When Creature Met Creature

When Creature Met Creature
John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

As we discover in this superb collaboration between two multi-award winners, poet John Agard and illustrator Satoshi Kitamura, furry Creature-of-No-Words lives a happy, silent, ‘never in a hurry’ existence until one day, for no real reason he gets a feeling, ‘this feeling like the chill touch of ice’.
Nothing he tries, not self thumping nor groaning loudly or even cloud gazing, can shift his overwhelming feeling of sadness, even though sad isn’t a word he’s able to say.

Then along comes Creature-of-Words, another being, also happy with her furiness and ‘never in a hurry’, but altogether different with her vocal phrases that she loves to speak aloud. Empathetic soul that she is, she watches and senses her fellow creature’s utter despair.

What happens thereafter is enormously uplifting and powerfully portrayed in both words and wonderfully expressive, richly patterned vibrant scenes of the two characters’ interactions, be they silent and vocal.

Both humorous and poignant, this look at the importance and power of communication, is a thought-provoking, memorable ‘just-so’ kind of story. In addition to being a book that will resonate with listeners and readers, it’s a wonderful starting point for classroom explorations of ways of relating to, and expressing our feelings to our fellow creatures.

Lily Takes A Walk

Lily Takes a Walk
Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

Kitamura is most assuredly in playful mode as he presents what happens when young Lily, accompanied by her dog, Nicky goes shopping for her mother.

While intent on buying at the market stalls she fails to notice the post box with it’s sharp-toothed mouth but her dog sees.

He sees further scary or startling things – the tunnel entrance with pointy teeth and staring street lamp eyes and threatening monsters at every turn, while she is aware only of the Dog Star in the sky, Mrs Hall knitting at her window, bats all a-flitter and birds on the canal.

Then finally at the last corner wafts the smell of her supper cooking.

Back home while consuming same with her parents, Lily smilingly tells what she’s seen on her walk, while thought bubbles around Nicky reveal what he might describe were he able to speak.

There’s a final gatefold that opens to reveal yet another thoroughly unpleasant experience for the dog of which Lily, eyes closed, is blissfully unaware.

The juxtaposition of child and dog’s divergent perceptions of the same journey taken together is done with Kitamura’s genius mix of the real and surreal; thus making this book an experience to savour and return to for several further excursions.

It’s fantastic to see Scallywag Press publishing this new edition of a modern classic.

Noah’s Seal / Captain Toby

Noah’s Seal
Layn Marlow
Oxford Children’s Books

In one way or another, the natural world offers inspiration to so many of us, and so it is with Noah, the young child protagonist in this book. As the story opens he sits on the shore looking out to sea in the hope of seeing a seal, as he has done for several days already, while his Nana talks of still needing to make the boat seaworthy before they can set sail.

Taking up her suggestion to play while he waits, Noah starts digging and soon realises that the mound he’s made is shaped very like a seal. To the boy it seems it’s ‘Just waiting to be my friend.’ He continues sculpting the creature adding natural features and then lies down beside it to dream of the ‘wild wide sea’.

Suddenly Nana’s shout, warning of an approaching storm rouses the dreamer and Noah makes a dash for cover to wait for the storm to abate.

Once it has though, the boy’s seal is no longer there.

Nana promises a sea trip the following day and starts heading home leaving Noah standing looking at the water. All of a sudden he spots something that makes his heart leap

and Nana decides that perhaps with something apparently waiting for them, the promised trip could be brought forward …
Perfectly paced, this sweet story of how a less than promising day at the beach turns into something extraordinary, thanks in part, to the power of the imagination is a delight through and through. Layn Marlow’s textured art and colour palette are wonderful.

Captain Toby
Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

One stormy night Toby lies in bed with the wind roaring outside, the noise so loud he cannot get to sleep. Thunder crashes and suddenly he feels his house start to rise and fall, and before he knows what’s happening it’s rolling on the ocean waves. Bravely, with the aid of his cat, Captain Toby charts his course as lightning flashes in the sky above, till there comes an enormous crash. Grabbing his binoculars he sees it’s not a rock, nor a massive wave but an enormous octopus tentacles spread menacingly and it’s heading scarily close.

Then CRASH! One if its writhing tentacles smashes the window and reaches out towards him. Yikes!

Fortunately however, help is close at hand in the form of a house-submarine carrying Captain Grandpa and Chief Gunner Grandma, the latter being a brilliant shot with balls of yarn.

Eventually the seas calm, the sun rises and the captains head for the harbour leaving a now peacefully engaged octopus. And that’s where we’ll leave them all, with a wonderful finale awaiting readers.

With a mix of surreal humour and high adventure, Kitamura’s illustrations provide a visual treat. I particularly love the richly hued seascape with the two sailing houses heading landwards.

It’s good to see Scallywag Press has reissued this 1980’s charmer.

The Smile Shop

The Smile Shop
Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

The boy narrator of The Smile Shop is thrilled to have saved sufficient pocket money to treat himself for the first time ever. What will he buy though?

All the market stalls and shops have exciting goods displayed so should he buy a tasty-looking apple pie,

the beautiful little boat, or perhaps the book that’s caught his eye; or maybe that hat that suits him so well?

He’s still undecided when disaster strikes and all but one of his coins disappears down through a drain cover.

The lad is devastated but then what’s that? A smile shop? Really? Do they actually sell smiles? He could definitely do with one right then, so in he goes …

With his quirky, scratchy drawing and watercolour illustrations Satoshi Kitamura’s latest story is essentially a parable that shows how powerful something as simple as a smile can be.

I think that’s something we’ve all learned since the start of the pandemic – more difficult now that masks have to be worn in various places. It’s also a wonderful demonstration of the fact that kindness is worth so much more than anything that money can buy – something else we’ve learned in the last few months.

A book to ponder upon and discuss across a wide age range.

Beware of the Crocodile

Beware of the Crocodile
Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura
Walker Books

You can always rely on Martin Jenkins to provide information in a thoroughly enjoyable manner and here his topic is those jaw snapping crocs, which, as he tells readers on the opening spread are ‘really scary’ (the big ones). … ‘They’ve got an awful lot of … teeth.’

With wry, rather understated humour he decides to omit the gruesome details and goes on to talk about how they capture their prey: ‘ Let’s just say there’s a lot of twirling and thrashing, then things go a bit quiet.’ I was astonished to learn that crocodiles are able to go for weeks without eating after a large meal.

The author’s other main focus is crocodiles’ parenting skills; these you may be surprised to learn are pretty good – at least when applied to the mothers.

Not an easy task since one large female can lay up to 90 eggs; imagine having to guard so many  newly hatched babies once they all emerge.

As for the father crocodiles, I will leave you to imagine what they might do should they spot a tasty-looking meal in their vicinity, which means not all the baby crocodiles survive and thrive to reach their full 2m. in eight years time.

As fun and informative as the narrative is, Kitamura’s watery scenes are equally terrific emphasising all the right parts. He reverts to his more zany mode in the final ‘About Crocodiles’ illustration wherein a suited croc. sits perusing a menu (make sure you read it) at a dining table.

All in all, a splendid amalgam of education and entertainment for youngsters; and most definitely one to chomp on and relish.

Hat Tricks

Hat Tricks
Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

This isn’t the first book Satoshi Kitamura has created about an amazing hat; around ten years back there was Millie’s Marvellous Hat about an imaginative little girl and an invisible hat.

Now we have Hattie and she too has a hat – a magician’s hat; so take your seats everyone, the show is about to begin. And what’s a magician’s favourite way to start a spot of prestidigitation? With a wave of the wand and the magic word ‘Abracadabra’; in this case followed by ‘katakurico’ and the question ‘What’s in the hat?’

In the first instance it’s a cat; but there’s more to come. Hattie repeats the words and out leaps a squirrel.

And so it goes on with Hattie producing ever more unlikely and larger animals, none of which appears happy to see its fellow creatures.

Then one of the creatures being conjured gets stuck, unable to extricate itself entirely from the hat. It becomes the centre of a rather painful tug of war

until eventually … out it comes.

Surely there can be nothing left in that hat, now, can there? Well, the grand finale is yet to come … ta-dah!

I’m sure little ones will respond by calling for an immediate ‘encore’ after you’ve shared this book with them. My listeners certainly did.

This is a splendid piece of theatre. Satoshi’s animals are presented with panache: the gamut of eloquent expressions is sheer genius.

The Rainmaker Danced

The Rainmaker Danced
John Agard illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
Hodder Children’s Books

There’s always plenty to delight and to contemplate in any book of poetry from John Agard and so it is here in this new offering of some forty poems, beautifully illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura

Embracing a wide variety of themes and topics from Mosquito …

to maths and marriage, the poet offers something to suit all moods.

Some such as Line really bring you up short with its final: ‘Then they sent him / to the frontline / where he learnt / of a thin line / between breathing / and not breathing.

As does Progress which concludes thus: ‘it takes a second / (maybe less) / to press / a button.

There are humorous offerings too. Take Homo Ambi-thumb-trous with its prod at mobile phone-obsessives; and Government Warning! wherein the powers that be issue notice of a tickle-free zone.

Like all Agard’s poetry books, this one has something for everyone and deserves to be shared and discussed in all upper primary and secondary classrooms, as well as being for all lovers of contemporary poetry.

Grissel Hunting, Unsuitable Pets and a Dragon Quest

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Daniel reading the story to his mum

Beetle and Bug and the Grissel Hunt
Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura
Andersen Press pbk
Some people go hunting for rarely seen animals: Beetle and Bug decide to hunt for the never before seen, Green-Spotted Grissel but then they do have a magic rug that can carry them through the air and sea. First stop is the ocean depths where they spy something red and promising looking. Up close however, despite bright green dots and ‘terribly Grisselly wiggles and loops’, the forked tail is a giveway – “IT’S A MAWK!” cries Bug.

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Off they go again, into space this time (having first donned suitable gear and taken on some air). Suddenly Beetle spies something on an asteroid, something prickly and spiny, something with peculiar curves and lines just like a Grissel. A close encounter reveals a distinct lack of green spots and the thing doesn’t seem at all friendly – time to beat a hasty retreat guys. Back home they go, more than ready for a bite to eat. But what should they find lurking in their fridge – oh no! the dreaded G-NUZZLER and what’s worse, the creature has demolished every single morsel therein.
Hungry and Grisselless the pair go off to bed. Tomorrow is another day and tomorrow’s hunt? ‘SOMETHING TO EAT
Completely crazy, this wildly offbeat story is such fun to read aloud, provided you can keep up the breath-taking pace of Hiawyn Oram’s somewhat Lear-like rhyming saga. Don’t go too fast though; children will want plenty of time to explore Kitamura’s wacky, surreal collage illustrations.

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Melissa’s Octopus and other Unsuitable Pets
Charlotte Voake
Walker Books
Pets of all shapes and sizes inhabit Charlotte Voake’s latest offering. There is Betty’s disappearing chameleon, Arthur’s willful warthog,

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Simon’s well-behaved worm and Caroline’s gentle giraffe to name just a few;
but watch out for Kevin and Bertrand’s new pet with its long tail, huge jaws and ‘glittering teeth’. Despite his smile, he might just be the most unsuitable of all …

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A lovely playful book. Owners and pets alike are portrayed in lively, humorous pen and watercolour illustrations; and how refreshing to have the text printed in red on a grey background almost throughout.

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The Moon Dragons
Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe
Andersen Press
Long ago, when even trees had dreams, moon dragons flew through the night sky. Their scales shone silver as stars and they filled the dark with songs as old as time.’ This is the tale a traveller tells to a king, but he also tells him that a few such dragons still hide high up atop a distant mountain. The king offers a room full of gold to anyone who brings him one. From far and wide come all manner of men but none succeeds in the dragon quest. Then comes young Alina, a peasant girl from the foot of the mountain who had heard of said dragons from her grandmother and had them visit her dreams too. Despite the king’s scorn, she is determined to seek out the dragons and off she sets with her head full of long ago songs. Finally she discovers what she seeks

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but does she take the king his dragon? Read the ending yourself to discover the answer to this magical story.

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the Yes
Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura
Andersen Press
The Yes, a large blobby orangey red being, is a creature after my own heart – determined, divergent and a defier of the odds. . . . and of the Nos; the Nos that pop up everywhere with their continual negativity:
No, too big… “
“No, you’ll fall… “
“No you couldn’t… “
“No you shouldn’t … “
“No, beware!”
“No, don’t dare!” …  NO!


But does the Yes pay heed to them? Oh No – No – No – not even when he comes to a scary dark wood,


or the bad barren places… on to the big rolling hill. Thereon the Yes realizes that however great their number, the sum total of all those Nos in all the Where is merely a no, a no that is mere dust and nothing, that never really was and gradually, the Yes rises above those diminishing noises of the Nos till there is nothing left but the Yes.
This book is quite unlike anything I’ve come across before and I have read many thousands of picture books. The language used is superb – inventive, playful and thought provoking; take this for instance: ‘The Yes rumbled on and on. He went scrumbling by the marches and flundering through the fields.’ And the story is brilliantly imagined, empowering and leaves gaps for the reader or listener to fill.
The choice of Kitamura as illustrator is inspired.


His wonderfully conceived scenes are built up with seemingly random shapes, patterns, lines and smudges – pure genius and working in perfect harmony with Sarah Bee’s words. What an amazing debut picture book for the author.
So, should you invest in a copy of this one? Yes or No? The answer, of course, is YES! YES! YES!
If you are in a primary school and do ‘Community of Inquiry’/’Philosopy for Children’ sessions with your class or group, then this book offers a great deal of food for thought.
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