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.