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.