Babies, Babies Everywhere!

Babies, Babies Everywhere!
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Otter-Barry Books

An absolutely gorgeous and inclusive celebration of babies during their first year of life. Now I’m no lover of babies, (though I have particular fondness for one particular little girl, now a toddler, a few months beyond her first year), but this book is a delight from cover to cover.

We follow the ups and downs of that first year with five families all of which welcome a new little one (or two) into their lives. To start with there’s a lot of sleeping, crying, milk drinking, burping and naturally, pooing and weeing. Then comes limb waving and laughing,

followed after a few weeks with facial recognition of those they see daily. Next is the grabbing, grasping stage often accompanied by much gurgling and cooing,

after which sitting and rolling ensue. By around six months the infants are usually ready for some solid foods – often a very messy time as can be the mobile stage when bottom shuffling and crawling, and beginning to get onto two feet, frequently leads to the little ones opening cupboards, etc and enjoying scattering the contents everywhere.

That’s nothing compared to what they can get up to once they start toddling …

One thing’s for sure though, there’s never a dull moment as Ros’s wonderfully detailed, amusing illustrations show (I love the soft toy’s thought bubbles). Mary’s straightforward narrative has a gentle playfulness with lots of baby sounds and comments from family members. (There’s a reminder on the dedication page, that babies develop at different rates and not all of them do things at the same age.)

Great fun for sharing with babies. toddlers who will enjoy spotting things at every page turn, not least the purple elephant, as well as for including in a ‘Families’ topic box in the foundation stage.

The Story of Inventions / The Great Big Brain Book

Two new titles from Frances Lincoln each one part of an  excellent, established series:

The Story of Inventions
Catherine Barr & Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Have you ever wondered how some of the things we take for granted such as paper and books,

clocks and watches, computers, electricity, vaccinations, cars, planes, the current pollution-creating scourge – plastic, as well as the internet came about? If so then this book will supply the answers.

Written in a reader friendly, informative style that immediately engages but never overwhelms, the authors will fascinate and inspire youngsters. Add to that Amy Husband’s offbeat detailed illustrations that manage to be both accurate and amusing,

and the result is an introduction to inventions that may well motivate young readers to become the inventors of tomorrow.

Add to classroom collections and family bookshelves.

For all those incredible developments to happen, people needed to use their brains; now here’s a smashing look at how this wonderful organ of ours works:

The Great Big Brain Book
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There’s so much to like about this book, that is a great introduction to an amazing and incredibly complicated part of the body. How many youngsters will have thought about the notion that their brains are responsible for every single thing that they do, be it breathing, walking, chatting, eating, thinking, feeling, learning for instance. Moreover the brain enables us to feel happy, sad, powerful, and much more.

So how does this ‘control room’, this ‘miracle of organisation’ as Mary Hoffman describes the brain, actually function? She supplies the answer so clearly and so engagingly that young readers will be hooked in from the very first spread.

Each double spread looks at a different but related aspect such as the brain’s location and development;

another explains how the brain functions as a transmitter sending messages around the body by means of neurons. Readers can find out about how we’re able to move our muscles, do all sorts of tricky, fiddly things such as picking up tiny objects, a jigsaw piece for instance.

Lots of other topics are discussed including the two sides of the brain and what each is responsible for, as well that of neurodiversity. Some people’s brains develop differently, while others might have problems if something goes wrong with their brain.

Every spread has Ros Asquith’s smashing cartoon-style illustrations that unobtrusively celebrate diversity and make each one something to pore over.

A must have in my opinion.

Scratch and Learn: Human Body / The Great Big Book of Life

Scratch and Learn: Human Body
Katy Flint and Ana Seixas
Wide Eyed Editions

I’ve loved some of the EtchArt books from Quarto but this is the first science title I’ve seen, essentially an introduction to how the human body works.

It comprises two main elements: ‘Scratch to Discover’ where the reader uses the stylus to find ten things on each of the seven spreads: the skeleton, muscles,

organs, eating and digestion, the senses, the brain

and, lungs and heart.

Then there are activities – one per spread – to demonstrate how different parts of the body function. For example the muscle-related one says, ‘With your palm facing up, touch your thumb and little finger together. This shows one of your flexor tendons working in your wrist.’

There’s also an invitation to play a search-and-find memory game.

Each topic has an introductory paragraph and some also include additional bite-size snippets of information.

Spencer investigating the skeleton

Graphic designer/illustrator Ana Seixas brings a gentle humour to the pages of this fun, interactive book to use at home that is relevant to the KS1 science curriculum.

The Great Big Book of Life
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The 6th in The Great Big Book of … series looks at life from conception and birth to death and memories.

The early years are allocated several spreads – infant physical development,

sleep, feeding, staying healthy, learning to use the loo and how language develops.

Subsequent topics are school (including home schooling), the teenage years, work, partners,

the middle years, old age, death and finally a spread advocating living life to the full no matter who we are, which includes thinking of other people as well as ourselves.

As in previous team Hoffman and Asquith titles, diversity is a key element. Mary’s light-hearted narrative style combined with Ros’s wonderfully witty illustrations make for an informal and explicit read.

A book to add to your home or school collection.

Not My Hats! / The Great Big Book of Friends

Not My Hats!
Tracy Gunaratnam and Alea Marley
Maverick Arts Publishing

Polar Bear Hettie has an absolute passion for hats, no matter their shape or size Hettie loves to wear them.

Imagine her reaction then as she sits fishing one day when Puffin happens along desirous of a hat. “I’ll share my lollies, my dollies, my books and my brollies, my flippers and my slippers and I’ll even share my kippers … but I’ll never, ever share my HATS,” she tells him in no uncertain terms.

On account of sudden hunger pangs, Puffin settles for the kippers and disappears.

She repeats this litany again when Puffin reappears and this time fobs him off with slippers on account of his chilly tootsies.

Before long Hettie has dozed off dreaming of hat heaven when who should wake her but a certain black and white bird.

On this occasion Puffin suggests swapsies proffering items from his backpack, each of which is resoundingly refused until he suggests a scarf.

Now there’s a possibility: perhaps Hettie could spare the odd titfa after all.

With its plethora of outrageous headwear, this delightfully daft tale that moves in and out of rhyme, demonstrates that language is fun, sharing is best and friendship better than standoffishness.

Friendship is also explored in this non-fiction book:

The Great Big Book of Friends
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Friendship is the theme of the fifth book in Hoffman and Asquith’s Great Big Book series. Herein the book’s creators explore many aspects of the topic starting by asking ‘What is a friend?’ They then go on to look at best friends, friendship groups, what might be shared, difference, pen friends, imaginary friends, objects that can act as friends such as a favourite toy or comforter,

More difficult ideas including falling out, and losing a friend, are also included, as is ‘How many friends?’
Each sub topic is given a double spread and is amusingly illustrated with Ros Asquith’s signature cartoon-style artwork.
With its chatty style and inclusive illustrations, this is a good book to explore with a class or group as part of a PSHE theme.

Pirate Baby

Pirate Baby
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Otter-Barry Books

Yo ho ho! me hearties, there’s a brand new crew a’sailin’ on the high seas and we all love a good pirate yarn. This one though is altogether different and an absolute humdinger.
The crew of the Ramshackle are more than a little discombobulated when they discover a bawling baby bobbing about on a raft;

all the more so when they find out that the object they’re trying their level best to feed is actually a girl baby.

That’s only the start of their adventures however. The crew become the owners of a nanny-goat which they aptly name Nana; very useful when it comes to providing nourishment for the babe. Spoons the cook turns his hand to stitching nappies and other baby attire; and Red Bart the bosun even makes the infant a toy squid from a pair of old gloves.

None of your stereotypical pirates these.
As time passes and the babe, now named Isla, becomes mobile, the pirates, bothered by their lack of piratical action, resolve to plunder the next ship they spy. They think better of their plan though, when they discover the crew is all women.
Then an enormous sea monster looms up from the deep. The crew fear for their ship and their lives; and it’s Isla who saves the day with a truly selfless deed.
Thereafter, she’s recognised as “a true Pirate Baby” with a dazzling piratical future to look forward to.
No pirate crew is really complete without a parrot and a cat; these vital bit parts are admirably played here by McSquark and ship’s moggy, Plunderpuss.
Who better than Ros Asquith to bring out the humour of Mary Hoffman’s salty story? Awash with chucklesome details, her jaunty, swashbuckling scenes are set fair to create a splash with landlubbers young and not so young. A real treasure.

I’ve signed the charter  

Poetry Shelf

Three poetry books to share at home or school, three gifts to inspire a love of poetry …

DSCN5303 (800x600)

Stars in Jars
Chrissie Gittins
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
It’s difficult to choose a favourite from this star-studded collection of poems. I love the edgy offbeat nature of many of them, for instance the opening one that gives the book its title. It begins thus:
William went up in a rocket/ To see where it would go./ It flew round/ and round/
and round/ the sun,/ and burnt his left big toe.
He goes on to hurt his knees by crash landing in camembert before flying through the Milky Way to catch the trail of stars which he then brings home and puts in jars for safe-keeping.
There are poems on all manner of familiar topics such as friends and families but even here, Chrissie Gittins builds the extraordinary into, for instance, an otherwise fairly conventional fruit-and herb picking grandma with these final words:
my grandma is a fun nun, / and apart from God’s, she’s mine.’
We are treated to powerful images of the natural world in say, The Year is Turning:
Gulls chance the churning sea, / Leaves stack up against the thermal door, / Tips of willows, russet, finger low grey sky,/ The year is drawing in. How’s that for a distillation of an instance of awareness of nature’s changes.
I can’t leave without mentioning the two final poems, first Lullaby. Herein it’s the juxtaposition of images that really packs a punch: Forget about your homework, / forget about that fight, / give it up to the cheesy moon/ and the meteor showers of night.
But it’s all really said in the finale What Does Poetry Do? and I make no apology for quoting the whole thing: ‘It nosedives from the top of the fridge/ into a bowl of rapids, // it crawls along the floor/ and taps you on the knee. // it changes the colour of a room, // it puts great wheezing slices of life/ into bun trays, with or without punctuation. // It manages this all by itself.’
And, it’s fanatastic value too – 130 poems and although of course, some are better than others, there’s not a dud among them. If it doesn’t make you look at seemingly ordinary things in a different way then I’m off to ‘try a lunge at Victoria sponge’.

DSCN5305 (800x600)

Vanishing Trick
Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is a debut collection by Guardian cartoonish, Ros Asquith and she’s peppered it with her own amusing illustrations to add to the appeal though it has plenty of that even without; I love those appropriately presented titles too.
It embraces a wide range of topics from A dream of God to Anthony’s hair (or lack of it in this thought-provoking poem) and there’s a variety of form from the punchy 4-lined Doggerel to 4-pages in the follow your dreams Mohammed & the Whale; and mood – from the playful Things I Like, to the poignant Jo’s House ‘ Was Jo not sad to only hear and feel? / When I was ten I asked her, did she mind?/ She said her searching self made all things real./ She said, “I never think that I am blind.” // She said inside her head the world burned bright./ She said “Inside my mouth bursts sour and sweet./ My ears can hear the birds as they take flight. I feel the turning Earth beneath my feet.”
I don’t know why, but I’m surprised at just how good a book this is.

For a younger audience than the others is

DSCN5304 (800x600)

I Wish I Had a Pirate Hat
Roger Stevens
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Herein we have over forty sparky playful rhymes arranged into three sections – Fun Time, School Time not mutually exclusive I hope) and Home Time. The topics – pirates, pets, minibeasts, friends, letters and words, machines and more have immediate child-appeal and young children will love hearing of the ‘all-knowing’ teacher, Miss Moss who pops up in several of the School Time poems. I suspect she, like this reviewer, has a soft spot for the divergent Billy.
Just the thing to spark an interest in poetry beyond nursery rhymes and to get very young children listening carefully to how words are put together to make memorable moments such as in Teatime with Little Rabbit:
Hey, little rabbit/ Would you like a little cuddle?/ I can feel the beating of your heart.// Hey, little rabbit/ Would you like a little snuggle/ and a nibble on my raspberry tart?

Use your local bookshop     localbookshops_NameImage-2

The Big Green Book

DSCN3917 (800x600)

The Great Big Green Book
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
We all know that green issues are of vital importance for our planet and it’s never too early to introduce some of the ideas about conservation to young children. Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith who gave us The Great Big Book of Feelings and The Great Big Book of Families now add a third title to their admirable series. Herein, with the help of their characters young and not so young – not to mention that striped marmalade cat – they present a straightforward outline of what the earth has to offer its inhabitants, what is needed to preserve life on earth and ways in which we can all play our part in conservation and preventing further degradation of our planet home.

DSCN3915 (800x600)

Did you know for instance that ‘Nearly one third of our food depends on bees’? Now that fascinating fact in itself is surely thought provoking.
I particularly like the Ask Questions spread: (I’m someone who is constantly inviting children to ask questions and advocating that other adults do likewise – and then of course to listen carefully to what they have to say): and the Invent pages will surely inspire young readers.

DSCN3916 (800x600)

This is assuredly a book that should be in every primary classroom. The gentle humour in Ros Asquith’s watercolour illustrations will draw young children in and will perhaps encourage the less bookish among them to keep reading.
I know from experience that it’s not difficult to get quite young children very passionate about green issues so why is it so hard to make those adults in charge of companies whose activities cause such damage to our planet take notice. Perhaps they could all start by reading a copy of this stimulating book.

DSCN4037 (800x600)

RSPB My First Birds and Wildlife Activity and Sticker Book
illustrated by Simon Abbott
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
I am not generally a fan of sticker/activity books but this one requires children to look closely at illustrations of things from nature in order to do the activities therein. For example this spread asks the child participant to select the appropriate stickers to make the two pictures look the same.

DSCN4036 (800x600)

To do so one must look carefully at for example, three sticker images of a sparrow and choose which to put in each of three places on the right hand page.
In doing this, and the other activities provided such as the maze and keeping a record of any fauna observed in four places, young children will be both having fun and imbibing information about the natural world.
With a school holiday in sight, this could well be a boon on those days when you don’t feel like venturing outdoors for long.

Use your local bookshop localbookshops_NameImage-2


Welcome to the Family & Little Sisters

tin 004 (800x600)

Welcome to the Family
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Full of wit and wisdom is this look at families of all kinds; in fact it’s the book for you no matter what kind of family yours is. It offers a straightforward exploration of the many ways in which a child or baby becomes part of a family. This might be through a natural birth into a nuclear family, through adoption or fostering,

tin1 002 (800x600)

perhaps by a same sex couple, through IVF, or maybe, as often happens, by the ‘blending’ of two families. Every possibility is explained in a straightforward, matter of fact manner; it’s the illustrations, speech and thoughts bubbles that supply the gentle humour. Having said that, the author doesn’t avoid potential difficulties – settling in,

tin1 001 (800x600)

accommodating new siblings etc. are tackled head on as here:
It can take a while for children to settle down and get along together, and get used to the new person acting as their parent. They can also worry about the mum or dad who no longer lives with them.
The message that shines through loud and clear from this totally affirming, all-inclusive book is that no matter how your family came about, it and you are special, different from all others, valued and valid.
This is another ‘must have’ for every primary school classroom and early years setting from the fantastic Hoffman/Asquith team who gave us The Great Big Book of Families and The Great Big Book of Feelings.

poo 008 (800x600)

A Guide to Sisters
Paula Metcalf and Suzanne Barton
Words & Pictures (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
Told from the viewpoint of a big sister this cute and funny book explores the pros and cons of having a sister and some of the things you (and she) might get up to, if and when you have one. We get right up close from the start with that new baby feel, noises and habits, then move on to toddling, tickling, TV tampering, teetering in high heels

poo 009 (800x600)

(only permitted to big sisters on their seventh birthdays), taking things apart – the model you’ve just spent hours constructing for instance,

poo 010 (800x600)

and much more. There are of course compensations; little sisters enjoy improving their skills at tidying up big sisters’ bedrooms for instance; and who better to snuggle up with if a big sister gets a bit scared in the middle of the night …

poo 011 (800x600)


There’s another troublesome little sister in:

tin 001 (800x600)

Chris Judge
Andersen Press
Tin is supposed to be minding Nickel, his little sister but becomes engrossed in his comic. Then ‘WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!‘ That’s Zinc the dog sounding the alarm: Nickel is up in a tree and before Tin can reach her she floats away, born aloft by a red balloon. Tin leaps on his bike and sets off in hot pursuit – all the way to the big city. Therein the rescue attempt continues with a cycle up a helter-skelter followed by a brave leap into the air

tin 003 (800x600)

resulting in Tin catching hold of Nickel and her balloon. The balloon then bursts and they hurtle downwards towards a passing animal parade heading for the safari park, Tin and Zinc landing on an elephant and Nickel, a giraffe’s neck. Once in the safari park the elephant and giraffe head off in different directions but a dramatic chase ensues with Tin and Zinc in hot pursuit. Eventually Nickel is stopped in her tracks by a park ranger and handed over to her brother. He in turn hands her a new balloon: oh dear was that a wise move? …
A pacey text accompanies Chris Judge’s action-packed visual narrative, but it’s his vividly coloured illustrations that show the setting to be a futuristic city

tin 002 (800x600)

inhabited solely (apart from the wild animals) by robots of various hues.
Great fun and just the thing to inspire a class of infants to create their own rainbow-hued futuristic city from recycled materials.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

Inclusivity with Champion Max



Sport-mad Daniel enjoying the story

Max the Champion
Sean Stockdale, Alexandra Strick and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln pbk
Sports mad, Max dreams day and night of sporting triumphs. When he dashes downstairs for his breakfast he’s running a race in his mind; when he dives into his cereal,


it’s a swimming pool in is imagination; even his handwriting practice becomes an imaginary javelin event. Sport is always uppermost in his head and he always wins.
When his school participates in a sports tournament, Max’s dream of winning comes true: it’s the Champions Cup for his team. Max is a star!
It is only gradually that one becomes aware of just how many of Max’s class have special needs of one kind or another. Max himself wears glasses and uses an asthma inhaler and a hearing aid; his best pal is a wheelchair user, another child uses a leg brace, to name just some. And, on the classroom wall is a visual time-table.

Outside in the street too we see people going about their daily life –a pair are signing, somebody has a guide dog and there’s tactile paving at the crossing.
None of this is mentioned and at first glance you could miss much of what is going on, so subtle is the presentation. Throughout, the emphasis is on what the children (and others) are able to do; they look as though they are enjoying themselves wholeheartedly. Max himself couldn’t be a better advocate for inclusivity; his passion is all – look at his still life in the art display.


The authors have considerable expertise in special needs and are clearly passionate about inclusivity as their text demonstrates; not one word is spoken about any of the additional needs of the children (and adults) in the story. It’s left to Ros Asquith to show these in her humorous, detailed illustrations wherein Max’s flights of fancy are hilariously presented in thinks bubbles opposite the real events. Assuredly it’s a case of the more you look, the more you see: I love the visual word plays.
At least one copy of this fantastic book should be in every primary classroom.


Buy from Amazon
Buy from your local bookshop: