Something About A Bear

Something About A Bear
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

This is a new large-format edition of Jackie Morris’s ode to bears. It begins with a large brown bear nose to nose with a teddy bear and the words, ‘Let me tell you something, something about a bear.’ Readers are then introduced to eight kinds of bears through stunning watercolour illustrations and a poetic text.

Each turn of the page takes us to the natural environment of one sort of bear or another starting with Brown Bear watching salmon in a river. On a mountainside in China, a Panda is shown nurturing its child ‘Born as soft and small as peaches.’ Next we see a Sloth Bear carrying her cubs on her back set against ancient Mughal architecture; a Spectacled Bear with cubs high up in the canopy of a South American jungle;

from her nest an enormous Asian Moon Bear waits and watches, all set to go a-hunting. Now you might be surprised to learn that Polar bears are not white – their fur is ‘hollow’, their skin, black. Nor is the American Black bear always black; it could be cinnamon or honey coloured and even, rarely, white.

The very essence of each one of the magnificent ursine creatures is captured in Jackie Morris’s awesome paintings and it’s incredible to see the range of browns she uses. A considerable amount of information is included in the main narrative, which eventually comes full circle to the two we met on the first spread, closing with the words, ‘the very best bear of all is YOUR bear. Two further spreads give additional notes on each bear featured. A terrific gift book for bear lovers of all ages.

Eco Girl

Eco Girl
Ken Max-Wilson
Otter-Barry Books

Eve loves the forest beside her home; she loves the animals and birds, but most of all she loves the trees, her favourite being the Baobab tree. Do those trees talk to one another, she wonders wishing that she could be a Baobab and hence talk to the other trees. To be a tree is to be patient her mother tells her and later her father says that each tree plays its own special role in caring for the living things in the world.
Soon after, on a pre birthday visit to her Grandma deep in the forest, after remembering to be patient on their long walk, Eve asks her grandmother, “Would you talk to me if I was a Baobab tree?” Delighted by the response and Grandma’s mention of the next day being a special day, Eve can hardly wait.

Next morning, she gets a magical surprise. Carrying something, Grandma leads her into the forest.

What could it be? It’s something very special that Eve must plant, love and take care of, something that will connect her for ever with the forest she so delights in. That, she proudly assures her Grandma, is something she definitely can do. Many happy returns of the day, Eco Girl.

Heart-warming and inspiring, this is a lovely demonstration of the importance of planting and nurturing trees wherever you live in the world. I love the vibrant colours of the illustrations, especially the variety of greens in the forest landscape.

(After the story are some tree facts including a mention of Wangari Maathai who started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.)

Stories of Peace & Kindness for a Better World / Human Kindness

Stories of Peace & Kindness for a Better World
Elizabeth Laird, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
Otter-Barry Books

This book contains Elizabeth Laird’s lively retellings of seven folktales from various parts of the world – Ethiopia, Sudan, Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and China – each of which is intended to inspire hope and reconciliation following recent conflict or war; and each of which is elegantly illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini. In view of the on-going Russian attacks on Ukraine it couldn’t be more appropriate and timely.

In the first story from Ethiopia a fight between two dogs, one small, one large quickly escalates into a battle between two clans wherein lives are lost on both sides. Can the words of a wise old man show the fighters the error of their ways?

It’s the discovery of buried treasure, and an act of forgiveness that ultimately lead to a reunion of a father and the younger of his two daughters in Allah Karim, the tale from Sudan.

A Palestinian shepherd tries and succeeds in showing a rich sultan what real kindness is; and a camel is fundamental in an ageing father’s choice of an heir to rule his kingdom in Yemen. There’s a selfish Emir ruling a great kingdom in Afghanistan: can the angel that appears in his dream cause him to change his ways and become a caring ruler? From Syria comes a tale wherein a woodcutter ventures onto an island, persuades the resident lion to allow him to take away some of the wood to sell thus saving himself and his family from starving, only to spurn the lion when he tries to join a party he’s hosting: what does that mean for the woodcutter/lion friendship? Finally in the Uighur story from China the Khan’s nine princess daughters eventually bring peace and happiness to the kingdom of Kashgar and best of all is the fact that it’s done without fighting.

Rich in pattern, the illustrations are infused with a gentle humour that subtly convey both the futility of hostility and fighting, and the joy brought about by peace.

Human Kindness
John Francis and Josy Bloggs
What on Earth Books

Starting with some examples from his own life, author and Planetwalker John Francis explores aspects of kindness before moving on to look at the history of kindness from the times of prehistoric humans to the present. He uses evidence from archaeological findings and ancient texts presenting a variety of versions of the ‘Golden Rule’ from different world views.
One section of the book is devoted to stories of kindness from all over the world and include such people as Malala Yousafzai, Harriet Tubman, Harold Lowe (a junior officer on the Titanic), healthcare workers and healers, people who have raised money for various charities concerned with education, hunger prevention, healthcare provision and animal welfare. Did you know that there are inventions that arose out of the imaginations of individuals who saw the need for creating a means to make life better for humans, for animals or for the planet?

There’s also information on the science of kindness – how being kind and compassionate benefits our health and happiness, and some examples of ways children can be kind.

Be they large or small, acts of kindness make the world a better place so, with its warm, bright illustrations by Josy Bloggs, this is a book that I’d like to see in primary classrooms and on family bookshelves.

The Perfect Present / Tofu Takes Time

The Perfect Present
Petr Horáček
Otter-Barry Books

Mot and Tom are the best of friends; they also share a birthday on which they exchange gifts. Tom gives Mot a multi-coloured feather which his friend imagines might be from the world’s most spectacular bird. Mot gives Tom a marble, also multi-coloured; could that perhaps be the universe’s smallest planet. Tom would love to give his friend an entire ocean alive with creatures large and small, perhaps even a monster

and a host of wild animals like lions, monkeys and an elephant. Mot’s choices to give Tom are hills, rivers, forests and mountains, the sun too.

Having spent a long time in all these imaginings the two friends go outdoors to play in the rain

and then back indoors after a bath together they share a scrumptious birthday tea. I wonder what Tom and Mot decided was the best present of all as they snuggled down ready for sleep.

Petr Horáček’s vibrant mixed media illustrations radiate the warmth these two moggy pals share in this gorgeous celebration of friendship and the power of the imagination that’s perfect for giving and sharing with young humans on any day but perhaps birthdays especially.

Also showing the importance of spending time together is

Tofu Takes Time
Helen H. Wu and Julia Jarema
Beaming Books

Instead of popping to the supermarket to buy readymade tofu, it’s a case of PLINK PLANK PLUNK followed by CLICK CLACK WHIRRRR as Lin’s grandmother, NaiNai begins making tofu from scratch, watched by the little girl who is impatient to see the finished product. But all good things take time and patience, and that is what NaiNai tells Lin from the outset as she gradually involves her in some of the tofu-making tasks including straining the soy milk, lemon squeezing

and squishing and moulding the curds into shape.

However, as Lin gradually learns, the tofu making process not only takes time, it takes the whole universe too. It takes the seed from soil and sunshine, the cloth from thread and fibre,

weight and space, stories and pictures from books: and most of all, it takes spending precious time with her much-loved grandmother.

Julia Jarema’s illustrations have a feeling of gentleness, as they alternate between details of the tofu-making and Lin’s imaginings in Helen Wu’s tasty tale of patience and delayed gratification. Her inclusion of playful, onomatopoeic language and NaiNai’s repeat phrase add to the fun for young listeners; and her ‘more about tofu’ and author’s note will interest both adults and youngsters with an interest in cooking.

Don’t!

Don’t!
Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
Otter-Barry Books

Geraldine has a new baby brother and she’s experiencing the turbulent feelings that many elder siblings go through when it’s no longer the case of ‘there was Daddy and Mummy and me.’

Baby Boo is, let’s say, demanding and forceful; he can roar, he can kick and he can bite. Now Geraldine can do all these things too and she’s certainly not going to be overlooked. Consequently she roars at her toys – very loudly, she demonstrates her kicking skills with Mummy instead of a football

and she bites her Daddy on the leg. Her parents are not pleased; only her toys appear empathetic towards young Geraldine

and soon there’s a tearful huddle of little girl and three cuddly elephants, a crocodile and a kangaroo.

Then suddenly baby Boo cries too and this changes things completely: “Don’t cry baby Boo,” says big sister reaching out to him. Now there is Daddy and Mummy, Geraldine and Boo, a happy family and they all love each other.

Sensitively written and illustrated, Marie-Louise beautifully captures the feelings of a young child adapting to a new baby in the family. I’d strongly recommend families in a similar situation to the family in the story to get hold of a copy of this lovely book and share it with the big brother or sister. It’s a good one to add to foundation stage collections too.

Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay
Saviour Pirotta and Nilesh Mistry
Otter-Barry Books

The conservation message in this story is even more pertinent now than when the book was first published about 25 years back.

Essentially it’s a look at the breeding process of Japanese loggerhead turtles, but it’s much more too.
Taro is firm friends with Jiro-San whom in response to his sister calling the man weird, the boy says is “old and wise and full of wonderful secrets.” The two spend a lot of time on the beach where Tiro has already learned both how to care for some of the sea creatures and how to be mindful and watch what’s happening in the rockpools.
Now Jiro-San is often to be seen sweeping the rubbish and broken glass from the beach or sitting on a rock watching and listening and one day that is how Taro finds him. He’s preparing for the return of his “old friends”, Jiro-San explains to the boy.
Having spent the following day together sweeping the beach and placing the rubbish in Jiro-San’s cart, he invites Taro to meet him that evening by the big rock. He does, but that’s not when they see the particular friends the old man has been talking about.

That happens a few days later, when accompanied by his somewhat reluctant sister, Taro heads off to the usual meeting spot. Suddenly something emerges from the water: it’s a mother turtle, come to lay her eggs on the beach, which she does before heading back to the sea to let the other turtles know the beach is safe. The following evening a band of female turtles arrive and lay their eggs in holes on the sandy shore.

Some weeks later Jiro-San and the two children observe the nocturnal emergence of hundreds of baby sea turtles and see them scuttling down to the sea.

Nilesh Mistry’s gorgeous blue, yellow and lavender-hued scenes show these events and create a sense of calm and of wonder that will be shared by children who read or listen to Saviour Pirotta’s perfectly paced tale with its important messages about caring for the environment, mindfulness, patience and being open-minded about people.

(There’s additional information about saving sea turtles at the end of the book.)

Mrs Noah’s Song

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

The third in this series wherein Jackie Morris’ lyrical words are visually sung in collage style art by James Mayhew, is again gorgeous. Together they tell a magical tale about how Mrs Noah brings song back into the world. Music and song are a way of connecting people no matter where they are and Mrs Noah assuredly unites her family by singing to the children, morning, noon and night, while Mr Noah listens enraptured.

One morning the children ask Mrs Noah where she learned to sing and she tells them sadly that it was “Far away and long ago.” Called by the sunshine, the children then leave, save the youngest who asks the singer, “Why are you sad?” Having given an explanation about remembering her mother and grandmother, Mrs Noah says that-sometimes the sadness caused by missing somebody you love is a good kind of feeling.

They then both venture outside to greet the day watched by Mr Noah who had heard what was said.

Outside it’s time for a singing lesson, which must start with learning how to listen properly – eyes closed, ears open wide, wide. After a while the youngest child joyfully announces, “I can hear the garden singing.” And, it most certainly was, with birdsong, humming bees, dragonfly wings rattling and a gentle breeze setting the leaves in musical motion.

Mr Noah gets busy fashioning a huge hammock and they all spend a blissful night under the stars listening to the magical music created by the natural world together with Mrs Noah’s songs.

Next morning having slept soundly, to everyone’s delight they’re woken as the sun rises, by the dawn chorus. United in song, united in music, united in love. If only it could be so the world over, if only …

Like many people in our current turbulent world with wars and people forced to flee, Mrs Noah was actually a refugee who had to start her life anew in an unknown place; she knew that music could be a way of helping her children develop a sense of belonging in a new land. Music speaks a universal language, one that transcends barriers and that’s something that’s vitally needed in our divisive world. “If music be the food of love, play on.” So said Duke Orsino in the first scene of Twelfth Night. Let it be so.

On My Papa’s Shoulders

On My Papa’s Shoulders
Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

The little boy narrator in Niki Daly’s compelling picture book has just started school. He’s fortunate to have members of his extended family to take turns to walk with him through the busy town to the school gate.

Mama is a quick walker and so they always arrive in plenty of time for goodbye kisses before the bell rings. Gogo likes to leave early so the two of them can avoid the busy road and along the quiet way they find lots of look at and chat about, and perhaps even pause over.

Gogo is full of wise words, talking to her grandson about how he should be gentle with his friends.

Rainy days are reserved for Tata who is fond of puddle splashing, though his more easily tired legs mean he prefers the shortcuts and needs to pause for a rest en route – the perfect opportunity for a spot of whistling. In addition to whistling, hugs are Tata’s speciality.

“But the days I love the best are when Papa takes me to school.” That’s what our narrator tells us from his vantage point on Papa’s shoulders: it’s a place where he’d like to stay for ever but knows that when they reach the school gate that “I love you” exchange is coming and their parting will only be while Papa goes off to work on a building job while the little one joins his friends in the classroom for a spot of building of his own – make sure you look at his finished construction.

Yes this gorgeous, gently humorous book truly does celebrate that father/son bond, but it also celebrates the bond between the boy and the various other members of his family – each one offering something different.

One I’d strongly recommend adding to foundation stage collections and to family bookshelves, especially if there’s a child around the school starting age. Why not start by sharing it on Father’s Day this June.

Wanda

Wanda
Sihle Nontshokweni & Mathabo Tlali, illustrated by Chantelle & Burgen Thorne
Otter-Barry Books

“Intombi mayizithembe mayazithe, Wanda. Be confident. Trust in yourself.” So says Wanda’s Mama in this uplifting story starring a girl with a wonderful head of hair that makes her feel anything but confident as she’s teased by unkind members of her class. Unbeknown to her Mama, who spends ages combing her daughter’s hair each morning, before she goes into her classroom Wanda usually changes her hairdo making the ‘big switch’ so that her teacher won’t call her hair a “bird’s nest”. However on this particular day she’s late and unable to make the alterations.

Mrs Stewart sends her to find an Alice band in the lost property box and this she wears throughout school time.

On the way home she sadly tells herself that maybe after all, she’s not that proud African queen with beautiful hair, ‘strong like clouds’, as her Mama tells her every morning. However on her return she’s greeted by her Grandmother who, after a distraught Wanda has shared how she feels, is able to help her swallow all that sadness, partly by giving her a scrapbook that they look at together. Therein Wanda sees pictures of African women with amazing hairstyles, each one of them beautiful and every one of them, deservedly famous;

then on the final page is her own mother. At last Wanda can truly embrace her own hair, especially with a bit of extra knowledge from her gran concerning the secret of her crown – “Water and 100% olive oil.”
Next morning,, it’s a proud, emotionally strong Wanda who waits at that bus stop.

This heartfelt look at how society can drain the positivity instilled by a loving family, is a powerful reminder that everyone has the right to feel confident to celebrate their culture and that we should all share in that celebration rather than attempt to undermine it. The broad themes of the story – self belief and kindness, with its compelling, vibrant illustrations, make this a book to share with primary classes wherever they are.

A Little Bit of Hush

A Little Bit of Hush
Paul Stewart and Jane Porter
Otter-Barry Books

Squirrel and her babies live in a big tree; so too do all sorts of noisy birds. Their cacophony is such that the baby squirrels are unable to get to sleep so their mother decides to consult Owl. Having heard her problem Owl brings out a jar containing so he says, “A Little Bit of Hush”. Squirrel is somewhat puzzled that she can’t see anything in the jar so Owl demonstrates the way in which it works and goes on to show her his special invention, a Silence Catcher.

The two of them then embark on a magical journey through the woods with Owl capturing the hush between the Blackbird’s song and its alarm call, and encourages Squirrel who finds some of his own – the hush within a hollow tree stump, a hush deep down in some fallen leaves.

Owl then captures the stillness after an acorn drops before it bounces on the forest floor and even the silence between lightning’s flash and thunder’s roll. All these Owl stows in pockets of peace and pouches of stillness and hush; then back in his workshop he uses these ingredients, creating a special mixture that he puts into a jar for Squirrel to take back to her family.

The noise outside her front door is louder than ever when she returns, but now she has her own bottle of helpful hush. Will it work its unique magic on the five squirrels?

I love this idea and tried it out on my walk after this book had arrived in the post. It certainly made me more mindful of the spaces between the natural sounds that surrounded me as I stopped and sat for five minutes just listening.

With its examples of natural sounds, though interesting in themselves, but which can sometimes becomes distracting, Paul Stewart’s story shows the importance of silence in our busy world. Like Squirrel we all need times without noise either to drift off to sleep or as a kind of sacred space into which we can retreat and be contemplative. In her collage illustrations, Jane Porter beautifully captures the noisy woodland environment of the creatures’ quest for peace and quite, amusingly portraying the various sources of the distractions.

Water: Protect Freshwater to Save Life on Earth

Water: Protect Freshwater to Save Life on Earth
Catherine Barr and Christiane Engel
Otter-Barry Books

I was surprised to learn from this absorbing book that despite 70% of the Earth’s surface being covered by water only 3% of all of that is freshwater, most of it existing in polar ice sheets. These because of global warming, are starting to melt at an alarming rate.

Having given readers that information and more in the opening pages of this book, author Catherine Barr presents eleven further spreads, illustrated with lots of detail by Christiane Engel. These look at a variety of topics including the water cycle, freshwater habitats (some of the Earth’s most endangered environments); water power (the pros and cons); the impact of climate change on farming; the importance of careful usage of freshwater (there’s mention of the impact of large companies using more than their fair share of this precious resource).

It’s alarming to read the way in which polluted water – 80% of Earth’s wastewater – is adversely affecting freshwater habitats, killing wildlife and poisoning drinking water.

Of the final three topics: one explains that despite many women and girls still having to walk considerable distances from their village homes to access water, the provision of pumps and taps close to where they live is enabling girls living in some sub-Saharan African villages to go to school regularly and giving their mothers time to work.

Another calls on humanity to act now to protect vital freshwater; and this is followed by a look at some of the ways readers can use water judiciously: Take action to shrink your water footprint! urges the author. If those of us fortunate enough to have ready supplies of water at the turn of a tap followed the suggestions perhaps we can still make that all important difference in what is the UN’s Water Action Decade (2018-2028).

Women Who Led The Way

Women Who Led The Way
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

Herein, team Mike and Brita celebrate 21 inspiring women adventurers and explorers from all over the world, going back as far as the 9th century. Speaking for themselves, these women are exemplars of the huge amount of courage, determination and sheer power their achievements demonstrate against the odds: boundary breakers all for sure.

A new name to me, the first to tell her story is Aud (the deep-minded), daughter of a Viking ruler of the Hebrides, who, after her warrior son was killed in battle, secretly had a ship built and then together with a loyal crew of twenty warriors, captained a voyage of escape and discovery, eventually starting a Christian settlement on an Icelandic hillside.

French woman Jeanne Baret, disguised herself as her beloved husband’s manservant in order to accompany him on a voyage that eventually took them around the world, exploring and collecting specimens of plants, shells and stones for study, retiring to her native France ten years later, after the death of her husband.

Not all the women travelled so far from home though: In the 18th-19th century Caroline Herschel whose vision was damaged by childhood Typhus, became an astronomer who not only discovered eight comets, but was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Astronomical Society, even being elected an Honorary Member.

Some of the others featured will likely be familiar names to readers – adult ones at least. There’s Mary Anning, Harriet Tubman who escaped slavery to become an army scout and political freedom activist, undercover journalist Nellie Bly, Bessie Coleman the first African-American and Native American female to hold a pilot’s licence, Amelia Earhart (first woman pilot to fly the Atlantic), archaeologist Mary Leakey and nature conservationist Jane Goodall.

It’s impossible in a short review to name all those included herein but we meet Barbara Hillary polar explorer;

the first woman to climb to the top of Everest, and the first female amputee to climb both Everest and Mt. Vinson. Wow! “Set your goals high in life and don’t stop until you reach there.” are words spoken by this inspirational mountaineer on the final spread.

Set into many of Brita’s arresting scenes along with the main narrative, are small illustrated fact boxes, some giving dramatic moments in the life of the featured woman, others providing brief details of another one or two who followed in her footsteps.

One can’t help but feel awed by the achievements of every single one of those exceptional women. Adults who want to inspire children, either in school or at home, to reach high and never stop believing in themselves, should make sure they read this book.

I Love You, Blue

I Love You, Blue
Barroux
Otter-Barry Books

A small sailor (Jonas we learn later) in a small boat is sailing on the calm ocean when suddenly it becomes anything but. As the sea rages violently ‘neath a now black sky the cry goes out, ‘Help! help! Mayday! Mayday!

Happily to the rescue comes an enormous whale, Blue by name. Later from the safety of his lighthouse, the sailor bids goodnight to his Blue, telling the creature, ‘You are the prettiest of whales.’

The following morning it’s calm once more and the sailor searches for Blue, much concerned when the creature fails to appear. Blue is down deep and far from well. Venturing inside his mouth, Jonas is shocked to find that his belly is chock full of plastic bags. The little sailor collects up all the bags

and takes them away in his boat having told the whale to breakfast on jellyfish. Their meeting the next day sees a much livelier Blue, then an affectionate boy and Blue together and on the promontory wall beneath the lighthouse are written some crucial words.

A powerful environmental message indeed and one that young children will most certainly relate to.
Barroux’s soft-coloured illustrations with simple, thin black outlined images are highly effective conveyors of the tale alongside the child protagonist’s telling.

After the story the author leaves readers a heartfelt message explaining that Blue represents every one of the different whale species in our oceans, and giving information about things that can be done to support the causes of whales and ocean pollution.

The Fussy Flamingo

The Fussy Flamingo
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

Fantastically funny is the latest in the Five Flamingos series from team Wild and Granström. It stars Baby and as the title says, this little bird is an exceedingly fussy creature. 

On the day we meet her she’s throwing a tantrum about all things flamingo and has decided to flounce off into the forest to find a family whose diet is more to her liking. Her first encounter is with the monkey family: they, so she’s told feast on “Big burpy bananas. ” Baby consumes two but is far from impressed with their taste or her change of hue so it’s suggested she heads off to see the fruit bats. However their berries – the ‘chewy-bluey’ variety are not to Baby’s taste either. Neither is the outcome of her consuming same.

Equally unhappy about her consultations with the giraffes 

and the anteater, Baby heads off to the river to try her luck there. Meanwhile the other flamingos are desperately seeking her whereabouts. 

When she reaches her destination, Baby meets a lip-licking crocodile to which she asks a rather dangerous question … 

Brita’s hilarious scenes heighten the drama of Jonnie’s text with its playful language and plethora of speech bubbles: together they’ve created a tasty tale of a fussy eater that youngsters will relish and if they’ve not previously met the Five Flamingos, they’ll likely want to sample others of their stories.

(The author’s royalties are to be donated to support wildlife habitat conservation in Africa.)

You Can!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cat Called Waverley

A Cat Called Waverley
Debi Gliori
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

his house is demolished.

What next for Waverley?

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

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

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

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

Beep Beep!

Beep Beep!
Max Low
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Soofiya
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caterpillar Cake

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

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

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

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

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

Babies, Babies Everywhere!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Language of Cat

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Corinthian Girl

The Corinthian Girl
Christina Balit
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being Me

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shu Lin’s Grandpa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An important book to include in primary school class collections.

The Lost Child of Chernobyl

The Lost Child of Chernobyl
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not In That Dress, Princess!

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

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

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

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

cavorts with a wizard and much more.

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

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

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

Storm Dragon

Storm Dragon
Dianne Hofmeyr and Carol Thompson
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

all the way back home.

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

Just Like You

Just Like You
Jo Loring-Fisher
Otter-Barry Books

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

Like other children too, she sometimes feels happy

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

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

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

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

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

The King with Dirty Feet

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

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

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

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

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

Happily that same man has the perfect solution

and thus a wonderful invention is created …

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

Saving Hanno

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

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

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

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

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

Stars with Flaming Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weird Wild & Wonderful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fearless: The story of Daphne Caruana Galizia

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

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

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

A person unafraid to expose wrong doing in her journalism.

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

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

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

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

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

Crocodile Tears

Crocodile Tears
Roger McGough and Greg McLeod
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jackie Morris Book of Classic Nursery Rhymes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belonging Street / Dear Ugly Sisters and other poems

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

Belonging Street
Mandy Coe

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

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

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

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

Love Mandy Coe’s illustrations for this poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocket Boy
Katie Jennings and Joe Lillington
Stripes Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

Will Callum succeed in returning safely to planet Earth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invisible Nature

Invisible Nature
Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs Noah’s Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magic of Mums
Justin Coe, illustrated by Steve Wells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Wolf

Wild Wolf
Fiona French
Otter Barry Books

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

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

love,

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

Finally though, it’s love that wins out.

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

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

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

What’s that Noise?

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

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

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

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

Neither Fox on the snowy rocks,

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

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

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

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

The History of Prehistory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Tiger

The Last Tiger
Petr Horáček
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiddle Dee Dee!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Binky’s Time to Fly!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yum Yum Tree

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

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

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

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

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

Seemingly the quintet know something about baby monkey psychology

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

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

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