Friends for a Day

Friends for a Day
Neal Layton
Hodder Children’s Books

Oh, oh, this is achingly adorable, a real treasure of a book that is both poignant and joyful by the absolute master of sublime, scribbly artwork, Neal Layton who is a self confessed lover of bears. As I started to read it I thought hey, this is a bit familiar and then realised it is actually a reincarnation of Bartholomew and the Bug published almost fifteen years ago. Nevertheless, those children I shared it with back then are all grown up now and it’s exciting to think it’s once again available to a whole new generation of listeners.

Bartholomew is a laid back bear who lives an undemanding existence atop a mountain although occasionally contemplating the world down in the valley with its twinkling lights: maybe one day, he thinks to himself.

However that day comes a lot sooner than he’d anticipated: enter Bug. This tiny creature is in urgent need of Bartholomew’s assistance. Whatever the reason for the hurry, it’s pretty clear that Bug cannot go it alone and so the bear and bug set off together for the bright lights.

What a truly epic adventure this turns out to be (117 miles of travelling)

and all the while Bartholomew’s tiny pal seems to grow ever more eager to reach their destination.

The two finally arrive at the big city in record-breaking time and it truly is a surprising sight but where are all those lights?

Before long Bartholomew discovers just what all the hurry was for as thousand upon thousand of wonderful bugs of all shapes and sizes wing their way into the neon lights that come on only when darkness falls.

An awesome time is had by all but then comes the moment –it’s full of poignancy – when Bartholomew realises that his job is done and it’s time to bid farewell to his tiny pal.

Yes, some days are never forgotten and some books likewise. This is one of those, and like all special stories, it leaves plenty of gaps for child audiences to fill.

This Zoo is Not for You

This Zoo is Not for You
Ross Collins
Nosy Crow

A misunderstanding is at the heart of Ross Collins’ latest picture book.
It stars a bus-driving platypus who arrives at the zoo on a day when interviews for new admissions are in progress.
He’s duly made to put up with a series of scrutinies by some very self-important residents.
First off is panda, Chi Chi an enormous creature propped up by a large heap of self-promotional items, who disdainfully utters, ‘To get me here / was quite a coup. But you don’t even / eat bamboo. I think this zoo / is not for you.

All the other animals are in agreement. The flamingos liken him to a ‘worn-out shoe’; the monkeys bombard him with poo;

his lack of colour displeases the chameleons and elephant instantly fails him on account of his diminutive stature.
Off goes platypus; the interviewers confer and eventually a monkey actually bothers to open and read platypus’s dropped communication.

Is it too late to make amends?
This playful tale, told in jaunty rhyming couplets accompanied by splendidly eloquent illustrations is a delight to read aloud and destined to become a storytime favourite. With its inherent themes of difference, understanding and acceptance, there is so much food for thought and discussion.

The Birthday Invitation / Wishker

The Birthday Invitation
Lucy Rowland and Laura Hughes.
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
That the author of this book is a speech therapist is evident in the abundance of verbs in her enormously engaging story.
We meet Ellen on the eve of her birthday excitedly writing and posting off invitations to her party. On her way though, she drops one: it’s picked up by a wizard while out collecting herbs, and into a bottle he pops it.

Some while later though, it finds its way into the hands of a pirate captain out at sea where it is then seized by his parrot which flies off and drops it into the hands of a princess and thereafter, it passes to several other unsuspecting characters before ending up in the pocket of its originator.
The day of the party dawns and there’s considerable hustle and bustle as Emma makes the final preparations for her birthday party and then comes a loud knock on her door …
Has there been a mistake or could it be that the wizard had worked some rather extraordinary magic? Certainly not the former, and maybe a sprinkling of sorcery went into the making of that wonderful celebratory cake …

There certainly is a kind of magic fizzle to Laura Hughes’ captivating illustrations: every scene sparkles with vivacity and her attention to detail further adds to the enjoyment of her spreads.
Just right for pre-birthday sharing with those around the age of the birthday girl herein, or for a foundation stage story session at any time.

Wishker
Heather Pindar and Sarah Jennings
Maverick Arts Publishing
Be careful what you wish for is the moral of Heather Pindar’s deliciously crazy cautionary tale.
Meet Mirabel who it seems never gets what she asks for be it a sleepover with her friends or a pet monkey; “It’s not fair! Everyone always says NO” she complains as she sits outside in her garden. Her comments are heard by a cat that introduces itself as Wishker, claims to posses magical powers and offers her three wishing whiskers.
Mirabel uses her first wish on ice-cream for every meal and her second for having her friends to stay – forever. The third wish involves a phone call to the circus and results in the arrival of clowns, fire-eaters, acrobats and a whole host of animals. The result? Total pandemonium in one small house: things are well nigh impossible.

Another wish is uttered and ‘Whoosh’. Normality reigns once more. But that’s not quite the end of the tale – or the whiskery wishing: Mirabel has a brother and there just happens to be a whisker going begging …
Sarah Jennings bright, action-packed scenes are full of amusing details and endearing characters human and animal.

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The Shrew That Flew/ The Dragon & the Nibblesome Knight

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The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight
Elli Woollard and Benji Davies
Macmillan Children’s Books
Told through faultless rhyme – no easy matter despite Elli making it appear so – (with plenty of repetition, and sprinklings of onomatopoeia (FLASHes SPLASHes, FLAPs and CLAPs etc.) and awesome visuals – but one expects no less from Benji Davies – this is a stupendous offering. But, it’s the interaction of text and illustrations that makes the whole thing such a bobby dazzler of a book.
The tale revolves around Dram (love that name), an infant dragon, ejected from the Dragons of Dread family nest to search for ‘dribblesome, nibblesome, knobble-kneed knights.’

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In other words what he has to do is stand on his own feet, or rather fly with his own wings, and get his teeth and claws into a nibblesome knight. However that’s not quite what happens due to a prevailing wind – a looping, curling gale no less – that whisks young Dram ‘away to the End of the World’ depositing him unceremoniously into a lake beside which sits a diminutive knight. Said knight, James, takes the “duckie” under his wing …

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tending to his wounds and generally ministering to his injuries and sore parts,

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not to mention supplying nourishment for both Dram’s body and mind …

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The infant dragon however hasn’t forgotten his nibblesome knight procurement mission, so what will transpire when finally the dreadful realization dawns – that his new best friend is in fact, nothing less than a knight?

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Yes, there are faint echoes of Donaldson’s Zog here, but that is not to detract from its brilliance: if you want to do your bit to make children into life-long book lovers, there’s no doubt this is a MUST have book.

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Another Red Reading Hub favourite creative partnership is responsible for :

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The Shrew that Flew
Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo
Faber & Faber
This is the third wonderful ‘Harry & Lil Story’ and they just seem to get better and better. In this adventure, Candy Stripe Lil and Harry the Hog (along with the other creatures on Piggyback Hill) having received this invitation …

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are busy preparing for Badger’s do. It’s already 2pm; Harry has donned his spotty, dotty, pointy, flat titfa’ and Lil’s is still drying out on the washing line. Until that is, along comes a sudden gust of wind that whisks the object right up onto the roof.

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Disaster! There follows an amazing sequence of hat-retrieving attempts involving a brolly,

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a portable fan and all manner of other discarded ephemera retrieved from the shed.

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But can they manage to get the thing down and onto Lil’s head in time for the party? It’s certainly not a simple task, but however formidable it might be, Lil is the eternal optimist (Oh Lil we need you NOW!). “NEVER SAY NEVERis her maxim and with a bit of timely assistance from another of the party goers …

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it looks as though, they might, just might, be successful …

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Glorious, totally uplifting, a wonderful celebration of friendship and perseverance; Harry & Lil are eternally endearing. Eunyoung Seo’s delectable scenes, coupled with Julia Copus’ tongue-tingling rhyming text – here’s a sample
Lil gripped very tight; the umbrella bent
   and trembled,
         then tugged,
               then – whoosh! – up she went!
And floated off – past the sycamore stump …
are guaranteed to bring joy to listeners and readers aloud, at every turn of the page. Spectacular!

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One Lion, One Tiger – Two Terrific Tales

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A Hungry Lion
Lucy Ruth Cummins
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Wow! Subtitled ‘a dwindling assortment of animals’ this one’s a humdinger: droll, dark – very dark, and a real twister of a tale.
‘Once upon a time there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a little calico kitten, a brown mouse, a bunny with floppy ears and a bunny with un-floppy ears, a frog, a bat, a pig, a slightly bigger pig, a woolly sheep, a koala, and also a hen.’ Here they all are looking happy enough …

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(I’d count them if I were you.)
Turn over a couple of times and things seem to have changed somewhat : that line up doesn’t look at all like it did … Hmm!

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After a third ‘Once upon a time’ it’s dwindled to a turtle, a pig (the regular- sized one) and the floppy-eared rabbit. One more page turn leaves just A HUNGRY LION and er, that turtle. Oh, oops! It’s just the lion now and he’s about to exit stage right. But on goes our valiant narrator as we’re plunged into darkness followed pretty quickly by …

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Don’t speak too soon though – didn’t I just see that lion with one paw on the light-pull again: then omg …

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That however, is not quite the end or rather, there is an alternative way to finish this meta-tale of mischief and surprises…
Wonderfully and sharply witty, Cummins’ subtle, slow burning, dead-pan narrative voice(s) cry out to be read over and over and … and her mixed media illustrations are equally, to be savoured. In combination, they’re pretty near perfect.
This reviewer’s certainly hungry for more, as are all those – young and not so young – I’ve shared this tasty treat with.

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Augustus and His Smile
Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger Press
There seems to have been something of a richness of tiger picture books this year but nobody captures the tigerishness of tigers better than Catherine Rayner: nothing is more quintessentially TIGER than her paintings of Augustus. The landscapes – grasslands, mountains,

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oceans and deserts
– through which Augustus moves in search of his lost smile are beautifully suggested rather than detailed, leaving space for children’s imaginations to work, and so it is with her carefully chosen words. Words such as ‘He pranced and paraded through the largest desert, making shadow shapes in the sun.’

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The message in this lovely book is one that everyone needs reminding of from time to time: wherever you are, open your eyes to nature’s beauty and you will surely find something to bring on a smile.
I can hardly believe it’s a decade since this beauty first appeared: it’s certainly lost none of its appeal.

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A Moose on the Loose & Some Monsters

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There’s a Moose on the Loose
Lucy Feather and Stephan Lomp
Nosy Crow
When Moose leaves his rural residence and heads for the big city, it’s not long before everyone therein knows there’s a MOOSE ON THE LOOSE. First port of call is the fire station through which he dashes, catching a fireman’s bucket on his antler as he goes. From there he visits a department store full of shoppers where he adds a wellie boot to the bucket on his antler and a shop assistant joins the fireman in the chase.
Imagine the mayhem a loose moose in a busy library can cause, especially when there are several book-filled floors but our moose isn’t hanging about here, particularly as he’s somehow managed to add a dictionary to the items attached to his antlers and now the librarian too is in hot pursuit. There’s no stopping our moose though as he dashes on, galloping madly through the museum, speeding through the supermarket, hurtling through the hospital, careering through the castle, sploshing through the swimming pool …

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sprinting through the school collecting all manner of objects upon those antlers and increasing the number of pursuers at each location. Then, he goes bounding through an apartment block …

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and up onto its roof where it seems his presence, though not that of all his pursuers, is awaited. Oh NO! Now it looks as if our rampaging moose has forgotten something; he certainly doesn’t seem full of the party spirit …

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Uh-oh – there he goes again …

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My readers were immediately sucked in to the action and eagerly dashed through the book following the footsteps of moose and then immediately turned back to the beginning and spent a considerable time exploring each detailed, action-packed spread. It’s absolutely full of comic scenarios such as the elephant having a hair do, the music lover in the library …

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and the impending trolley disaster on the supermarket ramp and if you are looking for a book that generates interactive talk between young children, then this one is definitely a good bet.
It has all kinds of potential in the classroom; for mapping, counting, positional vocabulary and more but most important, it’s enormously entertaining. I had to beg my copy back out of the hands of a group of enthusiastic children, and that surely speaks for itself.

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Monster & Son
David Larochelle and Joey Chou
Chronicle Books
We share in fun and games monster style as all manner of dads and their offspring engage in such activities as throw and catch …

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chase and tag, tickling, fishing, making music …

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building a hideout, telling jokes, piggy back riding and occasionally pausing for a snack.
These are the daytime activities of the mock-scary creatures –ghosts, ghouls, yetis, werewolves, dragons and the like – that inhabit this book. When the night comes and the moon shines bright, it’s no surprise to discover that their bedtime rituals are pretty much the same as those of humans – filled with love and gentleness – ahhhh!
In addition to the innocent-sounding rhyming narrative running through the book, there are stories aplenty to be found in Joey Chou’s digital illustrations rendered in suitably subdued hues. Indeed, it’s the mismatch between what is said and what is seen that is key here: The dragon laughter is such that it sets a castle blazing; the snack being gorged on is a car, the occupants of which look on helplessly …

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and the sea serpents’ ball game is causing boats to founder and capsize.

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