Oh, Armadillo! This Party’s All Wrong!

Oh, Armadillo! This Party’s All Wrong!
Ellie Irving and Robert Starling
Happy Yak

Kind, gentle Armadillo lives deep in the rainforest and longs to make friends: however he has a tendency to get everything wrong. One day he has an idea: perhaps if I throw a party I will make a few friends, after all everyone loves parties. Having made invitations off he goes to deliver them. The first goes to Jaguar who is hoping a large springy sponge cake will be on offer. Back home goes Armadillo, creating so he hopes, the perfect sponge cake.

Out he goes again, next stop the Apes: they want games especially musical chairs, pass the parcel and hide and seek. Armadillo rushes home and gets to work …

Then for the balloon loving Lemurs, Armadillo fashions what he hopes is the perfect balloon, sufficiently large for lots of passengers.

On party day our host eagerly awaits his guests and having welcomed them all, announces the fun and games. Seemingly though Armadillo’s ideas are rather different from what the other animals are anticipating: shock horror! He’s devastated by their reactions, so is this the end of his party and hoped-for friendships?

Happily not. An accidental trip that sends him hurtling onto the sponge cake and thence into the air and finally back to earth doesn’t just render the guests speechless but it makes Armadillo see things in a different light; he’s ready to acknowledge and even take pride in his divergent thinking and creativity.

Will he persuade the others to join him in some truly original ways of having fun? You bet … And as for finding friends, certainly, but Armadillo stays true to himself, muddled and different. Hurrah!

A smashing story to show children, especially those who like the protagonist think differently, that rather than a problem, it’s something to celebrate.

I Am Happy

I Am Happy
Michael Rosen and Robert Starling
Walker Books

Here is the third in the series from this author/artist partnership that uses animals to present feelings and emotions to young children.

The little puppy narrator is almost bursting with happiness, so much so that it skips through puddles, chases after bubbles, dances the waltz, turns somersaults, rolls down a mountain, puts on a show and more.

Yes it’s absolutely a flight of fancy but it certainly expresses that unadulterated mood of sheer joy of little humans that we adults love to see.

With guest appearances from the cat that starred in I Am Angry and the squirrel from I Am Hungry Michael’s exuberant rhyming text and Robert Starling’s bold, energetic illustrations will surely act as an open invitation to youngsters to talk about and celebrate their own feelings.

Great for sharing with individuals or in an early years setting. I wonder if the rabbit that pops up and joins in the action part way through the book will be the main protagonist in the next title in this sequence.

I Am Hungry

I Am Hungry
Michael Rosen and Robert Starling
Walker Books

Following the smashing I Am Angry collaboration between Michael Rosen and Robert Starling is another offering from the poetry book A Great Big Cuddle, which again results in a terrific read aloud picture book for foundation stage children especially.

Expanding on the ideas in Michael’s poem, Robert Starling’s illustrations are executed in bright, bold hues and his characterisation of Squirrel (and the bit part players) in his dramatic scenes is superbly done.

In an introductory note, Michael writes that when he feels hunger pangs he sometimes daydreams about things he could eat, some real and some weird, going on to suggest that this might become a game. Seemingly Squirrel has read those words for that is what the ravenous creature does: starting from normal hunger sating fare like bread rolls and popcorn, cheese and peas, things become decidedly outlandish – a funny joke,

a very bad dream, a frying pan,

a nasty fright for example.

Youngsters will relish this absurdity and delight in thinking up their own lists of possibilities. What a wonderful starting point for flights of fancy – verbal or written – this would make after a class sharing of this super book.

I Am Angry

I Am Angry
Michael Rosen and Robert Starling
Walker Books

This book has its origins in Michael’s experience of watching his youngest child having a temper tantrum. He then decided to write a poem about anger that was included in A Great Big Cuddle and now based on that poem we have the first in a new series by the poet and illustrator Robert Starling.

The big bad mood presented here is the kind that comes from nowhere in particular, causing huge noise making –

thrashing and bashing, bodily contortions – rolling on the ground and knocking down trees actions, raging and rampaging, squashing the moon

and terrifying the sun sort of angry, which then vanishes just as rapidly as it arrived.. All this from what appears to be a cuddlesome creature.

Parents and indeed teachers of young children will immediately recognise such scenarios and welcome this smashing book with its reassuring message that however overpowering such anger might feel, it’s soon over, often leaving the once angry person feeling tired out.

Robert Starling has already demonstrated his skill at portraying anger with Fergal is Fuming and now in combination with Michael’s superb rhyming text has created a terrific read aloud picture book for sharing with little ones in an early years setting or at home.

Fergal Meets Fern / Elmer and the Lost Treasure

It’s lovely to see favourite characters returning in these two recent books from Andersen Press

Fergal Meets Fern
Robert Starling

New sibling unsettlement quickly arises when Fergal’s Mum and Dad bring home ‘the egg’. From this emerges a new baby sister for the little dragon and with its arrival, funny feelings start within Fergal. Even nan’s gift of flying show tickets lift his mood only briefly because Fern’s actions really stoke up Fergal’s inner fire.
Then to make matters worse, comes the news that the flying show excursion is off: Dad has to get medicine for Fern who’s become sick.

Inevitably Fergal’s fiery feeling grows even stronger, so much so that he does something to make him the centre of attention, which it does, once Dad discovers his whereabouts.

After a frank Father and Fergal discussion on feelings, Dad shows his son something by way of explanation.

Later on as the two do some yoga side by side, the feelings discussion continues

and eventually Fergal understands that something in him needs to change. Being a big brother is an important role and perhaps it’s one he can undertake successfully and lovingly.

As with previous Fergal stories, Robert Starling conveys this one with sensitivity, humour and considerable charm.

Share with little ones at any time but it’s especially apt if you’re a family with young child and a new arrival.

Elmer and the Lost Treasure
David McKee

The adorable elephant, Elmer stars in what is almost unbelievably, his twenty eighth picture book adventure.

He, along with cousin Wilbur and three other elephants set out on ‘a long, exploring walk’ through the jungle and after a while find themselves in unfamiliar territory.

After a roll down a steep slope with Elmer in the lead – naturally – they discover an entrance to an old forgotten palace and start exploring within, or rather Elmer and Wilbur do. The others meanwhile have their own agenda. What can they be doing?

The palace is incredible with huge domed halls in shades of blue, amazing mosaics, tiles and carvings. But who will find that Lost Treasure? And what is it?

Another absolutely smashing story of everyone’s favourite patchwork pachyderm and his pals, told and illustrated with David McKee’s usual sense of humour and fun, warmth and heart, that is also reflected in his main character.

This Book is NOT a Bedtime Story!

This Book is NOT a Bedtime Story!
Eoin McLaughlin and Robert Starling
Pavilion Children’s Books

Whether or not you choose to believe the title of this book clutched by the red monster on its cover, or the sign held by the little frog is up to you. Best to read it to yourself before making up your mind, rather than plunging in and sharing it with little ones before you tuck them in.

Speaking in rhyme the chief monster narrator insists from the outset ‘It’s scary, strange / and rather gory. ‘ … as he attempts to convince frog, rabbit and deer of his and his fellow monsters’ intention to consume them in a dark forest,

before heading off to look for other scary possibilities – a haunted house; a ghostly galleon afloat on shark-infested waters;

a cave full of bats – oops the bats have gone AWOL!

Still however, the only ones that seem convinced of the monsters’ mega-ghastliness are the monsters themselves; but they might just have one more scare up their sleeves, or rather, furry arms. Will this one work and allow them to prove themselves to frog et al? I wonder …

Robert Starling’s mock scary scenes of the would-be terrifying beasties and those they’re attempting to put the frighteners on, are hilarious; and there are some deliciously funny words spoken by bit part players such as the mouse ‘trying to get on with my knitting’, the spider in the cave, and the exchange between rabbit and one monster beside the cooking pot.

The whole enterprise might or might not be a story for bedtime, but it’s most certainly one to share with youngsters. They’ll relish it, as will adult readers aloud, and the former will more than likely demand immediate re-reads.

Campsite Revelations: Fergal in a Fix! / Koala is Not a Bear

Fergal in a Fix!
Robert Starling
Andersen Press

Fergal (with fiery temper pretty well under control now) returns in a new story.

He’s off to Dragon Day-Camp for the first time and despite assurances from his parents, he’s feeling anxious about it.

Eager to be popular he decides to try and outshine the other dragons at all the activities on offer. But his ‘being the best’ involves behaviour that doesn’t please his fellow campers; he even resorts to cheating.

By lunchtime Fergal is shunned by the other young dragons.
Fortunately the camp leader notices he’s alone and has some wise words to offer, words about being his best self rather than the best at things.

Come the evening Fergal is a much happier little dragon with a lot of new dragon friends.

With a gentle lesson about being yourself and the best version of yourself you can, this second Fergal tale should win the little dragon plenty of new little human friends too.

Koala is Not a Bear
Kristin L. Gray and Rachel McAlister

Koala has been eagerly anticipating camp but as it’s her first time away from family and home, she pops a few reminders into her backpack – just in case she feels homesick.

On arrival she searches for her cabin but there seems to be a problem. Just as Grizzly is welcoming her to Bear Cabin, there comes a protest from Kangaroo. “A bit of a know-it-all” is how Grizzly describes the naysayer.

Eager to find a place to rest, Koala tries to prove her ‘bearness’ but Kangaroo is having none of it. Yes she does have sharp teeth and claws but so do crocodiles; lemurs share her ability to climb trees; tigers too can growl. She might be able to perform a reasonable bear crawl but she lacks a tail.

Despite Grizzly’s continued support, Kangaroo continues his assertions when the animals sit down to eat until at last Koala thinks Bear Cabin and even perhaps the entire camp is not for her.

Seeking comfort, out of her pouch comes a photo of a relation – a creature that Kangaroo recognises as his great aunt too.

A few questions from Kangaroo are all that’s needed: it turns out that Koala and Kangaroo are cousins. Hurrah!

The author raises important points about inclusion, similarities and differences during the course of her amusing narrative while at the same time providing a fair sprinkling of marsupial-related facts along the way. Rachel McAlister’s expressive, digitally rendered wide-eyed animal characters will appeal to little ones as they follow Koala’s search for a place to belong.

Super Sloth / The Great Dog Bottom Swap

Two treats from Andersen Press: the first from rising star, the aptly named Robert Starling; the second an oldie but real goodie:

Super Sloth
Robert Starling
Andersen Press

Superhero characters always go down well with little human would-be superheroes, but a Super Sloth? Could one really make the grade?
Jungle resident, Sloth is far from fast and unable to fly; but when he comes upon a picture book story of a superhero he’s totally enthralled and it gets him thinking.

He sets about assembling the necessary accoutrements: mask – tick; cape – ditto. Off he goes in search of rescue possibilities. Before long he hears Toucan’s cry for help, but arrives too late – he is a sloth after all. Nevertheless he’s determined to help find the dastardly mango-thieving Anteater.

Up the highest tree he climbs – an ideal vantage point for Anteater spotting he thinks and so it is.
Wheee! Sloth launches himself skywards but … disaster!

Is that the end of his superhero aspirations? Not quite: when he learns of the potential starvation of the other jungle animals and hears from Bear about the need to break into Anteater’s well-guarded stronghold, it sets him thinking again and makes him extremely angry.

A plan forms in his mind, one that capitalises on his sloth abilities and off he goes,

slowly, slowly making his advance towards Anteater’s garrison until he’s ready to strike …

And there we’ll have to leave him dangling for fear of spoiling the ending of this laugh-out-loud sequel to Fergal is Fumingand just borrow a bit of the old adage, ‘slow and steady … ‘

As well as presenting readers with a dramatically illustrated, delectably droll super-story, Robert provides endpapers of factual information – Sloth Facts and Super Sloth Facts. Love it!

The Great Dog Bottom Swap
Peter Bently & Mei Matsuoka
Andersen Press

Thank your lucky stars this isn’t one of those scratch and sniff type books that used to be all the rage when this romp of Peter Bently’s first burst onto the scene a decade ago.

If you’ve ever wondered why dogs sniff each other’s bottoms when they meet, then this book is definitely one you MUST read; and even if you haven’t, I’d still strongly urge you to get hold of a copy. It’s brilliant, delivered in Peter’s faultless rhyme and tells what happens on the day of the Dogs’ Summer Ball.

The dogs, as per instructions …

hang up their bottoms in tidy rows in the cloakroom of the venue and proceed to the table to eat, drink and make merry.

Thereafter they participate in the canine cabaret and generally have a wonderful time.

Dancing is then announced; more fun and frolics until …

Catastrophe! Fire breaks out, engulfing much of the furniture and furnishings in flames: the dogs flee for their lives.

In their haste however, they each grab the nearest reachable bottom and dash out. That’s why when they meet in the street dogs sniff one another’s bums – in the hope of finding their own again.

Cheerful, cheeky – children roll around over it – while adults endeavour – in my case unsuccessfully – to stop themselves spluttering as Peter’s wonderful narrative trips from the tongue. In tandem with Mei Matsuoka’s hilarious illustrations of dogs of all shapes and sizes, this neo-pourquoi-tale is a rip-roaring read aloud gift for teachers and others who share stories with the young (and maybe not so young).

Fergal is Fuming!

Fergal is Fuming!
Robert Starling
Andersen Press

Fergal the dragon is a pleasant, friendly enough little fellow when he’s getting his own way, but he’s a hot-tempered creature when things aren’t quite to his liking. That’s when his fieriness gets the upper hand; like the occasion when he’s told by dad to eat all his veggies or forego his pudding. Guess who stays hungry that teatime …

Then there’s the time on the soccer field when he’s asked to play in goal: another fiery situation.

In fact, Fergal’s blazing temper seems to get him into bothersome situations wherever he goes; and before long, his friends are having no more to do with him.
Time for the little dragon to start learning some anger management techniques it appears.
We all get fiery,” his mum tells him “but we find a way to cool down.” Counting to ten is her trick and that’s what Fergus does the following day when he feels that inner fire starting to get the better of him.
Other animals employ different calming down methods and pretty soon, Fergal has a range of techniques at his disposal.

A really good stretch

This turns out to be a pretty good thing, not least because he can expend his energy on exciting pastimes with his friends.
In addition to being sheer fun, Robert Starling’s debut picture book offers youngsters a host of possibilities for taking the heat out of potentially tricky situations.
I take myself off somewhere quiet, sit still and do some deep breathing or a bit of yoga if I feel myself getting over-heated. What about you?

I’ve signed the charter