The Journey Home

The Journey Home
Frann Preston-Gannon
Pavilion Books

The conservation message of this tenth anniversary edition of Frann’s thought-provoking picture book is even more urgent now than when it was first published.

It begins with a Polar Bear, forced to leave home when the ice has melted and there’s no longer any food. As he swims he comes upon a small boat, climbs in and sets out he knows not where. Soon he discovers a city and there on the dockside is a Panda. The Panda climbs into the boat and they sail off together. Some time later they see an Orangutan, now without any jungle and Panda invites her to join them.

Suddenly Orangutan notices an Elephant that is endeavouring to hide from tusk-stealing hunters. Then there are four packed into that tiny boat and before long a storm brews up carrying then far, far away from all their homes.

Eventually the boat approaches an island upon which stands a Dodo.

The sailors explain their plight, saying that they really want to go home. “Well of course you can go home!” comes the reply … “You can go home when the trees grow back and when the ice returns and when the cities stop getting bigger and when the hunting stops.” What choice do they really have but to stay put and as the Dodo suggests, “Let’s see what tomorrow brings.”

We adult readers know what the Dodo’s fate was, but it need not be the same for Polar Bear, Panda, Orangutan and Elephant. Yes the story, with its beautifully executed collage illustrations in a muted colour palette, is pretty bleak; and as we discover in a factual section after the narrative, all these wonderful creatures are either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. However all is not lost thanks to the work being done on their behalf by various organisations and individuals. To that end, the final page has ideas about what young readers and their families (or classes) can do to help the environment.

The Young Designers

The Young Designers
Paul Smith and Sam Usher
Pavilion Children’s Books

Fashion designer Paul Smith and Sam Usher present a second story about Mr Brown (famous fashion designer) and his assistant, Moose.

Could the two be taking on a big challenge when Rainbow Class come to visit his studio for their school trip. Mr Brown’s confident assertion, “I’m sure they’ll be no trouble at all,” might prove erroneous when the lively crowd pours in, especially as almost immediately his phone rings and he disappears leaving Moose in charge.

It’s not long before things start going wrong and Moose decides the best thing to do is to take the visitors out on an observational walk to give them some inspiration for the T-shirt designs they are to do – once they’ve sorted out their correct sizes. A quick foray into the art gallery proves anything but a good idea, so maybe the park could furnish some ideas of a nature-related kind.

The mention of biscuits and drinks for sensible behaviour seem to do the trick and after an eventful park visit

Rainbow Class actually settle down to their designs. Moose takes advantage of this period of calm to investigate what’s happened to the article of clothing that had been given a wash after an earlier elephant accident. To his horror it’s undergone some modifications: what on earth will Mr Brown say on his return?

Full of fun and an abundance of exuberant young animals brilliantly portrayed in Sam Usher’s watercolour scenes, this hilarious story celebrates creativity and demonstrates how it’s possible to transform mistakes into exciting works of art.

The Looking Book

The Looking Book
Lucia Vinti
Pavilion Children’s Books

Very young children are all artists, no one’s told them otherwise; but once they get to around seven, many become hypercritical of what they create saying such things as “I can’t draw”. Or to use the words of Pablo Picasso, “ Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Now here is a book that will help them get over that can’t do notion.

It’s full of creative ideas that show youngsters how to view the world as an artist might and then go on to create art of their own. By looking at things as if through the lenses of eleven artists including Clementine Hunter, David Hockney, husband and wife photographers Hilla and Bernd Becher,

Kehinde Wiley and Henry Moore children can try their hand at producing folk art paintings, a ‘joiner’ sequence, a photo grid of different versions of one item (a bench perhaps), a portrait in the style of Kehinde Wiley

and draw a collection of some interesting natural objects, maybe textured sticks and leaves to use in a design for a sculpture, as did Henry Moore.

These are just a few examples of the exciting challenges of the seventy suggested by illustrator Lucia Vinti. She encourages looking closer, looking up, down and all around, taking time to appreciate the surroundings, not taking anything you see for granted wherever you are and wherever you go (ideally with a copy of this book at the ready along with items from the toolkit shown on the opening spread).

The More Monster

The More Monster
Hayley Wells
Pavilion Books

This allegorical tale about greed and over consumption will likely ring alarm bells with many readers.
It’s set on a small island ruled by an enormous monster who has an insatiable appetite for more of everything. To that end he has hundreds of islanders toiling at machines night and day endeavouring to keep pace with his never-ending demands for the new, improved, the latest, most fashionable, must-have things, all of which he gobbles voraciously as soon as his workers have produced them. There’s no end to their labours – or is there?

There comes a day when, seemingly unfazed by those threatened ‘consequences’ for non-fulfilment of the daily quota, one small islander begins to question things. Hurrah! Somebody that thinks for herself and not satisfied with the answers her workmates proffer, is prepared to look for answers to her ‘what if … ?’ question.
Her search takes her to a very scary place – the monster’s innards and therein she discovers something amazing: unbeknown to anyone the greedy monster is a machine.
The answer seeker is overwhelmed by the task of setting things right from within,

the result being a rampaging monster that gobbles all the workers. Is this the end for the islanders?

Happily not, for they possess a wealth of practical knowledge when it comes to machines and from within they successfully pull off a collaborative reprogramming operation.

Thereafter, it’s time for operation repair, a fair redistribution of the monster’s hoard and the creation of a new world order that works for everyone. Total revolution? Hmmm! make sure to look carefully at the final scene.

Hayley Wells’ words and playful visuals work wonderfully well together, the result being a truly thought-provoking book that has much to say to people of all ages.

Cool Technology

Cool Technology
Jenny Jacoby, illustrated by Jem Venn

The latest addition to the “Cool’ series takes a look at world changing technological inventions through the ages.

As a teacher who has always championed the importance of developing children’s imaginations, I love its opening quote from creator of curious contraptions Keith Newstead: ‘With a little imagination and a lot of patience you can make anything come to life.’ It’s clear from this book, which starts by going right back to stone age times with the invention of stone tools, needles etc, that this statement is spot on.

In addition to presenting bite size chunks of information about a variety of inventions from clockwork, the compass, clothes fastenings to contactless payments, photography to plastics, keyboards of various kinds, X-ray machines, toilets 

to TV and many other things we now take for granted, the author includes concise biographies of key technologists such as Johannes Gutenberg, rocket scientist Annie Easley, Bill Gates and architect Shigeru Ban who is famous for creating buildings including homes from low-tech materials.

Every spread has a clear layout with illustrations by Jem Venn. There are also some projects for readers themselves to try, a look to the future, a contents page and a glossary. And, what better way to finish that with these words from Daniel Bell” ‘Technology, like art is a soaring exercise of the human imagination.’

Primary schools should certainly add this STEM title to their book collections.

We’re Going Places

We’re Going Places
Mick Jackson and John Broadley
Pavilion Children’s Books

After their terrific debut picture book While You’re Sleeping, author Mick Jackson and illustrator John Broadley pair up again and the result is another exciting, engrossing book, this one being somewhat more philosophical than the first.

Travel and journeying is the theme here and through Jackson’s playfully poetic narrative and Broadley’s meticulously detailed scenes, readers follow a child’s development from adult dependence, through those first unstable steps, to assured confident strides out and about, then onto wheels – ‘tricycles, bicycles, skateboards, roller skates’.

More and more possibilities open up – perhaps a trip in a hot air balloon, or something that needs to be done speedily such as a train ride to somewhere exciting – another country even.

Some journeys however are meant to be done slowly, slowly, allowing plenty of time for pausing to watch and ponder upon the host of other creatures that, while they might be part of your particular journey, are also undertaking their own, some on foot, others on the wing such as bumblebees or migrating birds.

It might be that a journey is seasonal, on a frozen river for instance; or that of a bee ‘bumbling from blossom to blossom’ (love that alliteration); it could even be made by something inanimate such as a raindrop on a window pane.

There have always been divergent thinkers who like to try doing things differently and in this ever-changing world of ours, what seemed once impossible will one day be part and parcel of everyday.

With choices to be made and a wealth of possible ways to go, none of us can ever be absolutely sure of the twists and turns our life will take.

However one thing that’s almost certain is that as people grow old, their journeys will likely be much slower, and less confident perhaps, almost as though we’ve come full circle, with what’s past always there, deep within.

There’s an absolute wealth of texture and pattern, as well as potential stories on every spread, so that readers will undoubtedly find themselves pausing on their journey through the book, adults possibly pondering upon their own life’s journey past, present and future, perhaps like the grandmother sitting in a chair, shown on the final spread.

Assuredly this is a book to return to over and over with the likelihood of new questions and fresh understanding emerging on each reading.

Green Kids Cook

Green Kids Cook
Jenny Chandler
Pavilion Books

There are plenty of delicious recipes among the fifty plus in Jenny Chandler’s follow up to Cool Kids Cook, to tempt even this vegan reviewer (who doesn’t have children to cook with).

The book has five main sections and they are sandwiched between introductions for both children and adults; there are several pages about safety and at the end are some words about keeping a recipe journal and an index.

From the Breakfast and Brunch recipes I was immediately drawn to the Seeded Oat Bread and am eager to try making some – it sounds yummy.

Although I try not to eat snacks, many of the things made from recipes in that section could easily be eaten at other times too, say as part of a picnic lunch, especially cheese straws (I’d make a few vegan substitutes) and the flatbreads – why not use them for the ‘pod-powered guacamole’ that follows it?
It’s great to see spreads such as that about the importance of eating a variety of different colour vegetables included in that section too, as well as the one providing reasons to cut down on meat consumption.

Mains has a wealth of goodies: I’m really looking forward to cooking the Tomato and coconut dal with spicy greens – just my kind of thing.

The other sections – Soups and Salads, and Sweet Things also have plenty of fabulous recipes. With the bounties of ripening fruits coming soon, the latter will be one to go for; those apple and ginger flapjacks make my mouth water at the very thought of cooking some.

With its emphasis on sustainability, there’s useful advice on food related matters in addition to the recipes all illustrated with photographs. This is definitely a book I’d recommend adding to both family (I know several people who have taken to cooking with their children during the past year) and school bookshelves.


Alice & Emily Haworth-Booth
Pavilion Books

Did you know that people have been protesting since the time of Pharaoh Ramses 111, ruler of Egypt when the first workers’ strike took place in 1170 BCE? That’s something I learned from the first section of this book by sisters Alice and Emily that looks at the global history of protest from then (the hard-working pyramid workers were demanding more food) until now with Greta Thunberg and school children’s strikes for the climate.

It’s good to know that from early on (195 BCE) women were protesters. The women of Rome marched for the right to dress the way they wanted – and they won!

Thereafter come the peasants’ revolt, and in the 1640s the Levellers and the Diggers about whom I knew nothing before reading about them herein. Included too are the Native American Ghost Dance (1890s); the Protest Ploughs of the Maoris towards the end of the 19th century, the Salt March and of course, the Abolitionist movement, the Suffragettes (UK) and many other women’s movements in various parts of the world.

Two movements I was personally interested in and strongly supported, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the anti-nuclear movement are covered,

as are the Stonewall Riots, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Arab Spring and bang up to date, Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion.

The authors also talk about some of the creative means of protesting: singing, tree-hugging, theatre and other performing art and even using toys as protesters.

An uplifting, inspiring and timely look at how protesting has changed our society and the world we share. Emily provides the illustrations, and she and Alice co-authored the text. It’s a call to action for sure.

Chicken Come Home!

Chicken Come Home!
Polly Faber and Briony May Smith

Dolly is a free range chicken who likes to tease her owner and best friend by laying her egg somewhere different every day.

One morning she discovers a new place that seems very comfortable although rather dark and strange; but then all of a sudden she finds that her roosting spot is on the move.

However, she’s not keen to see the world from so great a height – it’s her boy she wants – so instead, she opens her wings and down she plummets, crashing through the trees and ending up in a fast flowing river – ideal for ducks but certainly not for Dolly.

Having managed to haul herself out onto dry land, she’s faced first with a snorting cow and then a noisy, dangerous road to get across.

Meanwhile on his way home from school, Dolly’s owner suddenly hears a lot of beeping as the bus he’s travelling home from school on is held up by something in the middle of the road … What could it be?

Readers share a bird’s eye view of Dolly’s unexpected journey in Briony’s superb visuals that are both wonderfully detailed and the ideal complement to Polly’s dramatic text with its ‘perfect’ ending.


Barry Falls

Living in a little house atop a hill, young Billy McGill is a reclusive individual. “This is my hill, … I live here alone! Always have, always will” he asserts and so it is.

Down below the town is a bustle with traffic and people but none ever venture near Billy’s abode.
Sheltered within he barely hears a sound until the fateful day when he detects an unwelcome, indeed unacceptable, intruder …

It’s an occasion that calls for a visit to town to purchase a moggy that will chase the creature away and peace will be restored.

That’s not quite what happens however and before long Billy’s residence is accommodating a host of creatures large and small including a stripy one that develops a cold – so the vet informs Billy. She offers to knit the sneezer a warm fluffy coat but for that yarn is required. Hmm.
But although things go from bad to worse, to downright terrible, through all the trials and tribulations,

the up and downs, Billy McGill continues repeating his “This is my hill … “ litany.

Just when it seems the situation might be about to improve a terrific storm blows up whisking away an all important pacifier and Billy is almost at breaking point; but he’ll do pretty much anything to find peace and quiet, even embarking on a journey across land and sea, and scaling another high hill.

It’s there that as young Billy ponders on the possibility of solo living once more, something drifts into sight.

Now he’s faced with a decision – should he or should he not stay?

In addition to the pleasing circularity – almost – of the rhyming tale, there’s much to enjoy about this book. Barry Falls’ quirky illustrations are a wry delight as they depict the catastrophic concatenation of crazy events involving the growing cast of characters both animal and human.

Everybody Belongs / Where’s Brian’s Bottom?

Everybody Belongs
Lorna Freytag
Studio Press

In her latest board book Lorna Freytag celebrates difference in some of its many forms.
Exploring body shape and size, genetic colouration of various features, language and more, she shows how what we are has been influenced by environmental factors.

Even within close family, we’re all different– unique – after all, and how dull things would be, were it not so.
Very young children often pay little heed to such things as skin colour when making friends, but sadly sometimes later on, the notion of racial difference in particular, especially if drawn attention to by adults, may affect the choices they make, so it’s great to have a book such as this to reinforce the idea that being different is a cause for celebration.

Where’s Brian’s Bottom?
Rob Jones

Brian is an exceedingly long sausage dog. Such is his extreme length that he can’t find his own bottom and so needs help to locate it. His place of residence has five rooms and starting in the hall, little ones can join him in his search. However, it’s not there as Pauline parrot informs us. Nor is it in the living room where Alan the hamster says he hasn’t a clue of its whereabouts. What about the kitchen wherein tortoise Dave chomps his way through some tasty leaves?

Or maybe the bathroom – it looks promising but it turns out to be another part of Brian’s anatomy that’s on the loo, so wherever is that missing rear end?

Toddlers will assuredly giggle their way though this zany concertina board book that unfolds to around 2 metres. There are two sides to the story though: one has the questions and answer text concerning the hunt for Brian’s derriere. However opening it the opposite way reveals that his home is almost overrun with small furry and feathered creatures frolicking and feasting,

of which the sleeping Brian is blissfully unaware.

Clever design and zany playful visual storytelling make for a hugely enjoyable experience for the very young.

The Greatest Showpenguin

The Greatest Showpenguin
Lucy Freegard

Young Poppy has performing ancestors going back many generations and consequently has inherited a variety of skills that have become part and parcel of the family’s travelling show.

Eager to make her parents proud, Poppy trains hard, learning some amazing audience-pleasing moves. There’s a snag though: Poppy knows in her heart that her passion lies elsewhere, somewhere she can feel inner peace. But how does she tell her mum of her need to feel calm and composed about what she does.

Then one day while mother and child are relaxing beside the sea, Poppy feels rather strange

and suddenly – light bulb moment! – there’s a solution that offers all that she desires, but equally means the show’s buzz and magical elements that she loves can still be a part of her daily life.

Let the learning commence as well as the pleasure of developing a new role – one that earns Poppy a special name. Good on you little penguin having the courage to be yourself.

Lucy Freegard’s story highlights both the fact that each and every individual has a special ‘something’, and the importance of following your heart and being the best you can no matter what you choose to do.
The watercolour illustrations have a freeze-frame quality about them as well as an abundance of pattern in the details making you want to pause and take time to enjoy each one.

The Three Wishes

The Three Wishes
Alan Snow
Pavilion Books

Rooted in a northern folk tale, this is a story of hope and kindness about the origins of Father Christmas. It tells of some nomadic people (Sami perhaps) living in the far north. The adults mostly forage and hunt while the children’s role (alongside playing) is to tend the deer.

One winter as the solstice approaches, in one particular family, the task of feeding the deer falls on the elder boy. A job he does reluctantly on account of his fear of the dark, until one day he discovers that all the deer are gone: without them how will his family survive?

Out into the silent forest runs the boy searching but it’s not long before as the snow falls ever faster, he realises that he’s lost. He struggles on until he’s near exhaustion but as he lays on the snow with sleep coming on him, he hears a sound. It’s a reindeer bell; the boy struggles to his feet and follows the sound until he finds the reindeer clustered around a cave entrance. The boy follows the deer inside the cave and suddenly finds himself in a timeless summer world where he’s confronted by three creatures.

They explain that he can never return to his home as this place must be kept secret. They grant him three wishes. He chooses freedom, happiness, and time. At the end of the year, they offer him a reward for his good work.

He’s then allowed to return to the outer world to visit his family, but only in the dead of winter each year, and on each visit, he leaves them a gift.
After three years, the bird, impressed by the boy’s love for his folks, offers him four feathers from its tail, tying them to the harness of the deer.

Their magic allows the deer to fly and one year, anticipating his visit, the family leaves a special set of new red clothes for their visitor …

The author has cleverly structured his story with the elements of gift giving, flying reindeer and a red suit being gradually interwoven into the enchanting narrative,

until we eventually realise where it’s all going. Snow’s illustrations are superb – beautifully designed and composed be they contained within intricate borders or not. I love the colour palette contrast between the eternal summer world and the chilly winter outside.

This is a delightful book to share over the festive season, perhaps sitting by a fire on a cold evening sipping a favourite hot drink.

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales / Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard

These are two special gift editions with Christmas in mind

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales
written by Lynn Roberts-Maloney
Pavilion Books

This sumptuous edition brings together three of the brother and sister team’s fairy tales previously published as separate books, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Lynn’s texts written with enormous verve and David’s magnificent illustrations that set each of the stories in a different era combine to re-energise tales from way back making readers experience them with fresh eyes, ears and hearts.

For Cinderella we’re transported to the art deco 1920s, age of flapper girls and glamour, where Greta’s (aka Cinderella) stepsisters, are Elvira (the wicked one) and Ermintrude (she’s exceedingly dim).

Her fairy godmother is a fashionista and her stepmother is a stone cold-hearted bullying female who immediately evicts Greta from her room giving it to her own offspring instead.

Rapunzel is set in the 1970s when platform shoes were all the rage. The beautiful miss in this version has a red-haired stunner as its star and she resides in a tower block flat, (or rather is imprisoned by her Aunt Edna who owns a ghastly pet crow).

Edna insists that safety is the reason for her niece’s current incarceration, and she uses occasional gifts of second-hand records and magazines to placate the girl, promising to show her the city sights once she’s older. Said aunt is employed as a school dinner lady, one who almost force feeds her charges with such ghastly fare as lumpy custard. Enter stage left, young Roger, lead singer of the school band. Could he be the one to rescue the red-haired damsel?

Sleeping Beauty has an entirely female cast, a 1950s vibe and a science fiction loving young lady Annabel who on her first birthday, falls under the evil spell of spiteful witch Morwenna, and wakes many more years later than the sixteen she’d first thought.

If you know somebody (or several people) who love fairy tales, then buy them this totally brilliant book: I’m going to have to invest in several copies this season. And, KS2 teachers just think of the potential this offers in the classroom.

Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child
Oxford University Press

This bumper book with superbly spirited, full-colour illustrations by Lauren Child (who better to illustrate this Pippi 75th anniversary edition?) is an ideal present for a lively child with an inquiring mind, and a cracking way to bring Pippi, fellow residents of Villa Villekulla, monkey, Mr Nilsson and her horse – the one she can lift with her super strength – (strictly speaking he lives on the veranda), and her next-door friends, Annika and Tommy, alive to a new generation of readers and listeners.

The episodes herein include that where Pippi gets a trifle carried away when she goes on a shopping spree with a pocketful of golden coins. The consequences are pretty unlikely (unless you’re Pippi) with a bit of bother over a false arm and whether or not the particular shop is self-service. She also gets carried away in the sweet shop buying rather an excessive amount of sugary confectionery, and uses her common sense in the pharmacy.

Another time there’s an addition to the school role, though only briefly; Pippi also livens up the school outing;

has an encounter with a rather large ’kitty’, she gets shipwrecked and almost leaves her ‘more organised’ Villa Villekulla life and sails away with her father to live a thoroughly disorganised one.

Hours of pleasure visual and verbal, lie between the two covers of this gift edition.

This Book is NOT a Bedtime Story!

This Book is NOT a Bedtime Story!
Eoin McLaughlin and Robert Starling
Pavilion Children’s Books

Whether or not you choose to believe the title of this book clutched by the red monster on its cover, or the sign held by the little frog is up to you. Best to read it to yourself before making up your mind, rather than plunging in and sharing it with little ones before you tuck them in.

Speaking in rhyme the chief monster narrator insists from the outset ‘It’s scary, strange / and rather gory. ‘ … as he attempts to convince frog, rabbit and deer of his and his fellow monsters’ intention to consume them in a dark forest,

before heading off to look for other scary possibilities – a haunted house; a ghostly galleon afloat on shark-infested waters;

a cave full of bats – oops the bats have gone AWOL!

Still however, the only ones that seem convinced of the monsters’ mega-ghastliness are the monsters themselves; but they might just have one more scare up their sleeves, or rather, furry arms. Will this one work and allow them to prove themselves to frog et al? I wonder …

Robert Starling’s mock scary scenes of the would-be terrifying beasties and those they’re attempting to put the frighteners on, are hilarious; and there are some deliciously funny words spoken by bit part players such as the mouse ‘trying to get on with my knitting’, the spider in the cave, and the exchange between rabbit and one monster beside the cooking pot.

The whole enterprise might or might not be a story for bedtime, but it’s most certainly one to share with youngsters. They’ll relish it, as will adult readers aloud, and the former will more than likely demand immediate re-reads.

It’s Your World Now!

It’s Your World Now!
Barry Falls
Pavilion Children’s Books

This upbeat rhyming picture book offers three lessons to young ones, lessons about the world, what it has to offer, the disappointments that sometimes befall us all, and how to live life to the full. Barry Falls’ rhythmic narrative calls to mind the Seuss manner of delivery in The Cat in the Hat.

The first lesson talks of a wealth of delights – singing birds, brightly coloured butterflies … autumn leaves / and splashy puddles. / Chocolate cake and ice-cream sundaes, / never-ending-summer-fun-days.’ Now who wouldn’t want those?

But more important is the assurance to the small child that ‘your future’s bright’ (not so bright with BREXIT looming, I fear) and that she and others like her ‘ … can choose whate’er they want to be / and be that thing, quite splendidly …’ Not of course, without hard work and application though; and the sky’s the limit – literally. I love the fact that pushing boundaries and rule breaking are acknowledged as lesson one draws to a close.

Life though isn’t always peaches and cream as the second lesson says and youngsters must be aware of the likelihood that along the way, things will go wrong, others will win or do better; some might seek to disenchant you or thwart your enthusiasm and determination, try to push you around or block your goals.

But each must follow his/her own path and purpose: that way lies fulfilment and ultimate success.

The final and most important lesson is a love-fuelled sending forth into the future, safe in the assurance that in this magical world of the next generation, these particular children are cherished no matter what.

Fascinatingly detailed and vibrantly illustrated (other than in lesson 2 – which has some rather menacing images) this is a wonderful celebration of the worth and potential of every child.

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

Science is cool, it’s exciting, and creatures are endlessly fascinating, as this book demonstrates. It’s full of wacky and funky facts on beasties large and small from minute bugs to massive creatures of the deep, presented in an accessible manner by James Olstein.

So prepare to be fascinated by the likes of the praying mantis, which can turn its head around by 180 degrees to see what’s happening behind – particularly useful should they want to be teachers –

or the fact that in Tokyo, pigeons have been trained by scientists to distinguish between the works of Monet and Picasso; now why would they want to do that?

You might wish to know the answer to the time old ‘chicken or egg, which came first?’ question: the answer from some British scientists is revealed herein.

I was fascinated to discover that although sloths hang around in trees most of the time, they come down once a week for a poo; also, that yellow-billed oxpeckers roost on giraffes when they go to sleep at night often settling in the giraffe’s ‘armpit’.

Did you know that Egyptian plovers clean crocodiles’ teeth in exchange for some extra food? Risky!

The information is presented in sections such as dinosaurs, whales, octopods, cats, stripes, tongues, defences and so on.

Olstein’s retro-style, quirky pictures bring further funkiness to his array of facts.

This is ideal for dipping in and out of, though readers who find it hard to become engrossed in a book might just find themselves so doing in Incredible Creatures.

Arty! The First Artist in Space

Arty! The First Artist in Space
William Bee
Pavilion Children’s Books

I fell for Arty Farty when I met him in his acrobatic efforts to become The Greatest Artist in the World so was over the moon to receive his new space adventure to review.

Can you believe that our amphibious artist friend is set to become the world’s very first artist in space for you see, NASA – I’m surmising that’s who they are -have tried unsuccessfully, year after year, to recruit a famous artist to go into space.

Thus far all they’ve received is a series of negative responses,(we’re shown a priceless gallery of naysayers)  so it’s really no surprise to learn that they send a bunch of scientists to Paris with an invitation to zoom off in a rocket bound for the depths of the cosmos. You won’t be surprised either if you’ve previously encountered his agent, Mr Grimaldi, that it’s he who consents to this vacation in the void, (it’s a great PR stunt) but Arty who must make the voyage.

First though, comes a rather rigorous training regime,

after which inevitably, our Arty Farty friend ends up flat on his back, and no, it’s not in surprise at having passed the tests with flying colours, although he has.

Thereafter the entire stomach swirling set of tests is repeated with Arty clad in his splendid art-supply stocked spacesuit. Then following one more lie down, off he shoots into space in a rocket.

Emulating Buzz Aldrin, his first stop is the Moon, which is really the most uninspiring place for a creative creature like Arty to land up on. What is there to paint? NADA, thinks the new arrival; but then comes a lunar moment DING! Out comes the painting gear and it’s project space transformation.

Are the space scientists happy on Arty’s return – what do you think? Maybe not but somebody else is …

Totally pricelessly hilarious from start to finish, this book is a blast; it’s absolutely guaranteed to make you giggle till your guts hurt as you follow one frog where no artist has gone before but where, courtesy of William Bee, readers will surely go – over and over.

The Green Giant

The Green Giant
Katie Cottle
Pavilion Children’s Books

The natural world and our part in conserving it has never been more in the media than now with children marching for the environment and against climate change; in tandem there’s been a burgeoning of conservation/environment non-fiction books recently. Less so of fictional ones, so it’s especially good to see Katie Cottle’s debut picture book.

Bea is a little girl who goes to visit her garden-loving Grandad in the country; Bea when we first meet her, seems wedded to her tablet while her Dalmatian, Iris likes nothing better than chasing things.

When Iris gives chase to a ginger moggy, Bea sets aside her tablet and follows her dog, over the fence and into the garden next door.

The greenhouse she finds there is full of plants. From the rustling leaves leaps the cat but could something else be watching the girl, casting an enormous shadow over her?

Before her stands a huge green giant, friendly seeming and with a story he wants to share. Bea learns that long ago back in the city he germinated becoming a happy seedling but then as the city air became increasingly toxic, he was forced to flee, eventually finding refuge in the roomy greenhouse wherein he now stays.

It’s a happy summer Bea spends with her green friends but all too soon, the holiday draws to an end.

The giant gives his human friend a parting gift – handful of seeds.

Back in the city once more, Bea is struck by its greyness and she knows just what to do.

Thus with the help of sunlight and water, operation transformation begins to take place … Perhaps it might one day be a place which her giant friend would be happy to visit.

The disconnect with the natural world that has come about in part due to the digital gadget obsession of many youngsters is cleverly understated, while the importance of caring for our precious natural environment comes through more urgently in Katie’s eco-story. There are definite links between them and it’s up to us as educators/parents to set a positive example to youngsters before it’s too late.

A book to share, discuss and act upon at home and in school.

Forgotten Beasts / Dictionary of Dinosaurs / Dinosaur Bingo

Forgotten Beasts
Matt Sewell
Pavilion Children’s Books

If you’ve ever wondered about the strange animals that were concurrent with, or followed in the footsteps of, the dinosaurs, then Matt Sewell’s sumptuous new book is the place to go. ‘Welcome to the amazing world of forgotten beasts!’ announces the introductory line of the book’s blurb. Of the over forty astonishing creatures large and small, most are completely new to this reviewer. Matt supplies readers with a note on his illustrations and there’s a double spread with a time line and other introductory matter before the animals are showcased.

First, we’re introduced to some of the very earliest ones that made their homes in the water: there’s the Ordovician marine dwelling Cameroceras with its 9-metre-long conical shell and the Dunkleosteus from the late Devonian period with its razor sharp teeth that it used to crack open shells of the creatures it fed on.

Two of my favourites though come much later, from the late Pliocene – late Pleistocene era.: meet the herbivorous rhino-like Elasmotherium that weighed between 3,500 and 4,500 kg.

Despite being only around a metre tall, the horn of the male sometimes grew to a length of 1.8 metres.
Another, the enormous owl Ornimegalonyx, is also from the late Pleistocene era. Over a metre tall, it weighed nine kilos.


Written in consultation with vertebrate palaeontologist, Dr Stephen Brusatte from Edinburgh University, this fascinating book will broaden he horizons of dinosaur enthusiasts. Every one of Matt’s magnificent paintings is a stunner.

Dictionary of Dinosaurs
illustrated by Dieter Braun, edited by Dr. Matthew G.Baron
Wide Eyed Editions

Wow! Every dinosaur that has ever been discovered is featured in this pictorial dictionary and who better to grace its pages with his awesome illustrations than Dieter Braun.

After a short introduction explaining the what, when, the demise and evidence of dinosaurs, comes a timeline and a page explaining how the book might be used.
Then we meet each one from Aardonyx and Abelisaurus to Zhuchengtyrannus and Zuniceratops, none of which I’d previously heard of.
There’s a brief informative description that includes  how to pronounce the name, length, diet, when it lived and where found – just sufficient to whet the appetite and perhaps send eager readers off searching for additional information about some of particular interest.

For dinosaur addicts and school libraries or topic boxes I suggest.

For those who can’t get enough of things prehistoric, is a game for the dino-mad:

Dinosaur Bingo
illustrated by Caroline Selmes
Magma for Laurence King Publishing

In the sturdy box are a folded caller’s game board, eight double-sided players’ game boards, 48 dinosaur tokens, 150 circular counters and a dinosaur head box to contain the tokens.
Between three and eight people can participate in what is likely to be a popular take on the classic game. Players might even learn some new dinosaur names such as Maiasaura or Therizinosaurus along the way. I certainly did.

Great for families or a group of friends, and it would make a good present for a dinosaur-loving child.

The King Who Banned the Dark

The King Who Banned the Dark
Emily Haworth-Booth
Pavilion Children’s Books

There was once a boy who, like many children was afraid of the dark. The difference here is that the boy in question is a prince.
He resolves that as soon as he becomes King he will ban the dark once and for all.

His advisers are wary of his subjects’ response and so instead their plan is to make the king’s subjects think that getting rid of the dark is their idea.

They start spreading anti dark rumours, which soon have the desired affect. Now all that’s left to do is to ensure darkness never returns; this is done by the installation of a massive artificial sun above the palace and light enforcers.

Soon people have dispensed with their curtains, anti-dark hats are given out, lamps shine continuously and nights are spent in celebrating.

Unsurprisingly this crazy situation is unsustainable: the pleasure of continual celebrating wanes and instead, constant sleeplessness results in extreme tiredness. The people realise they’ve made a huge mistake. (Sounds familiar)
Even the King is affected.
Something must be done: his advisors hatch a plan. So too do the people.

All power to the people say I; and it’s they who finally win through.

To me this reads like a cautionary tale of our BREXIT times. But no matter how you interpret Emily Haworth-Booth’s debut picture book it’s a powerful reminder of what might happen when people act in haste without thinking things through.

Her choice of a predominantly yellow, black and white colour palette is perfect for spotlighting the messages of the story, not least of which are that we have the collective power to influence our future and, to do things rather than to let things be done to us. Could this be the light at the end of the tunnel: bring on The People’s Vote.

A smashing and thoroughly provocative picture book. Wither next for Emily Haworth-Booth I wonder: I can’t wait to see.

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions

Daniel discovering some amazing inventions …

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

What struck me immediately while reading about the amazing inventions in this book, is the crucial role of the imagination in each and every one of them; something all too many of those who’ve played a part in side-lining or cutting completely, creative subjects in schools seem to have overlooked or disregarded.
Without the power of imagination none of these ground-breaking ideas would ever have been conceived let alone come to fruition.

Weird and wacky-seeming, for sure: this book is brimming over with quirky, illustrated facts about all kinds of inventions and discoveries from penicillin to plastic-using pens; the matchstick to the microwave.

What about a nanobot so tiny it could swim inside a human body to perform medical procedures;

or non-melting ice-cream that retains its shape for hours .You can buy the stuff – it’s called Kanazawa – in Japan.

How super to have a pair of super-light, super-strong trainers made from spider silk that can be composted once they’re finished with.

Or perhaps a garment made of fabric that can be cleaned by holding it up to the light. Aussie scientists have manufactured such a fabric and it contains tiny structures that release a burst of energy that degrades stains; yes please.

Certainly the roads around the country could do with making use of the self-healing concrete developed by Dutch microbiologist, Hendrik Marius Jonkers. It uses bacteria to heal cracks in buildings and roads.

Even more surprising than some of the inventions themselves is the fact that they were accidentally discovered, penicillin being one, superglue another.

Hours of immersive, fun-filled learning made all the more enjoyable by author James Olstein’s quirky, retro-style illustrations on every spread.

Arty! The Greatest Artist in the World

Arty! The Greatest Artist in the World
William Bee
Pavilion Children’s Books

I fell for Arty frog on the very first page of William Bee’s totally funky book.
Arty is a really cool dude, reputedly the world’s greatest artist. How did he come to earn this prestigious title, you might be wondering, I certainly did: the question is answered in this biographical work.

Here’s what happened: first off he purchases some vital pieces of equipment: snow shoes, a warm winter jacket and an extra tall step ladder.

Secondly he scales Mount Everest where atop the highest peak, he sets to work with brush and paints to create the world’s coldest, highest painting.

Clearly this leaves his energy and creativity depleted so his plan is to pass a week or so recuperating in bed, but it’s not to be. There’s more work to be done: it entails climbing aboard the wing of a supersonic jet plane and performing a sequence of aerobatic stunts.

The fastest painting does earn him the R & R he so badly desires.

His next task is to render his pal Tallulah the spottiest painting in the world.

Surely, like me you must be thinking, that’s got to be ‘job done’.

Not so; there’s still the wettest ever painting, the most paintings created simultaneously, the loudest painting

and the prettiest to do; not to mention the hairiest (and incidentally, the scariest).

Poor Arty. His agent Mr Grimaldi is an incredibly hard task master and refuses his protégé further rest; instead the two of them perform a kind of cooperative act on a gigantic trampoline.

My goodness that little amphibian really does need some down time after all that.
But has he managed to earn that sought after title after his monumental outpouring of activity?

William Bee’s stories get more and more zany with each new book.  For me this one certainly has the most buzz: it’s off-the-wall, or should that be on-the-wall, brilliant.

The Crocodile and the Dentist / Molly Mischief: When I Grow Up

The Crocodile and the Dentist
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books

Crocodile has a cavity and is suffering from toothache, and must, albeit reluctantly, pay a visit to the dentist.
Equally, the dentist is more than a tad apprehensive about treating the croc.
Both try to be brave and each prepares for the worst.
Two “Ouch” moments occur – one apiece; tears are shed (crocodile tears perhaps) but both persist with the task in hand reigning in their anger

until finally, the tooth is fixed.

Unsurprisingly neither crocodile nor dentist is looking forward to the next visit.

In the meantime Crocodile knows he must follow the dentist’s instructions and brush his teeth regularly.
As portrayed in Gomi’s bold expressive style, both characters display their emotions facially and in their body language with the croc. being particularly appealing despite those jaggy teeth and enormous jaws.

A fun book for re-enforcing good oral hygiene and the desirability of regular visits to the dentist, as well as an enjoyable demonstration of bravery and empathy.

Molly Mischief: When I Grow Up
Adam Hargreaves
Pavilion Children’s Books

Fed up with being bossed around by her parents, Molly Mischief contemplates what being a grown up with a job has to offer.
There are all sorts of possibilities such as an astronaut – although this has its distinct disadvantages too.
She tries her hand as a fire-fighter and loves it, although her mum and dad definitely do not.
Mum is equally aghast when her daughter attempts to become a baker of the world’s best cakes –err?

Exploring could bring excitement and plenty of action –perhaps too much though!
So what else is there? Maybe a scientist or even, a pop star? But on second thoughts …

Other roles she imagines seem in turn, too dangerous, challenging, yucky, downright scary, noisy, or stinky. Molly does excel at making others laugh though, so what about a clown. Oops! Dad is not amused.

Libraries are definitely out of the question: Molly’s far too noisy.

Light bulb moment: none of these grown-up roles leave any room for the activities she loves as a child – playing with her pals, constructing, painting, teasing even. Maybe Molly should put off becoming an adult for a little while and just get on enjoying being mischievous herself.

Adam Hargreaves’ Molly is a delight: I love the way it’s no holds barred when she comes to considering what she might do as an adult. Her imagination knows no bounds, so misadventures are larger than life and full on as she throws herself wholeheartedly into everything she does.

Wild Violet!

Wild Violet!
Alex Latimer and Patrick Latimer
Pavilion Children’s Books

Following on from Woolf, the brothers Latimer return with their second collaboration and it’s young Violet who is star of the show. That’s not quite how others see this extremely spirited little miss however.
By all accounts she was born wild and despite predictions, has failed to outgrow this wildness on reaching four years old.

Washing isn’t on her agenda, nor is anything that might vaguely resemble good table manners; her hair is disgusting – full of all manner of undesirable bits and pieces; wall art and nocturnal shrieking are more her thing.

Imagine how tiring all this is for her parents. One day as exhaustion overwhelms them, they decide to call on her grandmother, begging for an afternoon’s respite.

Gran obliges and decides the zoo with its calming fresh air and plethora of birds is a good place. However the animals are not good role models for the little miss and by the time they reach the Monkey House gran is shattered.
So shattered, that come home time, she catches hold of the wrong hand,

delivering a rather different looking ‘Violet’ back to her parents.They too fail to notice; after all the new Violet’s habits are almost the same as those of the old.

Violet herself meanwhile is having the time of her life in her new abode, until that is, night comes and with it insomnia. Now there’s nobody to clear up her mess or read her a bedtime story; there’s no morning bath or tasty breakfast, let alone warm parental embraces.

A quick phone call by the zoo-keeper soon has the switch sorted out, but it’s a rather different little girl who greets her parents when they come to collect her.

Is Violet now a reformed character? Well yes and no. Mostly it’s the former but on the days when her mum takes her to visit her simian pals, that’s the time her wild side manifests itself.

We adults all know a Violet-type character and I’ve certainly taught a few children who could give her a good run for her money. This makes Alex Latimer’s story all the more enjoyable for readers aloud; children on the other hand will simply revel in Violet’s utter irrepressibility so wonderfully portrayed in Patrick Latimer’s scenes of mischief and mayhem.

Another winner for the Latimer partnership.

Ballet Bunnies / We Are Family

Ballet Bunnies
Lucy Freegard
Pavilion Children’s Books

Young Betty bunny aspires to be a ballerina but she’s only ever performed for her baby sister Bluebell.

At home Betty dances at every opportunity, in every room, but when it comes to dance class it’s not the same, especially with the end of term show fast approaching. Unlike her fellow dance students Betty feels clumsy and she can’t remember the right steps.
She does however, put her own interpretation on those moves and fortunately her teacher sees the best in every one of his students, providing fun rehearsals and a part for them all.

Betty works on losing her nerves but what will happen come the big day when among the audience will be her biggest fan, Bluebell?

Lucy Freegard’s cute characters and ballet scenes executed in pen and watercolour are sure to appeal particularly to budding dancers of the human kind, while her story of doing one’s best, over-coming your fears and finding confidence should resonate with all.

We Are Family
Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

A celebration of sibling love is exemplified by an array of endearing young animals small and not so small.
Be they lively lion cubs, diving ducklings, mischievous monkeys, milkshake slurping polar bears, fighting foxes, cake consuming kitties or frolicsome frogs,

brothers and sisters can be enormously irritating at times, but no matter what, even the trickiest of tasks become less bothersome with a sibling to assist.

Claire Freedman’s fluently flowing rhyming text combined with Judi Abbot’s captivating scenes of animal activities will enchant toddlers (with or without siblings) as well as their parents and carers.
We all love a little bit of mischief and there’s plenty of that herein.

Millie’s Missing Yawn

Millie’s Missing Yawn
You Jung Byun
Pavilion Children’s Books

We’ve probably all, in the UK at least, had trouble sleeping these past few weeks on account of the heat, so perhaps it’s one of those kind of sultry nights for young Millie. Sleep eludes her despite carrying out her usual warm bath, putting on of favourite pjs, sharing of her favourite book and the bestowal of a goodnight kiss on teddy Milo. What’s missing is her yawn, she tells her ted, and the two spring out of bed to start a search for it.

Dozy dog Barley certainly hasn’t seen it, neither have equally sleepy moggy Cucumber and pigeon Douglas.
Millie decides to look further afield, calling on Lady Liberty, the Moai Heads

and Mona Lisa. Even from the penguins her query receives a sleepy ‘’Oh no, sorry”; they’ve spent all day skiing, sledging and snowball making.

Hippo is eager to show off his own gaping yawn but hasn’t seen so much as a glimpse of Millie’s. Ditto the Great Sphinx.
If that world trip with all its yawners hasn’t got your listeners doing enormously wide AAAAAAHHHHs then nothing will. But what is Millie to do? Seemingly there is only one thing;

but her lunar voyage too proves yawnless, at least for her, although the bunnies certainly appear ready for some shut eye.

Feeling defeated, Millie decides to return home and as she lies back tucked up safely in her bed once more, contemplating the night sky and those she’s met, no doubt your audience will be able to predict what happens next …

This superbly soporific story is full of yaaaaawing characters all beautifully portrayed by the author You Jung Byun whose illustrations are full of lovely patterns and textures. Aaaahhhhh, I feel another yawn starting to engulf me …

Really Remarkable Reptiles / Turtles, Snakes and other Reptiles

Really Remarkable Reptiles
Jake Williams
Pavilion Children’s Books

Award winning designer, Jake Williams introduces us to an amazing assortment of reptilian creatures in this his first picture book.
He provides us first with an introductory spread with paragraphs explaining what reptiles are biologically, their evolution, egg laying and habitats. Next come a reptile timeline, which goes back as far as the age of the dinosaurs, and a life cycle.

Thereafter are four sections, one each devoted to – ‘Lizards’, the carnivorous ‘Snakes’, ‘Turtles and Tortoises’ and ‘Crocodiles and Alligators’.

Included in the first group are chameleons and many people probably tend to think of those as just one kind; I was aware of different species but surprised to learn that there are over 200 chameleon species, nearly half of which live only in Madagascar.

I was also fascinated to read that the Sailfin water lizard is a metre in length, has a fin 7cm tall and can be found in a variety of colours – brown, green and yellow, adult males often turning bright blue to attract a potential mate.

Most people shudder at the mere mention of snakes; I’m certainly no snake lover but apart from the poisonous ones, am not frightened of them. I even once had to demonstrate (at the request of the hotel naturalist),their harmlessness to a group of female workers who were scared to go and clean the cottage rooms after one discovered a snake had got into one. Having it wrapped around me was I thought, over and above the cause of nature.

It happened to be a variety of tree snake, not the South American Emerald kind featured here,

as this was in Kerala (south India). I would however have been exceedingly alarmed to come upon a live and highly venomous, Sea snake on the beach or ocean’s edge there (although I did find a number of dead ones).

The domed-shape shelled Turtles and Tortoises form the next section. Did you know their shells have a web of nerve endings and a tortoise or turtle is sensitive on every centimetre of its shell? One fascinating fact I learned about female green sea turtles is that they often choose the same beach on which they were hatched to lay their eggs.
The last section includes the largest of all living reptiles, Saltwater crocodiles that can grow as long as 7m.

Did you know that crocodiles swallow stones as a food grinding aid in their stomachs? Ouch!

The final pages of this absorbing book are devoted to Habitats and environments, (reptiles are found on every one of the continents except Antarctica, residing in such diverse places as deserts, rainforests, mountain parks and cities but sadly some species have been lost or are under threat due to human action. We can all do our bit to help conserve them: using less packaging and recycling can help.

Also on the same theme is a much smaller book:

Turtles, Snakes and other Reptiles
Amy-Jane Beer and Alice Pattullo
Lincoln Children’s Books

This handy Pocket Guide, written by natural history expert, Dr Amy-Jane Beer introduces the four main reptilian groups and after introductory spreads entitled ‘What is a Reptile?’ and ‘Reptile Life’ come several spreads devoted to the different families with representative examples.

Did you know for instances that Sea turtles are able to sleep holding their breath underwater for hours? That Komodo dragons have gums that bleed easily, turning their saliva pink; or that Blind snakes hunt their prey using their sense of smell?

This is a good, get-up-close look, finely illustrated by Alice Pattullo, at the various species and an introduction to a fascinating topic that may well get young readers hooked on biological science.

Need more suggestions for your children’s summer reading? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Picking Pickle

Picking Pickle
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Pavilion Children’s Books

Here’s a story from the dream team, Faber and Vulliamy, creators of the Mango & Bambang series who now take us to a dogs’ home and, courtesy of longest term resident canine narrator, help us find just the right dog. But which one will it be? There are just so many potential companions to choose from it’s a veritable canine conundrum.

Who better though to introduce fellow residents; our narrator knows the ins and outs of them all so let’s meet some.

There’s incredible handsome, silky-haired, prize winning Geraldo; what about him? Or he of the voracious appetite, Harvey?
Perhaps we might prefer Dumpling, a clever pooch, chewer of news, views and crosswords at super fast speed as well as being multi-lingual.

Maybe Matilda – she of the perfect teeth – and an excellent guard dog; or super-cute Boo-Boo, bouncy as a ball.

Then again, there’s Poochy Petunia Wuffles-Winstanley, undoubtedly the poshest pet of the lot, although on occasion her manners leave something to be desired.

Oh what a dilemma, a real pickle indeed. Perhaps it’s easily sorted; I know which I’d choose. The one that bears a close resemblance to the canine, Chester, my best friend is currently caring for, the one  that I sometimes accompany on walks in Bushy Park:

I wonder; might it be our faithful narrator himself …
Full of fun and heart, Polly’s laugh-out loud text combined with Clara’s cracking, brilliantly observed, canine portraits make for a deliciously silly pooch-filled romp that ends just perfectly.
Make sure you check out the end papers, they’re a delight too.

The Very Hungry Hedgehog

The Very Hungry Hedgehog
Rosie Wellesley
Pavilion Children’s Books

Isaac the hedgehog returns in a third story – a springtime adventure this time.

The spiky little creature is summarily awoken from his long winter sleep by Starling, but the greedy bird then refuses to share her breakfast worm. “Bad hair day for hedgehog!” laughs the bird before flying off leaving Isaac’s feelings somewhat dampened. Fine friend she is, he thinks to himself but a very hungry Isaac decides to search for his own food. Unknowingly he has a follower as he encounters other non-sharers – first it’s gluttonous Toad – a real tease of a creature.

Next comes a heron that snatches a fat, juicy slug right out of Isaac’s paws and flies off with it

leaving an even hungrier Isaac rueing the day he left that cosy winter bed of his, until he catches sight of some real signs that Spring has arrived, signalling to him a wealth of food for all to share.

He very nearly doesn’t get his share though for, were it not for his quick thinking and his prickles, Isaac himself would have become the next snack for the fox that’s been trailing him all the while.

Even after a very near miss, the kindly little animal is willing to adopt a benevolent attitude about the abundance of food that’s all around for all the creatures to share.

Enchantingly told and vividly portrayed, Rosie Wellesley’s latest story offers young listeners a gentle sharing message and some wonderful scenes of animals in the natural world.

Here are Nina and her parents sharing the story, mum reading the main text and dad supplying the voices


The Itchy-saurus

The Itchy-saurus
Rosie Wellesley
Pavilion Children’s Books

I’ve taught a good many young children who suffered and I mean suffered with eczema. I can recall two in particular, one 4 year old who would sit on the carpet during story times and when he got up there’d be piles of skin where he’d been sitting; eventually his parents took him to India one holiday and they found some amazing herbal creams that worked wonders. The other, during flare-ups, had to go every midday to have his bandages removed and emollient cream re-applied by the member of staff employed to look after children’s medical welfare. Both must have been in an almost constant state of agony, yet both were amazingly stoical, never complaining and almost always smiling.
Created by GP author/illustrator Rosie Wellesley, this reassuring book would have been perfect to share with those children as well as their classmates.
In fact it should be in all early years settings and in families with a child or children who have eczema or other skin disorders.

Meet T Rex whose life is suddenly made a misery by an itchy rash that appears on his skin turning him into the grumpiest, most dangerous creature in the jungle. Until that is, Doc Bill hears of his plight and despite his lack of stature, resolves to help; so off he goes.

Having found a tearful ‘Itchy’ the Doc sets out some ground rules for his patient, makes a cooling bath and sets to work with his lotion-making machine.

The following morning after Itchy’s had a good night’s sleep, begins stage two of the healing process; learning some distracting actions while the cream has time to work its healing magic …

until finally when Itchy looks at his skin …

No redness, no itchiness, no need to scratch – hurrah! Time to thank the Doc.

We’re All Works of Art

We’re All Works of Art
Mark Sperring and Rose Blake
Pavilion Children’s Books

In a cleverly constructed rhyming narrative, Mark Sperring introduces young readers and listeners to a whole host of different styles of art while at the same time celebrating human diversity and the uniqueness of every human being.

Highly accessible and beautifully illustrated by Rose Blake who provides a series of bold illustrations clearly inspired by famous artists and works of art from prehistoric times through to Fauvism, Cubism and on to Pop art and Contemporary art.

Look out for Magritte,

Matisse …

and Indian miniatures

and Peter Blake; no matter what you like there should be something to please here and if it doesn’t make you want to visit one of our many wonderful art galleries, then I’d be surprised.

Equally, it should inspire readers to experiment with various art styles for themselves.

Great fun and gently educational too. One for the family collection and for schools of all kinds.

I’ve signed the charter  

Little Red

Little Red
David Roberts and Lynn Roberts-Maloney
The Roberts siblings have well and truly fractured the Little Red Riding Hood tale with their version that puts a male (aka Thomas) as the chief protagonist and yes he does sport a red coat and go visiting his Grandma. She isn’t poorly though: he pays her a visit with a basket of tasty treats and a week’s supply of her favourite tipple, ginger beer.. I should mention here that Little Red’s parents are the owners of an inn with ginger beer its speciality.
As he sets out on his weekly visit he receives the customary warning about staying on the path for fear of encountering the hungry wolf that lurks in the forest.
Completely oblivious to the lip-licking lupine lurking in the shadows, Little Red stops, removes his coat and sets about picking some rosy apples to add to Grandma’s basket of goodies, happening to utter his intentions out loud: two mistakes that give the wolf an advantage and off he bounds to Granny’s house.
Clad in the red coat, he gains entrance and in an instant gulps Granny down, bloomers, belle of the ball dress and all;

then, suitably attired waits for the arrival of his “dessert”.
The usual exchange follows about the size of eyes and ears, but when teeth are mentioned, it’s time for Little Red to do some quick thinking: and the wolf some quick drinking …

I say no more …
Setting this bubblesome tale in what looks like late 18th century America, but could equally be France at around the same time, gives David Roberts scope to include such period detail as heavily made-up faces, enormous wigs and beauty spots in his ink and watercolour illustrations.
Certainly not a first Little Red Riding Hood; rather it’s a deliciously quirky one to add to a collection or study of the favourite fairy tale.

I’ve signed the charter  


Alex Latimer and Patrick Latimer
Pavilion Children’s Books
The trials and tribulations of pretending to be something you aren’t are sensitively and humorously explored in this collaboration between Alex Latimer and his illustrator brother, Patrick.
Part wolf, part sheep, Woolf is the offspring of an unlikely and much frowned upon marriage between a sheep and a she-wolf.

Woolf has both sheep and wolfish characteristics but as he grows older, he experiences an identity crisis. Out exploring one day, he encounters a pack of wolves and as a result decides to rid himself of his woolly coat.
Thus the pretence begins; but inevitably as the wool starts sprouting again, maintaining the disguise becomes tedious and Woolf leaves for pastures new.

Over the hill he comes upon a flock of sheep: again Woolf isn’t true to himself, lying about his wolfish characteristics and then adopting a new ovine look …

Once again, pretence proves unsatisfactory for Woolf and his stay with the flock short-lived.
Convinced he doesn’t belong anywhere, the little creature is distraught and that’s when his parents step in with some timely words of wisdom, pointing out that trying to be something other than your real self can never make you truly happy. Much better to accept and celebrate all that makes you truly special and unique.
Patrick Latimer’s illustrations executed in an unusual colour palette of black, greys, browns, greens, teal, cream and biscuit with occasional pops of purple, blue and pink are delectably droll.
Like me you may well find yourself howling with laughter at Woolf’s attempts to fit in but there is a serious and important life-lesson at the heart of the book: true friends accept and love you for being you.

I’ve signed the charter  

Lemur Losing & A Ghost Called Dog


How to Lose a Lemur
Frann Preston-Gannon
Pavilion Books
“Everyone knows that once a lemur takes a fancy to you there is not much that can be done about it.” Thus begins a delightful child narrated take of what happens when one does just that – to the small boy himself. As our narrator takes a stroll in the park one sunny morning he notices, but does his level best to ignore, the lemur that’s in hot pursuit.


The lad tries all kinds of escape ruses such as tree climbing and cycling … but nothing seems to work, not even giving them stern looks.
In desperation the boy buys a train ticket but guess what joins him. He takes to the air; but those pesky animals seem to have all eventualities covered, even camel riding …
and trekking through blizzards. Surely the latter will see them off but no.

Suddenly though, the creatures seem to have gone to ground; the boy is far from home though and has no idea how to get back. Perhaps … well, just perhaps: I’ll say no more and leave it to readers to imagine what happens thereafter
Sheer delight from cover to cover is this board book with its collage style illustrations from rising star, Frann Preston-Gannon whose amusing story is certain to please the very youngest listeners as well as those adults who share it with them.

For older readers:


A Ghost Called Dog
Gavin Neale
A family has just moved into a new house. Dad is a writer, working at home and under pressure with a deadline looming, so much of the task of settling in and organizing things is left to Mum, although she has to go to work as well. They have two children: Abby and her competitive, soccer-mad brother, Chris. When wildly imaginative Abby says she sees a rabbit in the shed this is rubbished by Chris; but then suddenly, he starts feeling ice-cold fur rubbing against his skin.
Moreover, there are two mysterious old women: stern, goat-keeping Nora and chatty Daphne, who live in a cottage close by and are showing a great deal of interest in the children. And what is all the talk of potential witches, spirit familiars and warlocks?
So begins a story full of intrigue and danger involving a disappearance (the children’s mother), challenges and dark forces.
Gavin Neale clearly knows something of the interests, or rather obsessions of primary school children, and his story may well hit the mark with readers who like stories with a mix of fantasy and reality, challenge and problem solving.

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The Amazing Human Body Detectives

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The Amazing Human Body Detectives
Maggie Li
Pavilion Children’s Books
I learned something new today, (though I could say that’s true of pretty much every day when working with children). I discovered from Maggi Li’s new book that blondes have more hairs than others.
The human body fascinates most young children – how it works and what it can do. In twelve double spreads (plus contents and glossary) Maggi Li takes readers through the basics introducing first the main organs (Busy Organs as she calls the heart, lungs and kidneys)



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wherein alongside the essential facts of function and size, is a ‘body challenge’ and, in this instance, Laugh Factory stating ‘Laughing is good for you so get giggling!’ Children will delight in using that as a reason for so doing, I suspect.
In fact the whole book is presented as a journey with readers invited to take the magnifying glass from the front cover and use it to explore within. They might take a look inside the mouth at the teeth, or look closely at the skin to spot goose pimples, for instance. Quirky facts are writ small within each page of the book and you can even get close up to a bogie –

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another favourite with children. But the most read spread in my experience is assuredly Waste Factory

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with its focus on burps, hiccups, wee, sick, trumps and in particular The Bristol Stool Chart with its associated Body Challenge.

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This is the one I suspect that will get most take up!
There is a surprising amount of human anatomical information for readers to discover between the covers of this book. The clever thing however, is that with the emphasis on exciting and intriguing visuals, rather than dense blocks of text, children do not realise just how much hard information is embedded within each spread. And, once their interest has been stimulated there are further suggestions for on-going investigations on the final spreads
Definitely one for the family bookshelf or primary classroom.

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