Henry and the Yeti


Henry and the Yeti
Russell Ayto
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Imagine loving a yeti. A yeti? We don’t actually think they exist, do we? That’s not the case for the young Henry however: he’s an adoring fan of the creatures and is determined to undertake an expedition to find one. First though he needs permission from his headteacher, who, surprisingly, authorises his absence, asking only for some evidence on his return –should he find one, that is.
Thus, with bags duly packed with vital equipment, Henry sets off with his father’s “no staying up late” instruction ringing in his ears.
It’s a long way to his Himalayan destination, although finding the way over seas and rivers, through forests and up mountains is, let’s say exciting.
Finding yeti traces though, is challenging, and Henry begins to lose heart when what should appear but …


It turns out that when it comes to size and friendliness, the yeti more than meets Henry’s expectations. Soon though, with evidence photos duly taken, and a quick game of hide and seek over,


it’s time for Henry, trusty compass at the ready, to head home.
Now to produce that evidence; but where on earth is Henry’s camera?


No camera, no evidence,” his father tells him: ditto his headteacher. Will the lad have to write the ten million lines for making things up that the latter orders; after all he really did see a yeti didn’t he? We know, his father knows but …
And, who gets the last laugh?
Henry’s self-belief is utterly awesome and entirely commendable; so too is this laugh out-loud creation from Russell Ayto. I’ve loved all his books, but this one surely tops the lot.

The Wolf Who Cried Boy!


The Wolf Who Cried Boy!
James O’Neill and Russell Ayto
Picture Corgi
I doubt there are many readers who aren’t familiar with the classic The Boy Who Cried Wolf story but what happens when someone turns the tale clean upside down? Well, in this instance, it’s something utterly delightful and funny to boot.
On opposite sides of a river live two communities – one human, the other, the forest dwelling wolves. Now these particular wolves, despite what the human elders have told their children …


are soft, fun-loving friendly creatures. However, they do live in fear of those across the water. Hmm!
Let’s focus now on one of their number, a very small wolf cub who has some very big ideas (and very mistaken) about himself for indeed he is an extremely fearful little fellow, not brave at all and given to crying “Boy” at the slightest shadow shape, rustle of a bush or hint of a breeze. So frequent were his cries that soon nobody took the slightest scrap of notice.
Now one particular sunny morning this cub decides to take a cooling dip in the river and what should he spy but a scruffily clad, sticky faced …


This particular little lad had much in common with the cub in that he was wont to cry out at the slightest rattle of a bin lid, moo from a cow or waft of the wind. Naturally nobody took heed – well you know that part of old.
Their face-to-face encounter results in a torrent of outpourings …


all rather protracted and exhausting too. And totally ignored by both humans and wolves thus leaving the two infants to frolic the afternoon away together until …


It looked as if their fun was over.

So hereafter, is it to be a case of never the twain shall meet or could there be other possibilities?
James O’Neill’s background in comic drama is evident in his droll telling of this head-on collision between two worlds; and combined with Russell Ayto’s priceless comic-strip style rendering of same, the result is picture book theatre of the first order. Read into it what you will …



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Suzi Moore and Russell Ayto
Brubaker, Ford and Friends (Templar) pbk
A cat that cannot MEOW, a dog that doesn’t WOOF and a squeakless mouse; add a wise owl – well let’s reserve judgement on that one – and an old lady in a tumbledown house (an old lady with a spell book I should point out) and you pretty much have the ingredients of this tale. Bringing these ingredients together proves to be more than a little tricky especially in that tumbledown house.
Of course the little old lady is eager to help her voiceless visitors sent by the owl. Out comes the spell book – a very large volume – and with a flick of her fingers all is well. Eerm, not quite. Remember this is a tumbledown house and in a flash the wind is blowing in, the rain beating down and the house turning around and around. What of the animals though –have they found their voices? Well, yes and no for, ‘the cat went, CLUCK! And the dog went, QUACK! And the mouse from a shoe went, COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO! And the little old lady went, WHOOPS! (Echoes of Charles Causley’s Quack Said the Billy Goat here.) But no matter for the spell book has plenty more pages so what about the spell on page three?

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BAA! NEIGH! MOO! MOO! MOO! WHOOPS! Page seven then? Oh, not that one either but we do have a WOOF, a SQUEAK! and a MEOW!  so it’s definitely worth giving page ten a try.

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But what is this? – brown sky and a spinning house and within … ?
Do I hear right? … And the cat went MEOW! And the dog went, WOOF! The mouse who couldn’t speak went, SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK!
And the little old lady? Well, I’d hate to spoil the story so you’ll just have to get hold of a copy for yourself. You can make up your own mind about that old owl too – he does have the last word though.
Again, again” is the cry every time I share this hilarious, laugh out loud story with individuals or groups of children. Needless to say I’m more than happy to oblige. Suzi Moore’s rhyming text is a joy to read, especially if you like doing ‘voices’ and adding dramatic effects and Russell Ayto’s muted, minimalist style illustrations are a real hoot.

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He leaves plenty of space on many a page to create superb dramatic effect and the more tumultuous spreads are equally brilliant and contain superb comic detail.
The whole thing is a wonderful springboard to classroom drama too.

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Cuddles, Crime, Cavemen and a Question


I Want a Cuddle
Malorie Blackman and Joanne Partis
Orchard Books pbk
First published over ten years ago, this story written by current the Children’s Laureate, about Little Rabbit and his search for a cuddle still holds its original charm.
Having injured his paw during a game of hide-and-seek, Little Rabbit is in desperate need of a cuddle. Hedgehog is sympathetic but too prickly, likewise Squirrel (too tickly), Badger – he’s too bristly, Toad is lumpy, and bumpy, not to mention squidgy.


Poor Little Rabbit sets off home through the forest but who is that bushy-tailed creature sneaking up behind her?
And who else needs a cuddle now?


Funny, tender and with just the right amount of suspense to keep young readers engaged throughout; this is a lovely story-time read aloud for nursery settings as well as individual listeners. Joanne Partis’ boldly coloured, illustrations rendered with thick strokes, daubs, spatters and mixed media manipulations are a delight.
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Top Top Secret
Claire Freedman and Russell Ayto
Simon and Schuster pbk
The bond between, reader, author and main protagonist – a young secret agent spy – are immediately established in this vastly amusing rhyming tale. Herein Sid accepts a mission to recover the Royal Ring bearing the king’s secret seal from the clutches of a dastardly dragon and return it to its place in the royal vaults. Off he goes creeping in the shadows till he comes upon a large drain lid; out comes his trusty magnet, up comes the cover, down slides Sid. Then propelled by his supersonic pulley he whizzes through the shaft, out onto a river (his raft a-ready there), under a bridge, oops -! Having narrowly escaped the waiting shark’s jaws,


he comes upon a sign:
Once inside the dragon’s lair, he discovers the ring’s whereabouts and is on the point of seizing same when ROAR! The dragon wakes; smoke and flames burst forth; OH NO! Sid’s has lost his anti-dragon flare. Time to resort to something altogether more tricky and DEFINITELY, much more sticky, Sid.

And does our Sid succeed in retrieving and returning the precious object to its rightful place? Erm well… those telescopic super-charged skis and that trusty magnet do come into their own and we leave our hero sound asleep in his comfy bed so … What do you think?
Rendered in skillfully scurrying rhyme and through suitably off-beat illustrations, this fast-moving, very amusing tale is such fun to share with young audiences large and small. If the former though, make sure individuals have opportunities to revel in the hilarious details of Russell Ayto’s deliciously idiosyncratic artwork.
Overall design, the variety of fonts used, Ayto’s choice of colour palette, the minutiae of detail within the scenes be they wide screen or small close-ups, all add to the impact of the book.
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Jill Lewis and Simon Rickerty
Simon and Schuster pbk
Previously for Simon Rickerty it was crayons; now, along with the characters he depicts, a quartet of troglodytes no less (those drawn by the little boy of the story), it is pencils that take centre stage. Actually just the one pencil, in fact. The particular one being that which rolls over the cavemen’s fire extinguishing it but bringing to life said picture. Thereupon the bemused cave dwellers attempt to make sense of this mysterious object; they try eating it, and climbing it before one of their number, Colin, hits upon tool wielding. After some serious carving and chopping an impressive result is achieved.


‘ BURNA BURNA ROAST TOASTA!’ shouts the excited Flint but then out of nowhere seemingly, there leaps a hungry tiger, jaws a-gaping. Plan B I think guys.
After a pretty close call though, things take a turn – or rather they don’t – for the worse.

You didn’t notice that tree then? Time for another one of Colin’s good ideas …
But …


Have a sausage instead! UG-A-LUG! A happy ending? Certainly, so long as you are a carnivore that is.
Jill Lewis’s matter of fact manner of telling with its sprinkling of troglodyte talk, works wonderfully well as a counter to Ayto’s over the top artistry, with its brilliantly expressive caveman countenances as they go about their comical caperings.
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The Wonderful Egg
Dahlov Ipcar
Flying Eye Books
Is it a mystery story or is it an information book? First published in 1958 and now in a new edition, this lovely book is actually both. It tells how long, long ago when all the earth was covered in jungles a wonderful egg sat solitary in a mossy nest beneath a giant fern tree.


But whose egg is it?


A dinosaur’s perhaps, or did it belong to one of the marine or flying reptiles that lived over a million years ago?


Dahlov Ipcar transports us to that prehistoric world and takes us through a multitude of possibilities before revealing the answer.


Her wonderful illustrations have been ‘remastered’ from the original edition. The limited palette of shades of green, brown, grey and pink and the bolder black blocks, shading and outlines creates scenes at once dramatic, subtle and timeless.
In addition to the narrative, readers are provided with a helpful pronunciation page and a double spread showing the relative sizes of the creatures featured.
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