Stephano the Squid: Hero of the Deep

Stephano the Squid: Hero of the Deep
Wendy Meddour and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

Life for Stefano squid is far from easy. Why is it that the unique characteristics of a squid go unappreciated? That is what Stefano ponders upon.

His fellow deep sea creatures offer reasons relating to his lack of colours, being unbat-like and not being shaped like a hammer …

while the dolphins suggest he should endeavour to look more intelligent; the sea dragon favours looking more leafy and the sea cucumber’s suggestion is to look more vegetable-like.

All the while Stefano is at pains to point out that being a squid makes their suggestions impossible, and when the anglerfish  asks about his weaponry, all the squid can do is to go and hide himself away in a cave.

There he receives some words of comfort from the Sea Cucumber but they are immediately negated by the comments of the limpets.

However, when Sea Cucumber points out one of the diving crew is in trouble, it’s down to Stefano to come to his aid; small and insignificant as he considers himself to be, he just can’t swim away and do nothing.

Rescue mission achieved, or rather,  the little cephalopod and his pal get the surprise of their lives – make that two surprises -when the identity of the rescued diver is revealed; but the second one comes the following day and to discover what that is, you’ll need to get your fins on a copy of this thoroughly immersive book.

Wendy’s telling is great fun but at the same time reminds us of the importance of self-worth and self-belief. Duncan’s terrific undersea scenes are splendidly expressive and comical, and I love his marine colour palette.

There are talking points aplenty once you’ve shared this super splashy story.

Three Cheers For Women!

Three Cheers for Women!
Marcia Williams
Walker Books

Richly detailed, funny illustrations and accompanying information on seventy remarkable women from all over the world is presented in comic strip format in Marcia Williams’ (Dot) signature style.

The amazing achievements of these women are diverse and presented, with their stories, chronologically. We start in ancient times with Cleopatra V11 Queen of Egypt and warrior queen Boudicca, ending with the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, children’s and women’s rights activist.

Along the way we are introduced to among others, Mary Wollstonecraft (radical feminist and writer),

Marie Curie, human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart,

artist Frida Kahlo,

environmentalist and peace activist Wangari Maathai, Mae C. Jemison the first African-American woman in space, and Olympic athlete Cathy Freeman.

Look out for the wonderful tiny animal and bird characters that drift around the margins of the spreads along with narrator Dot and her friend Abe, adding to the fun and biographical information given in the main frames – love that narrative device.

There are also three final spreads – ‘Leaders and World-Changers’, ‘Sportswomen & Creatives’, and ‘Scientists, Pioneers & Adventurers’, containing paragraphs on around sixty other amazing women.

Memorable, inspirational, accessible and enormously enjoyable.
Children reading this, in addition to celebrating these awesome women, will surely come to know that where world changing achievements are concerned, there are, if you have a passion and self-belief, and think beyond the limits, no holds barred.

Girls Can Do Anything

Girls Can Do Anything
Caryl Hart and Ali Pye
Scholastic
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!

The Night Dragon

The Night Dragon
Naomi Howarth
Lincoln Children’s Books

Let me introduce a totally awesome dragon by the name of Maud. I should say that at the start of the always awesome, Naomi Howarth’s story, said dragon doesn’t feel at all awesome. She’s shunned by fellow dragons on account, so they say, of her lack of strong wings, A “weedy wimp” is what Gar calls her, while Brimlad is sure she’s insufficiently tough to take on the sun.

Poor Maud despairs she’ll ever be a night dragon.

Her only friend, Mouse, is encouraging, telling her that to be dragon of the night she need only be herself. Maud has her doubts.

One afternoon, Brimlad decides to celebrate his 557th birthday by throwing a party, but there’s one dragon that doesn’t get an invite. Instead she watches from behind a rock as the others drink, fight and one after another, fall into a deep sleep.

Time passes and still the dragons slumber as Maud notices a complete lack of clouds in the sky, and of nightfall there isn’t a sign.

Maud is at a loss. Mouse however isn’t. He knows what Maud must do and all he needs to do is encourage and persuade her that with him alongside, or rather behind her, she can spread those gorgeous wings of hers and fly.

Slightly emboldened, Maud leaves the mountain edge, tumbling at first and then suddenly, soaring. Soaring and emitting the most amazing clouds of rainbow hued smoke from her nostrils.

Over the mountains and fields, above winding rivers, winging over cities they go, filling the entire sky with the most fabulous shades of many colours,

until finally, as they pause for a rest, the sun starts to sink and night begins to fall.

Mouse’s words of thanks also let his friend know that just by being herself, Maud has made everything beautiful.

Now both Mouse and Maud have a new and very important role to perform – every single day …

Friendship, self-belief and daring to be different shine through in this dazzlingly beautiful picture book fable that reads like a neo folk tale. For me at least, Naomi Howarth has outshone her previous bobby-dazzlers and that’s no mean feat.

Get it, celebrate it and share it wherever you can. From cover to cover, it’s a stunner.

Almost Anything

Almost Anything
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books

Sophy Henn has already created some wonderful characters; Pom Pom, Bear and Edie immediately spring to mind and now there’s another; meet George.
On this particular day, his fellow forest dwellers are all busy enjoying themselves in one way or another; not so George who sits doing nothing.
The little rabbit seems to be completely lacking in self-belief. “I can’t …” is his response to offers from his friends to join them in their activities.

Along comes Bear, very old and very wise. She produces a newspaper from which she fashions a hat. Telling George that it has magical powers, she persuades him to give it a go and see what happens.

Slowly, slowly the ‘magic’ starts to take effect and it’s not too long before George is roller skating, which he follows by dancing to the beat, a bit of painting, some reading and much more besides. In short, George is a very busy bunny indeed, so busy that he fails to notice that his hat is no longer on his head. Suddenly …

Fortunately Bear is close at hand with an explanation of where the magic is really coming from …

As a teacher I’ve always told children that there’s no such word as ‘can’t’ when it comes to their learning and now here’s this wonderful new story from an author who really gets to the heart of how young children think .
Almost Anything is such an empowering book both for youngsters who lack self-belief and all those adults who do everything they can to offer encouragement and support to them when it comes to giving it a go.
Risk taking isn’t easy for everyone but this is a cracking book to help those who find it a challenge.

As always Sophy’s matt illustrations executed in a gorgeous muted colour palette, have just the right degree of gentle humour and the animals’ body language is quite brilliant. Look out for Badger, a truly stylish skittle player, and those hedgehog dancers sporting head bands and leg warmers are just adorable.

If this hasn’t convinced you that this is a must buy picture book then I’ll eat my ‘Almost Anything’ magic hat with its wrap-around instructions for making, kindly supplied by Puffin Books.

Gary

Gary
Leila Rudge
Walker Books

Gary is a racing pigeon. He eats, sleeps and dreams of adventure just like the others that share his loft; but, on race days, because he cannot fly, he’s left behind organising his scrapbook of travel mementos collected by his fellow pigeons. He listens avidly to the adventures of his friends as they talk of flight paths and wind directions on their return, noting down what they say in that precious scrapbook.
One night Gary and scrapbook accidentally fall from the loft into a travel basket and are taken, along with the others, to the city the next day.
He watches as the other pigeons take flight and race off into the sky, homeward bound,

leaving him all alone wondering if he’ll be forever lost in the city.
Unable to fly, he might be, but Gary does have a fully functioning brain and his scrapbook. It’s to these that he turns in his hour of need; and little by little with the aid of the book’s contents, he plots his way home, arriving with lots of exciting new mementos for the scrapbook

and a wonderful adventure story with which to regale his flighted friends.
Like Gary, Leila Rudge brings her text full circle, albeit with a slight twist, subtly showing how his differences are also sometimes, a gift. Good on you Gary for doing something amazing and doing it your way.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a wonderful story to share and talk about, and an inspiration for anyone who needs a little boost when it comes to self-belief.

Stardust / In My Room

Stardust
Jeanne Willis and Briony May-Smith
Nosy Crow

For the little girl narrator of the story, it’s deeply upsetting being the sister of someone who always seems to be the star of the show where family members are concerned, other than Grandad, that is.
Then one night after losing the Fancy Dress Competition to her big sister,

Grandad finds our narrator outside gazing up at the starlit sky. Her wish to be a star prompts him to tell her a story: the story of how the universe came into being.

A story that explains the connectedness of everything and everyone: “Everything and everyone is made of stardust,” he tells her. “… Your sister isn’t the only star in the universe… you all shine in different ways.
And, inspired by his words, shine she does – in the most amazing way.

Such wise words; words that the little girl never forgets but equally, words that every child needs telling, sometimes over and over.
Briony May-Smith’s stunningly beautiful illustrations really do celebrate connectedness, diversity and individuality; they’re every bit as empowering as Jeanne Willis’ text.
Strongly recommended for families and early years settings to share and discuss.

In My Room
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

The fifth of the ‘Growing Hearts’ series of novelty books starring a little girl protagonist is essentially a celebration of creativity and imaginative play.
The thick pages are cut so that when the book is turned through 90 degrees, they form together a variegated pencil crayon with which the girl conjures up a series of playful scenarios.
All I need is paper, crayons, chalk … and my imagination!” she tells readers.
First she’s an explorer, then a dancing princess; she becomes a speed racer, a teacher, a writer,

a sailor, a swimmer, a bride, a vet and finally, a funky rock star; all without leaving her room other than in her head

and courtesy of her art materials. Not a sign of any technology anywhere – hurrah!
Yes, there are already plenty of picture books that celebrate the power of the imagination; what makes this one different is the format.
Long live creativity!

I’ve signed the charter