King Dave Royalty for Beginners

King Dave: Royalty for Beginners
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

In the third book featuring Dave the dragon along with his trusty sidekick, steed Albrecht, said dragon knight, cum wizard, cum, the on the way to being qualified hero, receives an urgent summons to the castle from the King.

On arrival he learns that this majesty is about to depart for a very important Annual Conference for royals and he needs a trustworthy kingdom-sitter to stand in during his absence.

Handing Dave his copy of Royalty for Beginners, the King leaps into his coach and is on his way.

Be prepared for more medieval mayhem to ensue pretty much as soon as Dave dons the crown.

He starts with inspecting knights, waving – the royal wave naturally; paperwork – plenty (even if he doesn’t know what it all means,) and opening places: all in a day’s work even if somewhat weird.

So far so good but then the following day a visit from some ambassadors is on the agenda and Dave decides a party is just the thing to impress the important dignatories.
And so it does – eventually – and so much so that they decide to stay on a bit longer. Uh-oh!

From that point things begin to unravel starting with a special event …

It’s as well Albrecht doesn’t take his eye off the ball, despite being banished from the kingdom, for there’s a dastardly plot afoot.

Elys Dolan delivers another full on fairy tale farce full of the sort of silliness that will keep young readers turning the pages as they laugh their way through from beginning to end, spluttering over both text and the plethora of illustrations.

The Colour Monster Goes to School / Beautiful Bananas

The Colour Monster Goes to School
Anna Llenas
Templar Publishing

It’s the day Colour Monster starts school and he’s rather confused about what to expect as he anticipates what this new place might be like.

His friend Nuna is there to reassure him about what to put in his bag as well as to introduce him to his teacher and new classmates and to accompany him as he discovers the activities on offer that day.

First comes Nuna’s favourite, music, in which Colour Monster is let’s say, an enthusiastic participant though he seems even more enthusiastic about stories …

There are lessons to learn about turn taking, appropriate use of the toilet facilities

and how to eat lunch.
The afternoon comprises some gymnastics – with an additional piece of equipment; followed by a creative session with Colour Monster as the subject.

Come home time, it’s clear that the newbie has had a fun-filled day; but poor Nuna is completely worn out.

If you’ve not come across the Colour Monster in his previous escapades, then this is a great place to start especially if you have little ones starting school or nursery next term.

With her wonderful mixed media illustrations, Anna Llenas’ funny story of the risk-taking protagonist is a delight, reassuring with plenty to giggle over, as the big day draws close.

Beautiful Bananas
Elizabeth Laird and Liz Pichon
Oxford University Press

There are gentle echoes of Handa’s Surprise in this African setting tale of Beatrice, who sets out through the jungle with a bunch of beautiful bananas for her granddad.

That’s her intention, but along the way a giraffe flicks his tail accidentally displacing the bananas and sending them into a stream.

This sets off a concatenation of animal-related mishaps involving a swarm of bees, then some mischievous monkeys,

a lion, a parrot and finally an elephant each of which apologises and provides a replacement gift, with the story coming full circle with the elephant’s offering. It’s a delighted Beatrice who then heads to her Grandad’s home, assuring herself that after all, “Bananas are best.”

There’s plenty to spot in Liz Pichon’s vibrant scenes, not least the tiny jungle creatures

and the pairs of eyes peeping out from among the foliage as youngsters listen to Elizabeth Laird’s amusing story that is still a winner with me 15 years after its first publication.

Ariki and the Island of Wonders / Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds

Ariki and the Island of Wonders
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Nicola Kinnear
Walker Books

Nicola Davies’s sequel to Ariki and the Giant Shark is equally rooted in island life, the natural world and the Pacific Ocean.

Strong-minded Ariki and her good friend Ipo, who live on Turtle Island, ignore the advice of Ariki’s guardian to learn about wave behaviour from a bowl of water and set sail on Sea Beauty. “We’ll be in trouble, ” says Ipo as they discover the wind is rather stronger than expected and Ariki has to agree.

It isn’t long though before there’s a storm brewing and it’s impossible to turn back: the only option, they realise, is to let the storm blow them where it will.

After several days without food and virtually nothing to drink, they encounter a wounded whale that has become separated from its family, which the children help. The whale then assists them by towing them towards an unfamiliar island that looks like paradise.

On the island they meet a strange man calling himself Crusoe McRobinson and learn of a dangerous creature the man calls “Dog”. There are in fact a number of these ‘dogs’ lurking and because of them the other island residents – humans and animal – as well as the two children, are in jeopardy.

Is there anything Ariki can do and if so will the two friends ever get back safely to Turtle Island?

Zoologlist story weaver, Nicola Davies cleverly entertains and educates at the same time in this gripping tale. Her affinity with the natural world shines through in her narrative with its vivid description of wildlife showing the interconnectness of human beings and the natural world.

To add to the magical mix, Nicola Kinner’s black and white illustrations perfectly capture the relationship between the human characters and nature.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press

Combining magic and wonder with facts about birds is this latest story in Anne Booth’s series of chapter books for young readers that began when its main protagonist, Maya was made keeper of a very special colouring book that could draw her into the Magical Kingdom of Birds.

The picture that appears to draw her to the Kingdom (where in addition to being a schoolgirl she is the Keeper of the Book) in this adventure is this one.

Instead of the usual focus on one particular kind of bird, songbirds from many parts of the world are featured; the reason being there’s to be a special singing gala so her friend Willow tells Maya. But can they really trust Willow’s wicked Uncle, Lord Astor, who claims to have become a reformed character wanting only to bring everyone together in friendship?

Of course not: he has set his sights on stealing the songs of all the participants in the event and using them for his own nefarious purposes.

Maya certainly has a big problem on her hands and she also has to face up to singing in her school concert if she succeeds in saving the songbirds.

Another exciting episode, with Rosie Butcher’s enchanting black and white illustrations, this is certain to excite Maya’s established fans and capture some new enthusiasts for the series too.
(The final pages contain fascinating facts on the real birds that inspired the story, plus fun things to make and do as well as additional information about the plight of endangered Indonesian songbirds).

Lula and the Sea Monster

Lula and the Sea Monster
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

A new highway is due to be constructed and as a result, despite their protestations, Lula and her family are soon to be forced out of their family home, an old house on the beach.
One morning just before their move out date, Lula takes a walk along the beach armed with sandwiches and her bucket and spade. Suddenly she comes upon a tiny creature that looks as though it’s about to become a seagull’s tasty breakfast snack.

Lula however sees off the seagull, scoops up the little creature in her bucket and decides – on account of its size – to name it Bean.

She takes him to a suitable sized rock pool and frees him there, feeding him a sandwich, which the creature soon demolishes.
Promising to return next day, she goes home and in the morning makes extra sandwiches for her new friend, Bean.

Overnight however, Bean has grown considerably and now won’t fit in the rock pool. Lula takes him to a larger one, feeds him generous amounts of sandwiches and they spend some time playing together.

The following day she returns with a veritable Bean feast.

Bean meanwhile has grown enormously and using the food as bait, she lures him to a very large pool where he gobbles up everything.

By now Lula’s attachment to Bean is considerable, so much so that she cannot bear to visit him next morning. Come lunchtime though, she’s feeling braver and off she goes again but there’s no sign of Bean in the rock pool.

All too soon it’s moving day and as the bulldozers arrive, Lula stages one final protest. Can she possibly prevent the demolition squad from getting to work?

Perhaps not single handed, or even with the help of her human friends; but what about Bean? …

I could see little Luna becoming a member of the young guardians of the environment movement that has been so much in the news recently with their protests and marches. Good on her and on them. In Alex’s magical, heart-warming story, as in life, it’s down to children to make a difference and his portrayal of little Lula as a determined, don’t mess with me character is terrific.

With its seaside setting, this is a great book to share and discuss with youngsters especially during the summer time, but its message is an important one no matter the season.

There’s a Spider in My Soup

There’s s Spider in My Soup!
Megan Brewis
Oxford University Press

I was expecting it to be a picture book version of the nursery song of the same name but how wrong was I. Megan Brewis has dished up a playful tale of a little spider that gets a high five from me for her risk taking.
Little Spider resides with Mum Spider and Dad Spider on their web from which, despite parental warnings, she loves to swing.

One afternoon while her parents are having some shut-eye, our intrepid Little Spider decides to take advantage of their lack of watchfulness to work on her swinging skills, arcing high and low and having great fun until …

Is she about to become part of Mr Moustache’s veggie soup lunch?

Fortunately she manages to alert her would-be accidental consumer by some loud assertions concerning her identity.
Happily Mr M. is a kindly soul and after administering some TLC, puts Little Spider safely back onto her web.

When aroused from their slumbers, her Mum and Dad give their little one a good telling off but then they learn what had taken place while they snoozed.

Maybe being adventurous isn’t such a bad idea after all, is their verdict before setting off to meet Little Spider’s saviour.

With an abundance of onomatopoeic sounds, speech bubbles and spirited, mixed media illustrations, this is a smashing story to read aloud with little ones. It could, one hopes, deter them from squashing spiders and instead releasing them into the great outdoors, should they encounter them inside; and let’s hope too that risk averse parents and others might be persuaded to give young children a little more freedom to take risks and perhaps learn from their mistakes too.

The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur

The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

Finlay sits counting out jelly beans from a jar, ‘one for him, one for me’ when suddenly a huge dinosaur approaches – an extremely greedy dinosaur who demands all the jelly beans for himself. Now the sweet treats happen to belong to Finlay’s friend and the little dino. claims said friend is rather large but this deters the huge beast not one jot. Instead he brags even more about his size and strength and goes on the heave an enormous rock in Finlay’s direction.

Teasing follows with the huge stroppy dinosaur accusing Finlay of making up a story and further bragging about his own skills. And so it continues with the bully becoming ever more angry …

until the sleeping giant is finally awoken by his shouts of “I want the jelly beans.”

Now it’s time for the supposed make-believe creature to show that big bullying dinosaur a thing or two.

That’s not quite the end but who wants to be a story spoiler?

Splendidly witty, this tale is much more about showing than telling with the deadpan words and hilarious pictures working wonderfully in tandem.

It’s great to see a paperback version of the story that’s certainly going to appeal to the vast numbers of young dinosaur lovers out there; and it’s a perfect one for starting a discussion on bullying.

If you missed the original hardback (or it’s worn out from use), then now’s the time to get hold of a paperback replacement.

Nell & the Circus of Dreams

Nell & the Circus of Dreams
Nell Gifford and Briony May Smith
Oxford University Press

Circuses hold a tremendous fascination for many children and so it is with young Nell although she doesn’t know it when the story begins. What she does know though is that she feels sad on account of her mother being ill and then, when she discovers a tiny chick in the farmyard, very happy.

Nell and the lost chick – she names it Rosebud – become almost inseparable.

One night Rosebud disappears from the end of her bed and when Nell wakes next morning her feathered friend is nowhere to be seen. Dashing outside she leaves the farmyard and heads through the still dewy meadows till she finds herself surrounded by enormous wooden wheels.

There’s an intoxicating aroma of coffee, toast and hedgerow flora, and she hears hammers striking metal. Lo and behold, she’s walked right into a circus.

Up goes the huge tent and Nell sees girls busy adding adornments inside and out. She helps and is invited into one of the wheeled homes where she joins a large family meal. She endeavours to communicate that she’s searching for her lost chick but suddenly the music starts and everyone rushes out and into the big tent.

Nell is mesmerised by the performances she sees …

but even better a wonderful surprise awaits her in the ring: there’s something feathery standing in a circle of light.
From then on, although sadly the circus has to depart, remembering doesn’t;

Nell carries the memories always in her heart and relives them in her own way.

Beautifully and movingly told by Nell, founder of Giffords Circus that has its home on the outskirts of Stroud, near to where I currently live much of the time, her words really capture the magic of all things wonderful about a circus community such as theirs.

I can think of nobody better than Briony to illustrate the story. Her jewel-like scenes are out-of-this-world wonderful, be they of Nell’s farmhouse home and yard, the temporary homes of the circus community or of the performance.

A must have picture book, this.