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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Dixie O’Day Up, Up and Away!

 

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Dixie O’Day Up, Up and Away
Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
Hip! Hip Hooray! Dixie’s up and away. Well not quite yet but he will be soon in this, his third adventure.
Dixie and Percy have a new friend, Ariel, a parrot belonging to their neighbour and arch enemy, Lou Ella. When the three friends set off to Didsworth Air Show, she’s quickly in her car and hot on their trail to recover her bird. Ariel however, has no wish to be caught so when he spies her, he makes a dive for the basket of a hot air balloon, hastily followed by Percy and Dixie.

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A gust of wind saves them from her clutches and, loosened from its tethers, the balloon takes flight – up, up and up it soars leaving a furious Lou Ella far below. None of the three aeronauts has any ballooning experience so it’s a case of learning by doing and UP seems their best option.
Time passes, lunch begins to feature in their thoughts but suddenly, down comes the rain, followed by thunder and lightning. The friends are soon soaked through and as the wind buffets them dangerously, they cling on searching for somewhere to land till they spot what appears to be an island.

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Down they go but it’s not quite the tropical variety Ariel had in mind. Rather, it’s a roundabout at the centre of a busy junction.
Clearly the animals have never been to forest school: their efforts at shelter building are a dismal failure and even worse, there’s Lou Ella come to claim her pet. He though, tells her in no uncertain terms what he thinks of her and flies off into the nearest tree; but that’s not the end of the story.
I won’t spoil that but suffice it to say, there’s another frantic balloon flight, an encounter with a flock of parakeets

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(have they flown over from Bushey Park?) after which Ariel decides to spread his wings, and a stop-off at a favourite venue for Dixie and Percy.

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I know a good few young readers who have been eagerly awaiting this book and they won’t be disappointed. In addition to another exciting story from Shirley, gloriously funny, retro-style illustrations by Clara, grace every spread; there are pages of interesting activities and a short taster of the next adventure of Dixie and Percy. Who can ask for more?

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Here’s 7 year old James who was absolutely thrilled to get his hands on a copy.

 

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Mums and Grandmas

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Mummy’s Home!
Christopher MacGregor and Emma Yarlett
Picture Corgi pbk
This is by way of a companion volume to Daddy’s Going Away from the same author/artist partnership, only herein it is Dad who is left in charge when Mum is elsewhere. Again we share the feelings of an alien child narrator as she assists her mum (and herself) prepare for the departure; and then it’s over to Dad to keep the ship afloat

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and provide jellybeans to help in the countdown until her return. In the meantime of course, there are letters and phone calls to be exchanged,

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not to mention emails.
Having a Mum who comes and goes like the one in this rhyming story is very hard for children of all ages to cope with but this particular family are up front and talk about everything; and that helps enormously. But at last, there are preparations for Mum’s homecoming to get under way

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and then …

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In setting the story in a virtual alien world, as Emma Yarlett does, she somehow allows children more easily to enter that place from which to become aware, the space which is so important for young children to be able to access that is provided by a good story.

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Alfie and Grandma
Shirley Hughes
Red Fox pbk
This is more of a repackaging than completely new material in that it brings together three previously published stories which focus on Alfie’s relationship with his Gran; it’s a treat (especially for Grans and their grandchildren) to have them in one book nevertheless. And if you are an Alfie fan and don’t already have the books these tales originally appeared in, then you’ll surely want to have this one.
In the first story, we join Alfie, Annie Rose and Grandma as they help a neighbour hunt for her missing tortoise, Winnie. They spend all day looking but to no avail and at suppertime Alfie in particular, is very upset. So, after supper, Grandma takes them on one last Winnie hunt before bedtime. Alfie fears the animal might have fallen into a ditch somewhere

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but an exhaustive search along the road yields nothing so they start back empty-handed.
Then, Alfie stops to look carefully at the stones in Mrs Hall’s cottage garden; one of them certainly isn’t white like the others, so could it perhaps be…
The second story is a delightful description of Alfie, Annie Rose and Grandmas’ wet day as the rainy outdoor adventure they start out on gives way to a rather drier, indoor one that takes them on A Journey

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to the North Pole, which also serves as Grandma’s attic.
Alfie and Gran assist a strayed sheep with a mind of its own get back to the rest of the flock

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in the third story and the book ends with a map showing Grandma’s House and all the places around it that have been mentioned in the episodes, helping to put everything in context.
Pure pleasure, as are all things Alfie.

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Grandma in Blue with Red Hat
Scott Menchin and Harry Bliss
Abrams Books
The boy narrator of this story goes to a Saturday morning art class at the museum, an exciting activity where his teacher maintains that “Anything can be art. Toys, hair clips, guitars, water bottles. Anything”. After some musings on the part of the narrator, there follows a discussion among the children about art and artists. “… it’s beautiful.” says one, “different,” another thinks;

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but it can also tell a story, come from far away, make you feel good, be funny or unique, suggest others.
This discussion induces in the young protagonist an interesting, indeed inspiring notion. His Grandma ought to be in the museum, he decides and even goes so far as to suggest it to the museum curator. Fortunately for both boy and Grandma, his offer is rejected and the boy has a much better idea. His beautiful, different, funny, story-telling relation who makes him feel good and comes from far away can instead become the subject for an exhibition to celebrate her amazingness.
And so she does, when the young narrator puts together an entire mixed-media collection.
DSCN4153 (800x600)DSCN4152 (800x600)Bliss in contrast, uses watercolour and pen and ink for his re-creations of famous works of art, and the human characters who populate the story. In combination with Menchin’s minimal text and speech bubbles, this author/artist partnership offers young readers the opportunity to become art critics as well as perhaps inspiring them to venture down the creative path with some family portraits of their own making. And one thing all readers are likely to come away with is an abiding memory that Picasso “liked to paint in his underwear.”

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Fun, expansive empowering and inspiring.

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Very Little Cinderella

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Very Little Cinderella
Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap
Doubleday
Very Little Cinderella, with her “lello boots” and “BIG blue scooter” is truly adorable. So too is this the second ‘Very Little’ story to come from the partnership of Heapy and Heap. The basic story is pretty much left intact with Cinderella doing the cleaning, a fairy godmother (aka the babysitter) and a very patient one she turns out to be, an outing to the ball – that’s for the Ugly Sisters of course, not VLC who is left at home distraught, temporarily at least. But I did say the basic plot remains, so our tiny heroine does get to go to the ball, or party as it’s called here. Small she may be, but Very Little Cinderella has an enormous amount of determination, so it’s only after a whole lot of palaver over her choice of attire

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and mode of transport to said party.

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There’s dancing, – lots of it, a midnight-striking clock and a mad dash home which leaves a soon distraught VLC minus one of her ‘lello boots. There follows the arrival of a prince – a Very Little prince clutching a very little boot (and a small bunny), and a triumphant “It fits me!”

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and another meeting of the Prince and Cinderella. But remember these two are both Very Littles so it has to be a play-date and of course, ‘they both played happily ever after.’
Another certain winner for this author/artist partnership. Whither next I wonder…

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The girls in one of the groups I shared the story with were inspired to design new dresses for VLC to wear to the party.

 

On the subject of wonderful duos, it’s great to see paperback reissues of two stories about one of my very favourite young characters, Emily Brown, and constant companion, Stanley, her much-loved old grey rabbit.
That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown
Emily Brown and the Thing
Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton
Hodder Children’s Books
In the first, young Emily asserts her ownership of Stanley in no uncertain terms when Queen Gloriana attempts to procure him for herself, although she does have a put up with his temporary absence when her majesty’s Special Commandos creep into her bedroom and steal him one night as Emily sleeps.

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The Thing referred to in the title of the second story is a large greenish scriffily-scraffily creature that lands up on Emily Brown’s windowsill one night when out searching for his cuddly. The Thing seeks Emily’s help in his hunt but even when they find the cuddly quite soon, it’s only the beginning of what turns out to be a very disturbed night for young Emily: is there to be no end to the demands that Thing makes on her during the course of an action-packed few hours until she finally discovers the real cause of the Thing’s restlessness.
Wonderful stuff.

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Fairy Magic at Christmas

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The Tooth Fairy’s Christmas
Peter Bently and Garry Parsons
Hodder Children’s Books
Santa comes to the aid of the Tooth Fairy when she gets lost on Christmas Eve having answered the call of Tim Tucker’s letter.

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He gives her a lift to Tim’s house but they discover that the chimney is blocked so then it’s the Tooth Fairy’s turn to take the initiative. With a wave of her wand and a magical shrinking utterance, the two of them sail through a crack in the window and having regained their normal size, set about their respective tasks. Things don’t go as smoothly as they’d hoped but eventually they’re back safely in the sleigh heading to the fairy’s home where, once she’s safely tucked up in bed, she too receives a visit from Santa.
A jaunty rhyming text complemented by bold, bright images and at times, very funny scenes …

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complete the package of this festive escapade.
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The Fairy Tale Hairdresser and Father Christmas
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Picture Corgi pbk
Fans of the series in particular will welcome this seasonal offering from Kittie Lacey. It begins on Christmas Eve when the fairyland hairdresser leaves Kittie’s Cuts to make a special home visit to the abode of Father Christmas. While she is busy giving Santa and his team a special Christmas makeover she notices Crystal, one of the elves, is missing.
Having tracked her down she and Father Christmas learn that the Snow Queen (who had imprisoned Crystal) has stolen all the presents.

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But can the two of them, with the help of the reindeer, melt her icy heart and get them back in time for that vital evening delivery for the big day?
This Christmas morning scene says it all …

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Readers will love spotting the characters and their respective gifts on this spread but that’s not quite the end of the story. As ever, the Fairy Tale Hairdresser brings plenty to entertain, not forgetting those characteristic touches of sparkle.
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Spellbinders

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The Witch with an Itch
Helen Baugh and Deborah Allwright
Jonathan Cape pbk
When the little witch passes her final exams she cannot wait to start working her magic outside school. Her first subject is a frog – he’s destined to become a hat but, at the crucial moment, an itch comes upon our young heroine causing her wand to wobble and point instead at a flower – whoopsie! The frog’s still there but …

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A similar thing happens with the spider; this time it’s a toadstool not the arachnid that becomes a broom.
Another failed attempt follows and then a thoroughly frustrated little witch loses her cool completely hurling her wand to the ground in disgust.

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Suddenly beside her she notices a little girl with one hat, one pot, one broom plus the frog, spider and newt. And, she knows what’s been causing that aggravating itch; moreover, she knows how to get rid of that trying allergy once and for all.
Suitably spirited, wonderfully expressive illustrations and a lively, rhyming text that gives adult readers aloud the opportunity to let rip are the main ingredients of this diverting tale by a debut author.
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Winnie’s Big Bad Robot
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
Winnie’s decision to wave her wand and turn her junk robot into a real one is far from clever, all the more so when the big bad creature makes a grab for her wand and starts wielding it. Before long, not only has her house has become robotic but Winnie the Witch has become Winnie the Robot.

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Now it’s left to faithful Wilbur to retrieve the wand and restore things to their natural order once more. But can he do it?
Another crazy caper illustrated in Korky Paul’s witty, exuberant style. Those robotic rabbits, ducks and frogs are superb but all the spreads are crammed with
delicious details.
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Especially for those who like to add their own creative touches of magic to a story is:

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Spells and Surprises Activity Storybook
Marnie Edwards and Leigh Hodgkinson
Nosy Crow pbk
Best friends Princess Sapphire and Emerald the Witch become pupils at St Aubergine’s School just in time for the annual Hallowe’en festivities. First though there are all manner of lessons to be learned, not to mention costumes to be made and strange noises to be investigated. So it’s just as well that the pupils are ready to help each other out. Toasted marshmallows all round, I say.
There’s lots of fun to be had herein – glue, sequins and glitter at the ready: there are opportunities for adding to every one of the forty or so double spreads.
This one is definitely more likely to appeal to girls, probably from around five but perhaps younger depending on the individual. And don’t forget those witchy hats; time to head over to Mixtopia for some magical happenings.
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Fairy Tale Imaginings

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Use Your Imagination
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow
Like its predecessor, this delicious book comes with a warning on the cover – (Rabbit’s suggestion I imagine judging by what ensues therein.). Open up to find a fantastic lesson in storytelling courtesy of one large lupine librarian – who ever heard of such a thing? – and one small and so he proves – highly imaginative Rabbit, not to mention the brilliant Nicola O’Byrne.
Feeling bored, said Rabbit wishes aloud for something to happen and this comment happens to be overheard by said librarian His suggestion is to co-write a story. Having got over (more or less) his surprise at the size of the librarian’s ears – “All the better for listening to stories with, my dear,” and his eyes “All the better for reading with,” the next thing is how to begin. USE YOUR IMAGINATION! – how else? So off we, or rather they, go… ‘Once upon a time.’ That’s the beginning dealt with and oh, it has to be a fairy tale; characters next and the requirement here is a baddie. Size is important; not too small and not too big…

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wolf size is perfect. Then there’s the hero (dress unimportant) and a setting. Again, imagination comes to the fore or should that be forest, here.
Now that’s all settled, let the story start –

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Time to decide who is really calling the shots thereafter and quickly too. Over to you Rabbit…
Cheeky humour, verbal and visual, mixes perfectly with fairytale frights and just the right degree of suspense in this superbly imagined (what else?) book.
It’s one of those that makes you want to wave it from the rooftops and shout come and listen to this NOW.
I had pretty much the same reaction to:

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Dog Loves Fairy Tales
Louise Yates
Jonathan Cape
As he dusts his bookshelves, Dog comes upon a long-lost book of Fairy Tales and in so doing, steps right into an adventure. His first encounter is with an imp who insists he is under a witch’s curse and must remain in his jar. Dog however disagrees. We must find the witch and break the curse he asserts leading the imp out into the Enchanted Forest.

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Now this imp is a thoroughly pessimistic character and no matter what Dog says, he counters it with negativity.
On their journey to find the witch, Dog and imp encounter Goldilocks (in the three bears’ cottage), three little pigs on their construction site,

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Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood in the wood, Rumpelstiltskin (but not Rapunzel; she was not at home – thanks to imp’s bad luck) and more than one big bad wolf before finding the witch.

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She turns out to be anything but wicked and cures imp of his pessimistic streak once and for all leaving Dog and his impish pal to continue together right to THE END and their very own ‘happily ever after’.
This thoroughly engrossing story is brimming over with fairy tale allusions, (some spoken, others shown) making this not only a delight for young audiences but also an absolute gift for teachers. It’s great to read aloud and a super starting point for an exploration of traditional tales in the primary classroom. As with her previous Dog stories, the characters are beautifully portrayed in Louise Yates’ wonderful, very funny watercolour illustrations. She manages to convey the entire range of emotions seemingly effortlessly with that light touch of hers. Cool endpapers too.
It’s me, not the imp who is bewitched where this book is concerned.

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Holidays Far and Near

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Wanda and the Alien Go Camping
Sue Hendra
Red Fox pbk
Wanda and her alien pal embark on their fourth adventure – camping. Their camp site however, is not the original earthly one planned; that’s far too wet and rainy. Instead the alien takes Wanda in his space rocket to his planet and it’s there they set out to find a suitable place to pitch their tent. Even that however, doesn’t match up to expectations, certainly not Wanda’s anyhow. She finds fault with all the possible spots they visit –

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too noisy, too quiet, too wild. Oh dear, can it be that the alien’s planet is entirely unsuitable too. But what about those clouds up above; could they possibly fit the bill?
Seemingly so.

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Cloud camping is just perfect; they can invite their other friends and the rain will not interfere at all.
One cannot help admiring the alien’s perseverance and Wanda’s endeavours not to hurt her best friend’s feelings. Indeed the sight of Wanda and her alien friend always brings a smile to my face, as in my experience, it does to many a preschooler. Here, I am sure the multitudes of aliens in alien city with their Day-Glo striped apparel and varying number of eyes, and the cloud camping possibilities will particularly appeal.
Sue Heap’s delightful images are just the thing to stimulate some modeling activities with coloured soft dough, ‘Fimo’ or similar; don’t forget the googly eyes though.
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I Heart Holidays
Clara Vulliamy
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
This is a happy book all about MARTHA – that’s me! Come and see my BRILLIANT new suitcase!

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Who can resist these opening lines of the third story featuring Martha and her bunny brothers. Young Martha is busy packing all manner of items into her case in preparation for her seaside holiday and finally the entire family is ready.

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Off they go in Bluebell, their camper van and after a long tedious journey it’s on with those swimming togs and a mad dash for the sea. Brrr! Not for long though; Pip objects strongly so Martha devises another activity and then it’s time for a picnic lunch – with the obligatory sandy sandwiches. Time to go in the sea now? More objections from Pip so …
After lunch there’s burying Dad in the sand,

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ice-creams, the starry sunglasses rescue operation and a sandcastle building competition with the inevitable trashing and then finally … our young narrator has had enough. She heads seawards – alone. Not for long though for pretty soon (despite the downpour) those pesky bunny brothers have joined her for a glorious romp and guess what:
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I love the retro VW camper van, the shell face (so typical of young children),

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the portrayal of Dad being covered in sand, the exuberance of Martha and her brothers when the sun finally shines … pretty much everything that Clara Vulliamy has included in this seaside romp.
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Catch That Plane!
Sally Sutton and Sylvie Currin Korankova
Walker Books
We join a family in holiday frenzy as they rush to the airport, chase to check-in, dash to departures,

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scoot through security, trot down the travelator, jog down the aerobridge and finally, board their plane.

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Then it’s a peep through the window, buckle up that seat belt, engines roaring, racing down the runway and they’re off up … up… away! The holiday has well and truly started.
There are echoes of Walking in the Jungle, albeit at a faster pace, in this first person account by a boy setting off on his holiday with his Mum, Dad and younger sister. It’s probably more narrative information that a real story but there’s plenty to interest here with the sights and sounds of the airport and the playful, jaunty rhyme, plentiful alliteration and more. And, just in case it isn’t obvious from the context, there is a final ‘Facts’ spread explaining the terms used in the text.
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Incredible Journeys

 

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Nina engrossed in the story

Pigsticks and Harold and The Incredible Journey
Alex Milway
Walker Books pbk
Pigsticks, last of a noble line of explorers is certain he too is an explorer and what’s more he’s decided that The Ends of the Earth is his destination. However, he cannot travel alone: an assistant is required so out goes an advertisement. By happy accident, he comes upon Harold hamster,

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a kindly but not altogether willing travelling companion until that is, a promise of Battenburg cake seals the deal. Off the two go on their eventful trek, a trek that includes encounters with a snake, crocodiles

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and many other hazards.

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The relationship between the contrasting characters  is highly humorous: Pigsticks totally confident and Harold the complete opposite, constantly asking questions of his fearless friend but it is he whose final question ultimately makes the whole enterprise happen.

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This highly entertaining story – saga almost – is just the kind of thing to keep readers turning the pages to see what is coming next. The illustrations too are splendid: ranging from some taking almost an entire double spread to others that are vignettes;most show so much more than we are told in the words.
It’s a wonderful mix of subtle humour and near slapstick; pretty near perfect for that in-between stage of reading. More please.
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Another book that is ideal for the same stage is just out in paperback:

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James loved this story when it first came out in hardback

Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
Red Fox pbk
You can find a full review of this wonderful book about a very eventful car race for duo Dixie and Percy, also ideal for that in-between stage of reading under Car Capers.
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Birds, Beasts and Sausages

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Little Answer
Tim Hopgood
Picture Corgi pbk
Most people have plenty of questions to which they seek answers but sad, lost Little Answer is desperate to find the question to which he is THE answer. Snail offers to help him in his search and off they go. The first encounter is with elephant; his question is (of course) a big one; “What makes the world go round?

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Elephant is totally unimpressed with Little Answer’s response of “Sausages!” Butterfly, Ladybird and Owl are equally unimpressed when they get the same response to their difficult questions.
Snail begins to have doubts about Little Answer fitting any question at all;

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he certainly is not the correct answer to Rabbit’s “Where did everything come from?” No giving up now though, says Snail to a departing Little Answer but then along comes Daisy with something very important to ask …

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This story is an absolute joy to read aloud and has had enthusiastic responses at every sharing with the children on the edge of their ‘seats’ as they anticipate Little Answer’s response each time. Not only is it very funny, it’s beautifully constructed and the tenor is spot on.
So too are the child-friendly illustrations created with simple outlines, shapes and strokes of brush, pen, crayon and pastel on mostly pale coloured papers.
Moreover, countless possibilities for exploration – artistic and philosophical – lie herein.
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The Dawn Chorus
Suzanne Barton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
When Peep hears a beautiful song nearby he is determined to discover its singer. Off he flies, stopping to ask in turn, the owl, a mouse and then a frog. The frog directs him to its source – a tree atop a hill and there he finds a whole host of birds all singing. “We’re the Dawn Chorus,” one informs Peep. Peep immediately wants to join them and an audition is duly arranged for dawn the following day. Peep flies home and practices hard until he falls fast asleep. But next morning to his horror, he discovers he’s missed that day’s singing and begs for a second chance. The following day, having practiced so much and stayed awake all night, he is so tired he can only yawn at the audition.

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It’s a very sad Peep that flies off home and as the sun sets he sings softly. His song is answered by a similar-looking bird.
Why can I sing in the evening… but not … with the Dawn Chorus? “ Peeps asks. Thereupon he receives an explanation and at the same time discovers his true identity and most importantly, finds a soul mate.

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It is possible to detect the Japanese influence on Suzanne Barton’s lovely, mixed media, almost child-like, illustrations. I particularly like the way she has worked those fabrics into her portrayal of the owl

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and Peep’s Indian woodblock print-looking wings.
Here assuredly is an artist to follow with interest; this debut book is a delight from cover to cover. The story itself sends out – like the birds’ songs – a powerful message about identity and belonging and discovering your true self.
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Little Tree
Jenny Bowers
The Big Picture Press
This book is a true wonder to behold. Superbly conceived, illustrated and designed, it takes readers through the seasons alongside Little Tree, showing its changes and those of the surrounding habitat during the course of a year.
Ingenious use is made of the flaps, which serve in a similar fashion to more traditional labels, drawing the attention to particular features the names of which are revealed when the flaps are lifted.

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Nina and Rosa spent ages exploring the wonders of the spring.

Even more ingenious though, is the placing of the developing Little Tree in the same position on each right hand page, while on the left each time we are shown a mature tree and the seasonal changes that undergoes, further enhanced by a strategically placed flap. For instance, in winter, the mature tree has an insect resting in a hole in its trunk covered by a flap in the shape of a seed head; on the next (spring) page the same hole harbours a birds’ nest with first ‘eggs’

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and then chicks, are discovered by lifting the flaps. Summer brings the birds leaving the nest,; in autumn a squirrel eating an acorn is beneath a leaf in the same spot and winter has a mouse nestling in the place the birds have abandoned Thus seasonal change and revelation go hand in hand as a child works through the book.

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DSCN2028 A real sense of awe and wonder is evoked as the sturdy board pages are turned and children explore the delights contained on each and every spread and hear  the gentle poetic  accompanying text.
A treasure trove of opportunities – artistic, poetic and scientific and of course, discussion, is contained within the covers of this gem of a book. No primary classroom should be without at least one copy.
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Nominations for The Queen of Teen 2014 award are called for. For further information visit: www.queenofteen.co.uk

Mum IS the Word

 

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Mum’s the Word
Timothy Knapman and Jamie Littler
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
A very energetic, playful pup decides to discover the one word that feels like all the things he most enjoys – a cuddle, a splash in a puddle, a warm goodnight kiss,

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a favourite bedtime story, a tasty knickerbocker glory, the warm bright sun, a firework that lights up the night; all this and more. What could that word possibly be? “Mum,!” of course.
A rhyming text delivered through the small canine narrator, gorgeous watercolour and ink illustrations with nice touches of visual word play and a thoroughly endearing character (even to one who is not a dog lover).
Perfect for playful preschoolers to give to Mums on Mother’s Day and to share whatever the day.
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My Mummy is Magic
Dawn Richards and Jane Massey
Picture Corgi pbk
A very cute-looking toddler takes us through the day telling of all the magical mother and child shared moments, seemingly ordinary moments that make every day special when you have the world’s Number 1 Mum.
Jane Massey is a prolific illustrator who uses a wide variety of techniques and styles. All mums have magical powers when they open a book and share it with their children.

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Such children will enjoy spotting the nursery characters when a swish of this storybook mummy’s magic wand brings to life the stories she shares.
For magical Mother’s Day moments and beyond.
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I Love Mum
Joanna Walsh and Judi Abbot
Simon and Schuster pbk
The small tigers in this story need no convincing that their mother is the world’s best Mum. She has the brightest, widest smile, is the best hugger and kisser better of hurt body parts and feelings and, she absolutely loves to play – at home,

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in the park and at bath time. All the best Mums are children at heart just like tiger Mum.
With lots of opportunities for toddler interactions and Judi Abbot’s delightful, lively, mixed media illustrations, this is another love-packed book from the co-creators of The Perfect Hug.

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For more Mother’s Day suggestions see: Mother’s Day Medley (archived post):

https://jillrbennett.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/mothers-day-medley/

 

The Astonishing Case of the Stolen Stories

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The Astonishing Case of the Stolen Stories
Anca Sandu
Jonathan Cape pbk
Fox, Cat and Bear, the detectives, are well prepared when they receive a summons from the king, calling them to the palace immediately. Once there, they learn of the little prince who is distraught because all his stories have gone missing. Straight away the three get to work: first they investigate the scene of the crime, then they begin their interrogations starting with the big bad wolf. The next suspect is the wicked witch but it seems her special books have also disappeared. In fact books have gone missing from all over the kingdom. The search widens but it’s not the trolls under the bridge, nor the pirates (they have an alibi),

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so on the detectives go… oops! What is that you’ve tripped over bear? Could it be a book? At last, they’re hot on the trail, a trail that leads further into the woods and into a dark cave wherein they come upon a Thing – a thing surrounded by piles and piles of books.

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If you want to know what the thing is doing with all those stolen volumes and how the detectives manage to bring the case to a highly satisfactory conclusion for all concerned, then get hold of a copy of this rib-tickling romp of a book. It is in fact, a story within a story. Moreover, with its fairy tale and nursery rhyme allusions, there are numerous opportunities for making intertextual links;

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words and pictures contain a wealth of verbal and visual possibilities. The more you look, the more you will discover.
Infant teachers, this is brimming over with potential for reading, writing and much more.
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