Monster Doughnuts: Cyclops on a Mission / Real Pigeons Nest Hard

Monster Doughnuts: Cyclops on a Mission
Gianna Pollero, illustrated by Sarah Horne
Piccadilly Press

The sequel to Monster Doughnuts sees crotchety cyclops, Mr Harris, back for another delectably daft mission with ten year old Grace and her family from Cake Hunters bakery.
(In case you haven’t read about fearless Grace in the first book, her special monster-destroying technique involves baking cakes with a large sprinkling of an explosive kind of baking powder.)
The 360 year old cyclops has become Grace’s partner in crime on this new assignment from the Secret Service – to rid the city of the dastardly Bottom Biter that is creating let’s say, extreme discomfort in the nether regions of anybody unfortunate enough to become its victim.

It’s possible that the one-eyed member of the team could be an asset but during training sessions all that Mr H seems interested in doing is consuming not only monsters but doughnuts from the bakery and any other delicacies he can lay his hands on too. He does however appear to have quite an aptitude for baking but then as well as gobbling up his own fairy cakes, his passion for the sweet stuff causes him to visit Monster World where a potentially useful encounter takes place and some ‘valuable evidence’ is acquired.
Time to head off to the Natural History Museum …

Then from HQ comes news of another development concerning those the BB has attacked. Catching the creature has just become even more crucial.

KS2 readers looking for something wacky, witty and wonderfully wild with lashings of laugh-out-loud moments need look no further. Once again Sarah Horne has done a smashing job illustrating the various monsters and there’s further fun provided in the monster glossary that follows Gianna Pollero’s tasty tale.

Real Pigeons Nest Hard
Andrew McDonald, illustrated by Ben Wood

The city-protecting crime fighting pigeons Rock, Frillback, Grandpouter, Tumbler and Homey return in a third set of loosely linked cases.
First, Beardy Vulture persuades them to take on the search for his missing extra large nest, which he claims has been stolen by humans; it’s either that or, so they think, risk getting cursed by the bone eating bird. Disguises are definitely required for this.
Episode two sees Rock et al discovering a beastly human child but why is she roaming in the park without her humans? According to the little one she’s escaping from a horrible monster. Now all they need to do is to return Kid X to her family – almost all anyway.

Awoken by their rumbly tummies, our crime-busting birdies learn that Homey’s family is being held hostage – It’s a case of bird-knapping! Heroic as ever, the pigeons resolve to find the relations he’s not seen since he was a baby. Thus begins another rescue mission and it’s not long before they discover some of their previous adversaries.
Episode three of this fun book that’s ideal for new solo readers, ends on a cliff hanger that paves the way for book 4 so there’s more to look forward to.

Bursting with humour, and with a great cast of characters (COO-l and otherwise) brought to life in Ben Wood’s zany visuals that also up the pace, this graphic novel/ picture book hybrid is huge fun. The book concludes with some words of ecological wisdom and a couple of drawing activities.

Yapping Away

Yapping Away
Joshua Seigal, illustrated by Sarah Horne
Bloomsbury Education

There are playful poems aplenty in 2020 winner of the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards, Joshua Seigal’s latest poetry collection; it’s wonderfully witty and cleverly creative to boot. As ever, he uses the 3Rs crucial to making children readers, and assuredly they have that same effect when it comes to making them poetry enthusiasts as well.

I absolutely love the surprise element in many of Joshua’s poems: there’s the sudden change of heart in New Baby wherein the older sibling moves from ‘You grumble and gripe / and you grizzle all day. / I hate you, new baby / so please go away.’ in the first verse to the final ‘I know Mummy loves you / and Daddy does too. / I love you, new baby! / You’re lovely! It’s true!

Then there’s the passionate Did I Ever Tell You … wherein the author pours his heart out as he continues ‘ … how much I love you? // I love you more / that the yawn / of the morning sun. ‘ … There are more verses in similar vein until the final ‘You / are / my // – – – – – !’ Can you guess the object of the love?

There are also some smashing shape poems: here’s one 

and others with terrific word play, Shapes being one.

However not everything is playful: anything but is the decidedly pensive Drawing My Grandma. I love too, the thought-provoking Inside with its circularity; Sad in which the speaker is unaccountably so feeling, is another, it conveys an emotion that strikes us all from time to time.

As does that summed up in The Grouchy Song: I’m reminded of that one whenever I listen to the news these days. And if the suggestions proffered therein don’t work sufficiently then I’ll quickly turn to Magic! for an antidote. 

I could go on and mention pretty much every single one of the almost 50 poems in this smashing book but better I leave you with Joshua’s words to embark on The Reading Journey something you’ll do if you get hold of a copy of your own and ‘Embark in the dark / on a sparkling adventure. / Glide on the tide / to the rhythm of words. ‘ …

I must mention too, Sarah Horne’s drawings that are appropriately quirky and a delight in themselves.

There’s no doubt that youngsters will feel inspired to take up Joshua’s “Let’s Get Writing!’ invitation that comes after the poems; he gives some helpful poetry starters there, though there are plenty offered by his poems themselves – that’s so long as said children have turned down this Invitation:

If you want children to find delight in language, poetry in particular., this book is a MUST.

Panda At The Door / An Escape in Time

Panda At The Door
Sarah Horne
Chicken House

Pudding Panda is Edinburgh Zoo’s Star Attraction. She’s been happy with making the zoo visitors smile at her antics but now longs for a family of her own. Then she learns from keeper Gerald that she’s to be sent to China.
Maybe the answer is emulate her heroine Mary Poppins and become a nanny. Gerald thinks not, but then fails to lock Pudding’s cage …

Over on the other side of the city meanwhile, Callum is having a bad time: he’s being bullied; his parents are arguing – again – and performer Dad’s gone awol (something to do with bacon), plus, his little sister Tabby is intensely annoying. It’s Cal’s ninth birthday and all he receives is a measly certificate of adoption for a panda with instructions on how to email if there are any questions. Yes, he certainly has questions, the most pressing being, ‘when will I be happy again?’ Shortly after hitting SEND he falls asleep.

Next morning, DING DONG! who, or rather what, should be standing at the door? Not his missing father but a large panda offering to help. Mum’s reaction is to faint on the spot, but what better way to revive her than a timely spoonful of sugar?

Then the zoo puts out a message offering a huge reward for the safe return of a panda; everyone in the house, and even worse bully Mike Spiker, passing outside, hear the radio announcement. 

Now it’s not only Pudding in deep trouble, especially as Mike Spiker passes on the news to his dad. It’s up to Cal and his family to look after Pudding and keep her safe from the dastardly Spikers; but they also need to find Dad.

With mission ‘Going on a Dad Hunt’ successfully completed, can Pudding save the day? If she and Dad team up perhaps panda-monium can become a wonderfully clever panda-mime.

Dad’s punning predilection not withstanding, this is a thoroughly engaging story. Developed from an original idea from Vikki Anderson through the Big Idea Competition, the thought-provoking book was written and illustrated by Sarah Horne. The characterisation is great and the Mary Poppins quotes add to the fun.

An Escape in Time
Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Rachael Dean
Nosy Crow

By means of the mirror in their aunt’s hallway, brother and sister Alex and Ruby find themselves in a different historical period and in each story, have a task to perform before they can return to the present.

This their third time-slip adventure in this smashing series sees them plunged back to the Georgian era 1794/5, the time of the French Revolution and faced with having to help a far from happy French Countess escape the guillotine and find a safe home in Georgian England. 

But there’s a whole lot more that needs sorting out too in what proves to be a pretty chaotic situation that’s full of danger (not least for Ruby), romance (among the hymn books), heroics, the odd misunderstanding, not to mention some exceedingly uncomfortable Georgian underwear sans knickers though, if you’re female; oh! and plenty of stewed cucumbers!

As is characteristic of these Sally Nicholls stories, readers will enjoy plenty of humour, a pacy plot, a cast of highly colourful characters and a wealth of historical information along the way; not forgetting Rachael Dean’s smashing black and white illustrations.

Both books are great for KS2 either for solo reading or class read aloud.

Swapsies / Say Sorry, Sidney!

Fiona Roberton
Hodder Children’s Books

There’s a delightful lesson in the importance of friendship and learning to share in this latest book from talented author/illustrator Fiona Roberton whose books have all been winners with me.
Fang has a favourite toy, an amazing yellow, stripey, squeezy, thing with an aroma of bananas; he loves Sock more than anything else.
Enter Philip with his magnificent shiny red train, which looks a whole lot more exciting than Sock. Being a good sharer, Philip agrees to a swap.

A similar thing happens with the bouncy toy belonging to Simon. But then disaster strikes …

and Fang is left toyless and missing his old favourite.
Is he to be without his beloved Sock forever more or is there perhaps a way they can be re-united.
Fiona’s characters are adorable; her dialogue superb: “What happened to Ball?” asked Simon. “Ball is no longer with us,” says Fang; and the finale (which I won’t divulge) leaves room for the children’s imaginations to take over and draw their own conclusions.

Say Sorry, Sidney!
Caryl Hart and Sarah Horne
Hodder Children’s Books

Resident of the zoo, rhino Sidney feels lonely so he decides to make a break for it and heads for the farm.
Once there, the creature starts helping himself to anything and everything that takes his fancy. First he scoffs Mr Potts lunch, then ruins all the washing on Aunt Ann’s clothes line. How wonderfully affronted she looks …

Not content with that he destroys young Emily’s den and smashes all her favourite toys. Even worse, despite their protests of innocence, everyone blames their loss on whichever farm animal happens to be on the scene at the time.
Rhino? What Rhino? / That cannot be true. / There’s only one rhino / and he’s in the zoo.” Is what the accusers all say to the accused.
Come the evening, those farm animals have had enough; time to confront that rhino and teach him a lesson they decide.

Will Sidney finally see the error of his ways, learn some manners and become a valued member of the farm community, or will it be back to the zoo for him?
With its join-in-able repeat refrain, the jaunty rhyme bounces along nicely and Sarah Horne’s wonderfully quirky characters, both animal and human, are quite splendid.

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
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  

Focus on Traditional Tales

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HONK! HONK! Hold Tight
Jessica Souhami
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Anyone with an interest in traditional tales will likely be familiar with versions of stories about a sad-faced princess who never so much as smiles being reduced to laughter when she sees a procession stuck to a goose or other magic object; or a king offering his daughter’s hand in marriage to any man who can make his sad daughter laugh. These elements are the basis of Jessica Souhami’s latest folk-tale style rendering of a traditional story that has variants in Russia, Egypt and various parts of Europe.
Here we meet po-faced princess, Alice and her despairing father who has announced that he’ll share his kingdom with whomsoever can make his daughter laugh. This news reaches a poor young fellow, Peter who then sets out to try his luck carrying only a loaf and a carafe of wine. These he gives to a hungry old woman on the way and she in return gives him a gold-feathered goose, a warning and some instructions.
Following her instructions to the letter results in an ever-growing procession of adherents

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as he journeys to the palace and the spectacle duly works its magic upon the doleful Alice. Her laughter breaks the ‘sticking’ spell and the delighted King keeps his bargain. And young Princess Alice? She gradually comes to appreciate the possibilities in a young man who can make her laugh and proposes, resulting in …


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Jessica Souhami sets her story in what looks like the early twentieth century from her jewel-bright, cut paper collage style illustrations. With its direct telling, and funny scenes, it’s sure to bring a smile to the faces of audiences young and not so young. It would also be great fun for children to act out – with or without puppets. Get that hooter ready …

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Favourite Mixed Up Fairy Tales
Hilary Robinson and Sarah Horne
Hodder Children’s Books
This is the third in the series of Mixed Up split page books and has a new illustrator, Sarah Monk. Herein readers meet all manner of characters large and small, good and not so good: The Pied Piper, The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, Rapunzel, Tom Thumb, Rumpelstiltskin, The Gingerbread Man, Thumbelina, Hansel, The Wizard of Oz, Robin Hood, even the Frog Prince and can involve them in all manner of likely or unlikely adventures and encounters with lesser characters such as a wicked witch or a spotty toad. The possibilities are seemingly countless (I’m certainly not going to bother working out the possible number of permutations) and hours of playful fun are assured. One random opening resulted in:

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For those who enjoy being the co-creators of off beat scenarios, this will doubtless prove as popular as its predecessors.

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Gracie exploring the possibilities.

Sarah Horne’s zany, brightly coloured cartoon style images are full of fun and there are some particularly playful mini freeze frames such as that of the yellow brick road …

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that would make interesting starting points for further flights of fancy.

Use your local bookshop   localbookshops_NameImage-2

Red Squirrels

These two stories are part of a new series for Barrington Stoke specially designed to be as the publishers say, ‘dyslexia-friendly’ ie care has been taken to make each one easy to read in terms of story syntax, legibility/clarity – choice of font and print size with black print text set against a plain background. The intention is to provide support for those who find reading a challenge be they child or adult as well as any less confident readers such as those learning English as an additional language.


All I Said Was
Michael Morpurgo and Ross Collins
Red Squirrel Books pbk
A boy narrator shares what happens when, looking up from his book, he spies a bird and tells it his wish – to be able to fly anywhere.


Amazingly, the bird has a desire to read a book and so the pair swop places. Flying is fantastic, thinks the boy (now bird) until he encounters a flock of antagonistic-looking gulls near the beach. Changing course results in a mobbing by crows and then a fracas with a furious farmer.


Books are a much better option decides the frightened flier; reading about being a bird is preferable to the actuality. Time to return to the safety of his bedroom but on arriving, he discovers that the bird has taken on his human form and he remains avian


and worse is to come – if the words of the story in the book are to be believed anyway…
The essential Morpurgo magic is retained here despite textual tweakings, in a testament to the imagination and the power of books to transport their readers wheresoever they wish. Ross Collins’ aerial and earthbound watercolour paintings add to the story’s potency.
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Itch Scritch Scratch
Eleanor Updale and Sarah Horne
Red Squirrel pbk
A rhyming story wherein a boy gives a hilarious account of the days when nits invade and take-over his head: Close encounters of the lousy kind are what we get in this one.


Comical illustrations in rainbow colours portray the itch-making creatures and, one particular mum’s fight, to rid her offspring of their accursed visitors.


Those crazy little creatures are enough to get you reaching for that lavender oil right away, even if you won’t get the day off school proposed here.
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