“Whatever you do, do NOT go down to the mango tree. There are tigers down there.” So says the departing adult monkey to the three little monkeys. An invitation to do just that, if ever there was one and as you might expect, after due consideration and a quick scan below, the trio start descending through the canopy lured by an irresistibly delicious sight.
After another quick scan for tigers (your audience will have spotted something but not the eager threesome), they dash down, secure a yummy fruit and consume same. But is just one sufficient? Of course not, so the monkeys climb right the way down to the ground.
As they sit feasting on some succulent spoils, the monkeys become aware that this latest step was perhaps one too many, for there follows a dramatic case of tiger confrontation and a splendidly scary, suspenseful dash for their lives that listeners will relish. But what about the monkeys?
To discover that, and how the story ends, you’ll need to creep out to a nearby bookshop and get a copy of your own.
Maybe, just maybe this is my favourite of Chris’s books so far, but then I love boundary pushing risk-takers. That chase over four double spreads is absolutely superb; in fact the whole book is simply brilliant.
There’s s Spider in My Soup!
Oxford University Press
I was expecting it to be a picture book version of the nursery song of the same name but how wrong was I. Megan Brewis has dished up a playful tale of a little spider that gets a high five from me for her risk taking.
Little Spider resides with Mum Spider and Dad Spider on their web from which, despite parental warnings, she loves to swing.
One afternoon while her parents are having some shut-eye, our intrepid Little Spider decides to take advantage of their lack of watchfulness to work on her swinging skills, arcing high and low and having great fun until …
Is she about to become part of Mr Moustache’s veggie soup lunch?
Fortunately she manages to alert her would-be accidental consumer by some loud assertions concerning her identity.
Happily Mr M. is a kindly soul and after administering some TLC, puts Little Spider safely back onto her web.
When aroused from their slumbers, her Mum and Dad give their little one a good telling off but then they learn what had taken place while they snoozed.
Maybe being adventurous isn’t such a bad idea after all, is their verdict before setting off to meet Little Spider’s saviour.
With an abundance of onomatopoeic sounds, speech bubbles and spirited, mixed media illustrations, this is a smashing story to read aloud with little ones. It could, one hopes, deter them from squashing spiders and instead releasing them into the great outdoors, should they encounter them inside; and let’s hope too that risk averse parents and others might be persuaded to give young children a little more freedom to take risks and perhaps learn from their mistakes too.
Eric Makes a Splash
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
When it comes to trying new things, Eric is a real worrier. His best friend Flora on the other hand is virtually fearless and loves to help Eric to feel as brave as she does.
She helps him with his fear of getting his wellies dirty; with his worries about trying a new sandwich filling, and comes to his assistance on the tall climbing frame.
When Eric receives an invitation to a swimming party his mind is a whirl of worries: supposing his fur got wet or water went in his eyes; but even worse, what if he sank to the bottom of the pool?
Flora thinks the purchase of new swimming togs might allay his fears but even with his new attire, Eric worries.
Eventually though he’s suitably prepared and off they go to ‘Soggy Towel Swimming Pool’.
Soon all Eric’s friends are having a wonderful time splashing around but Eric is reluctant even to get his toes wet.
Thank goodness Flora is soon by his side offering some timely words of encouragement and finally one very proud panda is in the water…
That isn’t quite the end of the story though. A mishap on the diving board precipitates a disastrous chain of events:
Eric is left without any support other than that supplied by the water itself, and is about to make some very surprising discoveries …
As always, Emily Mackenzie’s illustrations are full of fun and feelings. Her two main characters are totally endearing and complement each other perfectly. We could all do with a Flora in our lives when we’re about to make a somewhat scary leap into the unknown.
Little Wolf’s First Howling
Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee
Little Wolf accompanies Big Wolf to the top of the hill, both father and son eagerly anticipating the wolf pup’s first howling. The full moon appears above the hill top and Little Wolf can hardly hold on to that first howl of his but first he must let his father demonstrate “proper howling form.” Then comes the turn of the beginner: he starts conventionally but then adds a little bit extra of his own.
Not wanting to dent the cub’s confidence, Big Wolf performs another howl, then off goes the cub again with a superbly creative version of his own – love you little fella!
‘aaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo dignity dobbity skibbity skobbity skooo-wooooo-wooooooooooo’
Unsurprisingly, he’s told gently but emphatically, it doesn’t pass muster. No matter how many times Big Wolf demonstrates what he’s waiting to hear from his little one, what comes from the cub is increasingly elaborate verbal creativity.
Then suddenly, Little Wolf’s joyful wild abandon starts to have a different effect on his parent: instead of admonishing his offspring’s outpouring, he joins him, becoming co-creator of an extremely unauthentic duet performed at uninhibited full volume right across the countryside.
After which the two head home “to “tell the others” – just in case they hadn’t heard it.
Kvasnosky and McGee together have produced a superb picture book celebration of the creativity of young children.
Little Wolf’s spirited renderings are a perfect example of the kind of uninhibited imaginative responses of those in the early years, so long as well-intentioned adults don’t step in, take over and try to show them the one ‘right’ way to do something. Long live all the little wolves everywhere (especially those of the divergent kind), and those adults who, like Big Wolf have the good sense to step back and look at things from behind the heads of the very young.
The digitally coloured, gouache resist scenes wonderfully evoke the inky night setting in which wolves might wander, the telling is a delight and the dialogue spot-on. A word of warning to readers aloud though: you may well find yourself completely hoarse after being called upon for immediate re-readings of this wonderful book – happy howling.
I’ve signed the charter
Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas
Scholastic Children’s Books
Brian is anything but your normal piranha; Brian feeds on fruit and veg. – bananas, silverbeet, (the Australian word for chard) peas,
and plums; and he’s on a mission to convert his fellow piranhas to a similar diet. They instead gorge themselves on feet, knees and bums! They’ll need to nibble through those boxers first though …
Despite their fervent declaration “We don’t eat apples! We don’t eat beans! We don’t eat veggies! We don’t eat greens! We don’t eat melons! We don’t eat bananas! … “ can he persuade them to sample something from his tempting-looking fruit platter?
Perhaps; but the allure of bum consumption will surely reign supreme.
Brian’s dietary requests will undoubtedly resound with many adults trying to persuade their offspring, or others to eat more healthily; young children will definitely laugh uproariously over the use of ‘bum’ and both will appreciate the subtle visual differences between Brian (no warts, no red tinges to the sclera of the eyes, even perhaps a slightly healthier-looking green hue about his skin) and his fellow piranhas. They’ll also love Brian’s wonderful facial expressions.
Flesh-eating, fruit eating, rhyming hilarity but with an important message too. Sample and see!
Be Brave Little Penguin
Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Pip-Pip is a tiny penguin, smaller than all the other penguins and he has a problem: he’s too scared to go in the water. He gets taunted by his fellow penguins which makes him sad and sometimes, lonely. His dad insists he should be brave; but mummy penguin takes over with a more gentle approach leading him by the wing towards the icy-looking water.
Brrr! It looks freezing and there might be monsters waiting to eat him. He clearly has a fertile imagination so his mum capitalizes on this, suggesting an alternative for him to imagine;
and step-by-step they go till Pip-Pip’s right at the water’s edge. He just needs to take that final plunge …
A gentle rhyming story with important messages about risk-taking for both children and adults. Parker-Rees’ icy-fresh illustrations convey the Antarctic chill but there’s also a warm glow to the sky making it less threatening for Pip-Pip and his young audiences alike.
The Glump and the Peeble
Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What an intriguing title: what on earth is a Glump and what’s a Peeble? Sounds almost like something from Lewis Carroll I thought. I pondered these questions before even opening this deliciously fanciful book. Let me enlighten you now: the Glump in question is a troglodyte loner. He’s not a loner by choice however; he desperately longs to break out of the glump do-nothing mould and join in the moonlit fun and dancing with the peebles; but he just can’t bring himself to do it …
Then, what should skip into the wood, ‘singing and dancing just like peebles should.’ (Yes this story’s told in Wendy Meddour’s mellifluous rhyming text.) but a veritable peeble. What she does next though is decidedly un-peeble-like: she sighs, frowns, pauses and sits down on the ground. Moreover, she starts to sing and this is her song:
“I know that a peeble should dance every night./ I know I should twirl in the glow of moonlight./ But it makes me feel dizzy, I get hot and pink. / Why can’t I sit still like a glump and just think?”
The Glump, from his cave, tries ignoring these words, and the peeble, but somehow he cannot. Instead he coughs and invites her in – in for a sit still. The surprised Peeble accepts and eventually follows the Glump into his cave; where she sits meditatively, breathing in the still and quiet of the night…
Thereafter, a discussion ensues and the Glump tells his visitor of his yearning to dance, pointing out the troubles his toes would be likely to cause were he to do so; and the Peeble in turn persuades him to have a go – good on you Peeble. And off the two go to give it a spin …
Guess who, with fear overcome, is soon wowing all the other peebles with his dance moves and equally important, a new friendship has been forged, well and truly. Two firsts in one night: a sitting still, thinking Peeble and a dancing Glump: that’s some going Glump and Peeble.
All this is visually realised in Rebecca Ashdown’s wondrously quirky scenes wherein we are shown how this enchanting pair of characters manage, with each other’s help, to take a risk, step out of their respective comfort zones and dare to be different.
A Brave Bear
Sean Taylor and Emily Hughes
From the instant I set eyes on the cover of this one I knew I was going to love it: those two bears are adorable; and then to see that Sean Taylor has dedicated the book to Tove Jansson (writer of the Moomins stories) was indicative of a possible influence. So I came to this with high hopes and I was beyond enchanted.
“I think a pair of hot bears is probably the hottest thing in the world,” says dad bear as father and son are attempting to shade themselves beneath a tree on a scorcher of a day. The cub (who acts as narrator) suggests going to the river for a splashy cool down; Dad agrees and off they go. The journey is quite a long one and little bear, determined to impress his Dad, goes for being “the jumpiest thing in all the world!” as they cross the rocks, ignoring the paternal advice to “Be careful. Just do small jumps.” Inevitably, this is what happens …
but Dad is there to attend to the hurt knee, the wounded pride and the reluctance to complete the journey, even offering to carry the cub.
Anxious to prove himself, Little Bear however is having none of it – “… I decided to go on my own.” he informs readers and resolutely, he does, all the way there …
The concise narration concludes thus: ‘On the way home, the sun was glowing. The air was glowing … Even tomorrow was glowing.’ I’m pretty certain both father and cub were glowing too – glowing with pride: the narrator at his achievements, and Dad bear at his offspring for overcoming his trepidations and seeing things through to the end and one suspects, learning from his own mistakes.
This is one of those books that leaves you with a warm inner glow. The parent-child relation (attentive adult allowing the offspring to be a risk-taker) is beautifully portrayed both verbally and in Emily Hughes glowing, superbly textured scenes into which she places the shaggy-coated characters.
A truly felicitous author/illustrator partnership if ever there was one and a picture book to be read over and over and …