Earth Friends: Pet Protection / Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch

Both books are additions to popular Nosy Crow series – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Earth Friends: Pet Protection
Holly Webb

This is the fourth story about four friends who try to make the world a better place.

Emily longs for a pet of her own but her home doesn’t have sufficient room. Having explored various possibilities with her friends Poppy, Maya and Izzy, she decides to offer her services helping at the Appleby Animal Rescue centre nearby. With her Mum’s permission and approval of the person in charge, it’s agreed that Emily will help out at weekends. But then she learns that owing to lack of finance, the centre is under threat. Emily resolves not to let that happen and straightway starts thinking of ways to raise funds, starting with a tenth birthday party for the centre: no pressure there. First of all they need to find a suitable venue and that in itself is a tricky task.

Then there’s the question of Emily’s new dog walking business, certainly one way to get some cash but what will her Mum say about that?

However Emily is one determined girl and when her mind is set on a good cause, she’s not easily deterred. Can she and her friends ensure that the animals don’t finish up homeless? It’s certainly a challenge … Be prepared for a few surprises in this one.

With an additional focus on girls’ friendships, this is a heartwarming, inspiring story that will appeal especially to readers who want to make a difference.

Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians

I’m a big fan of Mabel Chase aka Magnificent Mabel who returns in three new funny as ever episodes. The first is set at Halloween, a time Mabel loves almost as much as Christmas especially with the opportunities it offers for free sweets. Others in the locality are similarly hit by Halloween fever. But then it seems that an urgent family matter might prevent her from trick or treating, unless that is, Great Aunt Bridget can be persuaded to participate in the festivities.

Next, Mabel’s school has a worry box in the playground. Sure that she’s seen aliens in the vicinity, Mabel posts a note about her concern at the possibility of an alien attack on the school. Having convinced herself that they’re homesick, she enlists the help of her understanding headteacher and the two of them build something to help said aliens go back from whence they came. But that’s only part of the story: the best is yet to come.

In the final episode Mabel has a monster living under her bed but despite that, Mabel’s parents continue to ignore her earnest pleas for that much-wanted ‘up-high’ bunk bed. So she decides to use her initiative and monster blocking skills: will those get Mabel what she wants? …

A chucklesome book with spirited black and white illustrations by Julia Christians that contribute to the drama which follows Mabel no matter where she goes. Share with foundation stage listeners, while slightly older children just flying solo could try reading it themselves.

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar/ Pizazz vs Perfecto

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Just right for those starting out on chapter books or for reading aloud, this is the fourth in the Magnificent Mabel series and again there are three episodes.

In the first (my favourite) Mabel embarks on a jungle foray and also gets an unexpected lesson in metamorphosis when it’s finally her turn to take care of class caterpillar Steve over the weekend. Of course, she emerges from the events with her characteristic magnificence.

Story two involves know-all Max Roberts, friend of Mabel’s big sister Meg who comes around on Fridays after school so they can do their homework together. It also involves Mabel’s secret friend Marcella who helps her in times of need; oh yes and there’s also a rather large eraser …

In the third story Mabel decides she needs to wear glasses and keep them in a clickety case like her classmate Sophie Simpson. After all she can’t see America from her bedroom window and in Mabel’s own words ‘At school maths is all muddy.” Is it time to visit the optician?

Gigglesome delight all the way through, made even more fun by Julia Christians’ illustrations on almost every spread.

Equally unstoppable and for slightly older readers is eyeball roller extraordinaire, Pizazz, who returns in a third adventure:

Pizazz vs Perfecto
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Life for the reluctant superhero continues to present its challenges, the latest being in the form of Perfecto who happens to be a whole year younger than Pizazz and about to cause a worldwide sweet shortage so it seems.

There’s also the question of the school talent show: perhaps our young superhero and friends Ivy, Molly and Ed should join forces and form a band. Bring on The Cheese Squares … 

Then of course, their actual music making skills will take a bit of perfecting. But what is the motive for participation in this supposedly non-competition: is it to have fun or is it being perfect and defeating Perfecto. It’s a matter that causes huge dissent among the band members.

What do those Aunties, especially the helpful one, plus Gramps and Grandma have to say about things?

The crux of the whole matter is whether Pizazz can possibly pull off her plan of out-perfecting Perfecto … or is there an even better final outcome? Maybe, but unless you get hold your own copy of this hugely enjoyable sizzler of a book, you’ll never know; and that certainly would be far from perfect.

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race / Aisha and Silver

These are the latest titles in two of Nosy Crow’s series for younger readers kindly sent for review

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians

No matter what life throws at her, young Mabel is MAGNIFICENT. But for Mabel Chase, the book’s narrator things are sometimes not fair – at all. Seemingly however careful she is about things like being a worthy partner to Edward Silitoe on school sports day, the two just don’t see eye to eye or even arm to arm, let alone egg to spoon. No matter, somehow or other her magnificence always shines through – eventually.

Next, there’s the class play and this term for a change, Mabel really, really wants to get a leading part, William Shakespeare, preferably. But then who is she asked to play but Titania. No matter, magnificence rules, and where there’s a Will, there’s a way …

Then comes the Dermot episode. It comes about when Mabel’s family finally agree to take her to a dog show one weekend. It’s somewhere you can only go (so her Dad says) if you have a dog, Time to start training for the agility event.

As always, our narrator comes out on top.

These latest comical slices of mischief of the Mabel kind with spirited illustrations by Julia Christians, will appeal to the slightly mischievous side of young children be they those readers just starting to fly solo or story time listeners in the foundation stage.

Aisha and Silver
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman

The Unicorn Academy series has captured the hearts of many young solo readers with its mix of sparkling magic and the kind of issues concerning friendship, loyalty and overcoming problems that most primary children have to contend with.

In this latest slice of enchantment Aisha faces problems: first the likelihood of having to repeat an entire school year as she hasn’t yet discovered Silver’s particular magic or bonded with him. Secondly, there’s been a spate of terrible hailstorms that have been causing damage to their beloved school and worse, might endanger the life of anybody caught out in one. That’s the reason for the early closure of the school leaving Aisha just five days to bond with Silver and to stop the storms.

It’s crucial to find out who or what has been causing them: with Aisha also intent on perfecting her music for the dorm’s display ride, she’s under a lot of pressure. It looks as though teamwork will be required to take on the mysterious LT.

Another engaging read with plenty of lovely illustrations by Lucy Truman to break up the text.

A House for Christmas Mouse / The Lightbringers / Magnificent Mabel and the Christmas Elf

A House for Christmas Mouse
Rebecca Harry
Nosy Crow

On a snowy Christmas Eve an excited Mouse arrives at Treetop Forest in search of somewhere to call home – somewhere cosy and warm, with food and friends.

Coming upon a little rabbit outside his burrow she knows she must stop and help him light a fire within and so she does. She also stops to assist Fox in his cake making

and Bear with hanging up Christmas decorations, but having done so it’s almost sundown and Mouse still hasn’t found her new home.

Suddenly a gust of wind sends her tumbling into the deep snow and when she gets up, there before her is something that might just be the perfect place to make her home. On closer inspection it seems far from perfect though, so off she goes to search for leaves to make a bed. As she looks, who should come hurrying by but Bunny, followed soon after by Fox and then bear, each carrying something with them.

Where are they going and why?

With its wintry woodland setting and sparkly touches, Rebecca Harry’s lovely gentle tale of kindness repaid is just right for sharing with the very young this festive season.

The Lightbringers
Karin Celestine
Graffeg

This is the first of a new four book series, Tales of the Turning Year. With a combination of folklore and nature the author weaves an uplifting, hopeful story that retells an ancient renewal tale found in various parts of the world in honour of the winter solstice. Assuredly during this current covid lockdown we would all welcome a visit from The Lightbringers – small beings that gather embers and put them into their seed lanterns.

Karin explains how the seasons change as the earth breathes, with a particular focus on the increasing darkening with the approach of December 21st, the winter solstice – a turning point that heralds the spring and longer, lighter days.

Her words are simple but impactful, accompanying her atmospheric, beautifully composed photographic tableaux of the natural world populated by her felted animals, particularly the Lightbringers led by Hare – the caller. With its reassuring final, ‘The light will always return because it is guarded by small beings and they are steadfast in their dark’ this is a book to share and be cheered by in these dark days.

For new solo readers is

Magnificent Mabel and the Christmas Elf
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Mabel of Rabbit Riot fame returns to relate three further episodes in which she demonstrates her magnificence. In the first we find our young narrator in the sweetest of moods as she unearths her Christmas Elf from the box of decorations. She tries to get her classmate Edward into the Christmas spirit too but without much success; but she’s more successful in allowing her naughty little elf get her into big trouble over Christmas presents.

In the second story Mabel tries her very best to befriend a new boy and also finds out that once in a while school can be really interesting.

It’s toddler-minding that gets our young heroine into a tizzy in the final episode, and that’s after she’s declared that looking after toddlers is ‘easy and fun’. Really – Even cousin William?…

Huge entertainment from such a delightful character: Ruth Quayle really does appear to have the ability to see things from the viewpoint of six-year-olds, and Julia Christians’ black and white illustrations are a spirited delight.

Magnificent Mabel and the Rabbit Riot

Magnificent Mabel and the Rabbit Riot
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Mabel Chase is a spirited girl. She sees how things ought to be and knows what she wants – kind of. It’s pets that she wants in the first story finding it totally unfair that her parents deny her one. Even more unfair is that Mabel’s big sister is given a pet rabbit, Henry for her birthday and she doesn’t appear very interested in the creature; after just one morning she leaves him behind while she gallivants off to spend her birthday money. Of course, Mabel cannot resist stepping into the caring breech

and pretty soon the place is in chaos. Not only that but she decides to clean out the hutch; this involves using a green fluffy duster that doubles up rather well as a broomstick – uh oh!

The strange thing is Mabel comes out of the whole episode squeaky clean and being showered with praise.

Oh, and she seems to have replaced her penchant for rabbits with a different kind of animal …

There’s another crisis situation in the second story – it happens when Mabel discovers she has suddenly developed a wobbly tooth and she’s anything but keen on the tooth fairy. Time to put her ‘spare time’ dental skills into practice. Despite her best efforts the tooth does eventually fall out and then she has to work out how to deal with that tooth fairy. I’ll leave her pondering the dilemma and merely add that it’s not the only one Mabel faces in this episode.

The third story has Mabel complaining about the unfairness of life AGAIN. Now it’s on account of not having a sprinkler in the garden. However Elsa Kavinsky does have one so perhaps it’s time to work on cultivating their friendship.

Maybe then she’ll let Mabel have a play in hers … This episode has “Pixie Play Date’ in its title but if you want to know how pixies come in you’ll need your own copy of Magnificent Mabel and the Rabbit Riot.

I’d most definitely recommend getting a copy if you have a newly independent reader in your class or family; it would make a super fun book to share too. I love the way it’s presented from Mabel’s viewpoint; she’s a totally endearing narrator and SO good at keeping calm when faced with emergencies. I love too Julia Christians’ plentiful illustrations; she’s captured Mabel’s character splendidly, and those of her family and friends.

This is a series that could run and run.

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut / Make & Play: Space / Balloon to the Moon

Here are three very different books all with a space theme:

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut
Ruth Quayle and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow

Space engineer, Suzy Orbit lives with her boss, Captain Gizmo in a lunar space station.

One morning they learn that aliens have been spotted within range of their location and they need to act quickly to launch their space pod. The Captain orders one forthwith but it arrives without batteries and those the Captain has don’t fit.
Furthermore his shiny new space suit is way too small and as the aliens have by now arrived, it’s pointless trying to get a new speak-o-phone.

Happily though, the aliens are peaceable beings but they have bad news to share. Earth is about to be blasted by a meteor storm unless Suzy and her boss can stop it. No pressure there then.

Fortunately Suzy, with her tools always to hand, is an engineer extraordinaire and just happens to have a wonderful new invention ready and waiting. It’s as well that one of the team realises that it’s better to rely on ingenuity than ordering things on the net. Before you can say ‘blaster’ the two are heading out into the meteor storm with Suzy at the controls to do battle with those errant meteoroids. Can they save the day and see off the storm?

It’s great to see Suzy as a positive STEM character in the role of engineer/inventor in Ruth Quayle’s quirky tale. Jez Tuya’s bold illustrations show her as having determination and resourcefulness – exactly what’s needed in the face of the Captain’s lack of drive and inability to show any innovative aptitude.

Make & Play: Space
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

The latest of Joey Chou’s Make & Play interactive activity book series is sure to please young space enthusiasts.
It contains eight pages of bold, brightly coloured, double-sided press-out play pieces that can be used to create a space scene (some have a hole to suspend with thread while others slide together to stand). The entire set would make a great diorama with space dogs, aliens, astronauts and spacecraft, though if desired, the pieces can be fitted back into the spirally bound book for safe keeping.

There are also other space-related activities – a fruit rocket made from fresh fruit pieces; a song to learn; a ‘blast-off rocket’ science experiment, alien models to create (they could be made into puppets perhaps) and more.
There are hours of fun to be had with this, whether used by an individual, or a small group of young children.

For older space enthusiasts is:

Balloon to the Moon
Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielson
Big Picture Press

Rather than concentrating on the Space Race, this takes a historic look at the steps that began in the late 18th century with the Montgolfier brothers flight of a large unmanned balloon and led on to their sending a variety of animals skywards on a 3km flight three months later.

In the same year came the first manned untethered flight by inventor Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes who flew 8km in a Montgolfier balloon. Hot on their heels came the first woman to do similar, the following year (1784). There’s a whole spread given over to this balloon bonanza.

The narrative then shifts to the first half of the 20th century with a look at some aviation pioneers, followed by a focus on some iconic planes.

I was especially pleased to find some literary references on the opening page of the ‘rockets section’ where there’s a mention of both Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne. The author uses numbers in her selection of what she includes so we have, for instance ‘8 Rockets’

and ‘Into the Unknown 7’. The seven referring to the seven animals that became the first astronauts; and this chapter cleverly links these with an explanation of g-forces and their relation to fighter pilots and astronauts.

Much of the remaining part of the book provides information on the endeavours of the US and the Soviet Union to win the space race; and what happened thereafter. In conclusion there’s a quick look at some of the new information the Apollo Moon flights gave us; what ‘space travel has done for life on earth’ and a final look to the future.

Christopher Nielson’s retro style illustrations are full of humorous touches adding to the allure of the book and the enjoyment of the whole narrative.

You’re Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green!

You’re Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green!
Ruth Quayle and Deborah Allwright
Nosy Crow

Here’s a book that takes a different slant on piratical tales with the all-absorbing nature of imaginative play at its heart.

When Sidney Green receives a letter urging him to stop playing and become a proper pirate he likes the idea but as he tells his playmate, dog Jemima, they have an important race to take part in first. “I’ll come in a minute,” is his response to Captain Shipshape and off he races, whoosh!

Race successfully completed, he forgets all about being a pirate until, in through the window flies a scarlet macaw that repeats Captain Shipshape’s summons.

Sidney’s response is the same as before. and he and Jemima plus the macaw set off on an expedition to Africa.

Once again a ‘rip-roaring time’ is had by all and the pirate business is forgotten.

He’s reminded however by three pirates, who come banging on his door disturbing the project Sidney is engaged in. Building a castle seems more interesting than returning whence they came so the three join in with the project.

It’s thirsty work and as the builders stop for some liquid refreshment who should appear on the scene but Captain Shipshape himself.

His dismissal of the friends’ activities as ‘just playing’ and his instruction to join him, have an unexpected outcome.
Before you can say ‘Proper pirate’ something heavy hits him on the head and he finds himself a member of Sidney’s crew blasting off into space to track down some dangerous aliens.

The outcome is another rip-roaring time …

How will this adventure end? You’ll have to unearth a copy of this treasure of a book for yourself to discover that. (That sentence holds a clue). Suffice it to say that there’s more than one way of being a ‘proper pirate’.

I love the way Ruth’s story highlights the importance of children’s imaginative play in this enormously engaging tale that is packed with action, has plenty of dialogue for readers aloud to let rip on, and some satisfying repetition for young listeners to join in with.

Deborah Allwright packs plenty of action into her digitally worked scenes of cars and corners, boats and a birthday celebration, castles and crocodiles, diggers and dinosaurs, and much more, making this a super story to share with your little ones.

That Bear Can’t Babysit / Brobot Bedtime

That Bear Can’t Babysit
Ruth Quayle and Alison Friend
Nosy Crow
Little did Mr and Mrs Burrow know when they had to resort to hiring Bear as babysitter for their night out, leaving their seven bunny offspring in his charge while they went off to a party, what those young rabbits or indeed Bear, might get up to.
The junior Burrows certainly seem to have Bear wrapped around their little paws from the start – or some of them do at least. They choose inappropriate reading material; cause chaos, and worse when it comes to supper;

create mayhem with the hosepipe and then embark on a moonlit adventure with Bear at the helm.

Finally our ursine child-minder seems to have the upper paw, all the more so when out comes the perfect bedtime storybook.

Which is just as well because before you can say ‘goodnight little bunnies’ back come Mr and Mrs B to find a scene of serenity and shut-eye; accompanied by some rather surprising words from their babysitter. Shame that counting isn’t one of his better skills.
Author, Ruth Quayle’s debut picture book is a charmer through and through. It’s full of lively, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, scattered throughout with join-in-able repeat phrases, not the least of which is the title of this book, and there’s a lovely final twist in its tail.
Alison Friend’s scenes fizzle with fun. Her portrayal of frolicsome mischief, furry friend style, is full of amusing detail and her characters are adorably impish.

Brobot Bedtime
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Scott Campbell
Abrams
The only words of this pre bedtime story are speech bubbles – one colour per character – and encased within outlines that approximately correspond with different shapes of the speakers’ heads. The dialogue, which is liberally sprinkled with wordplay, opens with the mother robot sending her three offspring to bed. A seemingly straightforward “time to enter sleep mode” instruction however, is anything but that. Beep can’t possibly sleep; he has “the flick-ups” and needs help. His brothers Crash and Buzz offer assistance in the form of a “nice cup of oil”,

to no avail. Then Buzz leaps into action with a spot of diverting impersonation …

And so it goes on with all manner of supposedly helpful shenanigans until, with Beep on the point of insomniac self-destruction, mum robot calls out, expressing extreme displeasure demanding to know “Why are there still gears turning up there?” and threatening “a hard reboot”.
A plan is hatched but will those little bots ever settle down and drop off to sleep? Well, um yes – and no!
The crazy, occasionally slightly confusing, visuals of the romp, in tandem with those colour-coded speech bubbles, offer a wonderful opportunity for readers aloud (and young listeners), to engage in robot-speak. A word of warning though: if you share this as a bedtime book, it might well lead to rather too much child-robot talk and as a result, insufficient infant wind-down.

I’ve signed the charter