Leila The Perfect Witch / Winnie and Wilbur: The Festival of Witches

Leila The Perfect Witch
Flavia Z.Drago
Walker Books

Young Leila is a multi-talented little witch with awards for fast flying, cunning conjuring, sneaky shape-shifting and crafty carving. However, there’s one trophy she longs to add to the display cabinet – her dream is to win the Magnificent Witchy Cake-Off. Leila comes from a long line of baking experts and this year she’s at last old enough to enter the contest and has high hopes of claiming the prize. Then comes a big shock: in contrast to her other endeavours, Leila finds that the requisite skills for becoming an expert in the Dark Arts of Patisserie elude her. Not so her determination however. She eschews having fun with her siblings and devotes her time to creating that perfect recipe – with disheartening results. What will her family think? It’s not what she anticipated.

Instead, her sisters offer to help. Leila accepts, learns a lot and thoroughly enjoys the time they spend together.

When the night of the event arrives, she overcomes her nerves and does her best.
Leila doesn’t win that trophy but she does learn something very important: there’s more than one way to feel like a winner and sharing an experience and being supported by a loving family are wins for her.

Take one little witch, a supportive family, a froggy friend, a bowlful of whimsy, lashings of visual humour, spoon in a visitor from another picture book, mix them all together and the result is a very sweet, satisfying story with an agreeable message.

Winnie and Wilbur: The Festival of Witches
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

Winnie and Wilbur have been enchanting children for about thirty-five years and still the magic holds good. Now it’s time for the two of them to have a holiday – a very special one on an island in the middle of the ocean. So, with suitcase packed off they fly to the Festival of Witches. It’s an amazing event attended by witches from all over the world and a considerable number of cats too.

There are opportunities to learn new spells, dance, sing, eat lots and generally have a great time. When she’s about to depart, Winnie receives lots of invitations from other witches to come and pay them a visit; these Winnie stashes in her suitcase. Now this had happened on previous occasions but Winnie had never responded to any such invitations. However after a few days in her own home, Winnie begins to miss the company of the other witches. Out come those invitations and she goes through them.

Selecting four places to visit, Winnie and Wilbur go first to a tree house, then to a mountain top residence, a seashore castle owned by three witches and finally, a lighthouse.

Once again though, the peace and quiet of home on their return is a tad underwhelming; but then …

Korky Paul’s vibrant, richly detailed illustrations of the diverse witch community and their interactions will keep youngsters entertained for hours, long after they’ve heard this thoroughly enjoyable story read aloud.

The Huddle

The Huddle
Sean Julian
Oxford Children’s Books

When albatross chick, Alba, feels the time is right she spreads her wings and taking advantage of the wind, takes to the air. Her flight takes her away from everything familiar and as she searches the sea beneath for food, she fails to notice the huge wave coming up behind. Crash! Alba lands up on a rocky shore but her wing is damaged to that it won’t move. Exhausted and in pain, Alba falls asleep.
When she wakes, she sees a penguin close by. The penguin drops a fish beside her.

Over the days and weeks, more friendly penguins come sometimes bringing her fish, but always making Alba feel cared for and safe from potential harm. Alba loves the playful penguins and little by little she forgets about flying through the sky. Then one day at sundown she notices that her friends look troubled. Dark storm clouds are brewing and there’s a chill wind. The penguins huddle protectively around her

and eventually she falls asleep encircled in their love. After many days the storm abates and Alba wakes to see lots of excited penguin activity as the sun begins to come up on the horizon. Her friends stretch out their wings expectantly, not to fly but to feel its rays. For Alba though, with her wing now mended, it is departure time. Difficult though it is, she stretches out her wings and lifts off to the sound of cheering penguins. Penguins that she will never forget; she’ll cherish those memories and use that love she felt in their company as a model for raising her very own little chick.

The care and concern shown by that penguin colony is a wonderful example of how a simple act of kindness can make all the difference to a struggling individual. Despite its Antarctic setting, this story leaves you with a wonderful warm feeling inside. Sean Julian’s illustrations convey so well both the chill of the landscape and the compassion of the penguins.

The Worry Jar

The Worry Jar
Lou John and Jenny Bloomfield
Oxford Children’s Books

Frida is an inveterate worrier; she worries about big things and little things. She also collects pebbles and the weight of her worries feels as heavy as that of the pebbles; indeed she picks up one for every worry. It might be the weather, what she should wear to walk to school, has she packed everything in her school bag. When she arrives, she worries about where to sit in class and what to do at playtime. All these things leave her rather left out of things and weighed down with pebbles. Then at playtime she comes upon a shiny black pebble on the ground and puts it in her pocket. Still she worries though, about having tea with a friend and at bedtime, about a lost toy, Rabbit. Instead of her usual cuddly companion, she takes her new pebble to bed; it’s warm and smooth. Could it work as a substitute for Rabbit perhaps.

The worries continue all week; then on Sunday, Frida’s favourite day her beloved Granny comes to visit. Granny senses her anxiety and as the two make jam together, she tells Frida that everybody has worries, even herself, and worrying only makes things worse.

Perhaps Granny’s large empty jar might help as a collector of Frida’s worry pebbles? It’s definitely worth a try, so in go all the pebbles save her special black one. Several days pass: has Frida finally been able to put that black pebble in the jar with the others? What do you think?

Perceptive and empathetic: Lou John’s telling with Jenny Bloomfield’s carefully observed illustrations that are full of sensitivity and beautifully capture Frida’s emotions throughout, show young children that it is possible to manage those anxious feelings that beset us all from time to time.

How to Catch a Rainbow

It’s exciting to be part of the blog tour for this uplifting book – thank you to the publishers for inviting me.

How To Catch a Rainbow
Naomi Jones and Ana Gomez
Oxford Children’s Books

Meet the adorable Freya, a rainbow lover: she delights in its bright colours and its curved shape. In fact her greatest wish is to have a rainbow of her very own..After searching everywhere she turns to science to make one herself; however she has no success. Refusing to give up on her dream, she comes up with another idea. Clad in her rainbow-hunting attire, clutching a net and with a rucksack of equipment off she goes to collect items of the constituent colours. This task is not without its challenges 

but resilience is key and mindfulness helpful; eventually Freya has gathered something for each of the seven colours.

Inspecting her rainbow colours back at home, Freya is disappointed.

Will she ever get that longed-for rainbow? Can she find yet another way to obtain her heart’s desire? Perhaps, with the support of an understanding Dad.

Try your upmost to follow your dream but equally, be ready to adapt and widen your horizons are key messages in this enchanting story of an imaginative girl who will surely capture your heart as she uses her creativity and determination to fulfil her wish. Ana Gomez’s portrayal of the spirited Freya truly captures the ups and downs of her rainbow quest. Listeners will love her attire and relish the opportunity to go on a rainbow hunt through the book’s pages once they’ve heard the story.

Before sharing the book I asked for some suggestions for the colour I was representing and these are the responses:
A bunch of lavender from the fields of Provence.
Violets collected from a forest. I’d put the petals in an airtight container and they could last up to a month.’
I would go out and find red berries and blueberries on the bushes, squeeze them together over something to catch the juice, then add water if the colour is too dark.
A scabious flower from the common.
A huge thistle flower.’

Amazing Animal Tales: Little Tiger / Amazing Animal Tales: Baby Koala and Bugs / Space

Amazing Animal Tales: Little Tiger
Anne Rooney and Carolina Rabei
Amazing Animal Tales: Baby Koala
Anne Rooney and Qu Lan
Oxford Children’s Books

These, first of a new series, follow the survival stories of baby animals. You can use them either as narrative stories of each animal baby or, if you open the flaps (four per book) as a combination of story and information. Each has the additional interactive feature of a creature to look for on every spread and sometimes, a question which needs some investigation by the child to answer.
Little Tiger lives in the Asian tropical rainforest and when we first meet him, is snuggled up with his mother and fellow cubs in a safe warm den.
We then see the cub being suckled before venturing outside into the sunlight of the noisy habitat where there’s time for some playful fighting with the other cubs. There’s a near encounter with a noisy elephant after which Mama carries her tired cub back to the den. However this protectiveness can’t continue and Mamma Tiger must teach her cubs to hunt if they are to thrive.

That still leaves time for some playfulness and a quick dip before sleep time.

The Australian Bush is the setting for Baby Koala. This little joey, like other koalas, spends all its time in the eucalyptus trees sleeping and feeding, either suckled by its mother, or about nine months later, eating eucalyptus leaves. Dangers come in the form of hungry owls and forest fires caused by the intense heat but Mum koala still keeps a protective watch on her Baby Koala, even after it’s outgrown her pouch and instead is carried on her back.

The texts are engaging and will hold a young child’s interest and the illustrations from, in Little Tiger, Carolina Rabei and in Baby Koala, Qu Lan include lots of detail of the flora and fauna of the animals’ respective habitats to explore and talk about. Both titles would be good additions to foundation stage collections and home bookshelves.

Written in a totally different style and for an older audience:

Bugs
Space

Noodle Fuel and Rich Watson
Little Tiger

These two titles in a new Brain Bursts series are characterised by comical illustrations, simple, with quirky edge diagrams, and contained within fact boxes, a wealth of information is presented in a light-hearted style, complete with speech bubbles from the bugs themselves.

It’s incredible to read on the opening page of Bugs that insects make up almost three quarters of all animal species on Earth. Then after an introductory spread readers meet among others, bees, ladybirds, grasshoppers and crickets, damselflies and dragonflies, moths and ants. Can you believe that there are estimated to be ten quadrillion ants on our planet – 10,000,000,000,000,000 – that is indeed a ‘very big number’. I was amazed to discover that there are more than 10,000 different ant species.

Among the most bizarre facts though is one found on the ‘Top Ten Weird Bugs’ spread: did you know that honeybees have hairy eyeballs? There’s also a fun activities page, instructions on how to play Beetle – a game I’ve not played since I was a child – and a final glossary.

Space is similar in tone and covers such topics as stars and star maps, satellites, space travel, space junk (apparently there are such unlikely things as a pair of pliers and a spatula floating around somewhere in space), black holes and red dwarfs. Several space scientists and cosmonauts make an appearance and the book ends with some activities and a glossary. 

‘Boredom-free guaranteed!’ is claimed on the cover: I can’t imagine any child being bored by either of these books.

Peggy the Always Sorry Pigeon

Peggy the Always Sorry Pigeon
Wendy Meddour and Carmen Saldaña
Oxford Children’s Books

Try as she might Peggy Pigeon manages to please nobody; all she succeeds in doing is getting in the way and apologising for so doing. The scruffy pigeons, the road sweeper, and a yappy dog all shoo her out of their way, watched unbeknown to Peggy, by a seagull that introduces herself as Joan.

Joan too receives an immediate apology from Peggy but she in response tells the pigeon to stop saying sorry when she’s done nothing to apologise for. She also calls Peggy’s explanations ‘Nonsense’ and goes on to explain why. She insists Peggy must stand up for herself and goes on to support the pigeon in her efforts so to do. Little by little Peggy’s confidence grows as she gives as good as she gets to the very same characters that treated her unkindly.

I love her ‘SOGGY HAT SANDWICH’ and other retorts that definitely give her bossy persecutors a big surprise.

By the end of the day when Peggy and Joan relax together on the water as the sun sets, Peggy thanks her new friend and also gives her supportive seagull pal something of a surprise; seemingly Joan has done her job even better than she thought.

With its lovely, somewhat unexpected finale, Wendy Meddour’s tale of learning to stand up for yourself, supportiveness and friendship is an empowering story to share with young listeners who will love the opportunity to emulate Peggy’s retorts as she stands up for herself and enjoy Carmen Saldaña’s splendidly expressive illustrations of the action: the looks on the faces of the various characters – avian and otherwise – are wonderful.

Move Mountain / Ebb and Flo and the Sea Monster

Move Mountain
Corrinne Averiss and Greg McLeod
Oxford Children’s Books

Although the hills around Mountain receive the sun’s rays each morning, because the sun always rises behind him, his face stays in the shade. So much does he long to feel sun’s beaming warmth that he tells Bird he wishes he were able to turn around. Bird flies off to seek help from Bear and the two of them push with all their might but Mountain remains firmly as he was.

Other ideas are tried including the use of music for conjuring up an image of the sun and although Mountain loves this, it only serves to make him want more than ever to see the sun rise.

However Bird has one last idea tucked beneath her feathers. Can this one possibly be a success?
Perhaps it’s not possible to move a mountain in the physical sense but nonetheless this particular Mountain is more than happy with what he sees at dawn next day.
This beautiful tale celebrates friendship, kindness, thinking outside the box and ingenuity. Truly the sun’s warm glow shines forth in Corrinne’s words and Greg McLeod’s gently humorous illustrations.

Ebb and Flo and the Sea Monster
Jane Simmons
Graffeg

As Flo sits with Granny sharing a local paper and focussing on a picture of Morgawr the mythical sea monster, Ebb’s ball bounces away and so begins this wonderful moonlit adventure as they search for the ball which goes overboard on their way home across the bay, and perhaps for a sighting of Morgawr too. But they find themselves marooned and have to camp put on the beach.

As Mum, Flo and Ebb gather around the fire, listen to nature’s sounds and stare out at the star-filled sky, they wonder about the enormous monster that might or might not be lying in wait for them somewhere out at sea. Later with Flo tucked up under a blanket, Mum has to leave the tent to collect more firewood. There in the shadows are Flo, Ebb, that bouncy ball – again – and the possibility of a scary monster lurking close at hand.

This latest of Jane Simmons’ modern classic rereleases, with its softly spoken words and beautifully hued, hazy illustrations will surely delight a new generation of young children as much as it did those who encountered Ebb and Flo over twenty years ago.

The Marvellous Doctors For Magical Creatures

The Marvellous Doctors For Magical Creatures
Jodie Lancet-Grant and Lydia Corry
Oxford Children’s Books

Here’s a new and magical tale from creators of The Pirate Mums, team Jodie Lancet-Grant (author) and Lydia Corry (illustrator).

Young Ava is an aspiring doctor and loves to assist her fathers in their surgery and there’s nothing she likes better than having a mystery to solve. That she certainly has in the case of unicorn, Glitterbug and her dads give her permission to go out the following morning in search of clues. However, having spent all day among the unicorns as they prepare for a party, she hasn’t found anything to help solve Glitterbug’s tummy trouble mystery. Surely though no magical creature has a problem that cannot be solved by the Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures? 

Back goes Ava the following day, more determined than ever to discover what’s bugging Glitterbug: she can’t find her among the partying unicorns 

but eventually Ava discovers the ailing unicorn causing her to dash back to join the others although it’s evident to Ava that Glitterbug is faking her enjoyment. Then suddenly down comes the rain and soon it becomes clear to Ava that Glitterbug has undergone a change. More than one in fact.

With its sparky words and vibrant, detailed illustrations, this cracking book celebrates divergence, determination, doctors, finding new friends and the occasional rainbow.

Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic / Isadora Moon and the Shooting Star

Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic
Emma Finlayson-Palmer and Heidi Cannon
UCLAN Publishing

Meet Autumn Moonbeam lover of dance and gymnastics and enthusiastic watcher of dance shows on spell-a-vision. Imagine her delight when she learns of a try-out for Sparkledale Dance Academy’s competitive dance team, Black Cats: she’s so excited she can barely concentrate in her Potions lesson in school. Once back home she and her two friends Leif and Batty practise their moves in Autumn’s garden.

There’s a rather large problem though, her arch enemy Severina Bloodworth is also trying out for the team and she’s pretty amazing. Autumn suffers a crisis of confidence: what if she’s not good enough?
Then comes audition day. There are highs and lows as the event proceeds in front of the three coaches: will Autumn secure one of the four places on offer?

Emma Finlayson’s spell-tastic tale of whirling, twirling young witches is a delight. It has some charming characters (and the occasional not so charming one), warm family dynamics, strong friendships and key messages about self belief, overcoming your collywobbles, not forgetting the pure joyful liberating magic of dance. Pure enchantment too are Heidi Cannon’s illustrations: the perfect complement to Emma’s sparkly writing. If you know anyone looking for their next chapter book series, this would be a terrific choice, especially for lovers of dance and magical things.

Isadora Moon and the Shooting Star
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford Children’s Books

Decidedly different Isadora Moon is enormously excited when her teacher Miss Cherry announces that their next class project is space. To get their brains thinking skywards, the homework for that evening is to create something to do with space. Isadora enlists the help of her Dad and that night as they watch the sky from the astronomy tower, what’s that Isadora spies falling earthwards?

A shooting star perhaps? The hunt is on for its landing place.

Then follows an encounter with a new, twinkling friend named Nova, a Glow Sprite who’s not supposed to be there. Moreover, Nova’s moon kitten Pluto is missing and she needs Isadora’s help to find him. Between space lessons with a special visitor, emergency searches in the forest, magical campfires, a glowing sleepover, not to mention moon cheese, Isadora must do all she can to help Nova find Pluto before her new friend has to fly back to the stars in time for her mother’s return.

With her keynote pink, silver and black sparkly cover, and pink and black illustrations throughout, Harriet Muncaster’s fourteenth episode starring our favourite fairy/vampire is full of its usual charm and humour and certain to delight Isadora’s countless fans. They’ll be delighted too, by the Isadorable make and do activities following the story.

Otters vs Badgers

Otters vs Badgers
Anya Glazer
Oxford Children’s Books

Here’s a tale about difference and happily, divergent thinking; and it has a vital lesson for people of all ages, so long as they’re willing to learn from Otters and Badgers.

In this story, said creatures reside on opposite sides of the divide – a river – that they find impossible to share without resorting to pawicuffs over territorial rights. As a consequence to avoid further inflaming the situation, their two leaders decide that no badgers and no otters must EVER cross the river.

Now here’s where the divergent thinker comes in: she’s an otter and her name is Francie. A tad shy by nature, she’s the best baker of cakes anywhere along the river, so say her fellow otters anyhow. Certainly her cake creations are delectable and she loves to invent spectacular new treats too. One day while out hunting for the perfect ingredient for her next batch of baking, so wrapped up in her task is she that she strays into enemy territory.

She’s spotted so doing but fortunately her fast feet carry her out of harm’s way. However it’s not long before there’s a confrontation on otter territory with the badgers demanding to see the marauding otter. While the heated talks continue Francie is busy doing what she always does, emergency or not.

What will be the outcome of her labours now? Could it finally be time to call a truce?

In these increasingly troubled times of ours, it’s easy to draw parallels between this story and the real world. Drawing attention to the futility of conflict, Anya Glazer’s amusing telling in combination with her droll, delightfully detailed illustrations, show that compromise, finding what we have in common and learning to live peacefully side-by-side with others however different they may at first seem, is so much better that hostility.

Don’t miss the recipe for baking yummy chocolate chip cookies at the end of the story.

One More Try

One More Try
Naomi Jones and James Jones
Oxford Children’s Books

Mightily impressed with the tall tower the squares and hexagons are building during a play session, that Circle invites triangle and diamond friends to co-construct a tower of their own. They soon discover that easy as edifice erecting might appear, it’s nothing of the sort; indeed it’s fraught with problems of the balancing kind.

However circle, diamond and triangle aren’t giving up that easily; they decide to undertake a training regime to build up their strength. Now although this additional strength helps a bit, a tumbling tower soon results. Perseverance is the name of the game where Circle is concerned, so can a bit of studying improve things? It does, but the tower still wobbles much more than that of the squares and hexagons.

Down but definitely not out, Circle takes time out to give himself a new angle on the challenge.

While so doing, he receives a message from above and although it takes a bit of re-enthusing all the others, they agree to give it one final try working with Circle’s plan. Will success be the reward for refusing to abandon their aim?

In a manner similar to The Perfect Fit, the Jones partnership cleverly combine themes of problem-solving, determination, imagination and mental toughness with mathematical concepts relating to shape. Naomi’s amusing narrative with its plethora of speech bubbles, mainly of the uplifting kind, together with James’s shape characters that while appearing two-dimensional on the page, prove themselves to be anything but, work in perfect harmony: it can’t be easy to give simple shapes personalities but this illustrator has certainly found a way.

The Friendship Bench

The Friendship Bench
Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus
Oxford Children’s Books

New beginnings is the theme of this beautiful story that celebrates young children’s creative play.

Tilly has just moved to a new home beside the sea: the setting looks gorgeous but she’s very disappointed when her mum tells her that her beloved dog Shadow can’t go into her new school on her first day. Nothing is the same without her canine friend.
At playtime, Tilly is alone and when her teacher notices this he suggests she try the Friendship Bench. However when she gets there, the bench is already occupied. Back to the teacher goes Tilly who tells her to have another try.

The little boy hasn’t vacated it however, so she joins him and after a bit they both decide the bench needs fixing to make it work. They set to work improving it until …

On the way back from school that afternoon Tilly tells her Mummy about how she and Flint transformed the Friendship Bench and about their future plans.

As always, there’s power in both Wendy’s straightforward, finely honed telling and Daniel Egnéus’ dreamlike illustrations. I love his warmth, the occasional gentle humour in the details and the way he puts readers right close to the action.

One to add to foundations stage/KS1 collections and family bookshelves.

No More Peas

No More Peas
Madeleine Cook and Erika Meza
Oxford Children’s Books

Given the chance, young Oliver would restrict his meals to pizza, chips, burgers, cakes and other sweet stuff. However his father insists on giving him carrots – hard ones, broccoli (green and puffy) or a plate of roly-poly peas at dinner times. All of these Oliver donates to the dog.

Time to devise a healthy eating plan, thinks Dad.

Next day off they go into the garden where as Dad informs his son, “I grow vegetables here.” Again Oliver comes up with his usual “YUK!” response. Dad doesn’t give up that easily though and proceeds to tell the boy all about the growing process as well as the wealth of colourful vegetables it’s possible to cultivate. Now Daniel is impressed at the possibility of eating a rainbow: seems as though Dad’s plan is starting to work.

That evening Oliver helps prepare the meal:

there are lots of exciting new veggies to try but what will be the boy’s reaction? Is there at last a vegetable he really truly likes? Happily yes: it’s tiny, spherical and green. So why that title? …

Madeleine Cook’s fun, gently educative story of growing your own vegetables, healthy eating and trying new foods is deliciously illustrated in Erika Meza’s scenes that – like good picture books do – convey so much not said in the words; Oliver’s feelings about Dad’s offerings are superbly captured as are those of the other characters.

Whether or not there’s a fussy eater in your family, (or class) this is a terrific book to share with foundation stage/KS1 children for so many reasons and the classroom potential is enormous.

Favourite Characters Return: Isadora Moon Gets the Magic Pox / Kitty and the Woodland Wildcat

Isadora Moon Gets the Magic Pox
Harriet Muncaster

When Isadora Moon receives the news that after the weekend, her class will be tested on their times tables, she decides to contact her cousin Mirabelle just on the off chance she might be able to offer a maths test avoidance spell. The answer is yes – hence the title of this latest book in the series – and then, armed with a list of the ingredients she’ll need to collect, Isadora sets out to search for them.
Having collected the required items, that night she mixes the potion, rubs some on her face, hides the rest outside and goes off to sleep. However, what happens the next morning isn’t exactly what Isadora had been hoping for. Yes it does result in her missing school, but the side-effects are shall we say a fluffy, magic-induced chaos that’s impossible to keep from her Mum …
Is there any chance Isadora can make everything better again?
Isadora is an irresistible delight and although some of those emerging readers who lapped up her first stories may well have moved on to Harriet’s Victoria Stitch books, I’m sure there are plenty more waiting in the wings to meet the little half-fairy, half-vampire in this magical offering.

Kitty and the Woodland Wildcat
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jennie Lovlie


Kitty and her friend and fellow superhero-in-training Ozzy are on a camping holiday with their families. The first night Kitty hears what she’s sure is a cat outside but Ozzy thinks she’s mistaken. Next morning Kitty finds a cat’s pawprints in the mud she follows them and discovers a wild cat. When she tells Ozzy he agrees to stay awake with her that night and together they find her and eventually persuade her they can help her find her missing kittens.
However, the forest is large and it looks as though a storm could be brewing. Kitty and Ozzy are definitely going to have to use their superpowers if they are to have any chance of finding Hollytail’s kittens.
This latest magical adventure, with Jennie Lovlie’s eye-catching two colour illustrations on every spread is, like the previous eight in the series, ideal for readers just starting out on chapter books.

Thanks to the publishers Oxford Children’s Books for sending these titles for review.

Dearest One / The Smile

Dearest One
Arielle Dance and Jenny Duke
Lantana Publishing

Warm, heartfelt affirmations of the kind your loving grandmother might share with you are presented in this book.

Look for rainbows and have fun puddle jumping on rainy days, sow seeds of kindness – their effects will last long after you’re gone, 

dance to the song of the wind – it’s music for your soul; be kind to your body and mindful of what you put in it; draw on your inner power to reach your true potential; develop resilience and understand that neither you nor others can always be winners. Then on those dark days use your inner light to find something to get that flame of yours burning 

and never forget that your ancestors’ magic lies within you always acting as a guide, so never forget the stories they’ve told and remember to pass them on to others too. And always keep an open heart: that way love can find you no matter where you are.

Arielle Dance’s lyrical text convey words of wisdom that are not only important in the here and now, but also thoughts to hold within and draw upon at any time, especially when you’re feeling unsure about the future. In combination with Jenny Duke’s uplifting illustrations into which they’re set, they offer a beautiful book to give a young child, that an adult will surely love reading too.

The Smile
Marie Voigt
Oxford Children’s Books

At the start of a picnic, a baby smiles at an older sibling and the joyful reaction of the recipient has such power it begins a chain response that travels all around the world, eventually coming full circle in this series of visual anecdotes.

The thing about smiles is that we have the power to give an infinite number: a single smile might turn someone’s sadness into happiness there and then; or alternatively a seemingly simple action such as sending a loving message to somebody far away can, after some time has passed, also bring a smile to the face of the receiver; perhaps even somebody unknown.

In the country village and its environs where I currently spend a lot of my time, almost every person one encounters while out walking smiles at you or smiles back at your smile, whereas in suburban London where I spend the rest of my time, it’s relatively rare for somebody to look you in the face, let alone smile. Perhaps if a copy of Marie’s beautifully illustrated book were given to all parents of young children, it might start a smile revolution.

Victoria Stitch Free and Famous

Victoria Stitch Free and Famous
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford Children’s Books

Breaking Wiskling law, Victoria Stitch has escaped from Wiskling Wood and entered the world of humans. Once there she talks to and soon becomes best friends with a young human named Naomi, something that is to have repercussions not only for her but for her twin sister Celestine who is now the wisklings’ queen, as well as for the safety of the entire kingdom.

It’s not long before their friendship has led to fame and indeed adoration for Victoria Stitch, who humans believe to be a fairy.

Meanwhile back in Wiskling Wood, Celestine has learned of her twin’s activities, and greatly alarmed at the possible consequences of her sister’s acclaim in the human’s world, determines to go out in secret, find Victoria Stitch and warn her before it’s too late.

With the help of her loyal friend, Tiska, off she goes, putting herself in great danger; but even if she’s successful in finding her twin, will Victoria Stitch even take notice of what she has to say?

It’s definitely a case of freedom comes at a price: but at the end of the day, is it one Victoria Stitch is prepared to pay? Has the bond between the siblings reached breaking point or is it just too strong, especially when there’s the possibility of a new role for both sisters on the horizon in Wiskling Wood?

With themes of fame and friendship, love and loyalty, this magical tale sometimes frizzles with frights as well as sparkling with the intensity of the enchanting world Harriet has created in this wonderful series.

Emmanuelle (9) shown above couldn’t wait to start reading this new book commenting “The first Victoria Stitch is one of my very favourite books ever.”

Flyntlock Bones: The Ghost of Scarletbeard / Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Shrieking Serpent

Flyntlock Bones: The Ghost of Scarletbeard
Derek Keilty, illustrated by Mark Elvins
Scallywag Press

With the distinct lack of parrot messengers to the Black Hound, crew members Amy and Flint are despairing about where their next meal is coming from, when a mysterious visitor appears asking to buy the ship from Captain Watkins. Fortunately the bemused Captain turns the supposed merchant sailor down; but with little else to do, the two young friends sneak off the ship for a spot of exercise. Suddenly they spy a newspaper stand with the headlines of the Bohemia Times which reads “Countess of Bohemia jewels stolen.”

Back they go to their ship and so begins another case for the pirate investigators.

Having obtained a copy of the newspaper, the Captain together with Flint and Amy head off to visit the Countess, who the youngsters learn, gave the Cap’n his first case as a pirate investigator. The Countess says that she knows who the thief was, once again none other than Scarletbeard, scariest pirate that ever sailed the seas and the original stealer of her jewels, who Cap’n Watkins knows full well is dead beneath the waves. A ghost then? …

The only place to look for those is Davy Jones’s Locker, so now the crew must descend to the murky depths of the Mystic Sea to search for the dastardly being. But he isn’t there so where can he be? Ghost-napped perhaps?

The grisly plot twists and turns but all ends happily for the crew of the Black Hound in this, the third of a terrific trilogy that is full of humour, action and piratical lingo. With plenty of super black and white illustrations by Mark Evans adding to the fun, this piratical tale will appeal to both girls and boys.

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Shrieking Serpent
Kris Humphrey, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Oxford Children’s Books

As Apprentice Guardian, it’s Leo Wilder’s role to ensure that the monsters inhabiting the forest never roam too near to the village; moreover, nobody must know about them apart from the Guardian Henrik and Village Chief, Gilda.

Now after a period of monster inactivity, Leo learns from Henrik that the supply of precious stones with which the lad keeps himself safe, has run out. Consequently, he must go and search for more in the Endless Mines, a labyrinth of tunnels beneath Mammoth Peak. If this doesn’t sound scary enough, Henrik then mentions the Shrieking Serpent, a creature with hearing and sight so sensitive it’s impossible for a living being to pass undetected. All Henrik can offer for protection is a small bottle of powder that when ignited can temporarily blind the Serpent, that and the help of Leo’s Leatherwing friend, Scarla, plus a couple of maps.

With a swamp containing Goretusks to negotiate, forest people lurking (mostly unfriendly ones) and, when he finally reaches his destination, the question of getting the stones from beneath the waterfall and swimming up with them, there’s an enormous challenge ahead. Does Leo possess the special kind of bravery required to do all of that? Perhaps, with Scarla’s assistance and that of an unexpected source.

Again Kris Humphrey delivers a cracking tale with just enough frights to keep readers gripped without causing nightmares, and with Pete Williamson’s splendidly expressive illustrations to make the story even more accessible and exciting, this will be devoured by fans. Those new to the series might want to start at the first bookThe Armoured Goretusk however.

Mayor Bunny’s Chocolate Town

Mayor Bunny’s Chocolate Town
Elys Dolan
Oxford Children’s Books

Mr Bunny is back and he’s feeling a tad bored with his current role in the chocolate factory so he decides to run for mayor of Coop Town which is in desperate need to some repair work. Seeing the mayoral office as an ideal way of increasing his influence he zealously starts his campaign, promising to make the town great again. Does that remind you of anything I wonder?

Initially the town’s residents are delighted by what Mr Bunny promises – new amenities and houses – chocolate naturally, which, so Mr B. says is a fox repellent.

Of course, by now alarm bells should be ringing as readers realise that this particular candidate is merely seeking power, making pledges he has no intention of fulfilling and doing his utmost to discredit his sensible, honest rival, chicken Debbie. His campaign is waged with dirty tricks, a plethora of lies and come election day bribes.

However this is a tale of be careful what you wish for, at least it’s so for Mr Bunny: having been elected, he finds he has some very important lessons to learn in his new role.

As one has come to expect, Elys Dolan’s illustrations are brimming over with deliciously droll details and her wonderful narrative has a wealth of speech bubbles that are just brilliant.

Having read my copy, eagerly seized after her younger brother put it down, my nine-year old relation remarked, “I think this is going to be Dad’s new favourite picture book.” I suspect she’s right for he, along with this reviewer (apart from being chocolate addicts) will draw parallels between the antics of Coop Town’s Mr Bunny and a certain ex mayor of London.

Books For Giving That Keep On Giving

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Things That Go!
Pavilion Books

This book brings together three of William Bee’s much-loved titles – Trucks, Trains and Boats and Planes, and Tractors and Farm Machines, in one bumper volume. I’ve already reviewed each of them on this blog so I won’t repeat myself; rather I’ll suggest that if you have a young child with an interest in things mechanical (or perhaps even yummy sounding breakfast cereals such as those sold down on William’s farm), then unless they already own the individual books, a copy of this totally immersive publication narrated in William Bee’s chatty style with his detailed, gently humorous illustrations, would make a smashing present.

Pippi Longstocking
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child
Oxford Children’s Books

This large format, beautifully produced new edition of a classic has been brought up-to-date with terrific contemporary illustrations from Lauren Child and a new translation by Susan Beard.

We follow Pippi Longstocking on her amazing adventures as she moves, sans parents, into Villa Villekulla with a horse, a monkey, and a big suitcase of gold coins. Despite well-meaning adult villagers’ attempts to guide Pippi, she’d far rather be a wild spirit. She meets Tommy and Annika who very soon become her best friends. These new friends join her on her amusing escapades – leading the police a merry dance, going to school – briefly, joining the circus taking on a strong man and wowing the crowd, dancing a polka with thieves and celebrating her birthday.

Young readers and listeners will delight in their encounters with this intrepid, sometimes outrageous heroine while older ones and adults will rekindle their love of her with this bumper book that would make a super Christmas present.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll & Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Books

It’s always interesting to see new visual interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale and although for me none can outdo those of Tenniel, assuredly Grahame Baker-Smith’s distinctive illustrations, breathe a different kind of life into Carroll’s story.

Every chapter has full page, richly coloured detailed spreads as well as several smaller pictures executed either in blues or sepia. 

One I lingered long over was the double page colour spread of the Mad Tea-Party and an amazing spread it assuredly is. There’s a large iced cake, the upper surface of which is crammed full of liquorice all sorts and what look to be those flying saucer sweets that contain sherbet. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of an egg cup containing an egg and peeking through the crack in its shell is the face of a chick. It’s details such as those that the new generation of readers who go down the rabbit hole , as well as those familiar with the story taking the descent again, will remember.

With illustrations full of mystery and magic and a superb design, this is a terrific gift book.

The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales
edited & illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
NYR Children’s Collection

This anthology contains a dozen ‘literary’ fairytales selected by the husband and wife team to illustrate with their own whimsical touches.

Among those included are Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, Oscar Wilde’s literary The Happy Prince, The Three Wishes told by Barbara Leonie Picard, Arthur Rackham’s classic version of Beauty and the Beast, Elinor Mordaunt’s The Prince and the Goose Girl, a reworking of Grimm’s Goose Girl, Parker Fillmore’s retelling of the Finnish story The Forest Bride, and a tale new to me, A.A. Milne’s Prince Rabbit. With an unexpected final twist, this is an amusing story of a childless king who is urged to name an heir. To that end the king arranges a series of contests for would-be heirs who meet certain criteria; one of which is a rabbit.

I found it fascinating to have such a variety of storytellers side by side in one volume, with the Provensens’ humorous, sometimes dark illustrations and I suspect this is a book that will appeal more to book collectors and older readers with a particular interest in fairy tales, than to child readers.

The Light That Dance in the Night

The Lights That Dance in the Night
Yuval Zommer
Oxford Children’s

With a lyrical narrative and stunningly beautiful illustrations Yuval Zommer allows the dancing lights to tell their own glorious story of their journey from being ‘specks of dust blown to Earth from the Sun’, passing close together through clouds and snowstorms as they discover their purpose as the Northern night-dancing lights.

As they travel, the lights fill the land with happiness and joy, and the air is filled not only with their brightness but also with the singing of whales and ringing of bells.
Their dance also delights the ox and Arctic fox, 

wolves and wild cats, reindeer herds and forest birds.

Humans too are entranced and some of them weave the magical beauty of the lights into their tales. 

Eventually the entire Arctic is united in song and wonder, love and hope beneath the sky wherein those miraculous lights continue to perform their transformative dance.

Truly readers – certainly this one, are transported and uplifted as they turn the pages, reading, looking and feeling awe at the gorgeous scenes Yuval conjures before our eyes.

This is the perfect wintry book to share with children while drinking hot chocolate and snuggling together; or better still, wrap up warm and take it outside to enjoy under the stars : you never know, those magical lights might just appear, dancing across the sky above.

My Mindful A to Zen / Being Healthy / Learning

My Mindful A to Zen
Krina Patel-Sage
Lantana Publishing
As the author/illustrator points out after presenting twenty six haiku ‘for happy little minds’, each of the entries in this book highlights one or more of the ‘five ways to wellbeing’, known to boost mental health and positivity: connecting,

being active, taking notice, keeping on learning and giving.

No matter whether youngsters prefer the great outdoors and all that has to offer,

or to stay indoors getting lost in a good book, or being creative with their favourite materials,

or perhaps spending time in the kitchen cooking a yummy cake (even if it doesn’t quite go to plan), done mindfully, it can be part and parcel of getting the very best out of life.

With its diverse cast of characters bringing to life this alphabet of contented being and doing, Krina Patel-Sage offers youngsters much to think about, talk about and act upon. This teacher/yoga teacher and reviewer heartily endorses this well-being picture book.

Also for fostering children’s wellbeing:

Being Healthy
Learning
Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese
Oxford Children’s Book

These are two new titles in the Big Words for Little People series that offers a very useful resource to early years teachers and other practitioners as well as parents of young children.

Using age-appropriate language, Helen Mortimer takes little ones through the day doing those activities that should foster their Being Healthy. There’s personal hygiene washing and tooth brushing, eating ‘wholesome’ food and drinking plenty, taking exercise that works their muscles, as well as engaging in mood boosting activities, getting out in the sun whenever possible. There are also spreads on allergies, doing things in your own way, being aware of and avoiding potential dangers, the helpers who might provide treatment when there’s an accident or illness, and finally, very important comes sleep.
Inclusive, engaging and interactive, as is Learning. This is a huge topic that begins at birth and continues throughout life but to get the most from it, that learning needs to excite the learners and that’s what this little book aims to do. It encourages questioning, problem solving, taking advantage of technology, developing good concentration, trying hard and taking risks with learning, as well as keeping the mind open to new ideas. Like previous titles, both books have Cristina Trapanese’s lively illustrations, a spread with helpful ideas for adult users and a glossary.

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth / Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Frightmare

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun
Walker Books

It’s great to have young Sona Sharma and her extended family back in another story. Now Sona is alarmed when she hears how much humans are doing to damage Planet Earth as her class talk about global warming, plastic pollution, deforestation and more and after the lessons she and her classmates all sign a pledge to do their bit to look after Planet Earth. Sona resolves to enlist the help of all her family members too, although once home she finds Paati (grandmother) is very preoccupied with perfecting her kolam designs in preparation for an upcoming competition.

Nonetheless, on Saturday Soma sets to work on her caring for the planet plan but her over-zealous electricity saving soon has other family members just a tad irritated, not to mention the disappearance of baby sister Minmini’s nappies.

Time for a family Panchayat as Sona’s grandfather calls it, to look at Sona’s list of changes to be made. There are some compromises but everyone seems satisfied with the outcome of the discussion and Sona goes to school clutching a plan she’s happy about on Monday morning.

That evening however, things happen that make her anything but happy and as a result some high drama ensues. The day ends well though but a new day brings another challenge for Sona when she resolves to get the use of chemicals, plastic and glitter banned in the kolam competition. 

Will she succeed? It might just require a miracle …

I’m an even bigger fan of Sona after this story: she’s certainly a force to be reckoned with. Her enthusiasm and determination are admirable even if they do get her into some tricky situations. I love too the way Chitra has woven into her narrative an explanation from the Ramayana of why the Indian palm squirrel has three stripes.

Jen Khatun’s line drawings are a delight; it’s great to have one, (often containing fine detail) on every spread.

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Frightmare
Kris Humphrey, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Oxford Children’s Books

Leo’s role as apprentice to the Guardian, Henrik, is to protect the village from any monsters that lurk in the encircling forest while keeping his job secret. Even if receiving a summons from Henrik means curtailing his enjoyment of the Spring Festival being celebrated as this story opens.

It’s as well he’s just demonstrated his target hitting prowess at the festival; he’s certainly going to need it in this assignment; but is the truth about his job in danger of being revealed when his close friend Jacob decides to help?

There’s only one thing to do according to The Guardian: Leo must urgently obtain a hair from one of the ghostly Frightmare’s tails before the end of the night. Not a problem then, except that these monsters haunt the higher mountain passes protecting their territory by breathing deadly blue fire from their nostrils.

Can Leo succeed? Perhaps with map in hand and the assistance of his Leatherwing friend, Starla. 

However as he soon discovers, these Frightmares have an unexpected power that will make his task even more difficult: that and the fog. But as Leo tells himself, ‘failure just wasn’t an option’ …

Established fans of the series will eagerly join Leo in this new, splendidly written and illustrated adventure that’s packed with thrills, action and atmosphere. Newcomers will quickly find themselves sucked into the intriguing story too and also enjoy the map and concluding illustrated fact files.

Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door / Mirabelle’s Bad Day

Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door
Lola Morayo, illustrated by Cory Reid
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is the first of a sparkly new series starring Aziza who is fanatical about all things fairy; she’s even named after a type of fairy creature from West African folklore.

On the day this tale unfolds, Aziza is celebrating her birthday and is especially excited by the mysterious parcel containing a fairy door with DIY instructions, that arrives from she knows not where.

The intrigue increases when having found a place to stand it (she’s a flat dweller so it’s not easy), Aziza lying in bed that evening hears a knocking sound seemingly coming from the other side of the decorated door. When she touches its knob, the door opens and she finds herself transported to Shimmerton where she soon makes friends with Princess Peri and nose-twitching shapeshifter Tiko. 

Just the characters she needs to help her take on the Gigglers aka Kendra, Noon and Felly who take possession of the doorknob thus leaving Aziza trapped in Shimmerton without her only means of returning home. This threesome need to learn a few lessons, not least about taking things that don’t belong to them without asking and about kindness and fairness.

With the help of her new friends, will Aziza manage to make it back to her family?

By creative duo Tólá Okogwu and Jasmine Richards writing under the pen name Lola Morayo this is a thoroughly engaging magical story about perseverance and earning respect among other things, that’s just right for new solo readers. In their fantasy setting, they introduce readers to a diverse host of fascinating characters not least a curmudgeonly anthropomorphic clock and a talking unicorn shopkeeper. 

Cory Reid’s black and white illustrations have an appropriate quirkiness about them and are a perfect complement for the text.

I’m sure the delightful Aziza will have youngsters eagerly awaiting her next adventure beyond that Secret Fairy Door.

More magic in

Mirabelle Has a Bad Day
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford Children’s Books

We all have days when everything seems to go wrong and so it is with half fairy, half witch Mirabelle. She’s actually set herself up for one the previous evening by not putting away her spell ingredients before going to bed, as well as forgetting to bring her broomstick in from outside. 

The day in the title begins when she sees the state of her hair on waking and then at breakfast time learns that her brother has finished the rose petal fairy flakes leaving her no option but to have some of the batwing porridge her mum’s made instead. And as for her broomstick …

From then on things get even worse: she arrives at school late and sopping wet, her best friend is absent and she can’t join in the playground games on account of her over large borrowed attire.

Later, at home even bigger disasters are waiting to happen, in part due to the transformation potion Mirabelle made in class, a portion of which she was allowed to bottle up and take home; 

that and the fact that her infuriating brother has gobbled every single one of the remaining chocolate biscuits and is playing with her pet dragon.

Will Mirabelle end up going to bed in a foul mood or will things get better before she closes her eyes?

This enchanting book with its dramatic illustrations ends with some magical Mirabelle extras including a recipe for witchy cakes.

Established fans will likely gobble this (not the cakes) in a single sitting and Mirabelle is sure to gain some new followers too.

Everybody Has Feelings / Respect / I’m the Fire Engine Driver

These are recent titles from Oxford Children’s Books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Everybody Has Feelings
Jon Burgerman

Through his exuberant style illustrations depicting colourful characters of all shapes and sizes in a play park setting, together with a narrative of rhyming couplets, Jon Burgerman presents over twenty feelings that youngsters (as well as zany blobby beings) are likely to experience.

In so doing he acknowledges that it’s perfectly normal to feel say anxious, disappointed,

embarrassed, frustrated, sad or scared as well as confident, calm, proud, and joyful and offers the vocabulary for young children to open up and discuss their emotions as well as listen to others talking about how they feel.

With lots of starting points for circle time sessions, this is just right to share in foundation stage settings especially.

Respect
Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese

This new title in the Big Words for Little People series shows the importance of acknowledging and accepting individual differences and respecting them. It gives examples demonstrating that all lives matter no matter what people look like or believe: that means showing kindness, politeness and abiding by rules. Everybody should feel safe to speak out about their feelings and their lives in general.

Cristina Trapanese illustrates each of the key ideas enacted by a lively cast of characters and Helen Mortimer concludes by suggesting ten things adult sharers can do to get the most from this little book, be that at home or in an education setting.

Add to early years collections.

I’m the Fire Engine Driver
illustrated by David Semple

Here’s a book that allows little ones to switch to imagination mode and step into the shoes of a firefighter, donning the rest of the protective gear, meeting your crew and with siren sounding and flashing lights turned on, driving the fire engine to the scene of the fire in the bakery kitchen.

Part and parcel of the narrative are opportunities for number recognition and counting, joining in with sounds, vocabulary building, following instructions, describing a scene and more.

Through David Semple’s bright, stylistic illustrations and a narrative that makes youngsters feel as though they’re in control, this is a fun book to share either one to one or in a group.

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Sticky Cake Race /Kitty and the Kidnap Trap / Mickey and the Trouble with Moles

These are recent additions to three deservedly popular young fiction series published by Oxford Children’s Books

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Sticky Cake Race
Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

In this latest tasty offering starring sweet-natured Freddie Bonbon, Belville’s best baker, summer is drawing to an end and the town’s inhabitants are busy preparing for an important community event, the Belville Rally.
Contestants have been considering their costumes and preparing their cycles making them race worthy, including Freddie himself who is participating along with his assistant Sophie and his bakery manager Amira who are going to ride what they call a tridem. Freddie is also going to make the cake to be awarded for the best costume.

There’s one person however with eyes on winning the first prize, who will stop at nothing to sabotage things for team Freddie and that’s rival baker Bernard Macaroon.

My mouth was watering at the mere mention of all the yummy cakes and pastries mentioned during this story; but who is the eventual race winner? Suffice it to say there is one very surprising outcome of the whole event, as well as a thoroughly delicious finale and fun illustrations by Alex G. Griffiths throughout.

Kitty and the Kidnap Trap
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie

Superhero in training and still perfecting her powers, Kitty is always on the lookout for ways to help others so she’s more than happy to have the opportunity to look after her friend’s pet hamster Marvin over the weekend.
That night after her first visit to the creature, Kitty feels uneasy and so she decides to don her superhero gear and with Pumpkin alongside, to go back to check Marvin is okay. When she gets there though, the cage is empty. Disaster!

Before you can say ‘rats’ Kitty is hot on the trail. Can she track down Marvin and more importantly, rescue him and return him to the safety of his warm cage before Emily returns?

Young solo readers familiar with the series will lap this latest story up and perhaps if they’ve not read all Kitty’s previous adventures will seek out some of those too. Like this one, they’re all full of Jenny Lovie’s splendid glowing illustrations.

Mickey and the Trouble with Moles
Anne Miller, illustrated by Becka Moor

Ace code cracker Mickey is now a full member of COBRA the secret organisation of animal spies and one night there comes a knocking at her window. It’s Rupert Rat, Head of Animals at COBRA, come to inform her that her help is needed urgently on account of a bank break in perpetrated by the moles that have been extremely busy tunnelling.

Once inside the bank, the COBRA members discover things are getting somewhat chaotic with moles running hither and thither. What on earth (or under it) can they want, surely not money. Then one mole accidentally triggers the security alarm and as smoke spreads everywhere, Rupert decides to follow the escaping moles and gather information, promising to report back in the morning, while the rest of team COBRA head back to HQ. All except Mickey who goes back home before her parents discover her absence.

Next morning Mickey heads back to HQ for the briefing only to learn that there’s some concern as Rupert still hasn’t shown up. Then comes a strange message delivered by a bird. Could it be that Rupert is in need of help.
Now seems the time for the girl to use some of her particular skills – the ability to read newspapers – for instance.

With codes to crack aplenty, traps laid for COBRA members, tension between the underground animals and overground animals and the reappearance of a nefarious character, the countdown is on to find Rupert and get to the bottom of the Impossible Vault mystery.

A fun adventure full of exciting twists and turns with Becka Moore’s illustrations adding to the enjoyment.

The Lion on the Bus / All Aboard the Words Train & All Aboard the Sounds Train

The Lion on the Bus
Gareth P. Jones and Jeff Harter
Farshore

This is a really rumbustious version of the children’s nursery favourite The Wheels on the Bus. It starts with the usual verse but already there’s an anticipation of what’s to come in Jeff Harter’s opening illustration as a maned passenger carrying a bag crosses to get on board the vehicle heading for the park.

Almost instantly the driver is looking alarmed at the RAR-RAR-RAR!” that issues forth and the baby on the bus certainly isn’t happy …

On gets a panther at the next stop, a panther that insists on prowling, ‘PROWL–PROWL-PROWL, …’

By the time a SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-ing crocodile and a trio of H-O-W-O-O-O-O-L-ing wolves have also boarded and are adding to the din, the driver decides he’s had enough and makes a hasty exit,

leaving the passengers – humans (screaming) and animals (jaws gaping wide) to face each other out.

And that’s where we’ll leave them at the ready, perhaps to exit,

with readers and listeners eagerly anticipating a rousing finale …

Assuredly, with Jeff Harter’s hilarious illustrations, Gareth’s is a version to add to early years collections; it’s one that would be enormous fun to act out in a foundation stage setting.

All Aboard the Words Train
All Aboard the Sounds Train

illustrated by Sean Sims
Oxford Children’s Books

No ticket necessary to climb aboard the latest excursions into Oxford Children’s fun World of Learning.
Whichever train you decide to board, you’re sure to enjoy the ride and the destination.

With six lively children plus playful dog, the Words Train is heading for the seaside. Once there, appropriately hatted and sun creamed, the gang will start exploring. First behind rocks and in the cave, after which they’ll pause for play and ice-creams, followed by a swim in the chilly water, a spot of sailing on the sea, a dive under the water, perhaps even visiting a wrecked pirate ship. All this and more before night falls and it’s time to go home.

While most spreads focus on nouns, the focus of others is either verbs or adjectives: Sean Sims’ vibrant illustrations provide just the right amount of details in each one.

The Sounds Train journeys through the seasons and concentrates on environmental sounds be they created by animals, the elements, the children or the occasional machine.

Great for introducing or reinforcing sound/symbol associations.

Noah’s Seal / Captain Toby

Noah’s Seal
Layn Marlow
Oxford Children’s Books

In one way or another, the natural world offers inspiration to so many of us, and so it is with Noah, the young child protagonist in this book. As the story opens he sits on the shore looking out to sea in the hope of seeing a seal, as he has done for several days already, while his Nana talks of still needing to make the boat seaworthy before they can set sail.

Taking up her suggestion to play while he waits, Noah starts digging and soon realises that the mound he’s made is shaped very like a seal. To the boy it seems it’s ‘Just waiting to be my friend.’ He continues sculpting the creature adding natural features and then lies down beside it to dream of the ‘wild wide sea’.

Suddenly Nana’s shout, warning of an approaching storm rouses the dreamer and Noah makes a dash for cover to wait for the storm to abate.

Once it has though, the boy’s seal is no longer there.

Nana promises a sea trip the following day and starts heading home leaving Noah standing looking at the water. All of a sudden he spots something that makes his heart leap

and Nana decides that perhaps with something apparently waiting for them, the promised trip could be brought forward …
Perfectly paced, this sweet story of how a less than promising day at the beach turns into something extraordinary, thanks in part, to the power of the imagination is a delight through and through. Layn Marlow’s textured art and colour palette are wonderful.

Captain Toby
Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

One stormy night Toby lies in bed with the wind roaring outside, the noise so loud he cannot get to sleep. Thunder crashes and suddenly he feels his house start to rise and fall, and before he knows what’s happening it’s rolling on the ocean waves. Bravely, with the aid of his cat, Captain Toby charts his course as lightning flashes in the sky above, till there comes an enormous crash. Grabbing his binoculars he sees it’s not a rock, nor a massive wave but an enormous octopus tentacles spread menacingly and it’s heading scarily close.

Then CRASH! One if its writhing tentacles smashes the window and reaches out towards him. Yikes!

Fortunately however, help is close at hand in the form of a house-submarine carrying Captain Grandpa and Chief Gunner Grandma, the latter being a brilliant shot with balls of yarn.

Eventually the seas calm, the sun rises and the captains head for the harbour leaving a now peacefully engaged octopus. And that’s where we’ll leave them all, with a wonderful finale awaiting readers.

With a mix of surreal humour and high adventure, Kitamura’s illustrations provide a visual treat. I particularly love the richly hued seascape with the two sailing houses heading landwards.

It’s good to see Scallywag Press has reissued this 1980’s charmer.

Fox & Rabbit / Isadora Moon Meets the Tooth Fairy

Fox & Rabbit
Beth Ferry and Gergely Dudas
Amulet Books

Unlikely friends, Fox and Rabbit star in five short interconnected stories, presented graphic novel style, that are perfect for readers just embarking on chapter books. The contrasting personalities of the protagonists is brought out wonderfully in the events – Rabbit being rather anxious and Fox the complete opposite (albeit with a predilection for words beginning with the letter F). However they both have a fondness for adventure and surprises but no matter what they’re doing they thrive on discovering the kind of everyday magic that readers will love.

In the first story, lying back observing the clouds leads them to the fair where Rabbit wins a prize; that prize sends them off on their next adventure – on the beach. There, eventually Rabbit overcomes his fear of the ocean and everything therein. What they find in a bottle leads Rabbit to risk a ‘zinger’ to reach Surprise Island; but is it a misnomer? It certainly provides a wonderful opportunity: some horticultural pursuits occur in the 4th story and Rabbit demonstrates a distinct lack of self control. But what happens when they grow a lemon tree? That you will have to find out for yourself but like their previous adventures a certain Turtle turns up at the end asking ‘What’d I miss?’

But new solo readers will certainly miss enormous fun from both Beth Ferry’s well chosen words and Gergely Dudas’ adorable pictures if they don’t give this engaging demonstration of true friendship, a whirl.

Isadora Moon Meets the Tooth Fairy
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford Children’s Books

Is this really the thirteenth book featuring the fang-tastically adorable Isadora Moon? Despite growing a bit older she shows no signs of losing her magical allure.

As the story starts Isadora is about to lose one of her teeth. But being half fairy, half vampire, should she leave said tooth under her pillow for the tooth fairy as her mum wants, or have it framed per dad’s wishes? He also wants her to accompany him to the vampire dentist to learn how to keep her fangs ‘polished to perfection’.

On the night the fang comes out Isadora is paid a visit by Mignonette, a tiny mouse on her first tooth fairy mission. Now she faces an even bigger dilemma …

Could a visit to dad’s dentist help her make up her own mind?

Maybe with the help of Mignonette, Isadora can instigate a tooth tradition of her very own.

No matter what she does, Isadora Moon’s countless fans will certainly delight in her latest adventure.

Willow Wildthing and the Shooting Star / Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard

These are new titles in two smashing series for young solo readers – thanks to Oxford Children’s Books for sending them for review

Willow Wildthing and the Shooting Star
Gill Lewis, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley

Gill Lewis enchants once again with her third adventure of Willow and her dog Sniff, often a key player in her Wilderness exploits with the other Wild Things.

As the book starts, Willow’s little brother Freddie needs to go to hospital again and Nana is coming to keep an eye on her granddaughter.
A knock at the door brings not the anticipated Nana but fellow Wild Thing, Raven announcing the imminent destruction of their River Camp on account of flooding after several days of incessant rain. “You have to come,” Raven urges. “We’re going to lose everything.”

Happily, Willow is able to accompany Raven on the understanding that she’s to stay the night with her friend and they meet up with the others.

Only able to rescue some of their paraphernalia, the friends watch as the rest of their camp is washed away. Eventually the rain does stop and Raven suggests they all camp in her back garden from where they can watch the meteor shower that night.

It’s a night that turns out to be truly magical, for three shooting stars fall. Willow is convinced the one she wished on has landed in the Wilderness and she’s determined to find it …

There is SO much to love about the story, not least the way Gill Lewis celebrates children’s creativity and the imagination. These children thrive on a lifestyle that allows them freedom to explore the natural world, make camps, light fires, get thoroughly covered in mud and generally relish being part of the great outdoors. The love of family and the importance of friends – in this book ‘the witch’ (a reclusive writer) plays an important role – are also fundamental.

Each of these elements is captured so wonderfully in Rebecca Bagley’s illustrations which aptly, have a blue theme herein. Another great thing about these stories is their appeal to both girls and boys, those just gaining confidence as independent readers especially.

This is also true of

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard
Kris Humphrey, illustrated by Pete Willliamson

Leo Wilder is apprentice to the Guardian and his job is to keep the village safe from monsters that hide in the eerie forest all around.

In his second adventure, Henrik has summoned Leo to inform him that having left their home along the White River, two deadly Spitfangs have left their riverside home and are getting alarmingly close. His “Whatever you do boy, don’t get spat on.” is pretty troubling as Leo’s already overheard the village chief’s comment to Henrik about the possibility of the lad being eaten.

Nonetheless, off to the forest with the pouch of stones Leo goes. Almost immediately he hears beating wings and there is Starla announcing that she’s come to help. Shortly after two girls appear carrying baskets. “Not friendly. Not friendly at all,” Starla says of them.

A brief conversation ensues and they disappear leaving Leo to continue his search. Suddenly he slips and almost the next thing he knows is that his legs are encased in a grungy cocoon of Spitfire spit. Yikes!

With some enigmatic characters,

this is a highly engaging story for young solo readers: the problem-solving element and smashing illustrations by Pete Williamson contribute significantly to the enjoyment.

Esme’s Rock

Esme’s Rock
Simon Philip and Magda Brol
Oxford Children’s Books

Esme is a little cave girl with a lot of energy and curiosity and, a very powerful voice. That’s very useful if you want to ward off scary big creatures but definitely not so when it comes to keeping things secret. One thing she intends to do her utmost to keep her voice down about is the birthday surprise she’s organising for her best pal Morris the mammoth’s birthday.

Having wished him many happy returns, the transport arranged turns up to whisk Morris away for some pampering and she’s able to get on with carrying out the plans for the rest of the surprise. For this she has enlisted the help of her fellow cave people and they’re horrified at what the task entails in so short a time.

Come lunchtime it seems as though the painters are way behind schedule and Esme can’t keep her voice down any longer. What she yells echoes far and wide. Then, just when the painters are on the point of giving up their mammoth task, a party of strangers arrive armed with the necessary tools and it’s all systems go once more.

Finally it’s time for Esme to use that booming voice to summon Morris to his surprise celebration …
At last Esme’s voice comes into its own …

With Magda Brol’s exuberant illustrations, Simon Philip’s celebration of community spirit is a fun read aloud demonstrating that everybody has a special something to offer, albeit with a bit of channeling sometimes.

The Perfect Fit

The Perfect Fit
Naomi Jones and James Jones
Oxford Children’s Books

This is a story about what happens when a triangle that feels different among the circles decides to embark on a journey to find a community wherein she feels she belongs.

The squares are welcoming and invite the newcomer to play with them. With high hopes she joins in their building but then despite encouraging comments from her fellow builders, Triangle feels she must move on …

The hexagons are similarly accommodating though still Triangle worries about being different and continues her search. Increasingly despondent she begins to feel that perhaps she’s the only triangle there is, but then a star speaks and hope returns. On goes the search till finally there before her …

However there are limits to the games that triangles can play – no rolling for instance. Triangle remembers the fun she had with all those other shapes and …

A smashing celebration of difference and diversity showing that to fit in, doesn’t mean you have to be like everyone else: a variety of experience leads to a richer community. Life is much more enjoyable when people welcome those who are different, enabling everyone to feel comfortable about themselves. The key is to go beyond the confines of your perceived identity.

This seemingly simple story inspired by author Naomi and illustrator James son’s struggle to fit in when he started nursery, is a perfect foundation stage book for fostering personal, social and emotional development. It’s also rich in mathematical potential.

We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt / Winnie and Wilbur Around the World

We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt
Goldie Hawk and Angie Rozelaar
Nosy Crow

Based on the nursery favourite ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’, I’m surprised nobody thought of a pumpkin-themed variation before. It’s definitely a goodie.

Herein we join three fearless pumpkin hunters – a little skeleton, a witch and a slightly unravelling little mummy – as they sally forth one beautiful night. Needless to say their path is obstructed by various things that they can’t go over, under or around.

First it’s watchful green-eyed moggies meow-meow(ing); then cobwebs – the sticky spiders’ variety – just right to ‘tickle-swish’ through.

Yikes! What about those ‘Flap-flap’ flapping bats – fortunately they look quite friendly, and then the trio come to a house, old, dark and spooky of course. Could a pumpkin be hidden therein?

There’s only one way to find out and that’s in …

and over those creaky-squeaky floorboards and of course, our adventurers aren’t scared, are they? …

Happy trick or treating …

At every page turn, day-glo colours leap out from Angie Rozelaar’s anything but scary spreads showing the mock-spooky sortie, and Goldie Hawk’s clever adaptation of a popular join-in narrative, this will assuredly enchant, rather than scare, young listeners and solo readers around Halloween time. (or any time come to that.)

Winnie and Wilbur Around the World
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

Inspired by a visit to the library and animal books in particular, Winne and Wilbur embark on a world trip with the aim of visiting all the animals featured in the book they’d seen (and decided to borrow).

All it takes is a hastily packed suitcase, duly attached to the broomstick, a glance at the book and a wave of Winnie’s wand;  up and away they go to land in a tree house surrounded by giraffes – very hungry ones.

Prompted by picture two (and sans lunch) they whizz on to an oasis where dates, camels’ milk and an exceedingly hot, bumpy ride await.

A spot of kangaroo bouncing (Wilbur) comes next, followed by some panda spotting (Winnie finds the creatures dull); then a too close for comfort encounter with an enormous whale …

and a polar bear.

An elephant, an aardvark and meerkats (not cat eaters happily) rendezvous leads them on to the final page and a jungle full of monkeys. Their mischief-making might well have caused the demise of both our plucky travellers but fortunately, all ends happily. With thoughts of their favourite animal in mind, and with the book duly returned to its place in the library, its time for the intrepid adventurers to relax.

What more can the countless fans of the duo want than this high-octane world trip by their favourite witch and her trusty moggy. Probably another reading of same, followed by further adventures. Perfect for Halloween and other story times.

Bear Shaped

Bear Shaped
Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden
Oxford Children’s Books

Most young children develop a strong attachment to a special soft toy and so it is for Jack; the two are inseparable. Bear has been Jack’s constant companion,

comforting him and giving him the confidence he needs to try new things.

One day however while out in the park Jack diverts his attention towards a passing drake and shortly after discovers that Bear has gone missing.

It feels as though an enormous Bear-shaped hole has opened up inside him, Jack misses him SO much.

His family try their very best to track down the missing bear but to no avail and Jack himself makes posters that he puts up everywhere.

Nobody returns Bear. but something else quite wonderful starts to happen;

something that precipitates a gradual change in Jack. Little by little, kindness – other people’s and Jack’s own – enables his smile to return and he’s able to find a very special way to cope with that bear-shaped hole in his life.

Based on a true story, this beautiful tale of friendship, loss, precious memories and altruism is a real heartstring tugger; and the detailed, true-to-life illustrations show just how closely the author/illustrator worked with the actual ‘Jack’, a boy who happens to be on the autism spectrum.

The Crow and the Peacock

The Crow and the Peacock
Jo Fernihough
Oxford Children’s Books

Crow lives a happy and contented life until he hears the gentle cooing of a dove in the woods one day. This encounter engenders a feeling of dissatisfaction in him and off he flies on a journey to find out where true happiness lies.

The trouble is each bird he talks with – Dove, Nightingale,

Cockerel, Swan

and even the stunningly beautiful king Peacock stuck in a cage,  says that for one reason or another, real happiness eludes it.

Peacock says something else to Crow too and the story comes full circle.

With its themes of true happiness, and freedom, this story is a reworking of an old fable, that will surely, now especially when we’re all feeling confined and having to practice physical distancing, make listeners and readers pause and think about what is truly important in life.

Debut picture book author/illustrator Jo Fernihough’s vibrant, mixed media illustrations sing their own song as we follow Crow through the pages on his journey of discovery.

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.