The Woodcutter’s Tale

The Woodcutter’s Tale
Carol Florence and Emily Ford
Ragged Bears

This is a story with a timeless feel that has much to say to readers and listeners in our acquisitive times.

It tells in highly descriptive prose of a hard-working Woodcutter who lives with his family in at cottage at the edge of the woods, a Woodcutter who likes to tell magical tales to his children at bedtime to send them off into dream worlds.

One night the Woodcutter himself has a dream. In his dream he sees in a tree, a Faery who fills his heart with joy.

Next morning as he goes to the forest he takes with him memories of the dream and having done his work, instead of going home he walks onto the common to a thorny grove and there he comes upon the tree of his dream.

Throughout the winter and into spring the Woodcutter returns to the tree but although he never sees the Faery he can feel her presence. He brings tiny gifts for her and pours out to her the story of his life.

One day the Faery leaves a gift of three golden eggs in a nest for the Woodcutter to find. The gentle soul can barely believe what is before his eyes.

On his return journey things happen

and the Woodcutter arrives home with only one of the eggs, but even that is stolen the very same night.

That isn’t the end though, for this is not just a tale of receiving and loss; all ends happily with all three eggs safely restored to the rightful owners in the family cottage on the edge of the wood.

Carol Florence’s poetic narrative combined with Emily Ford’s distinctive illustrations make for a modern interpretation of an ancient story that will speak to readers and listeners of all ages. It’s a tale to share on chilly days and dark nights that will fill everyone with warmth and a feeling of having been part of the unfolding of something magical.

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.

All Except Winston / Good Rosie!

All Except Winston
Rochelle Brunton and Nicoletta Bertelle
Ragged Bears
Young giraffe Winston is left out no matter whether the other giraffes are eating, drinking, playing their favourite game or sleeping. Winston does all these things alone.

Then one day when all the other giraffes are so busy grazing on yummy fruits high in the treetops, he hears a sound. His fellow long-necks ignore the rustle and the snap but Winston lets out a very loud, shrill whistle just in time to warn the others that a lion is on the prowl, hungry for its next meal.

Off they all dash for safety – just in time
Now Winston is ignored no longer; instead he’s a hero.

This seemingly simple story with it’s themes of celebrating difference and finding where you fit into a group is ideal for young children who have just started school or nursery, especially those who like Winston at the start of the book have yet to find out where they fit in.

Nicoletta Bertelle’s richly coloured, textured scenes reflect the glow of the savannah setting adding further warmth to Rochelle Brunton’s gentle telling.

Good Rosie!
Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss
Walker Books

Rosie is a terrier who lives with her owner George. She loves her owner but is eager to find another friend of the canine kind: (her reflection in her empty food bowl never answers).

On their daily walks together George and Rosie look at the clouds and one day George points out a dog-shaped one; this saddens Rosie so George suggests something new.

That something is the dog park but Rosie is overwhelmed by their sheer number and doesn’t know how to make friends; she feels a little afraid. Then she meets first Maurice a large Saint Bernard, then bouncy Chihuahua, Fifi. Initially she doesn’t like either of them, but then something happens to change all that.

Then it’s down to little Fif (what happens results in a name change for the Chihuahua) to demonstrate how to make a friend and before the end of the day, the three dogs are best pals and Rosie has something to look forward to on future walks with her human.

This warm-hearted, thoughtful, gently funny story presented in nine parts, is a neat blend of picture book and graphic novel: Harry Bliss’s humorous illustrations contrast nicely with Kate DiCamillo’s understated text in what is an ideal book for those making the transition to independent reading.

Try and Say Abracadabra! / How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim

Try and Say Abracadabra!
Maria Loretta Giraldo and Nicoletta Bertelle
Ragged Bears

It’s spring; all the little birds are learning how to fly and having a great time so doing. All that is except Little Owl who, despite support from teacher Mrs Pigeon, is left standing on his branch terrified.
Tortoise comes along and encourages him suggesting he use the super magical word ‘Abracadabra’

but when Owl tries, the word comes out wrong and he crashes to the ground.
Two attempts under Mouse’s direction fail to achieve more than a little flutter and then along comes Hedgehog with his suggestion that owl shout the magic word as loud as he can and …

Success!
Now the grateful little creature is ready to pass on the secret of his success to a baby frog that’s afraid to jump …

The power of Giraldo’s never give up message is artfully portrayed in Bertelle’s mixed media, digitally worked illustrations of the endearing characters.

How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim
Vivian French and Hannah Foley
Little Door Books

All hippos LOVE swimming!” So says Billy Hippo’s dad in response to his son’s declaration that he doesn’t like swimming. The water’s too cold and too wet; Billy is convinced of that.
Other members of his family try their hardest to encourage him to join them in the water but Billy stands firm on the river bank.

However Billy’s family aren’t the only ones aiming to get him swimming. Two frogs have, all the while, been watching the whole situation unfolding and scheming up their own plan. With the strategic placing of a well-chosen item or two, they cause Billy – as Hannah Foley shows in this splendid slapstick sequence –

to hurtle into the water and after a deal of glugging, not to mention swirling and wallowing, Billy announces, “I love swimming.”

Simply told in a direct manner that leaves Hannah Foley plenty of room to fill in the details in her fun-filled illustrations, this is a good bet for little ones who have a reluctance to take the plunge.
You can down load a free audiobook and songs from the publisher’s website.

Early Years Storytime: Fergus Barnaby Goes on Holiday / There’s Unicorn in Town!

Fergus Barnaby Goes On Holiday
David Barrow
Hodder Children’s Books
Fergus Barnaby lives with his parents on the first floor of a block of flats. Their bags are packed

and they’re just about to set off on holiday when Fergus remembers he hasn’t got his bucket and spade. They’re still upstairs in Fred’s apartment, left here when they played together. Off he goes to the second floor to retrieve them.
As they start loading the car, Barnaby remembers his swimming goggles: those he retrieves from Emily Rose on the third floor and so it goes on – Barnaby seems to have loaned out half his possessions to friends – until finally everything is ready and off they go.
Surely there can’t be anything else left behind; or can there?
Despite his forgetfulness, or is it perhaps lack of possessiveness, Fergus is an endearing character and his flats have some distinctly unusual residents.

David Barrows’ funny, retro style illustrations for this, his debut picture book, are full of delightfully quirky details and young listeners will enjoy the supreme silliness of the finale.

There’s a Unicorn in Town!
Emma Pelling
Ragged Bears
Do you believe in unicorns? Some people do, some people don’t, but they make for a good yarn no matter what.
Rumour has it that there’s a unicorn in Brinton town: some of the residents even claim to have seen it. But then during the course of a week sightings are confirmed every day, so come Sunday, it’s time to draw up a find the unicorn action plan.
Justin the zookeeper is particularly keen to add a mystical creature to his collection of animals and young Cecily has designs on it as a pet.

The search is on, but all anybody can find are some sparkle dust and a few likely looking hoofprints and before long interest dwindles.
Only Cecily harbours a hope of seeing it again, a hope that is further kindled when, on her way to the park, she notices a rainbow flash …

Could it possibly be? …
A sweet story suffused with understated magic: just right for an early years story session.

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Oscar the Guardian Cat

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Oscar the Guardian Cat
Chiara Valentina Segré and Paolo Domeniconi
Ragged Bears
This is a story of a cat, a very special one and it’s based on the true story of Oscar the cat that lives in a Rhode Island care home. Here in this lovely book, Oscar takes the role of narrator and he describes how he carries out his many, important guardian duties visiting each and every one of the home’s residents every morning; and after his afternoon nap, he spends the evenings, keeping watch in the dining room. Oscar introduces several of the home’s residents – ‘grandparents’ Oscar calls them assigning them names according to the traits he sees in them: there’s the silent Lady Lisa and Mr Weakhead, ‘a real chatterbox’ and some of the staff – there’s the slightly scary but kind hearted head nurse, Dolores …

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and Doctor Goodhelp.
Oscar has a special ability – a kind of tacit knowing of ‘the right time’ when one of the residents is about to die. Then he jumps up onto the bed purring, comforting and signalling to the staff to contact relatives, letting them know the end is imminent.
The practicalities of death are dealt with by assigning to it a metaphorical presence, Mewt, seen only by Oscar: Mewt takes a different form for each visit. For Mr Weakhead, it is a blonde haired girl …

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who looks very like the photograph on the bedside table. Oscar stands guard watching as, hand in hand with Mewt, a smiling Mr Weakhead, rises from the bed, flies out of the window and off towards the setting sun.

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Written and illustrated with great sensitivity and the occasional touch of humour, this is a book that will offer comfort to children who have a grandparent close to the end, or has recently died. It is likely to provide a way to talk about a particular loss as well as death in general. The softly textured illustrations have both a luminescence and a three dimensional quality, the combination of which makes them powerfully affecting.

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Forays into Fairytale

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The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book
Thierry Robberecht and Grégoire Mabire
Ragged Bears Publishing
An overcrowded bookshelf in Zoe’s room precipitates an adventure for the black wolf that spills out of a falling book as it hits the floor. With his pointy teeth, said wolf, in his own environment is a scary creature but once out of the book he becomes something else altogether – a frightened creature anxious to escape from the resident moggy. In some desperate attempts to keep himself out of the cat’s clutches he gets into all manner of testing situations

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and tries to escape into other story books. None of the first few he tries can furnish a safe hiding place

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but our lupine friend isn’t giving up which is a good thing because on entering the next one he finds himself in a large forest wherein he meets …

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This little character is much more welcoming: in fact it turns out the wolf is just what she needs by way of a shoulder to cry on and of course, he’s more than happy to offer a helping paw to ensure a safe passage through the forest to Grandmother’s house.
Superbly subversive and with its sprinkling of fairy tale references and such a beguiling main character this is enormous fun to read with under 7s and a great book to spark off children’s own wolf adventures. Grégoire Mabire’s comic rendering of that toothy wolf and his larger than life feline adversary are both hilarious and wonderfully dramatic.

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Fairytale Frankie and the Tricky Witch
Greg Gormley and Steven Lenton
Orchard Books
I like a book with a twist to the tale: with its plethora of fairytale characters and diverting illustrations this playful modern story certainly has one or two.
Frankie is a fairytale fanatic and one morning as she’s enjoying a peaceful read in her bedroom, a princess bursts in asking for a hiding place and thus begins a visitation from a whole chain of unlikely intruders large

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and small …

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all asking for somewhere to hide from the witch.
When Frankie realizes she too should take cover, the witch bursts in demanding to know where the other characters are. Frankie doesn’t let on so the witch has to resort to more drastic measures to discover their whereabouts before uttering some words that finally cause the confused Frankie to understand what is going on.

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Help!
Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
Hodder Children’s Books
From the partnership that created Shhh! and Keep Out! is another playful foray into the world of traditional tales. This time there’s a big bad wolf at large and three porcine characters are rather keen to apprehend him and they’ve enlisted the reader to assist in the search, not to mention a teddy bear and a whole drove of their fellow swine.
There are so many possible hiding places to check out and lots of false starts although plenty of evidence that the BBW isn’t far away.

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So it’s on with the search and the poster pinning …

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until they discover more evidence of tricky doings.
But the creature’s still at large and the search continues till the seekers come upon a sturdy-looking house that might just be THE place.
Engaging, entertaining and from the opening lines, totally involving. There’s even a pair of mouse observers/commentators to add to the fun.

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