Tag Archives: Oxford University Press

Moon River

Moon River
illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press

Once again Tim Hopgood has turned an enduringly popular song into a magical experience that feels brand new.
His latest offering is based on Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini’s song Moon River made famous by Andy Williams. (There’s a sing-along CD featuring the classic song inside the back cover).

Moonlight streaming, river like through a child’s bedroom window gently nudges a slumberer and she embarks on a breathtaking journey of discovery in the company of a white horse and a guitar-playing brown bear.

Together they travel on their small craft through a glowing watery world,

then take to the air flying over not-yet sleeping cities before landing and riding off in search of that illusive rainbow’s end, a place that’s always just that little bit out of reach.

As those notes drift across the pages of Tim’s deliciously dreamy scenes who could resist following them and joining the adventurers as they sally forth into the night on a voyage that will take them they know not where.

Adult readers however, will recognise some of the famous landmarks depicted as they share this gorgeous book with their little ones.

Joy and hope shine forth from every one of Tim’s spreads in this enchanting dream of a book.

Speed Birds

Speed Birds
Alan Snow
Oxford University Press

Rather than being awed by his mother’s talk of potentially deadly falcons, a crow chick is entranced when he sees the speed at which a falcon zooms through the air.

Come autumn, the little crows learn that it’s time for them to fend for themselves in the big, wide world. Excited and with his mother’s words “… if you stay curious, use your mind, and believe in yourself, there is no limit to what you can achieve” the little bird sets off one morning with the other young crows.
Convinced that there are wonders to be discovered, the little crow urges the others onwards till eventually they stop to spend the night in a lone tree.

It’s here next morning that one little crow makes a most thrilling discovery that is to change his life and that of his fellow crows.

Below the tree is a junkyard full of abandoned vehicles and car parts as well as a shed full of tools, more car parts, trophies and most important, plans and a notebook containing drawings, diagrams and lists.

So begins the project to become the fastest bird in the world.

This is a book that makes nonsense of the notion some primary teachers adhere to that once children achieve reading fluency, they should no longer read picture books. Alan Snow’s illustrations are truly awesome – a combination of fine art and technical drawing with clearly annotated detailed inventories of the car’s and engine’s components and how  the internal combustion engine works as well as the formula for calculating the speed and more.

Mechanically minded adults, as well as older primary children and above, will be enthralled by both the story and the intricate technical details of the art. I wonder if Lewis Hamilton would go even faster with a feather festooned Mercedes?

The Boy and the Bear / This Book Just Stole My Cat!

The Boy and the Bear
Tracey Corderoy and Sarah Massini
Nosy Crow

It’s not much fun playing alone as the little boy in this story knows so well; he longs to have a friend to share in such games as hide-and-seek and catch.

One day as he sits alone, he spies a paper boat floating towards him; on it is the brief message, BOO! Could perhaps it be from the best friend he so longs for? Messages are exchanged and a meeting arranged.

Bear however isn’t exactly the kind of best friend he so desires. Nevertheless he does invite the bear to play hide-and-seek. The game is not a success, neither are the other activities they try.

Bear however does have other positive qualities that are revealed one morning in autumn. The two then embark upon a collaborative project –

one that once complete results in a special time together.Time doesn’t stand still though and as autumn gives way to winter, Bear has to depart leaving the boy with a realisation of all that he’s lost. But not lost forever: come the spring boy spies not one but three message carrying paper boats …

Tracey’s enchanting tale of the joys of establishing and maintaining a special friendship is illustrated in Sarah’s equally enchanting spreads that show how the friendship develops across the seasons.

A lovely book to be shared over and over.

This Book Just Stole My Cat!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

A certain book seems to have an insatiable desire for furry creatures (and other items on occasion): first it consumed a dog and here it’s become a cat thief. Poor Ben, for it’s his cat that’s gone missing, followed shortly after by Bella who has kindly offered to help in the search.
Along comes a rescue vehicle and guess what …

That leaves only Ben (and a tiny fluffy rodent) to proceed with the rescue mission: Ben however doesn’t last much longer.

Not long after, a message appears requesting the reader’s assistance: tickling seems to be a possible rescue facilitator for said book is bound to respond to a dose of tickly fingers by emitting a rather forceful sneeze.

Yeah! Success! There’s only a slight issue that needs to be sorted now …

Another fun, interactive tale of Ben and Bella for little ones; it’s great for beginning readers too.

Wizarding for Beginners!

Wizarding for Beginners!
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

Dave the dragon spent his last tale honing his skills as a would-be knight and now returns, along with his best pal, Albrecht; he of story-telling prowess, the glossy-coated, somewhat noxiously smelling goat.
Now they’re going undercover as wizards in order to gain entrance to the decidedly shady Wizarding Guild with the aim of freeing their friends from the evils of dastardliest of all wizards, the hair-obsessive, tantrum throwing terrible Terence: he who has ambitions to take over the entire world.

But once inside this exceedingly strange rule-bound place,

No bums on the table especially on spaghetti night.

it isn’t many hours before Albrecht has managed to get himself kidnapped and shoved into a sack (on account of his glossy coat so we later learn) and it’s down to Dave to rescue him. In this enterprise he’s ably abetted by Brian who just happens to be a female wizard – something Dave discovers when he follows Brian into the loo, the ladies loo no less. But her gender isn’t Brian’s only secret; her magic so she admits is rather reliant upon porridge – yes porridge – but that does happen to be Dave’s favourite breakfast (mine too actually).

A deal is struck: the two team up and with additional assistance from an emotional wreck of a monster named Pansy who’s large, lonely, lacks self-confidence and is all ‘owie’ on account of having fought a tiger.

While all this is going on poor Albrecht is having a pretty terrible time. Terence is making him confront the magic mirror,  a thoroughly nasty piece of work that appears to have nothing good to say about anyone or anything.

Or does it?

If all these shenanigans haven’t whetted your appetite for this splendidly silly saga, then let me just throw into the mix a brand new dessert called Squirrel Parfait, some further great reveals in the gender department, rule rubbishing galore, a reunion and errr, that would be telling!

Hurray for porridge power, for the splendid plugs for books, reading and libraries, and the plethora of jokes herein.

Elys Dolan’s second Dave saga is as deliciously daft and enormously enjoyable as Knighthood for Beginners. This is a great read, especially for those who like their stories liberally sprinkled with crazy illustrations of the Dolan kind.

Need more help finding summer reading for your child? Try the Toppsta Summer Reading Guide

Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees

Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees
Tony De Saulles
Oxford University Press

We’ve heard about the parasite infected ‘Zombie’ bees in the USA and now here they are in this, new Bee Boy book.

For those who have yet to meet Melvin Medley, he lives with his mum and keeps a hive of bees on the roof of his tower block. His secret power is that he can, when his beloved bees need him, become a bee himself.

This is his second story and at the start he walks to school with best pal Priti to discover at the gates a boy dressed in a hoodie with golden cuffs, golden trainers and boy band styled hair stepping from a Rolls Royce. It’s newcomer to St John’s Primary, Berty Crump, nephew of millionaire business tycoon Sir Crispin Crump. And, Melvin is charged with looking after him on his first day.

Eager to do anything for his favourite teacher, Melvin introduces himself to Berty who immediately announces that he hates bees. “Gross” he calls them. Things are not looking good.

Then when a peculiar sickness bug that turns people yellow suddenly hits the school, starting with his arch-enemy Norman Crudwell and Berty, both of whom have honey sponge at lunch time, Melvin knows he has to start investigating.

His first question is to Daisy who gave Melvin his bees. She talks of bees getting sick on account of feeding on plants treated with noxious chemicals, suggesting sick bees might make sick honey.

Further questions crop up when Mel and his own bees discover a factory on the edge of the woods, a field full of gigantic flowers, drones spraying nasty chemicals, metal-suited beekeepers and oh, my goodness, Zombees!

Could all this have anything to do with that dastardly-looking uncle of Berty’s?

Passionate bee advocate, Tony De Saulles has penned another funny, exciting, pacy story, with a vitally important conservation message. Liberally scattered throughout are his comical cartoon style illustrations.

Need more summer holiday recommendations for your children? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

The Princess and the Pitstop / Cleopatra Bones and the Golden Chimpanzee

The Princess and the Pit Stop
Tom Angleberger and Dan Santat
Abrams

A princess racing car driver – Yeah! We first meet her as she makes a pit stop with one lap of the race left and is told by her Fairy Godmother that she’s in last place. ‘She might as well give up!’ is the suggestion from our narrator.
This particular princess is not however, a quitter: she’s one determined young woman and so it’s time to hit that accelerator – HARD!

Off she zooms, outstripping various opponents so the cleverly punning commentator tells us, leaving a trail of rainbow coloured exhaust in her wake.

Before long she’s whizzed past scores of nursery rhyme characters, and pretty much every fairy tale character you can think of, (‘She spun out Rumpelstiltskin and butted in front of the The Three Billy Goats Gruff!’ we hear) as well as Beatrix Potter’s Flopsy, Mopsy and Peter Rabbit (what happened to Cottontail one wonders), until the only cars still in front are those belonging to the two ugly stepsisters ( I guess Cinderella’s elsewhere engaged) and after a lot of bumping and blocking on the sisters’ part, whoppee! – our princess, who isn’t at all alarmed by a bit of biffing and bashing, is declared the winner.

That however isn’t quite the end of the tale: there’s another competition still to be won and that involves taking a partner.
I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have had her perform solo again, but still, this telling, coupled with Dan Santat’s computer game animation style art work will surely give you an adrenalin rush.
Reading the break-neck speed narration of royalty and racing aloud left this adult reviewer more than a little breathless.
Long live girl power!
There’s another race in:

Cleopatra Bones and the Golden Chimpanzee
Jonathan Emmett and Ed Eaves
Oxford University Press

When news of the location of a priceless statue, The Golden Chimpanzee breaks, the race is on to get to the spot in the Jungle of Junoo on the shore of Lake Lazoo and secure the treasure.
Can canine explorer Cleopatra Bones, finder of the treasure map showing exactly where the statue is to be found, beat the opposition, in particular the dastardly driver of an armoured aqua-car, Al McNasty, and discover the hidden gold?

Cleo. spies something interesting, a monkey statue assuredly but it’s not a golden one and then suddenly Al McNasty skids to a halt at the base of the statue. He’s convinced the place to look is underground.
Al however isn’t prepared to pick up a spade and dig down deep in the hope of booty: instead he has another plan up his sleeve, one that entails creating a blast.

But when his ruse backfires in no uncertain terms, he inadvertently precipitates a rather exciting waterfall …

A fun, fast moving, rollicking rhyme from Jonathan Emmett accompanied by Ed Eaves’ detailed scenes of zany vehicles that travel over land, through water and air, driven by an array of funky animals is just the thing to keep youngsters on the edge of their seats as they root for Cleopatra and her pals, all of whom, along with the evil-intentioned reptile are catalogued inside the front and back covers.

Steve, Terror of the Seas

Steve, Terror of the Seas
Megan Brewis
Oxford University Press

Steve is not a very big fish, his teeth aren’t really razor sharp,

he’s no angelfish certainly, but why, he wonders, is it that the very sight of him sends not only all the fishes large and small, but other sea creatures too, and even humans, into a terrified tizzy.

Let me introduce some of the most alarming varieties of the fish Steve shares the ocean with: here they are, each one appearing decidedly more likely to have you for breakfast than Steve;

but I’ll leave him to do the honours when it comes to an introduction to his best pal, George. “We go EVERYWHERE together” Steve tells us “And George doesn’t think I’m scary at all!’ Now why would that be?

This is just a made up tale, you’re probably thinking but actually it is and it isn’t. Steve is a Pilot fish for George; and they share a symbiotic relationship. He keeps George free from harmful parasites and is even allowed to clean his teeth. Ooooh!

Essentially this is an extended joke of a story with a factual sting in its tail. It’s amusingly illustrated with interestingly textured, sub-aquatic scenes by relative newcomer to the picture book scene, Megan Brewis.

Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star

Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star
Maria Farrer, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Oxford University Press

Mister P is back and now he’s dropped into young Ruby’s already packed life. With absent father, a mother and a little brother Leo to take care of, let alone attending school, her days and nights are pretty jam-packed and there certainly isn’t room in it, or their not very big flat, for a large white furry polar bear.

He’s certainly not what she had in mind when she made that wish for a birthday surprise. The trouble is, having drifted down in a hot-air balloon and landed in the nearby park, it doesn’t look as though he’s going anywhere in a hurry.
Thank goodness then for kindly neighbour, Mrs Moresby, who’s not averse to supplying the odd packet or so of fish fingers.

Activities as diverse as busking (to raise money to repay Mrs Moresby), and skateboarding (Ruby is a fan on account of her father and eager to improve her skills; Mr P. needs four skateboards and he’s pretty inept but determined) feature large and very large.

‘Perseverance, guts, determination, friends’ those are the requisites for Connor to be a skateboarder. They’re also what Ruby deems she needs to survive.

Survive she does and much more, emerging by the end, emotionally stronger, with a greater self understanding and generally an all round better person, thanks in no small part to Mister P. a character that utters not a word throughout the whole story, but also thanks to Mrs Moresby, an understanding headteacher and new friend Connor.

This fine book encompasses a number of themes including empathy, tolerance, acceptance and diversity, all of which are subtly woven into the story that also includes the needs of young carers. It’s beautifully illustrated by Daniel Rieley.

The Misadventures of Winnie and Wilbur / Get Me Out of Witch School!

The Misadventures of Winnie and Wilbur
Laura Owen and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press

It’s good to have the ever-popular picture book duo, Winnie the Witch and her cat Wilbur, in another chapter book format edition.
This one has eight short stories, each one profusely illustrated by Korky Paul in his distinctive zany style.

In the first, Winnie gets her knickers in a bit of a twist when her new enterprise isn’t quite the resounding success she’d hoped, but then Winnie doesn’t exactly employ the kind of sales talk that will have her new products whizzing off the shelves.

No matter: the ingenious uses she finds for her unwanted wares are bound to give readers a good giggle.

The second story has Winnie cooking up a feast for her interfering sister Wilma. It’s not the special fresh batburgers she originally planned – she hasn’t the heart to serve up relations of her ’diddly bat’ friend – but, thanks to some timely assistance from Wilbur, Wilma leaves after supper thoroughly satisfied with her meal.
That should suffice to give you a flavour of the hilarious escapades within; the others being concerned with bothersome bubbles, a whopping great whale and other fishy findings, a car boot sale with a difference,

some high drama in a big top, extraordinary doings at a soccer game involving the odd bit of knicker elastic zapping and finally, a spot of excavating.
Sheer hilarity from beginning to end, and perfect read alone fare as well as a hoot to read aloud.

More witchy shenanigans in:

Get Me Out of Witch School!
Em Lynas, illustrated by Jamie Littler
Nosy Crow

In the second book of Daisy Wart’s adventures at Toadspit Towers, Witch School of Conformity and Strickness, the reluctant young witch is now known as Twinkle Toadspit.
She’s yet to gain full control of her witchy powers and still holds ambitions to be an actress. But when she determines to rescue a ‘cute, cuddly kitten’ Twinkle inadvertently sets off a chain of chaotic happenings.
It’s down to Twinkle and her pals to save Toadspit Towers. Can they do so, and in time for the would-be star of stage to tour her “Bottom”?

Bursting with wonderful characters, this is total spellbinding fun to keep readers in suspense throughout. Equally it makes a thoroughly enjoyable read aloud for those not quite ready to fly solo. However it’s read, Jamie Littler’s illustrations add to the enjoyment.

Am I Yours?

Am I Yours?
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

Alex Latimer certainly keeps his audience guessing in this rhyming tale concerning an identity issue.
If you’ve never heard of an egg that speaks, you’re about to in this review.
Said egg, having been blown from a nest and spent a cold dark night at the foot of a hill emits a gentle ‘Excuse me, please, but am I yours? I’m sure I am a dinosaur’s.’
Yes it’s another dinosaur tale with lots of children’s favourites making an appearance.
First to come  along is Stegosaurus but the egg doesn’t fit its specifications, says so, but remains upbeat.
Nor does it fit those of Brachiosaurus, Triceratops, Corythosaurus

or Tyrannosaurus, by which time an entire day has passed and the egg, feeling lonely begins to cry out ‘… I can’t stay out in wind and storm! / I’ll freeze alone! I must stay warm!
The sun sinks and in so doing renders the eggshell translucent allowing the five concerned adult dinosaurs a view within.

Now they know what to do with the lost egg: back it’s rolled up the hill from whence it came, and there, to the sound of heavy feet, it makes a final plea:
One last time – I must be sure – / Are you the ones I’m looking for?’ …
In addition to the enjoyment of meeting some of their favourite prehistoric creatures in the story, with its invitation to join in the telling through the rhyming repeat refrain, ‘What do you look like inside that shell? / I can’t see in so I can’t tell.’ children will love becoming co-inquisitors of the egg,
(There’s lots of potential for small world play here once you’ve shared the story.)

For dinosaur enthusiasts who like to colour:

Fuzzy Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures
illustrated by Papio Press

This is a touch-and-feel book with 7 spreads to add colour to, featuring animals of the prehistoric land, sea and sky, set out in chart-like form with brief snippets of information relating to each featured (numbered) animal one side of the spread, opposite which is the colouring page on a dramatic black background with the numbered creatures and other flora and fauna.
The book is written in association with, and fact-checked by, the National History Museum.

The Case of the Red-Bottomed Robber!

The Case of the Red-Bottomed Robber!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

The chalks are an artistic lot creating colourful drawings at every opportunity so imagine their feelings when something or someone starts ‘stealing’ their pictures, and not just once either.

Thus begins this daft tale wherein Sergeant Blue and of course, readers are hot on the trail of the miscreant although I expect young listeners will already have their own suspicions as to his identity.

It’s not long before the Sergeant has lined up an identity parade of possible candidates and there’s one particularly suspicious-looking character that fits the evidence and his behind is covered in tell-tale red dust.

Caught red-bottomed! But before the prison doors are closed on the culprit, he makes a dash for freedom.

Will the chalks ever catch up with that slippery customer and if so, what will happen?

This light-hearted romp embodies an important message about not being too hasty in making judgements.
Children will enjoy the chalk-board style illustrations: in the face of the near ubiquity of white boards and markers in schools, could this be the start of a chalk-board revival – you never know!

Zeki gets a Checkup / My First Day

Zeki Gets a Checkup
Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson
Alanna Books

Lulu’s little brother is now a playful toddler drinking from his own cup and feeding himself. It’s the day he’s going for a health check and having helped pack his bag, Daddy and the infant are ready to visit the clinic.

Once there they have to wait their turn so Zeki is glad he’s got his favourite Mister Seahorse to play with but it’s not too long before it’s their turn.

Zeki is happy to show what he can do; he’s weighed and measured, has his eyes, ears and heart checked

and is given a jab to help him stay healthy. He leaves with a well-deserved sticker, a new book and a cheery farewell wave from the health practitioner.

Full of warmth, reassuring, and as with all the books in this series, inclusive and beautifully portrayed.
Definitely one to add to the bookshelves of those with toddlers be that at home or in a nursery setting.

My First Day
Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press

This is one of the newly packaged My First Milestones series and features little duckling, Puddle who, along with his two friends is about to start nursery school. Having eagerly anticipated the big day since he was ‘barely more than an egg’, when it finally arrives the little duckling is more than a tad nervous.

His Mummy Duck however, has taken steps to ensure things go smoothly. She offers words of reassurance and packs into his school bag things that will remind him that she’s never far off: one of her soft feathers, his favourite nibbles, some biscuits to share with his friends

and his Cuddly for afternoon rest time.

Creative activities fill the rest of the day and before you can say, ‘going-home time’ there waiting is Puddle’s very own Mummy Duck with a warm hug.

It’s not nerves but excitement that causes the duckling’s heart to go pitter-patter that night as he anticipates his next day at duckling school.

A sweet story, told in a direct manner that expresses so well Puddle’s feelings, beautifully illustrated with scenes of the riverside in spring, this is just right for sharing with children about to have their own first day at nursery.

I’ve signed the charter  

How To Eat Pizza

How To Eat Pizza
Jon Burgerman
Oxford University Press

A book on how to eat pizza? When it comes to feasting on that favourite of foods surely everybody knows what to do; but just in case there’s any doubt, this latest offering from the creator of Splat! shows the way.

There’s a snag however: the particular pizza Burgerman is dishing up has no intention of being eaten at all. No way! Especially the largest slice.

Indeed he’s determined to convince us that there’s a range of infinitely more delicious options sharing his plate – a book worm for example, or this funky dude.

All the while though there’s the pull of the biggest slice but he’s not about to give up in his efforts to persuade us that any one of his fellows is the one to feast upon.

Alternatively, there are much more healthy, way less calorific possibilities that won’t damage your waistline. What about indulging in a few of these?

Burgerman’s zany humour goes down a treat in this colourful culinary extravaganza and if you’re still undecided about your cheesy choice, then maybe a sugary something might hit the spot …

Totally daft but enormous fun: Burgerman, with his off the wall sense of humour, has dished up another winner to tickle your taste buds.

Dog in Boots

Dog in Boots
Paula Metcalf
Oxford University Press

Here’s a doggy delight if ever there was one – or should that be two?

Philip is madly in love with new neighbour Penelope. Her kind eyes, waggy tail and beautiful smile have swept him off his feet.
However, there’s a problem: Penelope appears to be very tall whereas Philip’s legs are so short, his ears sweep the floor as he walks. Hmm.
Philip shares his problem with best pal, Ralph.

Ralph comes up with a variety of ingenious methods to make his friend appear taller …

After the resounding failure of the tablecloth comes the message on the wall …

But this leads only to unexpected tears from Penelope and feelings of desperation on Philip’s part.
Plan C involves a trip to the shoe-shop, the purchase of some funky footwear and the addition of some strategically placed stuffing.

Now Philip is ready to go and offer comfort to his true love. But as we know, ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ And so it is here. More tears flow, this time from Phillip: surely though, our besotted pooch isn’t doomed to eternal embarrassment and unrequited love …
Judiciously placed flaps add to the laugh out loud happenings and total silliness so wonderfully illustrated, and underlying which is a plethora of heartfelt feelings, all of which add up to a read aloud delight.

The Turkey That Voted For Christmas / Evil Pea Rules

The Turkey that Voted for Christmas
Madeliene Cook and Samara Hardy
Oxford University Press

Christmas is an overwhelming no-no when it comes to a certain sector of the residents of Pear Tree Farm, all except Timmy Turkey that is. To the horror of his family, he really wants a dose of the festive fun but in the face of so many determined NO voters what’s a young turkey to do?
Seemingly there’s only one thing – hold a ‘Christmas’ election. First though he needs to canvas support among the other animals to see which will join his Christmas party.

Christmas Eve dawns and it’s time for votes to be cast but what will the result be?
Are the turkeys to be stuffed at last or can it perhaps be a win/win scenario despite the outcome of the poll?
A crazy Christmas offering stuffed with nutty puns and served up by the team who created The Mouse That Cancelled Christmas.

Evil Pea Rules!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster

Evil Pea is back and raring to go with his dastardly doings once again. Not content with being ruler of the freezer, he’s determined to take over the whole supermarket with a particularly chilling plan.
With his arch-enemy Supertato duly dealt with, the pesky pea thinks he’s well on the way to supermarket supremacy

but he’s reckoned without the cold-busting power of the chillies.
From its sparkly cover, there’s a decidedly seasonal feeling where this latest Supertato adventure is concerned; so pervasive is it that even Pea finds himself bound to join in with the festivities.
Fans of the series will relish this icy offering, which may well garner additional followers tempted by the arresting cover.

With Giving in Mind

Little Hazelnut
Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard
Old Barn Books

What a simply gorgeous presentation is this tale of a hazelnut dropped by squirrel …

and buried by a heavy snowfall.
Other woodland animals, furred and feathered, come and go but the nut remains undiscovered.
In the spring, a little tree shoot emerges – literally – and a sapling begins to develop: a little nut tree, no less.

Readers are taken on a journey through the changing seasons in this wonderfully crafted pop-up story. The limited colour palette and occasional patterned backgrounds are most effective and the paper-engineering superb.
A book to share, to treasure and to give.

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Michael Morpurgo has selected a dozen magical tales from different parts of the world for this collection, the final one of which, Jack and the Beanstalk is his own retelling. This first person telling from Jack Spriggins aka ‘Poor Boy Jack’ is especially engaging for young listeners. Morpurgo also provides an introduction as well as an introductory paragraph to each story.
Ten illustrators have been used with Victoria Assanelli and Bee Willey having two tales each. Most arresting as far as I’m concerned are Ian Beck’s wonderful silhouettes for Adèle Geras’ rendition of The Pied Piper.

From Japan comes Yoshi the Stonecutter, retold by Becca Heddle and beautifully illustrated by Meg Hunt, the only non-European offering.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk are ‘almost part of our DNA’ says Morpurgo in his introduction: they are universal.
Perhaps not a first collection but this read aloud volume is certainly one worth adding to a family bookshelf or primary classroom collection.
Not included in the above but certainly magical is:

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

To satisfy his youngest daughter’s wish, a merchant steals a rose from the garden of a hideous-looking beast and Beauty, to save her father’s life, goes in his place to the Beast’s palace, falls in love with him and well, you know the rest.
The classic fairy tale is retold in a truly beautiful rendition – a feat of paper-engineering and lavish, cut out illustrations by self-taught illustrator Dinara Mirtalipova.

She has created six multi-layered scenes by using three layers of paper cut to look 3D, so that each spread simply springs into life when the page is turned.
Magical!
I really had to exercise my powers of persuasion to get one listener to part with my copy after we’d shared it.

A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Otter-Barry Books

I clearly remember my father reading Robert Louis Stevenson poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses on many occasions; most notably Rain. The Swing, From a Railway Carriage, Autumn Fires, Where Go the Boats? and my very favourite, Windy Nights (which I still know by heart).
Here’s a beautiful book of those same poems that were first published in 1885, and a century later illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully packaged with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith for a new generation of listeners and readers.
For me Foreman is the perfect illustrator for the poems, his watercolours imbuing them with a sense of timelessness and innocence. One for the family bookshelf.

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

There’s plenty to engage young children during the long winter evenings in this space-themed activity book. There are things to count, to colour and to make; plenty of puzzles, wordsearches and more, plus 4 pages of stickers. All you need are pens, pencils, scissors, a paper plate or so, a couple of sponges and 2 rubber bands (to convert your shoes to moon boots) and some basic ingredients for the Stellar Cakes (plus the help of an adult).
With 60 pages of spacey fun, this should help fill a fair few hours of darkness.

Singing in the Rain / I Want Snow!

Singing in the Rain
illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press

A few years back I was in Udaipur, Rajasthan when the first monsoon rains of the season started to fall. Almost instantly, everyone around, the children certainly, all dashed outside and began celebrating – jumping for joy and playing in the rapidly forming, large puddles that soon became rushing torrents in the streets.
Tim Hopgood’s exuberant illustrations that accompany the words based on Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown’s song too, make rain a joyful experience.

Most adults in the UK certainly, especially teachers, find rainy days a nuisance at best, as they usually mean wet playtimes. Early years teachers though, like the children herein, embrace it as an opportunity to experience puddle jumping and splashing, and have a thoroughly good time – so long as everyone is suitably clad in waterproofs and wellies, that is.
Included with this uplifting book is a CD with the song performed by Doris Day followed by the story with page-turn signals.
So, as the book’s illustrator urges, no matter where you are, be it city or tropical rainforest,

Next time it rains, step outside, feel the rain on your face and give the clouds up above your biggest smile!

Just like the children here in Tim Hopgood’s bright alluring scenes.

I Want Snow!
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

The Little Princess is well known for making demands.
In this, her latest story, prompted by a postcard from her mum in the South Pole, and in spite of it being summer, it’s snow she wants.
But what the Little Princess wants, she usually gets and so it is here – eventually.
First though she has everyone in the palace doing their best, building snowmen out of stones and sand and indulging her with mudball fights.

Is the little madam satisfied? Of course not; even the cook’s proffered glass snow globe fails to please and off she stomps to bed. Endless bed – or almost …

until finally she has something to lift her spirits.
I wonder what she thinks about the long-awaited, chilly precipitation.
The Little Princess does look slightly less little here but her charm shows no signs of wearing thin, and I’m sure she’s especially pleased to have a sparkly cover to her latest book.

A Snoring Giant, A Favourite Witch & Knights Galore

The Giant Who Snored
Mike Nicholson and Amy Lewis
Little Door Books
In the hills close by a town lives a gentle giant. He’s a great favourite of the townsfolk especially the children who look forward to his daily visit and the fun it offers …

Everything is tickety boo until the day the giant, suddenly overcome by tiredness, falls asleep during his visit. The loud snores he emits rock the whole town causing absolute chaos on land and sea and driving the residents absolutely crazy.
The hullabaloo must be stopped, announces the mayor offering a reward to anyone who can wake the slumberer. However, despite the best efforts of the blacksmith, the tailor and the chemist, the giant remains sound asleep. Is there anybody who can rouse the snorer? And if so, how?
Here’s a clue as to the who …

As for the how, suffice it to say, it’s pretty disgusting and likely to cause young listeners to emit delighted ‘eeuugh!’s in response; and everything ends satisfactorily for all concerned.
Apart from the very occasional slight creak, Mike Nicholson’s rhyming text slips nicely off the tongue -read it through to get the phrasing right before sharing it though. In combination with Amy Lewis’ digital scenes of the stentorian snores of the giant and their effects, you have the makings of a lively, enjoyable story time session.

Winnie and Wilbur The Naughty Knight
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
In their latest magical escapade Winnie transports Wilbur and herself back in time into a medieval castle where, for a change, her faithful moggie takes the starring role in the grand tournament, with Winnie as a lady-in-waiting.
Can the gallant knight, Sir Wilbur outshoot the famous Sir Roderick in the archery contest? And what happens when the two come face to face in the jousting?

Let’s just say that Winnie has her magic wand neatly stowed away about her person and thanks to a few deft flourishes of her arm, Sir Wilbur cuts Sir Roderick down to size in spectacular fashion, just in time to attend the magnificent banquet in the Great Hall. No need for magic there surely? …
Even after 30 years, Winnie and Wilbur’s magical charm never seems to wear off and it’s especially good to see Wilbur as the star of the show; love those split page layouts especially.
This one brims over with zany humour and is full of potential for primary classroom themes.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks: The Dinosaur’s Return
Kristina Stephenson
Egmont
Sir Charlie Stinky Socks is back to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his first adventure in what I think is story number nine.
When Charlie’s pet cat Envelope unknowingly hatches a dinosaur’s egg, the young knight together with his faithful friends, set out on a quest to return the ‘little something’ to Thunder Mountain.
A quest that sees them sucked into a swirling watery tunnel, diving into the vent of a volcano and more, before landing up on an island and in so doing, precipitating a dinosaur stampede.

All ends happily however with grateful dinosaurs and a spectacular display of fireworks.
Fast moving, fun, full of action and with dino.-sized flaps to explore, Sir Charlie and friends continue to delight.

I Want To Go First!

I Want To Go First!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

I’ve never quite understood the obsession with being first in a line but it’s something that seems to take hold of children almost from the minute they start school – that’s if they’re made to line up anyway – a teachers’ obsession, often fuelled by parents, and one I dislike intensely.
The whole ‘going first’ thing can make for a fun story though and Richard Byrne exploits its potential for creating humour in his latest interactive picture book.
We join five funkily attired elephants, Elizabeth, Eleanor, Elton, Elgar and Elphie as they’re about to embark on ‘the long march to the watering hole at the back of the book’.
Elphie, the smallest of their number, is always the one that brings up the rear.
On this occasion however, he’s had enough of being last and asks to go in the front of the line. As usual though the response comes, ‘ … the littlest always goes last’.
Elphie isn’t prepared to walk at the back and instead he enlists the help of readers to help him with his plan of action. Help that involves first, shouting …

followed by hissing,

wobbling the book, squeaking and other noise making; all of which serve to get him to second place in the line right behind Elgar, just as they reach their destination where it looks as though we’re about to be rumbled …

Oops! The water hole is already occupied. Now what? Perhaps that squeak-squeak noise might come in useful after all … Could it even make the other elephants rethink their first in line criterion.
Enthusiastic orchestration and demands of ‘again’ were my listeners’ responses to this sizeist tale with its playful attempt to alter the status quo.

Salty Dogs

Salty Dogs
Matty Long
Oxford University

Matty Long packed plenty into his Magic Forest picture books; now he turns his creative attention to pirates and once again the result is full of fun and frenzy.
Let’s meet the Salty Dogs: there’s Captain Fifi, super strong first mate, Barker, Mylo, the crew’s official watchdog, the rather excitable Sherman; Stewart the swordsdog extraordinaire – so he claims; Pug, the questionable cook and last but not least, Horatio Pawsworth 111, head of grooming. They however are not the only crew to be sailing the high seas in search of treasure; there are also The Green Shell Gang, The Crazy Horn Crew, The Feathered Furies and The Sea Monkeys – all forces to be reckoned with.
As the Salty Dogs sail towards Crossbone Island to unearth their long-buried treasure, they manage to get the better of the first three of their enemies; but then, they find themselves facing the mighty galleon the Scoundrel and its crew the dreaded Sea Monkeys.

It seems as though those Salty Dogs are in for some BIG trouble when the Scoundrel’s captain gives the order to fire the cannons.
Then it’s a case of sink or swim – doggy paddle style – as fast as they can to claim what is rightfully theirs.

But what exactly is this treasure that both crews are ready to go head to head over?
This crazy tale is absolutely brimming over with suitably daft details, speech bubbles and piratical humour. Readers will want to linger over every spread relishing the irresistible buccaneering bounties.

I’ve signed the charter  

Superhero Hotel / Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away

Superhero Hotel
Abie Longstaff and Migy Blanco
Scholastic
Have you heard about the exclusive, top-secret hotel atop a hill that’s the number one destination for any superhero in need of a spot of rest and relaxation?
It’s ably managed by young Joe Malone who knows exactly what each of his special guests most needs to restore them to peak form, which is just as well for he suddenly gets an influx of superheroes.
First comes Captain Power in need of a strength recharge. He’s followed by Gadget Girl, Ice Woman (with a sore thumb), The Flame, whose boots need attention, and last of all, Mr Invisible who slips in unnoticed, except by Joe.
Being superheroes though, it’s not long before they’re back to their former energetic selves and raring to go.
Joe meanwhile decides to do some gardening but the by now, bored superheroes cannot resist joining him and are soon at work making their own improvements to the garden.
Before you can say ‘be careful’ Captain Power has tripped over Mr Invisible,

accidentally precipitating a catastrophic chain of events.
Can the combined skills of the superheroes save Superhero Hotel from disaster?

Abie Longstaff’s fast moving tale with its crazy happenings, teamwork and a wealth of superheroes with their unique and diverse attributes provides Migy Blanco plenty of scope to employ his illustrative imagination; his arresting style will certainly engage young would-be superheroes.

Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper edition containing three stories, all featuring flying machines, is a great way to catch up if, like me you’ve missed some of the individual Winnie and Wilbur picture books.
In the first, Winnie and Wilbur: The Broomstick Ride, Winnie tries various other forms of locomotion after a series of accidents while cruising on her broomstick, only to discover that the solution to preventing further mishaps (especially to Wilbur who seemed to come off worst in all the aeronautical disasters), lies not in alternative forms of transport,

but in something altogether different; something that will improve Winnie’s eyesight.
A flying carpet is the subject in the second story wherein we find Winnie, conscientious witch that she is, busy writing thank-you letters for her birthday presents. There’s one letter left to do and it’s proving especially tricky as her much wanted gift of a flying carpet had turned out to be an absolute disaster.
Can she find a way to use the thing so that she has something positive to say about it? Let’s just say it’s surprising how many alternative uses a single item can be put to …
The final tale sees Winnie off to stock up on her favourite vegetables at the farmers’ market, especially her very favourite – pumpkins. These weekly trips leave much to be desired though and so Winnie decides to grow her own at home instead –

with Wilbur’s help of course; and the odd touch of magic to speed up the process.
And speed it up is exactly what her wand waving does, so much so that very soon her whole house is surrounded by a veritable veggie jungle full of enormous, produce including enough pumpkins – Winnie’s favourite – sufficient to feed not only herself and Wilbur but the whole neighbourhood . What though should she do with a gigantic pumpkin shell? Think propellers; think a highly convenient means of travelling to market …
As with all Winnie books, the stories are terrific fun, but it’s their combination with Korky Paul’s hilarious, highly detailed illustrations that make this series such perennial favourites. (You might even find the odd character from another of his books has dropped in.)

I’ve signed the charter  

Rhyme Crime

Rhyme Crime
Jon Burgerman
Oxford University Press

Beware the googly eyes staring out through the cover of Jon Burgerman’s follow up to Splat!. It’s another chortle inducer starring a thief, albeit one whose light-fingered habit leaves a rhyming replacement item for every one stolen. In fact the whole thing is a veritable rhyming extravaganza.
First to fall victim to those thieving fingers is Hammy; his brand new hat is swapped for a c– .
I’m sure Gumpop is none too pleased to lose his head, only to have it replaced by a slice of …

And so it goes on: Arney loses his chair; Tootle – his dog; Moomoo – a pair of clogs;

Gertie’s house is swapped for a giant m —- .
Tumble’s orange however proves the thief’s undoing.
As he ponders upon a suitable rhyming object with which to replace the juicy item he’s apprehended by a couple of police officers

and marched off to jail.
Not for long though: seemingly our light-fingered jail bird is an expert lock-picker …
This hilarious romp is absolutely brilliant for developing rhyming skills and encouraging prediction, a vital skill in reading for meaning.
Burgerman’s bold, bright, matt illustrations are attention grabbing and deliciously zany.

I’ve signed the charter  

You Can Do Anything (Hip and Hop)

You Can Do Anything (Hip and Hop)
Akala and Sav Akyüz
Oxford University Press

Rhythm, rhyme and repetition, the 3 Rs of reading come together in a book with an important theme from award winning hip hop artist Akala and illustrator Sav Akyüz.
It features in particular pals, Hip the wise, top hat sporting, rapping hippo and his friend, Hop.
Everyone is preparing for the Blueberry Hill bike race.

For Hip and the Cheeky Monkeys, bike riding is a piece of cake; not so for Hop.
You can do anything if you try,
You can do anything, ride or fly.
Don’t let anybody tell you no.
Focus on your dreams and go!

Hip encourages him and Hop desperately wants to learn to ride his bike but can’t stay upright.

Riding a bike is all about balance. / Letting go of your fear is the greatest challenge.” is the advice from the Cheeky Monkeys. But despite all these encouraging words, Hop still keeps falling off. His morale is at rock bottom.
Time for a story from Hip.

Will this be enough to convince his feathered friend that practice, perseverance and determination will eventually pay dividends?
Can Hop become proficient in time for the event and who will emerge as the final winner? What do you think?
Definitely a winning formula from Akala – love his positivity mantra – and Akyüz, whose funky illustrations add street cred to a powerful self-belief message for all young learners.
Let friendship and inner confidence rule. Just focus on your dreams and go.

I’ve signed the charter  

Daisy Doodles / Ella Who?

Daisy Doodles
Michelle Robinson, Irene Dickson & Tom Weller
Oxford University Press
Get ready to go doodle crazy with Daisy.
One rainy day the little girl is stuck indoors and almost before she can say ‘Pipsqueak’ her drawing has upped off the page and is helping the child adorn the entire house with doodles of all shapes and sizes.
The rain stops but that is not the end of the adventure; in fact it’s the beginning of a whole exciting experience,

as dragons and dragonflies, castles and carousels, mermaids and much more are conjured into being, which culminates in the claw-wielding, jaw-snapping Battle of Crayon Creek.
All good things have to end though and end they do when the tickly octopus chases everyone back home and mum appears on the scene …

although that is not quite the end of the story …
In this lovely celebration of children’s creativity and imagination, the book’s creators cleverly use the device of a mirror to transport the little girl and her companion into their fantasy world of make-believe and back again: a world created by a variety of doodle-appropriate media.
With all the exciting visuals, it would be easy to overlook Michelle’s manner of telling, which, with its sprinklings of alliteration, and interjections of dialogue, is also a delight and allows plenty of space for Irene Dickson’s illustrations to create their magic.

Ella Who?
Linda Ashman and Sara Sanchez
Sterling
There’s a touch or two of the Not Now Bernard’s about this story of a family moving day. The parents of the young narrator are far too busy to take notice of their daughter’s talk of the presence of an elephant in the living room of the home they’re moving in to.
While mum, dad …

and grandma are engaged in getting their new abode into some kind of order, the little girl, having ensured that her baby brother is soundly asleep, engages in some elephant-shared activities, first in her new bedroom and then, outside in the garden. And that is where our narrator notices a man coming to the front door: a man inquiring about a missing baby elephant going by the name of Fiona and having – so it says in the flier he leaves – a particular penchant for apples, . Surely it couldn’t be … could it?

Much of the humour of this book is in the interplay of words and pictures: It’s the little elephant that hands dad a tool as he struggles to fix the shower – a fact he’s completely oblivious to as he utters the story’s “Ella WHO?” catch phrase. As are the other family members, throughout the book: even on the penultimate spread, having told her mum she’s just been bidding the elephant farewell, she gets this same “Ella WHO?” response from her dad.
An extended joke that works well enough to engage young children who will be amused at the adults who don’t listen and delight in joining in with the repeat question.

I’ve signed the charter  

Tiny Dinosaurs / Dance Is for Everyone

Tiny Dinosaurs
Joel Stewart
Oxford University Press
Daisy is dinosaur mad: so says Rex, the canine narrator of this enchanting picture book. Such is her passion that Rex has to endure all kinds of adornments …

and engage in all manner of dinosaur-like behaviour.

Daisy’s mind is filled with dinosaurs: wherever she and Rex go they keep their eyes peeled for the creatures until one day, right in their very own garden they discover … dinosaurs.
These dinosaurs, Rex informs us, are not large but perfect Daisy-sized creatures. The trouble is, they seem to be all that Daisy is interested in and so …

Everywhere he goes, reminds Rex of his pal: but Daisy won’t even notice I’m missing, thinks Rex.
To say what happens thereafter would be to reveal too much; let me just say that the story reminds me of the opening lines of a song, a Dutch teacher friend of mine once taught one of my nursery classes: ‘Make new friends but keep the old/ Some are silver but the others are gold.’

Dance Is for Everyone
Andrea Zuill
Sterling
There’s a new member in Mrs Iraina’s ballet class: a rather large one with a very long tail. Language is an issue, but she’s a hard worker and able to follow the others so she’s allowed to stay. She does have a tail issue too,

though that is less easy to cope with, on account of that language issue; and the class members are wary of upsetting the newcomer.
Teacher and class together come up with a plan: they create and learn a new dance called “The Legend of the Swamp Queen” starring Tanya, as she’s now called: a role that requires a spot of cummerbund wrapping to keep that errant tail in check …

The audience are enchanted; but the following day, the star is nowhere to be seen …
After some time however, the class receive an invitation to a very special performance …
Droll visuals and a deadpan text combine to make a delicious demonstration of the ‘no holds barred’ idiom.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Dressing-Up Dad / Little Monster’s Day Out with Dad

The Dressing-Up Dad
Maudie Smith and Paul Howard
Oxford University Press
I’m sure most children are embarrassed by their parents from time to time: I suspect the boy in this funny story with its being yourself no matter what theme, feels increasingly that way as he gets older.
Danny’s Dad, like his son just loves to dress-up: I don’t mean in his favourite gear say, his best jeans and T-shirt. Oh no! Danny’s Dad really gets into the swing of the young lad’s fantasy play, donning whatever costume he deems appropriate for the situation in hand. He might become a space rocket, a fearsome dragon;

a wizard at the library, or a snow bear; and at Danny’s themed birthday parties, you can guess who was the most dreadful dinosaur or the dastardliest of pirates …

As Danny’s next birthday approaches, Dad contemplates his attire: should he perhaps be a ladybird, a dragonfly; there are plenty of bugs to choose from. Danny however, has other ideas for his Dad this year. And yes, he does look pretty cool as an ‘ordinary everyday’ dad but can he resist the invitation of Danny’s pals who have decided they want to be chased by a giant caterpillar. I wonder …

There’s a dilemma at the heart of this story and it’s evident in the body language and facial expressions of Danny’s Dad at the party. He’s doing his level best to enjoy being the perfect ordinary father when inside he’s torn: what he really wants is to don a costume and be a bug too; but how can he please himself and at the same time please his son? Paul Howard portrays all this and much more so adeptly in his enchanting illustrations. The presence of Danny’s lively dog wanting in on all the action and managing to creep in to almost every scene adds to the visual enjoyment of Maudie Smith’s captivating story.

Little Monster’s Day Out with Dad
Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt
Egmont
Little Monster is excited at the prospect of a day trip to the fair with his dad, despite the fact that they’re going by car rather than train: that at least is the intention. No sooner on the road though than they’re held up in a traffic jam; when the car breaks down en route, after which the rescue truck gets a flat tyre, one begins to wonder whether they’ll ever reach their destination at all. Thank goodness then, for the bus: and there’s room for all aboard.

Finally they arrive at the fair ground and it seems as though Little Monster might be going to get his longed-for train ride after all …

With its funny, suitably garish Sharratt scenes with their plethora of flaps to lift, large print and sturdy pages, this will please most little monsters about the age of the chief protagonist herein.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Home for Gully / Through the Gate

A Home for Gully
Jo Clegg and Lalalimola
Oxford University Press
Gully is a long-suffering resident of the park; long-suffering because every morning his makeshift home is swept away by the keeper. This should no longer be tolerated, decides the scruffy dog that happens along one morning, introduces himself as Fetch and claims to be returning Gully’s stick. Fetch calls a meeting of his 412 resident fleas and thereupon they decide to assist the seagull in a search for a more satisfactory place of residence: one “that doesn’t get swept away, where my feet are warm and dry, and my tummy is full” is the bird’s desire.
They leave the relative peace and quiet of the park …

and head into the city where, after being shown the door of a smart hotel, they come upon the seemingly stuck-up Madison who offers her assistance as city guide. The three circumambulate the whole city before ending up at the library for some R and R. Make that R, R and R for therein they meet rat, Zachary.

On learning it’s a home rather than a book they’re seeking, Zachary leads them out and eventually, to a likely spot. Then with Gully safely installed, the other three head off into the darkness leaving their pal to his new warm, dry abode.
Next morning however, all is not quite hunky-dory with Gully. What good is a home if he doesn’t have others to share it with thinks our feathered friend …

There is a wonderful vintage look to Jo Clegg’s warm-hearted, funny story, thanks to Lalalimola’s delectably droll illustrations. These she packs with diverting visual (and verbal) asides that cause the reader to pause for a while and spend time exploring every spread. This is an artist I shall watch with interest, as I will the author.

Through the Gate
Sally Fawcett
EK
A little girl narrator, unhappy about a move to a new house, shares her step-by- step transformation from feelings of sadness and loss, to those of joy and satisfaction. The process is recounted as she travels with initially, downcast eyes, in a plodding manner to and from her new school; then after a week, the plod gives way to a mooch and the sighting of wild flowers growing through cracks in the pavement. Another week passes and she changes to an eyes-forward wander and hence, more awareness of the positives the environment offers …

The following week our narrator is ready to look all around her as she walks and thus, one becomes two walkers to school; and thereafter, things are altogether different.
Concurrent with the little girl’s changing feelings as new opportunities manifest, we see the new house gradually becoming a wonderful new home; but those aren’t the only changes: a lone bird on a bare tree builds a nest, finds a mate, eggs are laid, and life begins anew as three fledglings appear, just in time for blossom to burst forth on the tree.

Look closely at the spreads and you’ll notice a cat that plays a bit part in the whole transformation; delicate details of plants which, like the rest of the girl’s surroundings, change from shades of grey to full colour.
Sally Fawcett orchestrates this lovely story of change, hope and resilience superbly using a patterned text in tandem with subtly changing scenes of the girl’s actual and metaphorical journey.

I’ve signed the charter  

Parps and Splats

Old MacDonald Heard a Parp
Olaf Falafel
Harper Collins Children’s Books
I foresee a whole lot of tittering and mouth yoga from your audience when you share this noisy book.
Up bright and early, Old Macdonald is out and about on his farm: his aim, to identify the perpetrator of a loud parp. First he thinks it emanated from a cow – ‘With a Plrrb Plrrb here and a Plrrb Plrrb there … ‘ (instructions supplied to make the cow parp). But seemingly it wasn’t she. Perhaps instead it came from a duck …

Or could it have been a goat, a unicorn – surely not! – in your dreams Old MacDonald. No? Maybe then, a pig; or possibly a horse.
Apparently none of these lively creatures is the parper. Who could it possibly be?
That would be telling …

Suitably droll illustrations accompany the vocal gymnastics supplied by surreal comedian/illustrator Olaf Falafel. I see this becoming a resounding hit with early years listeners.
More crazy shenanigans – this time with the emphasis on the visual – in:

SPLAT!
Jon Burgerman
Oxford University Press
Many years ago, as an advisory teacher for language I used on occasion, to go on school visits with the advisory teacher for primary science; and we’d do a double act. One of the things we explored was “The Splat Factor” I recall.
This crazy book took me right back to those days when we had the children investigating all manner of splats.
Here, Burgerman confines his splatting to a slightly less messy amorphous green blobby thing, which undergoes various splat experiences when the reader turns the page. First it receives a pair of googly eyes and a mouth, followed by a pie, a pair of specs, a nose and lips; and a slice of bread spread with what looks like liberal coatings of sauces.
Thereafter comes a SQUISH SQUASH, an attack by some peckish birds, and worse … This though is followed by a truce.

Surely nothing can threaten those scrummy-looking ice-creams, can it?
Best shared with an individual; my testers to date have all deemed it a tasty, albeit rather squishy, treat, and thoroughly enjoyed being the splat perpetrators.

I’ve signed the charter  

Museums and Machines

A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
The terrific twosome of The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School fame have combined forces in another zany Henry adventure; and as always he is accompanied by his dachshund pal. This time the protagonist is put on the spot by a question about the class trip to a museum. The lad seems to have been rather tardy in his arrival at said museum and consequently undertaken his own explorations therein. Whether he, or the exhibits were more entertained, one can only imagine. He supposedly got up to all manner of unlikely activities: balloon sculpting for the Neanderthals,

and there was certainly plenty to feast his eyes on. A T.Rex for instance, sculptures, a great whale and a woolly mammoth, lots of paintings –

some abstract art requiring the odd finishing touch here and there, and the museum’s storage facilities needing a bit of reorganisation.
See how many art references you can spot …that dachshund portrait does appear to bear more than a passing resemblance to the famous Mona Lisa. And yes, Henry does eventually catch up with the rest of his class, albeit by some rather risky means.
Pretty off-the-wall stuff; but those who have enjoyed the previous flights of fancy delivered by Cali and Chaud will certainly find plenty to amuse herein.

Winnie and Wilbur Gadgets Galore
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper book of three, re-named, previously published titles featuring the much-loved duo, Winnie and Wilbur in Space, Winnie’s New Computer and Winnie and the Big Bad Robot will surely appeal to those of a mechanical bent.
The first sees the pair hurtling skywards in a rocket and discovering the ‘Purrfect” picnic spot, then having their picnic invaded by a horde of hungry space rabbits. The odd swish of her magic wand produces the ideal fare for the bouncing bunnies; but the voracious consumption of their favourite metallic meal leads to the visitors being without any means of getting back home. Can Winnie’s wand save the day once again?
You’d think after all that excitement in previous adventures involving machines, now renamed for this compilation, Winnie would have learned to stay clear; but her first foray, that involving a misunderstanding on Wilbur’s part, the scanning of her spell books into her computer and a mal-functioning mouse – Wilbur’s doing; and the second, an extremely unfortunate experience with the robot constructed by Winnie in her weekly creativity class at the local library, didn’t deter her at all. Hence her ‘big adventure’ in space.
The magic still holds good, no matter how the stories are packaged.

I’ve signed the charter 

For Your Fiction Shelf

The Cherry Pie Princess
Vivian French (illustrated by Marta Kissi)
Walker Books
Vivian French is a cracking storyteller. Oliver’s Fruit Salad and Oliver’s Vegetables have been perennial favourites with many, many infant classes I’ve taught; ditto Yucky Worms. Here though she is writing for a slightly older audience and immediately I was drawn into her story – partly because when it begins, the setting is a library. Grating Public Library to be more precise, and the staff (Miss Denzil at least) are eagerly anticipating a visit from seven princesses. Much more circumspect though is the chief librarian, a rather crusty old dwarf by the name of Lionel Longbeard.

When the party duly arrives, it turns out that only one princess has any interest in books and she is Princess Peony. The book she takes, or rather later, sends a pageboy for, is A Thousand Simple Recipes for Pies, Puddings and Pastries and, she holds on to it for a very long time. The king though, has the librarian arrested for breaking the rules, on account of his kindness in speaking to the princess, and locked up in his dungeons. The princess meanwhile, takes to baking until her overbearing father puts a stop to it.
Years pass, a new royal baby is born …

and a christening party duly announced and invitations sent out – with one notable omission.
Now that sounds like there could be trouble on the horizon. What happens thereafter involves a whole lot of rule breaking, a rescue and a host of exciting twists and turns, The story moves along at a fast pace and is made all the more enjoyable by Marta Kissi’s pen and ink illustrations, which are liberally scattered throughout the book adding to the slightly zany tone of the whole thing.

Spy Toys
Mark Powers (illustrated by Tim Wesson)
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Imagine a totally weird bunch of superheroes and you’d probably never quite come up with such an unlikely crew as those in Mark Powers’ book. So let’s meet Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear, Dan, made by accident 1000 times stronger than was intended;

rag doll, Arabella, a far-from friendly character; a soldier with an eyesight issue (which can sometimes be a hinderance) … and a foot where his head ought to be; and Flax the rabbit, a policebot on the run and more.
All have computerised brains and are recruited by the Department of Secret Affairs for a mission to protect the prime minister’s son from one Rusty Flumptrunk – a half-human, half-elephant breakfast cereal promotion gone wrong. What follows is a cracking, crazy, fast-moving, action-packed yarn full of slapstick and witticisms: lots of fun and made all the more so by Tim Wesson’s zany illustrations.

Louie in a Spin
Rachel Hamilton (illustrated by Oscar Armelles)
Oxford University Press
Louie is enjoying life in New York at the School for Performing Arts and is determined to remain upbeat despite the efforts of Arnie and grumpy dance teacher, Madame Swirler. Here though, it looks as if he might be losing the battle: in error, he’s been signed up to represent his dance school in the ballet category at a national dance competition. With the school’s reputation at stake, can Louie, with an enormous amount of self-belief to make up for what he lacks in skill, save the day?
It’s all beautifully funny and one cannot but admire Louie’s inexhaustible supply of inner strength and positivism. Long live Louie who is made all the more adorable through Oscar Armelles funky line drawings

Nelly and the Flight of the Sky Lantern
Roland Chambers (illustrated by Ella Okstad)
Oxford University Press
If you’ve enjoyed Pippi Longstocking – or even if you haven’t, you really should meet Nelly Peabody in her second splendid story. Here, on returning from her first adventure, Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody, the fearless explorer discovers that her mother has mysteriously vanished and nothing will stop the young redhead from tracking her down. This entails a flight in a laundry basket, high above the clouds, not to mention a deep-sea dive courtesy of a tin can contraption. As ever, of course she’s accompanied by her best friend, Columbus the turtle.
It’s quirky, full of deliciously off-beat characters and most important, superbly written, with wonderful illustrations by Ella Okstad in black and white with touches of red.

I’ve signed 

My Bunny’s Chocolate Factory

dscn9783

Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press
Elys Dolan follows her wonderful Doughnut of Doom with another confection-related picture book.
Imagine being force fed chocolate; that’s the fate of the chickens that work in Mr Bunny’s chocolate-egg making factory pressing the chocolate into bars, eating the chocolate bars, squeezing out chocolate eggs, wrapping and packing same. Mr Bunny has his own special secret recipe and to ensure perfection he also employs a quality control unicorn named Edgar.
Like many successful entrepreneurs Mr B. is greedy …

dscn9784

hence the force-feeding, to ‘crank up egg production to the max’ – no breaks, cancelled holidays even, the latter as a result of a plethora of bad eggs being discovered by Edgar.

%0a

Finally the chickens revolt. They down tools: a strike is declared.

dscn9786

Can Mr Bunny and Edgar run the factory by themselves? What has happened to missing worker, Debbie? And, can change happen, or will the boss remain a ‘bad egg’ evermore?
Elys Dolan has, yet again, created a picture book full of comic scenarios that are absolutely brimming over with rib-tickling detail. There is just SO much to giggle over and explore on every spread, not least the wonderful speech bubbles emanating from her superb cast of characters.
All in all, a stonkingly good picture book upon which to feast your eyes and ears.

bookgivingdayblogbadge-1 localbookshops_nameimage-2

Me and Mister P

%0a

Me and Mister P
Maria Farrer illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Oxford UniversityPress
Arthur is less than happy with his lot: he longs for a normal family wherein he can have his fair share of parental attention. Instead he has to contend with a brother on the autism spectrum towards whom much of his parents’ attention is directed.
Now, sent to his room instead of being able to watch the much anticipated football match on TV, Arthur – with lucky crystal in one pocket and survival tin in t’other – decides to leave home,, for good! But what, or whom should he encounter on the doorstep but an enormous polar bear, Mister P. The bear doesn’t speak but Arthur gleans this from the name on his old brown suitcase, which has a distinct fishy aroma about it and has a label with Arthur’s family address on. Could it be that the creature intends to stay?
He does; and Arthur’s life starts to get a whole lot better– not to mention that of brother Liam and the rest of their family.
Full of warmth and humour, this story is a delight to read, either aloud to a class, or as an individual. Listeners will revel in such scenarios as that when Mister P. endeavours to fit his huge bulk into Mum’s car (hilariously illustrated by Daniel Rieley) …

fullsizerender-10

or that of Mr Craddock’s class endeavouring to discover interesting facts about polar bears while Mister P. reclines on beanbags in a corner of their classroom.

%0a

There’s another character who needs a mention too, and that’s Rosie. She doesn’t put in an appearance until about half way through the book but she’s certainly pretty persuasive: “Anyway, our scores are going to improve because now Mister P is going to be our lucky mascot, isn’t he? “ ‘She put her hands together in the praying position.’ “PLEASE.“; and contributes some extremely apposite insights and comments: “See … Mister P knows how to get things sorted.
And a sorter of things is most definitely what Mister P. is – in more ways than one – shades of Nurse Matilda aka Nanny McPhee here.
I’ll say no more other than to urge you to get hold of Maria Farrer’s superbly empathetic book, made all the more so by Daniel Rieley’s wonderfully droll illustrations.

bookgivingdayblogbadge-1 localbookshops_nameimage-2

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Walking in a Winter Wonderland
illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?’ It’s almost impossible not to break into song on seeing those opening words to the seasonal favourite written down, and now illustrator Tim Hopgood has taken that ever-popular Christmas song (with some slight alterations) and turned it into an enchanting and truly joyful, snow-filled picture book experience for children and adults to share together.
As musical notes drift across every spread, we join a family of five walking …

fullsizerender-10

and playing …

in a woodland landscape populated by wild animals (foxes, deer, a squirrel and rabbits) and birds …

fullsizerender-10

Hopgood’s pastel and crayon scenes capture the magic of idyllic winter countryside with newly fallen snow, sledging, snowman building, and then the family snuggling up together in the warmth from a fire. I particularly love that musical note tree …

fullsizerender-10

and the endpapers too are lovely – so simple and SO effective.
To add to the delights, the book comes with a three track CD. The first track is the wonderfully jazzy rendition of the song performed by Peggy Lee, the second is a reading of the book with tinkling sounds to let you know when to turn the page, and the third a (somewhat superfluous) listening game.
A Christmas cracker.

The Mouse that Cancelled Christmas

dscn9363

The Mouse That Cancelled Christmas
Madeleine Cook and Samara Hardy
Oxford University Press
This is certainly a Christmas story with a difference: the story of Mouse for whom Christmas means danger, danger because, as a baby, he’d been biffed on the head by a flying bauble. Now, he seems to have assumed the role of health and safety officer with a vengeance. Donning fluorescent jacket and hard hat Mouse dashes around the clearing in Jingle Bell Forest inspecting the animals’ preparations and finding fault with everything. The pine needles are far too sharp, the lights too dazzling and the star way too pointy.

dscn9364

The Rabbit Chorus seems to be breaking every rule in the book – Mouse’s book that is. In fact nothing passes muster where he is concerned: he wants the entire celebration called off …

dscn9367

But then Mole and Owl quietly mention the ‘p’ word and suddenly events take a turn for the better. Maybe, just maybe, that cancellation of Mouse’s might be reversed after all …
There are so many things to love about this book, not least the delightfully unexpected grand finale. Then there’s that tiny robin who offers his own mini narrative at almost every turn of the page …

%0a

and the thoughtful placing of certain elements of the text; all that’s in addition to the wonderful fanaticism of health-and-safety ‘jobsworth’ Mouse and the growing concern of the other forest animals as they hear him passing judgement on their various activities All are brilliantly portrayed in Samara Hardy’s splendidly funny illustrations for this amusing (for adults, tongue-in-cheek) tale. I bet there’s not one reader aloud out there who hasn’t been on the receiving end of a human version of Mouse on occasion; it’s certainly so in schools and usually the ‘mouse’ person has no idea of the ridiculousness of their pronouncements. Madeleine Cook and Samara Hardy will assuredly make many youngsters and adults laugh this festive season.

Festive Fun and Frolics

dscn9378

Nuddy Ned’s Christmas
Kes Gray and Garry Parsons
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Nuddy Ned likes nothing better than to dash around in the altogether and yes, he’s super excited it being Christmas Eve; but dashing outside into the snowy evening chill is nothing short of crackers. There’s no stopping the little fellow though; he’s on a mission to meet Santa and he’s perfectly prepared to charge down the street and around the town completely starkers, parents in hot pursuit, in order to do so. Only some strategically placed flaps and other judiciously positioned items including a bird, a glove …

%0a

and a bauble preserve his modesty.
Does this madcap streak finally get Ned what he wants – that Santa encounter, you’ll probably be wondering. Yes he does and Santa’s none too impressed at Ned’s lack of clothing but in the end it seems like a question of beat’em or join’em: what will Santa do? That would be telling wouldn’t it!
Kes Gray’s cracking rhyming text combined with equally giggle-inducing illustrations from Garry Parsons makes for some delightfully silly festive fun.

dscn9351

The Queen’s Present
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books
Imagine being able to call on Father Christmas himself for a spot of last minute emergency present buying, but that is exactly what the Queen does in her desire to find the perfect gift for her great grandchildren. Down he comes and off they go on a whistle stop flight with a whole host of hangers-on in the form of Santa’s little helpers who have much work to do in the way of festooning the various landmarks – the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, Himeji Castle, Sydney Opera House …

dscn9352

and the Statue of Liberty over which they fly before finally landing in the North Pole. Even there though, Her Majesty is unable to find the perfect present. With Christmas Day almost upon them, there seems to be only one thing to do …

%0a

This whole crazy romp is executed using an appropriately seasonal colour palette. It’s not my favourite Steve Antony but it’s full of things to make you smile; and those elves really do earn their keep as well as having a terrific time adorning all those iconic landmarks.

%0a

Winnie and Wilbur Meet Santa
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
The excitement is palpable in Winnie and Wilbur’s house as they bake, write cards and festoon the place with decorations. Then it’s time for writing those all important letters to Santa …

%0a

Christmas Eve comes at last and just as the pair drop off to sleep, they hear a cry for help: something has gone drastically wrong with Santa’s chimney descent. It’s fortunate that Winnie just happens to have her wand right there on the bedside table and with a quick wave and a magical utterance, she soon has their visitor back on his feet and they’re off on an amazing adventure.

%0a

Full of seasonal magic and excitement, this is sure to delight, especially that final pop-out surprise …

dscn9389

For the very youngest:

dscn9333

We Wish You a Merry Christmas
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow
This song on which this chunky board book is based is probably one of the most frequently sung in primary schools and nurseries in the run up to Christmas.
Here we join a host of warmly clad, cute animal friends celebrating the seasonal joys together as they sleigh, skate, ski and deliver presents before gathering together in a warm cosy room to share some gifts.

dscn9334

In addition to the moving parts, you can further add to toddlers’ enjoyment by scanning the QR code inside the front cover and getting an audio version to sing along with.

Cracking Seasonal Reads

%0a

Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Kerfuffle Christmas Kidnap
John Dougherty and David Tazzyman
Oxford University Press
It’s Christmas Eve and all’s right with the world. Right? Well not quite.
When Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face wake up it’s after midnight (so technically they can call it Christmas Day) with cries of “He’s been! He’s been!”, it takes but a few seconds for them to discover that this is not the case: Father Christmas has definitely not visited their abode, and that’s despite the pair having been extra good that year. All they see where those presents should have been is a great big pile of nothing, absolutely zilch.
Obviously Father Christmas must be in some kind of trouble – think dastardly badgers – and it’s up to Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face to come to the rescue, find Santa and save Christmas for all the inhabitants on the little island of Great Kerfuffle.
As with previous books in the series, this one is full of wonderfully off-the-wall characters, bonkers jokes, evil-sounding laughter, magic and mayhem, crazy dialogue and perfect comic timing to boot. What’s more it’s illustrated by the brilliant David Tazzyman whose seemingly scribble illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to John Dougherty’s clever and deliciously silly writing style.
A seasonal cracker if ever there was one.

Altogether different but equally worth seeking out is:

fullsizerender-9

There May Be a Castle
Piers Torday
Quercus Children’s Books
It’s Christmas Eve: a family – mum, two sisters and a brother – are on the way to visit the grandparents. Violet the eldest is dressed as a pirate, toddler Esme has a passion for chocolate and Mouse, a smaller than average, highly imaginative eleven year old is still in his robot pyjamas; Mum is at the wheel. Snow is falling fast, the visibility is bad, but the journey across the moors should be fairly short.
As it often does on such occasions, bickering begins and Mum loses control of the car and it spins off the road. Mouse is thrown from the car by the crash but everyone else is trapped inside.
When he comes to, Mouse finds himself in a magical landscape with no snow and no car, just a peculiar sheep named Bar, a talking one-eyed horse called Nonky, a garrulous minstrel, a size-changing dinosaur; oh, and there may be a castle. Thus begins Mouse’s quest to find that castle despite not knowing quite why.
Back at the scene of the accident, Violet is on a mission to save her mother who is unconscious and bleeding, and little Esme, who keeps demanding chocolate. To do this she has to use her knowledge of a very fierce pirate woman, which, harnessed with her own imagination, gives her the strength she needs to cope.
Without giving away what happens let’s leave those two wonderful, very brave characters in their spellbinding wintry tale of hope, courage, the power of the imagination and the stories we tell ourselves.
Brilliantly imaginative and totally immersive it’s a beautifully written book; read it and you’ll be hooked, but be warned, you’re on something of an emotional rollercoaster.

A Dot in the Snow / Bunny Slopes

%0a

A Dot in the Snow
Corrine Averiss and Fiona Woodcock
Oxford University Press
Polar bear cub Miki would much rather play with his mother in the soft snow than fish in the icy Arctic waters. Off he goes up the ridge presumably in search of a playmate. That’s when he sees it – a red dot in the snow. Then from out of the blizzard emerges a figure – one that looks, smells and sounds friendly.

dscn9223

And, joy of joys, it wants to play  at first anyway…

dscn9224

Suddenly though, the dot isn’t so smiley and playful; something has gone missing. One of the child’s mittens: can Miki rescue it and save the day? He can; the ice breaks, the two continue playing; more snow falls blotting out almost everything. Two infants bid each other farewell, return to their respective mothers and doubtless each will have much to talk about.
Gorgeous texturing in the illustrations and a suitably spare text combine to create a warm-hearted wintry read with themes of friendship, determination and parental love, albeit with a bit of stereotyping. Snuggle and share.

%0a

Bunny Slopes
Claudia Rueda
Chronicle Books
Following in the footsteps of Hervé Tullet (Press Here, The Dot), Claudia Rueda has created a metabook with a wintry theme – a wintry theme that is, if readers play along. Bunny is ready for a ski day and invites us to join him; but snow is decidedly lacking. Readers have to create it by shaking the book – hard. Oops!

dscn9234

Then tap the top of the book to extricate Bunny but that ground looks rather flat. The book needs a right tilt to set our would-be skier in motion, and again. Yeah! He’s off … but all of a sudden …

dscn9235

(ingenious precipice-gutter moment). A  hasty 180 degree book turn and a page flip will, sort things. Now what?
More manipulating will see a battered Bunny up on his skis again and ready for another run at that cliff. Whoppee! He’s made it right to the opposite side but can he clear that hole? Phew! Just about, but surely not another one; the little fellow’s getting just a tad too big for his boots now but there he goes again …

%0a

Fortunately this leap leads to his very own den where Mummy Bunny is ready and waiting with a warming treat …
Love those rabbitty expressions and the minimal colour palette: with its simple text this is a good bet for those in the early stages of reading as well as individual listeners and book manipulators.

Plants and Animals: Fact & Fiction

%0a

How Plants Work
Christiane Dorion and Beverley Young
Templar Publishing
A sequence of questions is used to introduce nine topics relating to the world of plants in this book that’s jam-packed with information. Each question is explored in a stylishly illustrated double spread, the first being ‘Why do plants have flowers?’ However an even more fundamental consideration: What is a plant?’ is discussed on the fold-out flap on the side of this spread.
This is followed by how plants grow from seeds, what plants feed on and how, defence, habitats and the importance of trees …

%0a

We’re then introduced to some of the ‘weirdest’ plants, the edible ones and the final spread focuses on some of the uses of plants including some ideas that have come from observation of particular plants such as that by Swiss engineer George de Mistral who got his idea for Velcro from the burrs that attached themselves to the fur of his dog.
There are lots of flaps and tabs to explore; and the superb paper-engineering from Andy Mansfield really brings the whole thing to life. (Some of the tabs are not very robust and may not stand up to the enthusiastic handling of classroom use so it may be better to give this to individual readers.)

dscn9340

Knowledge Encyclopedia ANIMAL!
written by John Woodward
Dorling Kindersley
This truly is a weighty, although not a heavyweight, tome. After the contents page, introductory ‘What is an Animal?’, discussions on ‘Evolution and Extinction‘ and a classification diagram, the book is divided into six sections: Invertebrates, Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and finally, Mammals.

dscn9392

The first spread of each section explains the meaning of the class as well as providing some general information.
I learned a fair bit (even with zoology as part of first degree studies) from this fascinating book including meeting some new animals such as the Sugar Glider and the Blue-Tongued Skink (note the helpful thumbnail picture, beside a human hand to give an indication of real size).

%0a

The 3D photographic illustrations are very impressive and many of the animals appear to be leaping right out of the pages, and the textual information has been authenticated by the Smithsonian Institution for accuracy.
A book for the family, for animal lovers young and not so young, and a worthwhile addition to the primary or secondary school library.
For those who prefer animals in stories take a look at:

%0a

Greatest Animal Stories
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press
Author, former Children’s Laureate and co-founder of the children’s charity Farms for City Children, Michael Morpurgo has selected seventeen of his favourite animals tales from various parts of the world for this anthology.
These traditional tales are retold by ten different authors and illustrated by a dozen different artists.
Some of the stories can be read in a few minutes, others such as Pippa Goodheart’s lively telling of Puss in Boots

%0a

Puss in Boots is confronted by the ogre – a   Thomas Radcliffe illustration

and Morpurgo’s compelling rendering of Peter and the Wolf take a fair bit longer. No matter which story you choose to share at any particular time, make sure you allow time to explore the illustrations – every story has superb illustrations at every turn of the page.
All manner of animals from tricksters such as Anansi the Spider, Brer Rabbit, and Baboon to talking cows and cats are featured and Morpurgo provides a brief introduction to each of the tales outlining its origin, underlying message and something to ponder upon.
One for the family bookshelf or classroom library, or to give as a present perhaps.

This Book is Out of Control / Happy Hooves Yuk!

These two picture books welcome back some old friends:

%0a

This Book is Out of Control
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press
The perils of the remote control are explored in this third comic romp starring Ben and Bella, not forgetting Bella’s dog of course. It all starts when Ben turns up clutching his new favourite toy – a remote controlled fire engine. Eager to show off his control skills he begins by demonstrating the UP button but a press yields no response or rather the ladder stays fixed: Bella’s dog doesn’t as we readers can see. Ben and Bella however are oblivious to the action taking place inside the house behind the door, which nestles in the gutter of the book and Bella has firmly closed.
With their eyes fixed firmly on the ladder Ben tries another button, which results in this …

dscn8887

I’ll leave you to imagine the results of pressing the siren button. Ben tries VOICE, which yields an utterance from the dog who opens the door revealing his predicament to the children. Things go from bad to worse despite Ben’s frantic button pushing and it’s then a case of over to you “Dear reader” especially as the expert remote controller has started to turn a delicate shade of green. Things are getting pretty desperate up top when readers are addressed once again …

%0a

Does this work, you might be wondering – it certainly appears that one of the characters is in control …

%0a

but we’re still left with one button none of them has tried …
With some rather crazy interactive opportunities, this is somewhat more sophisticated than the previous stories in the series. For me, the dog is undoubtedly the star of the show here.

dscn8997

Happy Hooves Yuk!
A.Bogie and Rebecca Elliott
Fat Fox
The third Happy Hooves story sees Pig deciding to treat his pals to a culinary feast. But even after his careful preparations things don’t go quite as he’s planned. Cow turns her nose up at the first dish; Foal frowns at the second;

%0a

Donkey is decidedly disturbed at the third and Sheep shudders at the thought of what she’s offered. Poor Pig: it seems none of his favourite dishes tempt his friends. He has one final course though: could this be the one? It certainly looks pretty scrumptious … let the party begin!

%0a

I envisage a whole lot of ‘eughs’ and ‘yucks’ when you share this engaging rhyming tale; and as a veggie, I found myself in total sympathy with Pig’s friends about his offerings – definitely disgusting! Let’s celebrate friendship and chocolate cake instead. Let’s also celebrate Rebecca Elliott’s patterned scenes: I love the retro style and the occasional bordered spreads.

%0a

Focus on those frogs …

Meet Ada Twist Scientist, Mira & Em

DSCN8613

Ada Twist, Scientist
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Readers may well be familiar with previous titles Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck from the creators of this inspiring rhyming read; Ada is the third in the series and like its predecessors, it’s a MUST to add to primary classroom bookshelves.
Ada remains silent, observing, investigating and thinking much until she turns three and then quite suddenly things change. ‘Why?’ she demands to know (of the grandfather clock: “Why does it tick and why does it tock?” “Why don’t we call it a granddaughter clock?

DSCN8614

And once she’s started, there’s no stopping this curious young lass. Her other favourite words are ‘Why?’, ‘What?’ ‘How?’ and ‘When’. (the very ones that should fill the hearts of all early years teachers worth their salt with delight). Yes, this child’s curioslty and imagination have no bounds and thank goodness she has such encouraging parents to support her.

DSCN8615

Then, one spring day – the first in fact – a revolting smell reaches Ada’s nostrils, setting questions flying and her curiosity into over-drive. Could that stench be emanating from Dad’s cabbage stew perhaps? That’s hypothesis number one.

DSCN8616

No – then where? The cat maybe? Wrong again and now Ada’s parents have had enough seemingly and Ada’s banished, silenced. Silent she may be, but her mind’s still very active and pretty soon, so is her thinking pencil until
thank goodness, Ada’s parents have had a rethink and before long, are back in support.
Will she ever find the answer to that ‘stink’ question? I suspect she might, for despite all her failures and blind alleys, Ada is an unstoppable problem-solver and what’s more, she’s ready to enlist the help of others. If not, then she’ll find other equally fascinating questions to pursue.
Delivered through a rhyming text and brilliantly characterised in David Roberts’ stylish illustrations, this story is sure to please young audiences and readers aloud, especially those who want to encourage the spirit of curiosity and champion the cause of girls in science. Ada is a force to be reckoned with – long may she continue. Seek this out and share it wherever you can.
Also take a look at the tale of another young girl who becomes a scientist :

%0A

Mira Forecasts the Future
Kell Andrews and Lissy Malin
Sterling Books
Mira’s mother is a fortune teller but try as she might, all that Mira sees when she gazes into the crystal ball is herself, “Telling the future is a gift,” her mother tells her. “You have it, or you don’t.” Mira most definitely didn’t; but one day she notices something – the wind whirring the blades of her pinwheel and fluttering the streamers of her windsock.

%0A

That’s the start of her meteorological findings and before long she’s putting her scientific talent to good use in predicting the future; she’s a weather forecaster no less.
Creativity and the imagination are at the heart of all scientific discoveries: they all begin with someone asking ‘what if’ or ‘suppose that’ and now here’s a book claiming to inspire creative play:

%0A

The Way to Outer Space
Jay Eunji Lee
Oxford University Press
Herein we meet Em who on this particular day is feeling bored until that is, she receives a mysterious parcel containing a book and a card. She’s on the point of tossing them aside when she notices some rocket-making instructions and pretty soon here she is …

DSCN8608

blasting off and hurtling through the solar system to a strange place – a place she’s told belongs to her; and it’s in serious trouble. A challenge is issued and, accepted …

%0A

and off she goes creating …
Part story (told in comic strip style), part activities, this unusual book is likely to get young minds buzzing and fingers working on creating some of the ideas suggested herein – and one hopes moving on to projects of their own imagining.

WNDB_Buttonlocalbookshops_NameImage-2

How to Find a Friend / Flying Lemurs

DSCN8548

How To Find a Friend
Maria S. Costa
Oxford University Press
I love the double narrative style of this, Maria Costa’s debut picture book. Herein we follow the search for friendship of Squirrel and Rabbit, both of whom have just moved into new abodes. The trouble is (despite the  stage whispers from a pair of bit-part players) the two animals are just not looking in the right places. Listeners will delight in the manner in which we’re shown the unfolding dramas of the two main characters, one in full colour, the other in outline, highlighting their invisibility to one another: It’s all very hit and miss – or rather hit …

DSCN8549

and hit …

DSCN8551

Children will love the mismatch between words and pictures as well as the fact they can use the story maps at the front and back of the book to track the action and the crossed paths of the main characters.
Maria Costa’s linocut illustrations are terrific fun: her use of a limited colour palette is particularly effective in highlighting this small drama of flipsides, folly and friendship – eventually. And I particularly love that when the going gets tough, Squirrel finds solace in his books …

DSCN8552

That, and the gentle irony of the whole thing.

DSCN8526

Flying Lemurs
Zehra Hicks
Two Hoots
The lemurs are a talented jumping family: Mum on the trapeze, Dad the trampoline and Granny is an ace cannon jumper. There’s one little lemur however, who just cannot jump at all. Other family members encourage …

DSCN8527

and demonstrate …

DSCN8528

but the result is DISASTER  – always …

DSCN8529

Fortunately, her family is sympathetic and even more encouraging …

DSCN8530

so can their little one finally cut it as a rocket jumper?
This funny story is just the thing for those who strive but find things challenging; it demonstrates beautifully how it is possible to overcome your fears, unlock your personal aptitudes and find your own forte.
Zehra Hicks’s illustrations, be they in strip format, whole page or full spread, are wonderfully chucklesome and I love her choice of colour palette; it’s absolutely right for the circus setting.

WNDB_Buttonlocalbookshops_NameImage-2

Monster in the Hood

%0A

Monster in the Hood
Steve Antony
Oxford University Press
When a notice appears in town warning of THE MONSTER IN THE HOOD, Sammy Squirrel, Henri Hedgehog and Marvin Mouse all want to see the creature for themselves. Sammy dares it to show itself: “Come out, come out, wherever you are! You won’t scare us!” he shouts. The only response is a squeak but that’s from a pack of rats, one of which warns of the large orange-eyed monster. “The monster in the hood … grumbly and rumbly and will eat you for dinner.” Does this scare the pants off the fearless trio? Most certainly not; it’s Henri’s turn to address the monster this time and as he does so,

%0A

there comes a screech, which turns out to be a cloud of bats. They add ‘huge shaggy hands’ to the monster’s attributes but do nothing to ruffle the cool headedness of the three monster seekers.

%0A

Marvin Mouse tries his luck at calling for the creature and no sooner has he completed his challenge than a ‘clutter of cats’ comes by with words about a ‘big scary mouth’ – to no avail of course. The intrepid trio try calling in unison and out of the silence steps …

DSCN7470

Yes, it definitely matches the description given by the rat, bat and cat but none of them has given the vital piece of information that makes all the difference; and that related to what it didn’t have – a friend. Seemingly the other animals were wrong about what the monster really wanted after all – or, were they?
I love the night-time urban setting and the wacky characters of this twisted cautionary tale and Steve Antony’s choice of colour palette is, as ever, spot on. Every time I see a new book from this guy, I think ‘that’s my favourite’ but then along comes another and another and …

Use your local bookshop    localbookshops_NameImage-2

Nixie Splashy Summer Swim

DSCN7518

Nixie Splashy Summer Swim
Cas Lester illustrated by Ali Pye
Oxford University Press
Already famous for her ability to manipulate the truth is Nixie the mischievous fairy who is, once again, up to all kinds of frolics – by the pond mostly herein; and when a story begins ‘BOING! BOUNCE! SPLAT! “Bumblebees’ bottoms! I can’t do it!” (bottom-sits on the cobweb trampoline) newly independent readers will surely be unable to resist. With an ‘accidental watering of the too-good-to-be- true, Adorabella (and it’s VERY cold water) as she lies peacefully reading; a float that (with just a small flick of Nixie’s wonky wand) turns into a real frog and hops away;

%0A

and a burst lilo – the snazzy new one belonging to the Fairy Godmother who is supposed to be having a relaxing day off, it seems the day is set fair for fiascos. Of course, they are only some of the things that Nixie gets up to. There’s also this …

%0A

plus a spot of fin building – that’s for Willow who’s more than a little scared of the water; and of course, there’s the inevitable water bomb battle. And to round off the day, courtesy of the long-suffering Fairy Godmother, there are fab. ice-creams, not all of which are quite as delicious as anticipated …
There is however an ‘Ice cream sundae generator’ after the story so readers can discover which of the fairies shares their taste in the confection.
What are as delicious as anticipated however, are those wonderful Ali Pye illustrations liberally sprinkled throughout this sparkling book. The Lester/Pye combination works that special brand of magic once more. Don’t miss this one if you’re a ‘just flying solo’ reader or know one.

Use your local bookshop   localbookshops_NameImage-2

Super Stan & Steven Seagull – Action Heroes

DSCN7049 (800x600)

Super Stan
Matt Robertson
Orchard Books
Meet two very different brothers, Jack and Stan. The latter always seemed to be the centre of attention, which is hardly surprising as he excelled in everything; moreover he had an AMAZING superpower enabling him to …

DSCN7066 (800x600)

You can imagine how this made Jack feel on the 364 days of the year when it wasn’t his birthday; but surely young Stan wouldn’t do anything to spoil his big bro’s special day would he? He’s certainly very excited and that’s before he starts …

DSCN7050 (800x600)

Not to mention wrestling with a lion and engaging in a game of soccer with the giraffes …

DSCN7051 (800x600)

Jack is not happy.
Suddenly though, a scream pierces the air, a scream the significance of which only Jack knows.

DSCN7052 (800x600)

At last it’s his turn to do something that puts him in the limelight for a change; something that proves to be a turning point in the relationship between Jack and Stan …
Choosing a suitably limited colour palette in keeping with the superhero theme, Matt Robertson delivers spread after spread full of comic humour. Don’t you love the way Jack deftly snatches Stan’s teddy from the clutches of the bear, for instance…

DSCN7053 (800x600)

Altogether a super debut picture book.

DSCN7025 (800x600)

Steven Seagull Action Hero
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press
Steven is a seagull – a retired cop so we are told. Now there’s a crazy scenario if ever there was one. But it seems his retired status is about to change: his ex-partner Mac, needs his assistance and he needs it right away to assist in the search for Beach City’s sand thief. The two consult …

DSCN7030 (800x600)

and then head off to the scene of the crime in search of likely suspects.
First stop Harry’s ice-cream van but Harry has an alibi so it can’t be him. Nor is it Lola the lifeguard – her day’s been spent saving not digging but what about Rick? Looks like he’s a reformed character although his volleyball skills need a bit of polishing. Steven is at a loss but who is the builder of this magnificent edifice?

 

DSCN7067 (800x600)

Bingo! It’s the handiwork or rather claw-work of Claude Von Crab and he has weapons of destruction up on those ramparts.
Can Steven pull out all the stops and save the day? Perhaps, with a little female assistance …

DSCN7034 (800x600)

Totally off the wall but this one did appeal to my sense of the ridiculous – particularly this throwaway comment of Mac’s …

DSCN7033 (800x600)

Use your local bookshop      localbookshops_NameImage-2

 

We’re in the Wrong Book

DSCN6685 (800x600)

We’re in the Wrong Book!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press
Ben and Bella (plus her dog) from This Book Just Ate My Dog return for another crazy adventure, or rather, a whole host of adventures as their jump-in-a sack game results in them – Ben and Bella that is – being unceremoniously bumped right off the page …

DSCN6686 (800x600)

and into …

DSCN6687 (800x600)

They don’t stop there though: another jump takes them to a comic book housed in a library where a very helpful librarian, having heard the description of their book, sends them off to one that matches their criteria – tall buildings and an enormous dog but …

DSCN6688 (800x600)

And even the puzzling mazes don’t lead to ‘their’ book; in fact a dinner invitation is issued at their next port of call …

DSCN6689 (800x600)

Fortunately we readers are able to come to their rescue here and the friends undertake a nifty bit of paper folding , not to mention a spot of creative colouring to get themselves to safety

DSCN6690 (800x600)

– almost anyway  …

 

DSCN6691 (800x600)

But let’s give the final word to that dog of Bella’s …

DSCN6702 (800x600)

Totally engaging and full of diversions that are best kept to a second or third reading. If not, their plea will go unanswered and the two pals will be forever stuck between the pages of ‘the WRONG BOOK’ …

DSCN6703 (800x600)

Use your local bookshop     localbookshops_NameImage-2

It’s Bedtime

 

DSCN6535 (800x600)Unstoppable Max
Julia Patton
Oxford University Press
I suspect many parents of a lively youngster will recognise Max: his batteries never seem to run down. So when it comes to almost bedtime, Max is brimming over with energy and has a whole lot of things on his ‘to do’ list. …”So if you can tidy away your toys, get into your clean pyjamas, and feed Fluffy, I’ll be back in five minutes.” his mum says. A simple enough request except that Max doesn’t have toys; what he has is an army engaged in Operation Castle Attack and stopping is not what Max wants to do.

DSCN6536 (800x600)

Out comes his thinking hat to help our young hero make a choice… sensible – tidying up; or naughty – keeping Mummy out of his bedroom; or crazy – going on an expedition to the South Pole? Max decides and that’s number one task he can tick – more or less …

DSCN6537 (800x600)

However he stlll has the clean pyjamas to get himself into and Fluffy is yet to receive his evening feed. How does Major Unstoppable Max deal with those other two tasks? Suffice it to say he needs a little assistance from that thinking hat, some very careful planning and a rather nifty move or two.
When his mum comes back she’s pretty impressed with young Max but as for following her instructions to “pop to the bathroom and brush your teeth.” – well um …

DSCN6538 (800x600)

A crazy tale of mayhem, making up your mind and an irrepressible imagination, this one’s sure to delight the countless Max’s of the world and make adults smile knowingly.

DSCN6539 (800x600)

Beep Beep Beep Time For Sleep
Claire Freedman and Richard Smythe
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
It’s almost the end of the day and the road-building machines have been hard at work on the motorway: there’s the Backhoe loader, the digger, a tipper truck, a concrete mixer, a dump truck, a grader and a road roller all ready to wind down and take some well-earned rest. But first they need a bit of a clean up and then one by one the vehicles all line up in their yard under the silver moonlight for their nightly slumbers.

DSCN6540 (800x600)

Despite the onomatopoeic beeps, vrooms and pops, this rhyming text has a strangely soporific rhythm about it ,so once youngsters have had the opportunity to explore all the action in Richard Smythe’s busy scenes, (some have fold-out pages), they might well be ready to close their eyes and just listen one more time to the words and let the images drift into their sleepy heads and join the big machines in sweet dreams.

Use your local bookshop      localbookshops_NameImage-2
Coming up next week:
book-giving-day-blog-badge-Story-SnugLittle Why banner

Treats for Tinies

DSCN6228 (800x600)

Kiss it Better
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Sarah Massini
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
How many times have you said the title words in your dealings with young (or not so young children? I suspect you’ve lost count.
This tender celebration of the healing power of kisses is charmingly presented courtesy of a bear family as they, in particular the two young bears, go about their daily lives with those inevitable thrills and spills. No matter those ‘down in the dumps’ feelings when a tumble has been taken there’s always a kiss to make it feel better.

DSCN6230 (800x600)

There are playful kisses too, and those that mean ‘I’m sorry’ when the siblings come to blows.
Then comes the cheer-up kind after a bad day at school or nursery and the wonderful goodnight, go-to-sleep variety that help shoo any of those bedtime storybook monsters that might be lurking
No matter the time of day or night, whether you’re feeling poorly or grumpy a kiss will help. Or maybe more than one … and they never run out. Kisses work no matter how big or small you are In fact everyone needs a kiss from time to time …

DSCN6231 (800x600)

Sarah Massini’s bears are truly adorable and a perfect match for Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ gentle rhyming text. Just the thing to have on hand in the home or an early years setting; you never know when a kiss and cuddle up with this delightful book might be called for.

DSCN6218 (800x600)

Good Night, I Love You
Caroline Jayne Church
Hodder Children’s Books
We join a brother and sister as they embark on their nightly bedtime routine: splashing,

DSCN6219 (800x600)

scrubbing, wrapping and brushing. Then it’s on with those pjs and time to share a story before snuggle down and lights out time.

DSCN6221 (800x600)

Told in rhyming couplets, it’s gently playful, cosy and just the thing to round off the day with your toddler.

DSCN6303 (800x600)

Jane Foster’s First Words
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing
Here is a beautifully illustrated board book introducing twenty items – one per page to babies and perhaps those learning English as an additional language. The uncluttered nature of each page and the single word label make it obvious at once what is being so clearly named. The images themselves – animals,

DSCN6306 (800x600)

transport, a house and some things you’d find in and around a house – are for the most part, richly patterned reflecting Jane Foster’s background in textiles;

DSCN6304 (800x600)

and on occasion, the image is set against a softly patterned, textured background.
Altogether a stylish little book for babes and their parents/carers to share:

DSCN6305 (800x600)

despite its apparent simplicity, this is rich in language potential.

DSCN6377 (800x600)

Hide and Seek Bob and Flo
Rebecca Ashdown
Oxford University Press
The endearing penguin pals are back in the nursery again and it’s a rainy day so Bob’s brought his brolly. This triggers a game of hide-and-seek and Bob’s first to hide – so he thinks. The trouble is Bob is at the developmental stage where he thinks if he can’t see people (or penguins) they can’t see him and even after a bit of coaching he’s still not quite getting the hang of things.

DSCN6379 (800x600)

Sam and Flo decide to give him even more help; they go off to play in the kitchen giving him much longer to find a good hiding place.

DSCN6378 (800x600)

Can Bob manage to disappear this time? And what’s cake got to do with all this?
Gentle, playful humour delightfully delivered by Rebecca Ashdown and perfect to share with those around the age of Bob and Flo.

Use your local bookshop        localbookshops_NameImage-2

 

Operation Rescue!

DSCN6208 (677x800)

Intergalactic Ed and the Space Pirates
Ella Denton and Jamie Littler
Oxford University Press
Just behind Ed’s bedroom wall, safely hidden by a panel, lies his Intergalactic Operations Headquarters so when through his bedroom window, Ed notices the troubled-looking moon, it takes almost no time for him to alert his cat Sputnik , grab his Turbo Torch and backpack, don his spacesuit, step into the Space Transporter Capsule and zoom off into space.

DSCN6209 (800x467)

Before long, into view comes the largest spaceship in the galaxy –the Interplanetary Plunderer no less. And what’s that? A gang of pirates intent on a dastardly, almost unbelievable plan: to steal the moon itself. Can Ed, with his knowledge about the lunar landscape not to mention the relative size of the moon vis-à-vis Jupiter’s moon Ganymede foil the plot, especially in the face of threats from the ghostly galactic crew? …

DSCN6210 (800x473)

Let’s just say, that the marauding crew hadn’t quite reckoned on the guile of Ed’s faithful Sputnik and his beguiling feline footwork …

DSCN6212 (653x800)

With Jamie Littler’s frenetic, cartoon style illustrations, this far-fetched frolic with its sprinkling of facts, will definitely appeal to those who like their action fast, furious and full of fun.

Much gentler but also involving a dramatic air-born rescue and teamwork is

DSCN6205 (693x800)

Badger and the Great Rescue
Suzanne Chiew and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger Press
When Badger and his pals discover some bits and pieces lying abandoned in various places, they are quick to put them to good use: a washing line for Mouse, a new shed for Hedgehog and then there’s that large piece of red and yellow cloth. It would be ideal for a tent, a hammock and perhaps a kite – once the friends have shared it fairly that is.
Then all of a sudden, down swoops Bird with news of a little mole stranded in a tree …

DSCN6206 (687x800)

And that little mole knows just what the ‘trampoline’ offered for him to leap onto is a part of. Then it’s time for the friends to abandon their original creative plans and work together on operation repair and rescue.

DSCN6207 (800x458)

Use your local bookshop        localbookshops_NameImage-2

Wintry Wonders

 

DSCN6132 (800x600)

Nixie: Wonky Winter Wonderland
Cas Lester
Oxford University Press
Here’s one fab. fairy: she has bucket loads of cheek and attitude. With her wonky wand, tatty dress and mischievous ways, Nixie puts me in mind somewhat of Little Rabbit Foo Foo. This instantly adorable character won me over right from the moment when she ‘clambered into her big red clompy boots … shoved her wonky wand into her left boot, so hastily that the red star on the end wobbled about madly, and shoved her trusty spanner into the other boot.’
Then off she goes wreaking seasonal havoc – or rather having fun as Nixie calls it – in fairyland as the other fairies are frantically dashing around going about their preparations for that annual highlight, The Midwinter Midnight Feast.
With its eleven action-packed chapters, bespattered with ZAPs, FIZZLEs, Swoooooshes, and TINGs; and those funky illustrations from Ali Pye aplenty,

DSCN6103 (800x600)

this is such a fun book for newly independent readers ready to take off and fly solo (with just a tiny bit of help from Nixie and her magic perhaps.)
And if that’s not enough there are three suitably magical activities – ‘Tabitha Quicksilver’s Snow-covered Gingerbread Trees’, Nixie’s Swirly Snowstorm in a Bottle’ and ‘Nip’s Winter Wonderland Lantern’ to create; just in case readers haven’t turned to the beginning and started enjoying the story all over again, that is.

DSCN6095 (800x600)

Pugs of the Frozen North
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Oxford University Press
A plethora of pugs predominate in this the third author, Philip Reeve/artist Sarah McIntyre collaboration and it’s a stonkingly good book for the young and not so young alike. Hilarious just about sums it up but doesn’t really do justice to either the writing, the illustrations or the amalgam of both, for that’s what it really is, so well do the text and pictures meld: the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
This seems to be a growing trend in books for the beyond picture book stage (not that one IS ever beyond them): the recognition that illustrations can add an extra dimension at any time in a person’s reading journey. And the way Sarah McIntrye managed to draw 66 pugs and make every one have its own name, let alone personality, is in itself something of a feat.
There’s a frenetic pace to the telling and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to whizz along, swept up in the pace of the whole thing and miss some of the glorious visual humour that is so much part and parcel of the whole. Essentially, the book features ex cabin boy, Shen lost when his ship gets trapped in the ocean of the frozen north, Sika, a Po of Ice worker (got it?) who is in urgent need of some dogs to pull her sled in the all important Great Northern Race. (We’re told a wonderful tale of how this came to be by Sika’s grandpa.)

DSCN6097 (800x600)

The arrival of True Winter marks the start of this race, destination the Snowfather at the top of the world for it’s he who will grant the wishes of the winner and Sika truly wants to win on her ailing grandpa’s behalf.
Of course, nobody has ever had a sled pulled by pugs before and just harnessing them is a challenge in itself; but can the Shen/Sika/66 pugs team harness their own courage and determination and see off the competition?
Competition in the form of Professor Shackleton Jones with his SNOBOT and canine robots,

DSCN6098 (800x600)

the bearded Helga Hammerfest and her pair of polar bears (the local favourite)

DSCN6100 (800x600)

and the unscrupulous Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling and his side-kick butler Sideplate and …

DSCN6099 (800x600)

glamour puss Mitzi Von Primm with her team of pink poodle-primped huskies.
The race takes them over into dangerous parts: through the Night Forest, over the massively tentacled Kraken Deep and then there’s the dreaded Yeti Noodle Bar to contend with.

DSCN6101 (800x600)

And the ultimate winner is … that would be telling.
As I said, the book is truly funny but it’s also a real heart-warmer with just a tiny touch of final sadness; well that’s what I felt, though not Shen. I just turned back a little way and re-read these words of the wise Snowfather: “All old things die in the end, but not stories. Stories go on and on, and new ones are always being born.” … Unmissable!

Use your local bookshop      localbookshops_NameImage-2

Sparky Spellers: the Littlest Witch and Winnie

DSCN5380 (800x600)

Dragon v Dinosaur
Helen Baugh and Deborah Allwright
Jonathan Cape
Twin tempers get more than a little frayed when competition rivalry sets in between the littlest witch and the littlest wizard both of whom are determined to win the prize for best fancy dress costume at the party. Wands are brandished, spells are cast back and forth until things start to get out of hand as it’s a case of dinosaur versus dragon in a face off.

DSCN5382 (800x600)

Thank goodness then that before any real damage can be done, the witch’s ITCH makes its presence felt, the spells are broken but so are the wands.
Without their magic, can the twins find something else to wear to the party by three o’clock?

DSCN5381 (800x600)

The combination of sparky rhyming text and action-packed, zizzy scenes make for another winner for that little Itchy Witch and her creators.

DSCN5394 (800x600)

Winnie’s Haunted House
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
When is a ghost not a ghost? When it’s a bee that’s being chased around the house by a cat named Wilbur one sunny afternoon.

DSCN5395 (800x600)

But that’s not what Winnie the Witch thinks in this latest action-packed escapade. Rudely awakened from her postprandial nap, she’s convinced her house is haunted and thinks a spell will put things right. The trouble is she’s misplaced her specs and so her choice of spell isn’t quite what she’d thought.

DSCN5397 (800x600)

The result sends her into a spin or two before, thanks to a passing owl, she discovers the whereabouts of her glasses

DSCN5427 (800x600)

and is able to read the actual words in her book and perform a reversal of the haunted house spell. Then all that’s needed is another wave of her wand to clear up the havoc and Winnie can have the remainder of her by now, well-earned sleep.
Another crazy Thomas/Paul romp for Winnie fans to laugh at; they’ll delight in being in the know as to the location of Winnie’s ‘lost’ specs as she trips, tumbles and fumbles her way around.

Use your local bookshop     localbookshops_NameImage-2