Strange Happenings with Winnie and Wilbur: The Bug Safari / Ghoulia and the Mysterious Visitor

Winnie and Wilbur: The Bug Safari
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

As Winnie and Wilbur picnic in the garden their dropped crumbs are collected by ants.

Winnie is fascinated and wants a closer look. Out comes her wand and with a wave and a shout, witch and cat are transformed into tiny, tiny beings. Wilbur is not impressed, especially when a bird lands in the grass in search of some lunch and even less so when the postman’s boots nearly squash both him and Winnie flat.

The obvious thing would be to make an enlarging spell but Winnie’s wand is stuck in a bush out of reach and anyway it’s now far too big for her to wave.

Are the two of them destined to stay forever tiny?

The countless fans of this series will be fascinated by the scaled down world in which its star characters find themselves and especially enjoy the garish-looking minibeasts that appear to dwarf Winnie and Wilbur.

Ghoulia and the Mysterious Visitor
Barbara Cantini
Amulet

If you’ve not yet encountered Ghoulia, let me introduce her: she’s a zombie girl who lives in Crumbling Manor along with Auntie Departed, Tragedy (dog) and other rather weird residents.

One rainy evening when the young zombie is feeling particularly bored, partly because her aunt has been totally absorbed with gardening and in particular tending her Chatterbox Ivy, an unexpected visitor arrives. He announces himself as Cousin Dilbert, (a cousin Ghoulia didn’t know existed) invited by her aunt to come on a visit.

But why invite such a fault-finding, demanding character? Off goes Ghoulia to find her aunt and ask the reason, but she is nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile another visitor arrives – one of Ghoulia’s friends thanking her for his invitation, also penned by her aunt.
More and more of her friends arrive, each holding similar invitations.

Things get ever more strange though and at one point the piano seems to be playing without a pianist and then Theresa (another of Ghoulia’s friends) disappears too.

After a search, the mystery is finally solved, thanks in no small part to her cousin and for once, everyone – even Dilbert – seems happy.

Out of this world zany, but just the right length for new solo readers who will especially enjoy Cantini’s detailed, mock-scary colour illustrations and the idea of a seemingly harmless plant turning carnivorous.

Jazz Dog

Jazz Dog
Marie Voigt
Oxford Children’s Books

Segregation rules in a world populated by dogs and cats. Dogs play only dog music; cats only play cat music.

However there’s one dog that isn’t happy with this separatist regime; his music is different.

One night he hears a beautiful sound coming through an open window and he’s mesmerised. He’s determined to learn to play like the Jazz Cats, but the cats won’t help so he decides that he must teach himself cat music.

Borrowing instruments and books he sets about learning cat jazz and it feels right.

As he passes the theatre a sign announcing a jazz contest catches his attention. What an opportunity to show his talent; but a dog performing in a cat contest?

Shock horror.

The theatre is packed to capacity with growling dogs and hissing cats. The jazz dog has a crisis of confidence but thanks to some feline encouragement, he decides to stay and play.

Who would have believed that the actions of one determined little dog could have such amazing consequences …

Marie Voigt’s uplifting rendition gets right to the heart of individuality and is a reminder that every one of us is entitled to follow our own path, and to find the inner courage and confidence to stand up for what we know is right, for ourselves and also for others.

A must for families, and for classroom sharing and discussion.

Winnie and Wilbur: The Monster Mystery / Princesses Save the World

Winnie and Wilbur:The Monster Mystery
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

In the latest Winnie and Wilbur adventure we find the witch regretting not having trimmed back some of the forest of trees that now surrounds her house, and pondering upon the maker of a trail of footprints across her garden.
Wilbur is reluctant to investigate fearing it’s a monster but even so they both sally forth.
Trip hazards lead the pair to mount the broomstick but that only ends with Wilbur crash-landing upon, so he thinks, ‘a big hairy monster’. Suddenly he’s surrounded by green hairy beasties that, having removed the debris from his fur,

turn out to be friendly; not the footprint makers then, decides the moggy.

Winnie meanwhile is hunting for her cat and soon resorts to her wand with which she magics a maze-like path

that eventually leads her to the object of her search.

Time to head home but that still leaves the question of the forest surrounding their house with darkness.

Tada! Winnie has an idea: if you can’t move the forest, maybe there’s another way; and out comes her magic wand once more …
As for the foot-print maker: well, we’d better ask Wilbur.

Winnie and Wilbur’s escapades never fail to delight and so it is with this one, which has a rather greener look about it than most of Valerie and Korky’s books in this series.

Princesses Save the World
Savannah Guthrie, Allison Oppenheim and Eva Byrne
Abrams

The pants-wearing princesses have a mission. When Princess Penelope Pineapple learns that Princess Sabrina Strawberry is in trouble on account of a lack of bees she knows she must help. The crops have failed and so there’ll be no fruit at all.

Fortunately however, Penny has plenty of bees that she cares for and so summoning her princess pals she promises to return.

The task in hand is one requiring co-operative teamwork and a conference is called and it seems that others too have had a bad fruit yield.

They gather supplies, construct new hives to house Penelope’s bees and then all that’s needed is the little insects themselves.

To get them buzzing into the hives the princesses create a deliciously aromatic scent that soon gets them swarming.

Thereafter it’s action stations and off they go back to Strawberry Shores where the bees are released and …

As the author reminds her readers on the final page, Sabrina Strawberry’s bee crisis is now one that due in large part to harmful pesticide use and environmental changes, has become all too common and honeybee numbers are on the decline. If Savannah and Allison’s story inspires young readers (who will doubtless delight in the jazzy outfits Eva Byrne has dressed the princesses in) to get involved in the cause of these crucial little creatures, then in addition to providing an enjoyable tale its creators will have done their bit to raise awareness of the bee crisis.

Red and the City

Red and the City
Marie Voigt
Oxford Children’s Books

If you thought you knew the story Little Red Riding Hood, then think again. I certainly thought I was pretty familiar with a considerable number of versions both traditional and the ‘fractured’ variety, (especially as this blog is a variation on the name), but Marie Voight’s is something altogether different.

Red has now become sufficiently trustworthy and grown up to visit her Grandma on her own.Taking a cake as a present for her gran and Woody the dog as company, she begins by following her mum’s instructions to “Follow the heart flowers”, cross the road carefully, stay on the path, and not speak to anyone.

Hunger pangs however strike and Red decides to have just a small piece of the cake; but it’s an especially tasty one and pretty soon, the child has devoured the whole thing.

She decides to buy her Grandma some flowers as a gift instead. This means just a small, brief diversion from the path or so she tells Woody.
Soon though, Red has completely forgotten about her mission and instead wanders here and there making a purchase but not of flowers;

and before long she is utterly lost and in the grip of the consumerist urban wolf.

Indeed, she’s swallowed up.

Suddenly a bark wakens her and remembering what really matters, Red finds her own way back onto the path and eventually reaches her Grandma’s home, albeit rather late in the day.

All ends happily with talk and cake – one Grandma has specially baked for the occasion earlier – and a bedtime story … I wonder what that might have been.

This contemporary telling of the traditional tale is, can you believe, Marie Voigt’s picture book debut and what a delicious one it is.

From start to finish, children will simply adore discovering the wolvish elements in her scenes as they relish Marie’s telling, whether or not they fully appreciate the issues of consumerism and self-determination that older readers might.
The limited colour palette is perfect for the story and the special loving bond between Grandma and Red shines through in the final spreads.