Mermaid School: The Clamshell Show

Mermaid School: The Clamshell Show
Lucy Courtenay, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
Andersen Press

We’re back at Lady Sealia Foam’s Mermaid School where Marnie Blue is now well settled in and has two special friends Pearl and Orla (her enemy when Marnie started school).

Marnie is eagerly anticipating the forthcoming Clamshell Show particularly as it was there that her famous singer aunt, Christabel got her big break.

Now both Marnie and Orla are going to audition for the leading role of Queen Maretta.

Enter new pupil Gilly, she of the amazing voice. She too has set her sights on the star part and is prepared to resort to some tricky tactics to get what she wants. She also speaks fluent octopus and has a brother at a nearby educational establishment.

When Gilly learns that Christabel Blue is Marnie’s aunt things really start to hot up, so much so that it seems as though the long awaited Clamshell Show might not even take place at all.

Then who is the mysterious Arthur that Christabel is writing to when Marnie visits her recording studio?

There are plenty of twists and turns to keep young readers immersed in the undersea world of Mermaid Lagoon to the very last page of this second exciting adventure. Added to the fun are Sheena Dempsey’s drawings that bubble up on every spread.

Mermaid School

Mermaid School
Lucy Courtenay, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
Anderson Press

The first of a new Lucy Courtenay series sees young mermaid Marnie Blue determined to make a good impression on her very first day at Mermaid School.

She has the usual first day nerves about making friends, and is concerned at the prospect of perhaps having to ride a seahorse but she has something additional to be worried about.

Her aunt, the famous singer and DJ, Christabel Blue, is an ex pupil and her reputation as a student at the same educational establishment leaves a lot to be desired. Indeed she is on record as having been the naughtiest mermaid the school has ever had on role. In contrast Marnie’s mother was a model student.

Marnie really wants to impress both staff and fellow pupils but will her teachers give her a fair chance or have they already decided what kind of newbie they’re dealing with in the latest Blue family enrollee to Lady Sealia Foam’s Mermaid School?

Her first day is definitely not a success except that Marnie makes friends with Pearl Cockle. Surely the mayhem-causing snake in her school bag couldn’t possibly have been put there by her aunt, could it? If not then who was responsible?

What about Orla, who from the outset seems determined to be unkind to her and causes her to get into trouble? Something decidedly fishy appears to be going on.

Then Orla goes missing; who will come to her aid?

There’s SO much more to discover about life at Mermaid School and Marnie’s family in this story that bubbles with excitement; all the more so thanks to Sheena Dempsey’s illustrations.

I know one 7-year-old reader who is already eagerly anticipating Book 2, The Clamshell Show, coming in May.

Emmanuelle engrossed in the story

Some of Emmanuelle’s comments on this book:
“It was VERY, VERY, VERY good and very funny, especially Marnie’s aunt, Christabelle Blue. I really like that she said the Mermaid school was ‘terrible’ and also her love aspect with a human.”

She was also inspired to draw this picture of Marnie’s aunt.

Hungry Babies

Hungry Babies
Fearne Cotton and Sheena Dempsey
Andersen Press

The adorable babes and their associated adults who entertained readers with their yoga activities now share mealtimes with us and they’re a very hungry group of little ones.

Going through the day, we start with Honey enthusiastically devouring her breakfast while big brother Rex gets dog Bingo to help him finish his toast.

The next visit is to Emily who unfortunately isn’t up to eating anything at all on account of her ‘poorly tum’.

Then comes Prakash, out with his granny at the market where most of their purchases go in the basket, but one creates a mango juice design on the little boy’s T-shirt.

We take a look at lunch time both indoors (with Kit) and outside with Sophie and her mum;
then move on to Maya’s birthday celebrations at the café where things get just a tad out of hand before order is eventually restored.

Teatime too looks full of fun if what we see at George’s and Winnie’s homes are anything to go by;

so also does Maya’s birthday tea in the garden when all the friends gather together.

Evening brings a bedtime snuggle up together, milk and story: what better way to end the day for Hungry Babies.

An altogether irresistible rhyming treat from Fearne Cotton with equally engaging Sheena Dempsey scenes to share with your young ones.

The Dodo Made Me Do It

The Dodo made Me Do It
Jo Simmons, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Instead of the usual deadly dull summer holidays, 10-year-old Danny yearns for adventure. As usual though, he’s sent off to spend six whole weeks with Granny Flora who lives in the wilds of Scotland in a farmhouse, in a village called Kinoussie. To make matters worse nothing ever happens in this outlandish environ, it receives an awful lot of rain, has a population of ‘weirdies, oldies and older weirdies’. Promising it is not, particularly as his gran is porridge obsessed and the place is over-run with midges.

There’s only one person of around Danny’s age anywhere in the vicinity and that’s science-mad Susie. ‘You can make this work, Danny!’ his mum tells him as they part. ‘There is fun to be had up here. You just have to make it happen!’
And make it happen is what Danny does.

Over breakfast – yes porridge – Danny learns of a shipwreck just off the coast a very long time ago.
Quickly the lad hatches a plan of action A & E: Adventure & Excitement, he calls it, that involves visiting the precise location of the shipwreck, finding enough treasure to make him sufficient money to buy a train ticket home and once there to spend his booty on a holiday in a sunny spot somewhere distant.

Instead what he discovers is something even more unlikely than ancient treasure, it’s can you believe, a dodo!

Thereafter, said dodo gets Danny (along with Susie who becomes a kind of sidekick) into all manner of tricky situations just trying to keep the creature safe, fed and quiet.

In addition though, he finds himself confronting a criminal who’s come to Kinoussie seeking a place to hide away. Hmmm!

Why did he ever wish for excitement?

With a liberal sprinkling of comical drawings from Sheena Dempsey, this cracking Jo Simmons’ tale is to say the least, hilarious. Perfect holiday reading.

If you need more suggestions for your children’s summer reading, you could try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Yoga Babies

Yoga Babies
Fearne Cotton and Sheena Dempsey
Andersen Press

Yoga with babies isn’t about getting into poses properly; rather it’s about having fun and starting out on what could, one hopes (says the yoga teacher in me) become a lifelong practice that has enormous benefits for both health and wellbeing.
Yoga is part and parcel of the everyday lives of the babies herein, and it looks as though they all enjoy giving it a go.

We see Maya making a bridge, which her brother then pushes his car under, a down dog,

child’s pose herein called ‘dormouse’ pose, watch Sophie’s mum eagerly unrolling the mats after a trying day; and Prakash and his granny having a wonderful stretch – all indoors.

But of course, it’s great to practice yoga outdoors too. There are sure to be lots of opportunities even if you don’t have your yoga mat with you …

And where better to try being a tree than in the back garden, which is just the place for some cat stretches too.

Invitingly written by TV presenter and mum to two young children, Fearne Cotton, and delightfully illustrated by Sheena Dempsey whose scenes of adorable yoga babies are full of fun, this little book really does show that yoga is for everyone.

I’ve signed the charter 

Starting with a Fairy Tale …

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Cinderella’s Big Day
Katie Cotton and Sheena Dempsey
Templar Publishing
It’s just one week before the wedding of Prince Charlie and Cinderella when a letter arrives on the royal breakfast table addressed to the King and Queen: a letter from Charlie, informing Their Most Marvellous Majesties that the ring he’s due to place on Cinderella’s finger has gone missing. Immediately the King’s suspicion falls on the ugly sisters. But is he right? There follow five further letters through which much of the narrative detail unfolds. The wedding does take place though with some notable absentees and all is made clear why through the final communication fired off by Cinders herself as she relaxes happily on her honeymoon – that and …

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Billed as ‘After Happily Ever After” I suspect this amusing novelty book is the first of a new series. Sheena Dempsey has used a palette of soft colours to create her scenes. Scenes that contain a mixture of contemporary items such as Cinderella’s heart shaped sunglasses, wry details like the mouse’s tail extending round the skin lotion bottle,

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as well as the more traditional fairytale paraphernalia. Children will particularly love the wedding fold-out scene that is crammed with characters from traditional tales and nursery rhymes.

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How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel
Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
On the top floor of an inner city tower block Rapunzel languishes, ignoring callers: the milkman, the postman bearing a letter, the baker woman, Rapunzel’s aunt with dinner, even a prince bearing chocs and red roses.

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All exhort, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, please let down your hair.” But, receiving no response, and with the lift out of order, one by one they continue on their way. Later though, concerned on account of her lack of food, they have a change of heart and after a discussion, all (except the prince who is never seen again) decide to return to make amends. Back they go and up, up to the sixteenth floor where a hearty meal is cooked for Rapunzel and the letter duly delivered. The food restores colour to her cheeks but it’s the contents of the letter that really puts a smile on her face.
Rapunzel leapt up and she shouted with glee:
“I’ve got a new job at the library!”

From then on our heroine is transformed: no longer does she sit idly waiting to be wooed; she spends her time enthusing about books at work and educating herself when she gets home – courtesy of LIBRARY BOOKS – what else?
Told through a longish, zingy, rhyming text and bold illustrations that are full of funny details and mischievous touches such as the crow tugging at a tress of Rapunzel’s wayward auburn hair, not to mention cats, dogs and birds galore.
A great plug for libraries and the delights of books and a great picture book debut for illustrator, Rebecca Ashdown.

Also told in jaunty rhyme is:

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Princess Sleepyhead and the Night-Night Bear
Peter Bently and Laura Ellen Anderson
Orchard Books
Night has fallen over the kingdom; in the castle all are slumbering, all that is except one: Princess Sleephead is wide awake. But kindly Owl at her window is determined to help so off he flies, returning soon with Fox and Mouse. Their sleep-inducing ideas are great fun but very energetic and only serve to wake her further. Owl however has promised three friends so who is missing? Ah! It’s Bartholomew Brownfur-Brown – a large friendly creature – aka the Sleepytime Ted clutching a collection of bedtime fairy tales:

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just the thing to cure the princess’s insomnia.
Exuberant illustrations littered with the princess’s ephemera, endearing animal characters and some enchanting sleepy-time scenes and a text that is a pleasure to read aloud, are the main ingredients of this fairy tale romp.

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Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
It’s great to see this book reissued; my original hardback copy was read to destruction. Loosely based on Jack and the Beanstalk, the manner in which this book draws readers in is just superb. With the entreaty to “Come inside” we enter the giant’s castle wherein we view and creep past, a huge-bellied sleeping mouse, a slumbering cat – enormous, a broody hen, the giant’s wife busy cooking dinner and then, the snoring giant.
Distorted perspectives, grisly domestic details such as an axe to slice the bread and eyeballs in the stew pot, retrospective flaps so readers can check whether those they crept past have been disturbed – reassuring until the final one, after which it’s a case of doing what we are told …

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Not for long though, I can guarantee there will be cries of “read it again” straightaway.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:


Hear it from the Animals

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Bruno and Titch
Sheena Dempsey
Walker Books
Titch waits anxiously in Mrs Pinkerley’s pet shop for a “Big Person” to come along and buy him; it’s been so long – almost a year in guinea pig time already. Now imagine his joy when in comes one small boy and out go one guinea pig and one small boy together. Life at Bruno’s home takes some getting used to however –their tastes are so very different.

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And all those games are positively hair-raising for a small furry rodent but then there are other things that compensate.
Just when the friendship seems to be flourishing though, Bruno starts behaving very strangely; surely it can’t be a getting rid of pet plan he’s hatching worries our small narrator. As a pair of hands reach out, panic seizes Titch but …

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WOW! Bruno’s creation is truly amazing, only serving to prove what a good friend he is; and definitely worth that wait.
So too was the wait for Sheena Dempsey’s latest offering. Her ink and watercolour illustrations are full of fun and feeling and could well prompt young listeners to set to work to create their own pet paradises.
Also with an animal narrator is:

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I’m My Own Dog
David Ezra Stein
Walker Books
I’m my own dog. Nobody owns me. I own myself’’ asserts the self-assured canine storyteller at the outset and goes on to demonstrate just how he answers to nobody and is totally happy with his lot. Life is just dandy until along comes a particularly annoying itch in an unreachable (for our narrator that is) place on his back. So bad does it become that for all his talk, the bulldog is forced to allow a human hand to come to his aid.

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Then one thing … leads to another … until despite the disadvantage of having to do the cleaning up, a firm friendship is forged.

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Amusing,watercolour and pen and ink pictures created with a mix of thick and thin strokes almost calligraphic style, cleverly add both definition and personality to the two main characters in particular.
Great fun even if, like me, you are not a dog-lover.

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Mad About Mega Beasts!
Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz
Orchard Books
A dozen very large creatures introduce themselves in this latest offering from the duo who brought us Rumble in the Jungle, Commotion in the Ocean and Mad About Minibeasts. There are creatures of land and sea, hot places and cold, carnivores and vegetarians; a few are extinct, most very much alive. They might be feathered, furred, scaly or smooth, scary or more friendly, but the one thing they have in common is their sheer size. Thus we meet, among others, Argentinosaurus (currently claimed to be the largest dinosaur), the Siberian Tiger, Python and even a St. Bernard all rendered in glorious technicolour in Wojtowycz’s gleeful illustrations;

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he manages to make even that python look anything but scary. Superb use of the space on the page every time, and with its mix of colourful characters and jaunty rhymes I’m sure this will become as popular as its predecessors in primary classrooms everywhere. Individual readers will delight in spotting those other – tiny – creatures that seem to have managed to find their way into every scene.

Find and buy from your local bookshop: