Captain Sparklebeard

Captain Sparklebeard
Timothy Knapman and Sam Lloyd
Egmont

When first we meet young Peg she’s something of a Cinderella character residing with her nasty Step-Great-Grand Auntie who bosses the girl around constantly. So hard at work all day is she that her only spare time is at night. That’s when she reads pirate tales and dreams of escape and adventure. Good on you girl!

One day while out walking with her relation’s cat she discovers a pirate ship has arrived in the harbour. On board is Captain Hairy-Ears shouting about having a treasure map and announcing that anyone who ‘dreams of escape and adventure’ can join his crew.

Seemingly though there are exceptions for when Peg asks him politely she’s turned down on account of her nice manners, her smallness of stature and lack of a beard. Moreover, when the lass informs him that she’s read lots of pirate stories, this is met with derision.

Peg however is not giving up that easily. Back home that night she fashions herself a pirate outfit from curtains and a bushy – albeit rather itchy – beard from the floor brush. Then spying her Step Aunt’s jewels she’d been ordered to polish earlier, she has an idea.

The following morning there’s a brand new pirate boat on the ocean.

When challenged as to her identity, Peg informs Captain Hairy-Ears she’s Captain Sparklebeard, the greatest pirate ever and moreover, she will get to the treasure before he does.

Having cast aspersions about her boat Captain Hairy-Ears sails off leaving the lass to peruse her Big Book of Sea Perils. This volume proves worth its weight in gold for it warns her of the dangers lying in wait between her and the treasure island, hazards of which the other pirates know nothing.

Consequently when they finally arrive on the beach they’re jittering wrecks with nothing going for them save the treasure map.

But Peg still has the upper hand for she’s the only literate one among the treasure seekers.

Furthermore she has something else to reveal that will surprise her rivals.

I’d hate to be a story spoiler, especially of one as much fun as this so I won’t reveal what happens thereafter. That’s for you to discover when you lay your hands on this treasure of a book.

With Timothy Knapman’s wonderfully playful telling that’s full of alliteration and other word combinations that demonstrate to children that language is fun, the indomitable female character and Sam Lloyd’s rumbustious scenes of madness and mayhem on the high seas, this book is a winner.

I Want My Dad! / With My Daddy / I Love You Dino-Daddy

I Want My Dad!
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Tony Ross’s latest slice of humour, Little Princess style, has the heroine considering her dad the King, making comparisons with other dads and finding him wanting in many respects. He’s much shorter that they are, is useless at baking, gets wheezy in the presence of any animal large or small, is totally inept in the water

and unlike the Gardener who takes his offspring on forest walks, gets lost in his own castle.

I wish my dad was as much fun as other dads!” she cries to the Maid. … He’s useless.

Her response is to teach the young complainer. First it’s pony riding, then baking, followed by swimming and walking in the woods, none of which are a resounding success. Our Little Princess is left feeling cold, decidedly damp, with hurting teeth and head, and exceedingly hungry.

In short, she feels absolutely useless.

As she heads for home who should happen along but his royal highness out walking and when he hears about her failures, just like all dads, he knows just what to say to put everything right.

With My Daddy
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

In this sturdily built book, a little girl talks about how she feels when she’s with her dad.
He arouses the whole gamut of emotions: a hug makes her feel like ‘a little bird in a warm, comfy nest, … safe.’

He can also make her feel unafraid, ‘brave’ in fact, ‘daring’, ‘confident’ because he inspires self-belief,

being ‘adventurous’ particularly when it comes to swimming, ‘playful’ on the most ordinary of days, ‘calm’, and ‘excited’ especially when he plays at being a monster. Sometimes though he invokes anger but it’s a storm that quickly passes thanks to Dad’s gentle calming hands on the narrator’s back.
Interestingly we never see the complete dad, or even indeed his face. Rather it’s only huge hands, or feet and legs on the final page, that are ever visible. In this way, Christine Roussey emphasises the huge amount of love he bestows upon the small narrator and the scope of his influencing power upon her feelings and emotions.

I Love You Dino-Daddy
Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

According to his offspring, Dino-Dad is a pretty cool guy with all manner of useful attributes. He’s full of fun on trips to the park, , ace at building with blocks, great at playing monsters, pretend wrestling, giving pony rides and doing magic tricks (especially where cake is concerned) ; he’s even great to play with – albeit unknowingly – while taking a nap.

As described in Mark Sperring’s jolly rhyming text and portrayed, with his dapper blue shoes and striped scarf, in Sam Lloyd’s exuberant illustrations, this Dad is a doted-on dino. who is sure to charm your little ones; and this is a lovely fun-filled, love-filled book for dino-littles to give to a dad on his special day be that Father’s Day, a birthday or for that matter, any other day they want to bring a Daddy smile.

It’s Time For School

               Here’s a handful of picture books, each with a school setting, albeit a somewhat unlikely one in the first three.

First Day at Skeleton School
Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Following on from First Day at Bug School, Sam Lloyd moves deep into the dark forest for her new school-based offering. (Some of my listeners recognised the illustrative style having spotted it on my table and eagerly pounced on the book demanding an immediate reading.)
Skeleton School doesn’t restrict its intake to skeletons though; all manner of creepy pupils are to be found here in this night-time educational establishment run by one, Mr Bones who stands ready and waiting to welcome newcomers (and readers).
I’m happy to see that there’s a school library, albeit a haunted one; but at least one of the pupils needs to learn some appropriate behaviour – maybe she just hasn’t learned to read yet.
The curriculum includes a jingle jangle dance class with the skeletons, how to float through walls, ghost style and spell making, which has some surprising outcomes, not least for Mr Bones.

Sam Lloyd gives full rein to her imagination and in addition to the zany storyline delivered in her rhyming text, provides a visual extravaganza for young listeners to explore and chuckle over.
The endpapers cutaway spread of the school interior will definitely illicit lots of giggles not least over the toilet humour.


More crazy happenings in:

School for Little Monsters
Michelle Robinson and Sarah Horne
Scholastic
Side by side stand two schools, one for monsters, the other for ‘nice boys and girls’. The question is which one is which? And if it’s your first day, how do you know you’re in the right school, especially when some little monsters have been up to a spot of mischief making?
No matter which door you enter, there are some rules to abide by – fourteen in all;

and the whole day is assuredly, a steep learning curve for both human and monster newcomers; and has more than a sprinkling of the kind of gently subversive humour (bums, poo, trumps and bottoms) that young children relish.
Riotous scenes from Sarah Horne showing the pupils’ interpretations of Michelle Robinson’s rhyming rules in this read aloud romp.

Old friends return in:

Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School
Simon Puttock and Ali Pye
Nosy Crow
Cat, Bat, Owl and Mouse are not newcomers to Miss Moon’s Moonlight School; they already know about the importance of sharing; but listening? Certainly Cat still has a lot to learn where this vital skill is concerned.
On this particular night Miss Moon is taking her class on a nature walk to look for ‘interesting things’. She issues instructions for the pupils to walk in twos and to stay together. “Nobody must wander off,” she warns.
Before long, it becomes apparent that Cat has done just that. She’s spied a firefly and follows it until it settles far from the others, on a flower.

Suddenly though her delight gives way to panic: where are her classmates and teacher?
All ends happily with Cat’s friends using their observation skills until they’ve tracked her down; and the importance of listening having been impressed upon Cat once again, they return to school with their findings.
Ali Pye’s digital illustrations are full of shadows brightened by the moon and stars and Miss Moon’s lantern, illuminating for listeners and readers, the delightful details of the natural world on every spread.
Puttock and Pye seem to have a winning formula here: my young listeners immediately recognised the characters and responded enthusiastically to the sweet story.

Now back to reality:

Going to School
Rose Blake
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The pupil here is a girl, Rose, who shares with readers a very busy day spent with friends in their primary school class. There’s certainly a lot to pack in for our narrator, her classmates and their teacher, Miss Balmer: geography, art, English, maths, PE, science, computing and drama.
Fortunately though, it appears to be an active curriculum …

and Miss Balmer reads a story to the children in the “Book Nook’. Hurray!
Seemingly all of the children have firm ideas about their future paths and what they want to become. This is reflected in their choice of activities at work and play: visual clues as to what these are occur throughout the book.
Rose Blakes’s digitally worked spreads are full of visual narratives offering much to interest and discuss, and though this certainly isn’t a first ever day at school book, she certainly makes school look an exciting place to be.

I’ve signed the charter  

First Day at Bug School

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First Day at Bug School
Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Wow! This is a Bug-alicious book absolutely full to bursting with buggish delights all of which are hidden (except to readers of the story) amongst the grass and weeds down at the bottom of the garden, and it’s the very first day of term. Yes, it’s there that Miss Bumblebee has her BUG SCHOOL and she’s already welcoming all the new entrants with open arms – well appendages anyway. Seemingly they can’t wait to start school especially when she tells them, “You’ll have the best time ever!” (I bet Miss B. doesn’t have pointless assessments to perform on them almost as soon as they set foot inside, or mindless targets for them to reach.)
Seemingly Miss Bumblebee is something of a traditionalist: she takes the register formally with all the newcomers facing her and then off they go to their respective classes. Mr Wincey takes Spider Class where there’s a vital lesson to be learnt …

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Chloe Cricket spends her time in singing: there’s a new song to be learned in her class, Lucy Ladybird meanwhile, has a spot of counting to do – literally – courtesy of her very spotty pal …

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Lunch time is spent together with ants to assist; and that’s followed by outside play where ‘There are things to climb on, / things to slide on, / things to squash / and mend./ And little / Daisy Dragonfly / has made a / brand new friend.’ (The entire story is told in rhyme) It all looks great fun, but over in the Boy Bugs’ loos Billy Beetle is in a bit of a fix …

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There’ll be a puddle on the floor if Sylvester Snail doesn’t get a shifty on.
Then there’s P.E. at which Freddie Flea is bound to excel and last of all – the very best time of the day – is story time and Miss Bumblebee ready in her special story chair…

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After all the fun, the bell signals that it’s time to go home and then from all the bugs comes the inevitable “Can we come again tomorrow” cry, shouted at full volume.
I love the almost ariel view of the whole school on the final spread, but to see that, you’ll need your own copy of this super book and I’m certain if you have youngsters about to start school, or even nursery come September, then this is for you and your little one to enjoy together. There is just SO much to look at and talk about in Sam Lloyd’s stupendous minibeast-filled scenes.

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Boris, Albert and Babies

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Boris Babysits!
Sam Lloyd
Templar Publishing
Boris (Calm Down, Boris!) is back and he’s been given the job of babysitting Monster Baby while Mummy Monster goes to the shops. Now you’ll not be surprised to learn that boisterous Boris doesn’t have much clue about minding a baby. Sweet eating and telly watching certainly won’t keep the babe entertained all day so Boris decides the garden is the place. But, he leaves her to her own devices and goes off to bounce on his trampoline and of course, Baby wants a turn too – Boris lets her bounce way too much though. He then proceeds to dump her in the pongy dog basket while he rustles up a meal for himself, but Monster baby gets nothing.
There inevitably follows a little accident but is Boris able to deal with it?

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Of course not – that, like all the other Baby Monster minding is left for us to assist with and even then big bro. is so exhausted by all his ‘hard work’ that, having plonked the babe down on the sofa, he falls fast asleep beside her. Quick – we’d better finish the job by putting the little furry infant in her cot before Mummy Monster comes home.

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‘Rat-a-tat-tat’ – quick before we open the door. …
Complete with furry monster baby on a ribbon to assist Boris’s helpers and velcro spots on every spread to keep the infant in place, this sturdy book ensures maximum young child involvement with the amusing tale.
Slightly older children could make their own furry monster babes and create their own stories around them.

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Albert and Little Henry
Jez Alborough
Walker Books
There are gentle echoes of the Not Now Bernard about this Jez Alborough offering. It stars young Albert who has a particular prowess for storytelling and loves entertaining his parents with his flights of fancy.
One day though, there’s a new arrival in the family. “I can’t listen to a story now, … Little Henry needs his bath.” and “Not now, Albie, I’m trying to get Little Henry off to sleep,” is what he hears from his weary Dad and Mum, along with their frequent “Why don’t you tell us a story later?
Albert goes off to his room to wait for ‘later,’ a peculiar feeling comes over him …
Nobody notices his sudden lack of stature; and at Little Henry’s celebration party it’s the same story.
Sad and angry, Albert heads for his bedroom leaving others very firmly on the other side of the door. But then, Mum leaves a special present for him; a present bearing three vital words; and after that things start to change – for the better this time. Albert is restored to his former size and those creative juices of his start flowing again …
Albert’s story clearly shows how the arrival of a new sibling can make a child feel small and insecure. His woeful expressions and temper tantrum are tellingly visualized in Alborough’s adorable scenes of ‘new arrival’ jealousy. Young Albert is certain to find a place in the hearts of any family facing the potential emotional upheavals of a new baby.

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An Animal Kind of Christmas

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Happy Hooves Oh! Oh! Oh!
A.Bogie and Rebecca Elliott
Fat Fox Books
Christmas Eve brings excitement for the Happy Hooves brigade. Galvanised by Cow’s urging to get their homes spick and span in readiness for Santa’s visit, they stir from their afternoon slumbers and set off to clean up their respective abodes. But a terrible realization soon dawns for first home, Pig: he has no chimney for Santa to come down. Sheep offers to put him up but then he too remembers he has no chimney.

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Both flee to Donkey’s abode but the same applies here. Off they go to Foal’s but once again it’s a case of a chimneyless residence. What use are sparkling clean homes if Santa can’t get in? It’s not Ho! Ho! Ho! but Oh! Oh! Oh! The despairing friends seek out Cow.
Oh Cow, this news will make you glum,
We’ve got no chimneys for Santa to come!
Fortunately Cow knows that Santa will deliver his gifts anywhere just so long as a mince pie is left to welcome him. However, she makes the others an offer they can’t refuse and so, panic over, gathered together in Cow’s warm barn, they hear that, now welcome, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!‘ of Santa in the distance.

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Buy from Amazon

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Snow Bunny’s Christmas Gift
Rebecca Harry
Nosy Crow
As Snow Bunny snuggly wrapped in her red cape, joins her friends Mouse, Fox and Bear in the snow just before Christmas, she’s full of anticipation at the fun they’ll have. Sledging is first but the chill wind sends Mouse scampering for the warmth of her home.

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Ice-skating makes Fox shiver so he too departs, then when the snow starts falling in the forest, Bear heads off home leaving a sad Snow Bunny all alone. On her way home she discovers a coin shining in the moonlight and off she goes to Badger’s shop. There she buys something that, after a lot of hard work with her knitting needles, means that her friends need never feel cold again. Fox, Mouse and Bear all have their warm Christmas gifts but their creator has the very best present of all – their friendship.

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A warm-hearted, tenderly told tale full of the true spirit of the season and with added sparkly touches at every turn of the page.
Buy from Amazon

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The Sheep that Saved Christmas
Jason Page and Adrian Reynolds
Red Fox pbk
Unfortunately for her flock-mates, Cynthia, is a sheep obsessed with Christmas, starting her anticipation of the festival in January. Fortunately for them however, maths is not her strong point so they come up with a cunning plan to pack her off on an extended holiday far away. And where do they dispatch her? – To the North Pole where Cynthia begs Santa to give her a job as one of his helpers. Seemingly though, she isn’t cut out to be a present wrapper, nor a cook’s assistant or even a sleigh puller. A disappointed Cynthia is on the point of heading home when she learns that disaster has befallen Santa himself. Christmas is cancelled, he announces but Cynthia thinks otherwise. Finally, the determined ewe gets her chance to save the day …

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Crazy, seasonal fun illustrated with Reynolds’ characteristic verve and humour. Cynthia’s changing fortunes are captured beautifully in her facial expressions and body language.
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Yikes, Santa-Claws!
Pamela Buchart and Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Frivolous Christmas frolics dinosaur style delivered by the creators of Yikes Stinkysaurus …
Who is that green scaly creature sporting a red hat and beard and coming down the chimney as the dino-tots snuggle up in bed eagerly awaiting Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve? It’s one Santa-Claws and it seems he’s hell bent on wreaking havoc and wrecking Christmas at their and every other home too. It’s just as well then, that a sparkling tree stops him dead in his tracks

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just as the real Santa arrives to put a stop to all the mischief and mayhem caused by this imposter and making Santa-Claws to see the error of his ways.
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February Finale

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Two Little Aliens
Sam Lloyd
Orchard pbk
We see things from an outsider’s perspective when two small aliens spy a playground from their rocket and decide to pay a visit. What’s that ‘yellow stuff’? they wonder; it’s certainly not for eating.

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And, what does one do with those conical objects from the kiosk? They’re definitely not for throwing… “Waaah!” being new can be overwhelming, they decide, but who are those friendly-looking characters running towards them?
Wow! “ … “Ahh!” … “Wheee!” …

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Problems solved, new friends made, but all too soon it’s time to head for home.
Dotty characters, bold bright images and funny scenes are the main ingredients of this funny story. The entire, brief text is in dialogue with just one or two sentences per page making the book ideal for young beginning readers as well as a good one to share with preschoolers.
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Gracie enjoying sharing the story.

Hugo the Hare’s Rainy Day
Jez Alborough
Doubleday
I once had a yoga teacher (now a friend) who advocated finding pleasure in everything you do, even those things (like ironing) that you dislike. This is exactly what Hugo Hare manages to do, finally, in this latest escapade featuring the usual trio, Hugo and his pals Billy the Goat and Nat the Cat.
When Hugo, who hates to get wet, sets out for the park to meet Nat and Billy, he takes his umbrella in anticipation of rain. This proves a sensible move as before long, there is a sudden downpour. Hugo offers Billy a share of his brolly but they have to adopt an unconventional way of walking in order to accommodate both of them. When they come upon Nat sheltering under a tree Hugo decides to join her and that’s when things start to take a turn for the worse

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The ensuing SPLASH however, is not such a disaster as Hugo at first thinks. In fact, from then on the sploshing, slapping and slopping in the slippery wet puddle proves a whole lot of fun (ask any 3/4 year old) and once the sky is bright again, it’s time for Nat to entertain her friends with one of her musical interludes.
A funny, jaunty rhyme that trips beautifully off the tongue and appropriately action packed, chucklesome scenes that show the characters’ changing moods are the hallmarks of Alborough’s third adventure in this series.
Buy from Amazon
(The second story, Billy the Goat’s Big Breakfast (previously reviewed on this site is just out in paperback.)

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Bear and Hare Go Fishing
Emily Gravett
Macmillan
Friends, Hare and Bear go fishing. Bear loves to fish. Bear fishes, while Hare waits. He fishes Hare’s hat,

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a frog, a rollerskate, and …
Hare meanwhile is making a daisy chain. It gets longer…

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and longer.

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Then finally, a fish is caught!

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Brilliantly simple, brilliantly effective, very funny and perfect for beginning readers.
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Hooray for Hoppy!
Tim Hopgoood
Macmillan Children’s Books
Hoppy, the rabbit uses all five of his senses as he seeks out signs of spring. He smells the fresh air, sees the trees in blossom, hears the birds singing, smells the flowers and watches the lambs, tastes the fresh green grass and feels the warm ground beneath his feet. It really is spring he decides – a spring whose arrival he cannot wait to share with his many friends. But first he has to find them. Tim Hopgood’s delightful mixed media illustrations are seemingly simple but very effective; they put me in mind of some of the pictures created by foundation stage children using sponges for printing, crayons, paints and pastels.
This story would be a good starting point for a sensory walk with very young children either in a nursery or school setting, or with their parents.
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This is really funny, thinks Gracie

Do Dare Duck
Joyce Dunbar and Jane Massey
Jonathan Cape pbk
What does the duck do? Dance like the pig, dazzle like peacock, doze like dog, doodle like the cockerel’s cock-a-doodle-do!

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dawdle like tortoise, dash like hare or even dilly-dally-dangle with legs in a tangle donkey style? No, not exactly. Instead duck dares to … dance with pig, dazzle with peacock… dilly-dally dangle with donkey and having done all that our duck engages in a spot of dabbling and what’s more all her friends join her for some dibble dobble dabbling – up tails all!
Deliciously diverting alliteration delivered question and answer style by Dunbar and delightfully depicted in Massey’s marvellous illustrative pen and paint, sploshy, splattery musings.

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Every spread is  superb. Definitely one to put a spring in your step and much more as you emulate the animals herein, along with your children of course.
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Goodbye Grandma
Melanie Walsh
Walker Books
Having been told of his grandma’s death, the small boy narrator in this book shares his thoughts and anxieties with readers as he talks with his Mum about what has happened. He has lots of questions, which she answers  in a simple, frank manner, making links to other family members, pets and friends. She acknowledges his feelings of sadness: ‘Sometimes we will miss Grandma’ and it’s OK to feel sad, she tells him … but ‘We will never forget’ her.

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Melanie Walsh’s characteristic bold collage illustrations convey the range of feelings effectively in her straightforward and reassuring picture book for the very young. Recommended for use at times of bereavement and also as a starting point for discussion with young children in nursery settings.
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Also on the theme of death is

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Fred
Posy Simmons
Andersen Press pbk
This is a reissue of a classic story told in comic strip format, first published over twenty five years ago, wherein brother and sister, Nick and Sophie mourn the death of their beloved cat, Fred. Having buried him under the buddleia, they try to think of something nice to put on his gravestone. The two had always thought of Fred as a cat that liked nothing better than to eat and to sleep; seemingly he had spent most of his time asleep. That night Sophie and Nick are woken by noises in their garden and go down to investigate. There they discover a veritable army of cats, come to pay tribute to Fred, a cat they discover led a double life and was, in the eyes of his fellow felines, “The MOST FAMOUS CAT in the WORLD!”

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Fred has lost none of his appeal and should find a whole host of new fans.
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Find and buy form your local bookshop: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

Bookmark 5th March in your diary: wrad13nodate