Can Bears Ski?

Can Bears Ski?
Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

Why does everyone keep asking “Can bears ski?” That’s the puzzle for the little bear narrator of this story.

Dad says it frequently, the kindly class teacher says it,

puzzled classmates say it, “Can Bears ski?”

One day after school Dad takes his little cub to visit an ‘au-di-ol-o-gist’ She does lots of tests and she too asks that same question …

The audiogram shows little bear has hearing loss.

Eventually several weeks and more tests later she prescribes hearing therapy and lip-reading classes. She also gives little bear a pair of ‘plastic ears called hearing aids.’.

These enable the cub to realise what everyone has been asking all along. “Whoa … Is life this loud?!”
All the noise now means that our narrator feels tired sometimes and out come the hearing aids. The library was a place of peace pre hearing aids; perhaps it will be still; and a bedtime story is certainly on the agenda with Dad taking care to speak clearly and look directly at his little one.

And what about answering that titular question? What do you think?

The book’s author, poet and educator Raymond Antrobus, is himself deaf and this, his debut picture book draws on his personal experience, demonstrating how a small deaf child can feel frustrated and isolated in a hearing world. The illustrator Polly Dunbar also brings her own experience of partial deafness to her scenes of the hugely likeable protagonist attempting to cope with a plethora of sensory challenges – shaking bannisters and wobbling pictures, a ground shaking classroom floor for instance..

The resulting collaboration is a hugely compassionate book wherein Dad’s love is evident throughout. (This is just one individual’s experience of being deaf so there’s no mention of BSL or any form of signing.)

A thoughtful story to share in foundation stage settings and families whether or not these include a young one with hearing loss.

Red Red Red / Ravi’s Roar

Here are two picture books about young children and their anger

Red Red Red
Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

It’s tantrum time for the toddler in Polly Dunbar’s new picture book. A tantrum that’s precipitated when the infant attempts to extricate a biscuit from the jar up on the high shelf, bringing both jar and child hurtling to the floor.

A sympathetic mum is quickly on the scene but her attempts to placate her little one only make things worse until she suggests a calming, counting strategy that gradually transforms the toddler,

allowing all that fury to dissipate.

Polly’s scenes of anger and its management – of biscuits,

bumps and breathing – are sheer delight. The cathartic counting sequence in particular is absolutely brilliant.

Just the thing to share post-tantrum with little ones – make sure  they’ve completely calmed down first of course.

Ravi’s Roar
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Meet Ravi; he’s the youngest and smallest member of his family. This is perfectly fine most of the time but there are days when everything goes wrong.
The day of the family picnic was one of those.

First of all he’s squished into a train seat between a grown-up and a farty dog; then the game of hide-and-seek is a dismal disaster.

Ravi’s lack of stature puts paid to his enjoyment of the adventure playground but then his Dad steps in with a suggestion intended to help diffuse the lad’s rising anger.
That too goes badly wrong causing Ravi to lose it completely.

He’s suddenly transformed into a furious roaring tiger, which does seem to result in some short-term advantages.

But then the tiger overdoes his wildness, so much so that nobody else wants anything to do with him.

All alone, sadness starts to take the place of Ravi’s fury: what was it that had caused his anger anyway? The reason eludes him but he knows that an apology is called for.

After that the rest of his tigerishness seeps out leaving a calm child once again. PHEW!

In case you’re wondering, that was the last time Ravi ever became a tiger although he does still emit the occasional moderated growl …

Once again Tom Percival demonstrates his empathetic understanding of young children and his skill at exploring a subject that is very much part and parcel of their emotional make-up.

Add this enormously engaging book to your family collection or classroom shelves.

Something Fishy

Something Fishy
Polly Dunbar
Two Hoots

There are undoubtedly fishy goings on in the moggy narrator’s house, however, not the kind of fishiness appreciated by the normally, extremely well fed cat.

Despite polite requests for fishy offerings the other family members merely look blissed out and produce such items as tiny suits and soft toys. Hmm!

By this time listeners will have figured out what’s imminent even if the ever- grouchier narrator hasn’t. Now this really isn’t funny; well, not if your desire for all things fishy isn’t being satisfied, however nicely you ask.

Then suddenly the cat is left alone in the house: of course they must have gone fishing: oh, the eager anticipation!

What comes back home though is certainly not fish but something that changes Cat’s expectant smile into first a look of bewilderment, and then extreme disappointment.
Altogether a charmer, Polly Dunbar’s new book is purrfect for families where the arrival of a new brother or sister sibling is fast approaching, especially as there seems to be enough love to go round for everyone …

Polly’s illustrations are so brilliantly expressive, funny, and occasional jealous cat countenance notwithstanding, full of her characteristic joie de vivre.
An absolute winner.

A Lion Is A Lion

A Lion Is A Lion
Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been enchanting young and old alike for half a century. Now there’s a new feline visitor on the block, one with a large shaggy mane.

But, when is a lion not a lion, or does it remain a lion even if it sports a dapper jacket and matching hat, carries an umbrella and skips along the road singing a jolly “Hoobie-doobie-doo” song?

Supposing said creature invites himself into your home, introduces himself and asks you to dance.

Then, what if he decides to stay for lunch and not only consumes all his veggies but the plate as well; and then politely, looking you right in the eye, requests some pudding? Uh-oh!

Could that be when he begins to show his true nature with those gaping jaws and very sharp gnashers and you realise that this particular ‘guest’ is not welcome in your house, oh no most definitely not.

That’s the time to show that beastie who is boss and send him packing out of the door and down the street before you can say LION,

for the crucial thing to remember, no matter what is ‘A LION IS ALWAYS A LION!’

There’s always a joyful exuberance about Polly Dunbar’s books and so it is with this one too, which breaks into rhyme from time to time. Her characters, both feline and human, are totally beguiling with the children showing remarkable insouciance in the first instance; and the whole thing is a lesson in assertiveness and not to be deceived by appearances: after all you never know …

Playful Pets: Buster and the Baby / Big Box Little Box

Buster and the Baby
Amy Hest and Polly Dunbar
Walker Books
A very boisterous toddler and a lively little dog star in this rumbustious romp of a picture book.
The dog’s called Buster and the infant – a female – is just called baby. Both are charmers and live with baby’s parents in a little red house.
There’s nothing Buster enjoys more than a game of hide-and-seek with the infant,

a pretty hazardous activity when it comes to finding suitable hiding places, from baby’s parents viewpoint, that is.
As for Buster, his heart goes THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP! as he waits and watches for baby to come …

CHAAA! out of the shadows like a small thunderbolt right at him with joyful exuberance.
The two of them cavort through the house and garden, and the book, all day until finally, it’s baby’s bedtime. Now it’s her turn to hide and wait …

Engaging textual repetition and exuberant, warm-hearted illustrations make this a lovely one to share with toddlers at any time of day.
A delight through and through.

Big Box Little Box
Caryl Hart and Edward Underwood
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Experience has shown me that young children love to play in and with boxes but cats? Seemingly they too enjoy boxes; though I suppose I should have known, thanks to Eve Sutton & Lynley Dodd’s My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes.
Certainly it’s the case in this book wherein the moggy character is a real box aficionado exploring the plethora of boxes to be found in his home, be they large, small, fat, thin, flat even. And they come in so many different colours …

and with attractive designs.
Taking things almost literally results in some interesting uses where this feline is concerned …

Now though he’s found a box that something has been having a nibble at; I wonder what that might be.
‘Cat peeks.’ Something squeaks …
Could this be the start of a beautiful new (although rather unlikely) friendship? …

Caryl Hart’s minimal text provides designer Edward Underwood a playful scenario with which to co-create his debut picture book. He does so with panache.

I’ve signed the charter  

I Will Not Wear Pink

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I Will Not Wear Pink
Joyce Dunbar and Polly Dunbar
Otter-Barry Books
When Plunkett the pig receives an invitation to a pink themed party his reaction is one of more than a little peturbation …

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What him? No way. The one who’s called “Plunkett the plonker. Plunkett the oinker. The hooter, the honker. The toff who shows off, stands out in a crowd.”
There follows a veritable litany of further protestatory outpourings from our porky pal before he states the obvious: “…there is one sort of pink so divine, so sublime, and the best of it is that it’s already mine, from the tip of my tail to the snoot of my snout, pink is the shade of the skin that I’m in. Pink’s where I end and where I begin.” Thereafter he scoots off to state his case for being in the buff to his waiting host, Priscilla …

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and having done so, he proceeds to deliver an exhortation to her other guests to throw caution to the wind and join them in a glorious strip off and plunge party of the wallowing kind.

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Then seemingly, a terrific time is had by one and all.
One gets the impression that both Joyce and Polly Dunbar had an equally terrific time creating this gloriously dotty, thoroughly upbeat celebration of being yourself – au naturel – so to speak. Joyce’s – or should that be Plunkett’s narrative – is pure pleasure to read aloud, especially to those who, like this reviewer, enjoy the opportunity to put on a story-telling performance. Young audiences

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are certain to revel in the hilarious antics of Plunkett and Priscilla as portrayed by Polly in her effervescent scenes.
Altogether a bravura performance by both mother and daughter.

Another lovely picture book with themes of being yourself and friendship is re-issued with a brand new look:

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The Star-Faced Crocodile
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
This one tells of a developing bond between a banjo-strumming bear and the crocodile of the title, who is not actually star-faced at all but is frightened to reveal his ordinariness to the bear.

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The bear however is perfectly happy in the knowledge that the croc. is just a plain, snippy-snappy creature, but goes to great lengths to transform his new friend into a twinkling animal nonetheless.
Melling’s humorous watercolour scenes are sheer delight.

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Pat-a-Cake Baby

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Pat-a-Cake Baby
Joyce Dunbar and Polly Dunbar
Walker Books
Clad in onesie and chef’s hat, our baby narrator introduces itself thus:
“ I’m a cookie baby
a pat-a-cake baby
I want to bake
a very special cake
and that is exactly what happens during the course of the night. The chubby infant, ably assisted by three lively chums, gets busy with the shiny yellow butter, ditsy glitzy glossy sugar,

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yolky, jokey slithery, slidy eggs, sulky milk and snowy blowy flour and they proceed to whisk, shake, pour, sieve, sprinkle, and liberally toss the ingredients every which way. At the same time these adorable babes are scraping, flicking, licking,

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and generally cavorting all over the kitchen.
Then, when the cake’s finally baked, there comes the pitting and patting, piping the icing, (with a whole lot of giggling and wriggling for good measure), followed by a generous scittering, scattering, sprinkling and spronkling of decorative bits and pieces.

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The result is so magnificently mouth-watering that the man in the moon himself drops by for a generous serving. Mmmm!

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The mother/daughter recipe here is equally delectable – a large sprinkling of delicious assorted wordplay in a satisfyingly bouncy, rhythmically rhyming, read-aloud text, a delectable cast of tiny characters, generous spreads and spatters of pastel colouring, sprinkled with sparkling stars.
Bring it on and serve it up in platefuls, say I. And then ask me back for more … I know infant listeners will want another serving; it’s truly irresistible.
The whole concoction is just so-o good I’d like to show every single spread but you’ll just have to get hold of a copy for yourself.

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