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.

Have You Seen My Blankie?

Have You Seen My Blankie?
Lucy Rowland and Paula Metcalf
Nosy Crow

Lucy Rowland is a highly skilled rhyme writer and here she uses her verbal artistry to tell the tale of young Princess Alice and her soft, warm, snuggly blankie.

One day this exceedingly cuddlesome item goes missing. Alice hunts high and low unsuccessfully

and then heads outside to consult her brother Jack playing in his den. Jack informs her that he’d used it a while back but then a giant took it away.

Off goes Alice to find the giant. He invites her in to partake of tasty pies but tells her that yes, he’d had the item, used it to wipe his nose, whereafter a witch flew off with it. Again, the witch had made use of the object (as a cloak) until it was snatched by a dragon.
Following a snoring sound coming from the forest, Alice puts on a brave face and walks towards a cave wherein, seated at the entrance she finds …

Surprisingly however, the dragon isn’t at all ferocious and instead tells the child how much he benefits from such a soft item to protect him from the cold, rough cave floor when he sleeps.

Alice’s first thought is to establish owner’s rights, then on further consideration she comes up with an alternative plan: to help the dragon find a warm, soft, snuggly substitute.

Easy, you might be thinking but their search is far from so and both Alice and dragon become increasingly troubled

until finally they arrive back at the royal palace sans anything suitable.

Eventually up in the attic the little princess extricates the perfect item … Sleep well Alice, sleep well dragon friend.

Equally as enchanting as Lucy’s telling are Paula Metcalf’s illustrations. Her colour palette – mainly greeny, orangey, browny, bluey hues is a great choice and her characters human and animal are adorable and splendidly expressive.

A felicitous collaboration, an enormously successful mix of words and pictures: in short, a super read-aloud picture book to enjoy especially just before snuggle up time.

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 Perfect Guest

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The Perfect Guest
Paula Metcalf
Walker Books
Meet Walter, a rather persnickety pooch; he’s extremely house proud and exceedingly enamoured of his brand new teapot. Enter squirrel, Pansy, Walter’s friend; he’s not seen her in a while so is delighted when she calls and announces she’s coming for a visit. Now Pansy is something of an enthusiast – can you see where this might be going?
Even before Walter has finished smartening himself up for his guest, there she is ringing his doorbell.

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Oh dearie me! He’s not even finished some running repairs to his trousers, no matter though; his pal is an expert when it comes to sewing. But that will have to wait because first a catch-up cuppa is called for – the perfect opportunity for Walter to show off his precious possession.
Tea over, she gets to work whipping up her celebrated lemon cake, followed by wielding her needle on Walter’s torn trousers. Oh no! looks like she’s got a little carried away with her hole sewing: Oopsie! Those really big ones were the legholes.
Never mind; Pansy can demonstrate her tailoring skills by making him a brand new pair – in some very jazzy material. Now where could that have come from? Walter’s soon to find out … OMG!

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No matter: Walter, like many of us, reaches for the chocolate at times of extreme stress, but it appears Pansy’s sharing skills seem to leave a little to be desired …

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In fact, it’s starting to appear that Miss P. is something of a nuisance.
However, things are only just starting to go pear-shaped: the inevitable happens when she offers to do the washing up. After which, long-suffering Walter comes up with a damage limitation – so he thinks – plan.. He sends her outside to water his veggies while he attempts to restore his home to its former state of spotlessness.
The whole thing unfolds like a delicious sitcom culminating in a wonderful and altogether unexpected finale …

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The lengths some people (or animals) go to in the cause of friendship …
Joking apart, Paula Metcalf’s dramatic rendition is a wonderful demonstration of how, when it comes to special friends, one is willing to look beyond their imperfections and love them for what they are. Her illustrations are deliciously droll, her characterisation and dialogue truly brilliant. Encores will certainly be the order of the day.

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Nothing Can Frighten a Bear

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Nothing Can Frighten a Bear
Elizabeth Dale and Paula Metcalf
Nosy Crow
The title claim may hold true for most bears but Baby Bear in this rhyming tale is more than a little alarmed when he’s woken by an enormous roar. It’s a monster, he decides, and calls for help. His parents do their best to reassure him but Baby Bear insists on an exploratory search to rule out any possibilities. Off stride the family – Daddy, Mum and three cubs marching through the trees with Dad in the lead confidently stating, “there’s no monster there. And anyway, nothing can frighten a bear.

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But as the journey continues and the group encounter various creatures – none of them monsters – the number in their party starts to diminish. First Mum gets tangled in a tree, then Ben falls in the stream,

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young Grace is stuck in some oozy mud leaving just two – Daddy and Baby. Suddenly they realise they’re alone. Could the others have gone back home or has a monster got them?
Youngsters delight in being in the know while Dad and Baby panic, first at that possibility, and then at the sight of what is right there in the moonlight …

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Dad’s not looking quite so fearless now … and it’s left to Baby Bear to do the reassuring. Then it’s a case of back to bed but is that the end of those noises in the night?
Elizabeth Dale’s narrative bounces along nicely and Paula Metcalf catches the humour and mock scariness so well in her nocturnal scenes of the alternately fearless and fearful bear family: it’s all in the eyes and the body language.

Welcome to the Family & Little Sisters

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Welcome to the Family
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Full of wit and wisdom is this look at families of all kinds; in fact it’s the book for you no matter what kind of family yours is. It offers a straightforward exploration of the many ways in which a child or baby becomes part of a family. This might be through a natural birth into a nuclear family, through adoption or fostering,

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perhaps by a same sex couple, through IVF, or maybe, as often happens, by the ‘blending’ of two families. Every possibility is explained in a straightforward, matter of fact manner; it’s the illustrations, speech and thoughts bubbles that supply the gentle humour. Having said that, the author doesn’t avoid potential difficulties – settling in,

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accommodating new siblings etc. are tackled head on as here:
It can take a while for children to settle down and get along together, and get used to the new person acting as their parent. They can also worry about the mum or dad who no longer lives with them.
The message that shines through loud and clear from this totally affirming, all-inclusive book is that no matter how your family came about, it and you are special, different from all others, valued and valid.
This is another ‘must have’ for every primary school classroom and early years setting from the fantastic Hoffman/Asquith team who gave us The Great Big Book of Families and The Great Big Book of Feelings.

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A Guide to Sisters
Paula Metcalf and Suzanne Barton
Words & Pictures (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
Told from the viewpoint of a big sister this cute and funny book explores the pros and cons of having a sister and some of the things you (and she) might get up to, if and when you have one. We get right up close from the start with that new baby feel, noises and habits, then move on to toddling, tickling, TV tampering, teetering in high heels

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(only permitted to big sisters on their seventh birthdays), taking things apart – the model you’ve just spent hours constructing for instance,

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and much more. There are of course compensations; little sisters enjoy improving their skills at tidying up big sisters’ bedrooms for instance; and who better to snuggle up with if a big sister gets a bit scared in the middle of the night …

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There’s another troublesome little sister in:

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Tin
Chris Judge
Andersen Press
Tin is supposed to be minding Nickel, his little sister but becomes engrossed in his comic. Then ‘WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!‘ That’s Zinc the dog sounding the alarm: Nickel is up in a tree and before Tin can reach her she floats away, born aloft by a red balloon. Tin leaps on his bike and sets off in hot pursuit – all the way to the big city. Therein the rescue attempt continues with a cycle up a helter-skelter followed by a brave leap into the air

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resulting in Tin catching hold of Nickel and her balloon. The balloon then bursts and they hurtle downwards towards a passing animal parade heading for the safari park, Tin and Zinc landing on an elephant and Nickel, a giraffe’s neck. Once in the safari park the elephant and giraffe head off in different directions but a dramatic chase ensues with Tin and Zinc in hot pursuit. Eventually Nickel is stopped in her tracks by a park ranger and handed over to her brother. He in turn hands her a new balloon: oh dear was that a wise move? …
A pacey text accompanies Chris Judge’s action-packed visual narrative, but it’s his vividly coloured illustrations that show the setting to be a futuristic city

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inhabited solely (apart from the wild animals) by robots of various hues.
Great fun and just the thing to inspire a class of infants to create their own rainbow-hued futuristic city from recycled materials.

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RABBIT, RABBIT, RABBIT!

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Rabbits Don’t Lay Eggs!
Paula Metcalf and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Macmillan Children’s Books
Bored with his lonely, dark burrow life, Rupert the rabbit hears happy farm sounds beyond the wall and decides to seek a new home there. He tunnels under the fence and POPS up just as Dora duck has finished her new nest, ruining her precious creation. Less than pleased, Dora endeavours to find Rupert something useful to do on the farm, no easy task despite Rupert’s confidence and enthusiasm.

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Such enthusiasm even leads him to believe he can lay an egg. He doesn’t, but after considerable straining and pushing, something else does pop out from his nether regions.

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So, what can Rupert do to earn his right to stay on the farm? Well, what are rabbits expert at? Getting under things that others cannot – like fences between hungry animals and fields of delicious juicy carrots. Now, there’s a job that will please his new friends, Dora included, so long as she thinks he’s ace layer of all those tasty vegetables… hmmmmm!

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Young audiences will love Rupert’s misunderstandings, the shared joke between the author, Rupert and themselves. And, like Rupert’s new-found friends, they’ll relish the visual treats supplied by the bold, bright pictures of Cally Johnson-Isaacs whose scenes, be they full spread or smaller vignette style, are both funny and full of charm, in this farmyard romp.
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The Spring Rabbit
Joyce Dunbar and Susan Varley
Andersen Press pbk
I cannot believe this book is twenty years old. It’s a story I’ve always treasured since it first was published and kept as a special one to share, with fours to sixes especially, towards the end of the Easter term. It tells of young rabbit Smudge who lives with his parents in the woods and is the only one not to have a sister or brother. “Wait until the spring,” is his mother’s response when he asks why he has no siblings. Spring however seems a long way away. So, in autumn Smudge makes a leaf rabbit to be a brother but leaf rabbits cannot play chase, neither can the snow rabbit he makes for a sister in winter, join in a game of snowballs, nor the mud rabbit brother he builds as the snow melts, enjoy splashing in puddles with Smudge;

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in fact it is soon washed away by the rain.
At the first signs of spring, Smudge begins his search for his new sibling but he finds only baby mice, speckled eggs in a robin’s nest and frogspawn in the pond. Sadly he returns home to tell his mother but there awaiting him is a wonderful surprise;

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not just one baby brother but two … and a baby sister as well. Then it’s not long before they can all enjoy Smudge’s specially built, great big moss rabbit.
Smudge and his friends remain as adorable as ever. Susan Varley’s water colour pictures are infused with tenderness and just a hint of gentle humour making them the perfect complement for Joyce Dunbar’s sensitively told story of longing and new life.
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Miffy’s Play Date
Illustrations by Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
It was something of a relief to discover that thoroughly modern Miffy, who has a play date with her friend Grunty, looks almost the same adorable rabbit she’s always been, despite this new and very now, experience and her slightly broader, digitally rendered mouth. The two pals have fun building a block castle, playing hide and seek, role-playing and much more. All too soon, it’s time to tidy away and Miffy bids farewell to her friend.
Simple, cute and just the thing for the very young to enjoy with an older family member or friend who can not only read the story but also share the instructions to the sticker finding activities. I am at a loss though to understand why the publishers feel a need to flag up this as ‘Practise fine motor skills’ alongside, ‘Relate to a child’s first experiences’. Books should be allowed to speak for themselves – surely the instructions are sufficient anyway but to use ‘early years’ jargon as a sales tactic is, in my opinion, wrong and diminishes the prime purpose of such books, which should be enjoyed for their own sake.
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Miffy at the Zoo
Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
Thankfully there is no such message on the new edition of this old favourite. Herein, Miffy and her Daddy take a train ride to the zoo where Miffy encounters animals large and small. Poet Tony Mitton has reworked the original texts with his consummate skill as a writer of verse, giving them a modern, yet timeless appeal that remains true to Bruna’s original voice. Personally, I’d start with this one and of course, Miffy.
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