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.

Audrey the Amazing Inventor

Audrey the Amazing Inventor
Rachel Valentine and Katie Weymouth
Words & Pictures

Hot on the heels of Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere, Engineer comes another young girl character with a passion.
Meet Audrey, inquisitive and an inveterate fiddler with things, who, having declared to her teacher, her intention to be an inventor, sets about achieving her ambition.

She starts with items to make life better for her dad and Happy Cat but after a very rocky start

and even more disastrous next efforts, Audrey miserably declares herself “the world’s worst inventor!

Luckily for her, her dad, far from making disparaging remarks, encourages his daughter to learn from her mistakes and carry on trying. Wise advice.

It works too, for it isn’t long before Audrey is inventing again, but this time she’s extra careful at the planning stage, the constructing stage and the testing stage. Dad cannot wait to see the new invention.

Will it work to the satisfaction of all though? It’s certainly wildly inventive, and sophisticated; but will it deliver?
Crazy, but enormously enjoyable and an inspiration to young female would-be scientists, technologists and engineers: Audrey demonstrates just how much enjoyment the STEM curriculum offers and Rachel Valentine’s narrative reminds children of the importance of persevering, and of following your dreams.

There’s a slight touch of the Heath Robinsons about some of Katie Weymouth’s zany scenes of Audrey at work on her inventions, and she also adroitly captures the close and supportive relationship between father and daughter.

Dragon Dos and Don’ts

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Dare to Care: Pet Dragon
M.P.Robertson and Sally Symes
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Ever thought of keeping a dragon? It’s probably not top of your list of things to do. Nevertheless Robertson and Symes have compiled a spoofingly delicious manual on how to do just that. There are several considerations including how to dispose of the dung it will produce in profusion –

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before taking that dragon decision tying you together for life. Anatomy (you might want to skip the warty bit, ditto the ‘teeth’ bit, if you are at all squeamish), choice of breed and choice of egg come next – we’re advised that it’s best to begin with an egg and select one that your particular lifestyle most easily accommodates. And hatching can be extremely time consuming …

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Of course, once the thing finally does emerge you’ll need to know about handling, feeding and grooming. Each of these is given its own spread and I suggest reading them with great care: brussels sprouts are a definite no-no and curry’s inadvisable too. And, oh my goodness you’ll need a veritable troupe of tradespeople when it comes to grooming …

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It’s best to know about dealing with ailments in the unlikely event that your dragon falls sick, so that’s taken care of next, followed by exercise.
Now you may well have selected a dragon as companion for the aeronautical opportunities such a creature offers, so a term or two at flight school is a MUST and then, with license under your belt …

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This tongue-in-cheek treat is guaranteed to give you a good giggle, or rather, a whole lot of giggles. And, it’s the perfect picture book for those who claim to enjoy information texts rather than stories.

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Marmaduke the Very Popular Dragon
Rachel Valentine and Ed Eaves
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
In this, his second story, Marmaduke has become something of a celebrity, so much so that best friend, Meg, sees little of him. Never mind, thinks Meg, there’s the Whizz Cone Tournament coming up, the perfect thing for the best friends to do together. But then Marmaduke becomes even more elusive; surely he couldn’t have found another partner for the tournament could he? That certainly doesn’t look like Meg riding him to victory here …

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Then, come trophy presentation time, Marmaduke isn’t feeling as overjoyed as he ought to and what’s more, he can hear sobbing sounds in the distance. Off he goes to find Meg, offer his heartfelt apologies and make a promise that henceforward, he’ll never exclude her again. That’s the kind of promise best friends always try to keep …

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Fans of Marmaduke and Meg will welcome their return; and applaud Marmaduke for seeing the error of his ways and acting accordingly. Adult mediators of the story have a good starting point for a ‘what makes a good friend?’ discussion.

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Problems, Plans, Perils and Parties

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Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon
Rachel Valentine and Ed Eaves
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
Marmaduke just hates being different. Unlike the other (purple) dragons his skin is faded orange, his scales stick out and his ears are positively elephantine. Protecting princesses is definitely out of the question, so the other dragons laughingly tell him when he asks for their assistance. However, Marmaduke is not only different; he is also determined. So too is Princess Meg and when she gets herself lost in the deep, dark woods, Marmaduke seizes the opportunity to dash to her rescue.

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When he finally spreads those unusual wings of his, Meg declares them “Fantastically different!” as they shimmer and sparkle in the sky.

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So, does he become her protector? Suffice it to say that although Meg is a strong- minded kind of princess, she does need a friend.
Yes, it’s sparkly and spattered with pink but here is a divergent princess who refuses to fit into a mould and what’s more she accepts and appreciates difference in others. And of course both she and in the end, Marmaduke, show strength of character.
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Shh! We Have a Plan
Chris Haughton
Walker Books
I’ve been a big fan of Chris Haughton since A Bit Lost some four years ago but this, with its intriguing title, is I think, my favourite so far.
Essentially four woolly-hatted friends, nets a ready, (hence the title) spy a colourful bird as they are out walking. The approach of the smallest is a friendly ‘hello birdy’, quickly ‘shhed’ by the others, those with a plan, a catching plan of course. Slowly, they creep, tiptoe, tiptoe … Oops! Missed.
Plan B involves a ladder and a balancing act;

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ready… whoopsie! …
Plan C – these are determined characters – paddling upstream … stretching forwards, ready, one, two, three…

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splash!
Time for a different approach, the little one’s this time; he knows just how to tempt a bird

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or two or … O OHHHHH!
Dry humour, quirky characters, a slightly ridiculous, perfectly paced, skillfully suspenseful tale and distinctive, limited colour palette; add to that an eye-catching typeface, images and shapes – the result? Another Haughton must have –I’d get more than one in fact.
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The Big Blue Thing on the Hill
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing pbk
Howling Hill stand far from the city, a quiet peaceful place during the day, alive with the sounds of foxes, and weasels, boars, badgers and bears, wolves too, each making a characteristic rustle, snuffle, sniffle, growl, or howl. Then one night, there comes a rumble, a ROAR and a dreadful vision atop the hill. Wild speculations on behalf of the frightened animals ensue and off they dash to hide in the Great Forest. Back they creep next morning; the trouble remains. Speculations run wild – “a big blue elephant!” say the weasels, ‘a big blue dinosaur!” is the badgers’ decision. (Echoes of The Six Blind Men and the Elephant here). “It’s a BIG BLUE THING” is the foxes’ correct assertion. All agree however that the thing appears to be awake and should be left till it sleeps.
At dusk the animals return to HOOOWWWLLL – the wolves suggestion this –

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GRROOOWWLL – that’s the bears; HUFF, PUFF, PUSH and SHOVE – the boars try that. But does the Big Blue Thing budge? Not one single centimetre. Burying, a seemingly possible ploy, is foiled when the Thing makes a “WAKING UP” sound. Off flee the animals to consult the Wise Owls. An attack of the BUZZING WHIZZING ZOOMING kind delivered by a BIG BUG FLYING SQUAD ensues as the sun peeks over the Hill.

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Peace and quiet resumes until …

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Foolishly funny: those fearful animals with their troubled countenances and plucky plans are an absolute hoot and the surprise ending has caused much mirth among my young listeners who relished every moment of the tale.
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Two Speckled Eggs
Jennifer K. Mann
Walker Books pbk
Ginger wants to invite the girls in her class to her birthday party, all except one – Lyla Browning. Lyla is different, smelling ‘like old leaves’, carrying a magnifying glass and she’s not much of a talker.

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Ginger’s mum insists she’s included. On party day, the first to arrive is Lyla but once the others come, things begin to go rather differently from Ginger’s expectations. Ava invents new rules for Blind Man’s Buff, Pin the Tail on the Donkey becomes pin the tails on each other and the egg and spoon and Three legged races are disastrous. Moreover, the silver-and gold cake is anything but a hit, except with Lyla, who until then has stayed in the background. Poor Ginger. But then she starts to think that perhaps she’s misjudged Lyla;

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maybe she is actually rather cool.Assuredly her present – a tiny bird’s nest, hand-made and containing two speckled eggs (chocolate caramel-cream and Ginger’s favourite no less) stands out as wonderfully thoughtful and serves as a symbol of a new friendship. Being different is a good thing after all, Ginger decides or perhaps the two of them aren’t really so different anyway.

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How good to see a quietly strong, divergent character such as Lyla ; all the more so as her independence of thought and openness come to be appreciated by Ginger. Jennifer Mann’s slightly scruffy crayon outlines filled with soft waterolours, stand out against the largely white backgrounds of the pages
As well as in their facial expressions, a considerable degree of emotion is conveyed through the artist’s perfect placing of particular characters on the page.
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Farmer John’s Tractor
Sally Sutton and Robyn Belton
Walker Books
Thoughts of the recent floods came right back to me as I started to read this rhyming tale of how Farmer John’s tractor – a rusty orangey-red one kept locked in a shed – comes into its own when the river breaks its banks after a very rainy winter.
Down by the river a car is stuck fast: the family inside shouts for help. They manage to climb onto the roof as a series of vehicles — a speedy jeep, a tow truck,

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and a fire engine, siren blasting — rush to the scene one by one. Each ends up more firmly stuck than the last. Time to see if Farmer John’s ancient tractor, might still be up to the job?
Belton’s muted watercolour pictures are just right for the prevailing wetness of the countryside setting and Sally Sutton’s strong, rhythmic, rhyming text just right for conveying the power of the swirling, twirling, rushing, gushing water and the muscle power of Farmer John and his chugging tractor.
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Dinosaur Roar!
Paul Strickland and Henrietta Strickland
Doubleday Children’s Books
With a host of opposites dinosaur-delivered, but even more importantly, the powerful message that early reading is (or should be) fun, this rip roaring rhythmic rhymer really packs a punch. What young child can resist the lure of Paul Strickland’s roaring or squeaking

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lunch gobbling beasties be they fierce or meek, fast or slow, above or below, weak or strong, short or long, sweet or grumpy, spiky or lumpy …
After twenty years, with its glorious pictures and a cleverly catchy text
this one is still a real winner.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!
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