Getting Ready for Spring / Make and Bake

Getting Ready for Spring
Kathryn Selbert
Nosy Crow

I’ve no doubt that we’re all looking forward to the arrival of spring. I’ve already seen snowdrops and the occasional primrose but have yet to spot any baby deer like those shown in this sticker storybook created in collaboration with the National Trust; and, inevitably already as I write, the supermarket shelves are stacked with hot cross buns and other Easter fare.

Herein we see a family picnicking beside a lake, children decorating Easter eggs, birds being fed in a garden, spring cleaning on a rainy April day.

There are more preparations for Easter, a family visit to a farm, the children bake Easter treats with Grandma and when the festival day arrives there’s an egg hunt and an Easter parade.

The final pages comprise a ‘Can you spot?’ feature with over 30 items to find in the preceding spreads, and 3 pages of stickers to add to the named pages.

Seasonal fun to engage little ones and there’s plenty of interest to discuss on each of Kathryn Selbert’s main spreads.

If your opportunities to get outside with youngsters are limited in this unpredictable weather, then this book will help them anticipate the delights of what is to come in the next two or three months.

Also useful on days when the weather tends to keep youngsters inside is:

Make and Bake
illustrated by various artists
Oxford University Press

This is part of the OUP ‘Read with Oxford’ series that uses ‘step-by-step’ stages and is phonic based. Many readers of my blog will know that I’m anything but a fan of the approach to reading that underlies this way of learning to read. However, this non-fiction title offers six fun activities for those in the early stages of becoming readers.

Young children can, guided by the six sections make frog cards (and paper plate animals that could become puppets – children can think up their own animals too);

enjoy some pancake making (with an adult); create a sock goblin hand puppet; find out something about growing foods you might eat on a picnic; discover how to grow strawberries and eventually make ‘Strawberry Mess’ and enjoy eating same; the final part, ‘Snack Attack’ is about what constitutes a healthy snack. Readers follow two characters who visit a market and on their return, make the snacks using what they bought.

Also included are simple activities such as matching animal pictures with their names; sequencing instructions, sorting, unjumbling letter sequences to make food words and a word search. A mix of photographs and illustrations by various artists

help make everything clear.

Winnie and Wilbur at Chinese New Year

Winnie and Wilbur at Chinese New Year
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press

To alleviate her boredom while Wilbur naps, Winnie the witch scrolls through her mobile and discovers that Chinese New Year is coming soon. It sounds exciting and so she decides to throw a Chinese New Year party to celebrate with friends and family.

The preparations go pretty smoothly with Winnie waving her wand to create fabulous decorations and a yummy-looking feast.

Then comes a spectacular parade with dragons large and small, as well as lions including a baby one; but just as the fireworks are about to start, Winnie realises that Wilbur has vanished.

Is the party sparkle about to disappear too, or is there an explanation for the cat’s mysterious absence?

Perhaps just one more wave of that wand of Winnie’s might just rescue the situation …

Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul’s magical two W characters have been exciting children for over thirty years and their powers seem to be showing no sign of waning. Youngsters to whom I introduced Winnie and Wilbur as a young teacher now have their own children to share this whizz bang crackling,

lucky money envelope cascading story with in celebration of Chinese New Year at the weekend.

The illustrations are absolutely brimming over with detail and I love the gallery of children’s art that adorns the endpapers.

Things New and Things Old for Christmas

The Most Wonderful Gift in the World
Mark Sperring and Lucy Fleming
Little Tiger

Friends, Esme and Bear, discover one last present under their tree on Christmas morning but it isn’t for either of them. Its tag reads ‘For Little Bunny Boo-Boo, Love Santa.’ They decide to find its intended recipient and donning their warmest clothes, off they go into the snow. Guided by signs that give specific instructions ‘FOLLOW THE TREACHEROUS PATH’, ‘WALK THROUGH THE HOWLING GALE’ and carry on beyond ‘DEEP, DEEP’ snow drifts, the two slip, slide, bump and are blasted towards a little wooden cabin.

There they receive a wonderfully warm welcome from Little Bunny Boo Boo but notice that thus far, she hasn’t received a single Christmas present. Imagine Bear and Esme’s surprise then when the rabbit opens the package only to find there’s absolutely nothing inside other than a small note.

The explanation that follows from Little Bunny Boo-Boo reveals that’s she’s actually received exactly what she was hoping for.

Mark Sperring’s festive tale about kindness, friendship and going the extra mile shows readers and listeners that the very best presents aren’t really wrappable at all. Imbued with the warmth and spirit of the season too are Lucy Fleming’s bright, expressive illustrations making this a book to read with little ones in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The Christmas Unicorn
Anna Currey
Oxford University Press

Here’s a tale of the enduring magic that Christmas holds for young children.

Young Milly isn’t too happy at the prospect of spending Christmas at her Grandpa’s, but Mum explains as she tucks her into bed that he’ll be lonely otherwise and that Dad will join them as soon as he can.

During the night Milly is woken by a noise coming from beneath her bedroom window and discovers a unicorn standing there, attracted by the twinkling of all the Christmas lights of the town. Florian is his name. Milly lets him inside and from then on the unicorn participates in breakfast and all the Christmas preparations. They unpack decorations and adorn the tree but when the newcomer gets a bit over-enthusiastic about tasting the decorations, Grandpa suggests a trip to the Christmas market where Florian temporarily goes missing.

Milly’s search yields not only the unicorn, but also an invitation from a little girl who lives nearby, for Milly to join her in tobogganing the following day.

Then it’s time for Florian to depart but back in Grandpa’s house something very special awaits their return.

This wonderfully warm story of wishes, magic and love has all the warmth of the season but without the glitz and glitter. Anna Currey’s gentle watercolour illustrations add much to her telling; they’re enchantingly expressive and really bring the characters to life.

First published fifteen years ago the book has lost none of its original charm.

Seasonal Stories for Young Solo Readers

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford University Press

In case you missed the hardback publication of this wintry wonder last year then grab it now; it’s perfect seasonal reading for new solo readers.
Full of sparkly magic and fab. pink and black illustrations of the half fairy, half vampire star of the show, her friends and family members, this is first chapter book bliss for a certain section of the population.

Isadora feels more than a tad disappointed not to have been invited to her friend Oliver’s ice-skating birthday party, something her parents notice once she’s back home.

To cheer her up Mum suggests inviting her snow fairy, Aunt Crystal, over instead. Isadora has terrific fun with Pink Rabbit playing in the snow and ice her aunt makes ; even more so when the adults go indoors and the snow boy she’s built and Pink Rabbit’s snow bunny come magically to life.

But as her mum tells her, “Magic can’t always last forever … even magic snow melts eventually.” Can the Snow Fairy Queen who lives in the Land of Ice and Snow help? It’s certainly worth finding out …

A charmer best enjoyed along with a cup of hot chocolate after which there are all the festive activities at the back to try.

More seasonal magic in another chapter book:

Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise
Laura Owen and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press

Picture book favourites Winnie the Witch and her forbearing feline, like countless others are eagerly anticipating Christmas. The excitement mounts as the Advent calendar is opened each day, but it’s presents that occupy their thoughts in the main and especially presents for Santa himself. “Proper presents that are more than a drinkie and squince pie?” wonders Winnie.

Before you can say, ‘Christmas stocking’ the two W’s are on the case. Perhaps the staff and pupils at the local primary school could help with suggestions for a perfect Santa pressie.

Then it’s off to the North Pole – brrrrrrr! Make sure you wear your fur-lined undies Winnie. But will they arrive in time to deliver his Santa-ness the gift of a lifetime and still reach home to celebrate the big day with all their friends?

Zany madness that’s full of the joys of the festive season.

The Pug who wanted to be a Reindeer
Bella Swift, illustrated by Nina Jones
Orchard Books

It’s December and a year since Peggy the pug found her forever home with the Jackson family. Now though the prospect of Christmas isn’t making Chloe feel at all cheerful and the rest of the family seem to be down in the dumps too.

When even the school Christmas fair fails to cheer Chloe up, Peggy resolves to become a reindeer. That way she could use some reindeer magic to make the person she loves most in the world feel happy again. It’s not quite as simple as she anticipates though – there’s the question of antlers for a start.

In the end Peggy decides she needs a new plan, one that involves going to the North Pole and enlisting the help of Santa himself. With less than a week to go before he leaves for his Christmas Eve delivery round there’s no time to lose.

Can Peggy possibly fix things so that not just Chloe but the entire Jackson family find their festive spirit in time for the big day?

Another warm and snuggly Peggy the Pug story about thinking of others at Christmas time.

The Tree That’s Meant To Be

The Tree That’s Meant To Be
Yuval Zommer
Oxford University Press

Both his wonderful sense of humour and his love of nature and its beauty, shine forth from Yuval Zommer’s festive story of a little tree.

The tale is told by the tree itself. It speaks of its perceived imperfections right from the start – its asymmetry and lack of rapid growth: ‘Looking wonky. Feeling small’ we’re told.

The seasons come and go. People search the forest looking for the perfect tree to cut and take inside for Christmas. One by one the trees are felled until one snowy winter’s night the little tree finds itself alone, seemingly forgotten and unloved.

It’s not so though, for the forest animals have heard its cry and it turns out that the little tree is to have a very special Christmas after all.

Such important themes for all, children especially – unconditional love, enduring companionship and support – are woven into this tale. And what a wonderful way to end, which ensures that this is a story to share beyond Christmas.

All Yuval’s rich, detailed illustrations are a joy to behold. Breaking into rhyme from time to time, the narration really gives a sense of what it feels like to think you’re far from perfect, but this is ultimately, an uplifting book, one to keep and revisit.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Snow Goose / Unicorn Academy: Violet and Twinkle

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

There’s trouble in the Magical Kingdom of Birds: the amazing Silver Snow Goose normally appears to open the Winter Festival and the snow geese then start to migrate south for winter but this year there’s no sign of him, so winter cannot come.

Uncle Astor is causing problems again. He’s furious at not being  guest of honour at the festival and this is the result.

Can Keeper of the Book, Maya, and her friends, uncover the whereabouts of the missing snow goose, and bring winter to the kingdom, even if it means Maya taking her longest ever flight?

With the popular mix of magic and bird facts, Anne Booth’s Maya and her new adventure will certainly please her numerous already established followers and she’ll no doubt win new enthusiasts with this wintry tale. Rosie Butcher’s black and white illustrations and beautiful borders are likely to seduce readers whether or not they’re familiar with the series.

There’s plenty of magic too in

Unicorn Academy: Violet and Twinkle
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Can it really be the 11th adventure set in the school where magic is part and parcel of the pupils’ lives?

Violet is eager to graduate from Unicorn Academy along with all her friends. First though she needs to bond with her unicorn Twinkle and becoming true friends with this creature inclined to put his hoof in it when he speaks and thus hurt other people’s feelings isn’t straightforward.

What’s more he doesn’t really listen to Violet or think about what she wants to do.

In the meantime there’s the identity of the cloaked figure to be discovered.

Her unmasking precipitates an alarming event that sees Violet and Twinkle cascading towards the Frozen Lagoon where almost before you can say ‘binding spell’ they find themselves taken prisoner.

Can Twinkle discover his magic and save not only the two of them, but also all the friends who come searching for the missing pair? A very daring rescue is called for.

Certainly for young solo readers, the magic still holds good.

Scoop McLaren Detective Editor / Isadora Moon Puts on a Show

Scoop McLaren Detective Editor
Helen Castles
New Frontier Publishing

This is the first of a proposed series featuring thirteen year old Scoop McLaren, editor of Click, an online newspaper. She resides in Higgedy Harbour a place where quite suddenly strange things start happening. Alarming for sure, but even more so is the fact that a brand new rival newspaper, The Dark Times, is reporting these events at exactly one minute past midnight every night.

Could its editor Sonny Fink be connected with all the disasters – the plague of frogs, the torrential rain that hits the town causing a flood, buildings being burned down, to mention just a few?
Scoop, along with her friend Evie, is determined to get to the bottom of things and restore peace and harmony to their hometown; the mayor seems totally disinterested and so it’s down to the two girls.

But just who is this mysterious and unscrupulous Sonny Fink character and is anyone else in town to be trusted to help them discover his identity?

Mixing straightforward narrative, news articles and text messages, this is an amusing, pacey tale that will definitely keep readers guessing as the plot twists and turns its way to the final exposé.

Isadora Moon Puts on a Show
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford University Press

In case you’ve yet to meet young Isadora Moon let me just say that her dad is a vampire and her mum a fairy. That makes Isadora unique – a vampire-fairy no less.

This story starts with the family getting excited about the annual vampire ball, even Isadora who is now old enough to attend. This year it’s going to be super special as it’s being held on the night of a blood moon and all the vampire children are to take part in a talent show. Isadora decides to do some ballet dancing and she has just two weeks to perfect her routine. “It’s going to be an amazing show!’ she tells Pink Rabbit as they snuggle up under the duvet that night.

But then she has a crisis of confidence, changes her mind about dancing and decides to go along with Dad’s tonsorial suggestion. Or does she?

When they get dressed for the ball, Isadora chooses to wear her tutu under her vampire cape. On arrival though she decides to pull out altogether: not going on stage at all. But then she sees a sad-looking little vampire girl who appears a bit different from the others and she in turn notices Isadora’s tutu.

The two begin to talk and Araminta, as the girl is called, reveals something about herself that makes them bond immediately.

An hour later the show is about to begin so Isadora goes to sit with the rest of her family. Will she stay there or could something amazing happen after all …

Let’s just say there’s a glittering surprise in store especially for mum who has told the organisers to delete her daughter’s name from the list of contestants.

As delightful as the black, white and pink illustrations, is the story’s denouement in the latest episode in the life of this zippy character. Her fans will love it! Sparkle with an injection of zesty pizzazz.