What Makes a Lemur Listen?

What Makes a Lemur Listen?
Samuel Langley-Swain and Helen Panayi
Owlet Press

This story of Maki, a little ring-tailed lemur living in the Madagascan rainforest, was inspired by the author’s experience of being the parent of a neurodiverse child who, like the protagonist in the book, struggles to listen, especially to instructions.

Fed up with his Mama’s seemingly endless instructions,

Maki ,who always thinks he knows better, decides to go it alone on a ‘big adventure’. No more rules and no having to listen to anyone are his expectations as he moves joyfully across the forest floor. His joy doesn’t last for come nightfall a realisation dawns: Maki is far from home and completely lost. Now, having refused to eat his breakfast, his tummy is rumbly and as the chilly wind blows through the branches, he misses his siblings’ snuggly warmth.

After a night spent alone and scared he wakes and hears a voice responding to his comment. A voice Maki puts down to his imagination; but then he hears further remarks as he looks for food and continues on his way.

Come nightfall once more, Maki stops again and curls up (on a branch so he thinks) but the voice continues and mentions something very long and scaly.

Just in the nick of time, Maki responds to the “Run!’ command he hears from a small rainbow coloured creature. Then from a safe hiding place he realises that the voice he’s been hearing all the while has been that of a savvy chameleon – Sofina – as she introduces herself. Surprised that she knows all about keeping safe and finding food in the forest, Maki is even more surprised at his new friend’s next remark, “I listen to my Mama!” Perhaps now, the little lemur is ready to do likewise.

Young listeners will enjoy finding out how Maki eventually learns to listen, while parents and educators could well learn alternative non-demanding ways to communicate with children be they or be they not, neurodiverse. Debut illustrator, Helen Panayi’s scenes of the lemur family and other creatures Maki encounter are great fun. She captures the young lemur’s changing feelings really well and adds gentle humour to the story: I love the meditating lemurs on the first page.

Me, in the Middle

Me, in the Middle
Annette Demetriou and Angela Mayers
Owlet Press

Annette Demetriou’s story has its origins in a childhood experience of her own that caused her to feel she didn’t visually fit into a category.

The little girl, protagonist Georgie belongs to a mixed heritage family: her father’s family are from Uganda and have brown skin; her mother’s family presumably from England, have light skin. When Georgie’s class are having an outdoor lesson on the topic of families one day and their teacher asks them all to go and stand within the chalk outline of the country their parents come from, she has a dilemma and it’s one that leaves her feeling upset as the lesson concludes. ‘Maybe I didn’t belong … anywhere?’ she thinks to herself.
Back at home she’s reluctant to begin working on the family tree Miss Clark has set as homework but her parents soon come to her assistance suggesting the use of photographs and the end product is beautiful – ‘full of colour and so wide, it stretched all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, from England … to East Africa … with me in the middle,’ she says excitedly.

Next day at school, Georgie is proud to show and explain her family tree to the class.

Her teacher’s response is hugely positive and wise as she tells the children that they should never judge a person by external characteristics. ‘We are SO MUCH MORE than what can be seen at first glance,’ she says.

The following day Miss Clark takes the children to the park where, after a ‘family dishes’ picnic, they look at the various trees and compare them to their own family trees ( I love that idea)

and Georgie comes to the realisation that while difference can be special and exciting, people have many things in common too and that’s just fine.

The pride in her roots felt by the protagonist is something everyone should be able to feel and this story, with its wealth of diverse characters as portrayed by Angela Mayers, will help children understand that there are a multitude of ways to make a family unit and that each one is special. Angela’s depictions of Georgie’s changing feelings are beautifully captured throughout.

Definitely a book to add to family bookshelves and primary class collections. In the latter it would make an excellent resource for a topic on families.

Colour and Me!

Colour and Me!
Michaela Dias-Hayes
Owlet Press

I’ll never forget, back in the day when I was doing my very first teaching practice in a primary school in south London coming upon a six year old West Indian boy, Errol, during an art session with white paint all over his hands – backs and fronts – trying to paint his face white too. ‘I hate by brown skin’ he said. That memory has stayed with me ever since and it saddens me that in the twenty first century, Michaela’s young son should have said something similar to her, prompting her to create this celebration of brown skin.

Michaela’s narrator is an adorable little girl who like many children of her age, loves finger painting. She shares with readers, her pet turtle Myrtle and her grandmother her experiments in colour mixing using the three primary colours.

First she makes orange by mixing red and yellow, then mixes yellow and blue, which results in

the same colour as her turtle and so on. Putting all three primary colours together gives her brown, which she recognises as her own colour. “This is ME. This colour suits me … PERFECTLY!” she announces and then goes on to create a glorious rainbow shaped design on the wall …

The positivity of both the rhyme and the glorious illustrations in this, the first of Michaela Dias-Hayes’ books as both author and illustrator, shine through on every spread of this, the first of a new series.

Nen and the Lonely Fisherman / Love Grows Everywhere

Nen and the Lonely Fisherman
Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew
Owlet Press

Far out to sea lives Nen; he’s a merman who loves exploring but nonetheless has an empty feeling in his heart. Every night he sits beneath a starry sky singing to the sea whose waves carry his words of hope but Nen remains alone when he returns to the seabed.

Despite his father Pelagios’s warnings, Nen’s explorations of the world beyond his own lead him to discover fishing boats beyond which lives Ernest, a lonely fisherman who also feels something is lacking in his life.

One night Ernest hears Nen’s song and feeling something in his heart, he sets off in his boat to find the owner of this magical voice. So it is that a bond develops between Nen and Ernest. However Pelagios urges his son to stay away from the humans who are harming the oceans. Nen pays no heed however for he feels that the gentle, kind Ernest is special and their nightly meetings continue.

As Pelagios’ anger and sadness increase they unleash a terrible storm that puts Ernest’s life in danger as he’s thrown from his rickety boat into the foaming deep. Can Nen possibly come to his rescue

and if so, might it just change the mind of his father?

Washed through with an important conservation message, Ian Eagleton’s soft-spoken, lyrical tale of acceptance and love is compelling and perfectly paced, helped in no small part by James Mayhew’s powerfully atmospheric illustrations that include a wonderful full-length vertical scene of Nen searching the depths for Ernest, as well as small vignettes and double page spreads.

There’s love too in:

Love Grows Everywhere
Barry Timms and Tisha Lee
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

‘Love grows everywhere…
From country farm to city square
From desert village, hot and dry,
to mountain home where eagles fly
Through Barry Timms’ gentle rhyming text and Tisha Lee’s vibrant illustrations we share a family’s love, not only for one another but also for the plants they grow, nurture, sell, and give to members of their local community, newcomers especially. When reading this It’s impossible not to feel the various ways love is shown and shared

be it within the family, the richly diverse community or anywhere else: for love is a gift that helps to make the world a brighter, happier place; it keeps on growing and there’s sufficient for everyone, everywhere. It might just take some time for its magic to happen.

How wonderful it would be if this heartfelt book could show the way to everyone, in every place where such love is yet to manifest itself.

Sunflower Sisters

Sunflower Sisters
Monika Singh Gangotra and Michaela Dias-Hayes
Owlet Press

This is the first in the publisher’s new ‘own voice’ series of picture books. The story focuses on Amrita and her best friend Kiki, both of whose families have weddings to celebrate.

It’s when a taxi arrives carrying Amrita’s Aunty that things start getting a little difficult. Aunty has outdated views and her negative comments about skin colour do not go down well with the rest of Amrita’s South Asian family, not with the bride and especially Mum and Dad. “We need to teach (people) that the skin we are in is EXACTLY as it is meant to be.” Mum tells Amrita and on the wedding day itself she continues to support and empower the girl

who looks amazing in her gorgeous yellow lehenga.

As bride Jas and the groom are bidding farewell to the family,

Amrita hears music coming from over the road where Kiki and her Nigerian family are having a wonderful time celebrating too and Amrita is allowed to peep in at the dancing.

Kiki and Amrita then make each other a promise: henceforward they’ll both ensure that every day they feel like sunflowers … and so they did …

It’s sad that familial colourism, indeed colourism of any form, still continues to wield its influence and this beautiful book will, one truly hopes go some way towards changing people’s minds as well as empowering young women to feel positive about themselves, no matter what colour their skin is.

I recall some years back when visiting Ranakpur temple in Rajasthan being approached by two beautiful young Indian women. One of them put her arm next to mine and said, “Your fair skin is beautiful, my brown skin is too dark.” I felt hugely saddened by her comment and assured her that she was beautiful. We sat and talked for a while, she told me she was getting married soon and even invited me to her wedding. If only I’d had this book back then to give her.

Debut children’s book illustrator, Michaela Dias-Hayes’ vibrant scenes with the gorgeously patterned clothing of many of the characters, as well as those golden sunflowers, make every spread a delight in this much needed book.

Omar, the Bees and Me

Omar, the Bees and Me
Helen Mortimer and Katie Cottle
Owlet Press

One of my favourite weekend walks takes me past a goat willow or pussy willow tree that my partner and I call ‘the buzzing tree’. In spring it’s alive with bees and you can hear them busily working long before you reach the tree. You can almost hear a similar buzz emanating from the cover of this new picture book.

Said buzz is set in motion when newcomer Omar takes a slice of his mum’s special honey cake into school for show and tell. He talks of how once upon a time back in Syria his grandpa who grew apricot trees and jasmine, was a keeper of bees.

This sets teacher Mr Ellory-Jones thinking and before long the members of his class have decorated the entire corridor outside their classroom with paper jasmine flowers and the children are pretending to be buzzy bees. He also tells his pupils about the importance of bees and of growing bee-friendly flowers for them to feed on. The children’s questions prompt further explanation and during playtime, having observed the greyness of her surroundings, Maisie (the story’s narrator) comes up with a wonderful idea. “We should make a REAL bee corridor … All the way from our school to the park next to my grandad’s garden. He’s got a beehive!”

With the backing of their teacher, the class order packets of wildflower seeds. Seeds they sprinkle into envelopes with growing instructions, requesting recipients to put the pots on their windowsills.

Next day operation delivery is carried out and then the waiting starts.
When spring finally arrives, there’s evidence that people have done as asked …

and by the time summer comes two good things have happened. Maisie and Omar have become best friends and there are wild flowers in abundance stretching from school to park. Grandad too is thrilled to have an abundance of bees in his garden.

A new school year starts and now it’s Maisie’s turn to talk at show and tell: her chosen object – a jar of honey from her grandad’s bees. Hurrah! Can you guess what Omar brings into school to share the following day … (There’s even a recipe included).

With themes of sustainability, the environment, intergenerational relationships, and connectedness, this is a smashing book to introduce young children to the importance of protecting and enhancing the natural world, in particular our precious bees.

Katie Cottle’s inclusive, mixed media illustrations complement the story beautifully: she captures the mood and feeling of the classroom, street and garden perfectly.

The Tooth Fairy and the Home of the Coin Makers / The Tooth Fairy and the Magical Journey / Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon

The Tooth Fairy and the Home of the Coin Makers
The Tooth Fairy and the Magical Journey

Samuel Langley-Swain and Davide Ortu
Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon
Samuel Langley-Swain and Jessica Rose
Owlet Press & The Royal Mint

The Tooth Fairy titles are a contemporary take on the tooth fairy tradition that divulges the fairy’s time-honoured teamwork with the original maker of coins.
In the first story we meet twins Grace and Ollie and their Grandpa at whose home they spend every weekend. The twins are thrilled when they both manage to get their wobbly tooth to pop out and rush excitedly to reveal their gaps to Grandpa an erstwhile employee at The Royal Mint. 

He explains that the tooth fairy will pay them a visit that night, exchanging the teeth for a coin apiece; he also makes little pouches to facilitate the exchange.

Excitement rules when the following morning the pouches both contain a gold coin, and then Grandpa shows the twins his own coin collection. He tells them how the Mint acts as a training school for the fairies and how once situated in London it has relocated to a Welsh valley. At the end of the story the twins lose another tooth each and cannot wait to share the news with their Grandpa.

In the second story, summer has come and the twins are losing more teeth. A sleepover at Grandpa’s is arranged. During the evening he regales the children with tales of a fairy, gold coins and a fearsome dragon; and tells them about his time as a Coin Minter for Her Majesty. Eager to learn how to fly, that night the twins set a trap for the tooth fairy but instead they’re visited by the Wensleydale Watch-Mouse and he’d spotted their trap.

When Grandpa, disturbed by all the noise, finds out what they’ve been up to, he’s far from pleased but asks the mouse to take them to his favourite place. Something magical happens and off they all go on an exciting journey of discovery …

Told in Samuel Langley-Swain’s rhyming text accompanied by Davide Ortu’s lively, funky illustrations of gappy-mouthed children, Grandpa and an entourage of fairies and more, these stories will fascinate youngsters especially, when they lose that first tooth.

For a slightly younger audience is Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon, another rhyming tale, set in the relocated Royal Mint in Wales. Here, one night among the golden coins an egg appears from which emerges a tiny dragon.
Next morning the coin makers discover the hatchling naming it Dilwyn (truth) and caring for him. They bestow on him the task of guarding the coins and one night his powers are put to the test when a pair of robbers break in …

This clever interweaving of a fun story with real history will entertain little ones and the book will make an especially worthwhile purchase should they visit Llantrisant where the story is set.

The Blanket Bears

The Blanket Bears
Samuel Langley-Swain and Ashlee Spink
Owlet Press

Here’s a little book, written by an adoptive Dad that provides an outline of the adoption process from a child’s point of view.

The author’s story of two little bears removed from a dangerous situation, doesn’t gloss over the fact that adoptive children will have had troubling experiences that they bring with them into their ‘forever’ homes, and thus provides an honest sensitive look at the adoption journey that the very young can relate to.

Herein we meet and follow the two little bears from the time they’re visited by a care worker, Tilly, one snowy day. She secures them a temporary foster home where the two begin to feel safe while their carers, Bailey and Niko make sure that their foster ‘children’ know this is a temporary arrangement until Tilly has found them a ‘forever’ home.

One day she arrives with a huge smile and a picture book about a family and the little bears’ new home, explaining that they’ll soon be having a visit from their ’forever family’.

All goes well and very soon the little bears, with mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension leave Bailey and Niko and move into their permanent and very loving home.

Ashlee Spink’s illustrations portray the emotions of the little bears and the characters who help them beautifully, showing both the downs and the ups the main characters’ experience.

Endorsed by Adoption UK this is a book for early years settings to have in their collections, as well as for adopters and their children.