A Scattering of Magic: The Magic Misfits: The Second Story / The Littlest Witch / Lavinia and the Magic Ring

The Magic Misfits: The Second Story
Neil Patrick Harris with Lissy Marlin and Kyle Hilton

I hadn’t read the first The Magic Misfits book so in case you’re in the same situation, it tells how young street musician Carter having been taken in after the disappearance of his parents, by his Sly ‘uncle’ Mike, escapes and ends up becoming friends with other variously talented children who together form The Magic Misfits.

This second story continues right on from the first only the focus now turns to Leila Vernon who lives with her two fathers above Vernon’s Magic Shop.

One day out of the blue, a stranger from Dante’s past appears in the shop. The woman, Sandra Santos, aka Madame Esmerelda, was so she says, a friend of Carter’s father.
What though is she doing in Mineral Wells? Whatever it is, it might be that she knows why Leila was placed in an orphanage and by whom. Could it be that Sandra holds the key to these questions?

Scattered throughout this intriguing pacey tale are riddles and puzzles as well as some magic tricks to try and a liberal sprinkling of black and white illustrations by Lissy Marlin.

Carter, Leila and her friends are well worth getting to know, especially for readers who like their stories sprinkled with magic.

The Littlest Witch
Bianca Pitzorno, illustrated by Mark Beech

The author of this crazy book is considered to be one of Italy’s best childrens’ writers. It’s a tale of a young man, Alfonso Terribile and what happens when his Great Uncle Sempronio dies.

Alfonso is left a fortune but there is a condition: he has to marry a witch and do so within a year and a month or else his fortune will go elsewhere.

There’s a zany cast of characters including the Zep’s seventh daughter, the infant Sibylla who seems to be behaving in a rather strange fashion. Could she perhaps be the one? Maybe, but there are a lot of other possible contenders too, not least being the spirited Wanda …
Greed quickly consumes Alfonso but will he manage to fulfil his uncle’s criteria? That would be telling; let’s just say that he receives his just deserts.

Mark Beech’s line drawings scattered throughout the book add to the delightful quirkiness.

Lavinia and the Magic Ring
Bianca Pitzorno, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Imagine what might happen if you were a little girl and received a ring with a very special power. That is what happens one chilly Christmas Eve, to seven-year-old Lavinia, a modern-day match girl residing in Milan.

Lying in the cold just before midnight dreaming of good things to eat, she’s suddenly awoken by a beautiful lady dressed unsuitably for the cold, asking for a light and professing to be a fairy. Lavinia is nonplussed but agrees and by way of thanks, the witch slips a ring onto her finger, a magic ring that turns things into poo – yes poo!

The girl’s reaction is to try and pull the thing off right away, but the ring is stuck fast.

Now it’s up to Lavinia to use her weird powers judiciously.

There are a lot of decidedly stinky situations in this story so definitely don’t give it to a squeamish child; the rest however will doubtless revel in the ponginess of Lavinia’s mess-making escapades hilariously illustrated by none other than the inimitable Quentin Blake.

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.

The Ultimate Peter Rabbit / The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots


The Ultimate Peter Rabbit
Camilla Hallinan
2016 is the year of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth. As part of these celebrations this large book, subtitled ‘A Visual Guide to the World of Peter Rabbit’ first published in 2002, is re-issued in an updated version.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit has a special place in my heart: it’s the book I learned to read with. I can still recall, after having it read aloud as a bedtime story countless times, that age five, I realized I could read it myself. The joy of matching the words in my head with those on the page is something I’ll never forget and then to go to infant school shortly after and be given Janet & John books to learn to read with, was to say the least insulting; fortunately I didn’t associate those with ‘real reading’ rather something to ‘do’ to keep my teachers happy. At home I continued with Jemima Puddleduck, The Tale of Tom Kitten, The Flopsy Bunnies and all the other wonders from the pen of Beatrix Potter.
Herein Camilla Hallinan brings us a veritable treasure trove of illustrations, original Potter sketches, memorabilia, specially commissioned photos and more.


It’s the kind of book you start dipping into and then realize you’ve just spent ages lost in its delights. Delights including spreads on the other wonderful books that followed Peter Rabbit starting with The Tailor of Gloucester and going right through to The Tale of Little Pig Robinson finally completed in 1930.
What a fascinating mix of natural history, art and history. I love the timeline that takes us right back to 1893
when Beatrix Potter first told her Peter Rabbit story to 5 year old Noel Moore in a picture letter, right up to 2016 with commemorative coins, stamps, a musical and the publication of a rediscovered story.
All in all, a marvellous book for anyone with an interest in, or memories of, an early childhood populated by Peter Rabbit and his friends. Happy hours of nostalgic browsing guaranteed.


The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots
Beatrix Potter and Quentin Blake
Frederick Warne
This story was rediscovered a couple of years back when Jo Hanks, a publisher at Penguin Random House Children’s, came across an out-of-print literary history about Beatrix Potter from the early 1970’s. In the book, Hanks found both a reference to a letter that Potter had sent her publisher in 1914, referring to a story about ‘a well-behaved prim black Kitty cat, who leads a double life’, and an unedited manuscript of the tale. Digging around in the V&A archive, Jo Hanks found there were in fact three manuscripts and letters showing Potter’s intentions to complete the work on the story– something that never happened until in 2015 Quentin Blake was offered (and accepted) the task of providing the illustrations for this book.
That serious black cat, Kitty …


has an alter ego as the air-gun wielding, Norfolk jacket and boots wearing, night poacher.
While another cat impersonates her she embarks on a poaching trip that goes decidedly wrong when she comes up against none other than Mr Tod having crash-landed into one of his traps; and as a result learns an important lesson.


Those readers familiar with Potter’s stories will delight in guest appearances from other famous characters such as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and a buck rabbit wearing a blue coat who bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain naughty young rabbit previously spotted stealing radishes from the garden of Mr McGregor.


Potter’s writing style in this book seems quite unlike that in her other stories and Quentin Blake’s illustrations are altogether more scribbly than the mannered ones of Potter; so this book, which is also much larger than the format of the original iconic series, has a rather different feel to it. I’m fascinated, but still making up my mind. Kitty-in-Boots won’t win the author many new fans but it will surely be of interest to her countless established ones.


The Young Performing Horse


The Young Performing Horse
Quentin Blake & John Yeoman
Andersen Press
First published almost forty years ago, the Young Performing Horse – should he now be called the Middle Aged Performing Horse? – is back to delight a new generation.
Poor farm children, brother and sister Bertie and Vicky buy a horse at an auction – the only one remaining – and he’s a rarity, a Young Performing Horse, so the auctioneer claims. Certainly he’s unusual with his ‘big eyes, long eyelashes, baggy skin, thick legs and shiny black hooves.’ and the twins fall in love with him straightaway. The adult Priddys had intended that the creature should carry their children to school instead of them having to trudge the long distance every day but he’s not big enough. He does however, accompany the twins to said school, trotting alongside them and even participating in lessons.


When the family face hard times, the twins persuade their parents not to sell the horse, but to let them take him with them to London where they’ll seek their fortune.
Eventually they reach the big city …


and find the location of Mr Crumbles’ theatre (an address given them by their teacher who happens to be Mr Crumbles’ friend.) and happily for them, there they spot a large sign saying “YOUNG ACTORS REQUIRED’. Having seen what their horse can do, Mr Crumble allows him to perform alongside the twins and the show is a great success …


So much so that the company is summoned to Buckingham Palace to give a Royal Command Performance in front of her majesty.


Suitably impressed, the Queen expresses a wish that all her subjects might have the opportunity to see a Young Performing Horse at Christmas. This gives Bertie a brilliant idea: could this be the origins of the pantomime horse? Whether or not it is, the Christmas shows all over the country make a fortune for Mr Crumble and his company and all ends happily for everyone concerned.
The partnership between John Yeoman with his wonderfully imaginative text and Quentin Blake with his sparklingly witty illustrations, results in a magical tale with a Dickensian feel to it. It’s a magic that will still hold audiences in its thrall even after all this time.
Was this cracking book ever made into a Christmas TV entertainment for children? If not, it should be …

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Tell Me a Picture/Following My Paint Brush

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Tell Me a Picture
Quentin Blake
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled Adventures in looking at art, this excellent book introduces its readers to twenty six paintings that were Quentin Blake’s choice for an exhibition that was held at the National Gallery in 2001. Representing a wide range of artists, alphabetically arranged we start with

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Avercamp’s A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle and conclude with Austrian picture book illustrator, Lisbeth Zwerger’s scene from Dwarf Nose, one of her collaborations with Wilhelm Hauff.
The former is packed full with detail and narrative possibility. However there is no wordy preamble about the painting as such, merely the artist’s name on a display board sign held by one of Blake’s characteristically offbeat characters alongside whom are other Blake characters who are discussing the painting by way of a prelude. The latter might send readers off in all manner of directions depending on what they are bringing to the painting.


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Actually that is part of the appeal of the whole enterprise: every time one turns the page or opens the book afresh, there is the possibility of new stories emerging. It truly is about opening up: opening up to the countless possibilities offered by way of interpretation and inspiration and of course, creativity and the imagination. I’m not dismissing of course, the notion that the book could also act as a starting point for inquiry of a more academic nature but that I’d say comes later.
And, how wonderfully those half dozen or so picture book artists of today (and I’m including Gabrielle Vincent here) stand up against the painters from as far back as the fifteenth century.
How I wish I’d been able to visit the National Gallery exhibition but I must content myself with this wonderful volume and the opportunities it offers me to share its contents with, and I hope inspire, children of all ages although, hopefully not to try emulating the antics of those shown in the lead-in to Polish illustrator Józef Wilkon’s Bats in the Belfry

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which is not a book I’m familiar with although I love some of his other picture books.

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Following My Paintbrush
Duari Devi and Gita Wolf
Tara Books
This is an inspiring, first person narrative account of how one woman, a domestic worker, follows her dreams and learns to become a painter.
Dulari Devi, from a poor village family, was unable to go to school. Instead she had to work with her mother caring for her brothers and sisters, selling in the market fish her father had caught, and working in other people’s homes as a domestic; sometimes she wished for more.
One day she stops to watch a group of children by the village pond and in her own words, “As I stood and looked at the children playing, the scene turned into a picture in my mind. It came alive, bright and lively, telling stories …

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Shortly after, she accompanies her mother to work at the home of an artist and is inspired by her paintings. Back home she begins creating her own things of beauty.

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Returning the next day, Dulari asks if she can join the painting class her employer is teaching and thus begins her journey of learning and discovery. Hard work, yes, but painting soon becomes part of her life and still is to this day. For now, as she says, “I am not just ‘a cleaner woman’, I am an artist.” And one who, having met a book publisher can finally say, “I have made a book.”- this one.
The distinctive artistic style Dulari uses is called Mithila and is a folk art characterised by bold images, richly patterned with lines, zigzags, circles and often, vividly coloured.
Here is one of the glorious paintings from the book…
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Truly an uplifting account of an individual discovering and developing her innate creativity, and a powerful, stunning creation to share with children everywhere whether you want to explore with them a distinctive artistic style from another culture, or inspire them to develop their creativity and follow their dreams. I’d suggest both.

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