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.