Max Against Extinction / Warrior Monkeys and the Rescue Quest

It’s good to see new titles in two popular series from Oxford University Press – thanks for sending them for review.

Max Against Extinction
Tim Allman illustrated by Nick Shepherd

Max is back and he’s still determined one way or another, (like Greta, Aditya, Nina and Mari from various parts of the globe) to make the world a better place for everyone.

On the way home from school one day he notices a large new sign on a newly erected fence. There’s a plan afoot for a huge new office development and thus begins operation Save the Bramble Field. But then Max’s mum drops a bombshell: a family holiday abroad. It’s definitely a distraction as the boy starts dreaming of sunny climes, endless ice-cream treats and more; but the planned action must take priority and to that end Max ropes in Nisha and Tessa to help.

Max is ready to take whatever action he can to thwart this development proposal, even if that means getting into headteacher, Mr Costive’s bad books (again!) as well as upsetting his own teacher. But can he persuade his parents that a staycation is the way to go. He’ll certainly do his utmost – tropical curry, padlocks and all.

With a plethora of quirky cartoon-style drawings by Nick Shepherd to liven things up even more (they’re pretty lively anyhow but … ) Tim Allman and Nick are hugely entertaining and the cause is an important one, especially now with planning laws seemingly thrown out of the window. Max’s passion and willingness to own up to his mistakes are irresistible; he’s a great character likely to encourage readers to start and stick to their own plans for making positive changes in the world, whatever they are.

Warrior Monkeys and the Rescue Quest
M.C. Stevens, illustrated by Steve Brown

This is the third story by martial arts expert M.C. Stevens. Here young Suki and Bekko are mighty concerned when they discover that their much loved and respected teacher, Chan is missing after a strange wave hit one of Senshi Island’s beaches. They immediately report his disappearance to Sensei Rika (guardian of the castle) who seems undisturbed by the news, so the two, convinced there’s been a kidnapping, decide to investigate. Soon their suspicions are confirmed and Bekko and Suki are on a quest to rescue Chan from the clutches of Emperor Ming, ruler of seven mountain kingdoms who apparently needs Chan’s help. The quest involves a very dangerous sea voyage, pirates, battling over frozen wastes

and other hazards but so says, Bekko, “Warrior Monkeys know that facing a challenge is part of learning.” Are the two up to the mark though?

Reaching their destination is only part of the challenge, there are further hazards; but with unexpected assistance

together with their own bravery, resourcefulness and determination, along the way perhaps they can succeed in getting master Chan back where he belongs.

Full of drama and suspense, this story will excite readers especially those with an interest in martial arts, yoga and mindfulness; they’ll also be amused by Steve Brown’s illustrations scattered throughout the book.

Lotta Says ‘No!’ / Lotta Makes a Mess

Lotta Says ‘No!”
Lotta Makes a Mess

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford University Press

The Astrid Lindgren reissues continue with two books starring young Lotta who is four in the first book. The episodes in the first are told from the viewpoint of her elder sister, Mary-Lou and seemingly, Lotta is a spirited child with a large personality who’s never far from trouble.

Lotta Says, ‘No!’ has nine brief chapters and in the first we see that really what Lotta wants is to make sense of the world she’s growing up in – “What’s it raining for?” she asks one wet day and later, “What’s dung for?” and her response that afternoon is to stand out in the middle of a dung heap in the pouring rain getting soaked. When asked what on earth she’s doing, she replies, “So I’ll grown and be as big as Joe and Mary-Lou.”

Other adventures in this book include a visit to the dentist for a tooth extraction; a crinkly wool incident while visiting neighbour, Mrs Berg,

a kind of honorary grandmother to Lotta and her siblings; and the occasion when Lotta adorns the tree in which they’re picnicking with pancakes. The others too are full of charm and gentle humour: Mini Grey’s black and white illustrations are really fun and highlight Lotta’s endearing nature as they do in Lotta Makes a Mess.

Now, our young protagonist has turned five and appropriately there are five stories herein, each one as convincing as the previous escapades. In the first, Lotta (having woken in a bad mood) has a disagreement with her mother over what she should wear, cutting up her itchy, scratchy sweater and decides to move out.

The second chapter sees her installed in Mrs Berg’s junk-loft where she remains until she discovers just how dark it gets at night. That’s the end of her stay forever plans and she’s more than a tad relieved when she hears her Daddy’s voice saying how unhappy her Mummy is without her – the perfect excuse to reassess her situation, the consequence of which is that what’s been a truly terrible day ends on an upbeat note.

Both books are ideal read-aloud material for pre-schoolers and those in the foundation stage who will assuredly fall under Lotta’s charms and relish her misdemeanours.

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales / Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard

These are two special gift editions with Christmas in mind

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales
written by Lynn Roberts-Maloney
Pavilion Books

This sumptuous edition brings together three of the brother and sister team’s fairy tales previously published as separate books, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Lynn’s texts written with enormous verve and David’s magnificent illustrations that set each of the stories in a different era combine to re-energise tales from way back making readers experience them with fresh eyes, ears and hearts.

For Cinderella we’re transported to the art deco 1920s, age of flapper girls and glamour, where Greta’s (aka Cinderella) stepsisters, are Elvira (the wicked one) and Ermintrude (she’s exceedingly dim).

Her fairy godmother is a fashionista and her stepmother is a stone cold-hearted bullying female who immediately evicts Greta from her room giving it to her own offspring instead.

Rapunzel is set in the 1970s when platform shoes were all the rage. The beautiful miss in this version has a red-haired stunner as its star and she resides in a tower block flat, (or rather is imprisoned by her Aunt Edna who owns a ghastly pet crow).

Edna insists that safety is the reason for her niece’s current incarceration, and she uses occasional gifts of second-hand records and magazines to placate the girl, promising to show her the city sights once she’s older. Said aunt is employed as a school dinner lady, one who almost force feeds her charges with such ghastly fare as lumpy custard. Enter stage left, young Roger, lead singer of the school band. Could he be the one to rescue the red-haired damsel?

Sleeping Beauty has an entirely female cast, a 1950s vibe and a science fiction loving young lady Annabel who on her first birthday, falls under the evil spell of spiteful witch Morwenna, and wakes many more years later than the sixteen she’d first thought.

If you know somebody (or several people) who love fairy tales, then buy them this totally brilliant book: I’m going to have to invest in several copies this season. And, KS2 teachers just think of the potential this offers in the classroom.

Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child
Oxford University Press

This bumper book with superbly spirited, full-colour illustrations by Lauren Child (who better to illustrate this Pippi 75th anniversary edition?) is an ideal present for a lively child with an inquiring mind, and a cracking way to bring Pippi, fellow residents of Villa Villekulla, monkey, Mr Nilsson and her horse – the one she can lift with her super strength – (strictly speaking he lives on the veranda), and her next-door friends, Annika and Tommy, alive to a new generation of readers and listeners.

The episodes herein include that where Pippi gets a trifle carried away when she goes on a shopping spree with a pocketful of golden coins. The consequences are pretty unlikely (unless you’re Pippi) with a bit of bother over a false arm and whether or not the particular shop is self-service. She also gets carried away in the sweet shop buying rather an excessive amount of sugary confectionery, and uses her common sense in the pharmacy.

Another time there’s an addition to the school role, though only briefly; Pippi also livens up the school outing;

has an encounter with a rather large ’kitty’, she gets shipwrecked and almost leaves her ‘more organised’ Villa Villekulla life and sails away with her father to live a thoroughly disorganised one.

Hours of pleasure visual and verbal, lie between the two covers of this gift edition.

A Thing Called Snow

A Thing Called Snow
Yuval Zommer
Oxford University Press

This wonderful book has classic written all over it. It’s absolutely gorgeous from cover to cover; but one has come to expect nothing less from Yuval who puts his heart and soul as well as that of the natural world into every book he creates.

The story tells of arctic creatures Fox and Hare; springtime born, they grew up during the summer, and come autumn were best friends. Expert at sniffing distant things, Fox finds joy in leaping and bouncing while Hare – also a lover of leaping and bouncing has superb hearing ability.

One day Fox’s nose twitches and Hare’s ears prick: ‘Winter’s on its way,’ Tern tells them, pausing on its journey southwards, going on to talk of ‘this thing called snow!’ wherein the friends can jump, leap and bounce. 

But what on earth is snow?

Off go Hare and Fox into the forest to try and find out. Bear’s answer to their question provides information as to it its colour, while Caribou adds that snow’s cold and Salmon tells them it’s fluffy like their tails. Having heard from Goose that it also sparkles, the friends still haven’t found the complete answer they seek, though they have had some misconceptions corrected. They’re also cold and tired, and as darkness starts to descend they stop beside a lake, too far from home to return. 

Snuggled up together they fall fast asleep. Next day they awake to a ‘cold, fluffy, sparkly’ surprise; but that’s not the only surprise they get that joyful sparkling morning. 

Despite the chilly season of this story’s setting, a feeling of warmth emanates from many of its pages on account of the kindness of the forest animal community. 

With a pleasing circularity and true harmony between words and pictures, it’s a real treasure. Yuval breathes life into his characters with those trademark eyes, yet every one of the animals shows his love of and respect for, nature. 

With its sparkling, tactile dust jacket, this book is a must have this season.

Kindness / Moo-Moo, I Love You

Kindness
Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese
Oxford Children’s Books

This is one of the publisher’s new ‘Big Words for Little People’ series that aims with carefully selected ‘feature’ words embedded in a short narrative,, to help young children develop an understanding of how by means of words, they can best deal with their emotions and first experiences.
Kindness starts with a welcoming word – ‘hello’ perhaps and a welcome smile to help newcomers feel at ease.
Sharing,

Giving, Understanding (especially another person’s feelings), Listening, Helping, Caring (for the natural world as well as other people and ourselves), Being thankful, Loving (by reaching out with kind words and actions), Taking turns, being Thoughtful, showing Kindness are each given a double spread illustrating the action with stylised youngsters and a brief descriptive text.There’s also a final spread giving helpful guidance to adult users and a short glossary.

A useful addition to a preschool setting for both personal, social and emotional development, and language development, or for family use.

Moo-Moo, I Love You!
Tom Lichtenheld and Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Abrams Books for Young Readers

What a delectably adorably moo-vingly mood-uplifting way to tell your little one how mooch you loove them, is this moo-cow monologue (almost) directed at her little moo (who actually has the last word – or actually, four words).

Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s word play is crazily comical and exuberantly expressed, becoming even more comical when combined with Tom Lichtenheld’s thickly outlined cow characters clearly relishing being in each other’s company as they share their love of pizza, popcorn and farm hu-moo-r;

the adornment of their residence so it morphs into a moo-seum …

and a moo-se moo-ve-ment. Ma moo even states her readiness to launch herself loo-nar-wards to express her fondness for her little moo.

This crazily moo-ving manner in which a moo-ma shows her infant moo how much it’s loo-ved could also work as a valentine, especially if your partner’s into word play and you think they’d find it a-moo-sing.

Super Happy Magic Forest and the Portals of Panic

Super Happy Magic Forest and the Portals of Panic
Matty Long
Oxford University Press

I know a large number of young readers who are eager to get their teeth into this, the second of Matty Long’s fiction series featuring those five brave forest warriors including unicorn Blossom and red and white mushroom, Trevor.

Suddenly into that normally Super Happy place of picnics and frolicking there appears a puzzling porthole that threatens the peace of the forest dwellers’ existence. Even more troubling, a small and voraciously hungry monster has flown from the cavity and seemingly desires to gobble up everything that crosses its path including Gnomedalf’s breakfast waffles (not that they actually did cross it).

Off go the five heroes (beast in tow) to Wizard City in search of wise wizard Barnabus five-hats to seek his assistance. En route, the monster – now named Chompy – has the audacity to take a nibble at Trevor leaving him just a tad light-headed.

En route too, comes a surprising revelation from Gnomedalf concerning the cause of his own reluctance to proceed with the quest.

There’s another sign of weird things being afoot, in the form of bow and arrow wielding elves who just might turn them into stone,

the Wood Elf Queen and her moose Strawberry. And that’s where I’ll leave the merry adventurers

and say no more other than that the plot takes many wacky twists and turns including more portals, one leading to a spell in prison for some of our heroic bunch, a bake-off episode, and all ends happily – eventually!

Fans will surely devour this in a single sitting, relishing the wealth of wizardry, waffles, and Matty Long’s totally bonkers humour – visual and verbal – throughout. Bring on the next adventure.

Isadora Moon Goes to a Wedding

Isadora Moon Goes to a Wedding
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford University Press

Isabelle Moon the half fairy, half vampire child is mega-excited. Her Aunt Crystal is to be married and Isadora can hardly contain herself when she learns that she (along with little Honeyblossom, and cousin Mirabelle) will be bridesmaids. “A frosty and flowery wedding” so her mum tells her. Isadora’s excitement increases further when she tries on her bridesmaid’s dress. The siblings, thinks Mum, will be “the most wonderful vampire fairy bridesmaids that anyone’s ever seen.”

On the wedding morning (after a yummy pancake breakfast courtesy of Oscar) what should draw up outside the family residence but a fairy sledge – how else would they get to the winter fairy realm? And off they whizz … destination the Ice Hall.

There to greet them is mischievous cousin Mirabelle and her family.

After the marriage itself, the meal and speeches get under way and the youngsters grow increasingly bored, so Isadora’s mother suggests the cousins and Honeyblossom go off to the entrance hall and play. There Mirabelle spots the wedding cake

and that’s when the mischief starts (and the shrinking).
Now it’s down to Isadora to try and make sure that even if not everything goes exactly to plan, there’s a happy ending.

Fans (as well as those new to the smashing series) will relish this new story and love to try out some of the activities at the end of the book – a book made even more special with its silver edges and sparkly cover.

Kitty and the Great Lantern Race / Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit

The welcome return of favourite characters in two series from Oxford University Press

Kitty and the Great Lantern Race
Paula Harrison and Jenny Lovlie

At the annual lantern festival young Kitty, superhero in training, returns in a fifth adventure, ready to enchant young solo readers with her nocturnal catlike superpower.

Kitty is pleased with the lantern she’s created for Hallam City’s Festival of Light but as the parade is just beginning, a mysterious burglar is at work among the crowds. Having spied a shadowy figure, Kitty knows that she’s going to have to call on her feline superpower as she turns investigator.

Now her mission is to prevent the festival being spoiled and without the assistance of her firework fearing cat crew, she must summon all her superhero skills and bravery to chase the fast-moving thief.

As always Paula’s words and cast of cracking characters, combined with the plethora of Jenny’s arresting two-coloured illustrations are a delight. This tale of friendship, family, building self-confidence and being brave is an ideal read for Kitty’s countless established followers, as well as others just starting out on chapter books.

Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit
Philip Reeve illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

There’s a crisis in Bumbleford. For a whole week, somebody has been slowly but surely stealing the town’s entire stock of biscuits. Make that two crises for now Roly-Poly Flying pony Kevin, stands accused of the crime of stealing said biscuits – all the evidence seems to point in his direction – despite his not remembering eating the biscuits, which he surely would have, fig rolls and all.

The only ones left anywhere (and that’s in the next town), are some speciality Sprout Squashies, good for you but tasting disgusting and fart-inducing, especially when sampled by a certain RPF pony.

To avoid arrest, and hence removal from Max and family, poor Kevin is forced to go on the run – or rather the wing – from the local police constabulary. With Kevin already being dubbed as the Biscuit Bandit, it’s the Horse Prison for him unless Max and Kevin’s friends can help find clues to clear his name.

The search is on: can they unearth the real culprit (not forgetting the biscuit stash) before the police track them down?

Once again team Philip and Sarah have created a hilarious and enthralling adventure – a whodunnit – with its wealth of wordplays and asides, ensuring that readers giggle their way right through to the final reveal.

Never let it be said that Sprout Squashies don’t have their uses.

The Accidental Prime Minister Returns / Roald Dahl Rotsome & Repulsant Words

Books that make us laugh are much needed at the moment: here are two such, sent for review by Oxford University Press

The Accidental Prime Minister Returns
Tom McLaughlin

Do I detect a touch of irony in this title? Perhaps the return of Joe who found fame by accidentally becoming Prime Minister while trying to save his local park, knew just when he’d be needed again. Now, I defy you to get through even one chapter of this new story without splitting your sides with sniggering snuffling laughs and ginormous guffaws, let alone wait till chapter four.

Who better than Joe (aka your Primeministerness) to bring back a bit of cheer? So here he is – the perfect counter to all the current doom and gloom – at the ready to remind the populace of life’s good things, and how they can all do their bit to make our great country (or rather, tiny island) and the world, a better place in which to live.

With his entourage, that’s best pal, Ajay dubbed ‘an all round absolute dude, and Alice, democracy’s most mega enthusiast (also a total dude), not to mention Mr Rottweiler (a useful ally?) who else could possibly get our vote. (He’s even got the right colour hair – almost!)

With its healthy herbal juice, spare false eyelashes and an absolute wealth of shenanigans, book seven, laying bare the ups and downs of political life, could not have come at a more apt time. Bring on the ‘coal addition’ – right now!

Delicious daftness of a different kind in:

Roald Dahl Rotsome & Repulsant Words
illustrated by Quentin Blake

Roald Dahl was a prolific inventor of rude words. He used some incredibly adroit putdowns and curses, insults and expletive forms.

Now, thanks to editor and lexicographer Dr Susan Rennie, they’ve all been brought together into this collection of naughty-sounding words that will absolutely delight any child (and probably adult) who gets their hands on a copy of Rotsome & Repulsant Words. (my spell check is NOT happy!)

So, if you want to try creating your very own ‘gigantuous’ curse word, there’s a spread to show you how. Or perhaps you’d rather become ‘as Grumpy as a Grandma’ then you can find out how so to do.

I have to say I rather enjoyed the ‘How to be rude in other languages (so grown-ups won’t notice).’ It doesn’t always hold true however: I can recall several occasions when teaching reception and nursery age children, hearing extremely insulting words (meaning much worse things than the examples in this book) coming from the role play area, spoken by children not knowing that their teacher could understand their Hindi, Urdu, Panjabi etc.

Naturally children will relish the collecting of ‘bottom’ words and even more so, those relating to sounds that emanate from same.

There are some smashing onomatopoeic examples here including the Spanish ‘popotraques’ and the Scots ‘rummlypumps’.

Think of the fun you might have in a group discussing ‘swatchwallop’ (the most disgusting thing you can eat. An opportunity for some more creative word inventions methinks. Think too of the wealth of language lessons you could enliven using this with your class.

Whether or not you’re a Dahl fan, I’m pretty sure you’ll relish this little linguistic goldmine, especially with those Quentin Blake illustrations.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Flamingo Party / Little Owl Rescue

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Flamingo Party
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

In this sixth adventure Maya, inheritor of a magical colouring book is feeling a tad jealous. Her best friend Saffron is keen to include new girl, Alicia in their plans for a carnival in the town.

To uplift her spirits she turns to her colouring book and onto its cover start appearing flamingos.: a ‘flamboyance of flamingos’ Maya thinks and very soon she finds herself drawn back to the Kingdom of Birds where a new adventure awaits the Keeper of the Book.

Once there she learns that Lord Astor is up to no good again, luring all the flamingos to his palace lake. It’s on account of their magnificent pink feathers he needs to create the splendid headdress he is planning to wear as self-appointed Carnival King.

It’s up to Maya and Astor’s niece, Willow to make the Lord Astor see the error of his ways at last .

I say last for it appears that this is the final story in this enchanting series although I won’t divulge what happens.

If you work with or know young readers who would enjoy the mix of magic and bird facts characteristic of Anne Booth’s Magical Kingdom of Birds, then I thoroughly recommend they meet problem-solving, loyal friend, bird-loving Maya.

As with the other titles this one concludes with a bird fact file and there’s a recipe for ‘Flamingo-pink cakes’. Adding to the delights as usual are Rosie Butcher’s beautiful page borders and enchanting illustrations.

Another series for a similar readership that also mixes magical happening with saving wildlife is the Little Animal Rescue series, the latest of which is:

Little Owl Rescue
Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies
Little Tiger

Animal loving Fliss is enjoying a trip to the fairground with her longstanding friend, Gabriel, when she is suddenly launched into another rescue mission. This time it’s in Aliceville, a sweetcorn growing area of Texas.

She is led by a white owl into a woodland area that is being chopped down to grow more maize crops. The mother owl has a family of baby owlets that she gathers up and off they fly, all except one little chick that hasn’t yet got the hang of becoming airborne.

Now with dangerous creatures all around and night fast drawing in, Fliss has an important task to save the owlet she names Cookie and to do so she needs to help it learn to fly and much more besides.

Indeed the whole rescue operation turns out to be a pretty dangerous undertaking for both Fliss and the owlet. The former discovers the importance of listening and she’s not one to give up until she’s achieved what she set out to do.

With plenty of black and white illustrations by Jo Anne Davies this is an exciting addition to the series for young readers that both entertains and gently educates.

Super Happy Magic Forest and the Humongous Fungus

Super Happy Magic Forest and the Humongous Fungus
Matty Long
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

Matty Long’s Super Happy Magic Forest series has grown from picture books into a spin-off young fiction fantasy of over 180 pages.

Once again it’s a splendidly silly frolic with a host of wacky characters not least of which are Blossom the unicorn, fairy Twinkle, a gnome named Herbert, a mushroom called Trevor and Hoofies the faun who considers himself leader of this group – the five Super Happy Heroes.

As the story starts the residents of Super Happy Magic Forest are in festival mood with its residents in frolicking mode.

Suddenly into their midst crashes the Rainbow Dragon and there’s clearly something very wrong with the creature.

Before you can say ‘quest’ the Super Happy Heroes find themselves charged with finding out what has made the dragon so poorly.

They soon come face-to-face with the dastardly red-eyed and highly toxic Fungellus a gigantic evil mushroom whose spores are poisoning the forest.

Seems as though there’s a crisis to avert for it’s those very spores that are responsible for the Rainbow Dragon’s condition.

In order to revive the comatose creature and indeed save the forest from total doom the S H Heroes will need to collect the five antidote ingredients on Dr Shroomsworth’s list …

But will Trevor give in to Fungellus’s dastardly temptation or will he remain true to his fellow Heroes and thus discover a better way to boost his self-worth?

With daftness in bucketloads including priceless illustrations bursting with speech bubbles, this book is a wonderful antidote to the present corona virus induced gloom. Can anyone apart from this reviewer see any parallels between the two scenarios?

Isadora Moon Goes on Holiday / Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Cookie Mystery

Welcome back to two terrific characters in new stories kindly sent, super speedily by Oxford University Press:

Isadora Moon Goes on Holiday
Harriet Muncaster

Isadora Moon enters a competition and is mega excited to learn that her picture has won a prize – a family holiday abroad.

Despite their initial reservations – the sticky heat, a plane flight the suitability of the hotel and more, her parents are finally packed and ready to embrace a new adventure.

Soon after their arrival Isadora, her mum and little Honeyblossom head for the beach, but during their first dip, Mum is concerned about the amount of rubbish people have thrown into the sea.

Next morning the whole family go on a boat trip and while demonstrating her underwater swimming skills Isadora encounters Marina, a friend she’d made when on a camping holiday. Now Marina too is holidaying with her family and she tells Isadora of the large amounts of rubbish they’ve discovered underwater.

The mermaid gives Isadora a conch shell to use as a communication device and later on she receives a call from Marina begging her to help in freeing a baby turtle that’s got stuck in a tangle of rubbish beneath the ocean.

Despite her parents’ warnings not to venture out again without telling them, Isadora, wand in hand creeps out into the moonlight and is soon diving beneath the waves on a rescue mission.

Even after successfully releasing the little creature, there’s a  huge task ahead of Isadora and for that she needs to enlist the help of her parents. Will they overlook this latest bit of disobedience in a far greater cause – saving our precious planet?

Telling and illustrating it with her usual sparkly magic and pizzazz Harriet Muncaster weaves into this latest story, important environmental messages about the horrors that we thoughtless humans cause the natural world.

Fans of the fangtastic fairy-vampire books will enthusiastically lap up this one, and will very likely espouse the cause of saving our planet too.

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Cookie Mystery
Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

We’re back in Belville town where kind-hearted Freddie Bonbon has his bakery.

As the story opens it’s a lovely spring morning and Freddie is just about to leave on his delivery round leaving the bakery in the capable hands of Amira, his best friend and manager who is putting up a sign advertising for another baker. He’s heading for Van de Lune’s Hotel with a special delivery.

At the same time, the unscrupulous owner of Macaroon’s Patisserie, Bernard, is thinking super-bad thoughts about Freddie, intending to sample one of the  yummy confections he’s just stolen from Freddie and work out what it is therein that so delights everyone.

The following morning Freddie learns that Cookie, the superstar cat staying at Van de Lune’s has disappeared, presumed kidnapped. Can he, with the skills of his small dog, Flapjack succeed in solving the case of the vanishing feline?

The recipe of Harriet Whitehorn’s fun story with its highly satisfying ending, generous sprinkling of Alex’s superbly characterful black and white illustrations, posters, signs, and appropriate capitalisation of the text, plus a culinary glossary and instructions for baking delicious cookies, this is another yummy treat for junior fans of The Great British Bake Off.

Freddie is destined to win even more young book enthusiasts with this, his second mystery.

Meet the Penguins

Meet the Penguins
Mike Brownlow
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

The penguin duo are eager to play; but their ‘Please can we play?’ overtures are turned down by in turn an elephant intent on riding his bike; a fox in a ball pool;

a paint daubing hippo; a giraffe building with blocks, a tortoise out riding, a pair of noughts and crosses players, a puzzling primate, a racing rabbit

and a cat fishing, each of which proffers so s/he thinks a pertinent reason why not – well all except the cat and she merely gives an unequivocal ‘No’.

As two despondent penguins sit pondering on their next move, they’re approached by a little bear asking if she can play.

Their loud affirmative response precipitates a truly astonishing display of balancing and juggling as the penguins open their bags and showcase their playful talents aided and abetted by their new playmate.

Pretty soon the three have an audience and guess what they want to do …

With superbly ironic rejoinders from the animals the penguins want to play with, Mike Brownlow’s narrative reminds us how easy it is to push people (or penguins) away and make them feel unwelcome whether or not it’s intentional.

Its vital message about welcoming newcomers and all they have to offer, especially those who might seem different, is timely and pertinent, and this is a great book for opening up discussion.

And of course, youngsters will be unable to stop themselves from joining in with the oft repeated ‘Please can we play’ request.

Matisse’s Magical Trail

Matisse’s Magical Trail
Tim Hopgood and Sam Boughton
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

Matisse the snail confines his creative endeavours to the night-time when there’s nobody about; but during the day the world feels scary and much of his time is given over to preventing himself from being squashed by walkers.

One night in the middle of the city Matisse discovers the ideal place for some drawing and sets to work …

Come morning one of his creations is discovered by a little boy, Leo who adds his own marks to the design on the stone and showing it to Matisse, he introduces himself. Leo’s friends are impressed and eager to learn who the artist is; Matisse though has now disappeared.

Off go the children, returning later with many more items for Matisse to work his creative magic upon, and by the next morning our artistic snail has created a trail; a trail that leads to their school wall.

When their teacher sees what the children are looking at, it sparks a wonderful idea in her. Before you can say, ‘art’ the children are hard at work transforming the wall with their own creative endeavours

and they don’t stop at just a single wall. The school becomes a truly wonderful sight attracting great attention from passers by.

That night Matisse however, realises that his work in this particular place is done; it’s time to move elsewhere; first though he has one final piece of art to create for Leo and his fellow pupils. Teachers and other adults will be able to guess what that is.

Look out for snail magic on walls wherever you go; you might not find Matisse but it’s likely you’ll discover some snail magic.

A super story, beautifully told by Tim and illustrated by an exciting newcomer to the picture book scene, Sam Boughton, this book has SO much to offer. It demonstrates to children the importance of looking carefully and noticing small things – things that can lead to big changes. It also shows the importance of creativity and self-expression and is a smashing starting point for art at home or in schools. For imaginative teachers this could prove inspirational.

Cyril the Lonely Cloud

Cyril the Lonely Cloud
Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press

Cyril is a cloud whose main desire is to see a happy world; however all he seems to do is put the dampers on people and their fun; nobody’s ever happy to see him, a fact the knows all too well.

Cyril decides to go off and seek friendly faces but no matter where he floats be it land or sea he cannot find that which he seeks. All he does is increase in size.

At last the now huge cloud reaches a new and parched land where the cooling effect of his shadow is entirely welcomed by the residents.

Its cathartic effect on Cyril himself is one not of sadness but joy. Nonetheless his tears most definitely achieve his hearts desire – to ‘look down on the world and see a happy smile’. Not just one however, now he sees smiling faces everywhere …

Tim’s story certainly brought a happy smile to the face of this reviewer; he’s made the amorphous Cyril with his smile-inducing mission, a thoroughly endearing character that hovers over gorgeous, layered scenes of the natural world.

Youngsters will love his upbeat, optimistic nature as well as delighting in the wild animals  particularly that of the lion beaming a beatific smile.

If you are studying the weather with foundation stage children this is a must include book for your topic.