The King’s Birthday Suit

The King’s Birthday Suit
Peter Bently and Claire Powell
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a priceless telling of Hans Andersen’s classic The Emperor’s New Clothes revamped for the 21st century.
Peter’s gleeful rhyming narrative is faultless and absolutely brilliant to read aloud (if you can overcome your giggles), and Claire’s detailed illustrations are a veritable feast for the eyes.

So without further ado, let me introduce King Albert-Horatio-Otto the Third with his special attire for every activity you can imagine and likely more that you can’t. I hate to think what his laundry bill cost. 

With his birthday fast approaching said king simply MUST have a new outfit to impress the visitors he’ll receive but none of the creations of the fashion designers win his approval. So when two apparently well-intentioned fabric merchants – McTavish and Mitch – show up promising to fashion THE perfect cloth, the king can’t resist their offer.
Now this pair look the real deal but what is that clickety-clackety loom actually producing? 

Time for the King’s ministers to take a look and report back. Their descriptions “That cloth, sir – oh my!’ … We just can’t describe it!” have the King rushing to see for himself. A fitting ensues, followed by the final try-on the following day. 

Then come the evening when all the guests have gathered it’s time for the great reveal …

and everything that ensues thereafter. Which all goes to show youngsters the importance of having the confidence to speak out and say what they believe is the truth.

Gloriously and gleefully silly, this is an unmissable book for family and primary classroom collections.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Ian Fleming, adapted by Peter Bently, illustrated by Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

This is a retelling of Ian Fleming’s classic tale by the popular picture book author Peter Bently, illustrated by Steve Antony of Mr Panda fame..

The Potts family – mum, dad (a clever inventor) and their two children Jemima and Jeremy – are a poor but happy family. That is, until one of dad’s inventions makes a fortune and off they go to buy a car. 

Unimpressed by any of those on offer at the garage, they’re about to leave when Dad notices something under a cover. Beneath that cover is a large and very much the worse for wear, racing car, destined the next day for the scrapyard.

Young Jeremy has great faith in his father’s ability to restore it to its former glory and after spending weeks shut away in his workshop, Dad introduces them to a splendidly shiny vehicle.

In climbs Dad and when he starts the engine, they hear this ‘CHITTY! CHITTY! BANG! BANG!’ before the vehicle rumbles into life. There’s only one thing they can call this car and you know what that is … Off they go for a drive to the beach and when they get stuck in a traffic jam, a mere push of a knob causes it to WHOOSH skywards as they take flight, 

destination a beach on a deserted island.

Fortunately, the car is better at spotting danger than the humans, and just before the tide engulfs them, Mum presses the flashing button and Chitty is transformed into a speedboat that takes them whizzing through the foggy waters to the coast of France.

What follows is an even more exciting part of their adventure involving a chase (of a famous robber and his gang) 

through the streets towards Paris where a hot-air balloon awaits the gold thieves. But they’d reckoned without a certain amazingly adaptable car …

Peter’s telling sweeps you along in the mounting excitement and Steve’s terrific, detailed illustrations provide readers with varying perspectives from which to witness the action. Together they’ve created a wonderful way to introduce youngsters to the original story.

Octopus Shocktopus!

Octopus Shocktopus!
Peter Bently and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

‘One day, we found an octopus / had come to live on top of us.’

What a wonderfully wacky notion and one that instantly grabs the reader’s attention – well, with those eight day-glo orange limbs and body what else would you expect?

Said octopus has descended upon the narrator’s neat-looking house on the cliffs causing consternation with neighbour, Mrs Antrobus who calls the fire-brigade.

However they fail to shift the creature and so it remains, limbs a-dangle and looking decidedly bored with life until the children invite it to play.

It’s great fun for all concerned and they quickly discover that there are lots of other advantages to having a gigantic octopus for a pal. (Pitch that one to a class of five year olds and see what  they can come up with.)

But then comes the fateful day when the roof is bare save for the tidy rows of blue tiles. Tears are shed all round but worry not; a splendiferous finale awaits …

With themes of acceptance and friendship Peter Bently’s rhyming narrative is sheer delight to read aloud and Steven Lenton’s wacky scenes are a visual treat: the octopus’s eyes are just wonderful

and there’s SO much to explore on every spread. Make sure you peruse the endpapers too.

A treat from team Peter and Steven that’s bound to be requested over and over …

Super Sloth / The Great Dog Bottom Swap

Two treats from Andersen Press: the first from rising star, the aptly named Robert Starling; the second an oldie but real goodie:

Super Sloth
Robert Starling
Andersen Press

Superhero characters always go down well with little human would-be superheroes, but a Super Sloth? Could one really make the grade?
Jungle resident, Sloth is far from fast and unable to fly; but when he comes upon a picture book story of a superhero he’s totally enthralled and it gets him thinking.

He sets about assembling the necessary accoutrements: mask – tick; cape – ditto. Off he goes in search of rescue possibilities. Before long he hears Toucan’s cry for help, but arrives too late – he is a sloth after all. Nevertheless he’s determined to help find the dastardly mango-thieving Anteater.

Up the highest tree he climbs – an ideal vantage point for Anteater spotting he thinks and so it is.
Wheee! Sloth launches himself skywards but … disaster!

Is that the end of his superhero aspirations? Not quite: when he learns of the potential starvation of the other jungle animals and hears from Bear about the need to break into Anteater’s well-guarded stronghold, it sets him thinking again and makes him extremely angry.

A plan forms in his mind, one that capitalises on his sloth abilities and off he goes,

slowly, slowly making his advance towards Anteater’s garrison until he’s ready to strike …

And there we’ll have to leave him dangling for fear of spoiling the ending of this laugh-out-loud sequel to Fergal is Fumingand just borrow a bit of the old adage, ‘slow and steady … ‘

As well as presenting readers with a dramatically illustrated, delectably droll super-story, Robert provides endpapers of factual information – Sloth Facts and Super Sloth Facts. Love it!

The Great Dog Bottom Swap
Peter Bently & Mei Matsuoka
Andersen Press

Thank your lucky stars this isn’t one of those scratch and sniff type books that used to be all the rage when this romp of Peter Bently’s first burst onto the scene a decade ago.

If you’ve ever wondered why dogs sniff each other’s bottoms when they meet, then this book is definitely one you MUST read; and even if you haven’t, I’d still strongly urge you to get hold of a copy. It’s brilliant, delivered in Peter’s faultless rhyme and tells what happens on the day of the Dogs’ Summer Ball.

The dogs, as per instructions …

hang up their bottoms in tidy rows in the cloakroom of the venue and proceed to the table to eat, drink and make merry.

Thereafter they participate in the canine cabaret and generally have a wonderful time.

Dancing is then announced; more fun and frolics until …

Catastrophe! Fire breaks out, engulfing much of the furniture and furnishings in flames: the dogs flee for their lives.

In their haste however, they each grab the nearest reachable bottom and dash out. That’s why when they meet in the street dogs sniff one another’s bums – in the hope of finding their own again.

Cheerful, cheeky – children roll around over it – while adults endeavour – in my case unsuccessfully – to stop themselves spluttering as Peter’s wonderful narrative trips from the tongue. In tandem with Mei Matsuoka’s hilarious illustrations of dogs of all shapes and sizes, this neo-pourquoi-tale is a rip-roaring read aloud gift for teachers and others who share stories with the young (and maybe not so young).

A Home on the River

A Home on the River
Peter Bently and Charles Fuge
Hodder Children’s Books

When Bramble Badger discovers that he has no water and neither have his friends he looks beyond his own front door.

Heading down to the river, he finds the riverbed is completely dry – there’s not even enough for Tipper Toad to take a dip.

Determined to help his friends, Bramble follows the dry river bed deep into the woods manoeuvring over and around obstacles and startling some of the woodland animals; he even takes an unplanned dip in a freezing lake, until eventually he comes upon a blockade.

Thinking the young squirrels have been up to mischief he goes to investigate.

What he finds though isn’t squirrels but a wooden house on an island.

The house is inhabited by one Sam beaver who doesn’t realise that his actions have caused problems further downriver.

Fortunately he’s ready to make amends and so Bramble shows him the perfect spot he’s discovered close by and all ends happily with water flowing once again.

Peter Bently’s rhyming story of friendship, sharing and caring for the world around us is the second to feature Bramble and his community of animal friends. Again in his lovely illustrations, Charles Fuge brings out both the warmth of Peter’s tale and the beauty of the natural world.

Birdy & Bou / A Recipe for Playtime

Birdy & Bou: The Floating Library
Mandy Stanley and David Bedford
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

I’m always on the lookout for stories that promote book loving and library use to very young children and here’s a great little book that does both of those things.
Bou is a red-eared panda and Birdy is, well, a bird.

Bou is an avid reader and when the floating library makes its regular stop at the village, he cannot wait to get his paws on his favourite book again.

Once aboard, he searches high and low but no matter where he looks, Bou cannot find his beloved book. Someone else has got there before him.

Off goes the little panda to track down the borrower, which he does eventually, although its borrower, Birdy, hasn’t quite grasped how to read it. Time for a demonstration and a spot of book-sharing.

So absorbed are the new friends that by the time they reach the river again, the library boat has departed. How can they return the book now?

With its bold, bright artwork, simple storyline and lovely surprise ending, this book with its toddler friendly wipe-clean pages, from the duo that created Roo the dinosaur, have another winner in Bou.

A Recipe for Playtime
Peter Bently and Sarah Massini
Hodder Children’s Books

Following on from their A Recipe for Bedtime, Bently and Massini have created a celebration of play. The toddler herein finds delight in block building, painting, constructing and imaginary play indoors,

before heading outside where there’s a slide, a sandpit, swings and lots of places to hide in when it’s time for a game of hide-and-seek with the toys.

Back indoors once again, it’s time to tidy away before snuggling up for a goodnight story – the perfect way to end the day.

Peter’s jaunty rhyme together with Sarah’s scenes of the fun and games, really do capture the joyful exuberance of the very young at play.

I’ve signed the charter  

Santa Selfie / I Went to See Santa

Santa Selfie
Peter Bently and Anna Chernyshova
Macmillan Children’s Books

Santa decides to take a holiday far away from all things Christmas and takes off for the sun on a tropical cruise.
However, his hopes of a peaceful trip are soon thwarted when a little girl picks up a tell tale bookmark that falls from Santa’s pool-side reading material.

Before you can say ‘sunbathing’ everyone aboard the ship knows of the special passenger and he’s beleaguered with people wanting to take Santa selfies. There’s even one of his yoga session.

Eventually he takes desperate action and leaves the ship, but still he’s pursued by camera-clicking crowds. It’s the same no matter whether it be in Paris, Sydney, Cairo, Brazil, outside the Taj Mahal, or at the Grand Canyon, the snappers are there.
Enough is enough thinks Santa and with a quick call, courtesy of a small boy’s mobile, he summons his helper Elfie and off they go back to the North Pole.
Surely there he’ll be safe from selfie seekers …
I hate selfies but I found myself warming to Peter Bently’s festive frolic delivered with rhyming verve and illustrated by new to me artist, Anna Chernyshova, whose Santa-centric scenes are sure to bring smiles.
Selfie enthusiasts can take advantage of the cut-out back cover flap.

 

I Went to See Santa
Paul Howard
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Prepare yourself for a seasonal take on the ‘I went to the shop and I bought …’ memory game. It’s started by a little girl (love her Christmas specs.) who is joined by a slightly littler boy as they take turns to add increasingly unlikely items to the list of items bestowed upon them by Santa in the run-up to the big day itself.
Packed with crazy scenes of sparkling treasure, skating penguins, soaring through space and more, this will surely fill a few minutes of festive story time and may well spark off a game of even wilder flights of fancy with a group of early years listeners.

A Home Full of Friends

A Home Full of Friends
Peter Bently and Charles Fuge
Hodder Children’s Books

Peter Bently does rhyming narrative with aplomb and it’s once again the case here.
Kind soul, badger Bramble doesn’t quite know what he’s letting himself in for when he offers Scuffle the dormouse, toad Tipper

and Boo the hedgehog a bed for the night when they’re made homeless by a storm. Rather that’s all he thinks he has to contend with as he hurries home concerned about his messy sett, stretching his supper to feed four and there only being one bed.
Bramble busies himself making preparations: makeshift they may be but entirely adequate for a badger and three pals.
His thoughts are interrupted by a loud knock at his door and the sight that meets his eyes is more than a little shocking. Three entire families are standing on his doorstep …

Fortunately though, they’ve brought with them everything they’ve managed to salvage from their wrecked homes and it’s not long before, with full bellies, they’re having a wonderful time playing games and sharing a bedtime story

before snuggling up for the night.

Warm-heartedness shines out of Charles Fuge’s beautifully detailed scenes which, together with Bently’s text, make a read aloud book with a compassionate message which is particularly pertinent given recent weather disasters and the ever increasing numbers of displaced people in various parts of the world.

Classic Characters Return

The Hundred and One Dalmatians
Dodie Smith, Peter Bently and Steven Lenton
Egmont Publishing
Peter Bently has adapted the original Dodie Smith text for this first ever picture book take on the perennially popular story with absolutely spotalicious illustrations by Steven Lenton; and right from that ritzy cover it’s an altogether classy double act.
Peter Bently’s text is a great read aloud; it’s direct, zesty and spot on for a much younger audience that the original, yet he’s managed to retain the spirit of the Smith classic I remember from my childhood.
Steven Lenton’s illustrations are simply magnificent in every way. Somehow he’s made real characters out of every one of those Dalmatian pups …

as well as the other pooches – no mean feat; and as for the humans, Cruella is evil incarnate; Sal and Jasper suitably roguish and the Dearlys, charming.

From the joyful opening London-based Dearly scenes, to the murky, sombre Hell Hall of Cruella and her dastardly crew, right through to the joyful seasonal finale, every spread is a visual extravaganza.
Superb!

Meg and the Romans
Jan Pienkowski and David Walser
Puffin Books
There’s a touch of history, thanks to an encounter with an ancient Roman in the latest Meg and Mog adventure, as well as an opportunity to learn a few words of Latin unless, like this reviewer, you managed to bag yourself an O-level in the language back in the day.
As always the humour is there right from the start when Meg, Mog and Owl’s excursion to the seaside finds them face to face with the captain of a boat who introduces himself thus, “Julius Romanus sum”.
Meg invites Julius to share their picnic but an accidental injury to Julius’s foot means that getting to Londinium is going to require something other than pedestrian means.

Fortunately a trusty, but very lively steed, Dobbin, is available to transport Julius all the way there at, thanks to a spot of magic from Meg, breakneck speed, albeit with the odd mishap en route.

Meg and friends, despite having been around for nigh on forty five years, show no signs of losing their popularity with young children; they will I’m sure lap this one up.

Rockabye Pirate / The Tooth Fairy’s Royal Visit

Rockabye Pirate
Timothy Knapman and Ada Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Don’t expect loud shouts of ‘Avast me ‘arties’ and similar in this pirate tale; far from it, for Knapman’s text is a lilting, under the covers-luring, lullaby for mummy pirates or daddies for that matter, to share with their pirate offspring at bedtime.
Yes, it’s full of freebooters, the likes of Black Bearded Brewster, Sea Dog McPhail and Freddy the Fright, but they’re not doing the wicked deeds upon the seas, rather they’re performing their ablutions

albeit with some maternal assistance in preparation for the most important part of their daily ritual …

After all, their day has been packed with mischief and mayhem, so now it’s time for some tucked-up-cosily-under-the-duvet dreams. I wonder what those might feature …

Ada Grey’s piratical characters, far from alarming, are portrayed as an endearing bunch of marauders as befits the inhabitants of a gentle bedtime story. Having said ‘bedtime’, this fun picture book could equally be shared with an early years group especially if they’re engaged in a pirate theme.

The Tooth Fairy’s Royal Visit
Peter Bently and Gerry Parsons
Hodder Children’s Books
The Tooth Fairy returns for another adventure, this time responding to a missive from Her Majesty the Queen informing of the loss of her great grandson’s first tooth. Come nightfall, the little fairy is palace bound but has a few obstacles in her path

before she finds a way in.
Once inside there are still further hazards – corgis, a cloth-wielding maid and some undies …

Finding the little prince’s bedroom is none too easy and the Tooth Fairy finds herself assisting in another ‘toothy’ search before receiving assistance for her troubles.

Will she ever make that all-important coin/tooth exchange and get home for some shut-eye?
Bently’s rhyming text is full of read-aloud fun with some unexpected encounters and, some expected ones: the corgis seem to find their way into every Royals’ picture book as do members of the Queen’s Guard. Garry Parsons’ exuberant illustrations provide gigglesome details at every turn of the page. All in all, a right royal chuckle.

I’ve signed the charter  

Potion Commotion

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Potion Commotion
Peter Bently and Sernir Isik
Scholastic Children’s Books
There are echoes of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and The Magic Porridge Pot in this rhyming tale of magic and mayhem. With warnings of a dragon in the vicinity, Mum pops out shopping leaving young Betty alone in the house. A risky thing to do, you’re probably already thinking; all the more so when Betty decides to mix up a culinary treat for when Mum comes home. Into the pot goes pretty much everything the young miss can lay her hands on …

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then she utters Mum’s cooking spell, stands back and waits.

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Before long the cauldron is bubbling and spilling all over the floor and out the cottage door but there’s no way Betty can halt its progress– she’s forgotten the words of the stopping spell her mum uses. Goo foams, froths and flows onto the road and through the whole town. Luckily Mum arrives in the nick of time. She halts the gloop in its tracks but then what should also fly along but the dragon and it’s ready for a human feast.

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Can anything be done to avert disaster?
Lively cartoon style illustrations and Bently’s fast-flowing narrative together create a recipe for a diverting read aloud for Hallowe’en or any time of the year.

Dogs to the Rescue

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Ralf.
Jean Jullien, text collaboration Gwendal Le Bec
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is Ralf, just a little dog …

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but he manages to occupy a great deal of space …

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get in the way rather too frequently OOPS beg your pardon Mum!

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Sorry Dad!

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The result? Banishment to his kennel where there ensues a very brief period of peace and quiet. But then Ralf’s nose begins to twitch: smoke is coming from the family home. Time for our canine pal to test his abilities to the utmost.
Flexible he may be – I’m sure this heroic pooch must have been taking yoga lessons on the quiet – but having finally gained an entrance of sorts, can he succeed in waking the blissfully unaware slumberers? Or is there another way he can effect a rescue perhaps? …
What follows are fantastic heroism and supreme stretchiness on Ralf’s part …

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and utter brilliance on Jean Jullien’s. In fact the whole book (endpapers included) is entirely brilliant.
Jullien documents Ralf’s rise from outcast to celebrated hero with such aplomb it’s hard to believe this is his first solo picture book. (he was the illustrator of the wonderful Hoot Owl)
Let’s hear it for Ralf. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! And again for the genius visual storytelling of Jean Jullien – YEAH! YEAH YEAH!

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Hot Dog Hal
Peter Bently and Tom McLaughlin
Scholastic Children’s Books
Most of us will be familiar with children having comforters they insist on taking everywhere they go, but a dachshund– surely not? Well surely yes, if your name happens to be Hal. Hal totally loved his blanket and refused to be parted from it despite the fact that ‘… he felt boiling and flustered/ And looked like a sausage all covered in mustard.’ and Buster McNally had started calling him Hot Dog Hal. And hot he truly was but even in the sunniest of situations Hal just would not take that blanket off;

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well it did, so he insisted have “a nice biscuit chocolatey smell.”
So besotted with this object of his was he that Hal found all manner of ways to keep it close to his person …

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none of which impressed Nipper or Buster and off they all trot for a game of hide-and-seek. Before long though down comes the rain and the canine crew are forced to take shelter in an old windmill. And as the thunder crashes and lightning flashes, good old Hal is ready to accommodate his pals beneath that comforter of his. But then disaster strikes leaving the creatures stranded.

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Maybe that old blanket is about to come into its own after all … But a torn, tattered blanket is no use to any self-respecting dog –

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or is it? …
This crazy canine romp is delivered in appropriately frisky style in Peter Bently’s rhyming text and wonderfully portrayed in Tom McLaughlin’s suitably silly sausage dog scenes.

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The Prince and the Porker

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The Prince and the Porker
Peter Bently and David Roberts
Andersen Press
Pignatius was passing the palace one day
when he saw ten fresh buns left to cool on a tray.’
So begins another tasty Bently/Roberts collaboration of the highest order.
As you can guess, the young Pignatius cannot resist sampling said buns and where one goes, the rest must surely – or where the young pig is concerned, -must definitely, follow. But even then he ‘s not replete so into the palace he goes, where he soon finds himself having to bolt from cook.
Up the stairs he charges and into a fine bedroom where he happens upon a “dressing-up chest.” and in no time has transformed himself into a dashing young thing. Which is just as well and pretty much saves his bacon so to speak, for in burst the palace staff wielding all manner of weapons, only to stop dead in their tracks and pay due respects when they discover the presence in the room…

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And what does the cheeky chap do then? He takes advantage of their misidentification and orders himself a slap-up tea.

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That demolished, it’s time to carry out his princely duties, which he does with mischievous gusto. But all good things must come to an end – or must they? It certainly looks that way when Pignatius finds himself face to face with the real prince and de-wigged into the bargain.

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So is it to be sausages, gammon and bacon in the royal household?

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Well, perhaps having an alter ego might just prove advantageous to a young prince …
Bently’s hilarious romp is an absolute gift to the reader aloud, and an out and out winner with young audiences. David Roberts’ visuals are finely detailed and at times, utterly priceless. Take for instance his rendering of the palace staff paying their respects to ‘His Highness’ or the blowing up of the pumpkin…

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Captain Jack and the Pirates

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Captain Jack and the Pirates
Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury
Puffin Books
In this timeless tale we join a family at the seaside and in particular three small children Jak, Zak and Caspar as they embark on a sandcastle-building extravaganza.

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With construction complete it’s a case of “Anchors aweigh!” and with mainsail hoisted, off sail Captain Jack and his pirate crew through uncharted oceans far from shore. Once on the high seas adventures abound: there’s a confrontation with an enemy ship and its dastardly band of buccaneers

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and a tropical gale to contend with,

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not to mention …

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The ‘marooned’ pirates abandon ship and set out to explore the terrain in search of treasure – well two do but Caspar remains on watch.
And do they discover any treasure? Definitely – if you have an imagination akin to that of the small pirate trio so gorgeously portrayed.
Told in rhyme, Peter Bently’s enchanting story is a real pleasure to read aloud. In her scenes of small children engrossed in their play, both real and imaginary, Helen Oxenbury flawlessly evokes those childhood days of family seaside holidays when everything seemed perfect no matter what.

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Fairy Magic at Christmas

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The Tooth Fairy’s Christmas
Peter Bently and Garry Parsons
Hodder Children’s Books
Santa comes to the aid of the Tooth Fairy when she gets lost on Christmas Eve having answered the call of Tim Tucker’s letter.

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He gives her a lift to Tim’s house but they discover that the chimney is blocked so then it’s the Tooth Fairy’s turn to take the initiative. With a wave of her wand and a magical shrinking utterance, the two of them sail through a crack in the window and having regained their normal size, set about their respective tasks. Things don’t go as smoothly as they’d hoped but eventually they’re back safely in the sleigh heading to the fairy’s home where, once she’s safely tucked up in bed, she too receives a visit from Santa.
A jaunty rhyming text complemented by bold, bright images and at times, very funny scenes …

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complete the package of this festive escapade.
Buy from Amazon

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The Fairy Tale Hairdresser and Father Christmas
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Picture Corgi pbk
Fans of the series in particular will welcome this seasonal offering from Kittie Lacey. It begins on Christmas Eve when the fairyland hairdresser leaves Kittie’s Cuts to make a special home visit to the abode of Father Christmas. While she is busy giving Santa and his team a special Christmas makeover she notices Crystal, one of the elves, is missing.
Having tracked her down she and Father Christmas learn that the Snow Queen (who had imprisoned Crystal) has stolen all the presents.

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But can the two of them, with the help of the reindeer, melt her icy heart and get them back in time for that vital evening delivery for the big day?
This Christmas morning scene says it all …

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Readers will love spotting the characters and their respective gifts on this spread but that’s not quite the end of the story. As ever, the Fairy Tale Hairdresser brings plenty to entertain, not forgetting those characteristic touches of sparkle.
Buy from Amazon
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Starting with a Fairy Tale …

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Cinderella’s Big Day
Katie Cotton and Sheena Dempsey
Templar Publishing
It’s just one week before the wedding of Prince Charlie and Cinderella when a letter arrives on the royal breakfast table addressed to the King and Queen: a letter from Charlie, informing Their Most Marvellous Majesties that the ring he’s due to place on Cinderella’s finger has gone missing. Immediately the King’s suspicion falls on the ugly sisters. But is he right? There follow five further letters through which much of the narrative detail unfolds. The wedding does take place though with some notable absentees and all is made clear why through the final communication fired off by Cinders herself as she relaxes happily on her honeymoon – that and …

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Billed as ‘After Happily Ever After” I suspect this amusing novelty book is the first of a new series. Sheena Dempsey has used a palette of soft colours to create her scenes. Scenes that contain a mixture of contemporary items such as Cinderella’s heart shaped sunglasses, wry details like the mouse’s tail extending round the skin lotion bottle,

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as well as the more traditional fairytale paraphernalia. Children will particularly love the wedding fold-out scene that is crammed with characters from traditional tales and nursery rhymes.

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How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel
Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
On the top floor of an inner city tower block Rapunzel languishes, ignoring callers: the milkman, the postman bearing a letter, the baker woman, Rapunzel’s aunt with dinner, even a prince bearing chocs and red roses.

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All exhort, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, please let down your hair.” But, receiving no response, and with the lift out of order, one by one they continue on their way. Later though, concerned on account of her lack of food, they have a change of heart and after a discussion, all (except the prince who is never seen again) decide to return to make amends. Back they go and up, up to the sixteenth floor where a hearty meal is cooked for Rapunzel and the letter duly delivered. The food restores colour to her cheeks but it’s the contents of the letter that really puts a smile on her face.
Rapunzel leapt up and she shouted with glee:
“I’ve got a new job at the library!”

From then on our heroine is transformed: no longer does she sit idly waiting to be wooed; she spends her time enthusing about books at work and educating herself when she gets home – courtesy of LIBRARY BOOKS – what else?
Told through a longish, zingy, rhyming text and bold illustrations that are full of funny details and mischievous touches such as the crow tugging at a tress of Rapunzel’s wayward auburn hair, not to mention cats, dogs and birds galore.
A great plug for libraries and the delights of books and a great picture book debut for illustrator, Rebecca Ashdown.

Also told in jaunty rhyme is:

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Princess Sleepyhead and the Night-Night Bear
Peter Bently and Laura Ellen Anderson
Orchard Books
Night has fallen over the kingdom; in the castle all are slumbering, all that is except one: Princess Sleephead is wide awake. But kindly Owl at her window is determined to help so off he flies, returning soon with Fox and Mouse. Their sleep-inducing ideas are great fun but very energetic and only serve to wake her further. Owl however has promised three friends so who is missing? Ah! It’s Bartholomew Brownfur-Brown – a large friendly creature – aka the Sleepytime Ted clutching a collection of bedtime fairy tales:

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just the thing to cure the princess’s insomnia.
Exuberant illustrations littered with the princess’s ephemera, endearing animal characters and some enchanting sleepy-time scenes and a text that is a pleasure to read aloud, are the main ingredients of this fairy tale romp.

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SHHH!
Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
It’s great to see this book reissued; my original hardback copy was read to destruction. Loosely based on Jack and the Beanstalk, the manner in which this book draws readers in is just superb. With the entreaty to “Come inside” we enter the giant’s castle wherein we view and creep past, a huge-bellied sleeping mouse, a slumbering cat – enormous, a broody hen, the giant’s wife busy cooking dinner and then, the snoring giant.
Distorted perspectives, grisly domestic details such as an axe to slice the bread and eyeballs in the stew pot, retrospective flaps so readers can check whether those they crept past have been disturbed – reassuring until the final one, after which it’s a case of doing what we are told …

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Not for long though, I can guarantee there will be cries of “read it again” straightaway.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

 

Toddler Time

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A Recipe for Bedtime
Peter Bently and Sarah Massini
Hodder Children’s Books
Baby, baby soft and sweet,
Almost good enough to eat!
It’s night-night time so come with me,
And hear my bedtime recipe.

We are invited to share a bedtime ritual along with teddy (who has the perfect recipe book), and other assorted toys who help put the human infant to bed. After a snack, there’s a cuddle, clothes off, into the bath with lots of warm water and bubbles, then a rub-a-dub with a huge towel – perfect for a quick game of Peek-a-Boo,

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a tummy softening squirt– thank you elephant, into those jimjams and a drink of milk. Now put said infant into a warm place with a sprinkling of kisses and a cosy cover, not forgetting a sleep-inducing ‘Hush-a-bye’ song; now climb in everyone. Night-night.
With its tender, gently soporific rhyming text and pictures so beautifully in tune, I can imagine this becoming a bedtime favourite with many a toddler.

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Are You My Mummy?
Mary Murphy
Walker Books
In this enchanting board book we join a little pup as it travels around the farm asking the various animal inhabitants, “Are you my mummy?” After encounters with a sheep, a cow, a horse, a cat, a pig

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and a duck, our persistent pup finally finds a large dog and joy of joys, her response is “Yes … and you’re my lovely puppy!
Cute animals, a simple patterned text and flaps to open revealing each mother’s little one are the key ingredients of this new addition to the Baby Walker series. It’s just the thing to share with the very youngest child… again and again I suspect; and slightly older, beginner reader siblings might well enjoy reading it to a baby brother or sister.

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Where Do You Live Snail?
Petr Horacek
Walker Books
Snail sets out visiting mouse, the busy bees, a fluffy bird, a shiny fish and hoppy frog asking them in turn, “Where do you live?” Each time he receives the answer, “I (or we) live in … ” The frog then asks snail about his home and discovers that snail has a mobile home on its back.

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The predictable question and answer format together with Petr Horacek’s gorgeous mixed media illustrations make for a thoroughly enjoyable addition to the Baby Walker series. This one has a wheel that when turned, makes the stars shine on snail.
Another beautifully illustrated title in the same series is:
A Surprise for Tiny Mouse
Petr Horacek
Walker Books
As we accompany Tiny Mouse through the seasons we share her enjoyment of nibbling the corn in the sunshine, moving in the crackly leaves on a windy day, feeling the crunchy night-time frost

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and the snow tickling her nose. What she doesn’t like though is splashy rain so off she scampers to hide until out comes the sun once more, and if the wheel is turned …
Cutaway pages and peep-holes further add to the enjoyment of this one.
In my experience beginning readers also get great pleasure from these books if left in early years book baskets for individuals to try reading for themselves.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

High Fliers

DSCN2107 Nuts in Space
Elys Dolan
Nosy Crow
Will they or will they not find their way home with their precious cargo? That is the nub of this hilarious story starring Commander Moose and his half dozen crew members. Having completed their mission to find The Lost Nuts of Legend and boarded their super stealth covert cruiser, they discover that the Star Nav of their craft, Forest Fleet’s Finest Starship no less, has malfunctioned. Oh woe! DSCN2108

Moreover, their food supplies are exhausted and their maps have been mysteriously consumed. Hmm! What can they do? Certainly not start on those nuts guys: they are reputed to bestow unimaginable boons: invincibility and bedtimes that are never passed, for instance. Stopping by at the Death Banana to ask for directions? Certainly not a good move, either guys.

DSCN2109 So do those fearless, very hungry, crew members ever find their way back home again? And what about those all-important Nuts of Lost Legend; what is their fate? If you want to know, and I’m pretty sure you do, then get hold of a copy of this action-packed saga. It’s absolutely chock-full of treats – both visual and verbal (not to mention nuts). Well, maybe not NUTS! DSCN2110It’s guaranteed to keep youngsters absorbed for hours, days, maybe even weeks!
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When Angus Met Alvin
Sue Pickford
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Alien Angus is different; there’s nothing he likes better than to rest quietly in his peaceful garden. One day however his peace is disturbed when a spaceship crashes, creating havoc in the centre of his lawn.

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Out jumps Alvin, another alien whose mission it is to demonstrate his ‘special space skills’.
Angus is unimpressed by Alvin’s fancy flying and there rapidly develops a competitive element to their trickery. Time for Angus to consult Professor Poppemoff’s tome for a suitable idea.

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To say that Alvin’s already inflated idea of his skills is further inflated by Angus’s challenge and that it consequently causes his downfall – indeed his total deflation – is no exaggeration.
The resulting pin-sized Alvin is far from amused and quickly makes an ‘I promise to behave myself’ deal with Angus. Thereupon he receives a deft dusting of special, size restorative

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and sets to work to prove himself, which he duly does. Peace is finally restored in Angus’s garden.
A delightfully daft tale of friendship and lateral thinking, laugh-makingly delivered through a combination of completely crazy ideas compiled into a comic text, and playful pictures.

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These are littered throughout with off-beat details and appropriately idiotic images.
I envisage this one sparking off all manner of alien artistry and other imaginative ideas from enthusiastic listeners of the earthling species. It certainly got a huge thumbs up from both large groups of five and six year olds that I shared it with.
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 Pairs of children could be Angus and Alvin and then using the wonderful endpapers as a starting point, can compile and then depict, their own sets of ‘Special Things’ on small coloured pieces of paper. These can then be pasted up on opposite sides of a large sheet of card or paper, one half for Alvin’s, the other for Angus’s.

What about having an alien tea party, Alvin and Angus style, with young earthlings compiling the menu and concocting the food and drink. Then sharing it of course!

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Those Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine
Peter Bently and David Roberts
Andersen Press
I found myself struggling not to break into fits of laughter as I read this one out loud; indeed my ribs were aching trying to keep my giggles in. This absolutely uproarious saga tells and shows what happens when Lambert and Eunice and Marly and Mabs and Old Uncle Ramsbottom, Bart, Ben and Babs (phew!) accidentally take to the air in a biplane.

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Squashed into the cockpit they set forth on a round the world trip to see the sights. They drop in at, among other destinations, France for a can-can, Tibet where little Ben’s encounter with a Yeti is too close for comfort, DSCN2058

and India where a maharajah’s invitation to his Delhi palace for “Mutton curry” sends them scuttling hastily planewards. But then … east? west? Home’s best, the others firmly tell Ramsbottom , so, home they go. The returning plane is spotted by its silver-topped cane bearing owner who rushes eagerly to apprehend the thieves, only to find his empty flying machine at rest atop the hill, but no sign of any thieves, just a field full of white, woolly sheep.

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Find and buy from your local bookshop: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

If you are interested in teenage fiction, nominations are called for the Queen of Teen award 2014. For further information got to: http://www.queenofteen.co.uk

Witches, whales, washing and wandering

Rich Witch Poor Witch
Peter Bently and Jim Field
Macmillan pbk.
Meet twin witches, poor Rose who provides her services free to the ordinary folks and rich Rita whose wealthy clients include royalty. Indeed it is the King himself who calls asking for help to cheer up the young Princess Anna Lucinda Cecelia Grace who just will not smile. However, no amount of wand wielding and magical trickery makes one iota of difference to the gloomy miss. Before long the whole palace is in utter chaos with drapes aflame and tables trashed but what of the princess? It’s left to butler Mort, to announce not only the arrival of Witch Rose but also the whereabouts of the missing Anna Lucinda. Both are outside playing chase and yes! the Princess has an enormous smile on her face. Magic or what? Definitely not explains Rose; all that the princess needed was someone to play with.
This rhyming tale fizzes and sparkles with energy and the appropriately gaudy illustrations abound with visual jokes.
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The Storm Whale
Benji Davies
Simon and Schuster pbk.
Noi lives a rather lonely life in a beach-side house with his fisherman father and their six cats. One morning after a stormy night, he goes down onto the seashore and as he walks he comes upon a small whale left high and dry by the storm. Noi manages to get the whale home and into the bath where he tells it stories about his island life. Concerned about his dad’s reaction to the newcomer, Noi keeps quiet all evening but finally his secret is discovered. Then he has to face the fact that his new friend belongs in the sea and together father and son return the whale to its rightful home.
A gentle tale of loving and caring enough to let go. I love the fact that Noi is shown playing records of Sounds of the Sea and Handel’s Water Music to the whale in the bath. Understated as it is, this warm-hearted book packs a powerful punch.
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How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth
Michelle Robinson & Kate Hindley
Simon and Schuster pbk.
Presented as an instruction manual, a small girl narrator provides a step-by-step guide to performing a very tricky and likely to be, protracted, operation – Woolly Mammoth washing or rather, bathing. Should your mammoth need this treatment, make sure you don your mackintosh and wellies and have to hand: a broom, spooky mask, skateboard, heavy-duty crane, cake, and of course, shampoo. Just make sure the latter doesn’t go in its eyes though. Oh, oh! … for STEP EIGHT: To get said ‘wet woolly mammoth down from a tree you’ll need … a very STRONG trampoline.’ To discover the remaining steps, you’ll just have to get hold of a copy of this delightful book. Beautifully understated, simply told in dead- pan style, the text leaves Kate Hindley plenty of scope to exercise her sense of the ridiculous in both her full-page scenes and smaller comic cut capers.
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Pi-Rat!
Maxine Lee
Caterpillar Books pbk.
Meet the fearless Pi-Rat and his mates as they sail the high seas. Seemingly nothing daunts them be it crocodiles, sharks or the darkness but when the brave pirate captain sights a hairy paw through his telescope it seems the hearty crew are about to meet their doom.
The visual clue to the setting of this adventure is the name of Pi-Rat’s craft on the back cover and the first spread. This bath-time tale of the imagination is told almost entirely through speech bubbles and bold visuals that zoom right in on the action. There is plenty to laugh at in the larger than life illustrations inspired by the treasure trove of bath-time and everyday toys; I love the space- hopping and pogo-sticking crew members as they leap and bounce across the crocodile-infested waters. I envisage this one being asked for over and over again.
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Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo
Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie
Red Fox pbk.
When the boy narrator receives a letter announcing he’s won a prize, off he cycles to run a zoo for the day. And what a strange, chaotic place this turns out to be. Its inmates include the growling Grimblegraw, the dangling Dinglebee, the Morph, Quees, Furry Furbles and horror of horrors, the child gobbling Squirgal, to mention just some of the crazy creatures he encounters. But in our small, prize-winning hero, those recalcitrant rioters more than meet their match.
Crying out for audience participation, this story certainly went down well with several groups of under fives who loved the tongue tingling rhyming text and crazy mock scary monsters.
It’s a good one to stimulate young children’s artistic and verbal creativity: have huge sheets of paper, paints and large pens at the ready.
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Dog Loves Counting
Louise Yates
Red Fox pbk.
Louise Yates’ endearing bibliophile Dog returns for a third adventure. Now he’s looking for alternatives to sheep to count, so that he can get to sleep. And the vehicle for his search is of course, a book.; a Big Book of Curious Creatures wherein he discovers all manner of fascinating things to innumerate, beginning with one baby dodo that emerges from a large egg. The two of them continue through the book encountering in turn, a three-toed sloth, … a five-lined skink… to a ten-legged (pincers included) crab and so on to an infinitely grained sandy desert whereupon the the all-important number one is counting stars. And we leave the whole cast star gazing and still counting, until … it’s morning again, the start of another day filled with books, friends and, let’s hope, many more adventures.
This flight of fancy is another winner from the inspirational Lucy Yates. It’s wonderfully imagined, cleverly constructed and brilliantly portrayed through both words and pictures. Moreover, it is likely to make young listeners enjoy counting just as much as the chief protagonist who has already encouraged countless children to become like him, lovers of ‘Books’ and ‘Drawing’.
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The Acorn
Edward Gibbs
Templar Publishing (BF&F) pbk.
This wonderfully simple book has lessons a-plenty between its covers – reading lessons and science lessons but more important than those, the whole thing is a real pleasure to share with the very young.
A little yellow acorn falls from a tree, a little acorn with a large purpose. But there is a problem – also large –all manner of hungry forest animals think that an acorn would make a tasty tidbit. Such are the acorn’s powers of persuasion ‘Oh, please don’t eat me now, … I’ll be even tastier later.’ that it manages to escape the jaws of white mouse, orange squirrel, blue bird, grey rabbit, brown boar and red deer. Then the acorn begins to grow, time passes and true to its words, it becomes a huge shelter-giving tree with acorns aplenty. And, in familiar folk-tale, patterned text style, the whole thing begins over again…
Each spread is cleverly linked to the previous one so that every turn of the page serves to move the visual narrative seamlessly forwards. Gibbs’ delightfully scribbly animal images on the forest floor are a treat in themselves, and, there is a further fold-out surprise at the end.
Perfectly predictable, endlessly re-readable.
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Beasts and Baskets

Picnic
John Burningham
Jonathan Cape
There are echoes of the wonderful Mr Gumpy’s Outing in Burningham’s latest book. Boy and girl invite sheep, pig and duck to join them for a picnic. Their search for a picnic place proves protracted. They are chased by bull and have to hide in the woods, the wind whisks sheep’s hat away, pig drops his ball and duck loses his scarf. When all the items are retrieved they share the picnic basket spread and after fun and games the tired picnickers return to boy and girl’s house on the hill and bed.
Burningham’s peerless pictures in crayon, ink and watercolour and his spare, clear short sentences with engaging questions are in perfect balance within the empty spaces of each page.
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Big Book of Beasts
Emily Gravett
Macmillan
Emily Gravett has a co-creator for her latest offering; it’s Little Mouse (from a Big Book of Fears). Said rodent proceeds to edit her efforts throughout, daubing, nibbling, scribbling and generally interfering with every spread. As the author attempts to present ten animals pictorially with accompanying verse, Little Mouse offers his own take on each one. So, he proceeds to silence the lion’s roar, placing mittens over its claws, swat the worrying wasps with a specially pressed newspaper, and put dainty high-heeled shoes on the feet of the rampaging rhinoceros; but can he avoid being swallowed by the crushing Boa-Constrictor? Seemingly so, for after one final confrontation, what do we find fleeing across the final end-papers but a small, white, paint-spattered mouse?
Purists may be left aghast at mouse’s defacement but the rest of us will revel in this ingenious, truly interactive creation with its mini book of origami, wasp-swatting newspaper, healthy teeth guide, flaps to open and holes throughout.
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The Cat, the Mouse and the Runaway Train
Peter Bently and Steve Cox
Hodder Children’s Books
This adventure starts when a mouse – a skitter-scattery one – living in the stationmaster’s house, steals a piece of cheese and is seen by Carruthers the cat. The mouse is trapped, escapes and is hotly pursued by Carruthers but as he crosses the track, the cat takes a tumble getting his tail stuck in the rails. The minutes tick by and a large red steam train is speeding ever closer, Carruthers promising to chase him no more, begs the mouse to stop the train. Can that tiny creature get back and warn the stationmaster before the train makes mincemeat of his much-loved moggy? Suffice it to say that by the end of the day there is a third resident in the stationmaster’s house, and now he’s entirely welcome.
This rhyming tale, like the train positively races along and one can almost hear the rhythmic sound of the wheels on the track echoing when reading the book aloud. There’s some delicious alliteration too and the tension builds as the stopwatch counts the minutes to ten o’clock when the train is due.
Full of humour and pathos, Steve Cox’s bold bright illustrations mirror the gathering pace and tension of the text. For additional fun, spot Cat and Mouse among the cogwheels, clocks and pipes of the endpapers.
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The Lion and the Mouse
Nahta Noj
Templar Publishing
Cleverly interactive die-cuts really make this version of one of the most retold of Aesop’s fables distinctive.
Standing out against the flat colour backgrounds, composite, collage-style cut-outs help build up the bold images which are truly striking. Jenny Broom’s retelling too is noteworthy and further enlivened by variations in the font size, and weight with lines of print sometimes following the outlines of the illustrations.

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A great book for the primary classroom or for individual sharing.
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Little Evie in the Wild Wood
Jackie Morris and Catherine Hyde
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
One afternoon, wearing red and carrying a basket, Little Evie sets off alone into woods. Following the path ever deeper, her senses alert, she emerges into a clearing and there encounters a great black she wolf. Shades of Red Riding Hood; but, Evie has been sent by her Grandma to find the wolf and share with her seven blood-red jam tarts. After their meal, as the sun sets, the wolf carries Evie on her back to the edge of the wood where she can see the cottage and her waiting mama.
It’s not so much the story, but the manner of the telling that is so striking. Its lyrical, powerfully atmospheric, eerie haunting quality draws you right in from the start creating an air of wonder and mystery.
Visually wonderful too, Catherine Hyde has used acrylics to conjure soft-focus woodland scenes suffused with glowing sunlight, which intensify the air of mystery.
Truly, a book to enchant young and old alike.
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The Day the Crayons Quit
Oliver Jeffers and Drew Daywalt
Harper Collins
Have you ever thought about the crayons you give children to use; did you know for example that they have feelings? No? Well, this hilarious book/story by the brilliant Jeffers (no prizes for guessing which medium he has used) and debut author, Daywalt might make you think again.
Duncan wants to do some colouring but when he goes to use his crayons, he discovers a bundle of twelve letters all of which contain strong words of admonition for the would-be artist.
Red complains that he is even has to work on holidays, Purple is upset that Duncan won’t keep his colour within the lines, Beige is fed up with playing second fiddle to Brown, Grey is demanding a break from colouring large animals, White feels empty and Black doesn’t want to be limited to outlines, Green is happy with his use but wants Duncan to settle a dispute between Yellow and Orange over which is the rightful colour of the Sun, Blue is bothered that he is almost completely used up and Pink thinks she is being discriminated against because Duncan is a boy. And finally, Peach doesn’t want to leave the crayon box because Duncan has peeled his label off leaving him naked.
Needless to say, this wonderfully wacky, creative picture book has plenty of colour particularly after Duncan takes on board all the crayons concerns. I’m not convinced that Beige will be entirely happy though.
Don’t miss this one.
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Eddie and Dog
Alison Brown
Little Tiger Press
Eddie lives close to an airport; he spends time watching the planes and dreaming of adventures in faraway places. One day he spies a small dog in a basket on the luggage carousel and invites him to play. The two briefly enjoy some adventures together but on their return home, Eddie’s mum sends his new playmate to a more suitable home. Next day however, dog is back and despite further attempts to send him packing, Eddie’s determined canine pal returns. Moreover he has a plan: a clever one involving a rooftop space whereon he and Eddie construct a garden compete with lawn, topiary, a tree-house and more.
I like the fact that imagination, determination and perseverance win the day in this story for which Alison Brown’s illustrative style creates the illusion that the characters and objects have been created with a modeling medium.
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