Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard & Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas

Pippi Longstocking
Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard
Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford University Press

I absolutely loved these stories as a child more years ago than I care to remember, and thanks to these new editions splendidly illustrated by Mini Grey and translated by Susan Beard, I find that red-headed rule-breaking Pippi – the ‘strongest girl in the world’ –clad still in her odd (one black and one brown) stockings, has lost none of her wildness and charm.

Nine-year old Pippi lives sans parents in Villa Villekulla – mum is an angel and dad a South Sea Island king she proudly announces. With Pippi lives her monkey Mr Nilsson (a present from her dad), while on her veranda lives her very own horse.

In the first book Pippi meets and makes friends with neighbours Tommy and Annika, gets the better of some bully boys, outthinks some police who come a visiting, is persuaded to go to school (briefly) and gets a bit carried away with her drawing, does some entertaining up an oak tree,

rides bareback at the circus and more.

The second book sees Pippi joining school again – but only to provide the ‘jollification’ on an outing. Other adventures include a face-to-face encounter with a tiger and a surprise visit from Pippi’s dad. Finally Pippi has the chance to accompany her father on his travels. Will she bid farewell to Annika and Tommy and sail away or remain at Villa Villekulla? It’s a difficult choice to make …

The third title is the last of the original Pippi books. Herein Pippi organises a quiz

and then as autumn turns to winter, she invites Tommy and Annika, (both recovering from measles), to accompany her on a trip to the island where her father is king.

As always there are escapades galore including when Pippi seizes a shark, gives it a good telling off and then hurls it back into the ocean. She also manages to protect the island pearls from a pair of would-be thieves and generally have a wonderful time – until Tommy and Annika decide they want to go home for Christmas. They don’t actually make it in time but as always, Pippi finds a way and they don’t miss out altogether on the festivities.

(Happily the mention of cannibals from the original tales has gone but the anarchic Pippi – celebrating her 75th anniversary this year – will surely never lose her power to delight.)

Kevin’s Great Escape

Kevin’s Great Escape
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Oxford University Press

Roly-poly pony Kevin returns in a new adventure with Max and his family; he’s still as biscuit-obsessed as ever, his particular penchant remaining custard creams.

In this story Max’s sister is totally obsessed with pop idol Misty Twiglet, so much so that she persuades Kevin (guess how) to take her to see Misty’s new abode about thirty minutes flight time from Bumbleford.

Misty seems to be a charmer, but the consequence of this visit is that Kevin is pony-napped. That leaves Max and Daisy to devise a rescue operation – aided and abetted by some of Kevin’s magical creature friends perhaps.

There are some terrific new characters to meet, not least a cardigan-loving faun unsurprisingly called Cardigan Faun, a bespectacled mermaid named Iris,

Cedric the centaur, gorgon, Zola (groan) and a tiny dragon, Belling – all captive too.

But we mustn’t forget Misty’s manager, the dastardly, devious Baz Gumption

and her enormous butler Lumphammer; oh! and the character on page 10, Nobbly Nora is definitely not to be missed.

Philip Reeve’s story is just as magical and just as hilariously brilliant (read aloud or read alone) as The Legend of Kevin (another must read if you’ve not done so). Once again Sarah McIntyre’s two-colour illustrations are totally terrific and as yummy as all those biscuits that actually were not why Kevin Goes Pop in the final chapter.

Kitty and the Treetop Chase

Kitty and the Treetop Chase
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie
Oxford University Press

Kitty’s parents have invited their friends the Porters to visit. With them comes their son Ozzy who is Kitty’s age. “I sure you’ll find you have a lot in common,” Kitty’s mum assures her daughter.

That night the two children have a sleepover in Kitty’s tree house and during the night a tapping at the window wakes Kitty. It’s Katsumi asking for her help on account of the frenetic canine-caused chaos at the bakery. Now, even though Kitty’s somewhat unsure about Ozzy, she must share the secret of her cat-like superpowers with him. She’s more than a little surprised when he announces that he too is a superhero; a fact confirmed by Ozzy’s owl friend Olive.

Kitty, her cat Pumpkin, Ozzy and Olive, accompanied by Katsumi, venture forth across town to The Sticky Bun Bakery to find out exactly what’s been going on.

Little by little in the course of their investigations,

Kitty and Ozzy realise that two heads are better than one and they become a proper team. It’s pretty tricky though when both young superheroes find dogs claiming to belong to the bakery.

Like the previous ones, Paula’s fourth adventure of Kitty and her feline friends is pitch purr-fect for new solo readers; and now with the friendship forged between Kitty and Ozzy, not forgetting Kitty’s cat crew and Ozzy’s owl squad, the superheroes seem set fair for further adventures as a team.

As always Jenny Lovlie’s adorable illustrations contribute to the overall magic of the book; and there’s a final Super Facts About Cats spread for readers with a particular penchant for moggies.

Eating Chips With Monkey / Super Stan

Eating Chips With Monkey
Mark Lowery
Piccadilly Press

Ten-year-old Daniel absolutely loves fish and chips, almost as much as he loves his soft toy Monkey; and when the two are part and parcel of the same experience – like his family’s annual Chip Shop Championships, then things really can’t get much better.

They can however get a whole lot worse for during a trip to find the winning chip shop one November day, the lives of Daniel and his family are shattered by a terrible accident when the boy rushes out of the shop straight into the road.

Following his accident Daniel becomes withdrawn while members of his family struggle to cope with the accident’s impact on their own lives.

Then Dad decides to stage a kidnap or as he put it ‘just borrow’ the entire family and redo the Chip Shop Championships mentioned in Daniel’s notebook and in an effort to stimulate the boy’s senses revisit the five contenders. That entails driving all over the country from Norfolk to Bedfordshire, to Yorkshire and thence to Camden Town and finally King’s Cross.

Mark Lowery has created a story that is highly affecting and also funny – think chip-guzzling giraffe, Grandma ‘seizing the day’ with a Major, and designer food. His characterisation of all family members is such that each one truly comes to life on the page, while the portrayal of Daniel (who has autism) is empathetic and might surprise readers who have little of no experience of what this might mean in terms of behaviours.

No matter which way you like your chips served, you cannot but be swept up in this highly unusual family drama.

Super Stan
Elaine Wickson, illustrated by Chris Judge
Oxford University Press

This is the third episode in the life of Stan. All the space enthusiast boy wants to do is to be left in peace so he can watch the total solar eclipse that’s coming up soon but his younger brother Fred has a much more important mission that threatens to eclipse any plans that big bro. might have for the near future.

Fred has donned an eco-warrior hat and is determined to solve the plastic pollution crisis. Moreover he wants everyone else to get involved too.

Add to that Gran’s big announcement regarding her and a certain salsa instructor as well as a certain umbraphile named Roberta Macklin who Stan is determined to meet.

And what’s all that about a certain King prawn vandalising the local supermarket?

Readers will be amazed at how all these threads are woven so neatly together by the author in such a highly entertaining manner; not only that, for Chris Judge’s inventive infographics

are an integral part of this SUPERb adventure that is once again much more than the SUM of all its parts.

Go Stan, go! and, go Fred go! The planet needs you both.

Mole Hill

Mole Hill
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

Alex Latimer has brilliantly combined two of young children’s favourite picture book topics into one splendid rhyming tale – Mole Hill.

Mole and his two children live happily in their cosy subterranean home until one morning the foul stench of diesel fumes pervades their molehill.

Mole surfaces to investigate and what he sees fills him with horror. There before him are three enormous trucks, Dozer grim and yellow, even larger, bright orange Excavator and a smaller red toughie, Loader.

As they move towards Mole’s mound with their scary sound Mole surprises the machines by taking a stand.

He issues a challenge to the threatening threesome

following it with some quick thinking and an instruction to dig for the bones of his last adversary.

What they unearth scares the daylights out of them

causing them to beat a very hasty retreat.

Safely back home Daddy Mole regales the event to the little moles. They however armed with some bedtime reading, are ready to challenge the veracity of his machine-scaring story.

The scale of Mole’s task is highlighted in Alex’s bright, bold images of the huge machines towering over the diminutive hero and I love too the sprinkling of minibeast onlookers that adorn every spread.

Mickey and the Animal Spies

Mickey and the Animal Spies
Anne Miller and Becka Moor
Oxford University Press

Code enthusiast Mickey is excited to discover on her way home from school one Friday afternoon, a coded message stuck onto the bus window.

It’s not long before she finds herself as a new recruit for COBRA, a secret animal spy organisation and the only human currently among the spies.

Each of the other members has a special talent – an eclectic crew indeed; but can the combined skills of this formidable team solve the intriguing crime of the diamond thief?

Operation Shiny Stones is on. Are all members of the team absolutely trustworthy though, and if not, which are the ones that might be double-dealing? Could it be Bertie the rather nervous giraffe,

Rupert the rat leader or perhaps Clarke the haughty cat?

With codes to crack along the way, dog-napping and terrific story-intensifying illustrations by Becka Moor, Anne Miller has created an intriguing whodunit story for solo readers as well as a smashing read aloud (have the codes available for listeners to crack along the way): the plot twists and turns this way and that until the final pages.

There’s clearly more to come for COBRA has a new post to fill – Human Liaison Officer. She of the opposable thumbs and love of adventure might just fit that bill.

Bring it on …

Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe / Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day

Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe
Martin Howard, illustrated by Chris Mould
Oxford University Press

Holidays may seem like a distant dream at the present time but there’s no harm in looking forward and we all need something to keep us cheerful. This second Alfie Fleet story will certainly do just that and perhaps keep holiday dreams alive too.

If you’ve not encountered Alfie before, he has sandy coloured hair and awkward knees. In this adventure he and Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont are soon to open their enterprise the Unusual Travel Agency and are compiling the final few entries to the Guide to the Universe.

Pretty soon though, the two find themselves in trouble as they drop in on other planets that turn out to be anything but welcoming to the visitors.

In addition there’s that motley crew, members of the Unusual Cartography Club with their thoroughly nasty leader, Sir Willikin Nanbiter who is determined to sabotage the Unusual Travel Agency, to deal with.

A brief review cannot do justice to this utterly crazy, twisting-turning story with its wealth of Chris Mould’s brilliant illustrations portraying the fantastical cast of characters;

let’s just say that with its weird words and toilet humour and more, this is a total hoot from beginning to end. Just give it to children who have a particular penchant for unlikely quests and stand well back.

Now I’m off to try that ‘Stuttering Ferret’ pose at Guru Wobbli Rubbalegs Bindobendi yoga retreat way off on Planet Baldy and leave readers to discover for themselves whether Alfie finally succeeds in finding all those whom he seeks and bringing love and peace – well maybe just peace, to the universe.

Also full of fantastic characters but of a rather different kind is:

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day
Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

With her second adventure just published it’s time to get acquainted with Willow Moss. Young Willow comes from a family with magical powers. She too has a special power but hers is less impressive-seeming than other family members. Willow, has the power to find lost things.

Then the scariest, most powerful witch in the whole of Starfell appears on the scene and changes things, for none other than Moreg Vaine has chosen Willow to help in a crucial search,

Apparently last Tuesday has disappeared– nobody remembers a thing about it – and almost unbelievably Moreg needs the talents of a finder like her. How on earth can she possibly manage such a thing, especially as failure to track down and return Tuesday to the place it belongs, could have catastrophic consequences for the entire world?

Really, Willow has little choice but to get on board (rather broomstick) and accept the mission. If truth be told though she’s long harboured a desire for a bit of excitement, so it’s bag packed and off they go (accompanied – in Willow’s bag – by lie-detecting cat-like kobold Oswin, Willow’s only friend).

Magical writing of a magical tale – Dominique Valente’s debut has everything younger fantasy lovers could want: humour, fabulous characters including a dragon with an empty egg and trolls, plus there’s a portal cloak (Moreg’s), a splendid compass-like device that can act as guide when tricky moments present themselves and much, much more.. In particular, the wonderful Willow herself – resourceful and determined and lacking in self-belief. And yes, she does finally discover what happened to that lost Tuesday.

The potency of all this textual magic is further strengthened thanks to Sarah Warburton’s cracking illustrations.

This reviewer can’t wait to read more of Willow, and I’m certain that will be the response from youngsters too.

The Ice Bear Miracle

The Ice Bear Miracle
Cerrie Burnell
Oxford University Press

Cerrie Burnell has woven a wonderful wintry tale sparkling with magic and ice set in the far north of Canada.

It tells of Marv Jackson whose life is changed when he survives a bear attack on the eve of his fifth birthday when he was ‘drawn to the ice, like a ship to a star’ and found himself in the mouth of a polar bear.

Marv is left with a crescent moon scar on his forehead that serves as a constant reminder of that night when a baby’s cry drew him forth and he discovered a raging infant in a basket and protected her from a bear cub. It’s an event that his community don’t accept for no child was ever found but Marv is left with her memory etched in his memory.

Then eight years on the boy, now a keen ice-hockey player, has a chance encounter with the mysterious Tuesday and her huge, much loved ice-skating polar bear, Promise, both part of a travelling carnival. Something stirs deep in his memory. Is it possible that the girl who has been injured in a skating accident is the baby he saw on the ice all those years ago?

But no sooner has the travelling carnival arrived than it leaves again. What are they running from Tuesday wants to know; and where are they bound? Marv is determined to find out for he feels that he and Tuesday are meant to be together.

With her magical writing, Cerrie Burnell fills her story with folklore of her own making. She portrays the Island of Bears with its close-knit community, as a truly incredible place drawing the reader in from the outset, and her narrative grips one like the icy hold that Tuesday’s guardian Gretta has on her. Despite its icy setting though, there’s a great deal of warmth, love and a powerful sense of belonging and yes finally, joy, between the covers of this book. I couldn’t put it down.

Bug Belly Babysitting Trouble / Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure

Bug Belly Babysitting Trouble
Paul Morton
Five Quills

Meet Bug Belly, he of ingenious plans, a clever kit bag and super cool gadgets; sounds a together kind of frog doesn’t he. There’s a snag though: Bug Belly has an almost insatiable appetite. Not a particular problem you might be thinking but how will he deal with that as well as the task of babysitting hundreds of taddies and froglets for a whole day while their parents attend a conference?

Seemingly not very well, for before long he’s faced with rescuing his charges from a rapidly draining pond and the reason for this is known only to the care-giver and his belly (readers of course are in on the secret).

Can he come up with a super-ingenious plan – probably his most clever ever – to evade the jaws of the ferocious pike Old Snapper and Heron of the razor-sharp beak

not to mention one Sneaky Snake that might just be snooping around?

Let’s just say DUCK POO and leave you to discover its significance.

Hilarious antics, splendidly portrayed and related in Paul Morton’s spluttersome storytelling prose: URGLE-GURGLE GLUMP! Froggy fun it surely is and perfect cheering-up fodder for new solo readers. It’s a great read aloud too – you can really give it some belly.

Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie
Oxford University Press

I can almost hear the cheers from young solo readers for girl during the day, cat at night, Kitty, as she returns in a third adventure with her feline side kick Pumpkin.

As the story opens Kitty is excited to discover that the sunflower seed she planted as part of the school garden design competition is sprouting leaves and is showing it to Pumpkin when Pixie appears talking of an established garden across the city that might provide some inspiration for Kitty’s own design.Kitty cannot resist the opportunity to see this garden and quickly dons her superhero suit.

Following the scent of flowers, the three adventurers venture forth and discover a wonderful rooftop garden alive with wonderful aromas, beautiful trees and gorgeous flowers including seven huge sunflowers.

Her companions are mightily impressed by the catnip bush and it’s this that results in their presence being discovered by an irate tortoiseshell cat whose peaceful evening they have disturbed. The friends’ enthusiasm for things botanical persuades the grumpy Diggory to allow them to explore and he shows them around Mrs Lovett’s amazing creation, even inviting them to return.

So excited is Pixie that she cannot keep the news of the wondrous place to herself and next evening they return to find the place overrun with cats behaving in a thoroughly undesirable fashion.
Before long, Kitty and her pals have a huge task on their hands – to repair the damage the unruly frolickers have done before sunrise.

Can they rise to the challenge when they have a whole gang of recalcitrant cats to deal with, Kitty’s going to need all her powers of persuasion to get that gang on side to help.

I love the way Paula Harrison almost unobtrusively weaves nature’s wonders into this urban adventure; there are subtle lessons for young readers about re-using and recycling planted in her tale too. From its gorgeous cover by illustrator Jenny Lovlie, this is a delight through and through. The illustrations within are fab too, especially those of the garden.

Willow Wildthing and the Swamp Monster

Willow Wildthing and the Swamp Monster
Gill Lewis, illustrated by Rebecca Bayley
Oxford University Press

This story introduces a super new character, Willow Wildthing in the first of a series to be.

Willow has just moved into a new home in a different town; everything feels strange, alien even. Left to her own devices, she decides to go exploring with just her dog Sniff for company. No sooner have they sallied forth than something startles Sniff and he vanishes.

Giving chase, Willow comes upon four grubby-looking children calling themselves the Wild Things who have seized Sniff saying they need him for a mission.

When Willow stands her ground the Wild Things (Fox, Raven, Mouse, Hare) agree (mostly) to let her accompany them.
But is she brave enough to enter the Wilderness? It’s a kind of wood but not just any wood, a secret place where anything can happen, a place wherein a wild monster dwells.

It means crossing some very murky water and going barefoot. Oh yes, it’s also a place where magic seeps into you regardless of whether or not you want it to; and you can only enter through the Holloway.

It’s said that a witch lives in the Wilderness too, though Mouse insists she’s the writer who came to talk at school; witch or writer, or both? The woman tells them in answer to Fox’s ’what do you do?’ – ‘I suppose you could say I conjure openings into other worlds.’

Eventually Willow decides that accompany them she must, Sniff’s help is needed in locating and rescuing another member of their group – Bear; but his is not the only rescue they undertake. They locate the source of the howling Willow heard on her first night in the new house.

All ends satisfactorily with Willow being accepted as a member of the Wild Things and there’s the promise of another mystery waiting to be solved.
And as for magic, let’s say yes to that, the best magic of all being, friendship.

Gill Lewis lyrical manner of telling this tale immediately engages the reader holding your interest throughout with its mixing of the enchantment of the natural world and that conjured up by the imagination. Rebecca Bagley’s two-colour illustrations are a delight too. The book is one likely to engender in children the urge to be curious, thirsty for adventure and resilient, as well as open-hearted and kind.

Meet Pippi Longstocking / Pippi Longstocking and the Snirkle Hunt

Meet Pippi Longstocking
Pippi Longstocking and the Snirkle Hunt
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ingrid Vang Nyman
Oxford University Press

2020 sees the 75th anniversary of the publication of the first Pippi Longstocking book and as part of the celebrations OUP is releasing six new early reader, illustrated editions with Ingrid Vang Nymans’s illustrations rendered in two colours in each book, using adaptations of the original text by Astrid Lindgren.
The first two are Meet Pippi Longstocking, which introduces youngsters to the inimitable Pippi and her world and that in which Pippi invents the wonderful-sounding word “snirkle’ the meaning of which she tells her friends Tommy and Annika, she has no idea except that it’s not dustbin lid. Thus we have the second title, Pippi Longstocking and the Snirkle Hunt.

Clearly Pippi needs to discover what this brand new word of hers means and that’s exactly what, after a few moments of contemplation she sets out to do.

It proves not to be the sound made when you trample in mud making it come up between your toes: that she decides is SHBLURP and heads off, gold coin in hand, riding her horse Mr Nillson, to the shops with her friends, to see if it’s something that can be bought.
Several unsuccessful shop visits later,

she heads to the doctor’s but that yields nothing helpful.

Nor does the intrusion she makes upon two ladies sitting chatting over a cuppa up in a flat.

Will the determined young miss ever solve her snirkle conundrum? Perhaps it’s closer to home than she thinks …

For the adult me, nine year old Pippi, with her mismatched stockings, carroty-coloured hair and freckles, has lost none of the allure she had in my childhood – an unstoppable self-belief, determination, resilience and kindness and lots of terrific adventures.

I can’t wait to introduce her, through these smashing little books to a new generation of young readers.  Long live Pippi!

Two Terrific Board Books

Here are two very different but both smashing board books to explore with little ones.

The Wolf and the Fly
Antje Damm
Gecko Press

What a totally delicious book this is, and it’s one where readers, young and not so young, can polish up their observation and memory skills as they follow the tale of a hungry wolf.

On the first spread we see the lupine contemplating his shelves of objects – a duck, an apple, a fish, a cactus, a car, a fly, a bird and a cat and the words, “The wolf is feeling a bit peckish today. So he eats the …’

Each subsequent spread shows a gap on one of the shelves indicating where the missing item was and readers have to remember what that item is.

He keeps on chomping until he’s fit to burst and has to head to the bathroom.

On his return he’s ready for afters and consumes another item. Once inside said item tickles his tum; you can guess what happens next.

Antje’s illustrations are superbly expressive and the entire experience of sharing this story with a little one is absolutely yummy.

Tim Hopgood’s ABC
Oxford University Press

Author/illustrator Tim Hopgood has created a gorgeous alphabetical introduction to the natural world for the very youngest.

No matter where the book is opened, little ones will be treated to a beautiful image that celebrates an aspect of wildlife and/or the elements, that can be found somewhere on the planet.

We have Aa for acorn, a butterfly represents Bb;

a scene of a child relaxing atop a hill gazing skywards while a bird perches on her foot, butterflies flit and a bee drifts by, that’s Cc for cloud, and opposite is a scorching desert – Dd.

So it goes on – it’s hard to pick favourites though I especially like the owl –

through to Yy . Hereon it’s not nature but the toddler’s own image that will be reflected back by the mirror forming the centre of, I think, a sun.

Alphabetical it may be, but in the first instance, I’d just enjoy talking with a tiny about the illustrations for their own sake, and perhaps focus more on the alphabetical element later on.

Everybody Has A Body

Everybody Has a Body
Jon Burgerman
Oxford University Press

In his characteristic playfully daft style, Jon Burgerman takes a look at bodies.
We all have one after all, and no matter its shape, size or colour, our body is something we should be proud of.

He presents us with zany illustrations of big bodies and small bodies, wide ones and tall ones; bodies weak and strong,

narrow and looooooooong.

Then of course, there are hairy bodies as well as the smooth variety.

Some bodies might make us clumsy while others make us groove.

Either a soft body or a rough one is a possibility, as is one bendy or tough.

There’s also the thorny question of age, since a body may be old or new.

The one thing that is certain though, is this:

What a lot of bodies – has Jon captured yours in his zany art and rhyming words?

A fun read aloud with lots to think about and talk about; equally, with its brief text and fun art, this is great for those starting to read to try for themselves, and SO much more interesting than a dull scheme book.

Lenny Makes a Wish

Lenny Makes a Wish
Paula Metcalf
Oxford University Press

I wonder how far into this heartwarming story it will be before youngsters guess the identity of the ‘fish’ Lenny rabbit comes upon while out picking flowers for his mum one spring day.

Needing a little rest from his activity, Lenny sits down beneath a tree and spots a ‘funny little fish / as black as black an be’

That the little creature is all alone makes the young rabbit feel sad and he inquires about the whereabouts of the fish’s parents. What he learns is that a storm has separated her from her family.

Having pondered upon what to do, Lenny offers himself as a friend but then realises that a fish out of water is unable to breathe. Back into the water goes Fishy rapidly followed by Lenny but what is immediately evident is 

Happily his mum arrives in the nick of time to rescue her little one and give him a warning. Then it’s a very sad Lenny that bids farewell to his fishy friend and so she doesn’t forget him, he presents her with his blue scarf.

Time passes; Fishy appreciates her gift but suddenly tears start  welling up.

Lenny meanwhile also misses Fishy and one bright, clear night he makes a wish upon the biggest star in the sky.

The sunny summer days come around and all of a sudden while Lenny and Mum are having their lunch,

they receive a surprise visitor wearing a blue scarf.

Has Lenny’s wish perhaps been granted?

The combination of Paula Metcalf’s rhythmic, rhyming text and gently humorous illustrations with their wealth of of wonderful details, makes for a great read aloud. It’s a lovely celebration of kindness, and friendship against the odds as well as offering an unobtrusive lesson in natural history.

Attack of the Smart Speakers

Attack of the Smart Speakers
Tom McLaughlin
Oxford University Press

Here’s another hoot of a story from Tom McLaughlin. It tells what happens when a new and crazy fad hits the town of Happyville in the form of smart speakers.

Seemingly everybody has one or is about to acquire same, for it appears as though these Nova devices – virtual assistants – are mega helpful. But are they?

It isn’t long before Tyler and her pals are starting to become just a tad suspicious. Are they the only ones concerned about who, or indeed what, is really doing the controlling. I wonder what the terms and conditions accompanying these things actually say – has anyone read them? That I doubt.

A big surprise awaits the children when they arrive at school. Their headteacher announces that he’s signed up to a new sponsorship deal with – guess what – Nova – and he at least is super-excited about it. Uh-huh!

When the ‘things’ start acquiring appendages we wonder how much worse things can get. Robot spiders intent on a take-over not just of the town but humanity itself? No thank you.
Come on geek guys Ashley, Dylan and Tyler – it’s up to you.

Following a communal dance session –Nova controlled,

a foresty foray, and a possible unlikely alliance, plans are finally afoot but …

Absolutely full of gigglesome moments, with plenty of zany pictures as well as the spidery speakers that provide visual chapter headings,

this book with its unexpected twist, will enthral junior audiences, especially those with a techy bent, whether its read alone or shared as a class read aloud.

(If you’ve not tried Tom’s earlier story set in Happyville, then you should try Happyville High: Geek Tragedy that also features Tyler et al.)

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.

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue & Kitty and the Tiger Treasure

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue
Kitty and the Tiger Treasure

Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie
Oxford University Press

These are the first two of a proposed new six book series starring Kitty, a young superhero in training. Kitty’s mum is gifted with cat-like superpowers and Kitty longs to be just like her; the trouble is she’s frightened of the dark.

Her opportunity to try out her own powers comes sooner than Kitty anticipated in Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue.
One night when she’s wearing her superhero outfit there comes a scratching at her bedroom window. It’s Figaro the cat requesting her mother’s help and because of her attire, he’s convinced Kitty too is a superhero.

When there’s an emergency what can she do but remember her mother’s words “Don’t let fear hold you back. You’re braver than you think,” and follow him across the rooftops to the clock tower from where very strange sounds are coming.

An exciting moonlit rescue ensues and Kitty ends up with a brand new tiny feline friend and family member.

In the second story, Kitty is eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s trip to the museum to view the priceless Golden Tiger Statue reputed to have the power to grant wishes, but cats are not allowed and Pumpkin is keen to go see it too. There’s only one thing to do, thinks Kitty as she and the kitten snuggle up together at bedtime and so begins their second moonlit adventure.

Off into town they go but before you can say ‘precious’ Kitty finds herself accused of being a criminal. So when she sees through the museum window a canine thief at work, paws on the Golden Tiger, it’s down to her and her feline friends to give chase, find the culprit, rescue the treasure and return it to the museum before its absence is discovered.

No easy task. Kitty can use her super powers that are growing stronger day by day but it seems the spaniel isn’t working alone. Can she find out who else is involved and put things right before midnight strikes?

These absorbing stories with their young female protagonist plus  several feline characters, and a wealth of smashing illustrations,  are just right for new solo readers. My tester read each book in a single sitting …

and was inspired to ponder on the possibility of having her own super power –

“My superpower would be that if people are fighting or at war I could make them become friends’.       Emmanuelle age 6

Me and Mister P: Maya’s Storm

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

In this latest story, polar bear Mister P washes up on the beach close to young Maya’s home in Lighthouse Cottage. Maya is still getting used to being part of a new family – Mum, Dad, big brother Max and sister, Iris. She now feels safe there but memories of her old life in another country haunt her occasionally.

Maya has formed a special bond with Granny Anne who lives on the edge of the village, but other family members are worried about Gran –her forgetfulness and at times erratic behaviour, seem to be on the increase. Things on the Gran front are going to have to change, says Mum.

So when Maya and Gran discover at the back of a cave, a huge polar bear with a suitcase bearing a label which reads Mister P, 1 Lighthouse Cottages, Maya knows that she now has more than just Gran to worry about. She certainly doesn’t want her parents finding out about the new furry visitor and Gran seems to have taken a shine to him.

But how are they going to provide him with the diet of fish he needs?

However Maya cannot spend all her time worrying about Mister P. There’s a birthday party to be organised too.

No matter where Mister P lands, he always manages to end up as a hero and so it is here. Along the way though the rest of Maya’s family of course, discovers him – first her brother at whose place of work he causes a degree of alarm, then Iris and her parents.

Eventually Mister P gets itchy feet; he cannot stay forever after all; but when he does go Maya knows she’ll never forget him; and her brother gives her a vey special something as a reminder of their time together.

Funny, disquieting at times and tinged with sadness, but readers will close the book with an abiding feeling of warmth and an even greater endearment than ever towards its main protagonist. As always, Daniel Rieley has done a great job with his expressive greyscale illustrations.

Polly and the New Baby

Polly and the New Baby
Rachel Quarry
Oxford University Press

Little Polly’s imaginary friend Bunny goes everywhere with her. She takes him in the pushchair she had as a tiny baby.

Every time her Mum or Dad try to persuade her to do without said pushchair, she insists it’s an absolute necessity. Bunny and chair go to the supermarket, the park and even to her Gran’s house.

There’s a problem though: Mum is soon to have a new baby and needs the chair for her own purposes. Several replacement modes of transport for Bunny are offered but none satisfy Polly

and all the while Mum’s due date draws ever closer.

Even when it’s imminent, and Polly and Bunny go to stay at Gran’s, you’ve guessed, the pushchair goes too.

However, when Mum introduces Polly to her new little sister Lily, the now big sis. makes a special announcement concerning her friend: “Bunny can walk!”

Definitely now’s the time to pass on that old pushchair surely; or is it? … It would appear that Polly isn’t the only one with a new sibling.

Happily Polly’s imagination stretches to making a compromise that might just work for everyone.

The understated humour in both words and illustrations makes this story of a family with a super-cute creative thinking protagonist, a delight to share with little ones around Polly’s age whether or not a new arrival is in the offing.

King Dave Royalty for Beginners

King Dave: Royalty for Beginners
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Colour Monster Goes to School / Beautiful Bananas

The Colour Monster Goes to School
Anna Llenas
Templar Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Bananas
Elizabeth Laird and Liz Pichon
Oxford University Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lula and the Sea Monster

Lula and the Sea Monster
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

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

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

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

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

The following day she returns with a veritable Bean feast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a Spider in My Soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nell & the Circus of Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nell is mesmerised by the performances she sees …

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

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

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

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

A must have picture book, this.

Lubna and Pebble

Lubna and Pebble
Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus
Oxford University Press

Every pebble is different, some are special, others not: the pebble in this beautifully moving story is of the former kind. It’s smooth, shiny, grey and it’s Lubna’s best friend. She discovered it when she and her father arrived one night on the beach before falling fast asleep in her Daddy’s embrace.

These two people have landed in a tented world and with her pebble clutched in one hand and her Daddy’s hand in the other, the little girl feels protected.

In one of the tents she finds a felt-tip pen, which she uses to draw a smiling face on her pebble.

Lubna opens up to Pebble telling her now much loved new pal of the war, her home and her brothers.

Winter comes and with it chill winds that flap the tents. Daddy keeps his daughter warm and together they make a warm bed for Pebble.

Into this chilly camp comes a little boy, silent and afraid. Lubna introduces him to Pebble and the boy introduces himself to Pebble: Amir is his name.

A new friendship develops between Lubna and the newcomer although Pebble remains her best friend.

One day Daddy receives some wonderful news: he and Lubna are leaving for a new home.

Amir’s reaction means that Lubna now has mixed feelings and that night in bed she lies awake pondering. She consults Pebble but no answer is forthcoming.

By morning though, Lubna knows what she must do when she leaves …

This is a book that really tugs at your heartstrings. Wendy’s tale of love, hope, friendship, sacrifice and transcendence perfectly complemented by Daniel Egnéus’ powerful, sometimes sombre, scenes of the refugee camp dwellers left me with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

Definitely one to add to the growing number of beautiful picture books featuring people displaced from their own home country seeking safe refuge elsewhere.

Santa’s Wonderful Workshop

Santa’s Wonderful Workshop
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

If you’ve ever wondered what happens between the time Santa drops off the last Christmas present and the time he starts his deliveries the following Christmas Eve, then here is the answer. In her inimitable zany style, Elys Dolan gives a month by month account of the activities that take place in Santa’s workshop and a final exposure of one never to be forgotten Christmas Eve.

This is a total hoot from start to finish and every page in between too: Elys has totally let her imagination run riot with this one.

Take January for instance when we learn that already, the nice/naughty list has gone missing – hiding in plain sight as a loo roll; then by May the elves have become a tad too creative on the toy production line.

June brings a malfunctioning of the ‘Present-o-matic machine – it starts churning out toasters and come August everyone is down with a dose of flu.

Surprisingly everyone makes it through to Christmas Eve (although not without a spell of trouble with the police) but just as Santa is about to leave on his delivery round the missing bear suddenly reappears causing a catastrophe.

Can Christmas be saved? Let’s hope so or the Easter Bunny will be the one having the last laugh. Or should that be a certain polar bear?

Completely and utterly bonkers, there’s just SO much going on that I’d advise not starting to read this unless you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy the shenanigans on every spread.

Christmas Gifts That Last – Magical Myths and Legends / The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty

 

Magical Myths and Legends
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Former Children’s Laureate and award-winning author, Michael Morpurgo has chosen his favourite magical tales from all over the world for this bumper gift book of ten stories.

Morpurgo retells Gawain and the Green Knight himself and the other storytellers are Michaela Morgan, (3 tales), there’s a retelling of Icarus from Susan Gates; Jeanne Willis has versions of the wonderful legend from County Durham, The Lambton Worm, (one of my favourites) and a King Arthur adventure – The Giant of Mont Saint-Michel.
Both Thor and the Hammer and a tale of the Roman Fire God entitled Vulcan and the Fabulous Throne come from Tony Bradman while Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway is a John Dougherty retelling.

Each tale is beautifully and distinctively illustrated providing nine different illustrators an opportunity to showcase their work.

Whether you prefer interfering fairies, talking frogs, or giant worms,

you’ll surely find something to enjoy in this timeless treat.

The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty
Jessica Courtney-Tickle and Katy Flint
Lincoln Children’s Books

The Christmas season is a time when families visit the theatre perhaps to see a pantomime or performance of a ballet such as the Sleeping Beauty. Here’s a book (the third of The Story Orchestra series) providing a musical journey into the classic ballet story with words and pictures to add to that magical theatrical experience; or to enjoy in its own right.

Each spread includes a ‘press here’ button that when pushed, plays a brief well-known excerpt of Tchaikovsky’s music.

We start with the party thrown by the King and Queen Florestan in celebration of the birth of their baby daughter princess Aurora.
Then in comes the Lilac Fairy with her gift-bearing fairy godmother troupe each of whom performs and bestows a gift.
Suddenly through the window comes the evil fairy Carabosse who places a curse on the infant princess.
The Lilac Fairy is able to modify this death curse with a good spell so that the Princess will fall asleep for 100 years, unless her true love awakens her with a kiss..
Sixteen years later as the Princess is celebrating her 16th birthday Carabosse returns; this time with a disguised spindle on which Aurora pricks her finger and falls asleep. Thereafter the hunt is on for someone who is able to break that evil curse

and the rest is fairy tale history …

The book concludes with notes on the composer and the ten soundscapes.

Beautifully illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, this Story Orchestra presentation adds an additional sensory layer to the whole production.

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.