Scaredy Bear

Scaredy Bear
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger Press

What’s BIG and HAIRY and cause for alarm in the deep, dark forest? According to Little Bob’s mother (rabbit) one bedtime, it’s a terrible creature with a roar like thunder, huge scary teeth and long, equally scary, claws.

Little Bob however, wants to find out about this creature for himself and so waiting until his mum is fast asleep, he arms himself with an extra pointy carrot and creeps out into the forest: a forest that in the moonlight looks considerably more scary than it does by day.

Having narrowly dodged a hunting owl, he dives into a huge bush only to discover it isn’t a bush at all but an enormous ursine creature. He tells the creature about the BIG HAIRY; they introduce themselves to one another and having decided to become friends, the two Bobs Big and Little, continue the search together.

When Bear, now hungry, asks about Little Bob’s carrot, he’s told it isn’t for sharing but instead the little rabbit intends sticking it up the Big Hairy’s nose. Ouch!

This prompts Big Bob to comment on Little Bob’s unexpected bravery. “How can you be so brave when you are so small?” he wants to know. ‘Because,” comes the whispered response, “I’m big on the inside.” He also tells Big Bob that he too must have a big bear hiding within if only he could let it out.
By this time Little Bob too is feeling hunger pangs so his pal goes off in search of food. Suddenly from behind leaps a very hungry fox.

Now Big Bob needs to find that inner big bear in time to save his friend from becoming fox’s supper. He lets out an enormous …

and that gives the game away well and truly.

When Little Bob finally realises who his saviour is, can the two of them sort things out between them without the little rabbit having recourse to that carrot of his? Or could there perhaps be a better use for it …

Steve Smallman’s lovely story about finding your inner strength and making a special friend is a great reminder that we can all be brave no matter our shape or size so long as we have the confidence to draw on our inner resources.
Caroline Pedler’s moonlit woodland scenes are aglow with tension and she captures the animals’ changing feelings wonderfully.

Anna and Otis

Anna and Otis
Maisie Paradise Shearring
Two Hoots

Imagine befriending a snake. Not keen probably, but snake, Otis is the unlikely best friend of young Anna and the two spend happy, adventurous days together safe in the confines of the garden.

One day though, Anna announces to Otis that tomorrow they ought to go exploring the town, a suggestion that leaves Otis lost for words. After all neighbours and delivery people tended to tread very cautiously when they spied the reptile, so an entire town, Hmmm!

Nevertheless, next day, Anna having attempted to allay Otis’ concerns, the two sally forth.

Anna’s words however are very soon proved wrong: seemingly everyone in the town gives the impression of being as she’d put it earlier, ‘very silly mean’ people.

Inevitably, Otis is sad; Anna angry, though she tries to be reassuring. Bravery and direct approaches are her suggestions, first stop being Silvio’s hairdressing salon. The visit proves a success and word starts to spread.

Emboldened Anna purchases a skateboard for herself and a set of wheels for Otis.

Pretty soon, people at the skate-park are impressed at his wheelie prowess; the bush telegraph springs into action again and come lunch time it’s more of a party than a meal for two.

By the time the day’s over the friends are very tired. Anna invites Otis to spend the night and thereafter the friendship continues apace, sometimes just the two of them but on other days it’s a trip into town to visit all their wonderful new and very welcoming pals.

In her funny tale of overcoming fears and gaining acceptance, with gently humorous illustrations full of wonderful details to delight and linger over, the author portrays an unusual friendship that should, if not endear readers to Squamata such as Otis, at least help overcome their angst about them.

Stuck for more summer reading for your children? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

The Worry Box

The Worry Box
Suzanne Chiew and Sean Julian
Little Tiger Press

It must surely be a symptom of our troubled times that there’s been a spate of recent picture books on the theme of anxiety, and the mental health of young people is constantly under discussion, due in no small part to the prevalent pressurised education regime, a legacy of a certain politician currently championing the dreaded BREXIT.

The most recent of such books to come my way is The Worry Box wherein we meet the worrisome Murray Bear along with his big sister, Milly.

It’s waterfalls with their potential for ‘bigness’ and loudness that present the first of Murray’s worrying possibilities. Fortunately though, his fears in this respect are allayed by Milly as they make their way home.

Back inside Milly introduces her coping tool, a worry box, to her sibling, explaining how it works. They make one for Murray and they head off to meet their friends at that waterfall.

Once there Murray remembers to use his special box when he starts feeling worried about climbing a tall tree.

After a fun-filled afternoon, the mislaying of Milly’s backpack delays the friends and they’re not ready to leave until sunset. It’s then that Lara reveals her worries about the dark. Now it’s Murray’s turn to offer reassurance, a helping paw and co-use of his special box until they’re safely home,

after which the sibling bears stand in the moonlight contemplating their amazing day together.

Enormously reassuring for all little worriers is Suzanne Chiew’s story while Sean Julian’s gorgeous illustrations of the verdant natural landscape setting make you want to pause on the dragonfly littered riverbank, refreshing waterfall and scale the tree along with the animal characters so beautifully portrayed herein.

When I taught KS1 children we’d often have a worry tree (branches standing in a container) in the classroom. Children wrote their worries on leaf-shaped coloured paper, hung them from the twigs and then every day or so, those that wanted to shared what they’d written with the class. A discussion could arise or the mere act of hanging up the leaf often worked on its own. After sharing this book, children might create their own worry box for use at home or the class could make a communal one that is used in a similar way.

No matter what, a shared reading will help listeners let go of their concerns and enjoy embracing new challenges.

How Monty Found His Magic / Starring Carmen!

How Monty Found His Magic
Lerryn Korda
Walker Books

Meet the Magnificent Trio: Monty, his dog named Zephyr and his rabbit named Snuffles. They have ambitions to show their magic in front of a real audience and with Mr Twinkle’s Twinkling Talent Show coming up they’ve a chance to realise their dream.

First though, Monty must overcome his fear of public performance.
The day of the talent show dawns and Monty has a bad attack of butterflies in his tummy. His pals reassure him, “ … we’ll be fine … we’ll be together.
But will Monty be able to remember their words when they’re under the spotlight up on that stage in front of all those people.

This is a tale of finding your inner courage and working together as a team that will resonate with those children in particular who find doing anything in public a trial. Equally it demonstrates that behind every public performance lies a great deal of a gentle kind of magic that comes when friends support each other just because …
With its vibrant scenes of friendship and prestidigitation this should be a winner with young audiences.

Another performance tale is:

Starring Carmen!
Anika Denise and Lorena Alvarez Gómez
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Carmen is a drama queen of the first order: she acts, sings, dances and even makes costumes.
Her little brother, Eduardo is desperate for a part in her shows, so she gives him a silent role in her latest extravaganza.

Then when her parents ask for an intermission, the showgirl stages an enormous sulk. What good is a stage show when the audience are merely toys?
There’s one member of the family though who never seems to tire of performances and it turns out, he has much to offer when it comes to high drama too.

With its sprinkling of Spanish dialogue – I like the way the Spanish phrases are naturally dropped into the narrative – and brighter than bright illustrations, this story will appeal most to those who enjoy being in the limelight – one way or another.

I’ve signed the charter  

Kiki and Bobo’s Sunny Day / Papasaurus

Kiki and Bobo’s Sunny Day
Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books
Meet Kiki and Bobo. They’re super excited on account of a trip to the seaside; the perfect place to spend a sunny day they think. Off they go in the bus where Kiki eagerly anticipates a swim in the sea: Bobo, in contrast does not.
He doesn’t want the ice-cream Kiki buys either, despite his friend’s best efforts.
Undaunted, she suggests that dip in the sea. This is greeted by a series of stalling activities: rubbing on sun cream,

collecting seashells and sandcastle constructing, until finally the indulgent Kiki is rewarded, not by an enthusiastic change of heart on Bobo’s part: rather he tearfully admits that he’s scared of sea swimming.
Three cheers for Kiki: she has just the thing for reluctant swimmers and she’s ready to let Bobo have that, and equally important, to take hold of his hand as they enter the water.

So, overcoming the fear of water – tick; being a super-duper friend and helping a pal in his hour of need – tick. Those are the important outcomes of a seaside sortie so delightfully orchestrated through Yasmeen Ishmail’s characteristically adorable illustrations – littered in this instance with flaps to open – and a straightforward text that in the main, comprises the dialogue between Bobo and Kiki.
Another winner for Yasmeen Ismail.

Papasaurus
Stephan Lomp
Chronicle Books
Using a similar question and answer style employed in Mamasaurus, Lomp has Babysaurus participating in a game of hide-and-seek with his Papasaurus. When it’s Babysaurus’s turn to be the seeker, he can’t find his Papa. His “Have you seen my papa?” is directed to first Stego, and subsequently Anky, Mosa, Velo and Edmont,

all of whom respond by referring to attributes of their own papas. None though can match up to Papasaurus in the eyes of his little one and eventually he pauses his search on top of a large hump in the landscape to consider where his father might be;

and lo and behold …
The dinosaur characters are rendered in bright colours making them stand out starkly against the sombre shades of the prehistoric landscapes they inhabit and it’s thus that Lomp creates the possibility of hidden danger as the infant dinosaur forays into the unknown perhaps for the first time.
Lots of fun to share with young dino. fans, in particular those youngsters who with a parent fairly near at hand are beginning to make those first forays into the wider world.

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How to Find a Friend / Flying Lemurs

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How To Find a Friend
Maria S. Costa
Oxford University Press
I love the double narrative style of this, Maria Costa’s debut picture book. Herein we follow the search for friendship of Squirrel and Rabbit, both of whom have just moved into new abodes. The trouble is (despite the  stage whispers from a pair of bit-part players) the two animals are just not looking in the right places. Listeners will delight in the manner in which we’re shown the unfolding dramas of the two main characters, one in full colour, the other in outline, highlighting their invisibility to one another: It’s all very hit and miss – or rather hit …

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and hit …

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Children will love the mismatch between words and pictures as well as the fact they can use the story maps at the front and back of the book to track the action and the crossed paths of the main characters.
Maria Costa’s linocut illustrations are terrific fun: her use of a limited colour palette is particularly effective in highlighting this small drama of flipsides, folly and friendship – eventually. And I particularly love that when the going gets tough, Squirrel finds solace in his books …

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That, and the gentle irony of the whole thing.

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Flying Lemurs
Zehra Hicks
Two Hoots
The lemurs are a talented jumping family: Mum on the trapeze, Dad the trampoline and Granny is an ace cannon jumper. There’s one little lemur however, who just cannot jump at all. Other family members encourage …

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and demonstrate …

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but the result is DISASTER  – always …

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Fortunately, her family is sympathetic and even more encouraging …

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so can their little one finally cut it as a rocket jumper?
This funny story is just the thing for those who strive but find things challenging; it demonstrates beautifully how it is possible to overcome your fears, unlock your personal aptitudes and find your own forte.
Zehra Hicks’s illustrations, be they in strip format, whole page or full spread, are wonderfully chucklesome and I love her choice of colour palette; it’s absolutely right for the circus setting.

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Skimbleshanks/Patch’s Grand Dog Show

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Skimbleshanks The Railway Cat
T.S.Eliot and Arthur Robins
Faber & Faber Children’s Books
It’s 11.39, time for the Night Mail train to depart; so it’s all aboard and off we go! Not quite: where is Skimbleshanks?

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The train can’t start without him.
In the nick of time, he appears, the ‘All Clear!’ is given and the train leaves bound for the ‘northern part of the Northern Hemisphere.’ And there’s no doubt about who’s in charge.: ‘From the driver and the guards to the / bagmen playing cards/ He will supervise them all, more or less.’

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Up and down the corridor he paces, patrolling and keeping watch for any bad behaviour on the part of the passengers …

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Those sleeping berths must be kept just spotless with all the amenities in full working order …

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And there are people to meet and greet while all the passengers are fast asleep: that too is Skimble’s job as is summoning the police (that’s at Dumfries)

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or helping passengers to descend (at Gallowgate). All this and more takes place if you join another feline star in Arthur Robins’ third picture book interpretation of verses from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Once again, Robins’ cartoon style visuals are full of deliciously dotty details. No matter if you’re a cat lover (I’m not), a poetry lover (that’s me) or neither, you’ll still find plenty to amuse herein. Share it, shout it or simply enjoy it alone or with others, young or not so young.

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Patch’s Grand Dog Show
Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne
Pavilion Books
Loner and slightly strange-looking dog, Patch is passing his time as usual sitting in the park when he hears from the other side of same, a whole lot of woofing, yapping and barking. On investigating he discovers …

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His inquiry, “Can anyone enter?” is met with derision from the other dogs so a downcast Patch goes off to hide himself. But then he has an idea: an idea involving his ball and a special trick. Even then though, the sight of all those seemingly perfect pampered pooches adopting all manner of prize-seeking poses and performing all kinds of clever moves to impress the judges – here are a couple of the former …

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his courage fails him. In the face of such finery, poor Patch feels even more inferior and lonely until he hears an announcement: “AND The Dog The Judge Would Most Like to Take Home IS …
No prizes for guessing which one that is.

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I’m no dog lover, far from it (having been mauled by an Alsatian as a child), but these knitted creatures are delightful. What’s more there are instructions on how to knit a Patch at the back of the book. Do look closely at each illustration and you’ll see how cleverly textured each one is. The artwork itself is likely to be an inspiration for children to create their own woolly scenes.

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Being a Hero/Being Brave

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Monty the Hero
Steve Smallman
QED Publishing
Inspired by his favourite bedtime story, Monty Mole makes a big decision: he’s going to be a (super) hero. He cannot wait so off he goes tunneling up and up until he reaches the magical setting of his storybook where he immediately encounters Herbert Hedgehog. Donning a conker shell for protection against monsters, Monty invites Herbert to become a hero too.
All too soon though, the two have their first MONSTER encounter but thanks to Monty’s mushroom morphing and Herbert’s prickly bottom, the ‘monster’ is soon beating a hasty retreat.

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But, pride comes before a fall it’s said and certainly that’s the case here for as they banter over Monty’s heroic – or not – qualities, Herbert finds himself in a bit of a fix.

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A spot of hasty tunneling from Monty soon does the trick and then two heroes set off in search of a wish fulfilling magic wand. Having found same, they just need to give it a shake but …
That’s not quite the end though: all ends happily for both heroes and Monty’s mum hears the magical story (with just one omission) as they walk off home together.

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A gentle, amusing story with some atmospheric nocturnal scenes to enjoy around bedtime or to share at any time in an early years setting. I love the fact that Monty’s adventure was sparked by that bedtime tale his mum read to him.

More lessons about being a hero to be learned in:

 

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Be Careful Barney!
Lucy Barnard
QED Publishing
Herein Barney’s attempts at being a superhero land him in big trouble when he ignores his teacher’s ‘stay away from the river’ instructions when the class goes on a school trip.

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Brave As Can Be
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed
A now not so little, self-assured girl shares her erstwhile fears and how she managed to overcome each one, be it her fear of the dark, a neighbour’s barking dog, a scary dream, a thunderstorm, creepy crawlies even, or her angry teacher (not so frightening when imagined with feathers) …

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On Hallowe’en however, with a cackly laugh and pointy hat, it’s her turn to be scary.

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Being scared can be fun though, especially when it’s listening to one of Dad’s spooky stories.

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Cleverly conceived and executed with all kinds of cutaway shapes strategically placed, this is a real charmer as is the narrator herself.
Deliciously humorous and unsentimental, this sturdily constructed book , subtitled a ”A Book of Courage’ is bound to delight and may well help children find their own fear-facing coping strategies.
It’s brilliant for sharing with children in an early years setting and a great starting point for talking about personal fears and how they might deal with them. With its board pages the book is built to stand up to the numerous readings I suspect it will have.

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