Total Splashdown / Press Start: Super Rabbit Racers!

Total Splashdown
Beth Garrod & Jess Hitchman, illustrated by Chris Danger

This is two stories in one book and features those five inflatable pool float pals, Flamingo, Cactus, Donut, Watermelon and Lynn Lilo, residents of Have a Great Spray Water Park.

The first, Do-Nut Panic sees the friends, led by Donut on an epic quest to find the one and only remaining Cookie of Contentment, thus preventing the closing down (so they think) of the Slip ’N’ Slice Pizza stall. Said quest is perhaps THE most dangerous on earth and certainly in the entire inflataverse. Needless to say their journey is fraught with dangers,

not to mention a fair few disasters as the puffed up pals head towards the desert island whereon said Cookie is heavily guarded by not one but three protectors, Fickle Pickle, Energetic Enchilada and Unimpressed Pretzel.
Could our questers be on a hiding to nothing? It certainly seems so when they fail dismally to sweet talk the three into handing over their keys. But our friends don’t give up that easily: let the show begin. Crumbs! That pretty much sums up the next few spreads but all ends let’s say, pretty tastily.

However before they’ve had time to digest those cloned goodies, the gang are off on another mega daft adventure: The Splash of the Titans. Bring on those Air-lympic Games – the most competitive day in the inflate calendar and bring on Team Watermelon. Needless to say there’s a lot of shenanigans from some of the other entrants but which team will emerge victorious, winners of the much coveted Golden Pump?

Replete with puns and jokes, these super-silly stories with those mega-dramatic black and white graphics will have readers rolling around at the delicious daftness of this graphic novel.

Press Start: Super Rabbit Racers!
Thomas Flintham
Nosy Crow

Book three in the Press Start graphic novel series follows along similar lines as the previous two, only Chris has joined Sunny and Rue to play the Super Rabbit video game, Rabbit Racers, which is new to him.

Obviously the main conflict is between the racers, with King Viking determined to win the Super Cup (a special power up that gives the winner the power of super speed) and he’ll go to any lengths to do so. However there’s also a bit of bad feeling at one stage between Sunny and Rue over an accidental sideswipe. With four races in all, who will be the victor in the Super Cup Grand Prix?

Like the previous books this fast moving tale is ideal for new solo readers with a penchant for video games.

The Frog’s Kiss

The Frog’s Kiss
James Mathew and Toto

I was knocked out by the beauty of Toto’s misty illustrations for this LGBTQ+ retelling of the frog prince story: it’s such a wonderful debut as a picture book team James and Toto.

The book begins with a frog sitting atop a lily pad when suddenly something falls into the pond. Frog investigates and discovers a book; a book that shows a frog very similar to himself being kissed by a princess. The image of the kiss stirs his froggy heart and he decides to search for a special somebody too.

His quest eventually takes him to a castle surrounded by gorgeous gardens wherein there is a pond with a fountain just like that of the book he’d found.

Having washed off the dust from his travels, frog sits and waits and waits. As the moon rises, three princesses appear, come for the summer ball. Unbeknown to frog, one, so the king and queen hope, will become the bride for their son.

Devastated by what the three princesses say when it’s suggested they might kiss a frog, our frog sits once more on a lily pad feeling stupid. All of a sudden who should approach but a prince who addresses him and having received consent, tenderly picks up the frog and kisses him. And the rest, of course leads to a happily ever after fairy tale ending. After all, everyone deserves that.

It’s no exaggeration to say James and Toto have done the Grimm tale proud. This is a stunner.

The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig

The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig
Emer Stamp

If you didn’t read the original black and white edition of this crazy story when it was published some ten years back, then you need to know that Pig’s assertion, ‘I is 465 sunsets old’ definitely needs updating although the creature does supply a kind of get out clause in his introduction. This version has colour on every spread : I’m not sure if that makes it even sillier but it certainly makes it a whole lot brighter. Pig’s grammar hasn’t improved however.

Essentially it’s a hugely funny book written in diary form by a farmyard pig called Pig who has a best friend called Duck, another so he thinks friend, Farmer, and some dastardly enemies, the Evil Chickens. They, Duck reports, are secretly building a space rocket from a broken tractor. A trocket, so the Super Evil Chicken informs Pig and proceeds to ask the porcine diarist to fly the thing to Pluto. 

At first Pig refuses but then, having learned something horrifying about Farmer’s intentions, decides to reverse his decision and grab the chance to escape the terrible fate that otherwise awaits.

Now this machine is poo powered so rest assured there will be a fair bit of poo involved in the story, farts too, so if that bothers you and you choose not to read the book, you are missing a treat. It’s exuberant and so well imagined, Yes, the mission goes somewhat awry but all ends satisfactorily for Pig and Duck, more or less, anyhow.

There’s No Such Thing As Dragons

There’s No Such Thing As Dragons
Lucy Rowland and Katy Halford

Prompted by the titular remark of his grandfather during a story-sharing session, a young child embarks on a mission: to find out whether or not dragons exist. Before leaving he packs the items he needs in his backpack and asks the readers to assist in the search. 

Then having checked his own abode the lad heads off up the hills, climbs a mountain, 

and then enters a forest, takes flight in a hot air balloon, tries the museum and several other places but with no success. He does find the occasional knight in the castle though, before heading to the final location on his list of possibilities: the rocky seashore below the castle.

As he sits checking his dragon book beside the entrance to a cave who should appear but his grandpa who has been searching for him all the time. Reluctantly the boy concedes “There’s no such thing as dragons” 

as the two watch the shadows dancing in the moonlight. Suddenly as they are about to depart, they hear a sound and there’s a distinct rise in the temperature … Then comes a surprise revelation: what could it be?

Lucy’s spirited rhyming text scans well, so it’s a good one to read aloud to a class or group; and individuals will enjoy scanning Katy Halford’s illustrations that underscore the whimsical humour of the story as they too search for the dragon hiding in plain sight.

You Are Loved

You Are Loved
Margaret O’Hair, Sofia Sanchez and Sofia Cardoso

There are many ways to be a family; none is absolutely perfect but love is the vital element in every family. That message comes through loud and clear in this book, which was inspired by Sofia Sanchez whose parents, a father from Mexico and a mother from California, adopted her as a baby from an orphanage in Ukraine.

Really families are more than just those you see every day, or those related to you, perhaps you consider close friends, teachers and neighbours as part of your family too; they are certainly important.

Whether you are born into a family, chosen by your family or your family is chosen by you, its members will be special to you. They will make you feel special too and ‘strong’; they’ll tell you ‘You are enough’ and most crucially, ‘You are loved.’

Each family is different and that message is extended in Sofia Cardoso’s illustrations of diverse families, some of which are interracial..

Look closely at her scenes and you may notice some characters in more than one of them.
The book closes with a note from the mother of Sofia Sanchez.

An excellent choice for inclusion in a KS1 classroom collection.

When Things Aren’t Going Right, Go Left

When Things Aren’t Going Right, Go Left
Marc Colagiovanni and Peter H. Reynolds

The boy protagonist in this book discovers a simple procedure for lightening the heavy weight of worries, frustrations, doubts and fears he carries around with him.

It begins thus: ‘One day, for no particular reason, nothing was going right. Absolutely, positivelyNOTHING was going right. So I decided to go left.’ We see him putting down one of the heavy pieces of luggage – his large box – and walking on without it. He continues in similar vein, leaving behind a huge sack: thus he has dropped his weighty worries (little red monsters) and doubts (hairy green beasties).

On reaching the bottom of the high diving board, the boy deposits his suitcase of orange creatures, and attempts the dive but it’s not a great success. However the lad decides to leave his backpack of frustrations on the ground, its creatures yelling, “You can’t do it!’ and has another go at the dive.

Hurrah! A perfect entry this time. Suddenly a realisation dawns: the more left he goes, the more right he feels; in fact he continues going left and pretty soon, everything is going right. Now what remains as he has a quick look at the ground, are much, much smaller nasties, shrunken so it’s easy for him to pick them up again and continue, safe in the knowledge that they just need him to keep an eye on them.

An uplifting very positive message, imparted in a somewhat light-hearted manner through lawyer/author Marc Colagiovanni’s words and Peter H. Reynolds instantly recognisable illustrations, that encourages readers/listeners to drop the baggage when things are going badly in life.

The Screen Thief!

The Screen Thief!
Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty
Alison Green Books

Watch out, watch out, a Snaffle’s about. Newly arrived in a city near you and on the lookout for some playmates, the creature is puzzled to see that everyone she sees is too busy staring at their screens. But what exactly is so special about these things, that nobody has time to notice a newcomer?

Puzzled, the Snaffle feels lonely but then she hears a beep! beep! coming from a phone on the ground so she does what all inquisitive creatures do, sniffs it and chews it and then gobbles the lot. Hmmm! Pretty tasty.

Off she goes in search of further screens to sink her teeth into, but the more she consumes, the hungrier she becomes. Before long the library has lost twenty computers and the TV shop almost sixty of its largest sets. But there’s worse to come as the hungry-for-more Snaffle makes her way through the city towards the park.
Therein are lots of very sad children eager to find the culprit and one child called Max: Max is forgiving and happy to contemplate life sans screens. Meanwhile the Snaffle is now suffering from an attack of ‘scrindigestion’ and a kind of empty inside feeling. But then she looks up and sees a happy-looking screenless child playing just inside the park and in a flash …

Suddenly the two become aware of the large angry crowd that has gathered ready to give chase. Will they listen to what Max has to say? And if so, might his words precipitate a degree of change …

Assuredly, it’s a case of put your screens away, take a rest from your play; come sit and listen to this fun, timely treat of a tale told in Helen’s faultless rhyme and Thomas’ wonderfully detailed scenes of screen obsessives who learn a very important lesson, thanks to a visit from the friend-seeking Snaffle..

Pip & Egg

Pip & Egg
Alex Latimer and David Litchfield

This week for the first time in many months I’ve been able to spend time with some of my very close friends and I know just how important strong bonds of friendship are. This poignant story is a demonstration of what true friendship really means.

When Pip and Egg meet, there’s an instant attraction on account of the similarity in their shape and size. Their friendship grows but so too do they: Pip grows roots that hold him in one place, which means that for the friendship to continue, change is necessary: Egg makes daily visits to see sapling Pip. Over the weeks though Egg is transformed with a beak, feathers and wings –

wings that grow so strong she eventually takes to the air.

With Pip’s blessing, Egg decides that it’s time to explore the big wide world. Off she flies leaving a broken hearted Pip rooted to his spot, where he’ll always remain should she ever return.

From the air Egg is amazed at the sights – the forests, lakes, mountains and most of all the city where she stops, forming new attachments.

Eventually though, she knows it’s time to return to the valley from whence she came …

Like everything he does, David Litchfield’s illustrations for this story are stunningly beautiful: rich in fine detail and texture, and the way he uses light and shade creating atmosphere and focus on Egg in the city especially, is truly magical.

There’s No Such Thing As … Unicorns

There’s No Such Thing As … Unicorns
Lucy Rowland and Katy Halford

Whether or not you know youngsters who are besotted with unicorns (and that’s an awful lot even in my experience), or are acquainted with young search-and- find fans, then this story will likely appeal.

Its narrator is a little girl – a unicorn obsessive if her bedroom is anything to go by and when her big brother tells her that these magical creatures just don’t exist. she decides to try and prove him wrong.

Next morning having packed her bag with the necessary accoutrements, she sets out on a unicorn search. It’s a search that takes her to a variety of places – a farm, the zoo, a lake …

the woods, each of which yield negative results. Now what about the meadow? That looks more promising, but no unicorns appear to frolic among the ponies. Nor are they evident at the seaside, even in the dark depths of that cave …

Equally, the school classroom and the park in the gathering dark furnish for our seeker, not a single unicorn sighting and so disillusioned, she takes refuge to let her tears flow.

Suddenly who should appear but her brother who’s been hunting, not for unicorns but for his little sister. A comforting cuddle ensues and then, under the twinkling stars, the two make a wish …

With its repeat titular refrain,, Lucy’s rhyming telling as always, is a delight to read aloud, and if you share it with more than one or two little ones at a time, make sure you leave plenty of time for listeners to peruse each of Katy’s busy scenes. They simply burst with enchanting details and rainbow hues; and of course there’s that elusive one-horned creature lurking somewhere at each location.

All Because You Matter

All Because You Matter
Tami Charles and Bryan Collier
Orchard Books (Scholastic)

This wonderful, empowering celebration of young Black lives is for everyone, not just those with black or brown skin. Herein author Tami Charles’ lyrical prose poem, an ode to a ‘dear child’ spoken by a parent reads like a love letter to said infant whom we watch in Bryan Collier’s sequence of tender, mixed media portraits, grow from new born infant, to toddler taking his first steps, to story sharer,

to school child, mocked on occasion by cruel classmates.

The author uses ‘matter’ as both verb – ‘The words and pictures / coming together like / sweet jam on toast / … sun in blue sky … / all because you matter.’ And as noun: ‘But in galaxies far away, / it may seem that / light does not always reach / lonely planets, / covered moons, / stars unseen, / as if matter no longer exists.’

Ancestors are recalled – queens, chiefs, legends – but the focal point is always the child being addressed. Yet, this book reassures all youngsters that no matter what, they are loved and cherished ‘strength, power, and beauty lie within you’.

Affirming, awe-inspiring, and acknowledging and remembering those victimised by racial violence – teenager Trayvon (Martin), 12 year old Tamir (Rice) and young man Philando (Castile),

as well as for me, the not mentioned young Damilola Taylor who lost his life in the UK twenty years ago to the day as I write, when just short of eleven years old. What we have here is a great starting point for a conversation that puts forward the notion that Black Lives Matter, indeed, All Lives Matter at all times in their homes, in their community, in the entire universe.

Everyone is an amazing individual; everyone has something to offer whoever and wherever they are; but it starts with children … Parents know that, we teachers know that; it’s up to us to make sure youngsters know that. One way so to do is to share this book at home and in classrooms.

Say Hello to the Sun / Under the Stars

Say Hello to the Sun
Dr Lin Day and Lindsey Sagar

This picture book is essentially, based on a song from Dr Lin Day’s Baby Sensory interactive developmental programme, illustrated with Lindsey Sagar’s bright alluring, patterned illustrations.

Starting with the sunshine, tinies are invited to greet in turn the moon beaming down and guiding, growing corn that provides food, twinkling stars,

the cooling rain, colourful flowers to bring cheer and loving friends with whom to play.

Embedded in each illustration is a small circle showing what look like Makaton symbols and the final double spread talks about ‘how to use this book’ and repeats all the signs.

Whether or not you and your little one goes to Baby Sensory classes, this enormously attractive book is worth adding to your collection to share again and again no matter what time of day it is.

Under the Stars
Rosie Adams and Frances Ives
Little Tiger

With glowingly gorgeous illustrations by Frances Ives and Rosie Adams’ gentle rhyming narrative that has a repeat refrain: ‘The world is a family: / we are all one, / …….. together / under the sun.’ an adult fox and a little one spend the day exploring and observing together from sunrise, until the stars twinkle and the moon shines bright in the night sky.

They watch squirrels playing, pause to relax as otter and its little one float on the water.

They listen to the sky humming with the beat of birds’ wings and enjoy their songs. Then in the cool of the forest, bear cubs share their findings, watched by the two foxes;  so too are the deer family and then under the starlit sky the parent fox reminds its cub, and readers, “The world is a family: / we are all one, / United together / under stars, moon and sun.’

Would that this were so, say I.

With its lilting words and beautiful scenes of the natural world, this is a book to read with little ones either at bedtime; or perhaps earlier in the day when there’s more time to talk about the ideas presented.

Shhh! QUIET!

Shhh! QUIET!
Nicola Kinnear
Alison Green Books

Little Fox is a quiet creature, a close observer of the wildlife around her about which she loves to make up stories. The trouble is though that her friends are exceedingly noisy and their boisterous activities drown out all her attempts to regale them with one of her tales.

One day Raccoon becomes aware that Fox is looking especially sad, tells the others to be quiet and asks Fox what’s upsetting her. Happily Owl, Squirrel and Raccoon are all lovers of stories and ask to be told one there and then.

Of course, Fox is ready to oblige and starts her tale of a bear; but no sooner has she spoken the word ‘bear’ than the others are off roaring and pretending to be bears up in a large tree. Back on the ground below Fox notices some claw marks that look suspiciously like those of a real bear.

But are her friends ready to listen? Oh dear me, no: instead they frolic in the river then cavort across a bridge while Fox grows increasingly alarmed.

Will she ever get them to stop and heed her words? And if so, who will listen while she tells her story?

Nicola’s narrative is a super one for adult readers aloud to let rip with, as well as for youngsters to join in with the noisy exuberance of Fox’s friends. This exuberance spills out into her illustrations of the drama and she has included some diverting details including Fox’s book, the minibeasts and Bear’s teddy comforter.

The Leaf Thief

The Leaf Thief
Alice Hemming and Nicola Slater

Much as I hate to admit it, there are already signs that autumn is upon us and yes, it is as Squirrel says at the outset of this story,  ‘a wonderful time of the year’ with the sun shining through the leafy canopy ‘red, gold, orange … ‘

This particular squirrel however, is a highly observant creature for suddenly comes the cry …” one of my leaves is missing! Where is it?’.

So distressed is Squirrel that implications of stealing follow as first Bird

and then Mouse are interrogated, all the while the former attempting to convince Squirrel that it’s merely seasonal change that’s occurring.

The following morning though, with more leaves missing, Squirrel starts up again and after more accusations, little Bird suggests some relaxation techniques.

These at least calm Squirrel temporarily but next day poor Bird is on the receiving end of Squirrel’s ‘leaf thief’ allegations.

It’s time for the frustrated Bird to provide a fuller explanation about this ‘Leaf Thief’ and convince Squirrel once and for all about what has been happening.

Finally Squirrel seems satisfied and heads off for a good night’s sleep. What though will happen the following morning? …

Let’s say no more, except that the finale almost had me spluttering my hot chocolate everywhere.

Actually not the absolute finale, for on that spread Alice gives information about some of the seasonal changes that happen every autumn. Her story, told entirely through dialogue is a smashing one to read aloud (so long as you can manage not to giggle too much).

Nicola’s autumnal scenes provide the perfect complement to the telling, showing with aplomb, the high drama unfolding, and turning the characters into a talented cast of actors no matter whether they’re playing a major or minor role.

Now Wash Your Hands!

Now Wash Your Hands!
Matt Carr

Hand washing was never more important than now during the current COVID-19 crisis and here’s a timely picture book from author/illustrator Matt Carr showing young children the vital importance of keeping their hands super-clean and hopefully free of those invisible nasties aka germs.

This crucial message is delivered in Mrs Moo’s class by a very important visitor, Doctorpus Doris, who talks to the pupils about the vast numbers of ‘TEENY WEENY germs’

and what they can do to send those nasty beasties packing.

The good news is that the way to do it is something as simple as washing their hands thoroughly. Doris gives several examples of times when this is especially a must-do activity. For instance after visiting a farm, working in the garden, using the loo

and before having lunch as they all do after her talk. For Doc. Doris this germ-extermination is, of course, a rather protracted process.

With his light touch, bouncy rhyming narrative that includes a song and funky bright illustrations,

Matt delivers what all foundation stage teachers and early years staff will be constantly reminding youngsters to do, ‘NOW WASH YOUR HANDS!’.

To that end this book will be an absolute boon – a must have. (for every copy sold 50p will be donated to NHS charities Together COVID-19 Urgent Appeal). Perhaps our government could add to their list of things to do: buy a copy for every school/nursery to share. Maybe I should tweet the PM and await his response …

Llama Glamarama

Llama Glamarama
Simon James Green and Garry Parsons

You can tell from the cover of this book that one llama at least is going to be deliciously, daringly divergent, and so it proves.

Not in front of his fellow llamas though, for Larry, like the other barn resident llamas, remains calm and rule-abiding by day.

Under the cover of dark however while the others are fast asleep, he dons his glamour gear and leaps into action with his iconic dance moves.

One night, as he’s twisting and stamping with gay abandon

flouting all llama laws, he realises someone is coming.

It’s not just one someone though; Larry is confronted by three incredulous llamas and pretty soon the game is up.
Rather than face the music Larry decides to disappear

and as he wanders disconsolately along he contemplates quitting the whole dance thing. But then he comes upon a sign that changes his mind.

After a joyous day grooving and hip-hopping among other like-minded creatures at the dance extravaganza, Larry returns to the barn, to own up and face the music with pride.

The reception he receives isn’t quite what he is expecting however …

What a simply splendid celebration of being yourself, being different and being proud of who you are. Bursting with joy and exuberant colour, Garry’s illustrations perfectly complement Simon’s fabulously funky rhyming story that is an absolute joy to read aloud.

A wonderfully affirmative book to share as widely as possible.

Early Years Bookshelf: Moon and Me / All Around Me: A First Book of Childhood

Moon and Me
Andrew Davenport and Mariko Umeda

Not being familiar with the TV programmes I watched an episode and with its generous sprinkling of ‘tiddle toddle’s, it certainly does have some of the magic of the Teletubbies and In the Night Garden.

What we have in this book is a sequence of episodes starting with Pepi Nana’s sending of a magical letter to the moon that results in a visit from Moon Baby and his magical kalimba; and thus she makes a new friend.

Once at Pepi Nana’s Toy House he wakes her friends with his music: for the uninitiated they are Mr Onion, Colly Wobble, Sleepy Dibillo, Little Nana, Lambkin and Lily Plant. They create tissue paper flowers from the resources in the curiosity box and one ends up looking like a seed that becomes the inspiration for the next Storyland tale wherein ‘Tiddle toddle’ Pepi Nana’s magical seed grows into a large beanstalk which everybody climbs

and there they see something wonderful.

And so it continues until finally, it’s time for sleep and for their visitor to return to the moon.

There are songs to learn and the repeated “And I think she was right about that’ to join in with, as well as a lot of playing of Moon Baby’s magical kalimba.

If your little ones enjoy the Moon and Me CBeebies series then I suspect they’ll love this attractively presented, whimsical picture book.

All Around Me: A First Book of Childhood
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

Putting together five previously published books, this is the most delightful children’s collection of basic concepts done with genius as only Shirley Hughes can.

Enormous fun and wonderfully engaging for little ones, we’re shown the world of childhood through the eyes of Katie and her smaller brother, Olly.

Whether it’s the rhyming look at Opposites; the story of an outing (Grandpa and Katie) to the park that provides a superb opportunity for Counting; Colours identified through wondrous scenes and accompanying rhymes;

the enchanting visual presentation of All Shapes and Sizes, again with accompanying rhymes; or cacophonous Sounds alongside some gentler ones, each section offers sheer pleasure (and some gentle learning) at every page turn.

If you have a little one or know others who have, then this is for you. Equally it’s a classic to add to a nursery or playschool collection.

A Dog’s Tale

A Dog’s Tale
Michael Rosen and Tony Ross

Full of worldly wisdom, is this rhyming discourse from an old dog to a concerned pup as the two take a walk together.

Reassuring from the outset, ‘an epic life story that YOU get to write. … Be wide-open hearted … Fill up on hope, throw away fears’ comes the advice.

Life promises plenty of action …

no matter where your journey takes you … and opportunities – ‘you can make a mark! Make yourself heard –‘ although it’s important to be prepared for life’s downsides too – those waiting in the wings to do you down; or you might suffer the loss of a loved one.

However nobody need feel completely alone; there’ll be a friend to help you through times of sadness.

Perhaps a time will come when others will require your help; give and take is the best scenario. What we all need be we young, old or in-between, is a world where everyone is willing to share, a world where life is fair.

So says the sage old canine after which he retires for a well-earned snooze.

If only: we still have an awful long way to go but this book from two pillars of children’s books and reading, writer Michael and artist Tony, is a great reminder of what we should all be striving for. I’m no lover of dogs but I certainly fell for Michael’s canine characters as portrayed by Tony Ross in his superbly expressive scenes.

Share, discuss and act upon the advice herein wherever, whenever possible.

Willbee the Bumblebee

Willbee the Bumblebee
Craig Smith, Maureen Thomson and Katz Cowley

A plug for bees and a slightly crazy story of an unravelling black and yellow jersey belonging to one particular buzzy bumblebee named Willbee are knitted together in this rhyming story endearingly portrayed by Katz Cowley.

One day while out and about foraging Willbee snags his jersey on a rose thorn and as he flies away, the jersey gradually unravels until his bare bum is exposed. The now decidedly chilly little insect has to remain unprotected in the garden as he’s too cold to fly home.

Alone and scared humless, he’s spotted by kindly butterfly, Monica who flies down to his aid. She frees the wool and takes it off to spider Steve who agrees to weave the yarn into a brand new jersey for Willbee; and so he does. Back to Willbee flies Moni with the jersey.

Donning his new garment at super fast speed, Wilbee revives, gets back his hum, rewarms his bum, gives thanks to his benefactors and buzzes off happily home to his mum.

A fun, giggle inducing read aloud to share with little ones at home or in an early years setting.


Matt Carr

Armstrong the star-nosed mole finds his subterranean life boring. But Armstrong is an inventive fellow with a thirst for adventure who likes to keep his sights fixed skywards; and to this end (or rather beginning) he builds himself a telescope and some special specs.

When he announces to his pals that he’s going to visit the moon they’re totally discouraging. Danger is no deterrent to Armstrong though and after a rather bumpy start, our daring mole has built himself an enormous rocket that impresses even the naysayers when they pop their heads up to watch the countdown.

Following an arduous journey with trials and tribulations including tea drinking and loo-going, our space-creature makes his lunar landing, taking ‘one giant leap for a mole!’

The very first lunar-visiting mole is basking in starlit glory.

His exaltation though, is short-lived: the moon is, let’s say, boring; it lacks atmosphere.

Dwarfed by the moon’s size, Armstrong feels totally insignificant.

As he sits trying in vain to eat a spot of lunch, he looks earthwards and feels homesick.

There’s just one way to go – back home.

And who should be waiting for him but a welcoming party of his moley pals who have summoned up sufficient courage to come above ground and pay tribute to the inspiring Armstrong.

Over cake and cups of fizz (or maybe juice) their hero announces that he now wants to see the world, but not alone. With newfound daring, his fellow moles agree to accompany him, precipitating a light bulb moment in Armstrong.

Let operation world tour commence …

Out of this world crazy, the entire book is replete with groan-worthy humour though the final tour spread really beats the rest for bonkersness.

Using his characteristic primary colours plus black and white, (don’t miss the front endpapers) Matt’s scenes are a wonderful amalgam of pictures and text, full of puns and spaced-out soppiness that this particular reviewer was absolutely swept away by.

Daisy and Bear

Daisy and Bear
Fabi Santiago

Take your seats alongside Bear and his human friend Daisy as they pay a visit to the cinema for a Sunday afternoon treat. The perfect place to go for a first experience of soft comfy seats, big velvet curtains and yummy warm popcorn, you might think.

Potentially yes, but however comfy the seats appear, it’s important to remember to pay a visit to the loo before the film starts.

And creating lots of noise during the performance is also a big no, no, be that with super-crunchy popcorn, deliciously slurpy fizzy drinks or …

This however, is only the precursor to the show-stopping distraction caused by our mega enthusiastic ursine friend …

On his own admission he should never have set a paw in the cinema; Bear is down-hearted for a short while but then … light bulb moment! Can he make recompense where the rest of the audience is concerned? Well maybe …

This is a delight from beginning to end and I don’t mean the movie: Fabi’s latest story is in itself a smashing performance that unfolds like a cinematic comedy.

Two of my story enthusiasts were so taken with the book that they constructed a den/cinema and disappeared inside to read it again.


Anna Doherty

When it comes to wrapping presents some of us are highly skilled and manage to make wonderfully inviting packages; others make a mess of things.

Badger, certainly on this occasion, is one of the latter. His efforts at wrapping Owl’s birthday gift are thwarted by a particularly sticky roll of tape that no matter how hard he tries, only becomes more and more entangled.

Along comes Deer with an offer of a helping hoof but things do not go well … and despite his claims, Rabbit’s eager assistance does not live up to his assertions.

So what about Mouse’s paw? Or the endeavours of Fox, Snake and Bear? All equally, sticklily, unsuccessful.

Enter Owl who is duly informed of his present. There follows a massive peeling, tugging, pulling, nibbling effort on the part of all the animals and finally hurrah!

The perfect present is revealed for which the recipient is duly thankful and thereafter Badger sets off home with an idea in his head …

Slapstick comedy from start to finish, Anna Doherty’s debut picture book will have young listeners chortling with delight over the animals’ antics and demanding an action replay as you close the book.

Anna is a new talent I shall watch with interest.

A Little Bit Brave

A Little Bit Brave
Nicola Kinnear
Alison Green Books

Luna and Logan are great friends but they’re very different. Luna loves outdoor adventures while Logan never sets a paw outside declaring it much too scary.

One day Luna tries her best to persuade her friend to join her in the great outdoors but her invitation is turned down and she goes off in a huff telling him that sometimes, he just has to be a bit brave.

The morning proceeds with Logan engaging in several of his usual activities but he feels upset about what has happened and decides to puts things right with Luna. The trouble is that means going outside.

Into his bag go a torch, a snorkel and a tin of freshly baked biscuits, and with scarf wrapped around him, off Logan sets on his very first adventure.

It’s scary in the woods and he needs to find his friend so he calls her name as loudly as he can. There’s no response from Luna but Logan’s cry summons a host of other woodland animals. From them he learns more about the brave things his friend enjoys.

If he wants to find her, it seems Logan has no choice but to follow the mouse’s advice …

Logan’s search opens up three new worlds to him; his snorkel, scarf and torch come in very useful

but of Luna he finds no sign. Nevertheless, astonished at what he’s done, he’s just about to reward himself with a biscuit when suddenly he hears a familiar voice shouting out.

Terrifying as the sight that meets his eyes might be, Logan knows he has to act fast or his friend will become the wolf’s next meal.

Could it perhaps be time to make use of that other item he has with him …

Nicola’s colour palette is gorgeous; there are woodland greens, oranges and browns with a plethora of eye-catching flora and fauna.

This is a great confidence-bolstering tale perfectly seasoned with frissons of fear and surprises; and who wouldn’t love a story where biscuits play a crucial role?

Collecting Cats

Collecting Cats
Lorna Scobie

If you love cats and wish to become a collector of same, then you’d be wise not to emulate the narrator of Lorna Scobie’s debut picture book.

To attract the objects of her desire said narrator conceives a plan: use bait of the cheesy variety.

Now cats aren’t generally attracted to this delicacy, but certain small rodents much loved by the wanted felines most certainly are,

and it doesn’t take long for the ruse to bear fruit, or should that be cats, a dozen of them to be precise – some fluffy, some spotty, some fat and the remainder, thin.

Not content with twelve, and still having some unconsumed cheese at the ready, our narrator leaves the remaining bait to do its job.

However things start to get just a little out of hand as hoards of domestic cats descend, followed by bigger, wilder kinds.

Maybe this cat collecting idea wasn’t such a great one after all.
Another plan might be more manageable, perhaps …

I first came across Lorna Scobie as the illustrator of Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ Pairs board books and Nicola Davies’ The Variety of Life, so it’s great to see her first solo picture book.
Her cat and mouse portrayal is splendid; it looks as though she really enjoyed creating so many different-looking furry creatures, every one of which including the mice, has a different personality – no mean feat. I’m anything but a lover of cats but I thoroughly enjoyed the feline frolics herein.

What’s For Lunch, Papa Penguin?

What’s For Lunch, Papa Penguin?
Jo Williamson

Somewhere in the Antarctic is a café, the best in the region. It goes by the name of Papa and Pip’s. The only thing on the menu is fish, albeit served in a variety of ways: fried, baked, grilled, boiled; they even offer fish ice cream, lollies and pancakes. Seemingly fish is everyone’s favourite.

One day however, a customer demands something else.Papa Penguin is nonplussed but quick to respond.

He and Pippin set out on a long journey in search of some new culinary possibilities. The pandas certainly seem to relish bamboo shoots, after all they’re very bendy, but the chefs need more.
Next stop is a hot hilly location; the climate isn’t to their taste but the nuts, seeds and dates offered by some camels definitely hit the spot.

On they journey adding bread, cheese, cakes, chocolate shakes and yummy fruits to their trolley before heading back to the café.

Before long they’re ready to re-open with a brand new, lip-smacking menu that’s certain to please their faithful customers. Frank however, – the penguin whose demand for “something different” sent Papa and Pip off on their travels – has a surprise in store when he places his order …

Jo Williamson’s new offering is a taste-bud tickler set to please those with a liking for adventure especially of the comestible kind. Papa and Pip are a great comic team whose antics are sure to delight. Love the colour palette and the interplay between words and pictures.

I’d put this one on my early years menu any day.

Girls Can Do Anything

Girls Can Do Anything
Caryl Hart and Ali Pye
Let’s hear it for girl power!
This is a celebration of what girls can do narrated in Caryl Hart’s enormously empowering jaunty rhyme:
“I’m a GIRL! I’m FANTASTIC! I’m strong, brave and proud!” so say a huge diversity of girls in no uncertain terms as they talk about their attire – anything goes; demonstrate their unique prowess as sports participants and students favouring a huge variety of subjects – maths, writing, science, music, art and more.
The older they get, the more amazing they become: there are environmentalists, vets, zookeepers, scientists of all kinds, machine operators

and life-savers.

They can be rough and tough or soft and gentle, they can speak up for others …

and a great many help improve people’s lives.

Ali Pye’s cast of splendidly inclusive young females have enormous va-va-voom;

and the front endpapers are a gallery style presentation of possibilities for the future, while those at the back are fifteen named portraits (some more recognisable than others) of high achievers in many walks of life including Malala Yousafzai, Serena Williams, Olympic medallist LGBTQ boxer Nicola Adams, first woman-British firefighter Josephine Reynolds and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Having read the book together with a five year old in the park after school , I spent 15 minutes exploring the endpapers with her; a woman came and sat on our bench with her phone. After a couple of minutes she put it away asking if she could listen as she thought the book ‘so brilliant’. I said ‘Be my guest’. She then called her friend over to share the experience. Five-year-old Emmanuelle instantly recognised Serena Williams but I had a fair bit of explaining to do with several of the others. Well worth the effort though.

In short, in this highly infectious adulation, it’s a case of no holds barred when it comes to girls; they’re undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with, cheered and applauded. Once again, let’s hear it for girl power!

Seasonally Flavoured Fiction

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Jingle Bells!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

If you’ve yet to meet comedic twosome, the wonderful baker dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam I urge you to do so with this book of three stories. Shifty’s the more industrious, of the pair; Sam means well but tends to lack his pal’s organisational skills.
In the first story, the dogs have been commissioned to create Santa’s Christmas cake and deliver it to him the same afternoon. No easy task especially with next-door neighbour Red Rocket determined to create mischief at every opportunity.

The other two tales, Sea-Monster Ahoy! and The Lucky Cat aren’t Christmassy but they are equally good fun and all are perfect for those just taking off as independent readers, who will particularly relish Steve Lenton’s lively scenes of the canine mystery solvers at work.

Harper and the Fire Star
Cerrie Burnell illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

Harper, the girl endowed with a rare musical gift, who resides in the City of Clouds and is able to play any instrument she picks up without learning a single note, returns in her 4th adventure and once again it’s full of music, magic, friendship and gentle humour.
In this story, the Circus of Dreams (Harper’s birthplace) is back in town and as well as seeing her parents, Harper has something important she wants to do and that is to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical show. Why he wants to do so is a mystery to Harper and her friends, nevertheless they put on an amazing show but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Then they learn exactly why getting back into the circus is so important to the Wild Conductor: it’s on account of his love for a girl named Fire Star, so called because ‘whenever she heard music she began to shine like a star.’
Adding to the fun of the tale are Laura Ellen Andersen’s sparkly illustrations.
Always ready to help others, Harper is a delight.

The Storm Dog
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing

Young Tilly and her mum are going to stay with her Grandma and Great-Gran over Christmas but when work delays her mum, Tilly travels ahead alone on the train.
Great-Gran (almost ninety) has sent Tilly a parcel to open on the train and inside she discovers a Christmas tree decoration and a photo.
Soon, lulled by the motion of the train, Tilly starts to doze and finds herself back in the time when it was her Great-Gran taking the journey as an evacuee more than seventy years back. (Tilly is learning about World War Two for a school project.) She then re-lives some of Great-Gran’s evacuation experiences along with her two younger brothers who also stayed at Mr Thomas’ farm on the Welsh borders, attended the village school, tended the farm animals, had their first experience of snow and sledging, and prepared for the Christmas season..
Tilly forms a special friendship with Tarran, Mr Thomas’ sheepdog and it’s he that plays an important role on more than one occasion.
Gently told, the twisting, turning adventure draws you in right away and keeps you entranced right through to the end. It’s great for giving young readers an insight into life in WW2, especially those who, like Tilly, are learning about the period at school. Line drawings by Artful Doodlers, several per chapter, are scattered throughout the story, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

Curse of the Werewolf Boy
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This had me gripped from the start. Essentially it’s a boarding school parody of the Gothic kind and its stars, or rather heroes – neither seems to quite fit the bill – Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork aka Mildew and Sponge are pupils at Maudlin Towers School, by all accounts a pretty awful establishment for the ‘Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy’.
Returning after a half-term holiday, the pupils are informed that a terrible crime has occurred: the School Spoon (once owned by the school’s founder) has been stolen and the headmaster threatens terrible consequences for the culprit(s).
Who better for a spot of detectivating than Mildew and Sponge who are about to learn that crime solving isn’t as easy as they might have thought. Particularly when there’s a ghost in the attic, not to mention a Viking wandering around, a history teacher, one Mr Luckless who has a ‘temporo-trans-navigational-vehicular-engine’ (a time machine to you and me); even a werewolf boy (but you’d expect that from the title), and more.
It’s not only the lead crime solvers who are splendid; every single character is wonderful be they pupil or teacher – you can meet the whole cast at once via the role of honour board at the start of the story. With staff names such as Mr Particle actually newly deceased when the story opens; you can guess what subject he taught, Mr Stupendo and the Latin speaking Miss Livia; and Enderpenny and Furthermore numbering among the pupils.
Then there’s the narrative itself which is peppered with such deliciousness as:
I know what a ha-ha is, you nose hair,” said Kenningworth … ; and
… Mildew’s upper lip began to lose some of its structural integrity…”;
a brilliantly controlled plot that twists and turns while keeping readers totally engrossed throughout its mock scary entirety; and if that’s not enough, the book is chortle-makingly illustrated by none other than Chris Priestly himself.
Why am I including this story in a Christmas review, you might be wondering: that’s for me to know and for you to discover when you get hold of a copy of this cracker of a book.

Daydreams and Night Dreams

When I Grow Up
Tim Minchin and Steve Antony

Inspired by Tim Minchin’s song of the same name from Matilda the Musical, this book takes a (mostly) light-hearted look from a child’s viewpoint, at what it’s like to be an adult.
Of course, you’ll need to know the answers to a great many questions and that means being smart.
But think of being able to ‘eat sweets every day’,

‘go to bed late every night’, get up with the sun and watch endless cartoons without a care.
Life isn’t all roses though; there are heavy things to ‘haul around’ and creatures that lurk beneath the bed to fight with.

But all that’s offset by daily treats, playful opportunities in abundance …

and days spent lying in the sun without damaging the skin – we wish!
Is that what we grown-ups really do? Hmm …
Steve Antony surely has made adulthood look like a ball, even the less desirable activities; and those young narrators of his are boundless energy personified.

One Moonlit Night
Zanna Davidson and Seo Kim
Templar Publishing

Through a prose poem and amazing pop-ups we share in a little girl’s magical dream of an amazing adventure wherein she flies through the star-filled sky aback a dragon, encountering three-headed giants, trolls and ogres …

before, swathed in clouds, invoking her very own dragon spell.
Magical pop-out scenes of a journey through swirling waters and inky skies make for a wondrous, just before bedtime book to share.

It’s Time For School

               Here’s a handful of picture books, each with a school setting, albeit a somewhat unlikely one in the first three.

First Day at Skeleton School
Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Following on from First Day at Bug School, Sam Lloyd moves deep into the dark forest for her new school-based offering. (Some of my listeners recognised the illustrative style having spotted it on my table and eagerly pounced on the book demanding an immediate reading.)
Skeleton School doesn’t restrict its intake to skeletons though; all manner of creepy pupils are to be found here in this night-time educational establishment run by one, Mr Bones who stands ready and waiting to welcome newcomers (and readers).
I’m happy to see that there’s a school library, albeit a haunted one; but at least one of the pupils needs to learn some appropriate behaviour – maybe she just hasn’t learned to read yet.
The curriculum includes a jingle jangle dance class with the skeletons, how to float through walls, ghost style and spell making, which has some surprising outcomes, not least for Mr Bones.

Sam Lloyd gives full rein to her imagination and in addition to the zany storyline delivered in her rhyming text, provides a visual extravaganza for young listeners to explore and chuckle over.
The endpapers cutaway spread of the school interior will definitely illicit lots of giggles not least over the toilet humour.

More crazy happenings in:

School for Little Monsters
Michelle Robinson and Sarah Horne
Side by side stand two schools, one for monsters, the other for ‘nice boys and girls’. The question is which one is which? And if it’s your first day, how do you know you’re in the right school, especially when some little monsters have been up to a spot of mischief making?
No matter which door you enter, there are some rules to abide by – fourteen in all;

and the whole day is assuredly, a steep learning curve for both human and monster newcomers; and has more than a sprinkling of the kind of gently subversive humour (bums, poo, trumps and bottoms) that young children relish.
Riotous scenes from Sarah Horne showing the pupils’ interpretations of Michelle Robinson’s rhyming rules in this read aloud romp.

Old friends return in:

Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School
Simon Puttock and Ali Pye
Nosy Crow
Cat, Bat, Owl and Mouse are not newcomers to Miss Moon’s Moonlight School; they already know about the importance of sharing; but listening? Certainly Cat still has a lot to learn where this vital skill is concerned.
On this particular night Miss Moon is taking her class on a nature walk to look for ‘interesting things’. She issues instructions for the pupils to walk in twos and to stay together. “Nobody must wander off,” she warns.
Before long, it becomes apparent that Cat has done just that. She’s spied a firefly and follows it until it settles far from the others, on a flower.

Suddenly though her delight gives way to panic: where are her classmates and teacher?
All ends happily with Cat’s friends using their observation skills until they’ve tracked her down; and the importance of listening having been impressed upon Cat once again, they return to school with their findings.
Ali Pye’s digital illustrations are full of shadows brightened by the moon and stars and Miss Moon’s lantern, illuminating for listeners and readers, the delightful details of the natural world on every spread.
Puttock and Pye seem to have a winning formula here: my young listeners immediately recognised the characters and responded enthusiastically to the sweet story.

Now back to reality:

Going to School
Rose Blake
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The pupil here is a girl, Rose, who shares with readers a very busy day spent with friends in their primary school class. There’s certainly a lot to pack in for our narrator, her classmates and their teacher, Miss Balmer: geography, art, English, maths, PE, science, computing and drama.
Fortunately though, it appears to be an active curriculum …

and Miss Balmer reads a story to the children in the “Book Nook’. Hurray!
Seemingly all of the children have firm ideas about their future paths and what they want to become. This is reflected in their choice of activities at work and play: visual clues as to what these are occur throughout the book.
Rose Blakes’s digitally worked spreads are full of visual narratives offering much to interest and discuss, and though this certainly isn’t a first ever day at school book, she certainly makes school look an exciting place to be.

I’ve signed the charter  

Superhero Hotel / Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away

Superhero Hotel
Abie Longstaff and Migy Blanco
Have you heard about the exclusive, top-secret hotel atop a hill that’s the number one destination for any superhero in need of a spot of rest and relaxation?
It’s ably managed by young Joe Malone who knows exactly what each of his special guests most needs to restore them to peak form, which is just as well for he suddenly gets an influx of superheroes.
First comes Captain Power in need of a strength recharge. He’s followed by Gadget Girl, Ice Woman (with a sore thumb), The Flame, whose boots need attention, and last of all, Mr Invisible who slips in unnoticed, except by Joe.
Being superheroes though, it’s not long before they’re back to their former energetic selves and raring to go.
Joe meanwhile decides to do some gardening but the by now, bored superheroes cannot resist joining him and are soon at work making their own improvements to the garden.
Before you can say ‘be careful’ Captain Power has tripped over Mr Invisible,

accidentally precipitating a catastrophic chain of events.
Can the combined skills of the superheroes save Superhero Hotel from disaster?

Abie Longstaff’s fast moving tale with its crazy happenings, teamwork and a wealth of superheroes with their unique and diverse attributes provides Migy Blanco plenty of scope to employ his illustrative imagination; his arresting style will certainly engage young would-be superheroes.

Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper edition containing three stories, all featuring flying machines, is a great way to catch up if, like me you’ve missed some of the individual Winnie and Wilbur picture books.
In the first, Winnie and Wilbur: The Broomstick Ride, Winnie tries various other forms of locomotion after a series of accidents while cruising on her broomstick, only to discover that the solution to preventing further mishaps (especially to Wilbur who seemed to come off worst in all the aeronautical disasters), lies not in alternative forms of transport,

but in something altogether different; something that will improve Winnie’s eyesight.
A flying carpet is the subject in the second story wherein we find Winnie, conscientious witch that she is, busy writing thank-you letters for her birthday presents. There’s one letter left to do and it’s proving especially tricky as her much wanted gift of a flying carpet had turned out to be an absolute disaster.
Can she find a way to use the thing so that she has something positive to say about it? Let’s just say it’s surprising how many alternative uses a single item can be put to …
The final tale sees Winnie off to stock up on her favourite vegetables at the farmers’ market, especially her very favourite – pumpkins. These weekly trips leave much to be desired though and so Winnie decides to grow her own at home instead –

with Wilbur’s help of course; and the odd touch of magic to speed up the process.
And speed it up is exactly what her wand waving does, so much so that very soon her whole house is surrounded by a veritable veggie jungle full of enormous, produce including enough pumpkins – Winnie’s favourite – sufficient to feed not only herself and Wilbur but the whole neighbourhood . What though should she do with a gigantic pumpkin shell? Think propellers; think a highly convenient means of travelling to market …
As with all Winnie books, the stories are terrific fun, but it’s their combination with Korky Paul’s hilarious, highly detailed illustrations that make this series such perennial favourites. (You might even find the odd character from another of his books has dropped in.)

I’ve signed the charter  

Paws Off My Book

Paws Off My Book
Fabi Santiago
Giraffe, Olaf is something of a bibliophile and so is delighted to discover a new book. Enter Wilbur, (who appears to be a Rockhopper penguin,) all of a bluster and determined to demonstrate the ‘right’ way to read.

He however, is not the only one who thinks they have the monopoly on the right way to read; for he’s closely followed by first, Matilda, then Vincent – he knows ‘ALL about reading’ – really?
Then come Felicia flamingo,, and finally, banana- wielding Eduardo. His demonstration results in a resounding …

After which, the long suffering Olaf has had enough and trots off for a spot of reading alone … “Do not follow me. Do not even think about it.” he warns his would-be teachers.
Before long though, apologies have been made, and accepted and Olaf has a splendid idea concerning the best way to read.
Now if you’ve looked at the title page of this wonderful book, you might guess the nature of the punch line that is concealed beneath the flap in the right hand corner here …

We all have our favourite places to read and favourite ways of being when we read; comfort being an essential element and of course, a book worth reading. What Fabi Santiago so amusingly shows is that there is no one right way: what feels right for a giraffe will not feel right for say, a kangaroo or a crocodile or a monkey, let alone a flamingo. They all bring different things to the reading experience and each is so busy being right that the importance of the book itself is lost. And so it is with humans..
I come to this book with particularly strong feelings about the way in which children are now being taught to read with a narrow, one size fits all approach from the outset. And what they are being offered by way of early reading material quite frankly appals me. Consequently this is the message I’m finding in Fabi’s hilarious, luminously coloured tale. Other readers will likely make something completely different from it. However I’m sure everybody will agree that the final scene showing the enjoyment of a shared reading experience, with or without its final throwaway line, is what we should all be striving for.

I’ve signed the charter  

Fum / Beauty and the Very Bad Beast

Karl Newson and Lucy Fleming
Maverick Arts Publishing
Despite their name, the Crumbs are a very large family: there’s Pa, Ma, Grandpa Plum, Fee, Fi, Fo and Fum. Or rather there should be; Fum, the smallest Crumb was gone missing. The search is on: first stop, the houses of the three little pigs …

No sign of him there. “He could be hiding … / In the woods with Little Red Riding.” That’s the suggestion from one of the pigs. Off they go again with everyone joining the hunt, but Grandma and her crew cannot help. Or rather, the Big Bad Wolf gets a whiff of his socks and thinks it’s worth locating Golidlocks. Guess whose bridge they cross to get to the house of the bears. The three are eager to assist and take to the air . Further locations are visited, all to no avail, until suddenly a small voice is heard. Now who might that be up the tree – or rather beanstalk? (I just wanted to be in line with the story’s rhyme.)

Lo and behold, the little chap wasn’t lost after all – just small! And in true fairy tale style, ‘The woods filled up with songs and laughter, / and all lived happily ever after.
Satisfying stuff, delivered through Newson’s exuberant rhyming text, full of repeat refrains, KNOCK! KNOCK!’s and “No” s to join in with; and Lucy Flemming’s funny pictorial rendition of the search with its unusual perspectives and spilt page scenes.

Beauty and the Very Bad Beast
Mark Sperring and Barbara Bongini
I love a story that mucks around with fairy tales, or as here, a fairy tale.
Let’s meet Beauty’s sisters, Grace,a golf-loving lass, and May, who likes to tong her hair. Both ask their doting father to bring them appropriate gifts on his return from a shopping trip in town. Beauty – well we know what her request is; her Popsey however decides to steal it from someone’s garden …

and that’s when the trouble begins. The Beastly Beast appears, makes an accusation and demands his price. Inevitably, it’s Beauty who greets him on his return and thus she duly departs to reside with the Beast.
Beauty asks him to let her go, the creature agrees to consider it and he does – over a long period that stretches into seasons during which time he falls head over heels with his captive; he even proposes.

What happens thereafter includes further considerations, a return, a whole lot of forgetting, the death of a rose, a frantic dash and a kiss …

l’ll leave you to imagine the final event: assuredly it’s rather splendid and made all the more so by Barbara Bongini’s hilarious, action packed scene of same.

I’ve signed the charter  

Fabulous Pie & The Monkey and the Bee

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Fabulous Pie
Gareth Edwards and Guy Parker-Rees
Alison Green Books, Scholastic pbk
When a very bad bear bakes a very large pie-crust – ‘f’laky, warm and wide,’ he plans a wicked plan to get it filled: but what is to go in this fabulous pie? Bear certainly has ideas but his cry of “Fabulous pie! Fabulous pie! Who will help to make the filling for my fabulous pie?” is more than a little ambiguous to the other forest animals and immediately Mouse agrees to help. He collects plump juicy blackberries but bear isn’t satisfied and asks again: squirrel supplies hazelnuts and in they go but that mixture is still not satisfactory. Out goes that cry again… and again … as badger, then mother and daughter otters,

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provide tasty offerings until the animals get cross at bear’s dissatisfaction with berries, honey, nuts and salmon. Things then turn decidedly unpleasant for those willing helpers when …

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Seems it’s time to make a move guys and gals. I wonder who has the last laugh – or should that be bite? …


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Simply scrummy is this offering from Edwards and Parker-Rees. Their recipe for a tasty tale is: wickedly funny illustrations liberally sprinkled with assorted animals, – drolly drawn; mixed with rip-roaringly funny, tension building textual teasing. – audiences know what the animals do not: that bear is definitely no vegetarian. Assuredly, one to put on any early years menu.

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The Monkey and the Bee
C.P. Bloom and Peter Raymundo
Abrams Books
Slapstick abounds in this minimally worded, powerfully visual, fast-moving drama, the essential elements of which are, in addition to those mentioned in the title, The Banana and The Lion; oh and a large palm frond essential for waving, wafting and whacking. The question is, will the Monkey and the Bee work in tandem – once they’ve got over their differences concerning that banana –

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and get the better of a very angry-looking lion that definitely did not appreciate that head-bashing he received courtesy of – you’ve guessed it – the Monkey?


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Or does said Monkey value a whole banana more than his life? He most certainly has to run for it once the King of the jungle is on the rampage.

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A completely crazy caper and one that will appeal most strongly to those readers who prefer their stories told mainly through visuals. I suspect it will be read over and over and …

Use your local bookshop localbookshops_NameImage-2

Exploring Feelings


Made by Raffi
Craig Pomranz and Margaret Chamberlain
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Raffi feels different from the other children at school and asks himself why. He knows he shies away from rough and noisy play, preferring instead to spent time in quiet, peaceful places. One day he notices a teacher sitting knitting and she offers to teach him how to do it.


Soon Raffi is knitting and loving it, so much so that when he gets home he persuades his parents to let him buy some wool.
Having done so, he decides to knit a multi-coloured scarf for his dad’s birthday. However, so enthusiastic is Raffi, knitting at every opportunity, that he is laughed at by schoolmates on the bus, as the rainbow scarf trails everywhere.
That evening at home, Raffi talks to his mother about feeling different. “Do you think I’m … girly?” he asks. His mother’s sensible words reassure Raffi and then the following day at school, an announcement about the school play inspires him to use his creative talents to design and make a wonderful cloak for Barry, the lead actor in the school play, to wear for his performance.


Raffi gains the respect of all his classmates and self esteem boosted, thinks about becoming a designer in the future. In the meantime, there’s that scarf to finish and all manner of other projects to work on –
Best of all perhaps though is Barry’s comment on seeing Raffi knitting some weeks later … “Cool,” he said.
This story is a great advocate for creativity, demonstrating that differences should be celebrated as well as promoting the idea that everyone should have the confidence to be true to him or herself without fear of being made to feel inferior or being laughed at.
There is at least one Raffi in every class so I truly hope this book goes some way to deterring potential bullies: there must be no room for bullying in any shape or form.
Margaret Chamberlain’s illustrations too celebrate diversity and sympathetically portray Raffi’s changing emotions as he embarks on his journey of self-discovery.
Definitely a book to share and discuss with children in primary classes everywhere.
Buy from Amazon


My Big Brother Boris
Liz Pichon
Scholastic pbk
Boris has a birthday party but it seems to Little Croc that his big brother has started acting in a very odd manner telling the small narrator that he’s grown out of childish games, and wanting to spend all his time with his friends or sleeping. Mum is understanding and reminds Little Croc that there are preparations to finish before the party can start, even though the chief guest has yet to get up. When he does finally make an appearance, horror of horrors: Boris is sporting a shiny snout ring.


Parental ranting follows and Boris storms off to his room. His guests arrive and then it’s down to Granny and Grandpa Croc and their younger grandson to save the day with a special party game of ‘guess who’s in the photos’.



Harmony restored, Boris has, so he announces to all, “the best party EVER.” and reassumes his place as best big brother.
Young children with teenage siblings will recognize Boris and his behaviour; this funny story (a reissue) offers the opportunity to explore the feelings around the topic through a reassuring and amusing scenario. Liz Pichon’s pictures are a hoot and crammed with delicious details both visual and verbal.
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How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear?
Jane Evans and Laurence Jackson
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
The author, Jane Evans has worked with families and children affected by domestic violence for many years and as a result of numerous requests from parents, carers and support workers she created this book to help adults trying to enable young children to make sense of the feelings they experienced when they were frightened and confused.
The story revolves around Baby Bear and his feelings


(sensitively portrayed in the illustrations) as the Big Bears shout and rant at each other
until one leaves the family home.


Using a family of bears rather than human characters perhaps helps create some distance -a space within which children feel safe to discuss and explore those feelings and emotions.
On some pages there are prompts for adults that can be used to start conversations with young children and at the back of the book are some activities and games to facilitate the understanding and expression of difficult emotions. Wearing my children’s yoga and mindfulness teacher’s hat, I particularly like the ‘tummy sunshine’ and the ‘grey rainy’ sad feelings. (Incidentally these can be useful with all young children).
I recommend this little book to all working with children affected by domestic violence whatever the setting.
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Worries Go Away!
Kes Gray and Lee Wildish
Hodder Children’s Books
The little girl narrator of this rhyming story shares with readers what happens when she is feeling sad: she goes off to her own world inside her head.


There she feels free and at first everything is perfect but then once again, those worries begin to take hold, growing monstrous. Under a now blackened sky,


the monsters give chase as, tripping and stumbling, the little girl makes for safety. She discovers a door in the darkness but where is the key? Through the keyhole, on the other side she discovers people waiting, waiting for her to open the door –


the door of her heart and let them in. That’s when all those worries dissipate as she feels engulfed by love and not only that, she knows that next time there will be somebody waiting to share her troubles with.
The tension is palpable as the tentacles of the blotchy orange amorphous monsters seek to entangle the narrator’s thoughts in Lee Wildish’s powerful pictures: it’s almost as if the swirls are transformed into her curly tresses as she breaks free through the door.
Children do become engulfed by worries, letting those, to adults seemingly small troubles, become enormous and overwhelming. Kes Gray’s pacing of the rhyming text somehow helps to keep under control, the rising panic of the little girl and gives space for her to realize the way through.
Not a story for an everyday story session, rather it’s one to share and discuss as part of a PSE (personal, social and emotional development) programme for young children.
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Nocturnal Tales


The Almost Fearless Hamilton Squidlegger
Timothy Basil Ering
Walker Books
By day, young Hamilton (with his trusty wooden sword) can take on all the threatening -so he imagines- creatures in the swamp be they fire-breathing frackensnapper, clawed skelecragon or twining bracklesneed. Come nightfall though, all his bravado vanishes and Hamilton gives full rein to that fertile imagination of his and flees from his own muddy space and those same, now shadowy monsters, to take refuge in his secret hideaway. Each morning however, a newly fearless Hamilton awakes ready for more sneaking, wrestling and sword fighting. His long-suffering father on the other hand has tired of his son’s nocturnal habits and bakes him a super-dooper ‘double-decker grasshopper worm-cake,’ to be consumed at breakfast, in return for remaining a night in his own mud. Hamilton agrees to the deal, but then as dark rain clouds loom overhead and thunder booms, he begins to fret about the coming night.
Dad offers good advice – use the power of your mind positively, he tells Hamilton.
There follows a sequence of amazing happenings: a sea of pink lemonade gushes forth from a discarded TV,


and upon that sea is a boat complete with striped sea bass chef. Hamilton scrambles aboard, said chef offers good advice, cooks pancakes


and the ship takes to the air, powered by – can you believe – the frackensnapper’s breath. Yes he’s aboard too as are the bracklesneed and skelecragon, though now the monsters are friendly.


During a breathtaking flight, son and father are reunited and there are individual cabins in which everyone beds down for the night including a now ‘totally’ fearless Hamilton Squidlegger.
Ering’s creatures are wonderful. With their googly eyes and spindly legs, Hamilton and his dad are frog-like in appearance; indeed the former positively leaps from the pages of the book. The contrast between the glowing colours of the splodgy, spattery backdrops and the scratchy etched lines of the characters is superb. Guess what happens on the final page …


What a totally satisfying scene and fitting ending to a totally satisfying, empowering story.
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Florentine and Pig and the Spooky Forest Adventure
Eva Katzler and Jess Mikhail
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
Wooooooooooooooooooooo!” Can that awful sound Florence and Pig hear as they lie in their beds one night be the Growling Prowling Bogmog, they wonder; the same creature that dwells in the deepest, darkest forest.


A plan is needed, a plan to discovers its whereabouts, so the friends pack their rucksacks (Pig’s with camping gear, Florentine’s with tasty treats) and march out into the forest. After trudging, tramping, hopping, hurdling, splishing and splashing, they suddenly hear alarming sounds – oh no. Don’t panic it’s only Pig’s rumbly tum.


Supper and a singsong follow and then they bed down for the night. But what is that familiar sounding “Wooooooooooooooooooooooo!” and that enormous shadow, looming ever larger? Just an owl; back to sleep guys – that’s all it was, or …


Although new to me, this is the third adventure of Florentine and her porcine pal, two healthy food promoters who love to eat tasty treats and whose stories come complete with tempting-looking, healthy recipes and some craft ideas for young listeners to share with adults – after they’ve hunted for that Bogmog of course.
This combination of a fun story and cooking – two things young children love – is a winning formula: the recipes are clearly presented and look truly mouthwatering, the narrative contains some lovely, playful language and the mixed media illustrations are full of amusing details to discover.
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Bedtime for Tiny Mouse
Chae Strathie and Sebastien Braun
Scholastic pbk
Tiny Mouse cannot sleep: his head’s full of fuzz, his feet of fireworks, his knees are misbehaving, his tail twitchy and his ears excited so none of the suggestions his mum,


dad and big brother offer are at all helpful. Tiny Mouse turns to Grandma and at last, thanks to the soft moonlight and her soporific lullaby under the stars, Grandma Mouse is able to tuck up her sleeping grandson tenderly in his bed. Sweet dreams, little one.
A gentle, bedtime tale for the very young illustrated with appropriately playful scenes and sequences.


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Picture Book Medley


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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