The Book that Did Not Want to be Read

The Book that Did Not Want to be Read
David Sundin (translated by B.J. Woodstein, graphic design Alexis Holmqvist
Puffin Books

What do you do about a book that says on the cover ‘Put it down. Do not open’? Maybe toss it aside to the rejects pile and not bother writing a review or defy those six words, plunge in and face the outcome.

David Sundin is a Swedish comedian, screenwriter, actor and television show host and this somewhat bizarre book is his story for a child unable to fall asleep who requests an adult read a story – this one.

By the second spread though, the book has turned into a steering wheel (centrally placed by Holmqvist) and we’re careering right and left, sounding the horn loudly before reaching a destination.

But then in order to put off the adult attempting to read it, lots of new words suddenly start appearing, not normal words but gibberish. If the reader survives and thinks it’ll be plain sailing thereafter, they’re wrong.

Many more challenges follow – wings appear, the text keeps changing size, the sound of music means a song must be sung, fire breaks out, letters become other letters …

and more. Lovely ending though. But PHEW! I’m exhausted after attempting to read it.

Adult readers aloud who enjoy giving a theatrical performance when sharing a book can have terrific fun with this, so too of course will young audiences.

How to Grow a Unicorn

How to Grow a Unicorn
Rachel Morrisroe and Steven Lenton
Puffin Books

Unicorn mania continues to grow apace and this book is especially magical, not in the usual way though, but actually in lots of ways.

It all begins when Sarah pays a visit to Mr Pottifer’s Parlour of Plants in search of an extra special present for her gran’s 88th birthday. She surely gets the surprise of her life when she steps inside to be greeted by…

The shop is full of botanical specimens doing very unplantlike things: there were runner beans racing in a hailstorm, foxgloves boxing,

a cowslip squirting milk to name just a few. But then a packet of seeds catches Sarah’s eye and she knows this is just the thing for Gran.

Back home, she follows the planting instructions on the packet – well only some of them – for instead of planting a single seed as recommended, she uses the entire twenty-four. During the night vines start creeping and come morning Gran’s house is engulfed.

Suddenly …

Before long the creatures are causing utter chaos,(Steve clearly had huge fun creating the relevant scenes) trashing all the party paraphernalia; but is Gran upset? No she isn’t. Instead she leads a procession of gallivanting unicorns and a worried Sarah back to Mr Pottifer’s shop.

Rather than be a party pooper, I’ll leave them there with the girl explaining her plight to Mr P. But you can rest assured that the end of Rachel’s rhyming story will utterly delight not only Gran, but young audiences and adult sharers too. (I love Sarah’s letter on the inside back cover too.)

Steve Lenton’s richly patterned illustrations are both full of humour and feeling; and his rainbow hued colour palette make his scenes all the more alluring.

How to Change the World / Climate Rebels

How to Change the World
Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Annabel Tempest
Puffin Books

In her follow up to How to be Extraordinary, Rashmi Sirdeshpande presents a companion book in which she shows what a large impact can be made by people working together. There are fifteen stories of teamwork that start way back in sixth century BCE Athens with the origins of the very first democracy and is followed by a look at the incredible human engineering collaboration involved in the building of the Great Pyramid in the desert of ancient Egypt.

Then come the campaigns for change – well known and less so – in various parts of the world. Thus among environmental campaigners we have not only the universally known Greenpeace and the Montreal Protocol banning CFCs, but also the Treeplanters of Piplantri that I know of only because a friend took me to visit the village in Rajasthan a few years back. (Every time a girl is born 111 trees are planted in honour of the chief’s daughter who died during a drought around fifteen years ago).

Then, as well as the Montgomery Bus Boycott triggered by Rosa Parks’ action, there is the Singing Revolution in Estonia where people used song to tell the world that this small country had always been a free nation.

Following the spread about the abolition of slavery campaign in the British Empire is one about the 1965 Freedom Ride campaigning for justice for the indigenous people of Australia.

Alluringly illustrated by Annabel Tempest and attractively laid out, each spread with its well-written text offers an example of high quality narrative non-fiction for primary readers.

The same is true of

Climate Rebels
Ben Lerwill
Puffin Books

‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it’. Robert Swan’s quote at the beginning of this book is a powerful reminder that the terrible effects of climate change can only be arrested through our individual and collective actions.

Award winning writer Ben Lerwill presents twenty five inspiring and fascinating stories of individuals (and some groups) who have worked tirelessly and continue to do so for the causes in which they believe so passionately.

Among those featured are Dr Jane Goodall (who wrote the book’s introduction), Sir David Attenborough, the Greenpeace founders, Rachel Carson and Greta Thunberg. Alongside those are accounts of less famous names – The Guajajara Guardians –

who often risk their lives while working to protect the Amazon Rainforest; and William Kamkwamba who built a windmill in a small village in Malawi and went on to build more that pump water to the crops in the fields, thus improving the life of his entire community through renewable energy.

Not only is this book a powerful call to action; it’s also a reminder that we need to stand together – there might just be time to make those crucial changes to the climate change story.

Compellingly written in a lively style and illustrated by Masha Ukhova, Stephanie Son, Chellie Carroll, Hannah Peck and Iratxe Lopez de Munain, this book is strongly recommended for home and school reading.

Dogger’s Christmas

Dogger’s Christmas
Shirley Hughes
Puffin Books

I think Shirley’s Dogger has been introduced to every foundation stage and KS1 class I’ve ever taught so I was enormously excited to see Dave’s beloved toy dog return in a seasonal sequel. Now considerably older, Dave still takes his favourite soft toy to bed with him every night, although his interest in toys has broadened to all kinds of vehicles.

As Christmas approaches, we share the family’s preparations – writing to Father Christmas, putting up decorations, shopping –

till, come Christmas Eve, the tree is a-glow and the children’s stockings are ready to hang up.

Next morning there’s huge excitement as Dave, Bella and Joe open their presents littering the floor with the wrappings. They also give their own specially chosen gifts to their Mum and Dad before Bella and Mum visit a neighbour, leaving Dad busy with the Christmas dinner ready for the arrival of Granny and Grandpa.

After a wonderful family day, when the visitors have gone and the children are in bed, disaster strikes. Dave wakes to discover that his beloved Dogger is missing. His parents and Bella help him search but of Dogger, there’s no sign.

Next morning and in the days following Dave is totally downcast; he’s sad that he’d neglected his old favourite and not interested in his new toys. Surely Dogger can’t be lost forever? No of course not, for this special toy has not lost his own knack of turning up in the most unlikely of places.

Shirley’s magic shows no sign of waning in this wonderful festive sequel to her original, now classic, picture book. Every spread exudes love and warmth – both in the account of the family, and in Shirley’s illustrations. It’s interesting to see how much Dave, Bella and little Joe appear to have grown.

A must for family sharing this Christmas, and for many to come.

The Puffin Keeper

The Puffin Keeper
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Benji Davies
Puffin Books

National treasure and author Michael Morpurgo has written this story about puffins with Puffin Books’ 80th birthday in mind. Michael is the son-in-law of Allen Lane the founder of Puffin Books whose metaphorical lighthouse lamp definitely illuminated my childhood. Here he has interwoven his own family history, the Scilly Isles, a threatened bird and his fascination with lighthouses, to create a truly memorable read for all ages.

The extraordinary tale begins one dark stormy night just off the coast of the Scilly Isles when bound for Liverpool from New York, a four-masted schooner with its masts broken and sails in tatters, starts to sink with thirty passengers and crew aboard. The event is watched from high up in his lighthouse by the keeper, Benjamin Postlethwaite who risks life and limb to rescue everyone including the story’s narrator, then five years old, and his widowed French mother.

Making several journeys in his tiny rowing boat this brave man rows back and forth five times until everyone is safely on the island. Then in his lighthouse, he silently brews pot after pot of tea, ensuring that all the rescued were kept warm. The boy, an observant lad, is amazed by the paintings of boats done on cardboard scraps and bits of wood each one signed merely BEN, that adorn the walls. The following day when those from the ship are taken from the island, Benjamin gives the boy a painting of a four-masted schooner similar to that from which he’d been rescued.

The boy and his mother then go to live on Dartmoor with his mother’s dour in-laws. Among the horrors the lad has to cope with are Miss Duval (or Devil) a cruel nanny cum governess; following his ultra-strict grandfather’s regime, and at age eight being sent to boarding school where cross country running meted out as punishment becomes a pleasure

and then a medal-winning success. The boy also discovers the joys of painting and reading storybooks but never does he forget Benjamin Postlethwaite.

Having come across an article about the rescue in an old magazine, the boy writes to Benjamin asking if he’d mind a visit from him one day. Around the address he paints a copy of the picture he’s been given. But no reply does he receive.

One day, informing his mother that he’s going on a journey of exploration, he leaves (with her approval) on his bike.

Where is he going? …
That’s nowhere near the end of this wonderful tale but if you want to discover what happens, then get yourself a copy.

In Michael’s prose no matter what his subject, there’s a simple eloquence and perceptive pitch-perfect beauty; and this story with its soft-spoken conservation message and themes of hope and fresh beginnings is, ultimately, uplifting. I can think of no better artist for the book than Benji Davies, whose illustrations with their subtle shades, somewhat reminiscent of Ravilious, truly bring to life the characters, the various settings and the feelings evoked in the text.

A book to have, to hold, to share and, to treasure.

The Bear in the Stars

The Bear in the Stars
Alexis Snell
Puffin Books

Accompanied by a series of stunning lino-cut prints, Alexis Snell tells the story of a polar bear, forced to leave the ‘cold, glistening place’ that is her home, on account of climate change.

In this fable we learn how over the years as the ice gradually disappeared, one by one, other animals have had no choice but to move on and seek new places to live. Now it’s the turn of the Great Bear to leave her natural abode and search for another safe location.

Swept across a raging sea, she finds a likely-seeming place

but it’s only temporary and then she’s swept on again down a rushing river upon the banks of which she encounters another bear – black and kindly – that tells her of a cool lake with fish aplenty.

Off she goes again and having sated her appetite, is briefly happy, but then the sun comes and off she goes to look for somewhere cooler. Now over-hot in her thick white fur, all she can find are lemon trees – no food for Bear these sour fruits. Her only solace is the stars in this changed world and with the morning a troop of monkeys come to her aid guiding her towards a ‘place that may help you’. Many hours later they reach a ‘human town’ and there, having settled her in a cool building, the monkeys leave her to sleep – long and deep.

On waking however, it’s not long before she learns that in this increasingly hot human world, it’s only the temperature that is growing ever warmer: human hearts remain cold and unwelcoming … until one single, small act of kindness changes everything … most certainly for our ursine traveller;

but what about those humans? One can but remember, wish and hope … and …

Using a changing colour palette from blues to reds, and then as the world recovers, to greens, Alexis’s is a tale of hope for a future that is better. That’s the vital message that one wants youngsters to take from this beautiful book. That and the determination to be part of the change that MUST be made by every single one of us.

A book for all, everywhere.

There’s an Alien In Your Book

There’s an Alien in Your Book
Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott
Puffin Books

Just out in paperback is the latest in the series wherein different characters invade a book and the book itself becomes part and parcel of the story-telling device.

The Fletcher/Abbott team were on to a good thing when they created that monster a couple of years back. Now in the fourth interactive extravaganza it’s the turn of a little alien and it arrives on account of its spaceship crash-landing on the first page in a cloud of smoke.

With the spacecraft appearing to be broken beyond repair, it’s up to us (adult and child together) to try and get the little creature back home where he belongs – but how?

Certainly not by pulling a scary face – that only serves to make him sob and need some TLC. Instead we can jiggle and wriggle the book in various directions

and if that isn’t successful, maybe try imagining various earth animals so our visitor knows he doesn’t belong.

Or is there perhaps an alternative solution altogether?

With bright, zany illustrations from Gregg Abbott, its themes of difference, acceptance and friendship,

this fun book is a great share with an important message that is never too early for little ones to begin to think about.


Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison
Puffin Books

You’ll surely be awed by the sheer beauty of the illustrations in this wonderful book.

It tells of young Sulwe (her name means star in the Kenyan Luo language) who was ‘born the colour of midnight.’ Her skin is darker than anyone else in her multi-hued family and when children at school call her names, Sulwe decides to lighten her skin. Nothing she tries, however, makes any difference,

and next morning her mother talks to her of her inner brightness and beauty; still though Sulwe isn’t convinced:

how can she be a star, she wonders.

That same night on a magical journey she discovers a fable wherein two sisters Night and Day get very different reactions from people, those towards Day are positive while Night receives negative ones. As a result she leaves the earth taking with her dreams and secrets, until her sister’s “we need you just the way you are” persuades her to return.

Now Sulwe understands that she too is “Dark and beautiful, bright and strong.’

This is a debut picture book for Kenyan actor/producer Lupita Nyong’o who based the story on her own childhood experience. She confronts the crucial and sensitive topic of skin colour head on, but in a way that young children can relate to. (I recall being extremely distressed when I first started teaching to find a 5- year old boy from Nigeria covering his arms with white chalk. He told me that he was trying to get his skin light like his friends. Nothing I said could persuade him that he was just perfect as he was.) Vashti Harrison wonderful illustrations are a celebration of all skin tones reinforcing Lupita’s message that everyone, like Sulwe, is uniquely beautiful, inside and out.

A must have book for all primary schools.

Don’t Mess with a Princess!

Don’t Mess with a Princess!
Rachel Valentine and Rebecca Bagley
Puffin Books

Far away in a beautiful and usually very happy kingdom atop a hill lives King Juno. Also residing in the palace are his three granddaughters Princess Thea, Princess Leaf and Princess Juno.

Now these three aren’t the type of princess who sits around waiting for a handsome prince to show up and sweep them off their feet, far from it.

So when having heard news of a mayhem creating Ogre, the King warns them to remain in their tower and absolutely not, on any account to mess with the Ogre, they quickly conceive a plan.

The sisters are thoroughly resourceful females and it isn’t long before they’re off towards the forest – an enchanted forest. But, unlike the knights sent to capture the Ogre, the three princesses know just how to get themselves safely through the angry trees and come out with, as Juno says, ‘fabulous hair’.

But can they cope with the webbed pit alive with large squirming spiders?

Fortunately Theo knows how to deal with the creatures and then all they need to do is cross the ravine with the broken bridge.

This time it’s Leaf who comes up trumps with some deft knots.

The important thing about all three princesses is that while not totally fearless, they’re always up for a challenge.

Once across and in Neatville they’re greeted with the sight of the Ogre charging off to trash yet another village. Off go the princesses in hot pursuit and finally they have the Ogre trussed up.

It’s then that they discover the reason their captive has been causing so much devastation; and being kind-hearted as well as clever, Thea, Leaf and Juno are ready and able to assist the Ogre in his search for his lost item.

If, like me you enjoy neo fairy tales then you’re certain to relish Rachel Valentine’s action-packed story of using your talents and not allowing others to make decisions for you.

Debut picture book illustrator Rebecca Valentine’s droll scenes of the three creative adventurers highlight the contrast between them and the supposedly brave knights of the kingdom. Make sure you spend time enjoying all the wonderful details on every spread.

How To Be Extraordinary

How To Be Extraordinary
Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Annabel Tempest
Puffin Books

What an inspirational selection of people Rashmi Sirdeshpande has chosen for her look at the lives of fifteen men and women from around the world, each of whom has made a truly impressive contribution to humanity. The balance of male and female inspirers is as equal as an odd number allows with one more male. I think if I were asked to compile a book like this, I’d want to include every one of these, who come from all walks of life.

There’s my all time hero, freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, Britain’s first female spy, Polish born Krystyna Skarbek who once faced off German officers while in possession of a top-secret silk map, which she rolled and used as a headscarf. (Sadly, the extent of her bravery wasn’t recognised until after she died).

I’ve followed the career of Sir “Mo” Farah” from his early days in a secondary school just up the road from the primary one I taught at, through the time he trained at St Mary’s University, becoming elated as he won those Olympic gold medals, until now; his athletic skills and versatility are undoubtedly ‘superstordinary’.

It’s great to see the author/illustrator of much-loved children’s books, Judith Kerr, who with her parents fled Nazi Germany, arriving in London in 1936; and the unstoppable environmentalist, Sir David Attenborough, who continues to be an inspiration in his 90s as well as another environmentalist, Wangari Maathai from Kenya.

Readers (even adult ones) will be less likely to know more than the names of particle physics phenomenon, San Lan Wu; Aeham Ahmad, Syrian musician and ‘peace-builder’; and I must mention the phenomenal war surgeon David Nott who for more than 25 years has been taking unpaid leave to volunteer in places of conflict and natural disaster including Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Syria.

The potted biographies are each allocated a double spread, which is packed but not overwhelmingly so, with information, quotes, and illustrations by Annabel Tempest.

One of the messages young readers will take from this book is that there’s a multitude of ways to be extraordinary. I watched two young children on TV the other night with their campaign against free throwaway plastic toys. I’m sure there are countless other youngsters out there whose imaginations these fifteen inspirational role models might ignite.

Add this one to family bookshelves and primary school class collections.

Unicorn Club / Ten Minutes to Bed Little Mermaid

Unicorn Club
Suzy Senior and Leire Martin
Little Tiger

It’s Saturday morning and young Amy is eagerly anticipating the inaugural meeting of her unicorn club, but as the time comes for the grand opening it seems as though there won’t be any takers. Upset, Amy rips down her poster and heads to her tree house.

There however, she receives a wonderful surprise and what’s more the creatures can’t wait for the promised crafting to commence.

They have to though, for long enough to relocate to Amy’s more spacious garage where she gets out all the resources.

Being creative gives those unicorns an appetite and one of their number demands the promised snacks, which are enthusiastically consumed in almost no time at all.

Fuelled up with cake, it’s time for the unicorns to show their dance moves but they’re all so groovy that Amy just cannot pick a winner; her chalks however are certainly the losers as they’re unknowingly squashed to pieces by the dancers.

Poor Amy: how will they create that club mural now? I wonder …
Illustrated in suitably garish hues and with scenes of unicorn frolics, this tale should certainly enchant the seemingly ever-growing numbers of young unicorn enthusiasts out there who will enjoy discovering how Amy’s nearly disastrous Saturday becomes the start of something magical.

Ten Minutes to Bed Little Mermaid
Rhiannon Fielding and Chris Chatterton
Puffin Books

In the third of their countdown to bedtime series, Rhiannon Fielding and Chris Chatterton take a dive down to the kingdom of merpeople and in particular little mermaid, Splash and her grandpa. It’s he who keeps count of the passing minutes as the playful Splash frolics with dolphins, dives beneath waves, bops with crabs, swims along with rainbow fish,

talks to turtles and has a scary encounter with a shark before pausing on a beach where she’s reminded of the time by a friendly passing whale that helps her on her way.

But will she make it in time before that final minute has gone …

The magical formula still holds good in this latest pre-bedtime fantasy that should ensure your little ones have sweet dreams in The Land of Nod. (The final map shows several more potential settings so I suspect this series will run and run.)

Who’s Going to Bed? / Somewhere Out There, Right Now

Who’s Going to Bed?
Abie Longstaff and Eve Coy
Puffin Books

‘The stars are out, / the moon is bright’; that means it’s bedtime for the pirates on the high seas, most of the animals in the jungle, the teddy bears in their cottage, the king and queen and their family of young knights.

There’s one mischievous baby though, who embarks on a very noisy adventure. His music making meandering arouses all those would-be slumberers,

who with the infant playing a kind of pied piper role are led a merry dance all the way to the beach where they come upon …

The trouble is, she’s an extremely tired little dragon and wants nothing more than to be allowed some peace and quiet so she can snuggle down for the night.

Now it’s time for that cheeky toddler to take control of the situation. With a single “SHHHH!” he sets in motion a concatenation of actions that see the baby dragon safely tucked up in her bed.

The efforts of his helpers however have brought on a desire for sleep in all the revellers, not least the instigator of the fun; and so finally the little babe is transported all the way home …

to bed. Goodnight and sweet dreams.

An enchantingly playful bedtime story told through Abie’s carefully measured text and Eve’s moonlit scenes of the nocturnal high jinks. I love her colour palette and the way she brings out the inherent gentle humour of a tale that’s a terrific one to share with little ones before bed. (I suggest any musical instruments are tucked right away first though – just in case …)

Somewhere Out There, Right Now
Gemma Wells
Ragged Bears

This softly spoken picture book connects young listeners to the natural world outside while at the same time helping them to find calm within as they wind down for bedtime.

Somewhere in the darkness a monkey takes cover from the heavy rain, baby beetles are buried beneath the earth,

birds come in to roost, there’s a fox out in a city street – perhaps seeking shelter or food – and waves gently lap a moonlit beach; there are kittens snuggling up to their mother.

All these peaceful scenes help to induce a sense of inner calm as the body slows, safe in the knowledge that the beloved listener to the gentle narrative is in a safe, nurturing place and all is well.

Gemma Wells’ affinity for nature is reflected in her bold, digitally worked scenes of the animals, the adult and child looking outwards.

A lovely book for parents and carers to share with the very young just before bed.

Look Up!

Look Up!
Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola

Young Rocket, the narrator of the story and an aspiring astronaut is for ever looking upwards; her head’s ‘always floating in the clouds’ her mother tells her.

Inspired by Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, the little girl has two missions, the longer term space-travelling one and one much more immediate.

She is determined to get her older brother Jamal who is charged with taking her to the park to see the meteor shower, to stop staring at his mobile and direct his gaze upwards to view the spectacle.

He though, isn’t the only one of the town’s screen-obsessed characters; but despite this, Rocket wants everyone to join her in viewing the phoenix meteor shower that night at the park.
As she prepares, the girl shares with readers facts about the cause of meteor showers, the size and composition of meteors and when best to view a shower.

As portrayed in Dapo Adeola’s splendid digital illustrations, the main character is a real personality sporting funky star-stud earrings, orange space suit, and so excited about the prospect of the meteor shower that she is able to enthuse the entire neighbourhood – even finally her brother; while Nathan Byron’s story interweaves Rocket’s enthusiasm for all things space with the tension within her family fuelled by the sibling relations.

But will the townsfolk ever get to see that promised spectacle? It’s certainly a long wait …

A wonderfully uplifting celebration of STEM, especially space topics, as well as a timely reminder that setting aside screens facilitates one’s reaching for the stars and achieving one’s ambitions.

Hair Love

Hair Love
Matthew A.Cherry and Vashti Harrison
Puffin Books

‘A celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere’ says a line on the cover of this book but it’s much more than that. It’s also a celebration of individuality, perseverance, collaboration, and a loving family.

Young Zuri’s hair is a mass of curls; her dad calls it beautiful and this makes the little girl proud. It lets her be herself as it ‘kinks, coils and curls every which way’, no matter if she feels like being a princess or a superhero.

On this particular day though, Zuri needs a very special hairstyle but she knows her Daddy is particularly tired after having undertaken the whole responsibility for her care. Deciding he needs a break, the child allows him some extra sleep while she investigates styles on a tablet. Her good intentions however are thwarted;

he’s woken up and ready and willing to assist.

Dad tackles the job confidently but comes up with a series of hairstyles that just don’t work for Zuri, as we see in Vashti Harrison’s splendidly expressive digital illustrations and hear through debut author Matthew Cherry’s apt narrative,

until the dutiful dad pulls a bobble hat down over her eyes.

Zuri’s “We can do better than that” response however sees the two working together, she providing encouragement and an on-screen lesson, he collecting the tools and developing his artistry until finally … Success! ‘Funky puff buns’ that satisfy everyone …

Our little girl is ready just in the nick of time for a very important ‘welcome home’ celebration.

Just right for an early years storytime and for family sharing, this is a smashing book that knocks gender stereotypes out of the window as well as reinforcing the ‘be proud of who you are’ message.

Rumple Buttercup

Rumple Buttercup
Matthew Gray Gubler
Puffin Books

Just a quick look at green-skinned Rumple Buttercup with his wonky teeth, odd sized feet and just three strands of hair might indicate that this creature is something out of the ordinary – weird – so the author tells us at the outset of his immediate interest snarer.

Convinced that his unusual appearance with scare people, his residence is a sewer  – albeit nicely decorated,

where he listens in to conversations of passers-by, longing to be a participant but making do with pretence.

The one time Rumple feels safe to sally forth as part of the community, is his favourite event, the Annual Pajama Jam Cotton Candy Pancake Parade; a day nobody will, he thinks, notice him amid the carnival revels.

Having eagerly anticipated the day all year, his excitement rises but then on the morning of the event, there’s a distinct lack of banana peel in the bin beside his home.

Devastated and deciding he must stay below ground and miss all the fun, the creature suddenly hears a voice calling down the drain to him.

What he discovers is that he’s not quite as strange as he’s always thought – unique perhaps, but then we’re all strangely different in our own ways.

So let’s join him in a celebratory wave and an acknowledgement that self-acceptance, flaws and all, is the way to go and that there are others out there who will celebrate our individuality, no matter what.

This delectably quirky, slightly surreal offering – a blend of picture book and chapter book – is one that will appeal to a wide readership, young and not so young.

Jungle Jamboree

Jungle Jamboree
Jo Empson
Puffin Books

The jungle is alive with anticipation. The coming of dusk is the opportunity for all the animals, great and small, to show off their beauty; but which one will be judged the most beautiful of all?

One after another the creatures dismiss their natural beauty: Lion says his mane is too dull; bird’s legs are too short; zebra’s stripes are too boring; leopard’s spots too spotty and hippo’s bottom is well, just too big.

None of them expects to win the crown.

A passing fly is interested only in his lunch and while the other creatures all set about getting themselves ready for the jamboree, he happily sates his appetite.

At last all are ready but they’re hardly recognisable with their fancy adornments and new-found confidence.

The fly, in contrast talks only of the beauty of the day’s ending.

Finally the long-awaited hour of dusk arrives. Judges and creatures assemble ready to strut their stuff; but all of a sudden the clouds gather and a storm bursts upon them.

The animals are stripped of their flamboyant accoutrements and left standing in darkness as the storm finally blows itself out. Now it’s impossible for the judges to see who should receive that crown of glory.

Then the little fly speaks out, offering light, for this is no ordinary fly.

How wonderfully one little firefly illuminates all the creatures, now clad only in their natural beauty; but which will be declared the most beautiful of them all?

Jo’s story is funny, thought provoking and a superb celebration of kindness, self-acceptance and every individual’s unique beauty: her electrifying illustrations are a riot of colour and pattern and likely to inspire children’s own creative efforts.

Jingle Spells / Meg’s Christmas

Jingle Spells
James Brown
Simon & Schuster

Unlike other witches, young Trixie is not excited at Halloween, it’s Christmas that she loves and she’s determined to show her fellow witches why.

Who better to help her in her mission to demonstrate that the magic of Christmas is the best of all than Santa himself?
Seemingly though witches have a bad reputation within the walls of Santa’s workshop so her letter receives a firm refusal from his head elf.

Determined to prove that she isn’t ‘naughty’, Trixie sets off to see Santa nonetheless.

What she discovers on arrival at the workshop isn’t the hustle and bustle she’d expected. Instead there’s a decided lack of toys on the elves’ shelves and worse still, it’s not only the elves who are suffering from bad colds, Santa too has succumbed to a very bad attack of the wheezes and sneezes.

Time to mix a special curative potion but will it work; in fact will the smitten even take so much as a sip of Trixie’s warming brew?

It appears to be the only way that Christmas can be saved …

A fun, elf-filled festive frolic featuring an endearing little miss who brings her own special brand of seasonal magic to the Christmas season: James Brown’s Trixie has an irresistible charm.

Meg’s Christmas
Jan Pieńkowski and David Walser
Puffin Books

After all these years Jan Pieńkowski’s Meg, Mog and Owl star in their very first Christmas adventure and the magic still holds good.

When a pipe bursts on Christmas Eve flooding Meg’s residence, there’s only one thing to do and Meg does it: ‘Find us somewhere dry to stay but bring us home for Christmas Day!’ she chants.

Before you can say “magic spell” the broomstick whisks them up and away to …

Instead of hanging up their stockings in the comfort of their own home Meg, Mog and Owl do so in the very spooky room where they spend the night.

Come Christmas morning the three are anxious to be off to meet the friends they’ve invited to their Christmas party. Can they be ready in time for their guests? …

The magic of the threesome never wanes: this seasonal offering will be enjoyed by parents who loved the early Meg and Mog adventures, as well as by their young offspring coming new to the stories penned by David Walser.

100 Dogs / Hey Duggee Sticky Stick Sticker Book

100 Dogs
Michael Whaite
Puffin Books

No this isn’t 101 Dalmations, it’s a mere one hundred pooches all packed between the pages of this romping, racing, rhymer of a book.

Herein you’ll meet dogs of every kind you can imagine and some you probably can’t: dogs big and small, bad and sad, dogs shaggy, baggy and wag-wag-waggy, fluffy ones and scruffy ones. Watch out for whiffy and sniffy ones, or those that might drool all over your best shoes.

There are dogs of the expected hues -with or without spots – but also a red one, a pink one and a yellow one.
Some look friendly (even to dog-phobic me); others appear decidedly vicious

or just downright weird.

One has even had the audacity to leave its calling card right there on the page.

Each and every one of these canine beauties has been lovingly portrayed by Michael Whaite especially for the delight of readers, canine lovers of all ages in particular.

There’s just one dog in:

Hey Duggee Sticky Stick Sticker Book
Ladybird Books (Penguin Random House Children’s Books)

Young children who are familiar with the CBeebies series featuring Duggee and his pals, and in particular his Hey Duggee Stick Song will not be surprised that sticks feature large in this activity book. It is after all a sticker book but the first activity is to greet all the members of the Squirrel Club and shout ‘Woof’. Only then can you proceed.

What follows are ten stick-related activity pages and a centre spread of stickers to use in some of the activities. These include a stick-collecting route to follow in order to build a campfire; a find two the same game; a spot the difference spread, a word search, a maze and a game of ‘sticks and ladders’.

Just right to entertain little ones over the school holidays, especially on a journey or should the warm sunny days disappear.

Baby on Board

Baby on Board
Allan Ahlberg and Emma Chichester Clark
Puffin Books

Storyteller extraordinaire, Allan Ahlberg, has teamed up with some wonderful illustrators over the years and here he is partnered by another; Emma Chichester Clark, who provided the pictures for his Mrs Vole the Vet, one of the Happy Families series.

This is a story – an epic adventure – that has its origins in the author’s infancy when two girls used to call at his home in the Black Country, asking to take baby Allan out for a walk in his pram.
It begins thus:
‘Once, many years ago,
there was a baby,
in his pram,
with his sisters
and their sandwiches and lemonade
and toys,
and their friends
and a kite,
and a dog or two … ‘

From there it takes off into a lilting tale wherein baby and minders are separated on account of a kite, and the infant in its pram sails off, along with a trio of toys, into the open seas.
Fortunately the toys are able to make the babe warm and comfy; but coping with the sudden storm that blows up is much more of a challenge, though it’s one the three are up to.

Unexpectedly however, three becomes two thanks to an inquisitive puffin, the arrival of which precipitates a fall overboard by panda. Happily the other two are able to perform a timely rescue and the pram sails on into the setting sun, with its complete crew and a somewhat whiffy baby.

Eventually the baby carriage drifts to shore once more with its four passengers safe and sound, albeit pretty exhausted; and all ends happily thanks to terrific toy teamwork.

Stunning artwork by Emma Chichester Clark – love the 1930s pram and children’s attire –  transforms Allan Ahlberg’s super story into a super, super story. It’s perfect as a bedtime book, or equally as a shared read at any time of the day.

Roald Dahl’s 123 & Roald Dahl’s Opposites

Roald Dahl’s 123
Roald Dahl’s Opposites

illustrated by Quentin Blake
Puffin Books

‘Board books with bite’ announces the accompanying press release.

Said bite comes courtesy of The Enormous Crocodile that features large and very toothily in both books.

Toddlers can have some enjoyable counting practice along with the little ‘chiddlers’ – 10 in all, who co-star in the 123 along with the wicked-looking croc. that, having spied some tasty looking fare while lurking in the undergrowth, then disguises himself as a roundabout ride, a palm tree, a seesaw and a picnic bench.

And all the while he’s biding his time, waiting to sate his lunchtime appetite: oh my goodness those gaping jaws, those vicious-looking teeth.

Will the 10 chiddlers cease their play and beat a hasty retreat before they become 1 Enormous Crocodile’s next meal?

Fifteen opposites are demonstrated, thanks to the creatures big and not so big that feature in the second book, along with of course, a certain Crocodile.

On alternate spreads, this book has foliage of different kinds, behind which are hidden a ‘little’ mouse, the ‘upside down’ crocodile, the same crocodile now snapping through a ‘low’ tree trunk, as well as a ’light’ frog leaping.

But what will the wily Crocodile snap ‘closed’ his enormous jaws upon? That question is answered on the final page.

The countless parents who were brought up on the originals will relish the opportunity to share these new incarnations with their offspring. Clearly the intended toddler audience of the board books will not be familiar with Roald Dahl’s characters and Quentin Blake’s iconic images of same, but they will still delight in language such as the BFG ‘childdlers’ and the storyline of both the counting book and the opposites.

How to be a Lion

How to be a Lion
Ed Vere
Puffin Books

‘This book is for those who daydream, and those who think for themselves’.
I love that. It’s written in Ed Vere’s inspiring ‘letter’ that accompanied my review copy; it’s also printed on the final page of his eloquent story: I hope it applies to myself, make that, to everyone. I wish everybody could read the entire letter, but instead I urge you to get yourself a copy of the book and share it widely.

It starts philosophically: ‘The world is full of ideas. /Big ones,/ small ones. / Good ones,/ bad ones. / Some think this … / others think that.’ before bringing us back to earth and in particular, lion territory on the African plains where the norm is to be FIERCE! But is that the only way to be?
Enter Leonard: thoughtful, prone to daydreams, something of a poet and above all, gentle.

Enter shortly after, a duck, Marianne by name. Being Leonard, it isn’t a case of ‘Crunch, crunch, CHOMP!’ Instead our lion, polite introductions over, requests her assistance and as luck would have it, Marianne is able to assist in freeing Leonard’s stuck muse and before long a firm friendship has been forged; one that involves stargazing, philosophical musings and above all, contentment and happiness.

Into their peaceable existence comes a pack of ferocious lions demanding to know why the duck has not met its demise.
True to himself, Leonard explains about their friendship and resists their loud growly admonishments.

Their instructions about becoming fierce make him pause and question however, but Marianne suggests a trip to their thinking hill to mull things over. Lo and behold, serious hums and serious quacks together are turned into an idea, and then, poetry that is finally ready to be presented to those fierce lions.

What Leonard says to them is heartfelt, provocative – “Why don’t you be you … And I will be I.” – and one hopes, a game changer.

Ed Vere’s timely fable is profound and intensely moving in the gentle way it offers words as tools of bridge building and change, as well as showing a different male role model. Don’t be pressurised into conforming, be yourself is what shines through both his words and oh, so eloquent, humorous illustrations.

A perfect read aloud with oodles of food for thought, and talk.

Brothers Forever

Brothers Forever
Claudia Boldt
Puffin Books

What do you do when your brother and best friend starts school leaving you to spend a long, gloomy day alone doing the things – cake baking, drawing and playing hide-and-seek – you’ve always done together?

That’s what happens to the small ursine narrator of Claudia Boldt’s new picture book. But that is only the beginning.

Big brother Barney, now calling himself Barnaby, has so many new and exciting ways to pass his time, and interesting new friends to play with, that his little brother is side-lined.

Life just isn’t fun any longer.

Enter new friend, Podgy. This cuddly creature participates in the activities previously shared with Barney,

but the new friendship makes boy narrator and Podgy the object of amusement to big bro. and his pals.

When Barney declines his favourite food one day, our narrator senses something is wrong

and that night he discovers what’s troubling his brother – it’s the thought of his first school trip away from home.

Brotherly love and understanding come to the rescue as both bears realise that no matter what changes life brings, one thing – or rather two – are forever.

Warm, realistic and imbued with gentle humour, this story will strike a chord with siblings especially.

A Handful of Board Books

Clap Hands
Say Goodnight

Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books

Can it really be thirty years since the original editions of these ‘A First Book for Babies’ titles appeared? They’ve lost none of their charm and those babes, whether they’re dancing, eating, making a noise, waving, swinging, riding or sleeping are just as adorable as ever.
As first books for babies, with their brief jaunty texts and superbly observed illustrations,

they’d still be one of my first picks to give a new mum.

Pop-Up Ocean
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Books

In this chunky little board book fifteen ocean-related things (one per spread) are stylishly illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius.
Toddlers will delight in seeing sea creatures large – whale, seal, stingray and not so large– crab, fish, octopus, seagull, coral and seahorse, along with a fishing boat, lighthouse, shell, submarine, swimmer, surfer all of which literally pop out of the pages.
A fun way to introduce vocabulary associated with the sea, it’s full of opportunities for language development at every opening.

Spot’s Puzzle Fun!
Eric Hill
Puffin Books

Toddlers will enjoy joining in with the ‘Brmm-brmm. Whoosh!’ of Helen’s bright red car; the ‘Bumpety-bump!’ of Steve’s shiny green tractor’ the ‘Rumble-rumble, beep-beep!’ of Tom’s big yellow digger and finally, the ‘Choo-choo, clickety-clack’ of Spot’s blue train as one by one they drive their vehicles into view, offering “Does anyone else want a turn?” to the other animals.

There are sturdy press-out pieces (animal and vehicle) on each spread that can also act as puzzle pieces and can be fitted together in various combinations – great for developing manipulative skills as well as fun.

Star Wars Block
Abrams Appleseed

Using die-cut shapes, the husband and wife design team that is Peskimo take readers on an epic celebratory journey that showcases iconic characters, spacecraft, combat vehicles, locations and creatures from various Star Wars films, from the very first to Rogue One.
Subtitled ‘Over 100 Words Every Fan Should Know,’ with its easily manipulated pages, this latest addition to the block book titles, will be welcomed by small fans of the epic space adventures, and I suspect, enthusiastic adults with whom they share this chunky offering.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
Vashti Harrison
Puffin Books

Here’s a terrific book that celebrates 40 amazing black women some from the past, some from the present and each a trailblazer.

Artist and film maker, Vashti Harrison has penned brief biographies of a splendidly diverse selection of dauntless, boundary breaking females who have contributed to making society what it is today.

In addition to the famous such as Mary Seacole, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Coleman and Diane Abbott, there are some lesser known women including social psychologist and counsellor Mamie Phipps Clark, science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, scientist and medical researcher Alice Ball and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson who are in their own ways, equally inspiring.

Katherine Johnson

No book on women’s achievements would be complete without sport and representing athletics are sprinters Wilma Rudolph and Florence Joyner (who also developed a clothing brand, wrote children’s books and established a youth foundation), and heptathlete and javelin thrower, Tessa Sanderson.

Tessa Sanderson

All these and the other women herein are truly inspirational and Harrison has done them proud, both through her engaging text and her beautiful illustrations.

Seaman William Brown – the first black female to serve in the British Navy

Brave, bold, world changers they most certainly are.

A book to put into primary classrooms, secondary school libraries, to buy for families, and to share and discuss wherever and whenever you can – I certainly intend to.

I’ve signed the charter  

Almost Anything

Almost Anything
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books

Sophy Henn has already created some wonderful characters; Pom Pom, Bear and Edie immediately spring to mind and now there’s another; meet George.
On this particular day, his fellow forest dwellers are all busy enjoying themselves in one way or another; not so George who sits doing nothing.
The little rabbit seems to be completely lacking in self-belief. “I can’t …” is his response to offers from his friends to join them in their activities.

Along comes Bear, very old and very wise. She produces a newspaper from which she fashions a hat. Telling George that it has magical powers, she persuades him to give it a go and see what happens.

Slowly, slowly the ‘magic’ starts to take effect and it’s not too long before George is roller skating, which he follows by dancing to the beat, a bit of painting, some reading and much more besides. In short, George is a very busy bunny indeed, so busy that he fails to notice that his hat is no longer on his head. Suddenly …

Fortunately Bear is close at hand with an explanation of where the magic is really coming from …

As a teacher I’ve always told children that there’s no such word as ‘can’t’ when it comes to their learning and now here’s this wonderful new story from an author who really gets to the heart of how young children think .
Almost Anything is such an empowering book both for youngsters who lack self-belief and all those adults who do everything they can to offer encouragement and support to them when it comes to giving it a go.
Risk taking isn’t easy for everyone but this is a cracking book to help those who find it a challenge.

As always Sophy’s matt illustrations executed in a gorgeous muted colour palette, have just the right degree of gentle humour and the animals’ body language is quite brilliant. Look out for Badger, a truly stylish skittle player, and those hedgehog dancers sporting head bands and leg warmers are just adorable.

If this hasn’t convinced you that this is a must buy picture book then I’ll eat my ‘Almost Anything’ magic hat with its wrap-around instructions for making, kindly supplied by Puffin Books.

Bears and More Bears

Willa and the Bear
Philomena O’Neill

Made by her Grandma Bibbie, Willa’s rag doll Rosie is her constant companion until one winter’s day as Willa and her parents are on their way to Grandma’s birthday celebration, the doll falls from the sleigh and is lost in the dark snowy woods.

They stop and search but have no luck; little do they know that the doll has been found.

When they reach their destination, her gran gives Willa a little bear that she’s made. Later, Willa spies a real and very large bear through the cabin window …

but when they open the door all they find on the doorstep is Rosie. “That bear must be a friend of yours,” her gran tells Willa.

On the way back home Willa leaves her new toy bear in the snow with the words, “My friend will love you,” …

Despite its chilly setting this is a warm-hearted, albeit rather unlikely story of reciprocal giving and receiving; and the old-fashioned, cosy paintings have a Nordic feel.

Where Bear?
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books

The fabulous Sophy Henn’s first picture book is now out in board book format and is just right for small hands.

It’s a heart-warming tale that stars a bear and a boy who have shared the boy’s abode since the bear was a cub and the boy considerably smaller.

Bear has now grown too large for the house and the boy, eager to find his friend a suitable new residence, sets out with him.
But where bear?” he asks over and over, until finally they find a suitable location and the boy heads back to his home.

Both bear and boy are happy, particularly as their friendship can be continued, verbally at least.

With such superb characterisation it’s a delight through and through.

Festive Fun for the Very Young

Listen to the Christmas Songs
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow

Half a dozen favourite seasonal songs are illustrated – one per spread – and each one can be brought to life by pressing the sound button on the respective spread.
(Adults can turn off the switch at the end of the book when they’ve had enough of the jollity.)
Interactive, sing along fun for the very young illustrated with bright animal scenes of festive fun and frolics.

Snow Dog
Puffin Books

To share with the very youngest, a dog-shaped board book with short rhyming text tells how the playful Snowdog runs and jumps, chases his ball and generally enjoys the company of his friends be they of the snowman or human kind.
Five snowy scenes show all the fun of the chilly outdoors.

Make & Play Nativity
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

Here’s a nice strong, easy-to-assemble Nativity scene for small fingers.
It comprises twenty characters, some human, others animal that are easy to slot together, and in so doing, youngsters can hone their manipulative skills as a lovely seasonal scene is constructed.
Joey Chou’s artwork has a delightful simplicity that may well inspire users to make some of their own figures to add to the completed scene.
I’d suggest sharing the Nativity story included in the latter part of the book before starting on the construction. Once this is complete, then there are other activities including making an adventure calendar, songs to sing and more.
A festive delight that can (the pieces are easy to take apart after Christmas) be used over and over, either in a nursery setting or a family.

All I Want for Christmas
Rachel Bright
Orchard Books

In this short rhyming tale we join penguins – one Big, one Little- as they count down the days to Christmas.
There is plenty to keep them busy: baking, wrapping presents, making cards and decorations and seemingly, the entire penguin population is eagerly anticipating what will be under the Christmas tree.

There’s one penguin however who has no need to join the queue to post a letter to Santa, for the one thing Big really wants above all else is right there all the time: it’s a 4-lettered word beginning with l: can you guess what that might be?

Malala’s Magic Pencil

Malala’s Magic Pencil
Malala Yousafzai and Kerascoët
Puffin Books

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and campaigner for the rights of every child to attend school, has written an autobiographical account of her life designed for young audiences.
She tells of her childhood in Pakistan and uses a favourite television show she liked to watch about a boy with a magic pencil that he used to help other people and sometimes himself.
Gradually her desire for a magic pencil of her own translates as she grows into a discovery of the need to take real action. She learns that the troubles in her home village – children working to support their families and thus unable to go to school;

the gender inequalities and with the arrival of the (unnamed) Taliban, the ban on girls being educated, are things that need to be spoken about.
Malala starts writing and speaking out: “My voice became so powerful that dangerous men tried to silence me. / But they failed,” she states simply; the hospital band around her wrist being the only indication of all that she’s gone through.

Her quest for justice and for making the world a more peaceful place continues, a quest that has been joined by many others.
The final spread shows Malala giving her famous speech before the United Nations: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.

Here the force of her words and the message therein, that by finding your own voice, everyone can become a powerful force for positive change, resounds loud and clear.
The watercolour and ink illustrations of Malala’s daily life by Kerascoët (the joint pen name of the French illustrators, comics and animation artists Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) give a wonderful sense of place; and the overlay of gold highlights her optimism and hope for making the world a fairer, better place.

Truly inspirational.
As the biographical notes at the end remind us, Malala has now become the youngest-ever UN Messenger of Peace: long may she continue her crucial work promoting the importance of education for all.
A picture book to share, reflect upon and talk about, again and again.

Halloween Briefing: Monsters Galore and a Witch or two

There’s a Monster in Your Book
Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott
Puffin Books
Here we have one of those interactive picture books that are in vogue at the moment and it comes from the co-writer of The Dinosaur That Pooped series.
The book is invaded by a rather cute-looking little monster that seems intent on wrecking the whole thing. ‘Let’s try to get him out,’ suggests the narrator which is clearly a good idea.
Readers are then asked to shake, tickle, blow, tilt left, then right, wiggle and spin the book, turning the page after each instruction. All the while the monster lurches this way and that around a plain background looking far from delighted at the treatment being meted out to him.
None of this succeeds in dislodging the creature but he’s definitely feeling dizzy so loud noises come next; then even louder ones.

This works but ‘Now he’s in your room!’ That’s even worse than being contained within the pages, at least from the reader’s viewpoint, so now the idea is to gently coax him back into the book. There he can stay while receiving some tender head stroking and a soft ‘goodnight’ until he falls fast asleep. Ahh!
With Greg Abbott’s cute, rather than scary monster, this is a fun book to share with pre-schoolers particularly just before their own shut-eye time; all that shaking and shouting will likely tire them out making them feel just like this.


Ten Creepy Monsters
Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Here’s a gigglesome twist on the nursery countdown featuring a mummy, a witch, a ghost, a werewolf, a vampire and others who, having gathered ‘neath a gnarled pine’ begin to disappear until only one remains. But what sort of creepy monster is that? Be prepared for a surprise.
Trick or treaters, if mock scary ghastly ghouls are your Halloween thing then look no further than this gently humorous, little paperback offering.

Scary Hairy Party!
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Monster’s having a party; it’s at 3 o’clock and all her friends are invited. Fortunately they’ve just got time to nip into Raymond’s salon for a hairdo first.
Seemingly Raymond’s not on top form however, as one after another receives a style disaster.

What on earth is Monster going to say when she sets eyes on her pals with their new make-overs?
Light-hearted rhyming fun illustrated with crazy, brighter than bright scenes of barnet mayhem: just right for those youngsters who like their Halloween stories to be on the silly, rather than the spooky side.

The Pomegranate Witch
Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler
Chronicle Books
A deft rhyming text, imbued with spookiness and replete with rich language, tells a tale of how five children desperate for a pomegranate from the witch’s tree, and armed with all manner of unlikely implements, do battle with its owner to get their hands on a tasty treat from its branches. A veritable Pomegranate War is waged …

until finally, one of children succeeds in bagging the object of their desires and they each have a share of the spoils.
The following day, Halloween, a Kindly Lady (the witch’s sister) appears to offer cider and a celebratory surprise fruit to all the town’s children: ‘And not one child wondered who was who, or which was which. / The shy old Kindly Lady or the Pomegranate Witch.’
Surely they couldn’t be one and the same – or could they?
Not for the very youngest listeners but a fun read aloud for KS1 audiences. As your listeners savour Denise Doyen’s story, make sure you allow plenty of time to enjoy Eiiza Wheeler’s delightfully quirky ink and watercolour illustrations.

For older solo readers:

Witch Snitch
Sibéal Pounder, illustrated by Laura Ellen Andersen
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The (Witch Wars) Sinkville witches are preparing for Witchoween and it’s the first Tiga will experience. This is especially exciting as Peggy has asked her and Fran to make a documentary about the town’s most famous witches. With Fluffanora acting as fashion adviser, what more could she ask?
This book with its numerous activities, facts and character information as part and parcel of the narrative, is sure to make you giggle. So too will Laura Ellen Andersen’s line drawings.

You Choose in Space / Ludwig the Sea Dog

You Choose In Space
Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart
Puffin Books

The You Choose series just gets better and better: now young children can whizz off on countless journeys of discovery in the pitch black of outer space. They can choose their jobs aboard the space-craft; select some snazzy gear to wear; there’s a weird and wonderful assortment of potential friends to get to know;

a whole different diet to sample and much more.
The great thing- or one of them –is, there’s a seemingly limitless choice of possibilities, so that with each blast off, a whole new out-of-this-world story can unfold in glorious technicolour.
The Sharratt/Goodhart team truly have conjured up an inclusive and wonderfully interactive, treat for young space enthusiasts, as well as those who like to be in the driving seat when it comes to a story.

Ludwig the Sea Dog
Henning Lōhlein
Templar Publishing

In this, the second adventure of Ludwig and his friends, the dog receives from his pal, Peter the penguin, whose submarine has broken down, a postcard requesting his assistance.
How on earth or under sea, for that’s where Peter is stuck – is a book-dwelling dog supposed to go to the aid of a friend beneath the ocean?
There are of course, plenty of books to tell him about marine life but these don’t prove as helpful as Ludwig anticipates.

He has to be rescued, and then discovers that water is not his favourite medium.
Perhaps he’ll have better luck with a spot of fairy tale magic, courtesy of the book he’s left in to dry out;

that and of course, some further assistance from his friends.
I’ll say no more other than to recommend that you open the envelope at the front of the book, put on those 3D sea goggles and prepare yourself for an amazing underwater experience. There’s even a fold out spread to explore.

Hortense and the Shadow

Hortense and the Shadow
Natalia and Lauren O’Hara
Puffin Books

Combining elements of dark and light, the O’Hara sisters’ debut picture book has a haunting, fairytale quality that will have a wide appeal.
A little girl Hortense, who lives in an ornate mansion deep in the woods, is a kind, brave, caring child. However there’s one thing she hates: her own shadow. It follows her no matter where she goes or what she does; and when night falls, it grows ‘tall and dark and crooked.’
She tries hiding her shadow … to no avail:

she and her shadow remain locked in mutual hatred.
Then one evening Hortense manages to escape from its clutches: she feels liberated, happy and safe; although just occasionally it feels like she’s being watched.

One black night some bandits arrive and it seems all is lost; but then Hortense’s shadow appears and saves her.

That’s when the girl realises that, rather than being something to hate, her shadow is a part of what she is, ‘sometimes dark, cross, strange, silly, jagged or blue,‘ – the perfect ending for this highly original, allegorical fairytale.
Natalia O’Hara’s lyrical prose and Lauren’s delicate, muted illustrations, sometimes ornate, sometimes stark and looming, together make for a multi-layered story to have you tingling with delight. Absolutely beautiful.

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.

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.

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake
Michael Rosen and Kevin Waldron
Puffin Books

I can’t possibly imagine how many times I shared Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake poem from Quick Let’s Get Out of Here during my time as a primary teacher; it was certainly the most requested poem with countless classes and always an ideal offering to have at the ready when working in an advisory capacity. So to learn it was to be published in picture book format with Kevin Waldron supplying the illustrations was very exciting.
The poem itself is sheer genius telling of a little boy who just cannot get out of his mind the scrumptious chocolate cake he’s sampled earlier in the day and, knowing that there’s a considerable chunk still downstairs, cannot resist its temptation.
He creeps out of bed (ensuring he misses the creaky floorboard outside his parents’ bedroom) and downstairs into the kitchen. There, in the cupboard, is the object of his desire …

Out it comes and he notices there just happen to be some crumbs, and that the cake itself needs a spot of tidying up …

until things get just a tad out of control …

Such are the agonising details  used to relate the whole experience, that we’re right in that child’s head as he’s overwhelmed by desire, and we’re desperately wanting him not to get caught – which of course he does, although not until the following morning.
Oh dear, the embarrassment, the humiliation …

Kevin Waldron brilliantly captures all the subterfuge, the suspense and the final priceless denouement in his deliciously funny scenes, every one of which will leave you spluttering with delight.
If the whole thing doesn’t get your taste buds all a-tingling, then nothing will.

The Hat that Zack Loves

The Hat that Zack Loves
Michelle Robinson and Robert Reader
Puffin Books

There’s a satisfying circularity about Michelle Robinson’s new spin on the traditional The House that Jack Built.
It features Zack who buys the hat, a dog that snatches same and leads Zack in a merry dance down onto the subway; then into the park precipitating a frenetic concatenation of events wherein a host of other characters get involved.
There’s a cat, the wind, a grey goose and a policeman on horseback.
The whole chase is exhaustingly riotous, not least for Zack who falls from a tree;

then leaps into a boat in pursuit of his titfa.

But suddenly the wind takes over whisking it from the goose’s head, out of the park and up atop a statue, atop a column.

Will Zack ever get that elusive hat back? Or the whole thing just a wild goose chase?
Thanks to some nifty teamwork and precarious balancing, the hat is finally retrieved and then it’s hats all round.
This is a fun read aloud that, with its repeat refrain, ‘the hat that Zack loves’, cries out for audience participation.
Robert Reader debuts as a picture book artist with this rhythmic tale, gracing each spread with retro style scenes, every one of which has deliciously droll happenings that make you want to slow the pace and revel in the details.

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This is NOT a Fairy Tale

This is NOT a Fairy Tale
Will Mabbitt and Fred Blunt
Puffin Books

Dad and his story sabotaging daughter, Sophie, return in a sequel to This is NOT a Bedtime Story; now though, the time honoured fairy tale is under attack and all because Grandad couldn’t keep his eyes open long enough to finish the story.
No matter, Dad is on hand to take over, or rather attempt to; but he’s reckoned without the creative interjections of the opinionated subverter of narratives sitting right beside him.
Let the imagination roll… and roll it surely does.
Sophie’s having none of your pathetic princess stuff: her young royal female is the one wearing the armour and she’s all for using the latest mod cons – a combine harvester transformer for instance – to save time and perform heroic deeds involving dragons.

Fast paced, metafictive mayhem is the order of the day in this deliciously bonkers book.
Yes there IS a prince – a slumbering bald one whose fate it is to be rescued …

(although he does inadvertently have moments of less inert, even momentarily useful and agonisingly ROAR worthy activity, where dragon’s bums are concerned). YEOWCH!

Giggles aplenty guaranteed. The super-crazy team of Mabbitt and Blunt have scored another ace with this one.

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Edward and the Great Discovery / Diggersaurs

Edward and the Great Discovery
Rebecca McRitchie and Celeste Hulme
New Frontier Publishing
Young Edward comes from a long line of archaeologists but, despite determined efforts, is yet to make his first discovery. Then one wet night, the lad unearths, or rather falls over something that looks promising; it’s a strange egg.
Edward takes it indoors for investigation and a spot of TLC …

When the egg eventually hatches, Edward is more than a little disappointed to discover that it’s nothing more exciting than a bird; albeit a very helpful, loving one. Disappointment number two comes when Edward realises his bird is unable to fly.

To cheer himself up, the boy takes himself off to his favourite place, The Museum of Ancient Things and it’s there he learns that after all, his find is indeed a momentous one– a Dodo no less.

Now Edward has, not one but two great finds: an extraordinary friend and companion and a rarity from ancient times. He has also earned himself a place on the wall of fame alongside the other esteemed members of his family.
With its scientific underpinning, this is an unusual and enormously engaging tale of friendship and self-discovery. The gentle humour of the text is brought out beautifully in Celeste Hulme’s avant-garde, detailed illustrations: every turn of the page brings visual delight and much to chuckle over.

Michael Whaite
Puffin Books
If you want a book for pre-schoolers that rhymes, is full of delicious words for developing sound/symbol awareness, is great fun to use for a noisy movement session and is characterised by creatures that are a fusion of two things young children most love, then Diggersaurs is for you.
A dozen of the mechanical beasts are to be found strutting their stuff between the covers of animator Whaite’s debut picture book; and what’s more they’re all working together in a enormous construction enterprise.

In addition to the huge monsters, there are some hard-hat wearing humans; but you’ll need to look closely to discover exactly what they’re doing and saying. That site certainly appears to be something of a hazardous place to be working alongside those earth-shaking, smashing, crashing, crunching and munching …

pushing and shoving, stacking, spinning, deep hole drilling, moving, sweeping mechanised giants.

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? / My Dad is a Bear

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?
Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle
Puffin Books
With a CD read by Eric Carle, this is a 50th anniversary edition of a truly golden picture book. Yes, as it says on the blurb, it can ‘teach children about colours’ but it does so much more. It’s an iconic ‘learning to read’ book and one I included in a Signal publication I wrote early in my teaching career when I talked about the importance of using visual context cues. This is now something that most teachers who use phonics as the basis of the way they teach beginning readers insist children should not do. How ridiculous! Any book worth offering to learner readers and I stress ‘worth’ has pictures and words working hand in hand, as does this simple, singsong question and answer book wherein you have to read ahead ie turn the page,

in order to get the visual context cue offered by the bright tissue-paper collage picture of each animal being questioned.
A classic; and one all children should encounter in the early stages of becoming a reader.

Also good for beginning readers is:

My Dad is a Bear
Nicola Connelly and Annie White
New Frontier Publishing
What is ‘tall and round like a bear; soft and furry like a bear’; can climb trees and gather in a bear-like manner?

And what has big paws and enjoys a spot of back scratching, not to mention possessing an enormous growl, having a penchant for fishing and a very bear-like way of sleeping?

Why a bear of course. And what is it about young Charlie’s dad that brings the most pleasure of all? What do you think? …
Using ursine characteristics to point up the numerous ways in which a dad is special, debut picture book author, Nicola Connelly paints a pen portrait of a much-loved character.
What an engaging book this is with its lovable characters, two bears plus bit part players, blue bird and rabbit. All are so adorably portrayed in Annie White’s uncluttered paintings that beautifully orchestrate the simple storyline making every page turn a fresh delight. Beautifully simple and full of warmth, it’s just right for sharing with a pre-schooler or with an early years group.

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Grumpy Frog

Grumpy Frog
Ed Vere
Puffin Books
Grumpy Frog wasn’t the only character to be leaping around when I opened his book parcel: I started leaping round the kitchen waving the book in delight especially as its arrival coincided with Earth Day and there on the first double spread is a more upbeat version of the amphibian proclaiming thus:

He then proceeds to blow it though by damming every other colour, he can think of: “Uh oh!” to pinch his words, “Grumpy Frog alert!“.
Better organise a hopping contest with some pals ASAP, but make sure he crosses the line first or else …

Don’t think of suggesting a swim – that involves blue; or a bounce, which, so Grumpy Frog decrees, is yellow.
It looks as though isolation is the best thing; after all, aloneness he absolutely adores. It gives him time to contemplate colour, diet, annual events and err … loneliness.

Not such a good idea after all then, this setting oneself apart.
Enter stage left another kind of jumper but as you might expect, a pink rabbit gets a huge thumbs down from our frog who manages to make the poor unsuspecting creature cry for its trouble. What about this large snuggle toothed croc. then? He’s definitely making friendly overtures towards GF and SNAP! Oh no! surely Grumpy Frog hasn’t met his demise; has he?
Actually no: a spot of self-reflection appears to have saved his skin so …

Furthermore it looks as though some apologies are on the cards too; though that is not quite the end of this corker of a book: this is …

and, to discover what happens in the interim, I urge you to hot foot it, or rather hop foot it immediately to your nearest bookshop and bag yourself a copy.
It’s an utter triumph for Ed Vere and maybe even for Grumpy Frog, just so long as he gets there first. This reviewer found herself snortling at every turn of the page: it’s the perfect antidote to grumpiness (and election blues).

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The Giant Jumperee

The Giant Jumperee
Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury
Puffin Books
Donaldson and Oxenbury – a formidable team if ever there was one: together they’ve created a picture book that has all the hallmarks of a classic.
Who or what is occupying Rabbit’s burrow: some monster perhaps; it certainly has a loud voice as it claims “I’m the GIANT JUMPEREE and I’m scary as can be!” stopping Rabbit short as he’s about to enter his home.
Rabbit’s friends, starting with Cat, come to his aid:

she offers to “slink inside and pounce” only to be threatened with “I’ll squash you like a flea!” Cat then cries for help and Bear responds.
The Giant Jumperee however seems to have the measure of each of the would-be assailants: this time issuing the threat of a bee-like sting sending Bear into a tizz and calling for help. Help that comes in the form of Elephant but he too ends up in retreat, remaining, like the others though, in close proximity to Rabbit’s burrow.
Enter Mummy Frog, and paying scant heed to the frets of the other animals, she calmly approaches the burrow and employs what will surely be a technique familiar to early years audiences: she calls the Jumperee’s bluff as she slowly counts to three.
Out pops her gleeful offspring, totally unrepentant …

and more than happy to be led off home – for tea, with the other animals in tow, of course. This is sure to result in equally gleeful responses from young listeners who will have been totally captivated by the whole saga – I say saga, although this is a short story. It’s impact though, is far from small: it’s truly a case of less being much, much more. Take a look at this final wordless spread:

Everything about this is pitch perfect, from the wonderfully effective plot with its repetitions, occasional forays into rhyme, and tone of telling, to Helen’s glorious renderings of the animals whose demeanours are totally priceless, especially that of Mum Frog – an indomitable force if ever there was one- on discovering the culprit of all the hullabaloo.

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Chicken Nugget in Scrambled Egg



Chicken Nugget in Scrambled Egg
Michelle Robinson and Tom McLaughlin
Puffin Books
Little Chicken Nugget seems to have a slight complex about being the smallest member of the family but is soon to lose this position in the family pecking order: a new baby, Benedict, is being hatched as Mum keeps on reminding her offspring Moreover, the soon-to-be infant ‘can hear every word’ its brothers and sisters unenthusiastically utter.
Our narrator however, vows to be the ideal older sibling,


so obviously when Mama suggests taking the ‘eggling’ outside to play, warning that special care needs to be taken of the creature, Nugget duly obliges. A game of footie – solo style – ensues but then who should pop her head over the fence but neighbour, Mrs Kiev. I don’t know; Nugget complains about Benedict not listening but somebody should be admonishing Nugget for not looking …


There follows a crazy ‘Red Riding Hood episode’: “Why, Mrs Kiev, what furry arms you have today.
All the better to warm you with, … Why don’t you let me look after the baby while you play?
We all know where this is going, or rather WE do; seemingly not Nugget though who scoots off to take a break from being kind. Uh-oh!
But then a wild kick from an older sibling send their ball right over fence into Mrs Kiev’s back yard and Nugget goes off to retrieve it. What is lying trussed up on the barbecue brings the ball rescuer up short. And as for Benedict, it looks as though he is about to become the chief ingredient for a lip-smacking meal.


And, as we know already, he can hear every word; but maybe that is the key to an escape. …
This cheepy chirpy twist on the fox and chickens tales we all know and love, really tickled the imagination of my audiences. Nugget’s naivety and Michelle Robinson’s frequent cracking of eggy jokes really appealed, as did the final twist in the tale – just the thing to ruffle their feathers and keep them engrossed in Tom McLaughlin’s pun-filled, fun-filled illustrations.

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We’re All Wonders

We’re All Wonders
Puffin Books
This awe-inspiring picture book is narrated by the hero character of Palacio’s incredibly moving novel, Wonder. I was totally knocked out by this new Auggie book. Here, in relatively few, perfectly chosen words, the boy narrator tells us what it’s like to be him – an extraordinary boy who, like other children, does ordinary, everyday things. Things that are discounted by others because of how he looks. His mum calls him ‘a wonder’; his dog is in agreement but, so he says, “ … some people don’t see that I’m a wonder. All they see is how different I look. Sometimes they stare at me. They point or laugh. They even say mean things behind my back. But I can hear them.”

Most children have ways of transcending difficulties: Auggie’s manner of so doing is supremely brilliant. He dons his helmet and together with his dog, Daisy, blasts off through the clouds, traversing the galaxy to land on Pluto. It’s there after an encounter with old friends, that he is able to see things from a different perspective. “Earth is big enough for all kinds of people” he says, Such wise words, which he follows with a hope that people can change the way they see him and themselves.

His concluding “Look with kindness and you will always find wonder” are words that each and every one of us would do well to keep at the forefront of everything we do and every encounter we have.

Then, who knows, with passion and courage, perhaps we can change the world … It’s definitely worth trying.

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Last Stop on Market Street


Last Stop on Market Street
Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
Puffin Books
A little boy, CJ, waits for the Market Street bus in the rain one Sunday after church. “How come we don’t got a car?” he asks his Nana; and this isn’t the only thing he shows dissatisfaction over. Nana however, has a wonderfully playful imagination: “We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr Dennis, who always has a trick for you.” (Mr Dennis, the driver obligingly produces a coin from behind CJ’s ear and hands it to him.)
As their journey progresses Nana helps her grandson to start seeing things differently – more as opportunities for delight: a big tree drinks rain through a straw; a man who cannot see with his eyes, watches the world with his ears.


A real live guitarist passenger playing is far better than using a mobile to listen to music as the two older boys do, and when the man starts singing, CJ too closes his eyes and is transported:.‘He saw sunset colours swirling over crashing waves … He saw the old woman’s butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon … He was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.


Later as they walk back through their neighbourhood towards the soup kitchen,
Nana gently offers another reminder in response to his comment about everything being dirty: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” CJ then notices a ‘perfect rainbow arching over their soup kitchen’ and it causes him to wonder how his nana always finds beauty in places he’d never even think to look.


So much in this uplifting book is about connectedness: connectedness between a young child and a much older adult; between – thanks to Nana – all the passengers on the bus, between the city and both CJ and Nana, between the city’s dirt and its beauty be it fleeting or long lasting; and between both main characters and their surroundings. All of this comes through in de la Peña’s superb text that enables readers and listeners to immerse themselves in the multi-sensory experience of the shared journey. In total harmony, Robinson’s energetic illustrations, executed in a warm palette, capture the poetry of the text perfectly.
A quietly beautiful book with a very potent message relating to acceptance, finding joy in the simple things of life with all its diversities, and the possibilities this brings. I hope it gets the large audience in the UK it deserves: I intend to share it widely.



Sophy Henn
Puffin Books
Who could wish for a more utterly enchanting helper than Edie, the young narrator of Sophy Henn’s wonderful new book?
She’s an inveterate helper of pretty much anybody and everybody, from the moment she gets up. Having woken her parents – now wouldn’t you like a nice rousing guitar solo first thing in the morning? – she dresses herself …


In between there’s breakfast to prepare followed by a walk to the supermarket where she’s amazingly helpful – really truly – finding SO many things for the shopping trolley; and in the park on the way home she finds lots of pals to help.
Helping is an exhausting occupation though; so once home a short rest is called for but then with energy restored, there’s Mum’s office in need of a spot of organisation; dad needs help tidying up and little brother has lessons he just has to be helped with. As for her grandparents, during their naps when they come to visit is the best time to provide them with ever so helpful makeovers …


and Dad’s shoes will never look quite the same again after the addition of some snazzy adornments, helpful? Errrm?


Ditto the walls; whereon her wonderful artistic mural just might be a step too far … ‘Sometimes I have to remember NOT to be quite so helpful,’ she tells us.
She’s soon back to her normal ‘best’ helpful self once more …


After all, this adorably little character does have a special skill that’s pretty much indispensable, and she’ll undoubtedly make all who encounter her laugh in delight. Sophy Henn’s neo retro illustrations, executed in delectable hues, are just SO perfect for the story. It’s not just Edie though who is so special; Sophy makes every one of the characters somebody you’d love to meet. Don your pompom hat and go help somebody and let’s have more of Edie, PLEASE …

I Can Only Draw Worms


I Can Only Draw Worms
Will Mabbitt
Puffin Books
Bonkers! A book that can reduce two adults to fits of helpless laughter on a dull day has got to be worth something: it’s what Will Mabbit’s foray into picture books did to one reviewer and her partner. It’s billed as ‘an unconventional counting book’ and it surely is that, and a whole lot more. In truth I suspect pretty much anybody can draw worms, but only Will Mabbitt could make quite such a ridiculously and gloriously silly book as this one with its day-glo pink and yellow annelids wriggling all over it. Yes we’ve had wormy books before: Janet Ahlberg’s The Worm Book, Superworm from Julia Donaldson and Leo Lionni’s Inch by Inch to name but three; but nobody (to my knowledge) has given the reason, as the title proclaims, for devoting their entire picture book to them. In fact there is absolutely nothing else between the covers other than words of course. Other characters do crop up though; Worm SIX, is said to be ‘riding on a flying unicorn!’ Of course, no unicorn appears (you just have to imagine); instead, guess what? Mabbitt has drawn worm FIVE again. Hmm …


and then has the audacity to go on to relate that worm SIX actually rides this unicorn off to meet the seventh worm who lives um, in outer space.
This Mabbitt guy clearly doesn’t know his cardinal numbers from his ordinal ones though, at least where worms are concerned (and as for whole and half numbers, let’s not even go there. If you doubt what I say then listen to this bit: ‘THERE’s BEEN A DREADFUL ACCIDENT.’ That whole thing about cutting a worm in half and getting two worms has just been disproved OUCH!: instead, all you get is two half worms … like this …


Moreover, worm NINE has gone AWOL to the concern of the others (won’t even try counting them as I’ll get bogged down in the halves and wholes thingy.) Next, more craziness in the way of an identity mix-up and then along comes number 10 worm. And he (actually Will, take note, worms are hermaphrodite) is accompanied by the missing number NINE (back from that urgent loo break). Now let the counting proper – or rather, almost proper – begin …


That’s it.
Sunglasses out and off you wiggle, and giggle! I’m off out to dig worms; but that’s another story …



Pom Pom is Super


POM POM is Super
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books
This has got to be my favourite Pom Pom title yet (and I’ve LOVED the previous ones). If that isn’t testament enough to the quality of this tale, then nothing is. Dare I say, it’s a howlingly, show-stoppingly, way beyond magnificent, book.
Pom Pom is so excited at the prospect of is friends coming round to play that he’s full of fidgets; in fact his feet start dancing all on their own. He’s got his favourite toys at the ready and the snacks too when DING DONG! The first friend has arrived: its Buddy or rather “Buddy the FANTASTIC Footballing FLASH!!!’ and he’s already strutting his stuff right around Pom Pom’s living room when who should burst in but “The ANT King“: (aka Rocco) and “Swooshing SCOUT the SPECTACULAR” complete with cape and more.


They are closely followed by “Twinkly Twirly TORDANO BEAR” – that’s Baxter and he’s certainly pretty good at twinkling and twirling.
Eager to get on with the day’s agenda, Pom Pom tries introducing the toys – not very successfully –



so he hastily follows up with the snacks and it’s then that Pom Pom admits he might be a little short on superness. (Not in my book you aren’t, little guy.)
He decides to try his hand – or rather his whole self – at flying. Do we have lift off here? Urm, not quite …


but maybe his pals can come up with an idea or two …
Wow! Pom Pom, you really are a true super-duper mover par excellence WHOPPEE!


Sophy Henn has done it again and this would make a brilliant little TV show me thinks.

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Odd Bods & an Animal Alphabet


Odd Bods
Steven Butler and Jarvis
Puffin Books
We’ve all got our little quirks and foibles, and this is just what is celebrated in Butler and Jarvis’ crazy A to Z of weird and wonderful child characters. Let me introduce a few, starting with these two:


With those never-trimmed nails, Duncan’s certainly not somebody I’d want to encounter. Then there’s Franklyn; now he would be pretty useful on occasion …


Iris’s special skill is something I once got given a detention for at school, when eating, or rather not eating, my disgusting school lunch. Now that proves I was (and still am) something of a wild child


I blame the quality of the cutlery though I’m sure the adults here would say it’s all down to those children.
Let’s mention a few more: there’s Kitty who loves nothing better than to flash her knickers, bogey-filled Larry and leaking Mathilda. Skipping a few letters takes us to Stanley though heaven knows where he might be now …


Will is something of a yogi …


and Yasmine is extraordinarily adept at fishing on account of her slight stickiness, which takes us almost to the end; and that’s where we’ll say farewell to the whole crazy cast …


Take a long look and see how many you can identify already. For the rest, you’ll need to get hold of your own copy of this hoot of a book and enjoy encountering each and every character yourself.
And teachers, you don’t need me to point out the tremendous classroom potential of this one.


Animal Alphabet
Kay Vincent
Button Books
Alliterative alphabet fun is what we have in this retro style A to Z of creatures great and small. Each animal has its own double spread and there’s an adjective starting with the same letter to describe it. Thus Bb ‘busking bear’ shows a banjo-strumming brown bear playing to a couple of birds. Here’s another musical animal …


and a rather sporty one …


Kay Vincent manages to give each and every animal a real personality in her stylised depictions.
This one’s definitely a visual treat but at the same time there’s plenty of space for youngsters’ own flights of verbal fancy: What is that ‘jolly jellyfish’ with the yippee flag celebrating for instance? Or, how is the xylophonist X-ray fish able to play under water and what is the music? Each letter offers storying potential – an added bonus and one that makes this more than just an ordinary animal alphabet book. And, if that’s not enough, the removeable dust jacket becomes a mini frieze to adorn your early years writing area, or child’s bedroom, perhaps.

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Max and Bird


Max and Bird
Ed Vere
Puffin Books
There’s a lot of flapping in this book and some of it surprisingly, or maybe not if you already know Max the kitten, is actually done by Max himself; but we’re getting ahead of things. Of course everyone knows that cats tend to chase birds, so why is Max’s opening gambit to Bird, ‘Let’s be friends!’? And why does Bird reply, ‘Yes, please!’ He clearly doesn’t know about this chasing tendency although Max certainly doesn’t leave him in the dark about his intentions; ‘First, I’ll chase you … Then maybe I’ll eat you up. You look like a tasty snack!’ he continues. This brings us to the flapping – well almost – for Bird then tells Max that he’s not yet learned to fly and that eating each other up is not what friends do. The two sit and consider things for a while, then Bird comes up with an idea; essentially it’s a kind of deal that starts with Max teaching him how to fly. Fair enough; hands are shaken and flight principles explained by Max who only then realises that he doesn’t actually know how to get airborne at all.
Next stop, the library and in particular here …


something of a restricted choice for the pair because neither can reach past the bottom shelf. Nevertheless, after several weeks reading, they have the principles in a nutshell. And it’s then that the flapping starts– a whole exhausting day of it …


Followed by a night of flying dreams and then another day of more flapping but no flight. Bird loses it completely.


The only thing to do is to ask an expert and this they do – very politely – and the rude creature (a pigeon) is more than pleased to show off his aeronautical skills. Then, incredibly (at exactly 5.23 pm so we’re told) Bird has lift off – albeit wobbly and brief. That’s one part of the deal fulfilled, but what about the other part? Max weights up his options…


and comes to a decision …
Totally captivating: from the first moment Max sets those huge staring eyes on you, your heart melts and you’re under his spell. Surely he wouldn’t gobble down his new friend, would he?
Ed Vere has the genius knack of making seemingly simple situations into the most riveting dramas. With this, his third Max story, he’s added another to his folio of not to be missed treasures.
Footnote for adult readers aloud: do go back to the library shelves and have a chuckle over the titles on the FLYING BOOKS shelves. ‘Pigs Might Fly’ ‘Fly on Flying, ‘Moon’s a Balloon’ and many more gems thereon.

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This is the story of Alison Hubble

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This is the story of Alison Hubble
Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
Puffin Books
Imagine a world overrun with smallish identical girls. Not possible? Well, after reading this brilliantly bizarre book you may have cause to change your mind.
This is the story of Alison Hubble who went to bed single and woke up double.’ So begins this crazy tale of multiplication of the mayhem making kind by the terrific Ahlberg/Ingman team.
Young Alison gets the surprise of her life when she wakes up one morning beside herself – literally. Her parents too are more than a little perplexed at the prospect of a pair.
The girls are duly dispatched to school with an explanatory note for the class teacher, but of course Alison’s pals are faced with a conundrum: “Which one’s really you?” they demand to know.

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Things don’t stop there however. Come games time and the doubling happens again – no question who will be in goal for the footie game …

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Next day Mr H. is sent to do a headcount (maths isn’t Mrs H.’s forte) and lo and behold there’s been another doubling…

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Even the press have got wind of the mathematical mayhem by now: a reporter’s awaiting the girls at the school gate. But by the end of another day at school – one that’s necessitated some requisitioning of extra furniture – Alison goes home to discover a whole TV crew wanting to do a news feature. But the young miss is having none of it and stomps off for some alone time.
I’ll leave you to imagine what happens thereafter (assuredly there’s a whole lot of interest in the phenomenon); and to wonder if this doubling will ever stop.

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In addition to being a hilarious read aloud this is an absolute gift for any teacher about to teach a maths lesson on doubles.

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Chimpanzees for Tea!

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Chimpanzees for Tea!
Jo Empson
Puffin Books
With a nod to Pat Hutchins (Don’t Forget the Bacon) and a wink to John Burningham (The Shopping Basket) , Jo Empson conjours up a delicious story of a shopping trip undertaken by young Vincent at his mother’s behest. Concerned at the emptiness of the kitchen shelves, she sends him off to the shops, with the instruction to buy …

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and hurry home for tea!”
Off zooms the boy in his super go-cart, dashing past Mr Singh …

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but as he does so, the shopping list is whisked up in the air and far away leaving Vincent desperately trying to recall the items requested. Thus begins a frantic dash over hill and dale with him becoming increasingly muddled as he is distracted by what he sees on his journey – a big top,

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the zoo and a pet shop …

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his repeated chantings reflecting the places he passes.
By the time he gets back home, Vincent has managed to acquire a whole menagerie of guests, large and small and then there is nothing for it but to invite them all inside for …

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Wonderful Chinese whispers style rhyming word play combine with pacey illustrations that are full of vim and vigour. Observant listeners will notice the presence of a certain pigeon with the lost list chasing after Vincent throughout the whole farcical foray and delight in the opportunities to join in with chanting the list litany.
To be sure, another tasty treat from Jo Empson.



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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