Alfie and Dad

Alfie and Dad
Shirley Hughes
The Bodley Head
This book comprises three short stories wherein Alfie’s dad, Simon, so we’re told on the introductory page, plays a significant part.
In the first, a disturbed night, on account of relatively new friend Neal’s mention of a possible visit from the “Flying Loobies”, when he visits for a sleepover, calls for reassurance from Dad …

before Alfie can finally settle down for some shut-eye.
This is followed by the temporary loss of Alfie’s beloved soft toy, Flumbo when he, Mum and Annie Rose take a shopping trip by bus. Here again, Alfie’s Dad sorts out the problem. He takes Alfie, the following morning, to the main Lost Property Office

where they retrieve Flumbo

and end up taking home some other ‘unclaimed’ toys to add to Alfie’s collection.
Loss is the theme of the third story too: it’s a in the form of a little marmalade cat that despite misgivings from Dad, not to mention their own cat, Chessie, takes up temporary residence in Alfie’s home.

Dilys, as they call her, doesn’t overstay her welcome though; and after a few days, she disappears again. Not long after, while out walking with Dad, Alfie spies Dilys outside another house and discovers that she, or more accurately Tibbles, has, like many cats, a habit of going missing temporarily from her true place of residence.
As always, Shirley Hughes’ portrayal of Alfie and his family and friends is wonderfully affecting. The temporary setbacks and problems that beset young children, lead to outcomes that are, thanks here to Dad’s timely words of wisdom, satisfyingly resolved.
Alfie will always have a very special place in the affections of those who grew up with his early stories; but thanks to Shirley’s artistic genius with both words and pictures, he will continue to captivate new generations of readers and listeners, who will also take him into their homes and their hearts.

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Once Upon a Wish & Thank You!

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Once Upon a Wish
Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie
Red Fox
Deep in the forest, in a giant oak tree, lives a magical wishgiving boy, as you’ll soon see …
By night, as the wishes drift his way, he spends his time concocting and conjuring up wish magic for girls and boys,

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then delivering it right to them …

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Despite their delight at receiving their heart’s desire, these children quickly forget the wish giver who also has a wish of his own, for it’s a lonely life he leads in that secret lair of his. The lad wishes for a pet or a friend to keep him company but try as he might, his own wish is unfulfilled …

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Then one night this wish wafts his way “I wish I could fly” and immediately our lad is up and doing, sprinkling, stirring and filling a bottle of potion, before sailing off to deliver same to the waiting wisher. This particular recipient however, is rather different. Yes, she’s absolutely over the moon at being able to take her maiden flight, but it’s what she does next …

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that makes all the difference, though not right away. Her kind words take a little while for their own particular brand of magic to do its work …

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Amy Sparkes’ brilliant to read aloud rhyming verses mixed with Sara Ogilvie’s sparklingly gorgeous, richly and humorously detailed, glowing illustrations make for a magic mix all of their own: sheer delight from cover to cover.
If you’ve ever forgotten to thank, or overlooked saying, thank you to anybody, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this one and send it to them forthwith; actually buy a copy no matter what; you’ll surely find someone or many, to share its enchantments.

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Thank You!
Ethan Long
Abrams Appleseed
A variety of animals, small and large, a toddler and an adult demonstrate ways of showing thankfulness in this delightfully playful board book. There’s an additional way of showing gratitude too herein: paying it forward. Cat proffers Dog a ball, then dog in turn gives a flower to hummingbird;

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hummingbird then offers panda a bamboo shoot ; panda extends his paw with peanut to elephant and so on. Each act of kindness receives a characteristic thankful response – “Growl growl!”,Toot toot!” and so on until we come full circle to the cat, now the recipient of a ball of wool.
Next, we see each of the recipients enjoying their gift and a small child watching and wondering. And then comes a final human sharing time with adult and child rounding things off neatly.

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Long constructs this whole concatenation cleverly with each animal stretching out of its border and across the gutter with its offering.
If you’re endeavouring to teach your young infant to respond appropriately when given something, this is the perfect book; just make sure you don’t end up with a confused child barking, humming, growling, tooting, eeking, oinking or meowing. Actually though, those speech bubbles are great for joining in with, and a slightly older sibling would likely enjoy reading the book to a very young brother or sister.

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Faces, Faces, Faces /The Princess and the Pony

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Faces, Faces, Faces
Jacqueline & Jeremy Sinclair
Doubleday
Underlying this wonderfully playful book is a message about treating objects respectfully. Its creators have chosen to personify all manner of objects and present the book from the viewpoint of those ‘Faces’. There are kitchen things aplenty How many faces can you find?

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There are bathroom objects: and the good thing is they are always smiling unless we humans mistreat them …

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Because every single item has its own special purpose …

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and wants nothing other than to do its own thing (lateral thinkers like me – don’t go there!!)
And probably best of all are your very own personal things. Well maybe not quite, because out there is a big wide wonderful world full of … FACES …

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Now here’s a challenge: get a copy of this super book and see how many you and your children can count. Happy face counting …

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Inspired by the plethora of faces, some children produced their own ‘faces’ pictures.

And now for something completely different:

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The Princess and the Pony
Katy Beaton
Walker Books
A wicked sense of humour lies at the heart of this debut picture book. It features petite Princess Pinecone who, when the story opens, is eagerly anticipating the ‘real warrior’s horse’ she’s told everyone she wants this year. (Previous birthdays have yielded cosy sweaters.) Somehow though, even after trying their very best, this is what our young warrior receives from her parents …

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Too small, too round, there’s something not quite right about its eyes, it eats all the wrong things and inevitably … farts.

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The question is though, can young Pinecone train said creature into suitably bellicose material in time for the forthcoming ‘great battle’.

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Just doing his best is all our heroine asks of her pony when the battle day arrives and she must face Otto the Awful, meanest warrior of all. What ensues however, is truly surprising, leaving Princess Pinecone ‘flabbergasted, flummoxed, floored!’; the rest of the large cast of characters warmly cuddlesome,

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and the pony with the last word or rather, err …
I suspect this one will become a much-requested book in early years settings and infant classrooms: certainly children will love the comic style art work and the determined little warrior princess; but it’s most likely to be the pony that steals the show.

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Childhood Pleasures: Alfie Outdoors and The Jar of Happiness

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Alfie Outdoors
Shirley Hughes
The Bodley Head
The delectable Alfie is up with the lark and outside in the garden eager to start the day: it’s to be a gardening day with Dad but it’s one that involves a whole lot of digging and clearing, for the plan is to create a vegetable patch and plant some seeds. First though it’s back to the digging, which Alfie actually enjoys or rather, he enjoys investigating all the minibeasts he unearths from the soil.

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Come the weekend Alfie is allowed to choose his own seeds from the garden centre and he has a plan. He wants to grow carrots, not for himself but to feed to his friend Gertrude the goat at the goat sanctuary. The trouble is though, seeds don’t come up overnight, there’s a lot of waiting and watching involved. Just as Alfie is beginning to give up on his carrots, Dad notices some tiny seedings starting to sprout and with Alfie’s daily watering it’s not long before the first carrots are ready for pulling.

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Imagine Alfie’s disappointment then when he gets to the goat sanctuary to discover no Gertrude: she’s gone missing. Almost a day passes, a very sad one for Alfie and then yippee! Good news – Gertrude’s been found and is back where she belongs. All ends happily in true Alfie fashion next morning when he’s finally able to offer a juicy carrot to his favourite sanctuary resident.

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This is such a gorgeous book – another Hughes classic for sure. Shirley knows exactly the kinds of things that make young children content and never loses sight of them: Alfie’s preoccupations are those of every small child …

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and in her own inimitable way Shirley provides another tour de force every time she creates a new Alfie story.

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The Jar of Happiness
Ailsa Burrows
Child’s Play
Is happiness something you can put into a jar and keep bottled up? Young Meg seems to think so when she invents her very own kind, tasting of chocolate ice cream, apple juice and sunshine, smelling of warm biscuits and the seaside and containing all the best colours. Meg however doesn’t keep this happiness to herself; she uses her jar to cheer up glum friends

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or poorly relations; she seems to know just how to use it to maximum effect.
But, one day, Meg’s jar is nowhere to be found; so has her happiness gone forever?

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Fortunately not, thanks to all those Meg has shared her happiness jar with. It’s now their turn to show her their own special ingredients for happiness and none of them comes from a jar.

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Ailsa Burrows’ softly coloured characters have an endearing squidgy, cushiony appearance that make one want to snuggle up with them. And with its warm-hearted feel, this is a lovely snuggle-up-together and share with a young child kind of book.

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The Bear and the Piano & Little Bear

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The Bear and the Piano
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
There are some amazing picture book debuts this season: here’s one from David Litchfield that absolutely oozes style and panache.
A young bear cub discovers something unexpected in the forest one day and it’s something that, once he gets his paws on it, draws him back again and again and again for days,

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weeks, months and years as his plinking and plonking slowly becomes beautiful music with a power to transport him to magical places far away from his arboreal home.
Now a large grizzly, his musical prowess attracts other bears and then, some talent spotting humans. Thus, he leaves home and heads for the bright city lights of Manhattan …

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and stardom …

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What price fame and fortune though without your friends? Time to head for home thinks the bear and back he goes bursting with tales of life as a celebrity. But all he finds when he reaches the forest clearing is …

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Surely it can’t all have been for nothing, can it?
Executed with remarkable finesse, a fine virtuoso performance all round. It has all the qualities of a classic in the making.

Here’s one that’s already established itself as such:

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Little Bear
Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak
Red Fox pbk
Many moons ago in an edition of Learning to Read with Picture Books I featured this book in its previous I Can Read incarnation. It was the first of my key ‘Taking Off’ titles and I said of it, ‘a classic whose literary quality is indisputable.’
With four short stories in which Little Bear discovers the value of his own fur coat, makes birthday soup, visits the moon, and makes some wishes, together with its wonderfully warm illustrations by Maurice Sendak, this remains a book that all young children should encounter on their journey as readers. It’s great to see this Red Fox publication of a very special book.

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Aspects of Love

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Evermore Dragon
Barbara Joosse and Randy Cecil
Walker Books
The friendship forged in Lovabye Dragon between Girl and Dragon grows deeper here as the two decide upon the game for the day. Hide-and-Seek it will be and off goes Dragon to hide – supposedly.

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Like the good friend that she is though, Girl plays along searching diligently high and low although she can surely see that Drag-enormo self until …

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Then it’s Girl’s turn to hide and off she runs and runs … to a faraway hidey-hole where she waits … and waits and yawns and …
Dragon meanwhile continues to search but where oh where can Girl be?

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Girl awakes in the ‘Deep, deep, dark night.’ Dragonless and entirely alone and,
she cried silver tears/ worry worry tears/ and her heart thumped a sound/ a trem-below sound/ that only Dragon friends,/ very very special friends, can hear.’
And Dragon hears the summoning cry and, lighting up the sky with his dragon breath he flies to her rescue, enveloping her in his wings.

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I am here,” to which she responds “You’re a dear,”.
With its sprinklings of innovative language, and just the right frisson of fear, the beautifully constructed lyrical text combined with the dream-like scenes in muted greens, greys and blues into which are dropped Girl and her glowing yellow gown, is perfect for story time sharing, especially at the end of the day, be it at home or school. It certainly went down a treat with my audience of fives and sixes.

An altogether different celebration of love comes in:

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Big Book of Love
Catherine and Laurence Anholt
Orchard Books
Bursting with joie de vivre is this small child’s rhyming recitation of everything he (I think, but could equally be, she) loves. There’s the playful pup that leads child and reader across fields to meet friends, frolic in the waves, run in the rain, ride on a train to the colourful bustling city

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full of all manner of people and places of visit not least the library…

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And that can, in turn lead to exciting adventures with animals large and small and sometimes even a bit scary. But then there’s always the safety of home and a house full of love to come back to. …

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If only every child could be so lucky …
There’s so much to explore in Catherine’s child-centric scenes: every spread is brimming over with things to talk about, count or simply enjoy.

A look at love from a canine viewpoint in
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Love is My Favourite Thing
Emma Chichester Clark
Jonathan Cape
This book is based on the author’s own dog, a character that became the star of Plumdog Blog. Here, Plum is that narrator of her own story, a story wherein readers learn just how much love there is in her life. She loves among other things, wind, snow, sun, treats and sticks; she loves the children next door and of course, her ‘mummy and daddy’ aka Emma and Rupert and the things they do together. Equally they love her too.
Occasionally though, Plum’s zest for life and love gets her into trouble and once she’s got into a little bit of trouble …

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things seem to escalate till she’s in a whole lot of trouble …

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Even that’s not the worst part of the whole sorry chain of events – there’s the ice-cream episode too, after which poor Plum is banished to bed. Has love finally run out where this particular dog is concerned? Of course not but she definitely does need to rein in some of that canine enthusiasm especially where ice-cream and water are concerned.
A charming celebration of unconditional love, pooch style. I’m no lover of dogs but Plum as portrayed by Emma Chichester Clark, certainly won my heart.

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Fast and Furious; Slow and Steady

Daniel devouring the story

 

Space Dog
Mini Grey
Jonathan Cape
It’s 3043 and deep in space, Space Dog is ready to zoom homewards having completed a lengthy problem-solving mission in the Dairy Quadrant. Supplies are stashed and he passes the time with a game of solo Dogopoly before sleeping.
Not far off however, is Astrocat, zooming in his space saucer, or actually is about to plummet into a thick creamy mire. Then it’s a case of operation rescue – for the Astrocat if not his craft. No time for age old enmity now, it’s go with Space Dog or be stranded.

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Once safely in SS Kennel, the two erstwhile enemies sit face to face for a game of Dogopoly, followed by a tasty snack courtesy of Astrocat. Then, co-ordinates set, there comes yet another distress call …

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And another … Moustronaut has been captured, bound and perilously suspended above a chasm of bubbling fondue by the Cheese Ants.

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With another rescue duly completed – well almost – they have to satisfy that drooling, dribbling look in the Ant Queen’s eyes first. Then it really is time to head for home. Of course, poor Moustronaut needs a bit of tlc first; and there’s a whole universe out there waiting for friends to conquer – together. So, it’s Mission UNKNOWN ZONE – after a round or so of Dogopoly that is.

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Wonderful stuff! This action-packed adventure is bound to appeal to the numerous established fans of Mini Grey and will I’m certain, win her a whole host of new ones. This is overflowing with exciting happenings, visual jokes and verbal ones; and every turn of the page brings fantastic and frenzied features to divert and delight.

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Fast and Furry Racers The Silver Serpent Cup
Jonathan Emmett and Ed Eaves
Oxford University Press pbk
Playing fair is at the heart of this riotous romp of a ride (or should it be race) that takes place over land, under sea and in the air. Packed full of alliteration and other tongue-teasing phrases to test the reader-aloud, this story unfolds at breakneck speed.
Everyone’s gathered in Furryville for the race and the line up’s an impressive one. BEEP! BEEP! TOOT! TOOT! There’s Roderick Von Rooster in his Hot Rod rocket car, Stephanie Skedaddle in her super stylish boat, Ollie Octolinni in his submarine – a distinct advantage at times. Then we have Baron Billy Blackstripes aboard his super fast steam train, not forgetting Ella Egghart in her aeroplane. Could she perhaps be the winner after all?

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But foul play has struck, in the form of sabotage and who should be emerging from the depths but Al Mcnasty – a ruthless villain if ever there was one and wearing that smug smile too.

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But things are not quite over yet, for out of the ground emerges Max O’Moley just in the nick of time – a thoroughly deserving and honest winner. Three cheers for Max recipient of THE SILVER SERPENT CUP.

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Ed Eaves’ exuberant illustrations really do give the impression of tremendous speed and those vehicles are just the thing to excite and enthrall young listeners.

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Days with Frog and Toad
Arnold Lobel
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
This is the second of the larger format publications of the classic Lobel Frog and Toad stories. This one offers five more delicious episodes featuring the friends– all an absolute delight – though I might to go for Shivers

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(wherein Frog tells a spooky story) – if I had to pick a favourite; or maybe Tomorrow (we’re all guilty of putting off things we don’t want to do). Then again there’s Toad’s laughable efforts to fly The Kite; and The Hat Frog gives his best pal for a birthday present, to bring a big smile; oh and the final Alone in which Frog goes off to be by himself for a while

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– all equally brilliant and unmissable.
The Frog and Toad books remain unsurpassed in the field of newly independent readers. Three cheers for the two fictional pals and their everlasting friendship.

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