Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale

Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale
Sam Wedelich
Scholastic

From the outset Chicken Little insists that she’s a plucky creature, fearless in fact. Nonetheless, when a mysterious object falls from above, landing BONK! on her head, she is a tad perturbed. There must be a logical explanation: the sky can’t be falling surely. Determined to discover the truth, she climbs a ladder and interrogates said sky.

Along comes a hen and bemused by what Chicken Little is doing, misunderstands and rushes off to stir up her fellow farmyard fowls with the news, “The sky is falling! RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!!!”

Back on the ground, Chicken Little is left accepting responsibility and proclaiming, “This is clucky chaos! Utter hen-demonium!” before proceeding to set matters straight about what really happened. This results in sympathetic clucking all round and some frantic fowl first aiding.

With a nod to Mo Willems, debuting picture book author Sam Wedelich delivers a fractured folk tale of the comedic kind. Its mix of straightforward commentary and deliciously dramatic speech makes for a hugely enjoyable, STEM-flavoured read aloud for both presenters and audiences.

The Bee’s Sneeze / The Fidgety Itch

The Bee’s Sneeze
The Fidgety Itch

Lucy Davey and Katz Cowley
Scholastic Children’s Books

Here are a pair of rollicking rhyming reads from New Zealand author Lucy Davey, illustrated by Katz Cowley (of The Wonkey Donkey fame). Lucy Davey’s rhyming skills are excellent but make sure you practice reading the two stories before sharing them with an audience. They’re absolutely full of wonderful alliteration and onomatopoeic phrases that are sometimes tricky to get your tongue around.

The Bee’s Sneeze begins when a lorikeet expels a seed from its rear, a seed that soon grows into a blooming Tootletuff plant that catches the eye of Buzzy McBee.

Buzzy cannot resist sipping the sweet nectar from a bloom and before long her knees are all a-wobble on account of the teasy sneeze that despite her best efforts, she cannot contain and … AH-CHOO! Buzzy tumbles right into Monkey Minx.

Thus begins an inadvertent nose-teasing chain as the culprit bloom is passed first to Monkey and then on in turn to Barefoot Bear and lizard Lizzie-ma-Lou before an explosive sneeze precipitates a fall and all the sneezers tumble right into Crocodile’s open jaws.

SNAP! However,Croc’s satisfaction comes before a Tootletuff tickle in his tum, for just in the nick of time an unstoppable fizzle becomes an explosive sternutation and the story satisfyingly concludes by coming full circle.

It’s patently obvious from her mix of real and invented language that the author loves playing with words and it’s equally evident that Katz Cowley thoroughly enjoyed creating her dramatic scenes of the events.

Young listeners will relish both especially the opportunity to let rip with some AH-CHOOs (post COVID and with tissues at the ready) and to join in chanting the repeat refrain, “I smell a whiff, a tickle-is sniff, / I’ll squeeze the sneeze inside!”

Equally bursting with delicious language of the rhyming rhythmic kind is The Fidgety Itch with its clever cumulative structure. The key elements – chief protagonist (Timpkin mouse with his penchant for cheese), setting (beneath the fru-fru trees) and the problem – an escalating itch caused by a tiny creature that lurks ready to act. A creature that’s shown but never talked of in the text but is capable of causing for instance a ‘poutingly, peevishly, peppers patch … ‘ that desperately needs a relieving scratch.’

What ensues is a concatenation of co-operative creatures each offering to be a scratcher and becoming the scratch needer,

and all the while Timpkin gleefully gobbles his cheese ‘neath those fru-frus and a certain insect lurks somewhere in plain sight. Until … Fuzzy O’Hare’s cry causes Timpkin to leap ino action and with teamwork all is resolved satisfactorily.

There’s terrific teamwork too between author and illustrator in this zany story that’s a wonderful embodiment of the all important ‘language is fun’ message.

Both books are sure to become favourites with young listeners.

My Bum is So Noisy!

My Bum is So Noisy!
Dawn McMillan and Ross Kinnaird
Scholastic

Assuredly we all need laughs at the moment and be you an adult sharer or a child, you will certainly find plenty in this, the third of Dawn McMillan and Ross Kinnaird’s New Bum series.

Here, the young boy narrator and his raucous rear have an unexpected cacophonous adventure. Not though before the lad has shared with us some of the trials of having such a turbulent tail that emits a veritable and varying trail of emanations, often at the most inconvenient moments. There are for instance hoots and toots, hums and strums, clangs and bangs,

not only when the house is empty. Visitors too are subjected to sounds aplenty – it’s enough to drive them crazy;

well perhaps not all of them. The younger relations (whose rears are a trifle restricted in their sound-producing capacity) are a tad envious and happily our narrator’s parents appear to support their son.
However the real excitement begins when the boy’s unique talent is discovered and put to creative use by a company who are quick to recognise its potential.

Dawn’s crazy rhyming narrative tumbles forth and rumbles along with laugh-out loud examples of whiffy wonders that Ross Kinnaird renders even more hilarious in his zany illustrations. May I suggest having a room spray to hand when you share this one – just in case …

Queens

Queens
Victoria Crossman
Scholastic

From pirate queens to elephant hunters, and spanning thirty centuries, this book is a celebration of strong, fearless women from all around the world who ruled in one way or another. There are some, such as the Indian Queen Nur Jahan, said to have saved a whole village from a man-eating tiger by shooting it, and the third century ruler in Japan, Empress Himoko believed to have been a magic practising shaman, who are the subject of folklore. Then there’s the mysterious Queen of Sheba (Queen Makeda) who is mentioned in the Qu’ran and the Bible with both Ethopia and Yemen claiming to be her birth country.

There are alternating focuses on an individual – the Queen of Sheba, Lady K’Abe; Mayan warrior queen whose rule was from 672 to 692

and Yaa Asantewaa who led a rebellion against British colonists trying to expand into Ashanti country (1840-1921) – for instance.

In between are topical spreads that include information about queens depicted on money, their clothing and footwear,

make-up, pets, hobbies and more. I was fascinated to discover Rani Lakshmibai reportedly had a pre-breakfast regime of weightlifting and wrestling, while Queen Rania of Jordan has written a children’s book.

The author’s style of writing is chatty and full of interesting facts, while the illustrations are inviting, vibrant and detailed.

The last few spreads are devoted to a visual timeline of the rulers, a world map showing their homelands, a glossary, and a list of places to visit should readers be interested to discover more about the featured women.

Who Pooed in My Loo?

Who Pooed in My Loo?
Emma Adams and Mike Byrne
Scholastic

I know from considerable experience that young children LOVE toilet humour so I have absolutely no doubt that Emma and Mike’s tongue in cheek offering will go down very well with listeners.

Herein one morning, the boy narrator is desperate to discover who has deposited a rather large and unsightly dump in the family’s loo and thoughtlessly left it for all to see. He contemplates various possible culprits – a stomping romping, plonking dinosaur,

a jaw snapping, tooth gnashing shark annoyed over the lack of floss of an appropriate thickness and strength, a fire-breathing dragon in need of a hasty early morning poop. Or, could it have been a giant with a belly-ache? He’s quickly ruled out on account of the deposit being insufficiently gigantic.

What about a clunking pachyderm who stopped for a bath too; possibly even a sore-bottomed lion suffering from an excess of breakfast. Surely it wasn’t a Christmas elf in festive garb who left that rather whiffy aroma along with his poo;

so maybe – on account of the rainbow – a unicorn stopped by … No magic though, so no unicorn visitor.

The determined lad runs through all the rejected candidates and then – lightbulb moment – there’s a possible of the human kind living right alongside our narrator … maybe somebody who needs a bit of guidance and encouragement when it comes to bathroom etiquette…

Silly? Decidedly so, but also great fun, a timely reminder of the importance of bathroom hygiene and dare I suggest, likely to become a much- requested book in foundation stage settings as well as families in a similar situation to the young narrator of this rhyming saga. Youngsters will relish both Mike Byrne’s hilarious scenes of potential bathroom visitors performing their morning rituals at a convenient place, and the opportunities to join in with some, stomping, sploshing, shaking and roaring.

Ollie’s Lost Kitten / The Grinny Granny Donkey


Ollie’s Lost Kitten
Nicola Killen
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Ollie returns for an autumnal tale that is every bit as enchanting as her previous stories.
One crisp, blustery autumn morning Ollie, sporting her cat suit and pursued by her beloved moggy Pumpkin, head outdoors. Suddenly Ollie, about to jump into a leaf pile sees that it’s moving and then a sudden gust of wind reveals, hiding among the leaves, a tiny shivery kitten.

Having warmed it up, Olllie and two felines frolic in the leaves, catching them and playing forest explorers until they’re tired out. Before long the little kitten is ready for more play so Olllie joins in, totally forgetting about Pumpkin still slumbering beneath a tree.
The two dash off deeper into the woods where they spot lots of ‘lost kitten’ posters.

The girl knows she must try to find the kitten’s home so off they go, following a path revealed by the leaves, all the way to a little cottage where the kitten lives.

It’s a somewhat tearful Ollie who heads back, suddenly realising that her very own Pumpkin has been left alone. Feeling sadder still, she sits in the dark, lost and a bit fearful, till all of a sudden, she hears a rustle,

and then an extremely welcome ‘miaow’ that she recognises …

Gently suspenseful and beautifully illustrated, Nicola’s gorgeous graphite scenes with pops of orange and occasional cut-outs, give the story an autumnal feel making it ideal for sharing with little ones, just now especially.


The Grinny Granny Donkey
Craig Smith and Katz Cowley
Scholastic

Here’s a tooth-troubled addition, in the form of Grinny Granny, who joins Wonky Donkey and Dinky Donkey in the daft donkey family delights related by Craig Smith and beguilingly illustrated by Katz Cowley.


No grey lady is this one with her swanky styled titfa and adornments of the jewelled kind.

There’s nothing this granny donkey likes better than to sit playing her banjo, sipping a cup of her favourite brew and dunking in her biscuits,

but there’s a snag of the dental kind; her false teeth just won’t stay in her mouth.

Occasionally however she does get a bit down in the mouth, not on account of her teeth (those can be put back pretty niftily) but when her family fail to visit for a seemingly long time. That makes her grumpy and cranky, until up trot her son Wonky and her granddaughter Dinky. Then back comes that toothy smile and it remains, lighting up her donkey countenance for weeks and weeks – hee haw how splendid is that!

Herein with its wonderful sounding dunks, plunky-plinks,

clunks, clinks, clanks and zonks, Craig’s ‘Hee Haw’ -ing cumulative narrative plonks along nicely in time with Granny’s banjo strumming; adorably depicted in Katz’s scenes of this gentle grinning granny jenny.

Little ones will love it especially when read by their own grannies. It’s great for developing awareness of rhyme and sound/symbol associations to boot (or maybe hoof).

Grumpycorn

Grumpycorn
Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spyder

Spyder
Matt Carr
Scholastic Children’s Books

Meet Spyder, reputedly the world’s smallest secret agent and penthouse flat resident at No. 7 Fleming Road wherein a special birthday is about to be celebrated.

Suddenly, as the agent has just settled down for a spot of reading she receives an urgent call from HQ.

Instantly, or almost so – it takes a little time to get those feet readjusted to work mode, and then to pack her spy-kit – she’s off on a mission to save Tom’s birthday cake from a disastrous attack by a dastardly buzzing insect going under the code name of Bluebottle.

It’s a hazardous chase with some pretty perilous moments. Not least this one …

There follow, clever moves on the part of Bluebottle, some wily thinking from Spyder and the occasional moment of fun for the agent;

but will it be enough to save the day and the cake?

And who actually gets the last laugh?

All this and more in a totally daft tale that’s a wonderful follow up to Matt’s debut Superbat.

There are some groan worthy puns, plenty of action of the comical kind, some splendidly silly speech bubbles, a show-stopping colour palette and endpapers packed with spy stuff. Another cracking read aloud from Carr who even adds a strategically placed word (or several) on the back cover warning about the folly of trying any of Spyder’s stunts – they’re for trained professionals only.

The Princess and the Suffragette / The Song From Somewhere Else

The Princess and the Suffragette
Holly Webb
Scholastic Children’s Books

This is a sequel of sorts to one of my childhood favourite reads, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
It centres on one of the characters from the original story, Lottie, now ten, who has lived at Miss Minchin’s school since she was four.

Now, a few years on, it’s 1911, when the suffragette movement is on the rise, Lottie finds herself becoming friends with one of the maids at the school, a girl named Sally who is interested in the rights of women.
During the next couple of years she also finds herself getting more rebellious and more involved in suffragette activities.

In tandem with her burgeoning rebellion, Lottie discovers that there’s a mystery surrounding her mother, and that what she’d been led to believe about her isn’t the truth.

There’s frankness about Holly Webb’s writing that makes the whole story feel genuine and well researched. She doesn’t avoid mentioning the suffering and brutality that some members of the suffragette movement underwent; and one hopes, her deft manner of talking about it will inspire young readers to understand the importance of standing up for what they believe to be right.

 

The Song From Somewhere Else
A.F.Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a book that is both beautiful and alarming, terrifying even at times.

Frank (Francesca Patel) is stalked and bullied by the local nasty, Neil Noble, and a couple of his pals; but then a rather odd boy, Nick Underbridge comes to her rescue. You might expect that the girl would be greatful, indeed she knows she ought to be, but at school Nick is said to be smelly and so not exactly the kind of person she’d want any involvement with.
However, for safety she goes back to his house with him intending merely to thank him and leave. It’s a rather strange house – not what she’d expected – filled with abstract painting done by Nick’s dad; there’s a rather strange earthy aroma pervading the place and suddenly she hears music. It’s the most haunting and beautiful music she’s ever heard; and she wants more of it and more, and more. And so, she returns.

What happens thereafter is the development of an unlikely but challenging friendship, and the discovery that within Nick’s home are secrets.

There’s a talking cat involved too.

Part reality, part fantasy, this story is absolutely wonderfully and lyrically told, and entirely convincing – the stuff of dreams, the stuff of nightmares both.
And Levi Pinfold whose images – dark, mysterious and haunting – are a fine complement to Harrold’s telling, equally beautifully illustrates it.

Totally captivating: a magical book to return to over and over.

Mopoke

Mopoke
Philip Bunting
Scholastic

Ever heard of a mopoke? I certainly hadn’t until this book arrived and even then I thought at first it was a made up word. Then I discovered a note at the back telling readers that a ‘Mopoke’ is the Australian nickname for the Southern Boobook, their smallest and most common owl species.
The particular mopoke of the title is the star of Philip Bunting’s debut picture book, which unsurprisingly begins ‘This is a mopoke.’
What follows is a deliciously playful sequence in which the mopoke, sitting on its branch longing for some solitude, becomes a highpoke, a lowpoke, a poshpoke and a poorpoke.

One then becomes two and then, more pokes, and a wee poke. Thereafter the real fun starts with a ‘Fee-fi-fo-poke’.

Before long the creature has become a ‘yo-poke’ – twice thanks to the addition of an exclamation mark.
Other animals also put in an appearance – there’s a wombat, totally unexpected, a snail riding a tortoise …

and a crow(poke) until finally the long suffering creature has had enough and flies off, presumably in search of a peaceful spot, leaving an empty branch.
Gently humorous, with a deceptively simple text and delightfully droll illustrations, this extended wordplay joke is great fun to share; and perfect for beginning readers of all ages.

Cat In A Box

Cat in a Box
Jo Williamson
Scholastic

The joys of being a family cat are chronicled through the eyes and voice of one particular black and white moggy.
She starts by waking the household – a gentle walk over the twins, a more vigorous pushing and miaowing for the grownups.
As the family day unfolds, our narrator pretty much pleases herself despite assertions that she’s indispensible.
Jo Williamson shows her sitting about, chasing a ball of wool, clawing the curtains,

fishing with her pals, climbing and hunting outside …

and in.
She has to be in on the action no matter what or where; and all, or almost all, in the name of necessity. Who’s kidding whom?
There are one or two activities that don’t offer such delights even if they are self-induced …

but that’s the penalty for wanting to be a part of everything, no matter what!
Who wouldn’t fall under the charms of such a creature: even this cat-phobic reviewer was totally beguiled; but then Jo Williamson’s portrayal of this particular feline’s antics are so delectably insouciant and the feline narration so wonderfully tongue-in-cheek.

I’ve signed the charter  

Three Pirate Tales

There appears to be a plethora of pirate picture books at present: these three arrived in a single postal delivery:

The Treasure of Pirate Frank
Mal Peet, Elspeth Graham and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow
Taking the rhythmic pattern of the nursery rhyme The House that Jack Built, the authors have woven a lovely lilting tale of a young boy set on discovering the hiding place of Pirate Frank’s treasure.
He has a map so show him the way, a trusty ship in which to sail,
To the island with spices and gold and tall mountains all snowy and cold,
On which is a forest with monkeys bold, and a swamp with lilypads topped with frogs.

He must beware of the volcano, spitting out fire,
As he ascends the steps going higher and higher;
then crosses the bridge to the tall palm tree; there to behold – my goodness me!
Who’s this standing atop that chest?

It seems there’s only one thing to do. What would that be if the boy was you?
Jez Tuya’s imaginative perspectives and creature crammed spreads are worth revisiting once the treasure has been found and the tale completed.

Pirates in the Supermarket
Timothy Knapman and Sarah Warburton
Scholastic Children’s Books
First there were Dinosaurs in the Supermarket; now the place is beset with pirates hell-bent on creating mischief and mayhem among the groceries as unsuspecting shoppers go about the task of filling their trolleys with goodies. They leave plenty of clues but nobody save one small boy is aware of the piles of rubble appearing in the aisles,

the cannon-wielding gang on the rampage, or the piratical accoutrements appearing around the store. Fortunately for all concerned just when it seems things might be getting somewhat out of hand, the aforementioned boy springs into action and before you can say, ‘shiver me timbers’ he has things under control – well and truly so methinks …

Which all goes to show that you need to keep your eyes wide open whenever you embark on a supermarket shop; you never know who might be lurking …
Fun, fast and full of crazy characters, oh and the odd observant one too.; and they’re all colourfully portrayed in Sarah Warburton’s comedic supermarket scenes. What more can a swashbuckling child ask?

Pete’s Magic Pants: Pirate Peril
Paddy Kempshall and Chris Chatterton
Egmont
Another pair of Pete’s snazzy magic pants come out of the suitcase for a wearing – pirate’s stripy ones in this instance – and before you can say ‘Avast’, with a wiggle and a wobble, the lad is off on the high seas aboard the Flying Fowl with Cap’n Ted and his trusty, clucking crew. They’re on the trail of Long John Silverside the most feared buccaneer on the high seas; he who has seized the treasure rightfully belonging, so we’re told to Cap’n Ted and his pals.
Can they escape the jaws of the sharks and the clutches of the soggy-suckered octopus, find their way to where the treasure is stashed and then get past the loutish-looking Long John himself?

Perhaps – with the help of Pete’s brain and the odd touch of brawn thereafter.
Fans of Pete’s previous adventure will welcome this second tale, which is pacey, pant-revealing and full of high drama and I suspect it will capture some new pants followers too.

I’ve signed the charter  

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle
Matt Hunt
Scholastic Children’s Books
Town life doesn’t suit Lion: he dreams of clear sunny skies, wind in his mane, sand in his paws and, his guitar. Nothing more. So when he spies a ‘beach house for sale’ advert he cannot believe his luck. That very evening he packs the necessities – mostly strawberry smoothies – and heads off over land, air and sea until he reaches the island of his dreams. There, he takes up residence and thus, his perfect existence commences …

What joy to wake to the sounds of parrots and splashing waves, to breakfast on succulent coconuts and strum a guitar to your heart’s content. Soon though, unsurprisingly, Lion begins to feel lonely; but how can he communicate his need for a pal without a phone or mail service?

Sunlight moment! Lion decides to write a message, pop it in one of the many bottles he has (sans smoothie of course) and drop it into the sea. No response. Lion writes more messages, puts them into more empty bottles – many bottles, tosses them into the sea, watches them disappear, and sleeps …
What happens thereafter, is not exactly what Lion had hoped;

but suffice it to say without giving the whole thing away, all ends happily and … rather noisily. Which all goes to show that you don’t always know what will make you happy; and that stepping out of your comfort zone, embracing difference and welcoming new arrivals can work wonders.
A timely, important message for readers and, a tumultuous one for Lion. Matt Hunt delivers both with verve and humour.

I’ve signed the charter  

Superbat / A Good Day for a Hat

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Superbat
Matt Carr
Scholastic Children’s Books
There’s a new superhero on the block – or should that be a would-be one? Meet Pat the bat. Sleepless and bored with inverted hanging, one day, he longs to be special like those superheroes in his comics. Suddenly ‘POW!’ Light bulb moment; straightway it’s out with Mum’s sewing machine and he sets to work …

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Hours later, Pat is ready to hit the high spots, but persuading his fellow bats of his super powers is going to take some doing. After all, super-hearing, flying and echolocation don’t count: all bats have those capacities; and he certainly can’t lift cars or shoot laserbeams from his eyes.

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Pat is disheartened. “I’m just a normal bat in a silly outfit,” he says holding back his tears. Is he though? Suddenly, his super ears pick up a distant cry …

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Could this be his big chance?
Matt Carr’s debut picture book is slightly crazy –or rather, batty – and none the worse for that. I suspect Pat the Bat, with his stitched-on-star suit, will win the hearts of young human would-be superheroes. The yesteryear colour palette is perfect for portraying his antics be they by day or by night.

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A Good Day for a Hat
T. Nat Fuller and Rob Hodgson
Abrams Appleseed
Donning a smart titfa, Mr Brown is ready to sally forth and he has a destination in mind. Try as he might though, he just can’t get beyond his own front path. First it’s the weather, then all kinds of unexpected, unlikely events unfold: a band marches by, magical bunnies are leaping all over his lawn,

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a rodeo gallops along; there’s even a huge fire-breathing dragon …

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and that is followed by a pirate ship. But, with no time for further dallying Mr Brown steps out again and this time, he’s well prepared.

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Will he ever make it to Miss Plum’s house though? And what is the purpose of his visit?
Oodles of fun, with clever use of repetition, making its patterned text easy to read, and a super surprise ending, this jolly picture book is a treat for sharing and individual reading.
Early years teachers, think of all the hatty fun you could have with this playful book.

Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas / Be Brave Little Penguin – Stepping out of your Comfort Zone

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Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas
Aaron Blabey
Scholastic Children’s Books
Brian is anything but your normal piranha; Brian feeds on fruit and veg. – bananas, silverbeet, (the Australian word for chard) peas,

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and plums; and he’s on a mission to convert his fellow piranhas to a similar diet. They instead gorge themselves on feet, knees and bums! They’ll need to nibble through those boxers first though …

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Despite their fervent declaration “We don’t eat apples! We don’t eat beans! We don’t eat veggies! We don’t eat greens! We don’t eat melons! We don’t eat bananas! … “ can he persuade them to sample something from his tempting-looking fruit platter?

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Perhaps; but the allure of bum consumption will surely reign supreme.
Brian’s dietary requests will undoubtedly resound with many adults trying to persuade their offspring, or others to eat more healthily; young children will definitely laugh uproariously over the use of ‘bum’ and both will appreciate the subtle visual differences between Brian (no warts, no red tinges to the sclera of the eyes, even perhaps a slightly healthier-looking green hue about his skin) and his fellow piranhas. They’ll also love Brian’s wonderful facial expressions.
Flesh-eating, fruit eating, rhyming hilarity but with an important message too. Sample and see!

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Be Brave Little Penguin
Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Orchard Books
Pip-Pip is a tiny penguin, smaller than all the other penguins and he has a problem: he’s too scared to go in the water. He gets taunted by his fellow penguins which makes him sad and sometimes, lonely. His dad insists he should be brave; but mummy penguin takes over with a more gentle approach leading him by the wing towards the icy-looking water.

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Brrr! It looks freezing and there might be monsters waiting to eat him. He clearly has a fertile imagination so his mum capitalizes on this, suggesting an alternative for him to imagine;

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and step-by-step they go till Pip-Pip’s right at the water’s edge. He just needs to take that final plunge …
A gentle rhyming story with important messages about risk-taking for both children and adults. Parker-Rees’ icy-fresh illustrations convey the Antarctic chill but there’s also a warm glow to the sky making it less threatening for Pip-Pip and his young audiences alike.

Let’s Find Fred

 

dscn9950Let’s Find Fred
Steven Lenton
Scholastic
It’s early evening in Garden City Zoo; all the animals are snuggled up ready for sleep, all that is except one. Fred is anything but ready for his bedtime story; in fact he’s off on an adventure … albeit with zookeeper Fred on his trusty old motor scooter, in hot pursuit. The latter’s view is more than a little impeded by a large bus allowing the escapee to have a whole lot of fun making new friends, enjoying a musical interlude and sampling some yummy ice cream while his pursuer makes himself look somewhat silly with a spot of mistaken identity at the market.

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Next stop for Stanley is the park where his requests for help in his search for Fred result in his having to negotiate the complex Pand-a-Maze.
Fred’s thirst for fun isn’t yet sated so he heads for the dizzying delights of the Funfair – from which he suddenly needs to make a hasty exit.

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There follows a frantic chase through the Art Gallery and out towards a panda party. But is Fred there? That is the question. …

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With plenty of Panda-puns and other word play scattered throughout the action-packed scenes; and visual references to famous paintings including a Warhol and the Mona Lisa; as well as the Fab. Four …

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there’s plenty to absorb and delight both child audiences and adult readers aloud.
PAN-TAS-TIC fun from start to finish.

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Dear Dinosaur

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Dear Dinosaur
Chae Strathie and Nicola O’Byrne
Scholastic
Dinosaurs are an ever-popular theme in picture books but how to give it a new slant? Chae Strathie does it with letters.
After a visit to the museum, young Max writes to his favourite exhibit, the T.Rex and after a long wait, is super-excited to receive a reply – albeit a slightly alarming one …

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Thus begins an exchange of written communications between boy and dinosaur wherein each reveals a variety of facts and figures about himself. For instance six year old Max learns that his dino. pal is 65,999, 999 older than he is; and hears all about how his favourite T.Rex celebrated his birthday – playing football just like Max himself. Or maybe not exactly like: there wasn’t a vase-breaking mammoth at Max’s party.
In exchange, T.Rex learns a little about ballet dancing and sandcastle construction.

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Summer holidays over, Max and his family return to the dinosaur museum where they discover that things aren’t quite as they were on their last visit …

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Now why might that be? And what is his special friend doing with a rubber duck?
Certain to appeal to dinosaur fans, this funny epistolary tale has great potential for primary teachers wanting to encourage writing. Children could perhaps pair up and, with one acting as human and the other, dinosaur, send letters and other communications to each another.

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Pants, Birthdays and Robo-Snot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Potion Commotion

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Potion Commotion
Peter Bently and Sernir Isik
Scholastic Children’s Books
There are echoes of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and The Magic Porridge Pot in this rhyming tale of magic and mayhem. With warnings of a dragon in the vicinity, Mum pops out shopping leaving young Betty alone in the house. A risky thing to do, you’re probably already thinking; all the more so when Betty decides to mix up a culinary treat for when Mum comes home. Into the pot goes pretty much everything the young miss can lay her hands on …

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then she utters Mum’s cooking spell, stands back and waits.

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Before long the cauldron is bubbling and spilling all over the floor and out the cottage door but there’s no way Betty can halt its progress– she’s forgotten the words of the stopping spell her mum uses. Goo foams, froths and flows onto the road and through the whole town. Luckily Mum arrives in the nick of time. She halts the gloop in its tracks but then what should also fly along but the dragon and it’s ready for a human feast.

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Can anything be done to avert disaster?
Lively cartoon style illustrations and Bently’s fast-flowing narrative together create a recipe for a diverting read aloud for Hallowe’en or any time of the year.

Wild Imaginings by Day & Night

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Secret Agent Man Goes Shopping for Shoes
Tim Wynne-Jones and Brian Won
Walker Books
Who wouldn’t want a pair of funky tiger-striped trainers like those acquired by the young hero of this delightfully quirky book? That’s getting ahead of the story though. First, meet S.A.M. Secret Agent Man, a boy with a fertile imagination …

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Oops! That’s getting ahead too but that’s the way this Wynne-Jones’ story works. Let’s get back to the start with K. and the lad in question. K. – his carer? Mum? – or sidekick? is busy … when she decides her charge needs new footwear.
Off they go to the shop and eventually, despite his original thoughts on rocket shoes or vanishing ones, S.A.M. decides on ones with tiger stripes. (They have laces, but that’s part of the challenge when you’re a super hero.)

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In fact two pairs are purchased – one child sized, the other adult – K. gets the same kind; then off they go for a spot of lunch.

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The day continues with all kinds of danger and attempted dastardly deeds (someone tries stealing the Plans for World Domination, no less), spy meetings and the disappearance of K.

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But, nothing’s too difficult for S.A.M. now he’s sporting those tiger trainers and off he goes. Did I just see him tie those laces himself? – to undertake a rescue mission of the trickiest kind. ROAR!
As the story moves between the boy’s imagined, ‘undercover’ life, and his real one, Brian Won switches from shades of blue and black to a full-colour palette in his retro-style illustrations. Cleverly conceived and skilfully executed, this shift between the boy’s two worlds is effectively managed and I particularly like the restaurant scene wherein child and adult become co-conspirators and fellow roarers. Hurray for childhood’s imagination and for all those adults who manage to retain their playful inner-child.

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Is That an Elephant in My Fridge?
Caroline Crowe and Claudia Ranucci
Scholastic Children’s Books
I liked Fred from the outset: he’s a divergent thinker. When his mum suggests counting sheep to help the boy drop off to sleep, Fred instead, decides to count elephants: he visualises them too. Visualises them in all manner of exciting scenarios …

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until things begin to get out of control …

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Finally Fred has to take matters in hand …

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After all the exhausting action, unsurprisingly as soon as Fred’s head hits the pillow again, he’s fast asleep: no more counting elephants for him.
A book to induce delight for sure: it’s certainly true of those I’ve shared it with. I suggest you don’t use it as a bedtime story however; you never know what might ensue …

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Claudia Ranucci’s energetic illustrations – this is her UK picture book debut – highlight the humour of Caroline Crow’s telling splendidly.

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Pants and Pirates

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Hooray for Knickers
Jill Lewis and Deborah Allwright
Egmont
The very mention of knickers in a picture book is likely to get children giggling and so it is with this one, although other than the title, it was some way into the story before the k word came up at all. The whole thing is based on a kind of cumulative Chinese whispers mix up that occurs when the Royal Butler incorrectly passes on King Grouchy’s order for ‘floats, deck chairs and silky slippers.’ (Items needed to impress his soon-to-arrive guest, Prince Jolly whom he’s invited for a swim at the palace.) What he tells the Royal Footman instead is: “They need boats, black bears and silly flippers.”  The message eventually reaches the ears of the Royal Maid who interprets it thus: “He needs skipping ropes? A funfair? And everyone needs frilly knickers? Oh well, if that’s what the king’s best friend in the whole wide world wants …
It’s more than the royal servants’ lives are worth to ignore orders of King Grouchy, even if they are trying to keep out of his way, so what he says goes. Errm …
Both King and Prince are in for a surprise when they look down from the balcony at the sight that awaits …

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Fortunately both host and guest see the funny side, a friendship is forged and then it’s time to party.

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Comical scenes abound in this crazy caper.

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The Best Pirate
Sue Mongredien and Dan Taylor
Scholastic Children’s Books
Meet the pirate crew: there’s Pirate Dave – big and brave, clever Pirate Nell, Pirate Giles – ace swimmer and the diminutive Pirate Paul. Having set sail Dave, Nell and Giles are immediately busy

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but Paul (not considered a proper pirate by fellow crew members on account of his lack of stature) is deemed too tiny for a task. The same applies once they reach dry land and set off in search of treasure; Paul is left on the ship while the others explore. Will he ever get an opportunity to prove himself a worthy member of the pirate band? Maybe this is his golden opportunity: his shipmates certainly look like they need some help – and fast …

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Told in appropriately rollicking rhyme and humorously illustrated in bold tropical colours, this will appeal in particular to young landlubbers who enjoy tales of the action-packed kind. And there’s a fold-out cover flap with cut-out pirate hat and treasure.

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Bossy Jonathan Fossy
Julie Fulton and Elina Ellis
Maverick Arts Publishing
Meet Jonathan Fossy, a real bossy boots if ever there was one: he’d issue orders to his mum, his neighbours, the whole town in fact. Eventually PC Moran decides something has to be done and at dead of night a plan is hatched. Next morning as he heads off to play, Jonathan sees this …

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On reaching the beach he’s confronted by a gang of dastardly looking pirates one of whom grabs young Jonathan and having hustled him on board as a crew member, produces a rather long list of tasks the lad’s required to complete.

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Seems there’s nothing for it but to get stuck in. There’s washing, scrubbing, sail repairs, deck swabbing, polishing and much more and all the while the rest of the crew jeer at and scorn the lad, issuing threats if he appears to be slacking.
Eventually a somewhat exhausted Jonathan sees the error of his ways: “Being bossy’s not nice, I can see. /I’ve been a real pain, I won’t do it again.” he cries. And then it’s time for the rest of the crew to unmask and set sail back to Hamilton Shady with one altogether reformed character.
Jonathan Fossy is the latest addition to the series of Hamilton Shady inhabitants. The exploits of some of the other residents of the town of ‘over-the-top’ characters have been reissued with new titles and covers, so if you’ve not read their cautionary tales, there are giggles aplenty to be found therein too.

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Fairy Tales Anew

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Very Little Sleeping Beauty
Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap,
Picture Corgi
Sleeping Beauty – albeit of the Very Little kind – she may be, but our diminutive heroine certainly knows all the delaying tactics where bedtime is concerned. On this particular bedtime – the eve of her birthday – she has her Daddy wrapped around her little finger. Even after a proper sing-song, several stories, tickles, dancing and bed bouncing she’s still not ready to settle down.

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Demands for her Bear, blanket and a drink in her “special-est cup” are issued and fulfilled; well not the cup, which seems to have gone missing. And that’s when the trouble starts. Waiting is not one of Very Little Sleeping Beauty’s strong points and after what seems to her an inordinately long wait, she’s off round the castle in search of her parents and her Aunty Fairy.

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It’s her Aunty that she duly discovers behind the door and what’s more, there’s a large and ‘special’ present there too. Needless to say the young miss cannot contain herself and off comes the wrapping paper to reveal …

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Despite Aunty’s warnings our almost birthday girl is determined to use it for her own purposes: “I do driving!” she enthuses, “BRRMM BRRRRMMMMM! Beep beeeep!”. But, guess what – she drives it to destruction and Aunty Fairy is not impressed at all. Shouting ensues – that’s the Aunty; and tears – that’s Very Little Sleeping Beauty – both loud enough to bring Daddy running in.

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Apologies all round come next; and all this weeping and wailing has at last worn out the tiny princess, so much so that she falls fast asleep (it’s now almost sunrise) and the birthday girl’s slumbers last right through until evening time on her special day, whereupon she wakes saying, “I have party!” and, of course, ‘party’ she has …

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This is another enchanting addition to the Heapy/Heap Very Little series and the maps on the inside front and back covers suggest more to come: I hope so. Reading these books aloud is a delight and I can’t wait for my first opportunity to grab some suitably small children and share this one with them.

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Cinderella and her Very Bossy Sisters
Mark Sperring and Barbara Bongini
Scholastic Children’s Books
In this upbeat, rather chatty style rendering of the traditional story, Cinderella certainly is at the beck and call of her extremely bossy sisters, Greta and Gerta, who like to issue all their orders in rhyme – to Cinders at least. And in addition to all the housework, Cinders can turn her hand to maintenance of another kind too …

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When the invitation from the palace arrives inviting them all to the ball, Cinders’ sisters are quick to tell her she can’t go. They start issuing their orders forthwith … “Squeeze the pimples on our chins,/ pluck that hair out from our noses,” (no way hosay) “Drench us both in perfume, /till we smell … SWEET AS ROSES!” (that I’d doubt) but orders are orders.
Duty duly done and sisters departed, who should drop in but a certain Fairy Godmother who soon has Cinders bedecked in finery, glass-slipper shod and with suitable vehicle to convey her to the palace. Having been warned about the midnight undoing of the spell, off she goes, has the time of her life at the ball and does the expected midnight dash leaving a slipper and a distraught prince behind.
Said prince does the rounds of the neighbourhood next day, eventually identifies the slipper’s owner and weds her …

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leaving the awful sisters to sulk and serve themselves. Apart from on Sundays that is, when they choose to inflict their company upon the happily married couple, one of whom has a rather rewarding and slightly rude way of dealing with the visitors should their bossiness become unbearable (which it often did).

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Barbara Bongini has made the ugly sisters a pair of outlandishly frilly-frocked madams, Cinders’ fairy godmother a diminutive, rather rotund, bespectacled being …

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and Cinderella herself a multi-talented, trouser-wearing miss, all of which contributes to making this an amusing take on the original; oh and there’s a ginger and white moggy that seems to find its way into pretty much every scene too.

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Messy Molly

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Messy Molly
Jo Williamson
Scholastic Children’s Books
Molly and mess are almost synonymous: no matter that she starts each day clean and tidy, things go downhill however hard she might try. And try she certainly does during one particular week when she’s due to sing in the school show on the Saturday. The weather doesn’t help poor Molly: it’s a case of water-filled wellies on Monday; and she’s a muddy mess by the time she reaches school on Tuesday, despite having scooted all the way …

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Wednesday’s cake baking inevitably ends in mucky disaster and on Thursday, her mum should have known better than to buy Molly a large portion of her favourite ice cream …

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Friday is best not mentioned other than to say, this is what she looked like by the time she went home …

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So, when Saturday dawns, Molly is determined to look her best for the show: it’s no walks in the park with Pip first, no scooting to school, no stopping at the ice-cream van, a careful avoidance of puddles and PHEW! That was a close one …

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Here’s Molly on stage, looking decidedly pristine in her best dress. Hmm …

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Molly is a child after the hearts of most youngsters (and a whole lot of adults I suspect) and Pip too, is a charmer. I love the way the story switches between straightforward narrative to Molly’s utterances throughout the book; and the understated humour in Jo Williamson’s text is wonderful.
The illustrations too are wonderfully entertaining: seemingly scribbled and splodged using a limited colour palette, every one is sure to make you smile. They certainly did this reviewer.

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A Princess Tale and A Fairy One

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

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

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

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

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And the moles in her digging scene are delightfully dotty …

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

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

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through a greenhouse, past the beehives in the orchard …

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

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

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Food Favourites

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Gorilla Loves Vanilla
Chae Strathie and Nicola O’Byrne
Scholastic Children’s Books
Fancy some ice cream? Then head down to Jellybean Street and there you’ll find Sam’s Sundaes, a favourite haunt of ice cream aficionados of a rather unusual kind. And young Sam Sundae doesn’t seem fazed at all when five of them arrive at once as soon as he opens up shop.
First in the queue – and yes they do queue, no pushing and shoving here – is a little mouse and his request is for a sundae tasting of blue cheese. I said nothing fazes our Sam and straightway he presents the mouse with some cheesy ice cream. His next order is for “fish finger ice cream in a dish” – you can guess who would want such a disgusting-sounding thing.
Chicken’s favourite comes in a cone, and it’s wormy and squirmy. YUCK! Cow’s penchant is for daisy ice cream and Sam quickly obliges once again …

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And as for hippo, he doesn’t even want to eat what he orders …

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Last in line is a gorilla and his taste is rather more conservative – “Just give me a cone full of good old vanilla.” is his request. And now, judging by the way they’re staring, the others might be having second thoughts about their choices as Sam adds yummy toppings of sprinkles, chocolate chips and sticky fudge sauce to gorilla’s order …
Chae Strathie’s tasty tale bounces along in exuberant fashion and is sure to have young listeners EEEUURRGHING loudly at the thought of some of the orders and giggling as hippo makes messy use of his selection.
Nicola O’Byrne’s equally exuberant illustrations are to be relished too: just take a look at the cat and mouse tucking in together here …

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Hugless Douglas and the Great Cake Bake
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
A honeyless breakfast is something Douglas just cannot contemplate so having discovered his cupboard has been raided, he follows the sticky footprints (and his nose) until they lead him to …

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When the sheep tell him they’re collecting ingredients to make honey cakes, Douglas is eager to help – no surprises there! With berries, nuts, carrots and of course, honey duly assembled, and Flossie in charge, the cooks set to work …

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Having finished the task, Douglas cannot wait to try the product of their labours but has to join the line of eager cake consumers awaiting the oven’s PING! The sheep however, are less polite than Douglas and pretty soon a fight breaks out and is only halted by Flossie’s announcement “The cakes are ready!” There follows a mad scramble in the direction of the delicious aroma emanating from the oven door but do you think those crazy sheep gave Douglas a look in when it came to consuming those yummy cakes? Definitely not; but their actions do result in a partial re-education of our hugging friend’s taste buds as he samples the surplus – carrots, berries and nuts, declaring they’re “… ALMOST as good as honey,”.
With instructions on ‘How to decorate cupcake sheep’ on the final spread, this latest Hugless Douglas offering is sure to tickle the taste buds of young listeners who will delight at the humorous interplay of text and visuals –

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and be duly shocked at the sheep’s shenanigans.

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Party Time with Teeny-Weeny Queenie & Nina

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Teeny-Weeny Queenie
Claire Freedman & Ali Pye
Scholastic Children’s Books
I was sent a very early proof of this and it was read to destruction in no time by the group of enthusiastic under 6s that I shared it with. The book’s narrator is would-be monarch, young Queenie who, in her opening speech announces herself as having a very BIG plan – to be Queen when she grows up. Her parents try their best to dispel this notion but young Queenie’s having none of it and we discover that she has already started her queenly practices.
There’s that treasure-filled Royal Handbag …

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a Lady-in-Waiting to be brought up to scratch …

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and a royal tea party to organise – with or without little sis.

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This involves a great deal of baking, not to mention the appointment of a Special Royal Footman and then finally the big p-day arrives. What ensues isn’t quite what her royal majesty intends but that said, young Queenie makes a vital regal decision that is entirely appropriate in the event and learns a very important royal lesson to boot.

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Both words and pictures are an absolute delight from cover to cover – and back again!

 

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An After Bedtime Story
Shoham Smith and Einat Tsarfati
Abrams Books for Young Readers
It’s bedtime for young Nina – well that’s the plan but no sooner have her parents tucked her up and crept away than she’s up and demanding hugs and kisses and worse. Refusing to take no for an answer, the young miss is bounding out of her room to join the adult party where she very quickly becomes the centre of attraction as she samples the tasty treats …

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tinkers with the tumblers …

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and even baths her doll in the bowl of punch.

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The noisy goings on wake her younger sibling and before long there’s not one but two tinies on the scene, ignoring their parents’ “Go to bed” instructions, directing the fun and games, and eventually, leaving their exhausted Mum and Dad collapsed on the sofa. At least they join in the clearing up though.

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Tsarfati’s droll illustrations, executed in a limited colour palette are absolutely full of humorous details showing so much more than is said in Smith’s rhyming couplets. Nina is one bundle of mischief and, the fact that at the start she’s shown in bed sporting necklace and tiara, rather give one the impression that she’s planned the whole thing all along.
It’s probably best not to share this one with youngsters just before bedtime: let them enjoy the fun earlier on in the day or it might just give them ideas of the Nina kind.

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Ballet Dreams

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Ballet Dreams
Cerrie Burnell & Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic Children’s Books
In this enchanting story we are introduced to the adorable young Little Bird, so called by her Granddad, because of her penchant for pirouettes and other swallow-like dance steps. When we meet her, Little Bird is about to start school but is somewhat reluctant; she’d far rather be spending her time dancing. However, she is eventually persuaded by Granddad’s talk of learning to read books and spelling her name. to accompany him to visit the school.
On the way however, Little Bird hears music coming from an old theatre and the two stop off to see  ballet dancers practising their Swan Lake.

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Entranced by her graceful moves, the child speaks to the lead dancer who suggests when she grows up she might join the company but meanwhile, there is a children’s class about to begin. In she goes and dances briefly …

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But then, from the swan princess she hears some important words “even ballerinas go to school. … Everything you learn is like a feather. When you have gathered enough, … all that you’ve learned will help you to fly.”

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With this advice ringing in her ears off goes Little Bird to meet her new classmates in a classroom ‘of sunlight and stories’. I love that.
Thereafter we share with Little Bird, a wonderful surprise from Granddad, a dance all the way to school on her first day and a glorious balletic finale.

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A delightful, uplifting, starting school, spreading your wings and following your dreams story; it will please all would-be dancers in particular. And, Laura Ellen Anderson’s tender, soft-focus illustrations portray that very special bond between the very young and the ‘old’ beautifully.

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Dogs to the Rescue

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Ralf.
Jean Jullien, text collaboration Gwendal Le Bec
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is Ralf, just a little dog …

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but he manages to occupy a great deal of space …

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get in the way rather too frequently OOPS beg your pardon Mum!

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Sorry Dad!

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The result? Banishment to his kennel where there ensues a very brief period of peace and quiet. But then Ralf’s nose begins to twitch: smoke is coming from the family home. Time for our canine pal to test his abilities to the utmost.
Flexible he may be – I’m sure this heroic pooch must have been taking yoga lessons on the quiet – but having finally gained an entrance of sorts, can he succeed in waking the blissfully unaware slumberers? Or is there another way he can effect a rescue perhaps? …
What follows are fantastic heroism and supreme stretchiness on Ralf’s part …

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and utter brilliance on Jean Jullien’s. In fact the whole book (endpapers included) is entirely brilliant.
Jullien documents Ralf’s rise from outcast to celebrated hero with such aplomb it’s hard to believe this is his first solo picture book. (he was the illustrator of the wonderful Hoot Owl)
Let’s hear it for Ralf. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! And again for the genius visual storytelling of Jean Jullien – YEAH! YEAH YEAH!

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Hot Dog Hal
Peter Bently and Tom McLaughlin
Scholastic Children’s Books
Most of us will be familiar with children having comforters they insist on taking everywhere they go, but a dachshund– surely not? Well surely yes, if your name happens to be Hal. Hal totally loved his blanket and refused to be parted from it despite the fact that ‘… he felt boiling and flustered/ And looked like a sausage all covered in mustard.’ and Buster McNally had started calling him Hot Dog Hal. And hot he truly was but even in the sunniest of situations Hal just would not take that blanket off;

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well it did, so he insisted have “a nice biscuit chocolatey smell.”
So besotted with this object of his was he that Hal found all manner of ways to keep it close to his person …

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none of which impressed Nipper or Buster and off they all trot for a game of hide-and-seek. Before long though down comes the rain and the canine crew are forced to take shelter in an old windmill. And as the thunder crashes and lightning flashes, good old Hal is ready to accommodate his pals beneath that comforter of his. But then disaster strikes leaving the creatures stranded.

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Maybe that old blanket is about to come into its own after all … But a torn, tattered blanket is no use to any self-respecting dog –

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or is it? …
This crazy canine romp is delivered in appropriately frisky style in Peter Bently’s rhyming text and wonderfully portrayed in Tom McLaughlin’s suitably silly sausage dog scenes.

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Friendship, Fun and Feelings

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Blue & Bertie
Kristyna Litten
Simon & Schuster
Bertie is a conventional creature spending his time along with the other giraffes crunchity- crunching the sweet leaves from the treetops, sip, slurping cooling water from the watering hole and then curling his long neck and snore, snore snoozing.

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That’s the way things were and that’s the way they liked them.
But then one day having overslept Bertie finds himself alone and unsure which way to go. Before long our long-necked friend is thoroughly lost and he’s not at all happy about it.

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Enter another creature looking very like himself except in one respect; and not only is this creature reassuring but he’s offering to show Bertie the way home.
A way that takes the two of them trit trotting beside some interesting spots and amazing sights

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and even among …

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Finally Bertie’s herd is in sight. Surely though he can’t be thinking of going back to his mundane existence and letting Blue, despite his difference, walk away all by himself, can he?
Thankfully not – after all everyone’s (or giraffe’s) daily life needs a bit of variety, not to mention a special friend to share it with.
Kristina Litten’s first solo picture book is enchanting: I particularly love the way she uses pattern and perspective in her illustrations. Blue and Bertie delightfully demonstrate what  all young children know: that being different is no barrier to friendship.

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Astro the Robot Dog
Claire Freedman and Russell Julian
Scholastic Children’s Books
Built from metal parts and programmed to obey at all times, robot dog Astro lives with alien boy, Zak on Planet Xog and their life is decidedly lacking in fun. Then one day a message flashes up on Zak’s computer screen …

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Off he goes to Planet Earth with a mission to visit Humankind and make a report. Shortly after landing he finds himself being ‘looked after’ by a small boy and daily life becomes filled with fun activities. As Astro makes his nightly reports back to Planet Xog he begins to wonder whether Zak too would enjoy these earthly activities: He’s now a robot dog with feelings. Feelings that, despite his new found friendship, make him miss his erstwhile friend very much. So when another summons comes – one calling him back home, it’s with mixed feelings that he thanks Boy and bids him farewell and off he goes.

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Thanks to Boy’s kindness however life back on Planet Xog is about to become a whole lot more fun and full of feelings, for Zak and Astro anyway.

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Told in jaunty rhyme, this is a heart-warming story of friendship, fun and a spot of football.

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I Will Love You Anyway/How to Be a Dog

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I Will Love You Anyway
Mick and Chloë Inkpen
Hodder Children’s Books
We share a puggish pup’s thoughts directed at his small boy owner in this delicious book from the Inkpen father and daughter team.
Said pup is anything but your ideal dog; he’s a furniture wrecker, thief and inveterate chaser …

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he cannot follow instructions and worst of all, he keeps on running away – with disastrous consequences sometimes.

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But does this pup ever learn? Oh dear no and when he and his boy hear the terrible words, “We cannot cope! He cannot stay!” he takes off once again running and running into the inky black, wet night.
Being lost, out all night and wet

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and scared is no picnic even for our canine hero. It’s fortunate then that a certain small boy happens along at the crucial moment and back they go to share a blissful moment or two.
You might now be thinking that at last this runaway has finally come to his senses but the trouble is, as we hear, “I don’t do words. They make no sense. I jump for joy …”  

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and er …
The spare rhyming text takes the form of the pup’s reportage narrative recording of what he does and what he hears, cleverly conveying the animal’s lack of any real understanding of what is expected of him. An unusual manner of telling for sure but it’s really effective and affecting here.
Chloe Inkpen truly does capture the full gamut of the emotions of both pup and boy in her captivating illustrations. I’d love to show you every single one but you will just have to get your paws on a copy of the book for the whole experience.

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How To Be a Dog
Jo Williamson
Scholastic Children’s Books
A mischievious, tongue-in-cheek guide penned purportedly, by a dog for his fellow canines. It’s full of need to know tips and advice on such topics as choosing the right human, sleeping arrangements,

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how to meet and greet, toilet training …

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getting the best food by whatever means, “To get the best treats, pretend that you have not been fed. If that doesn’t work … you may need to learn some new tricks … “, games to play with your human,

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forging new friendships with neighbours’ dogs and more.
The narrator is a delightful character (even to non dog lovers like me), full of mischief and endearingly portrayed, as are all the other characters – canine and human – we meet. My only wish is that some recognition had been given to the multi-ethnic dog-owning society we live in.
With a restricted colour palette, Jo Williamson has created a highly entertaining and engaging debut book and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

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Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion

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Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion
Alex T.Smith
Scholastic
A rip-roaring read if ever, is this super-safari spin off of a favourite fairy tale. Herein however, it’s not Grandma who is ill; it’s Little Red’s Auntie Rosie who is suffering from a superfluity of spots. When Little Red receives her phone call, she bids her daddy farewell and off she goes a-visiting, basket in hand on the long walk to her Auntie’s house. She walks and sometimes, creeps, rides and wiggles her way along

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until she decides a rest is called for and it’s then that she’s spotted by The Very Hungry Lion.
With a flick of a tail and a wiggle of his whiskers, the VHL introduces himself chattily and in no time at all – or rather the time it took for a rumble to emanate from his tum, he’s conceived a plan – a very clever, naughty one – and rushed off to carry it out.
By the time Little Red arrives, there in her Auntie’s bed languishes the lion, duly disguised. But, despite the bespotted, beautified make-over there’s no fooling our young heroine who resolves immediately to teach the impostor a lesson. There follows further beautifying of the dastardly creature – by Little Red this time as she proceeds to brush, comb, twist and finally, braid his “tatty hair”.

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That had definitely not been part of the VHL’s plan. Nor was the tooth cleaning which followed Little Red’s oral inspection; most certainly he’d not planned that, nor changing his attire .

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Enough is enough – or rather, nothing is assuredly not enough – decides the VHL as he complains of a grumbly tum. It’s just as well then that this story has a happy, and doughnut-filled ending (courtesy of a forgiving and now fully recovered Auntie Rosie who is willing to share the contents of Little Red’s basket with both her visitors). Actually though, that’s not quite the end for, as darkness descends, the now reformed??? Lion accompanies Little Red on her way home having given his solemn promise not to ever, ever eat another auntie or child but …
This is priceless! I need at least ten copies to give to various friends and relations’ children, all of whom – adult and child alike – will, I’m certain, lap up this delectable tale as eagerly as I did.

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On a re-reading Leo got closer and closer in until he too was part of the story being shared with big sister, Gracie.

 

Littered with rib-tickling details – the tea drinking crocs, the bespectacled, giraffe, the monkey sporting shades and the snorkelling hippo for instance – the illustrations are out of this world and the words written by a wizard of wit. Alex T.Smith’s latest offering is absolutely, amazingly, awesome and for me, his best ever.

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Keep Out & The Fox in the Dark

 

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Keep Out!
Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
Hodder Chidren’s Books pbk
‘KEEP OUT! ‘and ‘BEARS ABOUT!’ caution the signs on the cover and title page of this book by the duo who gave us SHHH! This brilliantly interactive lift-the-flap sequel is equally all involving.
Despite the trepidation of the narrator who is constantly urging would-be adventurers not to proceed, we cannot help but disobey all the warning signs and continue the journey through the book, deeper into the woods. Woods where creatures lurk behind stones and logs, in ponds, under bridges

 

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and in trees. Then there’s a door in the wall – definitely not to be passed through; who knows what could be waiting beyond. But through we go of course: what are all those bees doing buzzing everywhere and why the hives? We know which animals like what they provide.
KEEP OUT! says the doormat outside the cottage and BEWARE OF THE BROCCOLI! warns the notice in the garden – watch out veggiephobes! In we go however and knowing readers will quickly realize they are following in the footsteps of Goldilocks – that’s if they haven’t already. But the bears are very much in residence so there’s only one possible escape …

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There is so much to explore in every new scene (some are wonderfully mock-scary) that one reading just won’t be enough. One five year old I shared it with commented, “It’s my favourite book ever.

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The Fox in the Dark
Alison Green and Deborah Allwright
Alison Green Books pbk
PHEW! A terrified rabbit dashes home in the nick of time, safe from the “fox in the dark.” Before long though there’s a Rat-a-tat-tat! on his door: surely it can’t be that fox, can it? No, it’s Duck followed shortly by Mouse, then Lamb

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and then – OH NO! … ‘A FOX IN THE DARK!’
Wait a minute though, this fox doesn’t look very scary:

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but what’s that shadow looming? … another knock …the tension mounts …
This is definitely one to keep young audiences on the edge of their ‘seats’ as the beautifully rhythmic, rhyming text gallops along at a pace to that final satisfying climax.

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Deborah Allwright uses contrasting dark and light to maximum effect – in the moonlit, shadowy outdoor woodland scenes and those inside Rabbit’s burrow, some of which are illuminated by lantern,

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others by the moon shining in, and also in the animal silhouettes and ghost-like outlines against the black. Every turn of the page brings a visual treat.

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Snowy Worlds

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The Magical Snow Garden
Tracey Corderoy and Jane Chapman
Little Tiger Press
When penguin, Wellington, sees a beautiful garden in a picture book he shares with friend, Rosemary, he determines to grow one like it. His friends are skeptical: “… flowers can’t grow in the snow,” they tell him but then Wellington has an inspiration: instead of growing a garden, he can make one. And he does, with Rosemary’s help, a shiny blue biscuit wrapper and all manner of bits and pieces. Soon the garden is in full bloom: now his friends are impressed but then comes a storm that whirls Wellington’s garden right away. Is that the end of his beautiful creations? No – thanks to Rosemary, that blue biscuit wrapper, all Wellington’s friends, and most important, Wellington’s creativity and resolve, a wonderful new snow-sparkling garden comes into being, one that everyone wants to see.

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You never know what you can do until you try!” Ivor tells Wellington and he’s absolutely right.
Long live determination and divergent thinking.
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Snowflakes
Cerrie Burnell and Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic pbk
Newly arrived from her city home, a little girl Mia arrives to live at her Grandma’s deep in a forest. Inevitably she finds her gran’s wooden house surrounded by whispering trees strange and her days become a series of one new experience after another. There’s her first ever winter coat and hat,

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feeding the hens with Grandma and the strange silvery shadows of the forest on her way to see her soon to be new school.

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But then comes a fall of snow making things feel magical and Mia too feels touched by the magic: “Every snowflake is different, every snowflake is perfect” she tells herself realizing that she too is perfect. From then on Mia is able to start to come to terms with her new life , to embrace the changes and begin to make new friends.

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This reassuring story with its important theme, that every child is special and unique, is sensitively told by C Beebies presenter, Cerrie Burnell and beautifully illustrated to bring out both Mia’s changing feelings and the atmosphere of her new home.
Showing, not telling is very much the way in this inclusive book. That much is left unsaid allows children to bring their own experience, interpretations and ideas to the story; ideas concerning why Mia had to go and live with Grandma Mitzi whom she hardly knew, why she’d never before worn a coat and only heard of forests in storybooks for instance.
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Finally a couple of wintry books previously reviewed but now out in paperback and too good to miss are:
Max Velthuijs’ Frog in Winter an old favourite from over 20 years ago newly reissued by Andersen Press wherein Frog finds it impossible to embrace the joys of the newly fallen snow.

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And Layn Marlow’s gorgeous book from last year about a small child making a snowman, You Make Me Smile (Oxford University Press); I’m sure it will make you smile too.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Dads

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My Amazing Dad
Ross Collins
Simon and Schuster pbk
Little crocodile, Snip, loves his dad but has absolutely no idea how he spends his time. In contrast all his friends’ dads seem to do amazing things:Monkey Max’s dad ‘Whooshes’, zebra Stripe’s dad is great at hiding, Trunkle’s dad can spray water higher than the trees, Bongo the gorilla has a dad who can beat his chest louder than anyone and Wallow’s dad can stay under water for ages. Seemingly, all the dads are cooler than his, thinks Snip and off he goes back to his Mum to find out just what his Dad does all day.
Mum takes her offspring and shows him that in fact, his Dad, as teacher of all the others, is truly amazing.

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This amusing, warm-hearted tale of fathers and friendship is just the thing for sharing with that special dad on Father’s Day, or any time.
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Just the Job for Dad
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Scholastc pbk
Emma and her brother, Sam explore a variety of exciting sounding jobs for their father whose own job sounds to them, deadly boring. But on closer examination they  all seem to have requirements that would interfere with their Dad’s normal routines. Dragon minding for instance would mean starting at t sunrise, so what about their breakfast?

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A pirate captain’s look out has to report for duty at 5pm (their swimming time) and other occupations would involve performing at dinner time, setting out at bath time, or even being away a whole week. Maybe what Dad already has – the job of being a being a great Dad – is, as he says, himself, “… just the job for me!” But what about Mum?

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Funny pictures, a funny story with the kind of repetition children love joining in with and a caring Dad who reads stories to his offspring: what more can anyone ask? Make sure you explore every single part of this one.
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My Dad and Me
Tania Cox and Lorette Broekstra
Allen & Unwin (Murdoch Books)
Small children love to spend time with their dads. Here we have a small celebration of some of the things they love to do with that very special person: things like dancing and singing, chatting on the phone, cooking,

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sharing a surprise; but best of all is that “I-LOVE-YOU-HUG”.
Told through a series of happy scenes and a rhyming text, this simple little book might fit the bill for a celebration of one particular dad on Father’s day.
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Daddy is My Hero
Dawn Richards and Jane Massey
Doubleday
For the very youngest to share, this is an abridged board book edition of a title previously reviewed on this site in the section April Paperback Pick
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Funky Fairy Tale Flights of Fancy

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Hector and the Big Bad Knight
Alex T. Smith
Scholastic Children’s Books pbk
It’s a case of little versus large in this wacky tale of derring-do and dastardly deeds in the peaceful, bunting-festooned haven of Spottybottom village. Peaceful that is, until Hector’s Granny’s magic wand is stolen by none other than the Big Bad Knight. (BBK hereafter) “You’ll never catch me,” laughs the boastful Knight as he gallops away on his trusty steed. Hector has a plan however, and is determined to prove him wrong, much to the amusement of the villagers. ”You?” they giggled, “But you’re tiny and small! And your spindly arms have NO muscles at all!
Having packed a hanky full of useful things (crisps, scissors and an umbrella) Hector, with friend Norman set out on their rescue attempt.

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Into the deep, dark forest they go whereupon, with a twirl of Granny’s wand, the BBK causes an enormous and very tall tangle of thorny weeds to spring up.
Time for Hector to put plan A into action: SNIP! SNIP! SNIP! Think again BBK.
So over the dingy moat he goes and with a twirl of Granny’s wand, the drawbridge is no more. Time for plan B Hector: boating across umbrella style.

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Up the castle tower flees the BBK – the terribly tall one hotly pursued by Hector and trusty hen, Norman. More boasting and wand waving from the BBK and his horse becomes a hungry dragon, but it’s not Hector that he has his eyes on – oh no! The BBK would make a much more satisfying meal. Quick Hector: plan C – the crisps but first, a quick grab of Granny’s wand.
Then comes a triumphant return for Hector and Norman and a less triumphant one for the BBK. But what to do with the latter, Granny wonders. Luckily Hector has yet another plan – one of the malodorous variety and thoroughly deserved by the roguish thief.

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Alex K Smith’s madcap medieval tale of magic, mayhem and more makes for a marvellous storytime read. His madcap (and occasionally menacing) illustrations, be they large or small, garishly coloured or silhouette, are magnificently mirth-making manifestations of the ridiculous.
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The Deep Dark Wood
Algy Craig Hall and Ali Pye
Orchard Books
What is that little girl thinking about going alone into the dangerous, deep, dark wood wherein all manner of nasties lurk? She certainly doesn’t know the identity of the friendly tagger-on she acquires on her way; she’s off to visit her best friend’s house for tea, she casually informs him. But then, neither does her large black companion know the identity of said best friend. On they go together, deeper into the deep dark wood till there’s a YIKES! from the little girl. She might be frightened but her companion is unperturbed. His bristling and grizzling quickly have that witch running scared. He dispenses with the smelly old troll in similar fashion with some added claws and gnaws.

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On go the sweet little girl and her “very brave” companion … The hungry giant is disposed of howlingly and growlingly and then they are at the friend’s house. Big bad wolf, mouth a-watering, cannot wait to meet her but is puzzled by her place of residence.
Time for the friend to show herself …

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Guess who’s running scared now.
With twists and turns aplenty, plus a wonderfully satisfying finale, this hilarious reworking of the old favourite is guaranteed to keep listeners on the edge of their bottoms even though they know what the large black hairy animal accompanying the little girl really wants.
It’s a real joy to read aloud and Ali Pye’s illustrations are just brilliant, adding even more to the already sublime mock scariness of the story.Don’t miss this one.
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The Princess and the Presents
Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton
Nosy Crow
With her head of wild auburn curls and fiery temper, pampered princess Ruby puts me in mind of a modern day Violet Elizabeth Bott.
As her birthday draws near, the princess’s demands are issued loud and clear and if they are not fulfilled, she’ll ‘ “scream and scream and SCREAM!” ‘

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When the presents crammed within, cause the catastrophic collapse of the castle with her most precious possession (so she thinks) crushed inside, Princess Ruby comes to her senses. All is not lost however, for what do the hard-working fire fighters discover in the rubble after hours of digging? the object of their search, safe and sound.

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Then selfishness set aside, the princess and her pater set to work to reconstruct, first a birthday and then, a new residence – just for two.
Pink? Yes. Princessy? Assuredly, but this feisty miss does finally see the error of her ways and does indeed abandon her perfect pinkishness – almost!
An up-to-date cautionary tale with a powerful punch and peachy ending.
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Jack and the Jelly Bean Stalk
Rachael Mortimer and Liz Pichon
Hodder Children’s Books
This is the third twisted traditional tale from Mortimer and Pichon and another winning, albeit slightly silly, one it is too. (I have to admit to a particular penchant for such stories though).
Jack’s mum sends him off to sell their beloved cow Daisy, which he duly does – for twenty gold coins no less. Unfortunately however, Jack cannot resist the lure of the sweetshop he passes on his way home.

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There he parts with his precious coins for an enormous bag of jelly beans with every flavor imaginable and some unimaginable ones too. Needless to say, Jack’s mum is livid, hurls his spoils outside and despatches him to bed. During the night Jack is awoken by a gloriously mouthwatering smell and discovers in his garden in the moonlight, a gigantic jelly bean stalk. Oh joy!
Off up the beanstalk he goes forthwith, coming upon a golden gate at the top. In he goes tentatively, only to be apprehended by sobbing goose with a tale of woe.

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Soon both Jack and goose are fearing for their lives, as the ground shakes and they hear
Fee-fi-fo-foy,
I smell a juicy boy!
Goose is good but boy’s so tasty,
Served with chips and wrapped
in pastry!

The quick-thinking Jack makes a deal with the giant and is soon hard at work frantically picking jelly beans. The hastily harvested jelly bean feast meets with the giant’s approval but the hungry goose cannot resist partaking of said feast – oh no! All is not lost however; the beanstalk cannot support the jellybean stuffed giant’s weight.

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CRASH! Farewell giant, hello goose and a never ending supply of jelly beans; watch out for those smelly old socks tasting ones though.
Ridiculously funny, with its slightly tongue in cheek telling and bright, appropriately garishly coloured, pictures that are perfectly in keeping with the tenor of the tale and the nature of the beanstalk’s origins. Many of the illustrations are chock full of witty, laugh-making details both visual and verbal.
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