The Wild Garden

The Wild Garden
Cynthia Cliff

Jilly lives in a village called Mirren with her Grandpa and dog, Bleu. Outside the village, as we see in the beautifully detailed illustrations, is a wonderful wild place, a mix of meadowland, woods and ponds, while within the village is a carefully cultivated shared garden wherein people grow row upon row of vegetables and ornamental plants.

It’s the wild place that Jilly, Grandpa, and Bleu, spend much of their time, in spring enjoying the birds and minibeasts and searching for edible greens to eat for supper. At the same time the community garden is a hive of activity. And so it continues through the seasons, one difference between the two locations being that Jilly never knows what their forays might yield,

whereas the results of the labours of the other villagers in their garden are much more predictable.

Then with winter comes a fierce snowstorm after which the villagers decide to enlarge their growing space: a much much bigger garden should result in more and more rows of plants. Needless to say this plan perplexes Jilly and Grandpa: what will happen to the meadows, the nut trees and all those animal habitats? They have to do something to stop the wildlife devastation. Can two people possibly show all the other village residents that a bigger garden isn’t as they think, a better garden?

Perhaps there’s a way that everybody can be satisfied …

Cynthia Cliff’s illustrations of the contrasting growing spaces show that both have much to offer while both these and her story help make youngsters aware of the beauty and vital importance of nature; and how our amazing planet isn’t owned by humans, rather we must share it with the wealth of flora and fauna, respecting and caring for their habitats.

Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Take an Evening Stroll

Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Take an Evening Stroll
Britta Teckentrup

Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog are out for an evening stroll and as the sun sinks on their return journey, Little Hedgehog asks that they can pause and wait for the sun to set, which they do. Once it’s completely disappeared on they go, but after moving a little way further Little Hedgehog again wants to stop, this time for the moon to rise. Big Hedgehog agrees, they pause

and then with Big Hedgehog insisting it’s now late, they continue homewards.

Before long, Little Hedgehog wants to make another stop – to inhale the scent coming from the wildflowers and they stand, so doing for a long time. These stops continue, next to visit an owl family, then to look for the moon as it emerges from behind some clouds, followed by a pond pause to bid goodnight to the frogs and fish. By this time it’s decidedly chilly but that doesn’t stop Little Hedgehog from following a tiny firefly

until it reaches a host of others that together perform a beautiful dance. Surely after such a long stop, Little Hedgehog must be completely ready for some sleep: almost but first there’s one more request …

This is such a gorgeous story about the joys of slowing down to appreciate, and be awed by, the natural world with all its wonders from the immense to the minute. Brita Teckentrup has a wonderful way of capturing the natural world in her richly hued and textured collage scenes that are certain to make big humans sharing this book with little humans, also slow right down to imbibe the beauty of each one of them.

Olaf Hajek’s Fantastic Fruits

Olaf Hajek’s Fantastic Fruits
Annette Roeder and Olaf Hajek

A veritable array of scrumptious fruits – depending on your taste of course – are served up in this third collaboration between author Annette Roeder and illustrator Olaf Hajek.

As with Veggie Power and Flower Power, Hajek draws on a variety of cultural heritages and artistic traditions, as he playfully conjures up an entire, imagination-sparking story world brimming with details in every one of his seventeen luscious surreal paintings.

For instance the style of the richly hued mango scene transported me to India and Mughal art, but Hajek’s arrangement of images with the dominant parrot clutching in its claws a neatly cut slice of the juicy fruit raised the question, ‘Was it sliced by human hands and if so, whose?’

In contrast the gooseberry and currant composition, had for me, something of the Mexican, Frida Khalo about it.

As well as providing visual clues as to how each fruit is grown, in some paintings, the featured fruit or the skin thereof, is used as part and parcel of a character’s attire. That is so with the gooseberries while in the case of banana, there’s a woman’s dress and hat comprised mostly of that fruit.

No matter where you open the book, opposite the illustration is an engaging page of text by Annette Roeder. This provides straightforward factual information drawn from history as well as modern times; there’s often some folklore, or perhaps a truncated myth or traditional fairytale. The final spread entitled ‘A colourful fruit salad fairy tale’ has a story so the author says, whispered to her by a woman in a shop about a spoiled prince and pineapples that grow wings so he can consume them at their perfect stage of ripeness; and there’s information about choosing wisely when it comes to selecting what to include in your own fruit salad.

Assuredly this large format book is full of mouth-watering delights and occasional surprises too.

Where is Everyone? / The Day Time Stopped

These are two quirky books from Prestel – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Where is Everyone?
Tom Schamp

Herein Tom Schamp invites little ones to discover the unexpected in the expected as they lift the flaps to find what is hiding beneath in turn the bushes, a toadstool, a small car,

a washing machine, a fridge, a toaster, a cup and saucer, a sofa, a toilet, a sink, a bath, a bed, a gift-wrapped box and a tiered decorated cake. The text on each page comprises a ‘who question’ and the answer hidden under the flap – a peacock, Puss in Boots or a tortoise raring to go, for instance.

Now who would expect to find a racoon inside the washing machine or a hamster getting rather heated in the toaster? And I suspect nobody would anticipate there being a monkey on a surfboard lurking behind that cup containing that cuppa, nor a napping camel tucked away behind that comfy couch.

Full of whimsical ideas, this playful board book with its duck commentator surely will encourage youngsters to go beyond the information given and look at things with a fresh, creative mind and eye.

The Day Time Stopped
Flavia Ruotolo

If you’ve ever stopped to wonder what your friend in another part of the world is doing right now, perhaps because you want to call them on your mobile, then here’s a fun book for you.

The young narrator who happens to be in Genoa, Italy is just taking her first bite from an ice-lolly (she calls it a popsicle) at 5:33pm her time when inexplicably, time stops.

At that exact time in another part of Europe – Berlin – Selma and Nora bring their scooter to a sudden halt – just in time to prevent a small creature getting run over.

In La Paz (Bolivia) however it’s 12.33pm and Rosa’s grandmother has just finished knitting a sweater while in New York City two children discover their tube of toothpaste is empty – it’s 11.33 am their time.

At that moment too Kimo’s underwear pings off the washing line in Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) where the time is 2:33am and in Sapporo, Japan Yuki’s cat is woken by a noise. (The clock there would say 1:33am).

Concurrently, Makena, way off in Nairobi proudly shows her first ever self portrait to her dad, the time there being 7:33pm; whereas in Maurituis’s Port Louis it’s 8:33pm and Carl the canary wants his dinner.

And so on …

Then, suddenly time restarts and things seem normal once more: now for our narrator back in Genoa, it’s 5:34pm.

Flavia Ruotolo’s seemingly simple playful presentation of people, animals and their activities is essentially a philosophical reflection on the notion of time and place that takes readers across two dozen time zones and on a lightning visit to twenty six countries. These are shown on a world map on the penultimate spread and the book concludes with an explanation of why it isn’t the same time the world over.

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes
Silke Vry and Finn Dean

Cleverly framing the topic as a metaphor for life, author Vry (who has a background in archaeology and art history) and illustrator Dean, present a survey including both historic and modern world mazes and labyrinths from various viewpoints. In so doing they encourage youngsters to ponder upon what fascinated those in bygone times and still does make these puzzles so appealing.

One thing that’s important to know at the outset of this journey is that a labyrinth is not a maze and a maze is not a labyrinth: the difference being that you cannot get lost in a labyrinth whereas you can in a maze. I vividly recall getting lost in Hampton Court maze on more than one occasion.

Have you ever thought about labyrinths in relation to the human body? that’s one of Vry’s considerations, offering the human brain, the ear and our entrails and intestines as exemplars.

Another theme looks at the the historical and mythological labyrinths and mazes; there’s the labyrinth Daedalus designed for King Minos in the ancient city of Crete, so the story goes.

Children will likely be amazed by the grand labyrinth with its rounded sides and eleven concentric circles, rich in symbolism, that is set into the floor stones in Chartres Cathedral.

Then there are labyrinths in nature too: the other day young relations of mine were thrilled to discover ammonite fossils in a Cotswold stream near where we live. There’s a spread devoted to natural world examples herein too.

There is SO much more than at first meets the eye – this is a philosophical book that can act as a kind of sacred space wherein time slows right down offering readers the opportunity of ‘being in the moment’, a meditative mode wherein there is potential for change and growth: in life, like a labyrinth, the path shifts in unexpected ways, sometimes diverting you from your goal, but ultimately leading you to the centre or your own centre. Try running a finger slowly along the lines of a labyrinth and feel its calming effect.

I could go on at length about this engrossing, alluringly illustrated book with its facts, exciting ideas and participatory invitations for maze/labyrinth drawing, but I’ll now just encourage you to get a copy for your family bookshelves, and classroom. collections – you’ll find lots of opportunities across the curriculum to share it with youngsters.

When I See Red

When I See Red
Britta Teckentrup

The child protagonist in Britta Teckentrup’s study of anger feels her fury as a gushing, twisting, twirling swirling roaring dragon that then morphs into a raging tornado as it rumbles and crashes. She bellows, booms and hollers as she roams the world seawards becoming that sea rider proud, bold and absolutely in control as she traverses the world.

Too long has she held back before pouring forth her torrent

but once she’s given vent to all that’s inside, it’s time to move forward leaving rage behind. Now storm spent, there’s a sense of freedom:

there’s a new and powerful force that comes with inhaling deeply and slowly. Let another journey commence with calmness and positivity.

The girl’s wild ride encompasses so many facets of anger, both negative and positive: she feels alone and isolated, engulfed and thoroughly overwhelmed, alarmed, perhaps frightened of the power of her emotions; on the other hand that power can be transformed into a force for good, a vehicle for changing from within.

Through her dramatic paintings, and words relating to earth and the elements, Britta portrays an emotional journey that offers youngsters both an affirmation of, and an opening to talk about their own feelings of anger. It couldn’t be more timely especially with all that everyone has gone through over the last eighteen months.

Many Shapes of Clay

Many Shapes of Clay
Kenesha Sneed

Kenesha Sneed the author and illustrator of this beautiful book is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist and creative director of Tactile Matter. Now she has created this story wherein we share in the work and daily lives of a girl named Eisha and her ceramic artist mother who works in a basement studio. Eisha too uses clay but unlike her mother, she doesn’t put her creations on a shelf and one day she forms a shape that makes her feel happy, reminding her of her Papa whom she has lost fairly recently.

As the heat of the day increases, Eisha’s Mama suggests some fresh air and they go out to do some errands. While her mother shops, Eisha sits playing with her yellow shape; now it reminds her of the ocean. Gradually though it hardens in the heat and eventually cracks, shattering into small pieces:

‘ Each piece reflects the sadness she feels.’

When her Mama sees the pieces and hears what her daughter has to say she knows instinctively of a way to help, and together they create something new and different.

With a focus on the process of healing through creativity, Kenesha Sneed’s powerful, poignant story shows a girl learning to live with her loss while at the same time using her inventiveness to fashion something new from what remains.

By using a straightforward text, Kenesha allows her striking images to convey much of the emotion and her story’s powerful message that within us all is the power to heal.

Not only will this book resonate with those who have lost someone dear to them, it also offers all youngsters an opening to talk about their feelings of loss in relation to the pandemic and what it has taken from them during the last twelve months or so, be that contact with friends, family, classmates, even normal life in general. It’s definitely one I’d advocate adding to primary class collections and family bookshelves.

Is There Life on Your Nose?

Is There Life on Your Nose?
Christian Borstlap

Dutch illustrator/designer Christian Borstlap presents a playful look at some of the vast number of microbes that occur everywhere you can imagine and places you probably can’t.

Despite his light-hearted style, there’s a lot of information contained between the covers of this book as readers are introduced to a host of these invisible organisms, starting with those living on our noses. Amazingly like all of us humans, these microorganisms are sensitive, able to move, eat and release things from within.

Contrast a single microbe with the largest living thing on our planet: I was surprised to discover that it’s a ginormous fungus that has grown to a size of 3.8 square miles and lives under the Blue Mountains in the USA. The author provides additional details about this and each of the other largely illustrative spreads presented in a ‘Find out more’ section at the end of the book.

The rate at which microbes reproduce is phenomenal as is the tolerance to extremes shown by some – those living in boiling water for instance, or barren deserts. And, did you know that some of these organisms even feed on metal,

and others on oil – both of which can be a good thing.

None of us would be able to digest our food without the action of the microbes living in various parts of our digestive system. So these are definitely vital to our well-being.

During the past year we’ve all become hyper-aware of the harmful kind of microbes, viruses, in particular COVID 19 (mentioned in the final notes) but only alluded to on the relevant spread.

With the ever growing problem of plastic waste, it’s great to read of the possibility of microbes offering an organic solution to this huge issue. Others are even able to generate clean energy through gas production.

Now you might think you’re pretty good when it comes to recycling but we learn here that microbes are actually the very best of all recyclers …

All in all, none of us would be here at all without microbes: those known as cyanobacteria produce almost 50 per cent of the oxygen we breathe.

This fascinating account has truly whetted my appetite and I can’t wait to visit Amsterdam (one of my very favourite places) again: this time I will definitely head for Microbia – the world’s only microbe museum – mentioned at the back of the book.

Pie for Breakfast

Pie for Breakfast
Cynthia Cliff

This is an attractively illustrated cook book in which the author/illustrator uses the framing device of a little girl who decides to organise a bake sale at her school fair to raise funds for the school library – a cause young Hazel loves as much as she loves baking.

Having enlisted the help of her friends, each of whom is given a double spread, we see various families engaging in creating delicious sounding treats to sell. There are thirteen in all and each recipe is presented on the recto with a full page illustration of the baker(s) on the verso.

It’s great to see that both the characters and the recipes are diverse, so whether you feel tempted by the thought of Anna’s ‘zucchini oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips,

Erin’s ‘easy jam tarts’,

Aubrey and Avery’s ‘mini pineapple trifles’, Zahira and her grandfather’s ‘nankhatai cookies’,

Layla’s ‘basbousa cake’ or perhaps Jamie’s ‘gluten-free carrot cake’, you’ll find it here.

The last spread shows the cake sale in full swing with Hazel and her friends in attendance while the final page has a list of ‘before you begin baking’ instructions.

With my weakness for chocolate, I think I’ll start with Daniel and his family’s vegan chocolate cake.

Eugene the Architect

Eugene the Architect
Thibaut Rassat

Eugene the architect is obsessive about order, liking only things that can be arranged in a neat and tidy fashion in his tall, dark home. he is especially proud of his latest creation – a tall building with not a single curve in sight. “All the buildings in the city should be like this,” he tells himself.

Fridays are his day for visiting the site to check on the progress of his new construction, but on one such Friday Eugene arrives to discover that a beautiful tree has been blown over during a gale and now lies across the centre of what is to be his third floor living room.

Despite everything he’s believed in for his entire life, to the astonishment of the workers, the man orders that the tree, with its wealth of curves, angles and elegant proportions, be left exactly where it is.

Not content with that, from that day on, Eugene begins to look differently at everything around him, especially the natural world which he discovers, has a perfection of its own kind.

Ideas flow thick and fast and even the building site workers start getting creative.

Before long there’s been a total transformation, not only of the building, but also of the architect himself. And even better, Eugene has considered the entire town in his magnificent masterpiece.

Superficially fairly simple as this story with its delightfully quirky illustrations, might be, it is an invitation to readers to think about aesthetics, the built environment, and its impact on everyone and everything.

Veggie Power

Veggie Power
Olaf Hajek and Annette Roeder

Award-winning illustrator, Olaf Hajek serves up a veritable feast of deliciously inventive visual stories to relish alongside author, Annette Roeder’s taste-bud tingling verbal platters of mind-boggling textual information. Just the thing to satisfy this vegan reviewer despite her aversion to several of the root vegetables that grace the pages of this large playful book. One of them being the parsnips that along with carrots, are the subject of the first spread. I was amazed to discover that members of the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra make use of these (as well as quite a few others featured herein) as musical instruments: imagine playing a carrot recorder or flute, for instance.

Over twenty vegetables are included in this culinary offering, but the author produces more than mere cooking related information: there are garnishings of historical and botanical tidbits, as well as sprinklings of health and healing- related facts.

One of my very favourite veggies is broccoli and I was vastly amused to read that it’s celebrated on not just one but two days: there’s St. Broccoli Day on March 18th and National We Love Broccoli Day just four days later on 22nd. 

I’m also extremely partial to both spinach and chard which share a spread, as well as a place in our garden. My mouth is watering at the prospect of those yummy leaves that take centre stage in Hajek’s energetic illustration of same. 

If being strictly accurate, there are a few interlopers at this veggie fest. for the tomato, as well as the peppers and chilli are botanically classified as fruit. However why exclude them when they’re usually served as vegetables?

A bountiful harvest is assuredly the result of this collaboration, albeit a lusciously quirky one. Food fun for everyone.

All Around Bustletown: Summer / All Around Bustletown: Autumn

All Around Bustletown: Summer
All Around Bustletown: Autumn

Rotraut Susanne Berner
Prestel Publishing

Completing the seasonal visits to Bustletown are these two seek-and-find books from Hans Christian Andersen award winner, Rotraut Susanne Berner.

The only words in the books apart from the plethora of signs, shop names etc. in the seven scenes of each, are found on the back cover. Nevertheless children will enjoy look, look, looking, over and over, inventing their own tales about the characters they meet on the pages; or instead, taking one particular scene and making up a story about what’s happening thereon.

For instance, there is a woman who is celebrating her birthday and has invited all her friends to a party in the park. Or why not follow Martha the penguin-loving nun who delightedly adds a penguin balloon to the fan she’s carrying only to have it blown away in a sudden squally downpour? Does she manage to retrieve it? You can find out on the final party spread.

Then there’s bookseller Wyatt, another party invitee: I’m sure Cara will be happy with his surprise gifts, not to mention the love element between the red-helmeted guy and the woman in checked-cut-off trousers. Do they make it to the party or head off elsewhere?

Oh! There’s also a mouse hiding in plain sight on every spread too: he needs to watch out for Tom the cat.

Autumn is the time when Bustletown holds a special festival and everyone is busy preparing. There’s an abundance of pumpkins large and small ready to be carved in the competition and the kindergarten we saw being built in the Summer book is now celebrating its opening with a lantern parade: so look out for children carrying all kinds of wonderful lanterns on every spread.

Martha the nun is there with her penguin too as well as, when she reaches the café on the final page, a funky ladybird lantern.

Oh my goodness: George and Anne’s huge pumpkin looks so heavy they can hardly manage to lift it up the steps and into the cultural centre where the carving is to take place.

Once again, there’s an absolute wealth of stories told and more waiting for readers to invent: just so many ways youngsters to let their imaginations soar here. The sturdy board book build of these two means that they should stand up to the enthusiastic use I envisage they’ll get if you add them to your collection.

What’s in the Egg? & Funny Birds / In the Butterfly Garden

What’s in the Egg?
Maike Biederstädt
Prestel Publishing

Taking readers to a variety of locations – the branches of a tree, the South Pole, a sandy beach, a coral reef, a tropical riverbank and finally, a milkweed plant, a paragraph of text explores the titular question.

Thus, we see life emerging into view as in turn, a hungry blackbird chick breaks out of its shell; baby penguins emerge from their eggs; tiny newly hatched turtles start their journey from eggshell to sea as dusk falls; a male clownfish keeps watch over babies in their transparent eggs; using her gaping mouth, a mother crocodile carries her newborn baby crocodiles to the river

and on the last spread the entire life-cycle of a monarch butterfly is shown.

The elaborate paper-engineering that Maike Biederstädt uses to make her boldy hued, detailed scenes explode into life is amazing.

Youngsters will learn some interesting facts about each of the animals and their habitats as they enjoy the superb visuals. For instance they’ll be fascinated to discover that a father penguin carries an egg on his feet and uses his feathers to keep it warm.

More superb paper-engineering is the essence of these two books also from Prestel that I missed when they were first published:

Funny Birds / In the Butterfly Garden
Philippe Ug

Philippe’s incredible cut-out illustrations carry most of the story as we follow, in the first title, a group of exotic ‘funny birds’ and the hatching of their new babies. High up in a tree, a nest holds eggs safely hidden from view until the fledglings are ready to emerge and explore their external environment on that first day.
Using rich colours Ug has created eight awesomely intricate 3D scenes of birds of various shapes and sizes

for us to feast our eyes upon.

In the Butterfly Garden little ones can follow the story of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into chrysalis from whence emerges a beautiful butterfly.

There are other tiny insects hiding in the garden’s foliage too, including ladybirds, ants, a dragonfly; there’s even a praying mantis just poised ready to snatch a snack. Then as day gives way to night, it’s time for the moth to take to the wing.

Again in Ug’s eight scenes there’s considerable attention to detail and a rich colour palette.

A Brief History of Life on Earth

A Brief History of Life on Earth
Clémence Dupont
Prestel Children’s Books

Wow! This story of life on earth truly does unfold in dramatic concertina style – to the length of one of the dinosaurs included herein, a triceratops. That though is getting ahead of things for the book begins around 4.6 billion years ago in the Hadean Age when the Earth was mega-hot and very young, the first eon of Earth history.

Thereafter comes a whistle-stop tour of the fifteen subsequent geological periods, each of which has a factual paragraph and a superb illustration.

It’s at the end of the Proterozoic Age, in what’s called the Ediacaran Period, the first (soft-bodied) organisms appeared.

Next, the Cambrian Period was when aquatic life exploded around the coastlines of continents and evolution of life gave rise to a huge variety of forms including some with a skeleton, digestive system, eyes and gills.

Aquatic life developed a-pace through the Ordovician Period (-490 to 445 million years ago) and plant life began to move onto the mainland in the form of mosses and fungi.

Then came the Silurian Period and the Devonian period, the latter being a time of extreme heat during which life diversified even more. The first sharks appeared and animal life began to make the move towards land.

We’ve now reached the Carboniferous period with its great trees, huge insects and a wealth of plant life, which eventually became buried and over 1000,000s of years compressed to form deposits of coal.

By the Permian Period, the land masses had come together creating a vast super-continent when reptile-like mammals roamed only to die out and become replaced in the Triassic Period by mammals, the first amphibians and the soon-to-be dominant dinosaurs.

Did you know that the continental split began in the Jurassic Period, the golden age of dinosaurs including Diplodocus, Ankylosaurus and Archaeopteryx. The Jurassic and Cretaceous periods saw a further drifting apart of continents and the appearance of Tyrannosaurus as well as bees and flowering plants.

Moving forwards to the hot, humid Paleogene Period, there was a huge diversification of birds and mammals around the globe; then again the climate cooled and during the Neogene Period apes, ancestors of the elephant appeared, and ungulates became widespread.
Humans evolved into their modern form during the Pleistocene Epoch becoming hunters and fishers; they also began to develop language and artistic expression.
We’re now in the Holocene Epoch, which began 11,700 years ago and readers will recognise the modern landscape shown on this penultimate spread.

Phew – such astonishing changes and so beautifully presented in this zigzag style book. A-MA-ZING!

Who is Afraid of Little Wolf? / Marley Bear at the farm / Ottie Elephant in the town

Who is Afraid of Little Wolf?
Yayo Kawamura
Prestel Publishing

A bored little wolf is eager to find a playmate but he’s rebuffed in turn by little squirrel, little rabbit and little fox each saying that their mother doesn’t allow them to play with wolves.

Feeling rejected and sad, the little wolf hears a voice inviting him to play. It’s little bee, who is definitely not afraid of him and wants to play hide and seek.

So much fun do they have that the forest resounds with their playfulness.

All of a sudden, first squirrel and then a host of other animals want to join the game …

It’s never too early to demonstrate to the very youngest the importance of friendship and of not prejudging others; Yayo Kawamura’s delightful little book with its endearing characters does both of those without a hint of preachiness.

Marley Bear at the farm
Ottie Elephant in the town

Melissa Crowton
Nosy Crow

Part novelty lift-the-flap, part seek-and-find, these tactile board books, the first two of a new series, involve little ones from the outset.

Marley Bear stars in the first book and we join him on a farm visit. There’s plenty to discover as he’s greeted by Gus Lion,

encounters some noisy farm animals including a pig family, a soft, fluffy sheep (very strokable) and then looks at more farm animals, the farmhouse and a truck before jumping into his car to drive home. Highly interactive, with some subtle positional vocabulary learning (in front/behind).

It’s a busy day when Ottie Elephant makes a trip to town; the place is bustling with shoppers and full of noise;

there are many colourful sights to enjoy, and as well as counting Ottie’s flowers, little ones can explore her shopping basket before she sets off home for some welcome refreshments.

Little Duck Duck hides in plain sight in every spread adding to the enjoyment of both books.

Lots of inherent learning, but most important, lots of fun to share with tinies.



Wilderness: Earth’s Amazing Habitats

Wilderness: Earth’s Amazing Habitats
Mia Cassany and Marcos Navarro
Prestel Publishing

This large size book showcases earth’s wildernesses that are the ‘habitats of rare animals and plants’.

Readers are taken to sixteen locations around the world, the planet’s wild regions such as Nioko-Koba National Park in Senegal; Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Qinling Mountains of China; the Sundarban islands (an Indian national park).

There are forest regions – that of Skihote-Alin National Park in far eastern Russia being a mix of subtropical and taiga and hence contains a mix of animal species not normally found together; the tropical rainforests of Malaysia where it’s estimated that some species are more than 100 million years old – awesome! See how stunning some of its butterfly and moth species are …

The unique Madagascan tropical rainforests wherein live almost 300 species of frogs and huge numbers of geckos, are sadly we read, under enormous threat from human actions.

Happily however, the Sri Lankan Sinharaja Forest Reserve is unspoilt since it’s almost impenetrable to humans and contains numerous rare and endangered animal species including the long-nosed whip snake and the purple-faced langur.

In addition to several other rainforest locations, we visit Tortuguero National Park on the Costa Rican coast that is a mix of beach, freshwater creeks and lagoons and surrounding rainforest. In complete contrast is the boreal (taiga) forest wilderness of north Canada, Alaska and Russia and is the most northerly of the world’s nature reserves.

Each of the landscapes is stunningly illustrated by Marcos Navarro, making each spread a visual delight before one even starts to explore closely, the fauna and flora depicted; or to read Mia Cassany’s informative paragraph(s) giving geographical and biological facts on the native species.

The final pages home in on some of animals, drawing attention to their characteristics and habits in brief paragraphs of text alongside small, labelled pictures of the featured habitats.

The book’s large format serves to draw readers in to each stopping place, making one want to linger long and explore the beauty of every spread.

Board Book Extravaganza

Cat & Mouse
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel Publishing
There’s a surprise ending in store for listeners to this rhyming tale of a cat and mouse chase.

That though is getting ahead of the tale that begins with a warning to Little Mouse to hide inside the blue house. Through the door goes Little Mouse but the door is open wide so another furry creature enters too.
A chase ensues with Mouse running round and round eventually diving down a hole leaving the moggy pondering momentarily on his whereabouts and the little rodent in boastful mood.

Not for long however for the mouse soon exits the hole and the chase is on again.

A clever manoeuvre on Mouse’s part sees him outside under the moonlight without a hint of a cat. Not for long though for Mouse is being trailed around and about and back to the house that both creatures enter. But is all as it first appeared?

With its strategically placed die-cuts, minimalist illustrations and playful narrative this board book will amuse little ones who watch the lively events as they unfold towards the unexpected finale.

Hug Me Little Bear
Chronicle Books
Here’s a very cute little finger puppet book that, courtesy of a thoroughly endearing parent bear, little ones find out what arms can do. There’s a favourite song to dance together to; a gentle game of lift and catch; scrummy breakfast treats to cook up; a tummy tickle and best of all lots of ‘I love you’ hugs.

Full of sweetness and bound to bring on big smiles is this cuddlesome offering.

Little Plane
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books
It’s take off time for Little Plane. He zooms skywards for an adventure one beautiful day. However his playful flight suddenly encounters some turbulence courtesy of the smoke pouring from the factory chimneys to which he gets a tad too close.
His landing attempts as he skims and tries to stop atop a tree and whizzes into a very muddy mountain aren’t a great success; and then it looks as though our intrepid friend is about to become engulfed within the huge open mouth of a building.

All ends happily though as Little Plane emerges safely, ready to fly off back home, looking even more shiny-bright than when he began his adventure. (A plane-wash perhaps?)

Little Plane is, like most little humans, learning by experience to cope with the ups and downs of life, and showing resilience in so doing.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site: Bulldozer’s Shapes
Sherri Duskey and Ethan Long
Chronicle Books

Get ready to shape up along with your little ones and their favourite construction vehicles, in particular big Bulldozer. Aided and abetted by Crane Truck he prepares the site for building. Along the way he shifts the rubble forming first a squiggle, then a ‘triangle’ (strictly speaking though it’s a cone), a circle, a diamond, a rectangle (kind of! But it’s more of a cuboid), a star, an oval and he finishes by squaring the plot off, nice and flat.

With Sherri Duskey’s rhyming couplets and Ethan Long’s digital art this little book will appeal to the many established fans of the series. I’d suggest reading it along with some small world construction toys and a set of both 2D and 3D shapes.

Pigs in a Blanket
Hans Wilhelm and Erica Salcedo
Chronicle Books

Before you  even open up the first page, you’ll be captivated by this charmer with the porcine trio fast asleep tucked cosily beneath the wrap-around blanket that stays in place courtesy of the strategically placed hidden magnet on the front cover.

We then follow the pigs as they wake up, playfully get dressed and style their hair before setting out for a run. The three also attend a ballet class, do a spot of baking, revel in some puddle jumping followed by a warm-up treat.

Goodness they do pack a lot into their day, as there’s still time for some theatrical fun before their bath, tooth-brushing and final clambering back into bed in their moonlit room.

Wilhem’s rhyming text coupled with Salcedo’s comical, energetic piggy scenes make for a fun-filled book that celebrates the simple delights of early childhood and is ideal for sharing with the very young, who are likely to recognise the piggies’ actions as akin to their own.

My Town’s (Extra) Ordinary People / This Love

My Town’s (Extra) Ordinary People
Mikel Casal
Prestel Publishing

Everybody, no matter who they are, or where they’re from is worth valuing; that is the inherent message in Mikel Casal’s amusing look at examples of humankind residing in a seaside town.

Theo, the boy narrator introduces first himself and then another 22 characters, each unique and special, who also live in the town. Some are young, others old and many in-between.

There’s Theo’s best pal Felix an expert skateboarder, aspiring jazz guitarist Kim, Alexandra the potter (who ‘shapes beautiful and useful objects that please our senses’), Dave the gentle giant, cool Mike who loves to surf, bookstore owner Sara, Jalen creator of art from geometric shapes.

We also meet Abigail, someone after my own heart who is always immersed in a book;

and Lorca accompanied by Deshaun his dad who insists on reciting poetry as they walk to school together.

And I’m sure readers will take to free-spirited Ayaan who one hot summer day, filled the back of his pickup truck with water for his much-loved nephews Rashid and Ismail to frolic in.

Each and every one and the others not mentioned here have something to admire, not least being Zaza. This elegant guy receives numerous invitations because ‘when he has arrived, so has the party!’ There’s even a Labrador, Nickel owned by Felix’s grandpa.

Spanish artist Casal’s retro style screen print illustrations are arresting and delightfully playful.

Adults might try inviting youngsters to contemplate those in their own lives and doing as Theo suggests and looking for the extraordinary something in them all. This would make a super class project especially if those involved illustrated their ideas.

For younger children is:

This Love
Isabel Otter and Harriet Lynas
Caterpillar Books

The universality of love and its power to unite is celebrated in Isabel Otter’s rhyming text and Harriet Lynas’s richly coloured illustrations of children and adults showing and sharing love around the world and through the seasons.

There’s parental love expressed both outdoors and in: love of a playful loyal pet; love of friends whatever the weather;

the love shown by a patient grandparent; and love towards a new-born sibling.

No matter who, no matter where, urges the rhyme, ‘join hands and stand up tall. / Love is a special language / that’s understood by all.’

A book to enjoy and discuss with little ones.

The Song of Spring

The Song of Spring
Hendrik Jonas
Prestel Publishing

Spring is on its way and the birds are singing their springtime songs to ‘attract some friends’. Mr Blackbird sings for Mrs Blackbird and so it is with Mr Robin and all the other birds. Or rather, all but one little bird. He cannot remember his spring song but he really wants a friend so he has a go anyway …

An enthusiastic dog responds but a dog isn’t what our feathered friend seeks so he has another go, and another and …

His oink, moo, meow, meh and hee-haw result in the arrival of the corresponding animals until the little bird is surrounded by new friends though there’s not a bird among them.

His friends are at a loss to know how to help. Silence ensues until the bird emits a sudden, unexpected …

The outcome is entirely satisfactory, not only for the little bird, but also for his farmyard friends and celebratory sounds are heard all around.

Both adorable and suddenly, funny, this book is sure to have your little ones giggling in delight and enthusiastically joining in by yelling the names of the farmyard animals that little bird emulates and making their sounds. Doubtless they’ll also enjoy attempting the ‘deafening’ parp!

Jonas’ watercolour and collage style illustrations are wonderfully expressive and totally alluring when it comes to generating audience participation.

Oskar Can …

Oskar Can …
Britta Teckentrup

This blog has been a fan of Oskar, Britta’s little raven character from his first appearance a couple of years ago. Now he’s back in a celebration of all the things he can do.

His achievements are diverse and beautifully visualised in a series of very amusing scenes of jumping, counting, making a cuppa brewed to perfection to share with best pal Mo,

singing, digging holes – show me a youngster who doesn’t love that; then there’s creating pebble towers (his are always super tall), ski-ing, ice-dancing,

swimming (almost unaided) and riding a tandem with Mo. The list just goes on.

He’s even a bit of a yogi. (I love his downward facing dog –and balances); perhaps he should try a crow pose next, I’m sure he’d soon add that to his ‘can do’ list.

With its inherent message about celebrating what children CAN do rather than forever pressurising them into constantly feeling the need to perform, be it at school or home, this is a smashing little story to share with little ones.

Alternatively for those in the early stages of reading, it’s an ideal ‘I can read’ book. I know whom I shall offer it to for that purpose next time I see her.

I always tell children ‘I don’t know CAN’T’ so it’s a huge HURRAH! for little Oskar with all his positivity.

Come into the Garden – A Big Garden / The Magic Garden

A Big Garden
Gillles Clément and Vincent Gravé
Prestel Publishing

As I write, our garden is really starting to burst forth: leaves are unfurling, flower buds are opening everywhere, birds are beginning to nest – spring has finally arrived.

Now is the time to celebrate and how better than with this unusual edition that originated in France. It’s a truly mind-blowing book with a wide age range appeal, and BIG it surely is to encompass that titular big garden.

Prepare yourself to get totally lost within each and every awesomely beautiful illustration as, starting with May, we are treated to a month by month close up look at the seasons alongside the gardener who tends it.

The text is a straightforward miscellany of horticultural musings with the occasional flight of fancy: September being given over to the gardener himself.

However, it’s those intricately detailed illustrations that will entrap you as you explore the intricately detailed pictorial pages,

June Fruit

each one comprising a plethora of fanciful mini-scenes, and search for the hidden objects mentioned on the prose pages.

And be sure to peruse the title pages and endpapers; they too are superb.

For younger readers is

The Magic Garden
Walter Foster Jr.

Do you think of your garden as magic? Probably not, although you perhaps do notice and enjoy the seasonal changes, and the abundant wildlife that inhabits it.

Not so, young Chloe the protagonist of this book which begins one autumn afternoon with her walking without awareness until suddenly a sound causes her to pause beside the tree and take notice of its colourful leaves; it’s as if the wind is whispering to her.

Thereafter we’re taken on a journey of her garden where we can observe some of the wonderful creatures that live there – among the branches,

behind stones, in the pond – taking note of seasonal activity and change.

We see the garden by day but also by night when other insects make their presence known.

Some animals prefer to keep themselves hidden and readers are encouraged to look more closely for those as well as noticing the brightly coloured ones.

The seasons pass, the tree too changes: it’s bedecked with blossom, laden with fruits.

All this and more is part and parcel of this seemingly ordinary, yet ‘magical’ place. I prefer the use of magical rather than magic; for me nature is awesome and magical but not magic – a potential talking point when you share the book with children.

It’s beautifully designed and illustrated with much of the text taking the form of the wind’s words to the child.

Magical Journeys of the Night

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Before I Wake Up …
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel Publishing
As she sails away on a flying bed, a little girl narrator takes readers on her dream journey into the glowing moonlit world and, pausing first to take on board her lion friend, into her imaginary ‘world without end’. Cares and worries are left far behind as – child enfolded in Lion’s strong arms – they weather storms …


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then rock gently on calmer waters. Leaving Lion aboard the boat, the little girl swims with whales and other marine animals …

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and then the two are transported into a wood dark and deep – a wood full of wild creatures that wander free …

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creatures that present no danger to the narrator. For with her protective lion always close at hand, she feels fearless and longs to remain in the murky world on the shadowy forest. But as morning light begins to show, it’s time to flee from dark and move into the bright of day’s dawn; time to bid a fond farewell to her furry nocturnal friend, safe in the knowledge that after another day, his arms will always be there waiting to welcome her once more.

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I’ve long been a fan of Britta Teckentrup’s work but this one might just be my favourite. Imagined worlds are conjured into being in her wondrous dreamy scenes rendered in a glowing collage style that is densely layered and alternates between rich earthy hues …

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and more subdued ones.
Share this one at bedtime, morning time, any time, but share it you must, it’s a real beauty.

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Goodnight Spaceman
Michelle Robinson and Nick East
Puffin Books
It’s bedtime and we join two small child narrators as they bid goodnight to the various items in their small world space set,

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putting them carefully into the toy box at the end of the day. Then having also bid goodnight to their father’s rocket ship deep in space, the children embark on an imaginary flight far out into the darkest world of outer space. There, they rendezvous with the space station –

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meet the crew …

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and with their dad, enjoy a space walk addressing the extra terrestrial sights as they go. ‘Goodnight Neptune. Goodnight Venus. Goodnight light years in between us. Rocket ships and shooting stars. Saturn, Mercury and Mars.’
All too soon though, it’s time to return to earth and snuggle down in their cosy beds with thoughts of their spaceman dad ever in their minds.
Inspired by the mission of British astronaut Tim Peake, who himself has two young sons, this lyrical space odyssey will delight young listeners around the age of the two protagonists who will revel in the adventure at bedtime or anytime. In all my years of teaching young children I’ve not come across many who do not take delight in space stories and play with small world space theme toys. Let’s hope that this book will, as Tim Peake suggests in his introductory letter to readers, ‘inspire a new generation of boys and girls to look up at the stars and not just ask questions but to go there and seek answers of their own.’ Nick East’s dramatic illustrations should certainly go some way to fuelling that inspiration and their imaginations.

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