Kevin’s Great Escape

Kevin’s Great Escape
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Oxford University Press

Roly-poly pony Kevin returns in a new adventure with Max and his family; he’s still as biscuit-obsessed as ever, his particular penchant remaining custard creams.

In this story Max’s sister is totally obsessed with pop idol Misty Twiglet, so much so that she persuades Kevin (guess how) to take her to see Misty’s new abode about thirty minutes flight time from Bumbleford.

Misty seems to be a charmer, but the consequence of this visit is that Kevin is pony-napped. That leaves Max and Daisy to devise a rescue operation – aided and abetted by some of Kevin’s magical creature friends perhaps.

There are some terrific new characters to meet, not least a cardigan-loving faun unsurprisingly called Cardigan Faun, a bespectacled mermaid named Iris,

Cedric the centaur, gorgon, Zola (groan) and a tiny dragon, Belling – all captive too.

But we mustn’t forget Misty’s manager, the dastardly, devious Baz Gumption

and her enormous butler Lumphammer; oh! and the character on page 10, Nobbly Nora is definitely not to be missed.

Philip Reeve’s story is just as magical and just as hilariously brilliant (read aloud or read alone) as The Legend of Kevin (another must read if you’ve not done so). Once again Sarah McIntyre’s two-colour illustrations are totally terrific and as yummy as all those biscuits that actually were not why Kevin Goes Pop in the final chapter.

Grumpycorn

Grumpycorn
Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic

We all use displacement activities to avoid things we ought to get on with, like writing, as those of us who write for whatever purpose know all too well; and these are what we find Unicorn employing as he starts his session ensconced in his special writing house intent on writing ‘the most fabulous story in the world’.

Inspiration is lacking though and he just cannot get going. Up he jumps reaching for his special fluffy pen – still nothing comes. He makes himself a cup of ‘special moonberry tea.’ Surely that will help bring ideas flooding in; but no.

His wish for an idea to knock at his door isn’t fulfilled; instead Narwhal comes a-knocking. Rather than inviting him in or indeed granting his request to be in the story, Unicorn insults Narwhal and sends him packing.

When Narwhal meets Mermaid he tells her what’s happened and she too goes to see the writer, inquiring how the writing is going. Unicorn’s response that he needs cookies to get his genius working gives Mermaid an idea and she offers a deal: cookies in return for being in his story. So long as those cookies provide inspiration is his response and off goes Mermaid to start baking.

Despite scoffing the entire plate full of delicious-looking delicacies, Unicorn deems Mermaid’s efforts uninspiring.

Next to try their luck is Jellyfish but Unicorn’s reaction to her visit is to lose his temper completely and hurl his writing accoutrements into the sea.
Is that to be the end of his creativity or can his would-be story characters save the situation for everyone?

Funny, reassuring in its demonstration that everyone – even a unicorn- suffers from writer’s block (why don’t all teachers make allowance for that in school?); and that friendship rules; and deliciously illustrated in wonderful rainbow hues, this story is a great one to share – perhaps accompanied by some pizza.

Pants, Birthdays and Robo-Snot

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The Prince of Pants
Alan MacDonald and Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic Children’s Books
Prepare to be dazzled by Sarah McIntyre’s illustrations for this crazy pants-centric tale of little Prince Pip and his nearly calamitous birthday. The young lad leaps from bed on the morning of his special day and his first task is to choose which of his many pairs of underpants are best suited for the occasion.

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But when he opens the drawer marked ‘Pants’, disaster has struck; it’s completely empty.
Thus begins a search all over the castle …

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and its grounds, a search that yields nothing to the birthday boy, though listeners will enjoy spotting the whereabouts of the various patterned articles; mine certainly did.
But just when it seems as though this is to be a birthday sans pants, Pip opens a door and receives not one, but two, pantalicious surprises.

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This is one more to add to the collection of underpants picture books for which many youngsters have a seemingly insatiable appetite.

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If a T.Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party
Jill Esbaum and Dasha Tolstikova
Sterling
Now there’s a thought – a T.Rex at your birthday party; but that’s exactly what happens to the small boy narrator of this book when he opens the door and discovers a Tyrannosaurus standing on the threshold holding a birthday present.
Seems there’s only one thing to do, though perhaps the birthday boy should have thought twice before allowing this particular guest an entry.
Those T-Rex toenails are not good for the bouncy castle; he gets more than a tad angry when he isn’t allowed to blow out the birthday candles or open the presents, and games are a total no go area.

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In short the whole party turns into a roaring disaster. What’s more, the interloper refuses to help clear up; he flatly refuses to leave when asked, gives his host a funny look and …

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Hmm.
There’s a surprising final twist to this whole silly scenario to add to the fun, humorously captured in Dasha Tolstikova’s concluding spread.

Another favourite topic with early years listeners is featured in:

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Robo-Snot
Amy Sparkes and Paul Cherrill
Scholastic Children’s Books
Robots and snot: surely not? Perhaps never before, but when Little Robot’s nose starts to feel uncontrollably itchy and a vast amount of gooey green stuff shoots from his nostrils, that’s what he decides to call this strange nasal emanation.
Pretty soon his siblings have designs on the sticky stuff – seemingly it can be put to all manner of uses – but Little Robot isn’t prepared to share; he has his sights set on the big time …

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Everything goes swimmingly for a while but then disaster strikes in the form of an unexpected sneeze; Little Robot is left alone and well and truly up to his knees in the now-infamous, green goo of his own making.

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Time for some snot-blotting but what can he use …
Told in jaunty rhyme and through brighter than bright, action-packed illustrations, this is a laugh aloud tale that I suspect will become a ‘read it again’ story time choice.

 

A Princess Tale and A Fairy One

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You Can’t Scare a Princess
Gillian Rogerson and Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic
Don’t be beguiled by the candyfloss pink shiny cover on this one: young Princess Spaghetti, despite her mass of blond curls and her fussy, frilly pink attire, is far from the shy retiring damsel in distress, kind of princess. Oh no: this young miss is one gutsy girl who shows no fear when her father, King Cupcake, gets himself captured by the meanest, baddest pirates in the whole wide world, led by none other than Captain Waffle.

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Now Captain Waffle might boast about being the terror of the high seas, but he may well have more than met his match in our young princess. She certainly leads the whole pirate crew a merry dance as she has them tunnelling deep down underground before they discover their search has been in vain; whereupon they are reduced to wailing wrecks …

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Bright and bold, she might be; but our young heroine is also fun loving and forgiving and generous, all of which attributes she calls into play in the final scenes as she serves up some playful offerings

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to the pirate crew – a motely bunch whose hard exteriors aren’t quite all they’re cracked up to be.
On the subject of those pirates, Sarah McIntyre’s portrayals of same are a treat: take that super cool lady pirate; isn’t she just brilliant …

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And the moles in her digging scene are delightfully dotty …

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You might want to follow the antics of the palace cat and the pirates’ parrot too: the endpapers are specially devoted to that pair.
Exuberant and decidedly silly, spring instantly to mind when it comes to this one: It’s likely to appeal to all youngsters who have a sense of fun and adventure, particularly those who like a tale where things aren’t quite as one might expect.

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Fairy Felicity’s Moonlight Adventure
Alison Murray
Nosy Crow
Fairy Felicity discovers a letter left at her door one summer’s night, a letter instructing her to ‘Follow the silvery snail. You’ll find a surprise at the end of the trail!’ And follow it she does as it weaves and zigzags across the foliage, around a spider’s web, between the moonlit paving stones …

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through a greenhouse, past the beehives in the orchard …

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across the lilypads until, at the end of the garden, she and the various minibeasts Felicity has encountered on the way, arrive at a door in the wall. It’s a door with a gap through which the snail instructs her to enter and then, there before her, is the promised surprise.

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Young children – mostly girls I suspect – will delight in tracing the sparkly tactile trail as it meanders over the pages of this gentle rhyming story and having done so will want to retrace their steps to explore the details in Alison Murray’s nocturnal world.

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Wintry Wonders

 

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Nixie: Wonky Winter Wonderland
Cas Lester
Oxford University Press
Here’s one fab. fairy: she has bucket loads of cheek and attitude. With her wonky wand, tatty dress and mischievous ways, Nixie puts me in mind somewhat of Little Rabbit Foo Foo. This instantly adorable character won me over right from the moment when she ‘clambered into her big red clompy boots … shoved her wonky wand into her left boot, so hastily that the red star on the end wobbled about madly, and shoved her trusty spanner into the other boot.’
Then off she goes wreaking seasonal havoc – or rather having fun as Nixie calls it – in fairyland as the other fairies are frantically dashing around going about their preparations for that annual highlight, The Midwinter Midnight Feast.
With its eleven action-packed chapters, bespattered with ZAPs, FIZZLEs, Swoooooshes, and TINGs; and those funky illustrations from Ali Pye aplenty,

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this is such a fun book for newly independent readers ready to take off and fly solo (with just a tiny bit of help from Nixie and her magic perhaps.)
And if that’s not enough there are three suitably magical activities – ‘Tabitha Quicksilver’s Snow-covered Gingerbread Trees’, Nixie’s Swirly Snowstorm in a Bottle’ and ‘Nip’s Winter Wonderland Lantern’ to create; just in case readers haven’t turned to the beginning and started enjoying the story all over again, that is.

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Pugs of the Frozen North
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Oxford University Press
A plethora of pugs predominate in this the third author, Philip Reeve/artist Sarah McIntyre collaboration and it’s a stonkingly good book for the young and not so young alike. Hilarious just about sums it up but doesn’t really do justice to either the writing, the illustrations or the amalgam of both, for that’s what it really is, so well do the text and pictures meld: the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
This seems to be a growing trend in books for the beyond picture book stage (not that one IS ever beyond them): the recognition that illustrations can add an extra dimension at any time in a person’s reading journey. And the way Sarah McIntrye managed to draw 66 pugs and make every one have its own name, let alone personality, is in itself something of a feat.
There’s a frenetic pace to the telling and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to whizz along, swept up in the pace of the whole thing and miss some of the glorious visual humour that is so much part and parcel of the whole. Essentially, the book features ex cabin boy, Shen lost when his ship gets trapped in the ocean of the frozen north, Sika, a Po of Ice worker (got it?) who is in urgent need of some dogs to pull her sled in the all important Great Northern Race. (We’re told a wonderful tale of how this came to be by Sika’s grandpa.)

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The arrival of True Winter marks the start of this race, destination the Snowfather at the top of the world for it’s he who will grant the wishes of the winner and Sika truly wants to win on her ailing grandpa’s behalf.
Of course, nobody has ever had a sled pulled by pugs before and just harnessing them is a challenge in itself; but can the Shen/Sika/66 pugs team harness their own courage and determination and see off the competition?
Competition in the form of Professor Shackleton Jones with his SNOBOT and canine robots,

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the bearded Helga Hammerfest and her pair of polar bears (the local favourite)

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and the unscrupulous Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling and his side-kick butler Sideplate and …

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glamour puss Mitzi Von Primm with her team of pink poodle-primped huskies.
The race takes them over into dangerous parts: through the Night Forest, over the massively tentacled Kraken Deep and then there’s the dreaded Yeti Noodle Bar to contend with.

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And the ultimate winner is … that would be telling.
As I said, the book is truly funny but it’s also a real heart-warmer with just a tiny touch of final sadness; well that’s what I felt, though not Shen. I just turned back a little way and re-read these words of the wise Snowfather: “All old things die in the end, but not stories. Stories go on and on, and new ones are always being born.” … Unmissable!

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Picture Book Medley

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The Strongest Boy in the World
Jessica Souhami
Frances Lincoln
Jessica Souhami’s latest offering is an alternative take on an old Japanese tale, the first records of which go back to the 13th Century. The original story featured an adult warrior whereas here, Souhami’s would-be hero is a plucky though puny boy who dreams of becoming a champion Sumo wrestler. Kaito sets out from his village to the Kyoto tournament and en route meets Hana, a girl with much greater strength. Hana decides to toughen him up but can she do it in the three weeks before the tournament? Training begins in earnest with a strict diet of tough meat, bony fish and semi-cooked rice together with a regime of running, jumping, kicking, lifting and punching.

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Finally Kaito is declared ready to fight and sets off once again for the city. The enormous and famous wrestlers he meets therein scoff at him but Kaito overcomes every one he comes up against and is declared champion. Greatly impressed, the Emperor invites him to live at his court as Imperial Champion. What is Kaiko’s decision? Suffice it to say he is the strongest boy in the land but both he and readers know of an even stronger young person, someone without whose help he could not have achieved his dream.
Striking collage illustrations, beautifully crafted and suitably energetic, underline the humour of this tale. It’s wonderful to have a female character with such strength of body and mind – a celebration of ‘girl power’, but at the same time, an acknowledgment of male strength, making this a book that will be pleasing to both genders.
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Counting Chickens
Polly Alakija
Frances Lincoln
Young Tobi’s pride and joy is his hen: his village friends have animals of their own too. One Monday, Ade’s cow has a calf and Tobi’s hen lays one egg. The next day, Tunde’s sheep has two lambs; Tobi’s hen lays a second egg and so it goes on.

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On Sunday it lays a seventh egg. The hen sits, Tobi waits and waits… After three weeks both are rewarded with a brood of seven, newly hatched, yellow chicks. The following year those chicks become mother hens with their own babies – so many Tobi needs help to count them all.
This lovely story with its Nigerian village setting is beautifully illustrated with earthy tones that contrast with the strong colours of the villagers’ clothes and vehicles. Patterns abound in the details of the weaves of baskets, designs on some of the clothing and the natural designs of the African flora and fauna.
With its counting opportunities, days of the week and most important, a great opportunity to share a story with a Nigerian setting, this is a book I would recommend highly to those in nursery and infant settings as well as anybody who wants to expand the horizons of their young child/children.
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Mr Tiger Goes Wild
Peter Brown
Macmillan Children’s Books pbk
Dapper looking Mr Tiger sports a top hat, suit and bow tie and lives in a street of houses the residents of which are very proper, upright people who drink tea and sit nicely at the table. Mr T. however becomes bored with this dull existence. Time to explore life on the wild side, he decides. Soon he isn’t content with being on all fours; clothing dispensed with, he’s off to ‘the wilderness’ as instructed by his now, horrified friends. There, his wildness is given full rein but roaring and roaming freely in the wilderness proves less than completely satisfying: Mr Tiger misses his friends and city home. Back he goes to discover that not only can he now be more true to his real nature, but that his friends too have become both more accepting and relaxed in themselves.

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There are echoes of Rousseau in Peter Brown’s digitally edited Indian ink, watercolor, gouache and pencil illustrations. These begin with an almost monochromatic palette (apart from the tiger’s face) becoming brighter in tandem with Mr T growing wildness.

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Brown lets his illustrations do much of the talking. The ‘be yourself’ message comes through loud and clear from the pictures whereas he keeps the verbal content understated and to the point.
This clever picture book has much to offer although I wouldn’t suggest using it with under fives unless they have already had exposure to a wide variety of picture books and some experience of talking about and interpreting them.
The book is most assuredly an excellent starting point for discussions relating to being yourself, difference/divergence and acceptance for children in primary and even secondary schools.
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Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner
Gareth Edwards and Guy Parker-Rees
Alison Green Books pbk
Definitely don’t do that nor, says the boy narrator of this very funny, rhyming cautionary tale, should you share your toothbrush with a shark, never let a beaver in the basin or use a tiger as a towel. A bison will be a bully so despite its woolliness, don’t choose one for a blanket

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and a barn owl is nocturnal so most certainly not a suitable night-time companion. Shun them all and instead stick with your tried and trusted Ted for a blissful sleep in bed.
Delightfully dotty and made all the more so by Parker-Rees’s illustrations. His glowing colours are gorgeous, the scenes hilarious and the, oh so endearing cast of characters he portrays, make one immediately want to ignore the advice and snuggle up with all of them – well maybe not the shark on second thoughts.
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That Dog!
Gillian Shields and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
Unloved, indeed virtually unnoticed, the Jones’ family dog is thoroughly miserable. So, determined to get some attention, he ups and leaves home. But then what is a hungry dog to do? Get a job, he decides and tries his hand or rather paws at washing up, taxi driving, farm working, litter picking, fire fighting, nursing and more.

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Eventually our canine pal is not only skilled, but also very knowledgeable. It’s then that the Jones spot their erstwhile pet on a TV talent show but of course, it’s too late; that amazing dog now has plenty of people to give him love and friendship.
Believe in yourself and you are unstoppable is the message that dog sends out loud and clear in this off-beat story. The illustrations abound with pattern and there is much else to entertain in the detail too.
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There’s a Shark in the Bath
Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic pbk.
Join Dulcie in a riotous bathroom farce wherein she discovers not one, but three sharks in the bath full of cold water left overnight by her dad. Now being breakfast time, Papa, Mama and Baby Shark have just one thing in mind and you can guess what that is. Quick-thinking Dulcie however, has others. First there’s the ‘Brushety-Brush Game’ with the toothpaste,

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then the ‘Wiggety-Wig Game’ involving masses of pink bubbles, hastily followed by the ‘Happy-Wrappy-Uppie Game’ an excellent diversion that results in a very large entanglement of sharks and toilet paper. No mess at all, she assures Dad who is anxiously waiting outside the door; so then one final game is called for. PHEW! Time for breakfast – Dulcie’s not the sharks’ I hasten to add . . .

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Wonderfully silly both verbally and visually. The wacky, over the top or rather, over the edge, bathroom scenes are cleverly so nearly catastrophic and are a perfect match for the tongue-in-cheek telling.
A brilliant one to share with individuals or groups large and small.
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Gracie is highly amused at the exploits of Aldrin and friends

The Great Moon Confusion
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press
Raccoon Aldrin is something of a know-all; he impresses his friends Fox, Rabbit and Woodpecker, but he’s not quite as clever as he likes to think. So, one night when Rabbit asks why the moon has changed its shape, too embarrassed to admit he doesn’t know, Aldrin proposes an investigation. A week later, with some clues provided by his friends, he concludes, erroneously, that the bears, Hubble and Lovell, are engaged in moon theft.

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The truth however is something far more constructive.
One cannot help but laugh at, but also have a little sympathy for, self-elected expert, Aldrin who does, before this funny tale is out, learn an awful lot, not only about the moon but also about showing off, jumping to hasty conclusions,

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accusing, and apologising and perhaps most importantly, about friendship, as he engages in one hilarious, blunder-making situation after another.
Get hold of this book for its hilarious story and wonderful illustrations, I love the endpapers too. Also, embedded within, is some basic information about the moon that young listeners will absorb effortlessly.
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Nursery Time
Mij Kelly and Mary McQuillan
Hodder Children’s Books
The animals are bemused: Suzy Sue has disappeared. They search high and low to no avail and then cow discovers a sign – Sunshine Nursery. That’s where she has gone. The animals pay a visit and discover what a wonderful place it is; but is it so good Suzy Sue will never want to return to her farmyard pals? The animals hatch a plan and enter the nursery in disguise intending to take her home right away. That was the plan but the place is such fun that they want to stay too playing with the sand, water, bouncy balls, building blocks and much more.

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But, ‘oh my goodness’ their cover is blown; Suzy Sue spots them and tells them it’s a children only environment. Quickly though, she explains “I’m not going to live here, I just come every day. I play for a while and then go away.” Much relieved cow, sheep and the others return home with another plan in mind. Then it’s a case of home from home…
A reassuring, indeed enticing view of nursery is portrayed (not sure about the bookshelf though) in this amusing, rhyming tale. There are plenty of details for those already at nursery to spot and enjoy; those yet to start should be filled with eager anticipation. Adults too will enjoy the visual humour especially those who have spent time in a nursery.
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Boris Gets Spots
Carrie Weston and Tim Warnes
Oxford University Press pbk
This is the fourth Boris adventure. Herein his teacher makes an exciting announcement: Mr Gander from Gosling farm is coming to pay the class a visit. There is great excitement with everyone except Boris who merely wants to stay quietly in the book corner. When the special visitor arrives, Miss Cluck and her class go outside and enthusiastically experience all Mr Gander has to offer until Boris’s absence is discovered. Back to the classroom goes Fergus and then comes the cry, ‘Boris is covered with spots!’ Back they all dash to find a red -spotted Boris looking very sorry for himself. ‘Chicken Pox” announces Miss Cluck who fortunately knows just what to do.

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Before long though, she has an epidemic, not to mention an empty classroom on her hands. Time to put that honey cookies recipe to good use with the delicious ingredients Mr Gander left them.
Those who work in early years will immediately relate to this one. On several occasions I’ve had my nursery or reception class decimated by a chicken pox epidemic, perhaps not quite all at once as is the case here however. Authorial license notwithstanding though, this is a thoroughly enjoyable story to share with young children with or without the dreaded spots. There is so much to explore in relation to the food items and other things Mr Gander brings to show Boris’s class.
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