The Child of Dreams

The Child of Dreams
Irena Brignull and Richard Jones
Walker Studio

A little girl lives happily with her mother until she realises that unlike the other creatures she observes, she doesn’t have a father.

The answer her mother supplies doesn’t satisfy her and so the girl resolves to find out for herself about her origins.

Her quest takes her into the woods where she encounters first a stork and then squirrels, a salmon

and a fox.

Each one provides a part of her story, which eventually leads her to the source – the place where fox had found her.

There she comes upon a boy sitting alone staring at the road behind which is a tall building. He tells her that he’s waiting for someone to come for him.

As they talk together, the girl realises that what is truly important to her is what she already has.

Unlike the boy who is still waiting to discover where he’s going, that is something which, thanks to her mother’s love; a love ‘stronger than the rocks on the mountain peak, softer than the petals of the meadow flowers, fuller than the harvest moon’, she already knows.

There’s a fairy tale feel to this magical story that is essentially one celebrating the love between a parent and child – that sense of belonging that everyone yearns for.

Richard Jones’s awesome mixed media illustrations add to the power of this story of growing up and finding how you fit into the world.

Early Years Round-Up

Father’s Day
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

A gorgeously warm celebration of moments shared with a beloved dad are woven together to make a super little book for dads and their very little ones to share around Father’s Day, or on any other day. There’s a lively early morning awakening and musical rendition at breakfast time and a walk to playgroup. The highlight though is a day spent at the beach, playing, snoozing, sandcastle building and picnicking. Then it’s back home for bathtime, a spot of first aid,

a goodnight story and some moon spotting.

Bliss! And who better to show all that than the wonderful Shirley Hughes.

Maisy Goes to a Show
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy and friends are off to the theatre to see a performance of Funny Feathers, starring Flora Fantastica. Maisy finds it hard to contain her excitement as they queue, browse a programme and eventually take their front-row seats just as the music starts and the curtain lifts for the drama to begin.

During the interval, there’s time for a loo visit and snacks before the bell rings for curtain up again and the cast, led by Flora, sing in the big city of their desires before heading back to their jungle home, and a curtain call farewell.

Maisy fans will love it, and she’ll likely win some new followers with this latest “First Experiences’ story.
More new experiences come in:

The Scooter
Judy Brown
Otter-Barry Books

Twin rabbits Bruno and Bella and back in a second story. Bruno is thrilled to bits with his brand new scooter, practising eagerly using alternate legs and travelling at different speeds in different places. The only trouble is he forgets to perfect one crucial aspect of the entire process: how to use the brake. This precipitates some high drama as he whizzes downhill, through fields, a garden, the market and the park before Bella finally catches up with him – almost.

Anyone for a repeat performance?: Bruno certainly and I’m pretty sure very little humans will demand a re-run too; it’s smashing fun and who can resist Bruno’s enthusiasm?
And for slightly older listeners:

Sandy Sand Sandwiches!
Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick’s ‘sticky stickers’ awarders, The Little Adventurers return with their zest for life and bonhomie. It’s a very hot day as they assemble in their HQ shed, collect the necessary items and await one of their number, Finnegan who eventually turns up already sporting his snazzy trunks.

Off they go to the beach in his daddy’s car, arriving full of enthusiasm but with a modicum of good sense as they share the safety rules before heading onto the sand for some sculpting.

Masterpieces complete, it’s time to stand back and admire each one in turn.

Then after ice-cream treats it’s off for some paired rock-pooling,

followed by shell collecting and an unplanned treasure hunt. Then it’s time for a quick dip before they all head home with a few grains of sand to remind them of their day and back at HQ, a final sticker awarding, including one to Snub for his very helpful ‘mouse-sitting’.

Brimming over with silliness, friendship, sandy treats and other adorable delights (including the occasional fact), this is a treat for littles around the age of the characters herein.

Finally, if you missed the original, there’s now a board book version of:

Princess Mirror-Belle and the Dragon Pox
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Now a tiny version of a favourite spotty tale for very littles.
Ellen has chicken pox; she’s covered from head to toe in horribly itchy spots; and what does she want to do to those spots? Scratch them, especially the one right on the tip of her nose. As she gazes in the bathroom mirror, about to do the deed, she hears a voice – no, not mum’s but Princess Mirror-Belle’s.

Thus begins a funny story, delivered for a change in prose rather than Donaldson’s more usual rhyme. Lydia Monks’ sparkle-spangled, collage constructed illustrations offer readers an abundance of opportunities for visual and tactile exploration.


Maisie’s Scrapbook

Maisie’s Scrapbook
Samuel Narh and Jo Loring-Fisher
Lantana Publishing

Five-year-old Maisie is the narrator of this celebration of unconditional parental love. In the end papers she shows us her scrapbook: her Dada shares tales of the spider she saves the world from (aka Ananse), while her Mama tells her ‘a bull is not a pet’.

In between, the main narrative compares and contrasts the differing parenting styles of her Dada and Mama.

Steeped in folklore, the former nurtures Maisie’s flights of fancy

while her Mama endeavours to keep her grounded with games such as hide and seek, and protects her from the bull she imagines herself riding.

As the seasons pass we see examples of the all encompassing parental love this fortunate child receives – Mama’s arms surround her as she’s frightened by the bull;

Dada ‘shows her clouds painting pictures of the ancient worlds in the sky’.

Mama cooks risotto whereas Dada’s speciality is jolof rice; Mama plays a viola, Dada the marimba, but they both nag her in the same way and love her in the same way;  The result of this parenting is a spirited child who appreciates what she has: two loving parents, a rich, mixed cultural heritage and a bundle of self-confidence.  Above all, love is what matters most in Samuel Narh’s beautifully expressed, moving tale.

Reflecting the different heritages of her parents, there’s a wealth of cultural references in Jo Loring-Fisher’s mixed-media illustrations of Maisie’s life both in the expansive outdoors and the more confining walls of her home: the Ghanian Sankofa bird on the window-sill, the framed Gye Nyame (supreme being) symbol; the ancient buildings painted in the sky.

Positive in every respect this is a book to share, share, share again and then to talk about within the family and in school or nursery.


Nadine Kaadan
Lantana Publishing

Over the past couple of years there have been several excellent picture books featuring families or individuals fleeing a war-torn home country and seeking refuge in another, often far distant land. But what of those who remain in such a place, a country such as Syria say, where war is all around?

This is the way of life for Yazan and his mother and father.

Yazan no longer sees his next door neighbour and friend, nor does he go to the park. In addition, school has stopped and surprisingly, Yazan misses it.

Artistically inclined, Yazan’s mother used to spend a considerable time painting, sometimes with her son watching, sometimes painting alonlgside.

It’s the news on TV that occupies much of her time and attention nowadays though, and his father is also preoccupied.

Yazan meanwhile does his best to keep busy himself; but how much doodling, pillow building and paper aeroplane making can you do before boredom sets in?

Going stir crazy he yells his ”I want to go to the park NOWWWWWWWW!!” request to his parents.
Then, ignoring his mum’s “Not today,” response, the boy ponders and then the temptation of his shiny bike is just too much.

Once outside however, nothing looks the same: no stall holder, no playmates, only alarming explosions all around. What should he do: continue his journey or return home?

Suddenly, catching sight of another person, his mind is made up. Then Yazan and his dad walk back quietly hand in hand.
Once home, what his mother does after giving him a huge hug and a warning about going out alone again, makes his heart soar. If he can’t go to the park, then at least she can bring one to him …

And that, for the foreseeable future, will have to suffice.

Over the years I have taught a good many young children who, with their parent(s), have fled conflict in various countries including Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and more recently, Syria; and although one never questioned them about their experiences, in time some did open up, often through their art, about what they had been through.

At that time there were no picture books such as this one for me to draw upon and it’s impossible to imagine what life for a young child must have been like.

Originally published in Arabic in 2012, Nadine Kaadan’s spare, matter of fact telling, in combination with her sometimes sombre, colour palette, create a powerful portrayal of the stark reality that expresses something of what she has witnessed. Towards the end, her watercolour and pencil scenes bring the light into the darkness of a child’s initial confusion, and one family’s near imprisonment within their loving own home.

I close by quoting the author’s final sentence in her letter to readers at the back of this moving book: ‘Today, we wait for a time when “tomorrow” can be a better day for all Syrian children.’ This is surely something we all hope for.
In the meantime, let’s share Nadine’s story as widely as possible.

Being a Princess is Very Hard Work

Being a Princess is Very Hard Work
Sarah Kilbride and Ada Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

If you ever thought being a princess was fun, or even easy, then this funny rhyming picture book will set you straight.
Imagine having to sit for ages on a throne, or smile benevolently and wave at your subjects when all you feel like doing is having a nap.

Think of having no time to play, of trying to keep all those body noises inside and definitely no nose-picking. Table manners have to be immaculate and fussy eating is not allowed.

Worse still are all the spinning wheels and dragons you might have to contend with and what about all those frogs just waiting for a kiss to be bestowed upon them.

You’d have to look neat and spotlessly clean at all times which makes pretty much anything fun strictly off limits.

Just being yourself- a real little girl – moody, energetic, noisy, messy yes of course, but also kind and generous is much better. That’s the opinion of one would-be princess’s mum and dad, and they want their daughter to know that they love her for who and what she is.

Read-aloud entertainment for would-be little princesses especially, but also for all who have imagined what taking on such a role might entail.
Ada Grey’s scenes of the trials and tribulations involved in so doing are full of amusing details – the frogs that invade almost every page are a real hoot – and the little royals, a delight.

I’ve signed the charter  

Look, there’s a Tractor; Look, there’s a Helicopter / I Love You Little One

Look, there’s a Tractor!
Look, there’s a Helicopter!

Esther Aarts
Nosy Crow
Here’s a pair of board book adventures for the very youngest.
In the Tractor a rhyming narrative guides young listeners as they climb aboard and accompany the farmer and his dog on a search around the farm for a missing hen.

Strategically placed die-cut holes help move the story forward towards the final surprise finale.
In the Helicopter book we join the pilot as she takes her machine out on a rescue mission to save a family and their dog from a sinking boat.

This one also has the same ‘Follow-the-holes’ feature. I think the rhyme works better in the tractor tale though.

I Love You, Little One
Holly Surplice
Nosy Crow
If you want a super-cute board book to share with your little one then look no further than this outpouring of love from a mother guinea pig to her infant.
Actually though, she says words cannot express the strength of her feelings, so instead actions do the speaking – through her pride in little guinea pig’s artistic creations; the songs she sings for him and the music they create together, the baking they share in.

Then there are those moments when some TLC is required …

Most of all though, is the idea – a magical one – that wherever Mummy guinea pig is, be it near or far, her love for her little one is always there and so it will always be.
Told through a rhyming text and adorable illustrations, this could have been sickly sweet but it isn’t; the showing makes sure of that – both Holly’s and the mother guinea pig’s.

Run, Elephant, Run

Run, Elephant Run
Patricia MacCarthy
Otter-Barry Books

As a storm gathers, lashing the vegetation of his Indonesian rainforest home and pelting down upon Little Elephant, he becomes separated from his mother.
The storm gets increasingly wild but there’s something even more fierce close by. It’s a tiger.
Little Elephant battles against the whirling, swirling elements, the creature hot on his trail. With no time to hide, Little Elephant has to run for his life through the slippery mud.

He slips and falls, whooshing pell-mell down a muddy slope right into his anxiously searching mother.
There’s only one thing to do: make as much noise as possible; so they trumpet and stamp till suddenly

the tiger turns tail and dashes away.
Eventually the storm blows itself out and with the change in the weather, the herd moves on. The weather isn’t all that’s different though: thanks to his adventure, one small pachyderm has changed on the inside. He now feels bigger and braver as he sploshes and splashes with the other elephants in the rain pool.

With its wealth of onomatopoeia this is a great book for adding sound effects during a story session. Children could use their voices, found objects or musical instruments – possibly ones they’ve made themselves – to orchestrate the reading.
First though, read the story, look closely at the superb visuals and then, using the final puzzle spread, go back through the book and search for the thirty odd rainforest creatures in the richly coloured illustrations.

Under the Love Umbrella

Under the Love Umbrella
Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys
One of my closest friends lives in India and when his two daughters were much younger, we took some holidays in Goa together. The elder girl, Triambika had recently started at boarding school and was not at all happy during her first term. One evening after dinner near the beach we stood together in the dark, looking up at the sky, where the moon had formed a smile shape. I recall saying to her, “Whenever you are feeling sad or alone, look up at that smile in the sky and know I’m there for you, thinking of you and sending my love.” This beautiful picture book brought this right back to me, using as it does an umbrella as the symbol of love and protection. ‘Over your head and just above / There’s an umbrella of my love. / To show it’s you I’m thinking of / Wherever you might be.
It then goes on to explore various situations when a child might feel frightened, upset, shy or sad

reminding him/her that a loving parent with the love umbrella is always there to comfort, reassure and embrace.
Moving home is particularly challenging for many children; another situation that calls for the umbrella and its loving care …

As do wet pants accidents, breakfast disasters, camping trips in maybe scary woods and more; whatever the weather, out comes that umbrella.

Indeed there isn’t a single instance when that all embracing cover cannot offer succour.
Delivered through Davina Bell’s gentle soothing rhyming words and Allison Colpoys’ striking, stand-out scenes rendered in neon shades: this creative partnership goes from strength to strength. A MUST buy book for families especially.
I’ve signed the charter … 

This is the Kiss / I Love You, Baby


This is the Kiss
Claire Harcup and Gabriel Alborozo
Walker Books
We join an adult bear and a little one at the end of a day filled with snowy fun and games, but now after a paw-waving signal from the adult, it’s time to wend their way paw-in-paw, back to the cave for a night’s sleep. First though, comes a gentle hand squeeze,


a loving pat on the head, a benevolent smile, a spot of tickle play,


a goodnight hug and finally that kiss.
Sweet dreams little one. Gabriel Alborozo takes Claire Harcup brief rhythmic text and adds utterly enchanting visuals (including gorgeous end papers) making the whole thing a thoroughly heart-warming, just before bed read, for adults to share with very young children..
I suspect it’s one that will be asked for over and over. And, such is the simplicity of the writing that those in the early stages of becoming a reader can try it for themselves – make sure you share it first though.

More loving moments between adult and offspring are celebrated in a book coming in March:


I Love You, Baby
Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster
Various baby animals from penguin chicks to puppies and snakelets …


to elephant calves are on the receiving end of parental love in this joyous litany wherein adoring adult animals show and tell their offspring how precious they are. Tenderness and gentle humour are key in this one. Although the eponymous I is portrayed as a different animal for each utterance,


this is an affectionate book for a human parent to share with a very young child.


Love Matters Most


Love Matters Most
Mij Kelly and Gerry Turley
Hodder Children’s Books
Why is the bear staring into the night,
at a world that is turning shimmering white?

With that opening question we join a mother bear as she leaves her warm sheltering cave and ventures out into the frost-filled night air on a stormy night in search of something. Surely not gold in such frozen terrain, nor those berries,


though they look so delicious glowing ruby-red on the bushes.
Could it be the magic glow of the forest calling?


Will she pause to catch salmon or see a snowflake become a teardrop or watch in wonder as the stars splinter the sky? Yes, these are all wonderful, but it’s none of these; there’s something much more important she needs to find, which is why that bear is following footprints.
Searching and following them on and on until at last, joy oh joy!


Mother and cub are finally reunited and both know for sure what matters most; it’s love.
Mij Kelly’s gentle poetic text is music to the ear and really draws listeners right in to the bear’s chilly world as she journeys across the snowy landscapes so wonderfully portrayed by Gerry Turley. He brings stark beauty to every scene and the impact of words and pictures together send shivers of pleasure up the spine.
Look out for the little yellow bird that accompanies the mother bear on her journey leading her forwards all the way and watching that tender finale.


Being in the Present: One Minute / Love You Hoo


One Minute
Somin Ahn
Chronicle Books
Have you ever thought about what you can do in a minute? If you’re a teacher of young children, you may well have done some playful activities on that theme: How many times can you write your name? How many cubes can you join together? How many times can you bounce a ball? and so on.
Here, after providing a few basic snippets of information: ‘In one minute, the second hand moves sixty times while the long hand moves once.’ Or ‘In one minute, you can blink your eyes 20 times …’ artist Somin Ahn offers some ideas for filling that unforgiving minute: hugging your dog; saying hi to a neighbour or planting seeds …


She then goes on to explore the way time can apparently expand or contract according to the particular situation: a roundabout ride makes a minute feel very short, as does playing in the park with your friends …


whereas that same time spent in the dentist’s chair feels like a long time …


We also discover that in one single minute a life can be saved, a train can be missed.
Observant listeners and readers will have noticed that the little girl’s mother is pregnant and this fact is used in the final two spreads: ‘In one minute, someone can leave’ shows the child tearfully hugging her mum farewell. Turning over, we have ‘And someone can arrive.’ – presumably a new sibling for the little girl.


Sensitive and thought-provoking, this small book offers much to ponder and discuss with nursery and infant children.


Love You Hoo
Rachel Bright
Orchard Books
Woo-hoo-hoo! It’s snuggle time for little ones; but first, one particular Big Owl wants to share some very important thoughts with Little Owl, thoughts about the wonderful times the two have shared together and the wonderful times that are yet to come. Parent and offspring are alternately teacher and learner in this relationship,


a relationship that is always sunny no matter what the weather; a relationship full of promise …


and the occasional mishaps …


The most important part of the message though is the final one and something every infant needs to hear: “Whoever you are going to be … Whatever you may do … Wherever you may choose to fly … I’ll always love you – hooooooo!
With a tenderly composed rhyming text and amusing scenes of the totally delightful owls, this is one to share with the very young. I’d suggest reading the text aloud to yourself first though as the phrasing of the rhyme is a little tricky on occasion.

The Food of Love


Playing From the Heart
Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books
There’s a whole lot of heart in this, the latest Peter H. Reynolds story. Herein we meet young Raj who, as a small child, starts as a piano plunker, delighting in every sound …


and without lessons develops into a creative player making up his own music. Impressed, his father hires a piano teacher who teaches him the skills and techniques …


but despite his accomplishments, there’s no joy and eventually Raj stops playing altogether.


Raj grows up, leaves home and goes to work in the city. His father grows older and notices the silence left by the absence of his son. Time passes and then Raj hears that his father is not well. He hurries home and his father has a special request: he asks his son to play him a song, not one he’d been taught but that one of his own making – the one that flows straight from his heart.


Like his protagonist’s playing, Reynolds surely creates this from the heart. It’s a plea to nurture, rather than stifle children’s natural creativity: to let imagination and enjoyment thereof, not precision and preoccupation with the ‘perfect form’ to lead the way.
Everything about this book is a delight: the hand-lettered text which somehow serves to heighten the intensity of the telling, the mixed media (pen and ink, watercolour, gouache and tea) illustrations. Reynolds’ use of colour too speaks volumes: his palette is limited to browns, greys and blues with a touch of gold and purple except where Raj is in creative mode; then the notes flowing from the piano are brightly coloured ‘whispery and sweet’.
A beautiful and timeless tale, (for parents, almost a cautionary one) that will resonate long after the covers have been closed and the book set aside.


Jack’s Worry
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books
Jack loves to play his trumpet and eagerly anticipates his ‘first-ever concert’ with his mum in the audience. On the big day however, the lad awakes with ‘a Worry’. And no matter what he does and where he goes, the Worry is right there with him.


So overwhelming is the wretched Worry that Jack finds even playing his trumpet doesn’t shift the thing: seemingly it’s there to stay. Then comes the time to leave for the concert and that’s when the poor boy feels completely overwhelmed …


Eventually he confronts the THING and explains to his mum: “I don’t want to play in the concert … I’m worried I’ll make a mistake and you won’t love me anymore!
Fortunately he has an understanding mum whose reassuring words Jack takes on board and later, even passes on to his classmates: “The concert isn’t about playing perfectly. It’s about having fun and sharing something you love with people who love you.”
By the time Jack gets to school, the Worry has shrunk to tiny proportions and he and his friends  all enjoy their performance tremendously.


Brilliantly empowering: a cracking book to share with children faced with any potentially tricky situation; and in particular one to help youngsters understand and deal with their anxieties. It’s sympathetic without being sentimental and Zuppardi’s whimsical style illustrations really do capture the intensity of Jack’s emotions superbly well.

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With Lots of Love

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I Love You More and More
Nicky Benson and Jonny Lambert
Little Tiger Press
Warm and reassuring is this litany of endless love, which celebrates a very special relationship between an adult bear and its cub, while at the same time introducing a host of other endearing animal characters …

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as the two journey together through woods, up hills and down, to a waterfall

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and river, then pausing to look upwards at the star-filled night sky,

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big bear assures the little one “You are beautiful in all you do,
And in all the words you say …
I love you, baby, more and more
   With every precious day.”
And just how precious those shared times are is evident in Jonny Lambert’s stylish collage style illustrations and Nicky Benson’s gentle, lyrical rhyming words.
Just the thing to snuggle up and share with a loved one at bedtime or any time of day.

Equally delightful is the small format:

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Love …
Emma Dodd
Nosy Crow
Herein a mother rabbit and her little one spend the day together talking, resting, sheltering …

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and sometimes, savouring the moment …

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as the young rabbit learns from those inevitable mistakes

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and mother rabbit realises that the world is even more wonderful now that she can share it with her little one.
Chock-full of love, this is perfect for sharing with tinies (and perhaps not so tinies) at bedtime, in the daytime, any time you want to pass on some tender magic Emma Dodd style.

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Love and Safe-Keeping

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I’ll Catch You If You Fall
Mark Sperring and Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press pbk
As a small boy with fishing gear journeys on a small boat on a big, big ocean, the question to ponder is ‘Who will keep him safe?’ His mother is there for that; and the captain to keep them both safe;

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and a star to guide the boat through the stormy seas until they all reach the harbour safe and sound where Daddy waits with open arms.

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And then it is the turn of the little boy to offer safekeeping – to …

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There is a satisfying circularity to Mark Sperring’s short, gentle question and answer text, which is beautifully depicted. Layn Marlow’s illustrations radiate warmth, really capturing those feelings of loving care and security engendered by the words.

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I Love Dad
J.M.Walsh and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster pbk
A young dinosaur narrator relives with readers his day, a day shared with his Dad that’s filled with playful fun and games. Together Dad and offspring walk, cycle (once Dad has fixed up their bikes that is), bounce –that’s little dinosaur using Dad’s knees as a trampoline, and more. Back at home there’s plenty of shared fun too: playing games,

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cooking and sharing a meal; and nobody but Dad can make a bedtime story such an action-packed delight.
After all that, what’s better than to dream of tomorrow’s Dad-filled day?
What young child wouldn’t wish for a father like that Dino-dad who can turn his hand to pretty much anything.

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Enormously endearing characters both large and small in scenes delightfully created in Walsh’s words and Abbot’s warm-hearted pictorial renderings.

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I Love You Daddy Grizzle
Mark Sperring and Sebastien Braun
Puffin Books
In the third story to feature this delightful duo, Little Pip is just about to wake his slumbering Dad one morning when discovers a note saying …

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Unsure what is to be celebrated, he ignores the request and discovers the pair have planned a special day out, a day that starts with the collecting of sticks. Off they go together into the woods and slowly, bit by bit, with Daddy Grizzle’s helpful clues, Little Pip pieces together a whole adventure filled with fun,

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fire-lighting, feasting and a final unplanned surprise …
A gorgeously warm-hearted celebration of paternal affection that quietly delivers a message about love and companionship being more important than material gifts.


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Braun’s illustrations are packed with humorous details and heart melting moments.

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