Hello Friend! / Bunny Braves the Day

Hello Friend!
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books

It’s the mismatch between what is said by the small girl narrator and what is shown in Rebecca Cobb’s enchanting, warm illustrations that make this book such a winner.

From the start the girl enthusiastically shares everything during playtime both indoors and out, at lunchtime, during quiet times and noisy ones.

What is evident though is that the boy on whom she focuses all this sharing attention is going to take much longer to feel ready to share in the well-intentioned advances of the little girl.
However, a friendship does develop …

and it’s one where both parties are equally enthusiastic about their togetherness.

This is a gorgeous story to share with youngsters especially those starting school; it offers plenty to reflect on and talk about, both at home and in the classroom.

Bunny Braves the Day
Suzanne Bloom
Boyds Mills Press

It’s Bunny’s first day of school but he wants nothing of it: he doesn’t know anybody, supposes nobody likes him; his socks are too short, his shorts too long and he can’t tie his shoes. Oh woe!

Big sister cajoles him with plenty of empathy and ideas,

but with a hurting tummy, it’s decided … ‘I’d better not go … Because I don’t even know how to read!’

After more loving comments, ‘Sometimes you just feel like crying before you feel like trying. You’ll find a friend. Not all shoes use laces. And teachers love to teach reading…’ and listing things little bro. CAN do, he’s almost ready to surrender but not before one last try, ‘Mom will miss me.’ (Said parent has uttered not a word in all this, though she does take a photo).

Finally, it’s time to face up to the inevitable and once more it’s down to big sis. to deliver the final upbeat reassurance at the classroom entrance.

The entire text takes the form of the dialogue between the bunny siblings –blue for the new boy and red for older sister; while Suzanne Bloom’s watercolour and pencil illustrations highlight the feelings of the two characters beautifully.

Just right to share with little ones, especially in families where there’s likely to be starting school nerves; or with children in a nursery setting.

The Day War Came

The Day War Came
Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb
Walker Books

I came back home after a few days away to find this book waiting; it was the day we heard about the egregious separation of children from their parents at the US border, so it was especially moving. It is also Refugee Week as I read/write this – even more timely and heartbreakingly pertinent, especially as I think of my Syrian friends who fled their home country from war a couple of years ago and are now happy and their two children loving their primary school in Stroud. No lack of chairs there.

Nicola Davies wrote the text, a poem, as a response to her anger at our government’s refusal to allow 3000 refugee children to enter the UK in 2016. A poem that began the 3000 chairs campaign for which artists contributed pictures of chairs, symbolic of a seat in a classroom, education, kindness and the hope of a future.

For those who didn’t read the poem when it was published in the Guardian, it’s a spare text narrated by a little girl from a country, perhaps Syria, blighted by war whose day starts normally – breakfast with her family and then school where in the morning, she learns about volcanoes, draws a picture of a bird and sings a song of tadpoles.

After lunch though comes war, destroying her school, her home, her town,

leaving her alone, bloody and tattered.

Somehow she makes it to a boat and thence to a beach and then to a camp. “But war had followed me. / it was underneath my skin, / behind my eyes, / and in my dreams. / It had taken possession of my heart,” she says.

Nicola Davies is a fine weaver of words; her text is heart-wrenchingly powerful and ultimately, redemptive – having initially been turned away from a school classroom because there was no chair for her, one is supplied by a little boy,

whose friends do likewise … as the children walk together, “Pushing / back the war / with every step.”

Rebecca Cobb has done an outstanding job with the illustrations. Her watercolour, crayon and pastel pictures – scenes of destruction, flight and desolation, all too familiar to us from TV news bulletins, have a heightened poignancy so rendered, and are all the more powerful viewed together with her images of normal life in home, street and classroom.
All her characters are incredibly expressive both facially and in their body language, and the little girl is the very embodiment of the poem’s narrator.

A must read book for anyone who values humanity.

£1 from every copy of the book sold will go to the HelpRefugees charity.

The Everywhere Bear

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The Everywhere Bear
Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Those of us who work with young children have probably had at some time, a travelling ted or other soft toy that either went home in a storysack, with each child in turn, together with a book for drawing/writing their experiences; or one that accompanied individual pupils when they went away on holiday, again accompanied by a diary or similar for photos/notes, tickets and other things of interest to be added, and shared on their return. I recall a lurid pink one named Roamin’ Ted that went to places as varied as rural Punjab, Dubai, Disney Land Florida and Canada. (Yes, in term time; but that was the whole point of the book.)
This story, penned by Julia Donaldson, is one of the former kind and he belongs to the pupils of Class One. Their arrangement is that each child in turn takes him home on a Friday and brings him back on the following Monday, regaling his experiences to the rest of the class.

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He certainly has all manner of adventures – bus rides, horse riding, tasting lots of new foods; he becomes a pirate, a king and tries some active pursuits such as soccer, handstands and den making. In fact there aren’t many things he doesn’t experience, hence his name.
One rainy day though, while in Matt’s care, The Everywhere Bear accidentally escapes into the wide world …

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is washed down a drain and ends up on the high seas.

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Will Class One ever see their favourite roving bear again? And, if so, where will he turn up?
This is a thoroughly engaging book for a multitude of reasons; not least Rebecca Cobb’s wonderfully warm illustrations. Packed with so many captivating details to pore over, adult readers will want to give listeners plenty of opportunities to explore each spread after they’ve heard the story all through; and, as one would expect, Julia Donaldson’s rhyming tale is sheer pleasure to read aloud; and it pays homage to a very important place which is sadly under threat throughout the country.

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Above and Below

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The Something
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
The small boy narrator of this story loses his ball down a hole in his garden. Thus begins a whole host of flights of fancy about what might be lurking down in the darkness. Perhaps his red bouncy ball has caused breakfast-time havoc in the subterranean home of little mouse or maybe some frogs are having fun with it. Or, might there be something much larger and more frightening – a fiery dragon or a hungry troll? Although we never do find out what, if anything at all resides under the cherry tree, it certainly gives the lad something to talk about with his friends,

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grandparents and the dog. Assuredly the dog enjoys guarding said hole and dreaming about its possible residents.
Rebecca Cobb’s illustrations, as always are a delight; in particular those underground scenes of the disaster-struck mouse-hole with the mezzanine bedroom and that little mole sitting knitting a rainbow scarf.

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Cobb’s spare rendering of the child’s voice is spot-on allowing the pictures to provide the detail of his imaginings. Above ground, the passage of time is shown through the seasonal changes to the cherry tree beside which the watch is kept – just in case…
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Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Safari
Nosy Crow
Meet lion, elephant, buffalo, flamingo, zebra, warthog, crocodile, cheetah, rhinoceros, giraffe and antelope each of which introduces itself with a jaunty, two-verse rhyme and a portrait courtesy of Scheffler. But we can also hear from a zebingo, an elephara, a wartodile

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and over a hundred other possible creatures thanks to the spirally bound, split page design of this book. The characteristic Scheffler humour is present too in the small creatures that ask “What is it” in the left-hand corner of every page, as well as in the expressions and stances of the larger beasts portrayed on the right hand pages.
I recall when I was a fledgling teacher, Penguin Education had a series of split page books and the children couldn’t get enough of them. Then there was Maureen Roffey’s Door to Door, also very popular. I foresee endless hours of fun being had with these new incarnations too. It’s as well they are printed on sturdy card and strongly bound; I’m sure they will get a lot of handling in primary classrooms and could well inspire children to try making their own split page books.
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October Miscellany

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Aunt Amelia
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Showing not telling is the name of the game in this charming and witty book. The two small children in the story are in a bad mood; Aunt Amelia is coming to look after them overnight. Mum and Dad leave her a list of instructions but fortunately for her charges, she interprets these instructions with a considerable degree of latitude.
It’s not surprising then that the youngsters are eager that their parents issue another invitation to come and stay very soon and moreover, they suggest she be left another of those ‘helpful’ lists of instructions.
What makes this story such a delight is what we are shown, rather than told what takes place while the parents are away. Rebecca Cobb’s watercolour, pencil and ink illustrations are executed with a child-like freshness and panache that is appealing to both adults and young children.
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Pigeon Pie
Debbie Singleton and Kristina Litten
Oxford University Press
It’s market day so life down on Farmer Budd’s farm is especially hectic. There are the cows to milk, the eggs to collect, cherries to be picked so Mrs Budd can bake cherry pies, and the remaining cherries to be protected from marauding birds. Then there are all the animals to be fed, the scarecrow needs a replacement hat and the milk and eggs have to be loaded into the trailer. Busy, busy busy; but oh dear! Farmer Budd has forgotten to close the gate to the cornfield. He’s forgotten too, that there is a goat in the next field. Before long the scarecrow is reduced to a pair of crossed sticks – the ideal perching place for five peckish pigeons with their sights set firmly on the corn. It’s fortunate for him then that a tiny chick has a clever plan in mind, a plan that involves telling the other farm animals about a special dish that Mrs Budd is preparing to serve that day; and it definitely is not cherry pie.
There is plenty to make you smile in this gently humorous story. Children love the way the pigeons are duped and delight in joining in with the repeated refrain, ‘Pigeon pie! Oh my! ‘ That – and of course – the burping opportunities.
Kristina Litten’s richly patterned, comical pictures abound with amusing details, in particular the antics of the bit part animal characters, the rat trio and the snail that are never mentioned but greatly add to the fun. Then there are those wacky pigeons with their red-rimmed eyes and ballooning bellies; the sight of them shooting up into the air when they spy what they think is the dreaded dish being prepared is a hoot.

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I really like the way the end papers are part of the story portraying the changing time from early morning when Farmer Budd fixes the FREE RANGE EGGS for sale notice to his fence at the front, to early evening when the sign indicates ‘sold out’ as the sun sinks below the horizon.
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Spider Sandwiches
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Do NOT accept Max’s invitation to tea or any other meal for that matter, unless like that green hairy monster, you have a penchant for all things disgusting. The things he dines on are sure to make your stomach heave; things like toenail scrambled eggs, grasshopper legs smoothie, cold, crunchy, cockroach curry or horror of horrors, squiggly spider sandwiches. Odd then that he turns his nose up at a relatively ordinary vegetarian soup with small, green spherical objects floating in it.
This rhyming litany of loathsome fare is one that will have your young audiences UGGGHHING, EWWWWW and YUCKING almost continuously as you read. And, they will love to feast their eyes on Sue Hendra’s suitably garish illustrations, which depict a series of satiating scenes. The supermarket for example, has shelves packed with an alluringly awful array of produce.
If you plan to read this aloud around Hallowe’en (or any time for that matter) I’d suggest making sure you can get your tongue around all those nasties first.
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Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten
Alison Murray
Nosy Crow
This is one of those pink, glittery covered books that are instantly attractive to many little girls. All too often though, such books fail to live up to their external sparkle. This one, and yes it does feature a little princess, proved to be an exception, and, that string bling does actually serve a purpose. What lifts Alison Murray’s book above most of its kind is her charming, retro illustrations with their fresh palette, gentle humour, and judicious use of pattern. I particularly enjoyed the scene with the balletic butler and the portrait of the princess on her prancing pony.

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Essentially the story, told in rhyme, revolves around Princess Penelope and the mischievous kitten that snatches one end of a ball of wool from the queen’s knitting basket and dashes off through the palace entangling almost everything in sight.
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Sugarlump and the Unicorn
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Wishing and magic are the ingredients for former children’s laureate Julia Donaldson’s latest collaboration with What the Ladybird Heard artist Lydia Monks. The magic comes from a blue-eyed unicorn and the wishing is done by rocking horse, Sugarlump. He is happy rocking to and fro when the children are at home to ride him but when they go to school he has nothing to do. That’s when the wishing begins. He wants to be out in the big wide world. So, thanks to that unicorn and her flashing eyes he is able to try out all manner of horsey roles – a farm horse, a race horse and a circus horse; but then Sugarlump wants to go back home to the children. Time has passed though and the children have outgrown their once favourite toy. He makes another wish but fortunately, the unicorn is on hand again and she comes up with a much better one and Sugarlump finally finds somewhere in the world that is just perfect.
As one would expect from Julia Donaldson, the rhyming text reads aloud beautifully but this adult reader and some children among my audiences were rather brought up short by Sugarlump’s last request, “I wish I had never been born!” It proved a good talking point afterwards though.
Lydia Monks’ bold, bright, mixed media illustrations have a joie-de vie and sparkle even without the added glitter on every page.
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The Princess’ Blankets
Carol Ann Duffy and Catherine Hyde
Templar Publishing
The princess in this story can never get warm. The king promises that anyone able to stop his daughter feeling so cold, can have the reward of their choosing ‘even unto half his kingdom’. Intent on winning the princess as his prize, a cruel-eyed stranger covers her in turn with four blankets: the ocean’s blanket, the forest’s blanket, the mountain’s blanket and the earth’s blanket. All to no avail: despite his efforts, the beautiful princess remains as chilled as ever. Then a newcomer arrives, a musician with a flute and a good heart: just the heart to warm that of the princess as he fills her body with the beauty of his music, and his love.

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Lyrically told, this neo fairy tale has a pertinent message for our times: a message about mankind’s carelessness, greed and continuing destruction of our world. It is beautifully interpreted through Catherine Hyde’s powerfully atmospheric paintings, which orchestrate the story showing the changes brought about by the elemental blankets and finally, the power of love.
Not so much a picture book, more an illustrated story, with its longish text, this book is likely to have a wide appeal from primary age children to adults and one to return to over and over.
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Dragon Loves Penguin
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Baby penguin, Bib, lives in the land of ice and snow with his mummy and daddy. One bedtime as a delaying tactic he asks, ‘ “… can I have a story? The one about dragons.” ‘ So begins a tale of a dragon that wants an egg and an abandoned egg that needs a mummy. Perfect – or so it seems. Certainly the dragon loves her Little One and the Little One loves her. But, Little One’s appearance isn’t quite like that of the other recently hatched creatures; no flying, fire breathing or rock chewing. She doesn’t grow big and strong with a long neck and hard scaly covering. Rather she is slow, careful, small, fluffy and courageous – rather like a penguin. The others are showered with flashy gifts but Little One receives the best of all possible gifts; love and time.
Then one day all the big dragons have to leave their little ones and that’s when Little One is taunted by the small dragons and made to feel an outcast. So, feeling hurt, she takes himself off to be alone. However, things can happen for a reason… Little One suddenly feels her soft feathery body getting very, very hot; the volcano is alive. “FLEE FOR YOUR LIVES!” he yells to the others and so they do, leaving Little One behind hotly pursued by the flames of the volcano. Fortunately for her though, she takes a tumble all the way to the bottom of the flaming mountain and what should she find waiting for her at the bottom? – an egg. And, thanks to her mummy, Little One knows just what to do…
Loving and being loved, being yourself and being different are all themes of this tender tale that moves between present and past, seamlessly uniting the two through the medium of story. For, Bib is the egg at the end of the bedtime story and Little One, his Mummy penguin.

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Debi Gliori’s charcoal and watercolour illustrations are glorious and beautifully convey the loving feelings that are a vital element of this book: the penguins and main dragon character are truly endearing.
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Herman’s Letters
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
When your very best friend in the entire world moves far away, what do you do? Promise to write to one another and remain best friends forever.
That’s just what best pals Herman, a large brown bear, and Henry, a reddish raccoon resolve to do. Henry keeps his side of the bargain, writing often as promised and giving details of his new friends and the exciting things he’s been doing. But, his letters don’t make his old pal happy; instead he’s overcome with jealousy and begins to doubt the friendship. Poor old Herman.

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Eventually hibernation time draws close and he still hasn’t written.. Another Henry letter arrives; one that is much more reassuring and this one spurs Herman into a flurry of activity. He finally writes a letter and dashes off to post it right away. Oh no! The post office has closed for the winter. There is only one thing left for Herman to do – deliver that all-important letter by hand. Off he goes into the snow. But can he make that long, long journey before sleep overtakes him? Can he make it at all in fact?
With its realistic looking lift the flap letters and endearing characters, this book is a delight. Despite the inherent sadness of parting and feelings of loss, there is a gentle humour running throughout the whole thing. The sequence depicting Herman’s journey to deliver his letter into his friend’s hands is wonderful.

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The message (along with Herman’s snoring) comes across loud and clear: true friendship knows no bounds.
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Teachers wanting to stimulate children’s writing, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this and share it with the class group. Then turn an area of your classroom or nursery into Herman’s home with a letterbox another space into Henry’s. Add writing materials to each and start the enterprise going by writing a Henry letter of your own for the children to find.

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