a ravenous, tooth-gnashing tiger; after which he still manages to summon the energy to morph into a monster ready to boss, chase, catch and …

Unsurprisingly after all those energetic activities, there is only one thing to do: snuggle up for some well-earned rest having earned the final “just my lovely daddy”.
This adorable, sometimes rhyming, portrait of a single dad is a delight and perfect for sharing with young children, no matter what their family situation.
Carol Thompson’s exuberant, mixed media scenes are at once funny, full of love and at the same time, show a father struggling to cope with the frenetic life of being a single parent of an energetic youngster and managing to stay upbeat and entirely lovable.

The Dictionary of Dads
Justin Coe illustrated by Steve Wells
Otter-Barry Books
Dads come in all shapes and sizes: in this, his debut collection, performance poet, Justin Coe introduces a veritable alphabetic assortment. From Abracadabra Dad to Zen Dad we meet over fifty of the paternal species, the least energetic of whom, surprisingly, is Sportsman Dad: ‘Dad’s favourite sport / On the couch with the baby / Synchronised snoring.

For the most part the mood is upbeat but there are also plenty of reflective, sometimes sad poems too, such as Prison Dad which takes the form of an apologetic letter from a dad to his children. Having acknowledged that he let them down, he says this … ‘Despite my bravado I’m no macho man. // How can I act hard when these guards have got me sewing? / And sitting in my cell, I’ve even started writing poems! / Days go by slowly. I’m lonely and the only times / That I can find to be close to you are in these rhymes.
Totally different, but equally poignant, is Old Dad wherein a snow-haired man and his brown-eyed boy take a walk in the park in late autumn and the man is mistaken for the child’s grandpa. The two collect seasonal souvenirs and as they leave; ‘the boy picks up one last leaf/ a gift for his father. // “Is it mine to keep forever?” / the old man asks. / And this time it is his boy’s turn to nod and smile. // The old man beams with pride, / holds the leaf gently to his lips / and kisses it, / as if this gift were some kind of / golden ticket.
There’s a poem about having Two Daddies and we also meet Mum-Dad – a mum who plays both the maternal and paternal role and as the child tells readers, ‘However wild the weather / She’s got a way to get it done / And I could not have asked for / A better dad than Mum.
My favourite I think though is Storytelling Dad (there are seven S dads) wherein we hear that this particular father actually seems to undergo a metamorphosis to become various characters from The Wind in the Willows, ‘ … But best of all / was when Dad turned into a Toad, / a horn hooting, / toot- tooting, poop-pooping Toad, / Motor-Car Maniac, / menace of the Road.

It’s impossible to mention all the dads that feature in this collection but it’s certainly one I’d want to add to any primary class collection, or to a family bookshelf. Steve Wells’ visual pen-and-ink embellishments are numerous – at least one per spread – and add to the individual reader’s enjoyment.

I’ve signed the charter  

Six Blind Mice and An Elephant

Six Blind Mice and an Elephant
Jude Daly
Otter-Barry Books
So often in my teaching career have I used Six Blind Men and an Elephant that despite having the book beside me, I instinctively mistyped the title of Jude Daly’s rendition of the Indian fable at the start of this review.
Daly sets her story somewhere in rural South Africa and begins with a somewhat sleepy elephant wandering from its forest habitat into a farmer’s barn and there falling fast asleep in the straw. On discovering it and excited by his find, the farmer rounds up his family and neighbours to view the creature and its wonders.

Meanwhile six blind mice nesting in a tree nearby are aroused from their slumbers by a strange aroma. Eager to discover the source of this new sensation, they follow their noses, encounter a cat and take refuge in a hole where they hear the humans chatting about the visitor asleep in the farmer’s barn. Search over they decide, and once the crowd has dispersed off they go to the barn.
Suddenly “Ouch!” that’s the oldest mouse coming up rather hard against the elephant’s side and declaring the beast to be “like a – wall”.

The second mouse disagrees likening the animal to a spear as she almost nose dives from the end of a tusk. And so it goes on with the other four mice giving their opinions based on partial evidence until as the youngest completes its simile, the somnolent pachyderm gives a flap of its enormous ears and expostulates so loudly that the rodents run for cover. The elephant then delivers a piece-by-piece description of himself (love those palm fan-like ears)

before finally, likening himself to … (readers aloud might want to pause at that point and give listeners an opportunity to complete the sentence) and crashing out once more exhausted by laughter.
Exit six fully satisfied mice …
Daly’s playful take on the fable still leaves plenty of food for thought and is perfect for a community of enquiry style discussion with early years or primary children.
Glowing African light radiates from every one of her illustrations; the golden straw-strewn barn floor is for me, reminiscent of some of the fractured swirls of Hockney’s pool painting.

I’ve signed the charter  

For Your Information Shelf: Books Books Books / Taking Flight

Books Books Books
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books
Award-winning team, Mick Manning and Brita Grandström takes readers on an exploratory journey around London’s British Library, a library that holds over 150 million items in all, going right back to the earliest printed books and coming bang up to date with some printed this year.
First stop is the St Cuthbert Gospel, an ancient hand-made volume that was found in the saint’s coffin at Lindisfarne Priory some time after he died in the 7th century and which was sold to the British Library in 2011 for £9,000,000.
We’re also shown the Lindisfarne Gospels; a copy of Beowulf written in Old English …

and eighteen other landmark publications from the Hound of the Baskervilles to Alice in Wonderland, including the gigantic Klencke Atlas, dating back to the time of Charles 11, that needs six people to lift it …

handwritten sheet music and newspapers.
Mick makes the whole place sound absolutely fascinating and Brita’s visuals really bring each and every entry to life. I haven’t visited this enormous library for many years but reading their book sent me first to its website, http://www.bl.uk and from there to planning my next visit in the near future.

Taking Flight
Adam Hancher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Adam Hancher tells in words and pictures , the amazing story of the Wright Brothers and how through determination and fearlessness, they brought their childhood dream to fruition.
From humble beginnings in Ohio, the boys, inspired by the gift of a toy helicopter from their father, worked tirelessly on project glider. Starting with observations of birds in flight, then working on designing and making, they built their first glider, which they then tested in one of the wildest parts of the US. The machine was a failure, so it was back to the drawing board to work on Mark 2.
Finally a powered machine was ready for testing and … yes, the first journey of a Wright flying machine took place.

It still needed perfecting however and patience was needed until in 1908, everything was ready but …

‘ … something was wrong.’

Fortunately the brothers had kept the promise they’d made to their sister never to fly together, so although Orville was badly injured, he recovered and meanwhile Wilbur had been hard at work flying and breaking records. Fame at last for the Wright Brothers and thoroughly deserved it was.
A mix of superb double page spreads of key scenes, single pages and small scenarios, Hancher’s illustrations really do evoke a sense of their late 19th century settings.
An inspiring, beautiful book for KS1/2 readers at school or at home.

I’ve signed the charter  

Gecko’s Echo / Monster Baby

Gecko’s Echo
Lucy Rowland and Natasha Rimmington
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The lengths a soon-to-be mother goes to in order to protect her eggs is hilariously demonstrated in this delicious rhyming tale by debut author, Lucy Rowland. Meet brave Mummy Gecko who stands up to the threats of Snakey,

and Eagle (later in the day) with warnings about “a hundred angry geckos”.
Come the evening, a very nasty-looking, ravenous rat appears, also with designs on the eggs; he though is less easily convinced. His response to Gecko’s, “If you’re staying I can show you … I hope you’re feeling brave.

is met with a spot of lip licking and “Why, yes I’m staying Gecko, / and I’m having eggs for tea./ A hundred geckos living here?!/ I don’t believe it’s true. … /I’m quite sure it’s only you.
Whereupon the wily Mrs G. lets forth an enormous “RAAAAH!” and back come those hundred voices …
Guess who beats a rather hasty retreat, leaving one echoing gecko to have the last laugh. The last laugh maybe, but not the peaceful evening she’d anticipated for, with a wibble and a wobble, what should appear but …

A real winner of a book with plenty of opportunities for audience participation, laughs galore and superbly expressive illustrations by Natasha Rimmington. Her wily animal characters are absolutely wonderful.

Monster Baby
Sarah Dyer
Otter-Barry Books
A topic that has been the theme of numerous picture books already is given a cute narrator herein.
Little Monster is none too thrilled at the prospect of an even littler monster; neither is Scamp, the family pet. Even before the newcomer arrives though, it’s presence is being felt: rest and healthy food are on the agenda and not only for Mum. The expectant monster needs a great deal of rest, which may account in part for her increase in girth, and certainly gets in the way of carrying the young narrator. He’s far from impressed with the scan either:

a wiggly worm is how it appears to Little Monster, but probably because Mum has several months to go yet: even so it’s capable of hearing apparently.
When the big day finally comes around, Granny comes to stay and Dad takes Mum Monster to hospital; the baby is duly delivered and Little Monster becomes a ‘BIG’ one according to his dad.
Having Mum and baby back home gives rise to mixed feelings on the narrator’s part: it’s great to have Mum around; but that noise-making babe is going to take a fair bit of getting used to. The inevitable feelings of being left out soon give way to accommodation and thereafter, the beginnings of a bond of brotherly love starts to form …

Sarah Dyer’s Little Monster is adorable: his account of the weeks leading up to, and just after, the arrival of his new sibling will be enjoyed not only by those in a similar situation, but also general early years audiences, whether this is shared at home or pre-school.

I’ve signed the charter  

Surprise! Surprise!

Surprise! Surprise!
Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books
Mr and Mrs Tati live together in a little yellow house, but one thing is missing from their otherwise happy life: Mrs Tati longs for a “sweet little baby”.
Mr T. visits the Baby Shop asking for a “fat, happy baby” for his wife but all they can offer are all the things that, without a baby, she has no use for at all. On his way home however, he encounters a man offering baby pigs for sale. Could one of those be the answer to Mrs Tati’s dreams?

For a while the Tatis are blissfully happy with the new addition to their family and eventually Potter is old enough to start school and that is when the trouble starts …

Potter’s parents decide their attempts to turn him into a little boy were a mistake and he’s allowed to be messy with mud and sleep outdoors instead of going to school.

Weekends though are inside times; and it’s on one such occasion that Mrs Tati makes another wish. A wish that leads to a whole chain of further wishes culminating in Mr Tata’s wish upon a falling star. “I wish, I wish, I wish, that when we wake up in the morning … we will all look the same.” …
Do you think his wish came true?
This corker – or should it be porker? – twist-in-the-tail story is an absolute delight. With themes of family love, acceptance and diversity, this is perfect for sharing both at home or school. Niki Daly imbues every illustration, large or small, with his wonderful wit and joie de vivre.

I’ve signed the charter 

Where Zebras Go / How to be a Tiger

dscn9907

Where Zebras Go
Sue Hardy-Dawson
Otter-Barry Books
Let The Weaver of Words, the subject of the opening poem, capture you in her threads and take you on an amazing journey past ghosts, through the fog and out across the plains, embracing en route wildlife in many forms and then leading you towards enchanted fairytale worlds where mermaids sing silent songs, magical boxes wait to be opened and tales you thought familiar are cast anew: ‘So what if he did find my golden ball, I didn’t once mention a kiss. More like I put him gently over the wall. Oh well then – maybe as you suggest, it was the teeniest little kick. Then naturally, I ran and ran, as only really a true princess can, in silly shoes and a dress. I never once dreamed he would follow me – No, Dad.’ (That’s from The Frog Princess, one of a sprinkling of deliciously playful shape poems.)

fullsizerender-25

Wonderfully inventive, or occasionally re-inventive – Motorway Poem after Night Mail by WH Auden and Ugly Sister Sonnet
Many things will look a little different – ‘I’m the flame in the nettles sting / the fleet snow of goose’s wing. / I’m the feather in grass’s seed / wheaten waves in meadow’s sea.’ – after a few excursions into this amazingly diverse, and surprisingly, Sue Hardy-Dawson’s debut, solo poetry book.
Some cry out to be read aloud – performed perhaps – such as Sludge-Bog Stew and how many times have the teachers among us heard the words of this, which has a title longer than the poem itself …

fullsizerender-26

Talking of school – think of the visual (2D and 3D) potential of the ‘spiky salamander,’ ‘slithering, skinny snake’, ‘cranky crocodile’ and ‘flippy, floppy frog’ from that swampy, glue-like sludge-bog, or indeed, many of the other poems. Sue herself has illustrated almost all of her poems.
A must get for primary classes and individuals in particular with a taste for the slightly quirky – the latter will, after dipping into this treat of a book, surely become poetry lovers.
For somewhat younger audiences is:
How to be a Tiger
George Szirtes
Otter-Barry Books
Award winning poet Szirtes also takes his readers foraying into fairy tales with a belching princess in The Princess and the Bad King and the tongue-twistingly superb Rumpelstiltskin. Now who knew he has brothers the likes of Dumplingstiltskin, Crumpetstiltskin, Stumblingstiltskin, Jumperstiltskin, Plumplipstiltskin, Crumpledstiltskin, Grumpystiltskin, Chumptripstiltskin, Mumppillstiltskinm Gazumpstiltskin; oh and Billy-ho! Mustn’t overlook him!

fullsizerender-24

(Think of what you might do with that one in the classroom … )
In addition there are seasonal poems, poems such as You Have a Body and The Leaping Hare that cry out to be dramatised,; and Spelling Your Name: ‘Here’s your name and how to spell it. See it, hear it, touch it, taste it, smell it! – a gift for creative early years teachers, and much much more. And, Tim Archbold’s delightfully scribble-style, smudgy illustrations further add to the delights herein.
In fact, the whole thing is packed with learning adventures just waiting to be embarked upon … What are you waiting for?

localbookshops_nameimage-2

 

Classic Christmas Briefing

%0a

The Twelve Days of Christmas
William Morris and Liz Catchpole
Penguin Random House V&A
With a gorgeously tactile cover, this is a super-stylish rendition of the ever popular classic seasonal song. It’s illustrated with a mix of patterns chosen from the V&A’s William Morris archive and glorious new artwork by illustrator Liz Catchpole inspired by the work of Morris who was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement.
Best-loved designs such as ‘Cray’ furnishing fabric …

dscn9394

and ‘Pimpernel’ wallpaper are included …

dscn9395

but every turn of the page brings fresh delight.
Just the thing to give to a loved one especially a book-lover, or to anyone who likes art and design of the classic kind.

%0a

The Newborn Child
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books
Jackie Morris has created her own text as an accompaniment to her gorgeous illustrations for this new edition of a book previously published a decade ago as Little One We Knew You’d Come. This is very much a feelings-centred telling of the nativity story with much of the focus being on how the mother herself feels before …

%0a

and after the birth. There’s beauty on every page: into Jackie Morris’ richly coloured scenes are woven symbols from the natural world – butterflies and moths, birds and their feathers …

%0a

flowers, fruits and shells, making them truly memorable, especially that final mother and child spread with the thumb-sucking infant.

%0a

Little Grey Rabbit’s Christmas
Alison Uttley and Margaret Tempest
Templar Publishing
A classic Christmas read if ever there was one. I can still recall, as a small child laughing over Hare standing outside in the snow “catching cold, and eating it too,” as my dad read it to me. First published in 1939, but still offering lots to savour and talk about, it’s deliciously nostalgic and full of Christmas kindness. Imagine inviting carol singers in, to pass round a mug of wine and hot mince pies …

%0a

Animals, One Cheetah One Cherry & Flip Flap Pets

%0A

Animals
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio
This over-sized picture book by Swedish illustrator/designer Arrhenius is sure to have youngsters poring over its gigantic retro-style pages. It features thirty two animals large and small from grasshopper …

%0A

to gorilla, and hippo to frog …

%0A

Every one of the pages would make a lovely poster and it’s hard to choose a favourite animal: I love the muted, matt colours used and the careful placing of pattern; and the lettering fonts and colours seem to reflect the essence of each animal portrayed.

%0A

If you’re looking for something impressive to generate language in youngsters, try putting this book on the floor in your book area and see what happens.
It might also be put to good use in an art lesson for older children.

%0A

One Cheetah, One Cherry
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books
Absolutely stunning paintings of wild animals grace the pages of this stylish, smallish counting book. We start with ‘One cherry, one cheetah’ showing a graceful beast with a luscious-looking cherry between its paws and continue, encountering two dogs, three bears, four foxes …

%0A

five elephants, six tigers, seven pandas, eight otters, nine mice, ten cherries – all carefully poised, thus :

DSCN8682

which takes us back (numberwise) to None. The cheetah has feasted on those ten delicious cherries and looks mighty pleased about it.
What a wonderful array of animals and activities. The language too is so carefully chosen: alliteration abounds as here: ’Four fine foxes/ sharing strawberries.’
or, try getting your tongue around this one: ‘Seven giant pandas, with pretty painted parasols.’

%0A

Such delicate patterning on those parasols and lantern. Indeed pattern is part and parcel of every painting, so too is gold-leaf; but that’s not all. The end papers are equally gorgeous, the front being a dance of numerals, orchestrated by the cheetah and the back shows the number symbols in order with animals/cherries alongside.

DSCN8591

Flip Flap Pets
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Axel Scheffler offers a multitude of opportunities to create quirky creatures in his latest Flip Flap rhyming extravaganza. Youngsters can turn the basic ten or so popular pets into a whole host of crazy combinations of feather, fur, scale, shell and more. What happens for instance when you cross a stick insect with a budgerigar? You get a STICKERIGAR of course …

DSCN8593

Try crossing a goldfish with a tortoise – that results in a GOLDFOISE:

%0A

and a snake crossed with a cat gives something pretty irresistible – a cake!
It’s possible to make – so that butterfly on the back cover of this bonkers book informs us – 121 combinations. What are you waiting for? If my experience of previous titles in this series is anything to go by, this new addition to the series is likely to inspire children to set about making their own flip flap books.

WNDB_Buttonlocalbookshops_NameImage-2

Adder, Bluebell, Lobster / Dinosaurs & Dinner Ladies

%0A

Adder, Bluebell, Lobster
Chrissie Gittins, illustrated by Paul Bommer
Otter-Barry Books
I was intrigued by the title of this collection of “Wild Poems’ from Chrissie Gittins and delighted by the explanation for its choice. The author was inspired by the list of natural world words that were left out of the most recent (2015) edition of Oxford Junior Dictionary and replaced with 21st century terms So, this is Chrissie’s offering as part of the protest against their omission that was endorsed by almost 30 authors intent on the laudable aim to send a “tremendous cultural signal and message of support for natural childhood”.
The poems are arranged alphabetically with almost every letter represented, the exceptions being E, J, K, Q, U, X, Y and Z and every one is a treat for the ears and eyes. For A in addition to the snake of the title we have Allotment, which describes a wonderfully wet time: here are the first few lines: “When it rains the soil sighs deeply, / the leaves of the purple sprouting broccoli giggle as rivulets tickle their veins,/ rainbow chard reaches out to catch droplets in its wrinkles ,/ the strawberries smile – their redness becomes redder, their sweetness sweeter,/ broad beans swell inside their emerald pods/ waiting to be picked.
What a splendid evocation of a downpour: and it’s vertically presented for extra effect.
For B there’s Bluebell, Blackberry – such a tasty treat with its wordplay –and its ‘luscious globules’ and ‘purple dribbles’; and the superbly bossy Beetroot shown in Bommer’s line drawing wielding a pot of red juice capable of causing ‘a red Niagara Falls’.

%0A

The fastest animal on land, the Cheetah races in and across the spread – ‘made for flight’ as one of the Cs and then we have a run of flora – Dandelion, Fern, Fungi – two species – and Gorse. I have to say I was shocked at some of the omissions; how can a dictionary for the young not have Hamster – surely a favourite pet, the majestic Heronrigid as a cement pterodactyl’, Ivy, Lark, Lavender? All these and the many others herein are essential parts of childhood – Newt, Poppy, Violet, Willow, Wren. Oh my goodness, I got more and more sad and angry as I continued reading; but thank goodness for Chrissie Gittins’ wild and wonderful, sometimes wacky words; and she’s ably abetted by artist Paul Bommer with those stark black and white illustrations – some funny …

DSCN8417

some beautiful …
%0A
and all apposite, on almost every spread. I have a feeling this will be read to extinction/destruction fairly fast; it’s such a tongue-tingling assortment of poetic forms and fanciful phrases: what a way to ‘turn sows’ ears into a silk purse’.
A must have for all primary classrooms, for the family bookshelf and for anyone who loves words, the natural world, and those who, like me and the creators of this book are eager to help play a part in saving from extinction, these names from nature. Long may they reign and remain…

DSCN8412

Dinosaurs & Dinner Ladies
John Dougherty illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones
Otter-Barry Books
This is a debut foray into poetry collection created by the author of the popular Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series of stories, John Dougherty, whose humour is evident in each and every offering. Many of the preoccupations of school children, most notably school and what happens therein are featured and in some instances superbly sent up in his verses. Take for example The Alliterative Alligator who: ‘lurks languidly, looking like a lazy log/ by the bank, beneath the blue/ wavy waters, waiting, wanting,/ hunting hungrily but unhurriedly,/ seeking something satisfyingly savoury.’ This is cleverly juxtaposed with an impatient Alligator that –and who can blame it – ‘hates the crime/ Of bending words to force a rhyme.’ (I hope those responsible for the current Primary English curriculum are listening.) And I absolutely love his Note to an English Teacher, an oh-so-telling offering comparing a poem with a hamster. You’ll need a copy of this splendid collection to relish this one yourself (relish, if like me you are party to, and hate, what’s currently served up in many classrooms in the name of English. Teachers feature quite frequently in one way or another by the way.
Slow Reader provides a view of what reading might look like to one such (you have to read each line backwards) and I have to say, it makes about as much, or as little sense, as a phonic book for beginners. Don’t you just love Tom Morgan-Jones’ visual representation of same?

%0A

Not all the poems are school-themed however: there are natural world poems, Seeds being one; another is this Lonely Haiku: ‘Bare autumn branches/ The emptiness of lost leaves/ The long wait for spring.’ . There are pets such as Next- Door’s Cat, a creature with ‘attitude’ and ‘fat cattitude’, Dogs, some of which are liked, others definitely not; and poems about faces, food-related verses and an exciting lunar ‘Countdown’. I think if I had to choose a favourite, it’s Sail Away Between the Pages that includes this; ‘Their words are not enough to name the blessings/ that they bring/ The wonder of their pictures or the songs their poems/ sing./ And their prose by any other name would have/ as many flavours/ So I can’t think of a better thing to do/ Than sail away between the pages.’ (of the books read).Good on you, John Dougherty. If you want to turn children on to poetry, then grab a copy of this and share it; buy a copy or more and give it; which ever – JUST DO IT!
And I’m interested to read at the back of the book, that its author now lives in Gloucestershire and is an ex-primary teacher.

WNDB_Button localbookshops_NameImage-2