The Leaf Thief

The Leaf Thief
Alice Hemming and Nicola Slater
Scholastic

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.

Springtime Picture Book Delights

This is a catch-up of some Macmillan titles:

The Nature Girls
Aki (DelphineMach)
Macmillan Children’s Books

Sixteen inquisitive girls – I love the fact they’re introduced by name on the title page – don identical yellow safari suits and sally forth to explore nature, in particular different biomes.
Bags on backs, having observed some rabbits in their garden, they head for the beach and clad in sub aqua gear, dive down

and swim with dolphins.

Then it’s back on with the safari suits and off they go walking through rainforest, across a desert,

then aboard a safari bus travelling through grasslands; on a plane tundra bound where they board a dog sledge

and finally, they sail off destination a forest alive with sounds of its wildlife.

Observant listeners and readers will notice the less obvious as well as obvious animals and other detail in Aki’s playfully adorable scenes, as her rhyming text bounces along as enthusiastically as the intrepid travellers. I absolutely love the sense of mischief occasionally shown by some of the young female friends in this joyous adventure and the final scene hinting of further wonder-filled adventures in the offing. Hooray for girl power!

A fun introduction to the scientific notion of biomes – the final spread about these may well set the inquisitive off researching the topic further.

Little Bear’s Spring
Elli Woollard & Briony May Smith
Macmillan Children’s Books

As any walk in town or rural parts will show, spring has well and truly sprung now and what better way to celebrate its joys (apart from a walk) than with terrific twosome Elli and Briony’s gorgeous book collaboration that celebrates not only the coming of my favourite time of year, but also, friendship.

When a little bear awakes one morning all he sees is a vast, seemingly empty snowy landscape.
Without a playmate, Little Bear spies a small smooth stone that feels like a promise.

Tucking it into his fur, he heads off down the track in search of friends.

Too busy for friendship, the birds are nest building and bear’s efforts to do likewise fail so off he goes again.

He finds however that the hares and wolves are also busy with spring preparations and his attempts to emulate them are, in the first instance merely a flop and in the second, pretty scary. This brief scariness however, precipitates the perfect finale of the story …

for when Little Bear awakes next morning a whole new world with an exciting surprise awaits …

Delivered in faultless lyrical rhyme Elli’s terrific tale with its wonderful evocations of spring, and Briony’s stupendous scenes of the natural world and the changes therein, (her use of ‘night and light and the half light’) with the terrific portrayal of the zestiness of life in springtime make this book’s a true treasure no matter what time of year you share it.

What Clara Saw
Jessica Meserve
Macmillan Children’s Books

Clara’s enthusiasm for the school trip to a wildlife park could so easily have been thwarted by the egotistic, know-all, humans are vastly superior to other animals, attitude of teacher, Mr Biggity, as he walks around intent on proving the veracity of his fake-scientific assertions to the children in his class at every opportunity, talking down the animals’ awesome characteristics.

Clara in contrast walks around with an open mind and eyes, wondering and observing what the residents of the animal park are doing. “Do animals feel sad?” she asks … ‘no, no and NO, … their brains are far too small for feelings” comes his retort.

And of course they can’t possibly communicate, use tools to get what they need and absolutely ‘don’t care about the world around them’ …

As Mr B. rabbits on, the animals are engaged in using their aptitudes, knowledge, skills and natural instincts to outwit the park keeper and come to the aid of a giant tortoise, about to be transported away from her fellow animals.

So much is shown rather than told. Jessica’s exquisitely observed watercolour and pen illustrations say far more than her words: Clara’s fascination and joy as she watches the animals is evident from the outset as is Mr Biggity’s condescending attitude both to his charges and the animals. Note the position of his right hand as they enter the park, his meticulously tied laces, his upturned foot as he strides forth and in contrast, the expressions of the children, as they look in wonder at what they see.

This humorous, cleverly constructed story brilliantly demonstrates how best to learn; how not to be gulled by false information (HMMM!) and there’s not a tiny weeny touch of the dogmatic preachiness that is Mr B. anywhere in sight.

Friendship Rules: Lucia & Lawrence / The Sasquatch and the Lumberjack

Lucia & Lawrence
Joanna Francis
New Frontier Publishing

Lucia and Lawrence live next door to one another; their interests are very different: Lucia is dreamy, wildly imaginative and creative; Lawrence has an analytical mind, filling his head with numbers.
One rainy day when Lawrence first moved in, Lucia introduced herself with an invitation to play.

She also asked him to imagine a rainbow, something her neighbour couldn’t do; nor did he have the courage to go out and play with Lucia, so she takes matters into her own hands.

Before long the two have become friends. Lucia decides to invite Lawrence to her birthday party but still he cannot bring himself to accept.

Instead, busy in his room, he finds his own way to celebrate the occasion. That night he contacts Lucia again, informing her that he has made something for her.
The wait next day is long but eventually in her inimitable effervescent way, there she is …

It turns out she’s also brought her crayons along and with those puts the finishing touches to her gift. But the very best present of all, both for Lucia and Lawrence, is their togetherness.

There’s a wonderful whimsiness about Joanna Francis’ illustrations for her warm-hearted story of reaching out, find a way, understanding and finally, friendship.

The Sasquatch and the Lumberjack
Crix Sheridan
Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch)

If you don’t know what a sasquatch is, let’s say it’s a kind of yeti type creature, huge and hairy – think Bigfoot.

In this wonderful tale with minimal words, Sheridan creates a tale of a highly unlikely friendship that grows between a woodcutter and a sasquatch after they encounter one another in the forest and experience the seasons in each other’s company.

Together they have a lot of exciting adventures: the richly hued Autumn provides a foragers’ feast.

Winter offers icy surfaces for skating and and snowy ones for ski-ing and sledging.

Spring brings renewal to the forest with fragrant flowers,

hiking and biking while Summer brings surfing, and swimming under golden skies.

Then Autumn is back and the cycle begins all over with the friends ready for a fresh round of delights.

It’s terrific fun and full of heart with Sheridan’s cracking illustrations doing most of the talking.

The Things That I Love about Trees

The Things That I Love about Trees
Chris Butterworth and Charlotte Voake
Walker Books

As I write this the trees all around are bursting forth with blossoms and new leaves; it’s just like the little girl in this arboreal tribute says as she leaves her house and sallies forth, ‘… changes begin. There are buds, like beads getting bigger on the branches…’. I’ve yet to see trees ‘buzzing with bees’ like the plum tree mentioned, ’but I know it will soon be so.

The child goes on to talk about the beauty of trees through the other seasons: in summer it’s the sheer enormity that impresses her, that and the shade they offer as well as the swishing sound that brings to mind the sea,

and the tiny green plums that are beginning to form.

Come autumn, the striking thing is the colour change to yellow, orange and red; the ripe fruits and seeds that feed the birds and animals.

As the leaves are tossed by the wind and fall you might even, like the girl catch one and make a wish.

Trees are lovely too in winter when they’re stripped of their leaves you can see all the way up to the topmost branches as everything is in its resting phase just waiting for the cycle to begin all over again, as we know it will.

The final spread has some suggestions for tree related things to do.

Walker Books do natural history for very young children beautifully and this book is no exception. Chris Butterworth’s main narrative is supplemented with small print that gives additional tree facts, which can be read alongside or after the child’s descriptions.
Rendered in watercolour and outlined in thick black ink lines, Charlotte Voake’s trees are absolutely superb; your fingers itch to touch the wonderful bark of the oak and make sure you check out the lovely leafy endpapers.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Home for Gully / Through the Gate

A Home for Gully
Jo Clegg and Lalalimola
Oxford University Press
Gully is a long-suffering resident of the park; long-suffering because every morning his makeshift home is swept away by the keeper. This should no longer be tolerated, decides the scruffy dog that happens along one morning, introduces himself as Fetch and claims to be returning Gully’s stick. Fetch calls a meeting of his 412 resident fleas and thereupon they decide to assist the seagull in a search for a more satisfactory place of residence: one “that doesn’t get swept away, where my feet are warm and dry, and my tummy is full” is the bird’s desire.
They leave the relative peace and quiet of the park …

and head into the city where, after being shown the door of a smart hotel, they come upon the seemingly stuck-up Madison who offers her assistance as city guide. The three circumambulate the whole city before ending up at the library for some R and R. Make that R, R and R for therein they meet rat, Zachary.

On learning it’s a home rather than a book they’re seeking, Zachary leads them out and eventually, to a likely spot. Then with Gully safely installed, the other three head off into the darkness leaving their pal to his new warm, dry abode.
Next morning however, all is not quite hunky-dory with Gully. What good is a home if he doesn’t have others to share it with thinks our feathered friend …

There is a wonderful vintage look to Jo Clegg’s warm-hearted, funny story, thanks to Lalalimola’s delectably droll illustrations. These she packs with diverting visual (and verbal) asides that cause the reader to pause for a while and spend time exploring every spread. This is an artist I shall watch with interest, as I will the author.

Through the Gate
Sally Fawcett
EK
A little girl narrator, unhappy about a move to a new house, shares her step-by- step transformation from feelings of sadness and loss, to those of joy and satisfaction. The process is recounted as she travels with initially, downcast eyes, in a plodding manner to and from her new school; then after a week, the plod gives way to a mooch and the sighting of wild flowers growing through cracks in the pavement. Another week passes and she changes to an eyes-forward wander and hence, more awareness of the positives the environment offers …

The following week our narrator is ready to look all around her as she walks and thus, one becomes two walkers to school; and thereafter, things are altogether different.
Concurrent with the little girl’s changing feelings as new opportunities manifest, we see the new house gradually becoming a wonderful new home; but those aren’t the only changes: a lone bird on a bare tree builds a nest, finds a mate, eggs are laid, and life begins anew as three fledglings appear, just in time for blossom to burst forth on the tree.

Look closely at the spreads and you’ll notice a cat that plays a bit part in the whole transformation; delicate details of plants which, like the rest of the girl’s surroundings, change from shades of grey to full colour.
Sally Fawcett orchestrates this lovely story of change, hope and resilience superbly using a patterned text in tandem with subtly changing scenes of the girl’s actual and metaphorical journey.

I’ve signed the charter  

Trees / We’re Going on a Bear Hunt My First Adventure Field Guide

Trees
Lemniscates
Walker Books
Published under the Walker Studio imprint, this is a gorgeously textured, digitally worked, tribute to trees. Through elegant illustrations and a succinctly worded text, homage is paid to trees. We see them in all their changing seasonal glory;

trees with ‘their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground.

And we learn something of the functions of their roots; their various locations and something of the important environmental roles they play: homes for a plethora of birds and other creatures, providing shade for humans and other animals, cleansers of the air we breathe; and providers of a bounty of fruits. In the last few spreads we are in the company of a child in various tree interactions both rural and urban.

Share this lovely book with young children and then go outside and start to observe, enjoy and appreciate the wonderful trees around.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt My Adventure Field Guide
text by Hannah Peng/Walker Books
Walker Entertainment
Somebody somewhere has had the clever idea of capitalising on the popularity of the original Rosen/Oxenbury We’re Going on a Bear Hunt picture book and the more recent success of the animation of the same and come up with this natural history adventure guide using some stills of scenes from the latter.
Like all good adventures, it takes a bit of planning and making sure one takes the appropriate things along in the way of clothing and protection, together with a handy notebook. Then it’s off into the big wide world of explorations, be they at home, school, countryside or seaside, by day or perhaps, night, always accompanied of course, by a responsible adult.
High in the Sky’, ‘Down in the Ground’ in that ‘thick oozy mud’; Further Afield to caves, through woodlands and forest (stumble trip) and onto the shore are other possible places for spotting a plethora of flora and fauna, large and small. Doing weather observations, making mud bricks, collecting fruits for scrumptious baked apples, creating a special plant habitat at home and measuring the heights of trees are just some of the numerous possibilities included; and I’m sure children will relish the idea of a poo hunt.
With its wipe-clean cover, this backpack-sized beauty concludes with some important words about the impact of certain kinds of human activity on the natural world, ways to help combat these and a final glossary.
For any child with a taste for adventure, either at home or in school.

I’ve signed the charter 

Robin’s Winter Song

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Robin’s Winter Song
Suzanne Barton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
For me late autumn and the coming of winter means hot chilli chocolate, snuggly boots and a warm jacket or coat. For Robin in Suzanne Barton’s gorgeous new story it means the departure of the friendly finches, Squirrel busy burying nuts …

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and Owl warning him to keep warm and snug. Winter must surely be scary, greedy and cold decides the now frightened little Robin and he flies off into the woods.
There he meets Bear, also on the move. Robin asks where he’s going and when he learns that Bear is off to find a cosy cave in which to sleep till Winter is over, Robin asks to join him. Before long the two of them are snuggled up fast asleep, Bear snoring softly.

 

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But then, feeling a distinct chill in the air, Robin wakes and flies to the cave opening where a breath-taking sight meets his eyes. Robin is enchanted and sorties outside to find out more about that whiteness all around.

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It’s Winter.” Mouse tells him and Robin can scarcely believe it. From then on Winter becomes something to enjoy with his friends in the day and to snuggle up against at night.

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Time seems to pass quickly until one day Robin notices another change: tiny shoots are bursting through and the snow is starting to melt. It’s time to wake up Bear he decides somewhat sadly. Spring is on its way, Bear tells his friend and although he has no idea what this means, Robin is eager to make its acquaintance.
Despite its decidedly chilly setting, warmth radiates from every page of this beautiful book that so magically chronicles the seasonal changes from autumn to winter and winter to spring. Robin, encountering these changes for the first time, and the other woodland creatures, are so winningly portrayed in Suzanne Barton’s decorative collage style scenes.
A great follow-up to The Dawn Chorus and a must have book to share as the days get colder.

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