Eye Spy / Bugs

These are two picture books that celebrate the natural world: thanks to Scallywag Press and Little Tiger for sending them for review

Eye Spy
Ruth Brown
Scallywag Press

With her stunningly beautiful scenes and playful rhyming, riddling text, Ruth Brown provides readers and listeners with an altogether different I spy experience that begins at sunrise and ends at sundown with the appearance of the moon in the dark night sky. In all there are a dozen riddles to solve and the same number of objects from the natural world to find hidden in plain sight on the full page illustration on each recto.

Every nature scene is a delight – a veritable visual feast at every turn of the page -and some of the hidden things are much more tricky to find than others, such is the wealth of detail and clever use of colour in each one, be it the wheat field, the verdant meadow,

the stone wall, the autumnal bracken or the close up view of the base of a tree, to name just some of the sights we’re treated to.

No matter though, for the answer to each riddle is given on the following page.
This is a book to treasure and return to time and again: even when you can find all the hidden items there is SO much to see and be awed by in Ruth’s wonderful works of art.

Bugs
Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup
Little Tiger

In a rhyming narrative Patricia Hegarty takes readers and listeners through the year focussing on happenings in the natural world. These are shown in Britta’s bold, scenes that take us close up to a wealth of minibeasts and the greenery on which they land, rest, crawl and sometimes nibble
We see an abundance of new life in the springtime, be it day or night; then come the summer, changes are afoot: the caterpillar pupates and we see a chrysalis hanging from a tree branch.

Turn the page and it’s revealed what has emerged among the richly hued flowers that have burst forth. Now in the sun Ladybird needs to be extra alert for fear of becoming a tasty tidbit for a hungry bird whereas summer nights are all aglow with fireflies flitting to and fro.

Autumn brings dew and plenty of bees are still busy collecting pollen while grasshoppers chirp and leap among the turning leaves and grasses. As the days grow ever colder heralding winter, it’s huddling and hibernation time until once again nature bursts forth once more and the cycle repeats itself.

Peeking through the holes in the die-cut pages allows youngsters to experience more fully the wealth of natural colours, greens especially, that Britta has used throughout her alluring artwork.

Sam Plants a Sunflower / Tilly Plants a Tree / Shelly Hen Lays Eggs

Sam Plants a Sunflower
Kate Petty and Axel Scheffler
Tilly Plants a Tree
William Petty and Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with the National Trust, these lift-the flap books each with a strategically placed pop-up are just right for helping young children discover the delights of growing things for themselves.

As Sam cat basks in the sunshine a passing ladybird responds to his “Why can’t the sun shine every day?”with a suggestion that he should plant sunflowers. We then follow the process as he chooses a suitable day, a suitable spot in his garden, plants and waters his seeds and waits. And waits … Beneath the soil (and a series of flaps) an earthworm watches adding comments until a few days later, Sam discovers a row of sprouting leaves. As it gets hotter Sam worries about how to help his sunflowers grow and receives advice from the ladybird. The plants continue getting ever taller until eventually buds appear but still Sam waits for his big yellow sunflowers until at last there to his delight, that of his friends and of readers, they are.

As summer ends the petals fall, the leaves wither and there again is the reassuring ladybird telling Sam to remove the seeds, share them with his pals and plant them the following spring.
If by chance, the story hasn’t made youngsters eager to plant sunflowers, there’s a final page of helpful tips.

Tilly, the main character in the second story is a squirrel. One day she rushes home from school with exciting news; everyone in her class is going to grow an oak tree. Grandma takes Tilly to a woodland full of majestic oaks and beneath Grandma’s special tree the little squirrel finds an acorn. Gran knows just what to do to get the acorn to germinate and after more than a year, with the help of ladybird and worm too, Tilly’s sapling is ready to be planted out in the wood near her Grandma’s.

With its straightforward explanatory narrative and a final page of tips I’m sure many little humans will be eagerly collecting acorns for planting this autumn.
Ideal for sharing with foundation stage children and for home use, both books have bright, expressive illustrations from Axel Scheffler that young children and readers aloud will enjoy.

Shelly Hen Lays Eggs
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

This is the third in the Follow My Food picture book series aimed at helping young children understand where their food comes from. We join a little boy as he watches Shelly a free range hen as she takes a dust bath to get rid of mites, feeds on bugs in the grass and herbs she comes upon, clucks with her friends in the flock, returns to her coop at sundown, settles down in the nesting box and at dawn, lays an egg ready for the helpful little boy narrator to collect along with the other eggs later in the morning. It might even be the one he eats for his tea.
After Deborah Chancellor’s straightforward narrative accompanied by Julia Groves’ bright, cut paper illustrations comes a trail-type quiz based on the facts of the story, where youngsters match words and pictures. There are two further information pages with paragraphs on ‘Happy Hens’, ‘Tasty Eggs’ and Chatty Chickens’.
Food is a popular theme in foundation stage settings so this would be a useful book to add to school and nursery collections.

Phyllis & Grace

Phyllis & Grace
Nigel Gray and Bethan Welby
Scallywag Press

In this moving story, a little girl Grace pays regular visits to her next door neighbour, an elderly woman who lives by herself. Whenever she visits, Grace takes Phyllis something: a slice of cake, a bowl of stew, biscuits she’s baked herself,

jelly and a drawing she’s done at school.

It’s obvious that Phyllis enjoys Grace’s visits but as she shares with her, stories about her life, it’s evident that her memory is fading – names are forgotten, things misplaced, and events confused. Nonetheless despite the huge difference in age and Phyllis’s increasing disorientation, Grace forms a strong bond with her neighbour and eventually goes regularly to visit her in an old people’s home and even meets her son who takes Grace somewhere very special.

Basing the story on the experience of his own granddaughter and her neighbour, author Nigel Gray’s story is told with great sensitivity and equally sensitively illustrated in Bethan Welby’s gentle watercolour scenes. Together words and pictures beautifully document the progression of dementia and how it might appear, from a young child’s viewpoint. A book for adults and children to share and discuss as gently as it’s presented by its creators.

Baby Bunny’s Easter Surprise / Ready! Said Rabbit

Baby Bunny’s Easter Surprise
Helen Baugh and Nick East
Harper Collins Children’s Books

With an appropriately bouncy rhyming narrative and equally spirited illustrations, team Baugh and East entertain young humans (and adult sharers) with what happens when one adorable-looking baby bunny Letty, trails her Easter Bunny mummy one Easter morning on her delivery of yummy chocolate eggs intended for the woodland dwelling creatures.
The problem is though that every egg that is so carefully placed, be it high up in a tree, low down beside the pond or a-top toadstools is so simply irresistible that little Letty, with all her senses alert, just cannot stop herself (even though she knows it’s not the right thing to do) from taking just one ‘teeny-weeny, titchy taste’ – and she’s overcome by such a superchoccylicious sensation that … I’m sure you can guess where this is going.
No matter, thinks the baby bunny, nobody else can possibly know what she’s been up to.

However, despite Letty’s repeated assertion that her misdeeds are undetectable, there’s absolutely no fooling her Mummy. Time to make amends; but that leaves mother and baby with an empty basket and Little Bunny eggless.

Or …

Much better and definitely longer lasting than chocolate eggs, get this for your little ones as an Easter treat.

Ready! said Rabbit
Marjoke Henrichs
Scallywag Press

As this second episode in the life of Dad rabbit and his little one begins, the clock on the wall says 9 o’clock. Dad announces that it’s a good day for a visit to the park and immediately the youngster starts enthusing about possibilities such as picnicking as well as mentioning all kinds of things to take along while Dad urges “Time to get ready!”. 

However it takes several changes of clothes before Dad is satisfied with the suitability of Rabbit’s attire. Then there’s the business of assembling snacks and with that completed, Rabbit finds more opportunities for getting distracted from the task in hand. 

With the clock at 11.20 Rabbit finally announces, “READY!”

Now it’s Dad’s turn to delay their departure: first there’s a phone call; then some important items are missing (hidden in plain sight) which they can’t leave without 

and it’s not until one o’clock that both parties agree that they’re ready to sally forth – hurrah!

Adult sharers of this story will appreciate the gentle irony of the situation perhaps more than young children. The latter will especially enjoy Dad’s drollery and the numerous opportunities to join in with the oft repeated “READY!” as well as the delightful details on every spread.

Some of those slightly older than Rabbit might try reading the book themselves once an adult has read it aloud: the large clear print, close match of text and illustrations, and the natural repetition all make it ideal as they encourage anticipation and prediction, both of which are vital elements of early literacy development.

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.

Flyntlock Bones: The Ghost of Scarletbeard / Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Shrieking Serpent

Flyntlock Bones: The Ghost of Scarletbeard
Derek Keilty, illustrated by Mark Elvins
Scallywag Press

With the distinct lack of parrot messengers to the Black Hound, crew members Amy and Flint are despairing about where their next meal is coming from, when a mysterious visitor appears asking to buy the ship from Captain Watkins. Fortunately the bemused Captain turns the supposed merchant sailor down; but with little else to do, the two young friends sneak off the ship for a spot of exercise. Suddenly they spy a newspaper stand with the headlines of the Bohemia Times which reads “Countess of Bohemia jewels stolen.”

Back they go to their ship and so begins another case for the pirate investigators.

Having obtained a copy of the newspaper, the Captain together with Flint and Amy head off to visit the Countess, who the youngsters learn, gave the Cap’n his first case as a pirate investigator. The Countess says that she knows who the thief was, once again none other than Scarletbeard, scariest pirate that ever sailed the seas and the original stealer of her jewels, who Cap’n Watkins knows full well is dead beneath the waves. A ghost then? …

The only place to look for those is Davy Jones’s Locker, so now the crew must descend to the murky depths of the Mystic Sea to search for the dastardly being. But he isn’t there so where can he be? Ghost-napped perhaps?

The grisly plot twists and turns but all ends happily for the crew of the Black Hound in this, the third of a terrific trilogy that is full of humour, action and piratical lingo. With plenty of super black and white illustrations by Mark Evans adding to the fun, this piratical tale will appeal to both girls and boys.

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Shrieking Serpent
Kris Humphrey, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Oxford Children’s Books

As Apprentice Guardian, it’s Leo Wilder’s role to ensure that the monsters inhabiting the forest never roam too near to the village; moreover, nobody must know about them apart from the Guardian Henrik and Village Chief, Gilda.

Now after a period of monster inactivity, Leo learns from Henrik that the supply of precious stones with which the lad keeps himself safe, has run out. Consequently, he must go and search for more in the Endless Mines, a labyrinth of tunnels beneath Mammoth Peak. If this doesn’t sound scary enough, Henrik then mentions the Shrieking Serpent, a creature with hearing and sight so sensitive it’s impossible for a living being to pass undetected. All Henrik can offer for protection is a small bottle of powder that when ignited can temporarily blind the Serpent, that and the help of Leo’s Leatherwing friend, Scarla, plus a couple of maps.

With a swamp containing Goretusks to negotiate, forest people lurking (mostly unfriendly ones) and, when he finally reaches his destination, the question of getting the stones from beneath the waterfall and swimming up with them, there’s an enormous challenge ahead. Does Leo possess the special kind of bravery required to do all of that? Perhaps, with Scarla’s assistance and that of an unexpected source.

Again Kris Humphrey delivers a cracking tale with just enough frights to keep readers gripped without causing nightmares, and with Pete Williamson’s splendidly expressive illustrations to make the story even more accessible and exciting, this will be devoured by fans. Those new to the series might want to start at the first bookThe Armoured Goretusk however.

Little Santa

Little Santa
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

As the story opens Little Santa lives with his parents Mr and Mrs Claus and six siblings in the North Pole. Santa loves life there; not so the rest of the family. who eke out a miserable existence.

Their intention is to move to Florida., but their plan is thwarted. At first that is, by an overnight blizzard that traps their house and everyone inside, beneath an enormous snowdrift.

Up steps brave Santa who with some food in a sack and a pair of snow shoes, is sent out via the chimney to seek help.

When he emerges he starts walking, and having trudged a considerable distance comes upon what he thinks at first is the top of a tree protruding through the snow.

What follows is an account of how the little fellow comes as tradition says, to acquire a flying reindeer and a troop of elves whose talents include shovel making and sledge building.

Yes he does of course enlist their help to look for the Claus’s North Pole house and they fly back to the relief and delight of his family. But has this whole episode put paid to their plans to move to Florida? Certainly not and even with the improvements made by the elves,

a year later off go the Clauses minus Santa to start their new life. And Santa: well we know what he does.…
Crisp like the snow, Jon Agee’s folkish narrative, and quirky, comical illustrations in which Santa stands out in his bright red attire offer a kind of seasonal pourquoi tale that’s fun to share during the Christmas season.

Group Hug

Group Hug
Jean Reedy and Joey Chou
Scallywag Press

We humans so longed to be able to hug our friends and relations during the worst of the pandemic when it was not allowed, and so it is with the slug at the start of this jaunty, rhyming story.

Said slug soon comes upon a lone beetle looking as though some physical contact would do it the world of good and a heart-warming hug is duly bestowed.

Then, one by one along come Mouse, Skunk (exceedingly stinky), Squirrel (upon which Skunk had deposited some if its long-lingering aroma), a busy Beaver,

Porcupine (willing to shake off some of its prickles),

a groundhog, a goose, a fox, a moose and finally Bear. Each animal is welcomed into the cumulative hugging embrace with the refrain ‘GROUP HUG’ except Bear. The appearance of the lumbering ursine creature causes the others to break away and scatter far and wide in fright.

Now only Slug (the brave one) and Bear remain. Good old, knowing Slug ,with an unfailing source of warm-hearted embraces, is ready and willing to spread the love

thus precipitating the return of the others from their hiding places for the hugest ever huggers’ huddle.

Jean Reidy’s telling comprises story elements both young listeners and beginning readers delight in: a repeat refrain (the title in this case), a spare rhythmic rhyming text, gentle humour, along with themes of kindness, acceptance and inclusivity. All this, together with Joey Chou’s digital scenes, each of which is imbued with a sense of community delight, make for a welcome heart-warming hug of a book for group sharing and individual reading.

My Green Cookbook / Polly Bee Makes Honey

My Green Cookbook
David Atherton, illustrated by Alice Bowsher
Walker Books

Hot on the heels of his excellent My First Cook Book, Great British Bake Off winner David Atherton offers around forty vegetarian recipes. No matter if you’re looking for a tasty meal, snacks, a sweet treat or an attractive cake (several, even), there’s something here.

Like the author, I love walking in the forest and looking up at the trees so was immediately drawn to the yummy-looking Autumn Woodland Cake, though as a vegan, I’d want to make one or two slight tweaks to the ingredients list.

The Curry Korma Bowl too caught my eye right away. Indian food is one of my favourite kinds of cuisine. Having been unable to travel to India since fleeing that country at the start of the pandemic I can’t wait to go back but with all the necessary ingredients for this dish already in my cupboards, this is one of the recipes I’ll try first.

And, having requested a large amount of haldi from an Indian student studying here the last time he returned to the UK, I have lots of turmeric and so next week intend to have a go at making the Bread Crowns – they look really fun and tasty too.

Among the Sweet Treats, I was attracted to the lemon and pear muffins as the young relations who often visit, are fond of muffins of many kinds. We can try making those together. (Maybe we’ll do two batches with me using a vegan egg substitute in one).

David’s enthusiasm shines through in this recipe book wherein he also explains the impact ‘eating green’ can have on health and well-being, and on the environment. With occasional touches of humour, Alice Bowsher’s illustrations add extra allure to the recipes.

Buy to keep and buy to give.

Honey was used in several of David’s recipes, now here’s a book all about that delicious ingredient/food.

Polly Bee Makes Honey
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

This is the second book in the Follow My Food series. Here, a girl follows worker bee Polly as she (and her ‘sisters’) work hard first collecting pollen and nectar from various flowers in a meadow

and then taking it back to the hive where the nectar is squirted into the honeycomb and some of the pollen acts as food for the baby bees inside the hive.

During the narration we also meet the drones (Polly’s brothers), the queen (the egg layer) as well as the beekeeper who cares for the hive and harvests the honey,

helped by the girl narrator who is shown happily and appreciatively tucking into a slice of bread spread with delicious honey.

After the main narrative come a ‘pollen trail’ and a factual spread giving further information about bees.

With Deborah’s straightforward narrative and Julia’s bold, bright illustrations, this is a good starting point for youngsters especially if they’re working on a food (or perhaps even minibeast) theme in a foundation stage classroom.

The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens / Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril

The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens
Isabel Roxas
Flying Eye Books

Meet Team Pom: there’s Agnes a keen pigeon keeper, Roberta, generator of ideas and Ruby, oceanography enthusiast, the team’s boss. Very different in most ways and far from athletic in any way, the three have a shared love of snacks and a desire to win this year’s Synchronised Swimming Championships.

During the course of their training they discover a friendly, rather lonely and definitely hungry squid named Cyd.

The creature makes a great addition to their team but there’s a problem. Hot on the trail are a pair of dapper rats sporting bowler hats that are trying to hunt down the tentacled creature for their nefarious boss who wants its ink.

Sink or swim it surely is in Isabel Roxas’s slapstick, action-packed graphic novel. With some fun puns, and wordplay aplenty, along with other jokey inclusions, this madcap romp with its New York setting and terrific trio of friends will surely go down especially well with those readers who like lots of surprises.

Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril
Jeff Norton, illustrated by Jeff Crosby
Scallywag Press

In this story readers are transported to Medieval times but there’s a difference: dinosaurs still roam the earth.

As the adventure opens young Henry Fairchild is a stable boy but he doesn’t tend horses; rather it’s his job to look after the dinos of Brecklan with which he has a special bond.

When he learns of a vicious T-Rex on the rampage in the forest, he rides to the rescue of his guardian Lord Harding (ruler of Brecklan) and his Lady Anwyn. The result of his selfless act of bravery, Henry is invited to join the brave Knights of Panterra, aka the Dino Knights.

To prevent an invasion of Brecklan by the Swamp states eager to get their hands on the berries grown only there, a tournament is set to take place in just two days.

Dino Knight training begins and one of the first things Henry learns is ‘to expect the unexpected’. Lord Harding urges the knights to work as a team as they work through their training classes.

As the tournament gets underway, Henry finds his attention suddenly focussed skywards and he sees two Pterosaurs swooping down. One grabs Lord Harding by his tunic; the other snatches up Lady Anwyn and thus begins Henry and his fellow Dino Knights’ mission to rescue his guardians. Nothing though is quite what it seems in this fast-paced adventure that assuredly tests Henry’s bravery to the limit.

With plenty of action and high drama, gentle humour and lots of dialogue, this fast-paced tale of derring do will please newly independent readers, many of whom will eagerly anticipate Henry’s next adventure. Helping to break up the text are Jeff Crosby’s detailed illustrations that add to the impact of the tale.

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.

Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn / The Three Happy Lions

Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn
Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Mere kitty cat, or is she a unicorn?

Kitty has an overwhelming desire to be a unicorn like the one on her poster. So much so that she fashions a paper horn for her head and what she sees in the mirror reflects her unicorn-ness – there’s no disputing that. Or is there? Certainly there is when it comes to Parakeet and Gecko, a pair of denigrating naysayers if ever.

Nonetheless Kitty continues undaunted until come sundown she’s certain the long shadow has convinced the killjoys. Not so though for this shadow belongs to … a unicorn.

Now Kitty feels totally dejected until this compassionate creature does something that completely changes things

allowing Kitty to see herself as the fabulous creature she truly is – not just a kitty but a Kitty-Corn, majestic, magnificent and quite perfect … just as she is.

From two of the creators of The Princess in Black series this is an enchanting tale of acceptance and true friendship: make sure you read from the front endpapers to the back to get the entire story though.

Also with a theme of finding your true self is

The Three Happy Lions
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

First published over sixty years ago and now reprinted for a new audience is this classic tale that tells what happens after Happy Lions One and Two produce an offspring that they name Francois.

Having pondered upon what their cub might do with his life, fate takes a hand in the form of a rich lady who visits the zoo and expresses a wish to have Francois as a pet. Somewhat reluctantly, his parents agree and so begins a pleasant life of pampering.

But like all lion cubs, Francois keeps on growing until the lady decides he’s become too big and she gives him to her friend Monsieur Tambour, a circus owner. However, the creature fails to become either sufficiently ferocious or a flaming hoop jumper and so back to the zoo he goes.

All the while though, Francois has harboured a yen. Perhaps now is the time to follow his true calling: he certainly has a good role model in his namesake…

With its occasional French phrases and its enchanting illustrations it’s good to see this book back in print again. I loved The Happy Lion as a child but was not familiar with this story of being true to yourself.

Ten Little Dogs / Ten Little Yoga Frogs

Ten Little Dogs
Ruth Brown
Scallywag Press

Who can fail to delight in this rhyming countdown by well-loved and respected author/illustrator Ruth Brown. Her array of pooches look such engaging creatures as they romp energetically in all kinds of settings indoors and out with their number diminishing on each double spread

until just one remains. But not for long because being alone is not nearly as much fun as dashing off to rejoin your nine friends cavorting and barking loudly in the park.

Yes there’s some simple maths herein but it’s the spirited illustrations that count for much of the pleasure to be discovered between the covers of this book. Every double spread is a visual feast with detailed, realistic images of adorable canines in beautiful surroundings, accompanied by a four line text with perfectly calculated page turns.
A treat for dog lovers of all ages, this.

Ten Little Yoga Frogs
Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley
Catch a Star

This is a fun way to engage in some counting practice while at the same time trying some basic yoga poses along with the snazzily attired yogi frogs.

Wearing both my foundation stage teacher hat and my yoga teacher hat simultaneously, I absolutely love this rhyming counting book. It’s great to see that not all the participants are experts at doing the poses: take a look at these three.

And who wouldn’t want to respond with a resounding yes to the invitation on the final spread …

With its predictable text and hilarious illustrations (each spread has a small box in the corner showing the specific yoga asana the frogs are doing) this book would make a smashing addition to any early years setting or foundation stage classroom, as well as being one to add to family collections where there are young children.

The Tale of the Whale

The Tale of the Whale
Karen Swann and Padmacandra
Scallywag Press

Karen Swann’s lyrical story begins with a child on a lighthouse spying a whale out at sea, a whale whose sweet-sounding song calls the child to climb aboard its back and join it on an amazing marine adventure.

An adventure through marine waters that turns from the utter heartfelt joy at seeing the incredible life under the ocean – the stunning colours, the octopus,

turtles, rays, dolphins and more to shock horror and understanding when the whale opens wide its mouth to eat.

This is followed by sadness and, once back on land, a determination to tell others and an earnest plea from the young storyteller to be part of the change. It’s a plea that will surely galvanise youngsters and adults alike to work together on this crucial environmental problem caused by plastic pollution.

Padmacandra’s illustrations are truly gorgeous capturing both the friendship between child and majestic animal, and the richness and vibrancy of the oceans’ fauna. This is the debut picture book for both author and illustrator and it’s one where words and pictures work in perfect harmony. The observant among readers and listeners will spot the point in the story when plastic starts to be included in the subaquatic scenes.

Loud!

Loud!
Rose Robbins
Scallywag Press

Rose Robbins’ latest picture book celebrates another cognitive difference that comes under the neurodiversity umbrella. Abigail has ADHD and she’s having one of those tricky days in class where her restless frustration leads her to do things that displease and disrupt others.

As a result she’s taken to the ‘calming down’ room for a while which makes her late for her next lesson. It’s music – a new activity for Abigail and despite her lateness, she receives a friendly welcome from the teacher, Miss Butler.

The other class members all seem to have a musical talent of one kind or another but Abigail struggles to find a way to join in successfully. Out of sheer frustration she lets out an enormous SCREAM! that causes cool, calm Miss Butler to approach her. Abigail expects to be sent back to the ‘calming down room’ but instead, her accepting teacher praises her voice, speaking of its singing potential. A transformation begins and with support Abigail finds a role, becoming the group’s totally cool singer-songwriter …

Sometimes a serious topic is best approached through humour: it’s certainly very successful here with Rose Robbins’ quirky illustrative style.

An important inclusive book for all youngsters and their teachers in early years and KS1 classes, as well as for sharing at home.

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

In Paris, The Royal Palace is holding its Grand Contest of Art. All the famous painters are showing: there’s Gaston du Stroganoff with his The King on His Throne, Felicia Caffay Ollay with The King on Horseback and Alphonse LeCamembair with The King in Armour. However an unknown painter, Felix Clousseau has the utter temerity to roll up with an entry.

Having been scorned by the judges for its simplistic style (not a king in sight), something truly unexpected and amazing happens. The painting emits a ‘Quack!’

Guess who becomes an immediate sensation? Having been dubbed a ‘genius’, Clousseau’s art is quickly in great demand with the rich. Not so however, the general public for his realism is way too real – disastrously so.

The unfortunate Clousseau is thrown into gaol and his paintings locked safely away – all except one that is. A single image of a dog remains on the wall of the King’s Palace. Now at that time an infamous jewel thief is at work in Paris and when he decides to try his luck with the royal crown, he gets the surprise of his life.

So too does his highness the next morning. He issues a royal pardon and a Medal of Honour to Clousseau who as the final page shows, ‘returned to his own painting’ …

the ambiguity of which will surely delight readers of all ages.

Deliciously droll, this is a reissue of one of Jon Agee’s earlier picture books: it’s certainly stood the test of time and great to see Scallywag republishing it now some thirty years on.

If you’re looking for a book to use as a starting point with an arty theme for a community of enquiry session, this one will definitely fit the bill.

NO! said Rabbit

No! said Rabbit
Marjoke Henrichs
Scallywag Press

Rabbit is one contrary little creature. He replies in the negative to everything his mum tells him to do. It’s a firm “NO!’ to getting dressed, eating his breakfast carrots,

going outside to play, stopping for a snack and more. Throughout the day his recalcitrant responses issue forth but despite what he says, he always finds just the right inducement to comply with his parent’s requests.

Fortunately this patient Mum knows how best to manage her spirited little one’s behaviour. She continues cajoling him right through bath time

to bedtime and the book’s satisfying conclusion.

With its delightful irony, Marjoke Henrichs’ debut picture book is pitch perfect for sharing with preschoolers. The story’s structure cleverly offers an important reading lesson – that of prediction – and as they view the unfolding action in Marjoke’s chucklesome scenes, little ones will delight in chorusing NO! along with the protagonist at every opportunity.

I’m pretty sure most adults, especially parents and teachers of young children, will have encountered a little rabbit somewhere along the way.

The After Christmas Tree / Dinosaur Christmas!

The After Christmas Tree
Bethan Welby
Scallywag Press

Here’s a debut picture book festive story with a difference: it features a little boy named Brian who comes upon a discarded Christmas tree by the roadside while out walking with an adult one grey January day. Feeling sorry for the abandoned tree he takes it home, promising to care for it.

However, once back indoors he’s the only member of his family who is pleased about his find, particularly as he moves it around wherever he goes.

By bedtime even Brian is feeling unhappy and Mum offers to help him take it outside. However, the boy insists on doing the job himself and it’s left outside in the snow overnight.

Brian meanwhile has an anxious night but when sleep finally comes, he has a wonderful dream – or is it? …
Both words and pictures are presented with sensitivity: the telling is straightforward leaving plenty of room for Bethan’s expressive illustrations to do much of the talking and with a knowledge of the huge number of Christmas trees that are merely thrown out every year, the message about sustainability is clear and important.

Dinosaur Christmas!
Penny Dale
Nosy Crow

Penny Dale’s terrific dinosaur team are back and now it’s Christmas Eve and they’re called to the aid of Santa. In order to rescue him they have to make their way through a swirling, whirling snowstorm. Be they at the wheel of a snow plough crunching over the snowy road, whizzing along on snowmobiles, zooming Whoosh! Whoosh! over the water on a hovercraft or chugga chugging in search of Santa’s house,

the crew will be there in the nick of time to unearth (or un-snow) the old man’s sleigh and make sure he’s suitably fuelled with seasonal fare. Then with presents duly loaded (courtesy of the helicopter dinosaurs), it’s up and away with a Ho! Ho! Ho! leaving the dinosaurs time to make their own preparations for the big day. Will Santa be kind to them too?

Young dino. fans will thoroughly enjoy the return of the prehistoric brigade showing their manoeuvres in new forms of locomotion for the festive season.

It’s Only Stanley

It’s Only Stanley
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

Jon Agee imbues this picture book with his usual dry humour, leaning herein towards the utterly absurd.

It tells of a family, the Wimbledons, whose slumbers are disturbed by a series of weird sounds that Mr W. (Walter) goes to investigate each time.

First he reports on their pet dog Stanley’’s howling at the moon; but on subsequent disturbing occasions we discover that Stanley has a particular penchant for engaging in noisy tasks during the hours of darkness.

Next he’s reported to have fixed the oil tank,

after which he’s provided the moggy with some delectable-looking catfish stew, the smell of which awoke young Willie Wimbledon (don’t you love the alliterative names, the entire family has them).

Thereafter Wanda’s ‘buzzing sound’ at 3.30am turns out to be our Mr Fixer repairing the old TV; Wylie’s ‘splashy sound’ proves to be a rather wet bathroom caused by Stanley’s drain fixing activities and finally the entire family is up in arms, mum Wilma included.

What repairs can our diligent, multi-talented Stanley be working on next? Let’s merely say, it’s assuredly his most ambitious project yet … and leave you, the cast and readers in suspended animation,

awaiting Agee (and Stanley’s) laugh-out-loud finale.

I’m sure if you share this with youngsters, arguments will ensue about whether the canine character is conscientious, crazed, or certifiable. Whichever they opt for listeners/readers will assuredly delight in his DIY antics so hilariously presented in Agee’s unpredictable rhyming narrative with its repeat refrains, and his droll, alternating scenes of the disturbed family and their disturber’s deeds.Make sure you closely follow Max, the cat throughout.

What a satisfying read aloud for both listeners and adult presenters. Suitable bedtime reading? – that’s entirely up to you …

We Planted a Pumpkin

We Planted a Pumpkin
Rob Ramsden
Scallywag Press

Rob Ramsden’s boy and girl characters from We Found a Seed are now a little more savvy about what happens when a seed is planted but even so they’re a tad impatient about the pumpkin seed they plant, hoping it will bear fruit by Halloween.

Young readers and listeners share with them the gourd’s entire growing process as first roots, and then leaves, start to sprout.

Come summer the flowers bloom and are visited by bees, butterflies and other insects and as the weeks pass, the flowers die –

all except one at the base of which they find a small green bump – not yet a pumpkin but on its way to so being.

Excitement mounts along with the pumpkin’s growth, as it absorbs the rain and soaks up the sun.

Then little by little, the ripening happens; the pumpkin swells and turns orange until finally, it’s harvest time.

That’s not quite the end of the story though, for there’s the hollowing out and face carving to do – and then hurrah! It’s Halloween …

Like Rob’s previous titles, this beautifully illustrated book is pitch perfect for little ones. They’ll love spotting all the minibeasts on every spread.

I have no doubt that like the characters in the story, youngsters will be motivated to engage with nature, try planting some pumpkin seeds and become excited as they follow their development.

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.

A New Green Day

A New Green Day
Antoinette Portis
Scallywag Press

Since the lockdown, most of us with time on our hands have been taking much more notice of the beauties of nature no matter where we live and in A New Green Day, Antoinette Portis invites readers to do just that, to see things anew and to discover the joy and wonders to be found outdoors.

Using a sequence of short poems spoken by natural things both large and small, the author/illustrator gently leads us through a summer’s day in the company of a little girl.
Said child is gently awoken by sunlight on her pillow inviting,
“… Come out and play!”

Then at the behest of that which has scribbled “on the path / in glistening ink …”
it’s time to move outdoors and there, the playful guessing game continues as we see a sequence of things in an entirely fresh, creative way.

For instance “I’m a map of my own / green home. Follow my roads and climb,” reveals when the page is turned …

How cleverly imagined are Antoinette Portis’s trees, one of which is markedly similar to the veined leaf the girl holds between her two fingers.

Some riddles are easier to anticipate than others; one such is “I’m a comma / in the long, long sentence / of the stream. / Someday soon, / you’ll hear my croak,” is uttered by …

Then come the voices – cloud, rain, lightning and thunder – of a gathering storm and what child could resist this invitation, “I am cool pudding / on a muggy day. / Let your toes / have a taste! …”

Finally as Earth is wrapped in the black cloak of night, comes the gently spoken sound from a tiny insect “I am the engine / of the summer dark. / Sleep, while I thrum / in your tomorrow … “ I will leave you to work out that which heralds “A new green day.”

There is SO much to love about this lyrically written book that gently calls us to appreciate our world afresh. Rich in texture, both verbal and visual, Antoinette Portis’ A New Green Day offers fresh lenses through which to see the natural world and its beauty each and every time we set foot outside.

Say Goodbye … Say Hello / The Happy Lion Roars

Say Goodbye … Say Hello
Cori Doerrfeld
Scallywag Press

Change is inevitable no matter what, and young children often find transitions tricky.

Through her gentle, lively illustrations and soft-spoken, simply expressed text, Cori Doerrfeld offers little ones a story exploring  the nature of change and the possibilities that embracing it can offer.

Stella, while reluctant to leave her mum and board the bus, soon discovers a new friend, Charlie, once she gets to school.

Before long the two are almost inseparable. We follow them through the seasons and goodbye summer means hello to autumn and goodbye to outside means hello to inside;
’Goodbye to snowmen … is hello to puddles!’;

and through the days when “goodbye to long walks, butterflies and the sun … is hello to long talks … fireflies and … the stars.’

But then, comes something much more difficult for Stella to cope with: the need to say goodbye to her special friend, when Charlie moves away and holding tight must be followed by letting go.

Physically yes, but not completely, for Stella is soon busy writing and posting a letter to her friend.

There’s also the possibility of someone else on the horizon, not a replacement for Charlie, but perhaps a new friendship for the making…

Splendidly expressive illustrations show both the ups and downs of change, as well as the passage of time. Ultimately however, however difficult some changes might be, as the story closes we’re given an indication of Stella’s resilience as she greets a newcomer …
A gorgeously warm portrayal of friendship, loss and the possibilities of new beginnings.

Completely different but also with a focus on friendship and new beginnings is this oldie but goodie:

The Happy Lion Roars
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

Nostalgia rules in this Happy Lion story I remember from my childhood. In this book the Happy Lion is most definitely not living up to his name, spending much of his time looking downright miserable, so much so that a doctor is called. He merely prescribes pills and departs; but the medication is totally ineffective in the face of loneliness for that is what is wrong with the Happy Lion.

Then one day into town comes a small circus and he and his friend Francois go to watch the acts. However, the Happy Lion has eyes only for the Beautiful Lioness in her cage.

Suddenly his sadness is a thing of the past and one night he goes to the cage of the Beautiful Lioness, opens the door and together they walk through the park back to his home.
A search ensues,

followed by some subterfuge, the Happy Lion’s loudest ever roar, and finally, thanks to Francois, a deal leaving not one, but two felines exceedingly happy.

Superb art and a lovely story where friendship and freedom reign supreme, characterise this classic re-issue.

Flyntlock Bones: The Sceptre of the Pharaohs

Flyntlock Bones: The Sceptre of the Pharaohs
Derek Keilty and Mark Elvins
Scallywag Press

Here’s a piratical tale with a difference – the first of a proposed trilogy.

When young Flynn applies for the role of cabin boy having been kicked out of Baskervile orphanage by its matron, he discovers the crew of the Black Hound are pirates. Not your usual kind of pirates though; oh no me-‘arties, aboard this ship are, so he’s told by its captain ‘the cleverest pirate investigators ya ever set eyes upon’.

After securing a week’s trial aboard Black Hound the lad is taken under the wing of young Red. She has already served a year on the ship so knows the ropes pretty well. Flynn has a lot to learn including that the poop deck isn’t what he thinks.

Almost immediately Captain Watkins calls a meeting and informs the crew of the note he’s just received from a Miss Kristina Wrinkly, curator of the Gypshun Museum on the ancient Isle of Tut, requesting his help.

The museum has been broken into and priceless ancient artefacts including the Sceptre of the Pharaohs stolen.

Excitement starts to bubble within young Flynn but it’s quickly squashed by the bullying Drudger; but is he something much worse than a disgruntled bully?

The following morning Flynn is awoken by Red informing him that they’ve reached the Isle of Tut and are about to drop anchor.

Then, it’s a case of in at the deep end when some of the crew including both Flynn and Drudger are instructed to head to the museum.

The visit is brief but Flynn discovers a useful lead,

and the Black Hound is just heading off again searching for more clues when into view sails another ship. It belongs to ‘the cunningest, evilest pirate that ever sailed the seven seas – Captain Jim-Lad Morihearty’. Uh-oh!

Toss into Keilty’s brew an ancient prophecy, poisonous snakes, an amulet said to contain dark magic, wailing mummies and a traitor and what you have is an entertaining swashbuckling adventure, with some memorable characters, plenty of playful language, and at almost every turn of the page, a terrific, finely detailed, etching-like illustration by Mark Elvins

to add to the dramatic impact.

The Longest Strongest Thread / King of the Classroom

The Longest Strongest Thread
Inbal Leitner
Scallywag Press

Looking for ways to keep in touch with those of your loved ones who are far away? Inbal Leitner’s young girl narrator of this lovely story might give you some ideas as she visits her beloved Grandma to say goodbye before the family moves to their new home far away from Grandma’s sewing studio.

Once there she sets to work drawing a map to enable Gran to find her, as well as creating the means by which she can carry out the long journey.

Meanwhile her grandmother is also hard at work fashioning a very special warm garment to give to her granddaughter as a parting gift.

The farewell is a poignant one tenderly portrayed in Inbal Leitner’s spare first person narrative and her affecting illustrations rendered in a limited colour palette that is particularly effective in conveying the feelings of the two characters.

Her story, despite the parting, ends on an upbeat note of hope and looking forward.

King of the Classroom
Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Scallywag Press

Starting nursery is a big step and for some a scary one.

For the little boy in this book though, his parents are doing their utmost to boost his morale. His mum has dubbed him ‘King of the Classroom’ at the start of his right royal day.

So named, the boy with a huge smile washes, brushes his teeth and dresses in his chosen gear ready for breakfast with his enormously proud parents before riding aboard ‘a big yellow carriage’ to ‘a grand fortress.’
Once at nursery, he receives a warm welcome from his caring teacher and enthusiastic friendly classmates, before everyone gathers to share ‘important matters’.

Then it’s time to play, begin to form friendships and to imagine. There are opportunities to show special kindness,

to rest and to let rip with music and dancing.

This joyful day is portrayed through Derrick Barnes’ upbeat text and Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s energetic, vibrant illustrations bursting with bright hues, textures and patterns.

An unusual starting nursery story that will surely go a long way towards allaying any first day nerves little ones might have in the run up to their important milestone.

Hey, Water!

Hey, Water!
Antoinette Portis
Scallywag Press

In the company of young narrator Zoe, who speaks directly to water, young children can embark on a playful exploration of the element that can exist in different states.

She begins with introducing the variety of ways we might encounter this essential element in its liquid state – via the hose and its sprinkler, the shower, a stream, a river,

the sea, an ocean.

Then there’s a lake, a swimming pool, and much smaller but equally fun, puddles. Smaller still come dewdrops, tears and raindrops.
Water however isn’t straightforward for as she says, ‘Water, even when you try to fool me, I know you. You can blast and huff. You whistle and puff. You hide in the air and drift. You drift in the air and hide the world’

Then there’s that frozen form –ice cubes, icebergs, an ice rink and soft, frozen, feather-like snowflakes.

Indeed water is an essential part of every single living thing,

there to quench our thirst and help us keep ourselves clean; and for all that we need to be thankful.

It’s a kind of hide-and-seek game we’re involved in here, in Portis’ celebration of water that concludes with more in-depth explanation of water forms, ways to conserve water, a diagram of the water cycle and some simple experiments.

The author’s own illustrations accompany her chatty narrative making this a very useful book for parents and preschool teachers to introduce tricky science concepts to the very young. (alongside real experiences of course).

Talking Is Not My Thing

Talking Is Not My Thing
Rose Robbins
Scallywag Press

Having a neurodiverse member of the family can be challenging for everyone as Rose Robbins, the author/illustrator of this, her second book knows so well for she has a brother on the autism spectrum and she also teaches young people who have autism.

Much of this story is conveyed through the female narrator’s thought bubbles; the rest through her brother’s words in speech bubbles and Rose’s dramatic illustrations. The narrator’s opening thought is ‘I don’t speak. But my brother finds it easy.’

Having followed her brother’s call to come indoors as dinner is almost ready, we learn how she does sometimes attempt to speak using her voice but the words come out wrong. Furthermore as the narrator is sound sensitive the noises of dinnertime cause her some distress, but she likes to feel included.

She also on occasion needs to convey how she feels or what she needs by means of one of her flashcards ( PECS symbol cards perhaps),

It’s great that brother and sister are able to play games together and that sometimes little sister acts as teacher.

Clearly understanding is not a problem, for shared story sessions with her brother reading aloud from a book, give his sister much pleasure.

At other times, such as when things go missing, mutual assistance is enormously beneficial. First a beloved soft toy bunny is located

and then once his sister is safely in bed, she finds her brother’s lost car. A highly satisfactory ending to their shared day.

Once again, Rose has created an enormously empathetic story that she conveys with subtle humour and a sense of respect for the siblings she portrays in Talking Is Not My Thing.

That sense of respect and understanding is what I saw yet again very recently while walking in the grounds of Ruskin Mill College, a specialist education establishment near my home that caters for neurodiverse students of between 16 and 25. A fairly newly admitted boy whom I’ve never seen stand still before, stood transfixed watching a heron that had perched atop a tree in the grounds. At least three members of staff stood fairly close keeping a watch on his wellbeing, allowing the boy to take as long as he wanted to observe, what was for all of us an awe-inspiring sight.

Lion Lessons

Lion Lessons
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

When the boy narrator protagonist of this story decides to take lion lessons, he quickly discovers that despite the ‘7 easy steps’ claim in the window of the teaching establishment, the diploma course is a steep learning curve.

The teacher is an actual lion with a degree awarded by the Harvard School of Claw and before starting on the ‘steps’, the learner must first engage in some yoga stretches.

Thereafter though, things rapidly go downhill. The teacher is less than impressed at his pupil’s efforts at appearing fierce. Roaring, selecting stomach-filling fare, prowling,

sprinting and pouncing are equally far from promising. In fact the lad’s scores are well below par.

Then comes the seventh step: Looking Out for Your Friends. Could this be the game changer perhaps …

Maybe, just maybe our small student can grow in stature and discover his inner lion sufficiently to surpass our expectations and become the proud owner of that graduation Lion Diploma after all …

What an artful fusion of words and pictures. With its deliciously droll, punchy narrative and littering of splendidly comic details on every spread, Lion Lessons will keep listeners on the edge of their seats right up to its deadpan final twist.

A simply stupendous, superbly paced read aloud say I; Jon Agee does it again.

The Night Before Christmas in Wonderland / The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas in Wonderland
Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley
Macmillan Children’s Books

Demonstrating the true meaning of Christmas, this is a marvellous mix up of two classics– Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas.

It begins thus: ‘Twas the night before Christmas, a dark snowy night / When St Nick and his reindeer were just taking flight.’

Debut picture book author, Carys Bexington manages to sustain the jaunty rhyme unfalteringly throughout the tale. Therein she gives Santa aka St. Nick a turn to go adventuring down the rabbit hole when he responds to the plea of the Princess of Hearts who sends a letter begging for a Christmas present after her parents have said no.

Having made their way down the royal chimney St. Nick plus reindeer come upon a decidedly unseasonal scene and disturb the Queen of Hearts. She, we learn hates Christmas because as a little princess, her Dear Santa letter missed the last post on account of the White rabbit’s tardiness and so she was presentless.

As a consequence, presents, along with tinsel, mince pies and good cheer are all banned.

Now though, at long last, it’s time to deliver that gift to the erstwhile little princess.

Can St. Nick succeed in restoring the ‘Happy’ into Christmas? Perhaps, but only if her royal grumpiness, the Queen of Hearts responds positively to Rudolph’s assertion, that alluded to at the start of this review.

A full cast that includes the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter, are depicted in Kate Hindley’s absolutely priceless scenes of seasonal mayhem and festive frolics, each of which is bursting with delicious details and Kate’s own brand of brilliance.

The Night Before Christmas
Clement C. Moore and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

If you are looking for a version of the classic Clement Clarke Moore seasonal poem this year then I’d wholeheartedly recommend this superbly designed one first published in 1954.

Its tall, slim shape and size is perfect chimney shaped design and here we follow Santa – portly and with an enormous beard – as he alights on the rooftop and slides down the chimney of the narrator’s residence (in how many homes would that be possible nowadays?).

Observant readers who are familiar with Duvoisin’s creation for Louise Fatio’s The Happy Lion will spot the striking resemblance of one of the soft toys left as a gift, to said lion.

Retro brilliance this!

A Gallery of Cats

A Gallery of Cats
Ruth Brown
Scallywag Press

Tom who is visiting an art gallery with his granny wanders off into a side room where something quite amazing happens.

As he stands reading a label beside the Jackson exhibit, out of the painting leaps a cat. Tom follows it.

Seemingly there’s been a feline invasion for from almost a dozen works of art that closely resemble famous masterpieces, there appear in turn as Tom pauses to read the labels to his guide Jackson, cats named Gustav, Piet, Frida, René, Vincent, Maukie & Cornelis, Kats,

Henri, Edvard,

William and Samuel.

Eventually with a bevy of assorted cats at his feet Tom turns a corner and there before him is the famous Rousseau-like tiger.

At the sight of this the other felines turn tail and dash back to their own paintings; not Jackson though; he at least waits to bid farewell to the boy while his gran looks at the notice announcing a new exhibition; no prizes for guessing what the topic is.

Cleverly conceived and superbly executed in her own painterly style, Ruth Brown presents a playful introduction to the work of thirteen world famous artists. Cat lovers and primary teachers in particular will love this novel way of bringing their work to life for children who have yet to see the real pictures.

Life on Mars

Life On Mars
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

A lone astronaut – a little one – arrives on Mars determined to find life. ‘Everybody thinks I’m crazy. Nobody believes there is life on Mars. But I do.’ is what he tells readers.
What he sees though as he wanders around the dark, cold Martian landscape clutching his box of chocolate cupcakes (an offering for any alien he might encounter), is a planet seemingly devoid of life.

The visitor starts to have doubts about finding any sort of life form, while unbeknown to him there’s a large creature following not far behind keeping a close watch on the explorer.

Having abandoned his box of goodies, the disillusioned little human decides to return to his spaceship. But where is it?
Lost he might be, but his search yields something exciting …

along with his box of cupcakes.
(I held my breath when I saw that the little astronaut had picked that yellow flower; I hope it isn’t the only one on the entire planet.)

Now, flower and box in hand, he is all the more determined to locate his spaceship, which he does by scaling the ‘err’ mountain.

Then, mission accomplished, when he’s inside and homeward bound, it’s the perfect time to tuck in to one of those yummy chocolately confections …

Witty, ironic, thought-provoking and with that surprise ending, Agee’s offering, with his stark Martian scenery, is eminently re-readable. Children love to be in the know about stories and as they listen to the young astronaut’s earnest narration, they’ll be hard put to resist yelling “he’s behind you”.

We Found a Seed

We Found A Seed
Rob Ramsden
Scallywag Press

In this follow up to I Saw a Bee, Rob Ramsden adds a female character.

While outside playing, the boy and girl find a seed. They put it in a box and use it in their play, dancing and singing to it;

but the seed doesn’t grow.

They ask the seed for advice, listen and wait for a response; and then they know. …

The seasons change – gusty autumn winds, icy wintry rain and then spring with its gentle warmth. The seed grows and grows and …

The friends are delighted but when autumn comes again the flower dies; that though isn’t the end for what lies scattered around is full of potential …

Next time the children will know what to do.

This simple look at a sunflower life cycle and the seasons is again pitch perfect for the very young. Rob’s rhythmic text is memorable while his illustrations show just how worthwhile and rewarding continuing contact with the natural world can be.

A small piece of brilliance.

The Rabbit Listened

The Rabbit Listened
Cori Doerrfeld
Scallywag Press

Something terrible happens to Taylor in Cori Doerrfeld’s story. It certainly appears devastating when a flock of birds swoops through, knocking down the complicated construction the small, momentarily proud, child has just built.

One after another various animals come along and attempt to help; but Taylor doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t feel like shouting,

nor remembering as the elephant suggests, certainly doesn’t want to laugh, pretend the event never happened or do any of the other things the creatures, from their own view point think might be supportive.

Eventually Taylor is left alone and that’s when a rabbit creeps up. The rabbit says not a word; it merely snuggles up beside Taylor, offering a listening ear and creating space until the little human is ready to respond to those pent-up emotions held within.

The author/illustrator too creates space, a lot of white space on the page for the story to unfold as Taylor moves from grief, to anger and finally, resolution.

Perfectly paced, seemingly simple but with plenty of space for deeper connections to be made where and when appropriate, this is a book for adults to share especially when there’s a child in need of emotional support who will process it in his/her own way, just like Taylor does.

Cori Doerrfeld’s elegant, empathetic illustrations perfectly orchestrate her wonderfully wise story that’s a must have for anyone who lives or works with young children.

I Am A Tiger / The Happy Lion

I Am A Tiger
Karl Newson and Ross Collins
Macmillan Children’s Books

Ignorance? Bravado? Or playfulness? What is driving Karl’s Mouse protagonist to insist that he’s a tiger. Fox, racoon, snake and parrot in turn, challenge the small creature to prove himself but his lack of size, stripes and tree climbing skills do nothing to convince the others of his claim and that growl is – let’s say somewhat feeble.

Suddenly along comes another animal proclaiming …

The ‘not-tiger’ then goes on to try and persuade the stripy character that HE is in fact a mouse with some deft moves.

These he follows with some further ridiculousness

before departing in search of lunch.

This sees our little grey friend heading towards a watery place wherein he spies his reflection and there he learns the error of his claims …

With it’s wonderful surprise finale, this is a grrralectable piece of comic theatre picture book style delivered through Karl’s droll mouse narrative and Ross Collins’ brilliantly expressive scenes.

Hilarious, and I look forward to the next of the promised Karl/Ross creations; they’ve certainly set the bar pretty high with this one. Young listeners will absolutely love it and it’s a gift for those who enjoy throwing themselves into story sharing.

The Happy Lion
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

This is a new edition of a classic story originally published in the 1950s and is set in a French town.

In that town is a zoo, the home of the Happy Lion. He leads a contented life there with daily visits from friends young and not so young, as well as being entertained by the town’s band on Sundays during the summer.

One day, the keeper forgets to close the door and the lion decides to go out and visit all those kind people who were his regular visitors.

Their reactions however are not at all what the Happy Lion expects; he’s barely acknowledged by the animals and the humans are terrified.

Bemused he stops, meditates, concludes, “this must be the way people behave when they are not in the zoo” and continues on his way hoping to find a friend.

He does so, after some drama involving a fire engine, firefighters and their very long hose; and all ends happily with the Happy Lion and his young friend walking back to the zoo together …

With alternate black and white, and three-colour, textured spreads, Duvoisin’s illustrations – wonderful, sketchy, smudgy scenes – still hold their magical charm – for this reviewer certainly – providing the perfect complement to Fatio’s tale.

Umbrella

Umbrella
Elena Arevalo Melville
Scallywag Press

Imagine a world where everyone is kind and forgiving, and where anything is possible. How wonderful would that be. That is the world Elena Arevalo Melville creates in this uplifting story that begins one morning with Clara without anybody to play with in the park.

But then she comes upon an umbrella, albeit somewhat worn, but Clara picks it up and places it gently on a bench close by. To her surprise the umbrella thanks her and goes on to say, “Look inside me. Anything is possible!”

And so it is, for when she opens it up she finds herself face to face with a splendid playmate. Now for Clara at least, the park is quite simply perfect as it had been to near neighbour, old Mr Roberts when he was a boy.

But from his wheel chair he can only look up towards those tasty-looking apples in the tree and think, ‘if only’. Not for long though for Clara is there telling him ‘anything is possible’, with the umbrella urging him, “Look inside me.”

Before long, not only has Mr Roberts got an umbrella full of the yummy fruit, but he’s asking his helper to pick enough for everyone.

And so it goes on until the park is alive with magic and music courtesy of the butterfly band. Everyone joins the dance

except one rather unsavoury character watching from the side with his eyes firmly on that umbrella; a foxy gentleman with only one thing in mind – a very selfish thing.

Can that umbrella work its own special magic yet again and perhaps enable a state of perfection to pervade the entire park?

Debut author/illustrator Elena Arevalo Melville’s use of a minimal colour palette until the penultimate spread serves to make that illustration all the more perfect too. Her somewhat surreal tale of empathy, kindness and community is one to share and discuss at every opportunity.

Then I’d suggest asking listeners to make their own wishes. Perhaps they could write them down and drop them into a partially open umbrella safely secured in a strategic spot.

I Saw a Bee

I Saw a Bee
Rob Ramsden
Scallywag Press

Having introduced himself, the small boy narrator of this largely visual story tells what happens when he opens a big box and discovers a bee.

Unsurprisingly, once the lid is lifted the bee buzzes out straight at the lad, scaring him so much that he gives chase.

The bee reciprocates, buzzing after its pursuer who leaps into the box to hide. Inevitably the insect flies off leaving other minibeasts to enter the arena.

Then however, the boy, presumably tired of being stuck inside the box,

emerges and searches for the bee; but the buzzy insect remains elusive, so much so that it’s missed by the lad.

Suddenly ‘Buzz Buzzz’ – could it be? Following the buzzing sound results in a great deal of celebratory buzzing around

and an outpouring of reciprocal love between the human character and the stripy insect he’s befriended.

Beautifully simple – it’s perfect for beginning readers, as well as young listeners, Rob Ramsden’s debut picture book (the first of a promised series that aims to encourage appreciation of the natural world in little ones), has a vital message, all the more so when we read of the decline in insect numbers in our countryside.

Told with a catchy natural rhythm, Rob’s text is highly repeatable; and in conjunction with his wonderfully patterned, screen printed illustrations of the child in the natural world, makes for a book to read, read and read again; and one which should playfully launch the ‘bees are vital’ message that will stay with the very young through their lives.

A delicious first picture book: I look forward to more.

Me and My Sister

Me and My Sister
Rose Robbins
Scallyway Press

Readers are not told that the sister referred to in this book’s title is differently abled or has an autism spectrum condition, in this account of the life shared by the narrator and his sibling: it’s left for us to infer through Rose Robbins’ verbal and visual narrative.

Therein we witness the highs and lows of having a much loved but differently abled younger sister who communicates through sounds and actions rather than words, actions that might be challenging or unsettling although not to understanding older family members.

The siblings attend different schools where the activities are different, although they both do a lot of learning.

There are plenty of fun times, as well as some embarrassing ones especially where strangers are concerned; and it’s frustrating to get chastised for things that aren’t your fault when it seems as though others are getting away with things.

Big bro. reassures us that no matter what, despite their obvious differences he’s an understanding and very loving brother

who is loved back by his little sister.

Told and illustrated with great sensitivity and gentle humour, in no small part because debut author/illustrator Rose Robbins teaches young people who have autism and also has a brother with autism, this is a book that should help foster empathy and understanding to share and talk about in school and at home.
Almost every class I’ve taught has included one or more children with autism and I know that their behaviour can sometimes be challenging; but more importantly, what they need is a loving, stable, structure within which to learn. That is what’s shown in Rose’s story.

(I’m writing this review having spent time today having coffee at Ruskin Mill organic café near where I live. Ruskin Mill is an educational establishment for learners with complex needs; it’s evident from observing those who work with the 16-25 year old students that sensitivity, humour, respect and understanding are part and parcel of their philosophy and approach to everything that happens there.)

The Wall in the Middle of the Book

The Wall in the Middle of the Book
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’. So begins Robert Frost’s famous poem Mending Wall, and so it is too, with Jon Agee who has cleverly constructed a fable with a high brick wall running along the book’s gutter, with the action unfolding on either side.

The story opens with, on the verso, a small knight carrying a ladder approaching the wall while on the recto stand menacingly, a rhino and a tiger. ‘It’s a good thing. The wall protects this side of the book from the other side of the book’ the knight tells us as he stoops to pick up the displaced brick to mend said wall. On the other side, the crew of angry animals has increased.

Up the ladder goes our knight oblivious to what is happening behind him and asserting, ‘This side of the book is safe. The other side is not.’

By this time, the bond with the author is firmly established and readers and listeners will be revelling in the superb interplay between words and pictures, asking themselves, are our narrator’s words altogether well- founded?

Next we learn of the most dangerous thing on the other side of the wall, an ogre.

This ogre however is not quite what the little knight is expecting. Indeed other things too are not at all as he’d anticipated.

Brilliantly expressive – look how the faces and body language of all the animal characters speak without uttering a single word while much of the feelings of knight and ogre are conveyed wordlessly, serving to emphasise the verbal/visual antagonism.

Agee’s pacing too is superb, but best of all is his inherent theme that preconceptions about people from elsewhere are often wrong. In our troubled times of erecting boundaries, walls in particular, rather than building bridges, this timely book will strike a chord with many readers and is a fantastic starting point for opening up discussion.

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.