The Dream Train

The Dream Train
Sean Taylor and Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

Rather than sharing a story with your little one(s) before bed why not try some poems for a change. From popular picture book author Sean Taylor comes this collection of thirty poems that are perfect bedtime reading. The book has three sections: Night Arrives, Shut-Your-Eyes Time and Dream Wheels Turning. No matter if you want something magical or musical, something to give you a good giggle or to snuggle up warm with, then you will surely find it herein. Offering something snuggly and warm is The Blanket: ‘Dad says there’s a little bit / of love in every stitch. // … I’m sure it sometimes whispers “Good night, love. Sleep tight.”

From the first section, Story Time provides something musical, which is confirmed in the final verse: ‘Right round the world, / you will always hear it. / Wherever there are children, / you will always hear it … / the soft music of story time.’ If only that were so for all children everywhere.

Magical for me are the words of Once There Was: ‘The day is done. / Darkness comes. // Once there was a lake. / Now there’s a mirror of stars.’ Making this one even more magical is Anuska Allepuz’s watery twilight scene.

To induce a giggle or two you could turn to The Middle of the Night, tell your child to close eyes and imagine as you read of knives and forks asleep in the kitchen, towels asleep in the bathroom, flowers asleep in the gardens. Can they suggest what those things might be dreaming of when ‘the stars are awake in the sky.’ ?

Anuska Allepuz’s illustrations are a visual treat: their subtle, muted shades and soft focus pastels give a dreamlike quality as befits the overall theme of the book.

Add to family bookshelves if you have a young child.

Wild Summer: Life in the Heat

Wild Summer: Life in the Heat
Sean Taylor & Alex Morss, illustrated by Cinyee Chiu
Happy Yak

Like many of us, the little girl character in this narrative non-fiction book, is eagerly anticipating the summer. It’s coming, her nature-loving Grandpa tells her, mentioning some of the signs of seasonal change. He also says that close to his new abode is something exciting he wants to show his granddaughter, who acts as narrator.

Grandpa is right: summer with its blue skies and warmer days, does come. The girl reminds him of the thing he mentioned and together they pack a bag and set out along the track.

As they walk the girl notices the abundance of plants and minibeasts, wondering aloud if they want summer to last forever. Grandpa doesn’t supply an immediate answer but responds by suggesting they continue looking and then decide, although he does mention water as being a factor to consider.
Stopping by a stream Grandpa points out a golden-ringed dragonfly and tells his granddaughter a little about the insect. He also points out the mere trickle of water suggesting this could be a result of climate change, a topic the girl has learned about in school.

Further on in the increasing heat, the child expresses a wish to find some shade, and Grandpa likens her to many of the wild flora and fauna, explaining how some respond. They reach a place with trees blackened due to a fire the previous summer, talking of the pros and cons of such events.

Eventually they reach a spot at the edge of the seashore where they find what they’d come for.

Then they continue walking, on the beach now; Grandpa draws attention to some summer-loving Arctic terns, before with the ‘summer forever’ question duly answered, they cool off in the sea.

A companionable walk, and for the little girl, a wonderful learning journey with her Grandpa who educates her in the best possible way, never forcing, merely gently guiding.

Straightforward back-matter comprises an explanatory spread explaining “What is summer?, another giving facts relating to ways some land animals have adapted to better cope with heat. There’s one looking at the evolutionary changes of plants to cope with hot, dry summers and the final one looks at ocean life and how climate change is taking effect while the last page suggests some ways to get involved in wildlife protection.

With its wealth of ecological information and bright, detailed illustrations bursting with wonderful plants and animals to explore and enjoy. this is a terrific book to share either before or after a walk in nature, whether or not it ends on the beach. There’s lots to inspire awe and wonder here.

Monster! Hungry! Phone!

Monster! Hungry! Phone!
Sean Taylor and Fred Benaglia
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

To say that Monster is hungry is something of an understatement, he’s starving. The fridge is empty. He reaches for his mobile – TAP TAP TIP TAP TAP … BLING-BRING BLING-BRING … It won’t be long before his hunger is sated – so he thinks.

However things don’t quite go to plan. Thanks to a series of wrong numbers he calls up a jaguar, a panda,

a salamander, a sleepy sloth and an alien none of which are purveyors of pizza.

Finally – hurray! A delivery of mouth-watering cheesy pizza is on its way. Monster is drooling as he opens the front door. However even then, poor Monster is in for yet another surprise. Now what? He’s ravenous …

Stupendously silly and anarchically brilliant both verbally and visually this is a terrific treat for both listeners and readers aloud. The former will relish chiming in with the tapping and tipping, blinging and bringing, and yelling out MONSTER! HUNGRY! as the drama unfolds in Fred Benglia’s sequence of hilarious spreads and Sean’s relatively few words,carefully selected for maximum impact. Adults will appreciate the chance to deliver a monstrous performance.

A delicious offering through and through and one that’s likely to become a much requested favourite in classrooms.

How To Be Cooler Than Cool

How To Be Cooler Than Cool
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
Walker Books

Coming upon a pair of sunglasses unexpectedly immediately transforms Cat from ordinary to real cool with the ability to glide effortlessly backwards down the slide – or does it? Err … 

Cockatoo, next to come upon the sun-specs is instantly rendered supercool when he dons his find and dances along the see-saw – 

but not for long … and those shades are then caught by Pig.

‘Mr Totally Completely Cool’ is how he anticipates being seen as he stands posing nonchalantly on the swing until … 

and even he has to admit he doesn’t quite live up to his own expectation.

Disappointment, and realisation concerning the non-effect of the sunglasses reign; but then who should rock up but Chick clutching said article. 

The others warn him of their inability to make their feathered friend cool but is she bothered? No way, all she wants is some fun time with friends … And does it prove ‘cooler than cool’? What do you think? …

Assuredly this new story from the duo that gave us Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise is another splendidly silly slapstick offering that will surely have both children and adults laughing out loud. Be yourself is the message that emerges from this zany celebration of play and unconditional friendship.

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up
Sean Taylor , Alex Morss and Cinyee Chiu
Words & Pictures

If you live in the northern hemisphere, like me you have probably been noticing beautiful wild flowers – snowdrops, daisies, celandines and primroses springing up, an abundance of catkins, blossom starting to open on trees, pussy willow buds bursting; as well as the occasional bee and butterfly. We even saw frogspawn a couple of times last week (the end of February). Definitely spring, with its promise of so much, is my favourite season and this year it seems even more important than ever to celebrate its arrival.

That is exactly what the two children in this beautiful book (written by children’s author Sean Taylor and ecologist Alex Morss) are doing. The older girl acting as narrator, tells us how what starts out as a hunt for Dad’s fork so he can plant some carrots turns into an exploration of the family’s garden. ’Everything smelled like wet earth and sunshine.”

“The spring sunlight is nature’s alarm clock,” Dad says, taking the opportunity to mention pollination.
Both girls are observant, asking lots of questions and noticing signs of new life all around – tadpoles,

a bird building its nest and a wealth of minibeasts – ants, woodlice, worms and beetles and several species of butterfly, as well as playfully emulating some of the creatures they discover.
Throughout, Dad subtly provides snippets of relevant information concerning life cycles, habitats

and what causes the seasons; and throughout the children’s sense of excitement is palpable.

Cinyee Chiu’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, beautifully composed and carefully observed.

At the back of the book are several pages of more detailed information about spring and how it affects the flora and fauna, as well as some suggestions for ways children can get involved in helping nature in its struggle against climate change.

A must have book for families with young children, as well as foundation stage settings and KS1 classrooms.

Funny Bums, Freaky Beaks

Funny Bums, Freaky Beaks
Alex Morss & Sean Taylor, illustrated by Sarah Edmonds
Welbeck Publishing

Here’s a clever idea for presenting animals to youngsters: the authors of this alluringly titled book have grouped them by their distinguishing features. In addition to bums and beaks however, there are plenty of other creatures with something special that makes them stand out from the crowd. Moreover those strange features all have a purpose and a story behind them. Those are recounted herein.

Facial features – noses – of the odd kind, extraordinary eyes, ears – weird ones, terrific teeth, so chosen for their size, shape or function, as well as tongues (the stranger the better) are explored. Sun bears, ( they’re the smallest of all bears), have dangly tongues the length of which is a quarter of the creatures’ height. Why? you might wonder. As well as it being essential for obtaining food, a sun bear uses its tongue for grooming purposes.

So what do a blue bird of paradise, a luna moth, a scorpion rattlesnake, a Willani sea slug and a young hoverfly have in common? They all have ‘stunning tails’ – I certainly would never have guessed that. Strictly speaking though, the baby hoverflies’ ‘tails’ are actually breathing tubes used during their early underwater lives.

Necks (perplexing) and toes (puzzling) are also presented. We probably all know about the very long neck a giraffe has but I was amazed to know that it has the same number of neck bones as a mouse; and imagine having toes that you can stretch wider and longer than your entire body like a jacana – very useful if you want to appear to be walking over water.

The authors have found at least ten creatures to include in each of their ten groups and every one has an explanatory paragraph and a gently humorous illustration – some of them are downright alarming-looking.

Compelling reading for wild animal enthusiasts, as well as for budding zoologists and celebrators of difference.

Mischief and Mayhem: Good Dog / Vampire Peter

Good Dog!
Sean Taylor and David Barrow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Our canine narrator lives with his human owner, Melvin, and they rub along pretty well together, with Melvin giving out a fair few affectionate, “Good Dog!” smiling affirmations that make the receiver go all over waggy and excited.
Then yesterday what should be left standing irresistibly, deliciously aromatic on the table but …

Needless to say, upon discovering the culprit consumer of a sizeable slice, here’s what was said …

Time to put an amazing smile-inducing plan into action, the only trouble being our narrator doesn’t choose the most suitable time to enact said plan; the consequence being a less than enthusiastic reception, and the ensuing of a ‘boo-hoo’ kind of a night.
So, what about plan B – that ‘genius idea’ as uttered straight from the pooch’s mouth? Could that perhaps result in the much-desired words from Melvin?

Or might yet another reparative plan be required? …
Even a cynophobic reviewer such as this one couldn’t help falling for the well-intentioned (mostly) narrator of Sean’s hilarious tale of the ups and downs of a canine’s life. David Barrow truly brings to life the waggish creature making it leap into life, almost right off the pages. Those expressions are utterly beguiling and likely to have readers eating right out if its paws, pizza or not. And make sure you follow the cat’s continued consternation throughout too.

Vampire Peter
Ben Manley and Hannah Peck
Andersen Press
With his black cape and frilly collar, wild hair and fangs, new to the class, Peter soon earns a reputation as ‘baddest boy’ in the school. Indeed, his behaviour is somewhat strange and his deeds land him in considerable trouble with the teachers,

as well as resulting in a distinct lack of friends among his classmates.
Inevitably when the class gerbil goes missing, the obvious assumption is that Peter is answerable.

However, there’s a mysterious somebody narrating who knows otherwise, not only about that particular incident but also about the reality of Peter’s ‘bad’ behaviour.
Can both parties exonerate themselves?

With a classroom setting, this is a really fun demonstration that being different doesn’t equate with being bad: we shouldn’t categorise anyone on account of looks or mere assumptions. Make your own judgements rather than following popular opinion.
I love the comical telling and memorable characters, especially Peter. A terrific read at Halloween or any time.

Humperdink Our Elephant Friend

Humperdink Our Elephant Friend
Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander
Words & Pictures

Storyteller Sean gives the impression he’s spent time standing behind the heads of young children, observing carefully, so he knows what they’d do should a playful pachyderm burst through the door of their playgroup.
That is just what happens in this book and straightaway the children attempt to accommodate him in their play, be it dressing up, hairstylists …

hide and seek or something more energetic. No matter how hard they try though, things keep ending in disaster.

The children then change tack asking Humperdink what he likes to play and before you can say, ‘come outside’ he’s led the little ones outside for some exceedingly satisfying elephant-stomping, stamping and stumping,

followed by elephant riding right into a jungly place that’s perfect for …

After all that romping Humbert is ready to settle down into something equally creative but rather less energetic; though of course, he and his new friends are always up for a jungle foray.

The joyful exuberance inherent in Sean’s telling is wonderfully echoed in Claire Alexander’s scenes of the characters’ imaginative play. Clearly she too spends time observing little ones – their joie de vivre, their intense concentration on whatever they’re engaged in, and the way their open hearts are sensitive to the feelings of one another, empathetic and full of love.

Perfect for story time in a playgroup or nursery and at home with little ones, this is a book that’s bound to be requested over and over.

My Mum Always Looks After Me So Much!

My Mum Always Looks After Me So Much!
Sean Taylor and David Barrow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Like most youngsters, the little gorilla narrator of this story isn’t keen on injections. However mum insists she has to look after him and so off they go to see the doctor.

Things go smoothly enough – the doctor cracks jokes to distract from the prick and rewards the little gorilla with a special strawberry-smelling ‘stick thing’.

Off he goes feeling chuffed and on the bus home he experiments with his new acquisition.

When they get off though, a terrible realisation strikes our little hero.

Happily Mum knows exactly what to do; after all she always looks after little gorilla so much. Moreover, banana flavour tastes much better than strawberry.

Warm, funny and full of heart is Sean’s tale of maternal love and infant appreciation.

Embodying a variety of techniques and executed in a gorgeous colour palette the illustrations of award winning David Barroux are absolutely smashing: his characters are superbly expressive with the little gorilla displaying the full range of emotions, and his solicitous mother is adorable..

Young listeners (and adult sharers) will love this book.

One thing though, why do so many picture book titles have exclamation marks? It seems to be in vogue of late.

Kiss the Crocodile

Kiss the Crocodile
Sean Taylor and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

Down in the jungle, Anteater, Tortoise and Monkey are in playful mood when they’re spied by Little Crocodile. He’s eager for them to join him in a game of Kiss the Crocodile. The rules are pretty straightforward – the clue’s in the name – but the proviso is that the little croc. pretends to sleep and must not be woken up.

Are they brave enough?

Seemingly so, and first to make a move is Anteater.

Mission successfully accomplished, Tortoise is next

and what a smoocher!

Only Monkey remains and having summoned up all her courage, off she goes – uh oh! She’s in for a big snapping surprise.

The game is over, but will Little Crocodile abide by the rules or is it the end for Monkey?

It’s not only those jungle animals that are in playful mood, so too is Sean Taylor. His present tense telling has just the right amount of mischief, suspense, some delicious onomatopoeia and that frequently repeated imperative title – a perfect storytime recipe for entertaining your little ones.

Equally irresistible are Ben Mantle’s comical, wonderfully expressive scenes of the action – giggles guaranteed on every spread.

Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey Backwards
Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin
Retold by Sean Taylor and Khayaal Theatre, illustrated by Shirin Adl
Otter-Barry Books

I first came across stories of Nasruddin, a comic figure in Islamic folklore many years ago and often used them as assembly stories so was delighted to get this collection of tales so beautifully illustrated by Shirin Adl.

Sean Taylor is a superb storyteller and here he has collaborated with Khayaal, a theatre and drama education company to bring twenty-one of the tales to youngsters in the UK. The result is a cracking collection that is guaranteed to make you chuckle your way through from start to finish not to mention your audience.

First comes an introduction wherein we’re told Mulla Nasruddin is a trickster and a few other snippets of information about him, one being that he likes to ride his donkey backwards; Nasruddin provides the answer at the back of the book.

All the stories are very short, ‘Tell Me One Thing’ being only three lines long but there’s wisdom and humour in each one.

It’s difficult to choose a favourite today though the three that suited my mood best were:
‘What Are You Doing?’ wherein we discover why the Mulla was spooning yogurt into a lake …

Drawing a Blank’ a story telling how when Nasruddin was a schoolboy, he fell asleep in class having been asked to draw something and came up with a quick- witted response to his teacher’s expression of displeasure at the lad’s blank page.

The third, ‘A Cow up a Pole‘ shows Nasruddin’s foolish side: he’d managed to save some money and was concerned to find a safe place to hide it, eventually putting his purse full of money at the top of a very long pole in his garden.
However someone had seen what he was doing, stolen the purse and left a lump of cow dung in its place. Nasruddin’s reaction some weeks later on discovering the dung where his purse should have been was, “How on earth did a cow manage to climb up a pole?

Ask me again on another day and I may well choose different stories.

If you’ve never come across Mulla Nasruddin before, then this is the perfect collection to start with. They’re just right for classroom use across a wide age range as well as great to share as a family. The tellings are enormous fun and Shirin Ald’s humorous collage illustrations an absolute delight; don’t miss the splendid Islamic tessellation style endpapers

The Snowbear

The Snowbear
Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander
Words & Pictures

Two small children, a brother and sister wake to find that overnight their world has turned completely white. “Make a snowman if you want. But be careful because the hill is too steep and slippery,” is their mother’s warning as they sally forth into the great outdoors.
Slips and slides are inevitable and a snowman, of sorts is duly built, although they decide their creation looks more like a snowbear.
Having completed their chilly enterprise, the children take to their sledge and go hurtling downhill, faces a-tingle, towards the woods.

Eventually they come to a halt and decide home is where they now most want to be. But the climb is steep and there’s something watching them from between the trees.

Suddenly they hear a sound. Could it be that something or someone is coming to their rescue in that chilly white wood?
It is and it does.

Next morning though, the sun has melted their snowbear right away; at least that’s Martina’s suggestion. Iggy puts forward an alternative. “… he could have gone back in the woods and he’s alive down there.” I wonder …
A lovely wintry tale with just a frisson of fear, and an acknowledgement of the boundless imaginations of young children. This is, I think a new author/artist collaboration: in her eloquent, soft focus illustrations, Claire Alexander brings out the drama of Sean Taylor’s deliberately understated narrative, as well as showing young children’s ability to immerse themselves completely in the here and now.

I Want to be in a Scary Story

I Want to be in a Scary Story
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
Walker Books

From the dream team that brought us Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise, here’s a story told entirely in dialogue: black type for the external narrator and purple – aptly – for chief protagonist, Little Monster.
Eager to be in a story, the totally endearing little enthusiast turns down the suggestion that a funny story might be preferable, assuring the narrator that a scary story it must be.
Talk about dropping you in it, but that’s exactly what the narrator does by placing the monster right outside a haunted house.

‘Spooky’, seems preferable, and that’s no walk in the park either, as the house might be inhabited by a scary witch, or a ghastly ghost just waiting to jump out; at least the narrator forewarns our Little Monster though. But there seems to have been something of a misunderstanding.
Little Monster wants to do the scaring, not be scared silly. Here goes …

But then comes another thought: what lies behind that door? The witch?
Much too scary; so what about ‘just a teeny weeny monkey and his friend’? Surely scaring them should prove suitably funny …

Sean Taylor knows just how much scariness little monsters, purple or otherwise, can take, and his clever scaling back of the terror as the tale proceeds, is spot on for keeping young listeners on the edge of their seats. Equally Jean Jullien’s creepy scenes have a sufficient degree of zaniness to grip but not unduly alarm; and that final twist really hits the spot.
Can I be in a story again tomorrow?’ asks Little Monster on the final page: I suspect young audiences, thrilled rather than chilled, will want it to be more immediate than that.

They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!

They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!
Sean Taylor and Kate Hindley
Walker Books
Sean Taylor does crazy stories supremely well and this one surely tops the pops for craziness.
Three aliens, inhabitants of the planet Zabalooloo head to earth in their spaceship and they have a mission. There’s the brainy one, that’s Zoron our narrator; Bazoo, the strong one and Zob, prone to hyper-exuberance and crazy wiggle-woggle dancing.
Their aim is to be the first to capture a “BIG-SIZE thing” by means of their supersonic-sucker with special shrinker nozzle and take it back to their own planet. Quite a challenge judging by the relative size of the aliens and their prey, Undaunted and with supersonic sucker at the ready, the three creep up behind the creature ready to strike.

But then Bazoo wants to stop for a photo shoot. PHOOAH! Big mistake! Followed by rapid retreat back to spaceship.
Maybe they’ll have more success with MEDIUM-SIZED thing. Or maybe not …

Surely nothing can go wrong capturing a SMALL-SIZED thing; after all it would still be a first for their planet.
But even aliens from Zabalooloo cannot resist feeding our earthly ducks and it’s a case of love at first sight for both Zoron their intrepid leader and the target duck.

So is their mission doomed to failure or could there perhaps be another way of capturing their prey?
Sean Taylor’s deliciously zany text, some of which is rendered through colour-coded speech bubbles, is full of utterances guaranteed to make you splutter with laughter. Take this one for instance ‘I am COMPLETE BIG-GOB NINCOMPOOP WITH PANTS ON INSIDE OUT!
Perfectly complementing Taylor’s words are Kate Hindley’s sublimely silly, intricately detailed visuals of the diminutive Zabaloolooian explorers and their tin can craft complete with steering wheel and party area, going about their mission.
Human explorers of the pages will find many more small-sized things including a wealth of insects hovering on, and buzzing around, the various kinds of plants liberally scattered throughout the terrain of the aliens’ hunting ground.

I’ve signed the charter  

I am Actually a Penguin

I am Actually a Penguin
Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek
Templar Publishing

I once had a little girl in one of my reception classes who insisted for the first week that she was a dog, crawling around the place, drinking her milk on all fours, clutching the carton in her ‘paws’ and barking at her classmates. We all played along and soon the novelty wore off.
The small girl narrator of this book is equally cute and equally determined; but having received a penguin suit from her Uncle Pat in Patagonia, she goes into full on, ‘actually a penguin’ mode right away.
This involves all sorts of crazy activities such as festooning the living room with loo paper to create snow in which to keep cool.

Such behaviour definitely doesn’t go down well with a certain older brother although he does approve of the additional penguin at a family wedding …

and is willing to play along at meal times, especially when fish fingers are involved.

All good things do have to come to an end however. Apart from anything else there’s the question of school, not to mention as Dad rightly says, “Your penguin suit needs a wash.
Time for a change perhaps …
Sean Taylor’s zany sense of humour shines through in this narrative providing Kasia Matyjaszek with a hilarious sequence of events to wield her illustrative magic on and she does it brilliantly making every spread a small piece of theatre.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Brave Bear

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A Brave Bear
Sean Taylor and Emily Hughes
Walker Books
From the instant I set eyes on the cover of this one I knew I was going to love it: those two bears are adorable; and then to see that Sean Taylor has dedicated the book to Tove Jansson (writer of the Moomins stories) was indicative of a possible influence. So I came to this with high hopes and I was beyond enchanted.
I think a pair of hot bears is probably the hottest thing in the world,” says dad bear as father and son are attempting to shade themselves beneath a tree on a scorcher of a day. The cub (who acts as narrator) suggests going to the river for a splashy cool down; Dad agrees and off they go. The journey is quite a long one and little bear, determined to impress his Dad, goes for being “the jumpiest thing in all the world!” as they cross the rocks, ignoring the paternal advice to “Be careful. Just do small jumps.” Inevitably, this is what happens …

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but Dad is there to attend to the hurt knee, the wounded pride and the reluctance to complete the journey, even offering to carry the cub.

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Anxious to prove himself, Little Bear however is having none of it – “… I decided to go on my own.” he informs readers and resolutely, he does, all the way there …

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The concise narration concludes thus: ‘On the way home, the sun was glowing. The air was glowing … Even tomorrow was glowing.’ I’m pretty certain both father and cub were glowing too – glowing with pride: the narrator at his achievements, and Dad bear at his offspring for overcoming his trepidations and seeing things through to the end and one suspects, learning from his own mistakes.
This is one of those books that leaves you with a warm inner glow. The parent-child relation (attentive adult allowing the offspring to be a risk-taker) is beautifully portrayed both verbally and in Emily Hughes glowing, superbly textured scenes into which she places the shaggy-coated characters.

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A truly felicitous author/illustrator partnership if ever there was one and a picture book to be read over and over and …



Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh!

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Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh!
Sean Taylor and Kate Hindley
Walker Books
No self-respecting dog, even a little one, wants to be fed heart-shaped Mini Puppy treats or addressed thus, “Ickle Pickle Woof Woof”, “Incy Wincy Cupcake!” or “Choochie Pooh!”. And as for being kissed and then unceremoniously deposited in a handbag along with a packet of those Puppy Treats …

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well that just about tops the list in the embarrassment stakes for a little dog. It’s even worse when one’s owner stops in the park on the way home from the supermarket and there are other dogs dashing around doing ‘proper dog things.’

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However, things suddenly take a turn for the better when one of their number, Chief, instigates a spot of rebellion on the part of the pampered pooch; and it’s not long before he’s playing all kinds of games, the best of which appears to be this …

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All too soon though it’s time to go and what our canine narrator hears is the totally cringe inducing “Off we go OOPSIE BOOPSIE CHOOCHIE POOH!”; but home time for the other dogs is signalled by equally awful calls.

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Seems they too have to put up with similarly embarrassing owners although whether those owners feed their pooches Mini Puppy treats is something readers and listeners will have to decide for themselves.
Those I’ve shared this with delighted in Sean Taylor’s narrator and fully endorsed his sentiments over his owner’s humiliating behaviour.
Kate Hindley gives the whole canine crew real personalities in her hilarious portrayals and I love the way she shows everything from their ground-level perspective.

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Some portraits of the canine narrator

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SPLATS & BURPS: A Pooping Bird and Burping Twins

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What a Naughty Bird!
Sean Taylor and Dan Widdowson
Templar Publishing
A story about a bird that flies around the world dropping splats of poo upon all manner of unsuspecting animals and some humans too, is bound to be a hit with young children. But when it’s delivered (courtesy of Sean Taylor) via a wicked rhyming narration from the poo dropper himself and coupled with Dan Widdowson’s hilarious renderings of the recipients of said splats it cannot fail to make its mark.
Every spread will brings giggles but my favourites are the large brown bull that gets one right between his horns

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and the bear in whom our inveterate splatterer more than meets his match. TeeHee!

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Young children love this one because they, or at least some among them, know more about ursine skills than does our avian narrator …

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Great fun for an early years storytime session, especially with that oft repeated ‘What a Naughty Bird!’ refrain to join in with.

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The Burp That Saved the World
Mark Griffiths and Maxine Lee-Mackie
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Meet young Ben and Matt the Mustard twins, burpers extraordinaire whose noisy eruptions drive the townsfolk to despair.

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So much so, that they issue the pair with an eviction notice. But then from outer space appears a fleet of alien raider invaders that seize the toys and books of all the town’s children and seemingly nothing can be done to stop them. Or can it? Maybe those burping boys might just save the day …

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With a fun to read aloud rhyming text, crazy and suitably garish, action-packed scenes and plenty of opportunities for adding sound effects, this is the sort of thing that appeals unashamedly to early years children who particularly seem to relish anything that involves bodily functions of the gaseous variety.

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Unlikely Criminals

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The World-Famous Cheese Shop Break-In
Sean Taylor and Hannah Shaw
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Situated between the Greengrocer’s and an underwear boutique is The Cheese Shop.

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This entirely bonkers story featuring Daddypops, a paternal rat is narrated by one of his offspring and relates how this father-figure involves his family of mischievous rodent children in a plot to break into the Cheese Shop and steal its tasty wares. Several failed attempts later, there is a complete change of plan: tunneling is the order of the day but this too proves rather more challenging than anticipated …

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Worse is to come though – when the ratty robbers finally resurface, they discover that they’ve actually burrowed into the shop next door: the Fancy Pants Boutique.

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And then, it’s a case of ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ Daddypops becomes the proud vendor of stylish underwear for his fellow rodents…
The sight of those rats with their carrier bags of new undergarments is a real giggle maker,


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as are many of the other tasty visual tidbits proffered by Hannah Shaw.
Only Sean Taylor would think of calling a young rat robber Shanice; that’s just one of his crazy verbal details and, as Daddypops’ daughter rightly says “What a cheesy ending.” Tee hee! Delicious endpapers too.

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Molly Maybe’s Monsters: The Dappity-Doofer
Kristina Stephenson
Simon & Schuster
Meet Molly Maybe and her dog, Waggy Burns residents of a sleepy little place called Smallsbury. We first encounter them as they peer out at their neighbour Mr Bottomly who seems to have discovered something unexpected while digging a pond in his garden.

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Thus begins a strange adventure for Molly and Waggy courtesy of their amazing contraption called The Mundervator. This secret contraption conveys them from their treehouse, deep down beneath Smallsbury to the magical monster world of Undermunder where they see this …

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Off they head (guided by Waggy’s Walkie-Talkie collar) to the town square where there are monsters in abundance awaiting the appearance of their leader the Monster Meister. This creature informs the crowd of the loss of The Mydol Idol from its plinth. Shock horror! Banishment of the thief will result unless the precious mascot is back in its place on the stroke of midnight. But which of the throng is responsible?

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It looks like it’s down to Molly and Waggy to solve the mystery of the missing statue and the holes in Mr Bottomly’s lawn …
With its pair of adventure seekers, a whole host of mock-scary monsters inhabiting a subterranean world, and a magical machine to connect one to the other, I suspect Kristina Stephenson has concocted a recipe for another successful series.

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Where the Bugaboo Lives

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Where the BUGABOO Lives
Sean Taylor and Neal Layton
Walker Books
How many ways are there to read a story? In this instance, I’m still trying to discover the answer. It assuredly puts the reader very much in control; you can if you wish stop reading at page 7 for instance; or …
I took the scary option and went with Ruby and her brother Floyd (who is desperate to retrieve his ball that’s rolled down into the valley wherein the scariest of all creatures THE BUGABOO resides). Eventually I found myself here

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but you can of course guess what I did then …
You might be pierced by a prickle-beast, eviscerated by a hungry Old English Spook, tossed terrifyingly by a troll, stunk out by a scuttling spider, drooled upon by a demon, battered by a bony hobgoblin

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or worse. It all depends whether you go uphill or down; follow the spring path or the autumn one; wander on a winter way

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or take a summer stroll, head for the smoke or the coloured lights.
This one comes with a parental warning as it’s overflowing with the kind of terrifying creatures that will make adults run for cover. The whole thing is crammed with crocs, bedevilled with blood-sucking mosquitoes,

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inhabited by giant infants, a-fire with fearsome fiends, sweetly scented by snooze-inducing sniffers – daisies actually but pretty powerful ones. And that’s not all.
Oh! And if kisses aren’t your thing, be alert and join Floyd and Ruby in their mad homeward dash. PHEW!
I foresee family fights ensuing over this book and one copy in a classroom will definitely not be enough to cope with the demand.
Gloriously ghoulish, amazingly awesome and eminently re-readable; it’s brimming over with visual and verbal delights.
Miss this one at your peril. Or perhaps that should be, get hold of it at your peril.

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A Groovy World and A Fishy One

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It’s A Groovy World, Alfredo!
Sean Taylor and Chris Garbutt
Walker Books
Alfredo (frog) is not into groovy dancing so when he receives an invitation to Rick’s birthday party where such dancing is scheduled under disco lights, he is less than enthusiastic. Marty promises to teach him all the moves and arrives at Alfredo’s house ready to demonstrate COOL BOOGIE STYLE. Alfredo’s efforts are far from the knees bend, shimmy-shammy shuffle demonstrated by his winged friend; indeed they are a total flop.

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So too is his rendering of the SPEEDY HEEBIE-JEEBIES which is totally unlike Marty’s …


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But worst of all is the SILKY-SMOOTH MOVING AND GROOVING as done by our pal Alfredo. It’s his jump, jump, jumping that wrecks it every time. Nonetheless, Marty is eager to take his friend along to that party so off they go …

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where assuredly, rhythm does take control of Marty but our jumping Alfredo? That’s altogether a different story; and procrastination not withstanding …

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Could it now be that a fourth way of grooving has been added to the approved party dance agenda?
Prolific author Sean Taylor has joined forces with animation artist, Garbutt and it’s an entirely appropriate collaboration for this exuberant and funky foray into disco dancing fly- and frog-style. Upbeat, outgoing Marty is the ideal foil to self-conscious, floppy-footed, Alfredo.

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Children’s mixed media responses to Fish’s world view of what Frog saw.


Fish is Fish
Leo Lionni
Andersen Press pbk
Another classic Leo Lionni story is reissued and it’s still as powerful as ever with today’s children (and adults who may well have heard it the first time around). At the heart of this multi-layered tale is the notion that we all look at the world through different lenses: our world-view depends on our life experience and that limits the way in which we think about and understand others and their cultures.
In the story we watch what happens when close friends, a minnow and a tadpole, having begun to talk philosophically, start to grow apart as they develop; and in particular tadpole, changes. As frog, he climbs out of the pond and goes off to explore the wider world returning weeks later full of excited accounts of what he has seen.
His friend imagines the birds, cows and humans he hears of with fishy characteristics

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and as the days pass, the curious minnow resolves to see such amazing creatures for himself. His foray onto land however is a near disaster and it’s only thanks to his amphibious friend, that the fish is safely returned to his watery home – ‘the most beautiful of all worlds’ – for fish anyhow.
A wonderfully dramatic story and a thoughtful look at what constitutes truth and how we construct reality: postmodernism for primary children. It’s a great jumping off point too for further philosophical discussion and exploration of ideas relating to being true to oneself, enduring friendship and much more, depending on the age and stage of the audience.

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Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise

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Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
Walker Books
Owl is a kind of superhero-cum comedian: he’s mega confident and one thing is for sure, that self-proclaimed ‘master of disguise’ is very, very hungry. He, the narrator of this tale in fact, also has a way with words. “The night has a thousand eyes, and two of them are mine. I swoop through the bleak blackness, like a wolf in the air.” he declares having failed in his first attempt to fill his tum. In that instance, with a tasty bunny, who sees through his first ‘delicious carrot’ disguise.

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Never mind, there’s a juicy lamb (love those specs) standing ‘helpless in the cool of the night’ our wordsmith informs us as he comes to land again

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and quickly dons his next disguise. Of course that lamb too (helped by those fetching specs I suspect) sees through the disguise and vanishes in a flash. No matter, our hungry hunter has another trick in his bag of disguises; off he goes again, still supremely confident as ‘The terrible silence of the night spreads everywhere.” A pigeon is next to face the ‘dangerous creature-of-the dark’ – he really talks himself up does Hoot Owl, but again the costume fails to fool.


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But, does he finally manage to achieve satisfaction? Well, you’ll just have to get hold of a copy of this hilarious book to find out. Till then, let’s just say that his next prey is an inert object (one this vegetarian review can almost but not quite, approve of) and his next disguise, something altogether easier to pull off – literally.
Beautifully written and with such great comic timing, Sean Taylor’s text is, and I make no apologies, a real HOOT. If Hoot Owl is master of disguise, then surely Taylor is master of suspense. My four to seven year old listeners loved the fact that although Owl constantly sounds impressively fierce, he doesn’t ever attack in the aggressive sense; his tactics are altogether more passive, if (albeit) inept. They also loved Jean Jullien’s bold illustrations and were inspired to try some of their own. Here’s one…

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Jullien’s matt colours work perfectly and he capture’s the author’s droll humour brilliantly. I love his almost child-like side views of the predator in flight.
Taylor and Jullien have an absolute winner here: there’s no disguising that.

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Unexpected Arrivals


George and the Dinosaur
Felix Hayes and Sue Heap
Brubaker, Ford and Friends (Templar)
When George’s passion for excavation results in his unearthing a dinosaur egg, little does he know that its contents – a perfect creature no less – will have such a voracious appetite. Insatiable in fact, for not only does it consume the furniture, TV, fridge and everything inside, down goes a garden tree, the paddling pool, even the tiny mouse in George’s care belonging to Class 2. From then on things go from bad to worse: the dino. swallows both George’s parents, two sweet old ladies, cars and larger vehicles – quite literally everything. Finally only George remains; so what does the dinosaur do? Well, it opens those terrible jaws and SNAP!
Of course we all know what happens when a digestive system gets over-loaded; it makes lots of gas and …


Moving in and out of rhyme, the text reads aloud beautifully as one would expect – it’s written by Gruffalo actor Felix Hayes and he should know.
But, when he cleans his treasure he finds …
the gems are stones, dirt and dust.
The sword is a spoon all covered in rust.
The leg is a root, cracked and dried.
But the egg’s still an egg
With something inside.
George puts the egg in the cupboard under the stairs.

Sue Heap’s mixed media illustrations are full of amusing details and show much more than is said in the words:
Young audiences will particularly enjoy spotting the whereabouts of the items burped out by the dinosaur on the final spread; and Hayes’ final sentence leaves space for children’s own flights of fancy.
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What Makes a Hippopotamus Smile!
Sean Taylor and Laurent Cardon
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
It’s not every day that a hippo comes to visit but when one does – or should that be, if, then take the advice of the small girl narrator of this funny picture book. Open wide the door,


play a splashy-sploshy game, then give him a warm bath with silly toys thrown in to make him laugh, after which you should share a very large crunchy salad, freshly harvested, naturally. Oh, and make sure when it’s time to bid your new best friend farewell that you do so in style – a little dance might be appropriate. That’s if you want him to come again, of course. Err …


It’s all in the interplay of Sean Taylor’s playful words (which sometimes rhyme) and the comical scenes created by Laurent Cardon using mixed ink techniques and digital art. Herein, it’s the antics of the bit players, largely froggy,


as much as the hippo’s (mis)behaviour that make the scenes so amusing. Then, there’s that almost throwaway last line and don’t forget to take a look at the endpapers with those telltale footprints too.
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Gracie is amused at the animals’ antics

There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes
Michelle Robinson and Jim Field
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Just like many children, Eric, the narrator of this story and his brother Dan have been saving cereal box coupons for a free gift; here ‘it’s a ‘Free Lion’ on offer. They’d bought so many boxes of cornflakes it took a year’s pocket money to pay for them and forever to cut out the hundred coupons needed. With said coupons duly sent off, the children wait, anticipating the fun they’ll have with the lion.


A week later nothing has arrived although numerous others have their lions – real ones. Monday comes again and with it a delivery truck. Out steps – wait for it – a huge grizzly bear, the only trouble being it’s sent next door in error; well not quite the only trouble: Mr Harper’s back yard is trashed too.


Complaints are made and the animal replaced but, not with a lion (they’d run out of those) but a crocodile. More complaints … another replacement animal  …


a face to face encounter with the cereal people … compensation of the packet kind … furious children’s faces … some serious thinking …


Mmm yes, the alternatives do have their advantages and after all, lions are just so common nowadays.
Well what about the next offer then? Err
This totally crazy tale, which brings together for the first time the talents of Michelle Robinson and Jim Field, is a joy to read aloud. The former has caught the conversational style of a young boy narrator beautifully. The latter’s wildly energetic illustrations are crammed full of delicious details to pore and giggle over.
Definitely destined to become a story time favourite.
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Upside Down Babies
Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press pbk
There is a wonderful, surprise twist at the end of this funny rhyming tale of a world turned upside down when ‘the earth went blue and the sky went brown.’ On this fateful topsy-turvy day, all the baby animals find themselves with the wrong mums. What is Mummy Cow to do when confronted with a Lion Cub demanding meat in the middle of a field?


And baby Rooster’s dawn greeting of “Cock-a doodle-dee!” definitely does not go down well with a sleepy Mummy Owl trying to get some shut eye in her tree.


With its bold, bright, wonderfully expressive pictures of the consternation all round and a text that trips off the tongue, ‘Baby Bunny bounced into Squirrel’s drey./He clung to a branch with his claws all day.’ this is one to share with the under sixes and will assuredly prompt many an encore to the huge enjoyment of readers and listeners alike.
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Animals and a Vegetable



Dolci and her mum enjoy the story together

Sean Taylor and Sally Anne Garland
Simon and Schuster pbk
Mouse’s house is perfect – well almost. There’s just a slight slope to one of the windows. Easily fixed, thinks Mouse but not so; he can’t reach up far enough. “FIDDLESTICKS!” Surely big, strong Bear can help though – oops!


One broken window… “FIDDLESTICKS and RATS!” But Squirrel is an ace climber and woodworker … Oh no! …With flood water to contend with, filthy footprints all over the kitchen wall (courtesy of Otter), a gaping hole in the roof – Moose’s offering, Mouse’s house is pretty near wrecked.


Time to bale out; off goes a distraught Mouse.
Meanwhile as the day progresses those destroyers have become creators and by sundown, when our little friend decides to return to his wreck of a home, he’s in for a big surprise.


Those pals of yours have done an amazing job, just keep your paws off that door, little Mouse,
The author says he was inspired to write this amusing story when listening to Flanders and Swann’s The Gas Man Cometh. The slightly understated telling certainly works well and the built-in repetition and cumulative nature of Mouse’s expletives delight young listeners. So too do Sally Anne Garland’s cute illustrations executed in muted shades of blues, greens, browns, pinks and greys; and the whole thing is printed on high quality paper – an added bonus.
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A Day with the Animal Mechanics
Sharon Rentta
Alison Green Books pbk
Young Dylan Basset’s big day has arrived. He’s off to help his Dad at the garage he owns. When he arrives he sees the mechanics already hard at work; there’s so much to learn,


things like how to use the car wash. So why is it that the hot afternoon is so quiet – not a single customer. Then… time to get moving Animal mechanics; grab the spare tyres, spanners, a snack and off you go. What a jam they discover on the coast road, all because a huge lorry up front has shed its load of boxes. It’s not only the cars that are overheating the mechanics find, so it’s fortunate that young Dylan decides to investigate the contents of the spilt cargo …


Guess who gets the vote for best mechanic that day. Now you’ve all earned a refreshing seaside dip too…
Rich in detail, with plenty to amuse, explore and absorb, this latest episode with the Animal work force is sure to please young audiences and those who share the book with them.
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Cheese Belongs To You
Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books pbk
Starting once again with a simple scenario, the creator of the brilliant There are Cats in this Book and There are No Cats in this Book has co-created a hilarious, totally brilliant, crazy story concerning the ownership of cheese, or rather, one particular, holey chunk of the stuff. Rat Law has it that, if any rat has the cheese, that rat is the owner of same –


unless that is, a bigger, quicker, stronger, scarier, hairier or even a dirty rat (especially a gang boss), wants it. Which rodent eventually gets to partake of that cheese though?


All manner of rats, and potentially extremely dodgy situations have been entertained with verve and vigour in reds and greys (the cheese though is a glowing yellowy orange) and through co-creator Alexis Deacon’s wonderfully clever, cumulative text.
There is so much to explore and discuss herein that I guarantee sharing it with a class of 4s to 7s will keep everyone engaged for ages; begin with the cover and cheesy endpapers and just FOLLOW THAT CHEESE! With its cleverly inbuilt repetition, this book is perfect for learner readers too.
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Catch that Crocodile!
Anushka Ravishankar and Pulak Biswas
Tara Books pbk
Herein, it takes a young fish-seller, Meena to solve the problem of how to deal with the jaw-snapping reptile that Falguni Fruit-seller discovers in a ditch. And, what’s more she does so in an entirely non-violent manner


(luring it back to the river with a trail of her wares). That of course is after the likes of Probin Policeman, Doctor Dutta and wrestler Bhayanak Singh have all attempted to do their worst to the croc and definitely come off second best.


With its clever, eye-catching typography, folk-style illustrations that look almost like woodcuts and catchy rhyme, this is good fun to read aloud with small groups of children who will need to be able to look closely at the pictures to get the most from the story.
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Sue Hendra
Simon and Schuster pbk
Whoever heard of a superhero spud? I certainly hadn’t prior to seeing Sue Hendra’s latest offering. Said superspud is hot on the trail of one dastardly pea that has got loose from the freezer and caused all kinds of suffering among the inhabitants of the vegetable section of the supermarket.


Supertato’s search sends him creeping through the cakes, the cheese and the cans but just as he’s about to grab his prey, he finds himself plunging into the icy depths of the freezer above which the pea lurks wielding a spud masher.


Is our superhero destined to become mere mash? Not quite but it’s a pretty close call.
Hmm! What’s that green spherical object in the jelly?
Totally crazy but there’s something rather appealing about a spud with superpowers careering around a supermarket at night.
The bright, almost brash colours of the produce and their surroundings make for suitably eye-catching scenes and the playful language adds spice to this tongue-in-cheek drama.
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