Dogger’s Christmas

Dogger’s Christmas
Shirley Hughes
Puffin Books

I think Shirley’s Dogger has been introduced to every foundation stage and KS1 class I’ve ever taught so I was enormously excited to see Dave’s beloved toy dog return in a seasonal sequel. Now considerably older, Dave still takes his favourite soft toy to bed with him every night, although his interest in toys has broadened to all kinds of vehicles.

As Christmas approaches, we share the family’s preparations – writing to Father Christmas, putting up decorations, shopping –

till, come Christmas Eve, the tree is a-glow and the children’s stockings are ready to hang up.

Next morning there’s huge excitement as Dave, Bella and Joe open their presents littering the floor with the wrappings. They also give their own specially chosen gifts to their Mum and Dad before Bella and Mum visit a neighbour, leaving Dad busy with the Christmas dinner ready for the arrival of Granny and Grandpa.

After a wonderful family day, when the visitors have gone and the children are in bed, disaster strikes. Dave wakes to discover that his beloved Dogger is missing. His parents and Bella help him search but of Dogger, there’s no sign.

Next morning and in the days following Dave is totally downcast; he’s sad that he’d neglected his old favourite and not interested in his new toys. Surely Dogger can’t be lost forever? No of course not, for this special toy has not lost his own knack of turning up in the most unlikely of places.

Shirley’s magic shows no sign of waning in this wonderful festive sequel to her original, now classic, picture book. Every spread exudes love and warmth – both in the account of the family, and in Shirley’s illustrations. It’s interesting to see how much Dave, Bella and little Joe appear to have grown.

A must for family sharing this Christmas, and for many to come.

Stories on My Street / Eric and the Green-Eyed God

It’s great to see the return of some old favourites given new looks.

Stories on My Street
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

This brings together four stories featuring the children and their families, who are all residents of Trotter Street. The tales were originally published with Shirley’s coloured illustrations, herein replaced with black and white ones.

In the first, New Wheels for Carlos, friends Billy and Carlos love to race their old bikes down the hill in the park but both of them are outgrowing their old slow machines. With birthdays fast approaching each would truly love a new bike; will it be a ‘Happy Birthday’ for both boys? …

A heart-warming tale of friendship, longings and surprise.

The Patterson family are the focus of The Big Concrete Lorry. It’s a tight fit with four humans and a dog at number 26, their little home. So, after a family conference it’s decided that they should have an extension. The cost won’t be excessive as Dad, (with help from willing neighbours) will build it himself.

All goes to plan until CRRURK! CRRUCK! CRRUCK! the arrival of a lorry bearing the name JIFFY READY-MIX CONCRETE CO on the side and it’s a day early …

Thereafter a massive effort on the part of the community is called for.

This smashing story with its wonderful illustrations put me in mind of the time years back, when my partner and I were installing an Amtico floor that had to be put on top of a self-levelling screed in our kitchen and the antics that ensued to prevent it setting too quickly.

In Angel Mae and the New Baby, Mae’s mother is expecting a baby, something about which Mae has mixed feelings especially as she is to play the role of the Angel ‘Gave-You’ in her class nativity play very soon. But when Mae wakes up on the day of the play, there’s no sign of either her mum or dad; instead Grandma is in the kitchen cooking breakfast.

The tension mounts as the show proceeds with Mae hoping against hope that at least one of her parents will arrive to see her debut performance …

Warmth and humour as only Shirley can do it, abound in this third tale.

The Snow Lady is what Sam and her friend Barney create one chilly day. It bears a close resemblance to their grumpy neighbour, Mrs Dean, Barney decides, and makes a pebble name ‘Mrs Mean’ at her feet.

Mrs Dean is away to spend Christmas with her son, but she arrives back unexpectedly late on Christmas Eve. Conscience-struck, Sam is concerned that come the morning Mrs Dean will see what she and Barney have done and feel hurt.

Of course, like the others, this gently humorous story has a happy ending and is equally deftly illustrated in Shirley’s exquisite style.

Eric and the Green-Eyed God
Barbara Mitchelhill, illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Eric’s mum is soon to marry but there’s a snag; she’s marrying his teacher known as ‘the Bodge’. That in itself is pretty awful but even worse is that his globetrotting Auntie Rose has sent a wedding present sparkling with emeralds and it’s said to be imbued with magical properties that might result in more than one new addition to his family.

Eric and his friend Wez don’t know the meaning of the words his aunt has used in relation to the gift but their pain in the neck classmate Annie certainly does and she insists such objects work.

Eric and Wez simply have to locate this present among all the others and stow it away somewhere where it can’t work before Mum has a chance to open it on her big day.

Locating it is relatively easy but hiding it away is another matter especially since Eric and his fellow pupils are engaged in the ‘Loving the Earth’ project the mayor has set up. Moreover Eric has failed to clear up the mess made when he and Wez were opening all the presents and now his mum thinks there’s been a break in and the police are involved.

Things just keeping on getting worse: how can Eric get himself out of this increasingly troublesome situation?

Barbara Mitchelhill’s mix of zany humour, magic and emotions will result in giggles aplenty from young readers of this episode in the series especially since the inimitable Tony Ross has supplied plenty of wacky new illustrations.

My Naughty Little Sister and Father Christmas

My Naughty Little Sister and Father Christmas
Dorothy Edwards and Shirley Hughes

Shirley Hughes seems to me to have given My Naughty Little Sister a more determined than ever look in these superb colour illustrations for what was always for my infant classes, a ‘must read’ seasonal episode from the original My Naughty Little Sister book. It was then called The Naughtiest Story of All and Shirley supplied black and white illustrations. Gone now are the smocked dresses with puff sleeves; instead for a new generation, the character wears a typical school uniform and appears slightly more grown up.

This single picture book edition offers a perfect opportunity to introduce her to young listeners.

Whilst loving almost everything about Christmas there is one thing that this younger sibling of the narrator does not like at all and that is Father Christmas; in fact she calls him ‘a horrid old man!’ and refuses to hang up her stocking for him.

Then she gets an opportunity to meet Father Christmas;

can she possibly overcome her dislike of the man when he pays a visit to her school?

In case readers don’t know what happens, I won’t divulge the rest of the story but rest assured it’s lost none of its power to delight. I will certainly be sharing it again this Christmas.

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

Moon and Me
Andrew Davenport and Mariko Umeda

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

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

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

and there they see something wonderful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angel on the Roof

Angel on the Roof
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

Come with me to 32 Paradise Street, Notting Hill, London where something wonderful unfolds.

In her inimitable style, Shirley Hughes presents the story of a friendship that develops between a boy, Lewis Brown, and an angel.

One night this angel alights unnoticed on the roof of the building wherein Lewis lives with his parents, spends the night there and next morning shakes his wings causing a golden feather to fall, landing on the sill of the window through which Lewis is peering.
(Having an underdeveloped leg, Lewis prefers people watching to interpersonal encounters.)

The boy notices the feather, knows it’s something special and clambers up to the roof to investigate.

What he sees is an angel with a beaming smile. Lewis pours out his heart to the being and thus begins their relationship.

The two walk together through the streets of west London, the angel wearing an overcoat belonging to Lewis’s father.

We never see its face, but alongside the angel Lewis feels alone no longer and gradually things change for the better at 32 Paradise Street.

For fear of spoiling the story, I’ll say little more other than that one night Lewis has the experience of a lifetime and things continue to change for the better both in his life and those of other people.

This is such a sublimely beautiful book; it’ll make you feel uplifted and having read it and wondered at Shirley’s illustrations with those touches of gold, you’ll want immediately to find others to share it with. I certainly did.

Early Years Round-Up

Father’s Day
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

A gorgeously warm celebration of moments shared with a beloved dad are woven together to make a super little book for dads and their very little ones to share around Father’s Day, or on any other day. There’s a lively early morning awakening and musical rendition at breakfast time and a walk to playgroup. The highlight though is a day spent at the beach, playing, snoozing, sandcastle building and picnicking. Then it’s back home for bathtime, a spot of first aid,

a goodnight story and some moon spotting.

Bliss! And who better to show all that than the wonderful Shirley Hughes.

Maisy Goes to a Show
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy and friends are off to the theatre to see a performance of Funny Feathers, starring Flora Fantastica. Maisy finds it hard to contain her excitement as they queue, browse a programme and eventually take their front-row seats just as the music starts and the curtain lifts for the drama to begin.

During the interval, there’s time for a loo visit and snacks before the bell rings for curtain up again and the cast, led by Flora, sing in the big city of their desires before heading back to their jungle home, and a curtain call farewell.

Maisy fans will love it, and she’ll likely win some new followers with this latest “First Experiences’ story.
More new experiences come in:

The Scooter
Judy Brown
Otter-Barry Books

Twin rabbits Bruno and Bella and back in a second story. Bruno is thrilled to bits with his brand new scooter, practising eagerly using alternate legs and travelling at different speeds in different places. The only trouble is he forgets to perfect one crucial aspect of the entire process: how to use the brake. This precipitates some high drama as he whizzes downhill, through fields, a garden, the market and the park before Bella finally catches up with him – almost.

Anyone for a repeat performance?: Bruno certainly and I’m pretty sure very little humans will demand a re-run too; it’s smashing fun and who can resist Bruno’s enthusiasm?
And for slightly older listeners:

Sandy Sand Sandwiches!
Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick’s ‘sticky stickers’ awarders, The Little Adventurers return with their zest for life and bonhomie. It’s a very hot day as they assemble in their HQ shed, collect the necessary items and await one of their number, Finnegan who eventually turns up already sporting his snazzy trunks.

Off they go to the beach in his daddy’s car, arriving full of enthusiasm but with a modicum of good sense as they share the safety rules before heading onto the sand for some sculpting.

Masterpieces complete, it’s time to stand back and admire each one in turn.

Then after ice-cream treats it’s off for some paired rock-pooling,

followed by shell collecting and an unplanned treasure hunt. Then it’s time for a quick dip before they all head home with a few grains of sand to remind them of their day and back at HQ, a final sticker awarding, including one to Snub for his very helpful ‘mouse-sitting’.

Brimming over with silliness, friendship, sandy treats and other adorable delights (including the occasional fact), this is a treat for littles around the age of the characters herein.

Finally, if you missed the original, there’s now a board book version of:

Princess Mirror-Belle and the Dragon Pox
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Now a tiny version of a favourite spotty tale for very littles.
Ellen has chicken pox; she’s covered from head to toe in horribly itchy spots; and what does she want to do to those spots? Scratch them, especially the one right on the tip of her nose. As she gazes in the bathroom mirror, about to do the deed, she hears a voice – no, not mum’s but Princess Mirror-Belle’s.

Thus begins a funny story, delivered for a change in prose rather than Donaldson’s more usual rhyme. Lydia Monks’ sparkle-spangled, collage constructed illustrations offer readers an abundance of opportunities for visual and tactile exploration.


Ruby in the Ruins

Ruby in the Ruins
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

Shirley Hughes has set her latest picture book in 1945 London, shortly after the end of World War 11.

Ruby and her mother have come through the Blitz safely and now in the aftermath of the bombing there’s a lot of clearing up to be done and changes to embrace.

Young Ruby has become used to sharing a bed with her Mum but now her long absent Dad is just home from the war and making his very large presence felt in their home.

Ruby has a lot of accommodating to do and spends a fair bit of time out with her friends playing, despite warnings, on the bomb sites near their homes.

One day Ruby, playing rather dare devilishly among the ruins, takes a tumble and needs adult help.

What happens thereafter provides the ideal opportunity for the warm loving relationship between Ruby and her Dad to be renewed.

A thoroughly heartwarming, unsentimental story of post-war family love, illustrated in the author’s inimitable signature style; it will be enjoyed by all ages both at home and in school.

Alfie and Dad

Alfie and Dad
Shirley Hughes
The Bodley Head
This book comprises three short stories wherein Alfie’s dad, Simon, so we’re told on the introductory page, plays a significant part.
In the first, a disturbed night, on account of relatively new friend Neal’s mention of a possible visit from the “Flying Loobies”, when he visits for a sleepover, calls for reassurance from Dad …

before Alfie can finally settle down for some shut-eye.
This is followed by the temporary loss of Alfie’s beloved soft toy, Flumbo when he, Mum and Annie Rose take a shopping trip by bus. Here again, Alfie’s Dad sorts out the problem. He takes Alfie, the following morning, to the main Lost Property Office

where they retrieve Flumbo

and end up taking home some other ‘unclaimed’ toys to add to Alfie’s collection.
Loss is the theme of the third story too: it’s a in the form of a little marmalade cat that despite misgivings from Dad, not to mention their own cat, Chessie, takes up temporary residence in Alfie’s home.

Dilys, as they call her, doesn’t overstay her welcome though; and after a few days, she disappears again. Not long after, while out walking with Dad, Alfie spies Dilys outside another house and discovers that she, or more accurately Tibbles, has, like many cats, a habit of going missing temporarily from her true place of residence.
As always, Shirley Hughes’ portrayal of Alfie and his family and friends is wonderfully affecting. The temporary setbacks and problems that beset young children, lead to outcomes that are, thanks here to Dad’s timely words of wisdom, satisfyingly resolved.
Alfie will always have a very special place in the affections of those who grew up with his early stories; but thanks to Shirley’s artistic genius with both words and pictures, he will continue to captivate new generations of readers and listeners, who will also take him into their homes and their hearts.

I’ve signed the charter  

Dixie O’Day On His Bike!


Dixie O”Day On His Bike
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
An ‘affable’ chat over coffee with a passing cyclist, Dean, met while Percy is busy polishing Dixie’s car,


and an increase in the size of Dixie’s waistline, result in the latter deciding he needs more exercise and he tells Percy of his intention to take up cycling. Not only that, he wants to buy a tandem. However on account of their differing leg lengths, Dixie needs to call upon the services of another pal of his, Don Barrakan who agrees to design a specially adapted model  just for Dixie and Percy …


When the machine is finally delivered, Percy is soon engulfed by Dixie’s enthusiasm and before long the two of them are heading off down the road, but very soon …


Never mind, Percy, Dixie’s there to pick you up and encourage you to practise, practise, practise … and soon the pals are planning a cycling trip. Routes are considered, maps pored over (with a bit of input from Dean), destinations discussed and an expedition is finally decided upon. The plan is that Dean will take the lead on his bike and the other two will follow, which when put into operation, isn’t quite such a clever idea … as the two bikes hurtle downhill at an alarming speed towards a haystack resulting in …


Extrication accomplished, the three part company and whom should they meet as they reach home but nosy neighbour Lou Ella. Inevitable comments are passed and smartly brushed aside with Dixie’s “Just a small mishap.”
Is that mishap the end of Dixie and Percy’s flirtation with cycling? Of course not – this is Dixie O’Day we’re talking about but if you want to discover how things develop and I’m certain you do, then grab yourself a copy of this latest delicious Dixie offering from the inimitable mother and daughter team Shirley and Clara.
Shirley’s faultless storytelling and Clara’s delectable illustrations together offer total delight for those ‘just independent’ readers and of course, it’s a cracker for reading aloud, one to one, or with a group.
I’ll just add that there are thrills aplenty and the odd spill (or ”error of judgement”) as Percy puts it,


not to mention a long-distance race, the Didsworth Cycle Rally and the unmasking of a cheat. Oops! I‘m in danger of telling all in my enthusiasm for this wonderful book … Don’t get left behind; get hold of it rightaway. As well as the story, there’s the usual mix of maps, a quiz, a chat with the book’s creators …


and more, to enjoy too.

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Purple Passions

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Dixie O’Day and the Haunted House
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
I missed this as a Hallowe’en read due to re-organisation at RH but no matter, it’s an all year round read anyway. Here in the fourth Dixie and Percy adventure, the pals plan a camping trip, “somewhere where there are no other people and we can be alone with nature!” Dixie suggests and despite slight reservations from Percy off they set, with nosy neighbor Lou Ella’s warnings of rain being forecast on the radio ringing in their ears.
They end up in a decidedly dark, scary seeming place having missed this …

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before pitching the tent. (I have to say their efforts at same remind me all too much of my own teenage attempts at same at a location I remember not, but somewhere near Bath.)

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But the watchful cows know better – much better.

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Indeed, after a series of mishaps, or rather disasters – gales, torrents and empty petrol tanks – the friends end up seeking refuge herein …

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All manner of spine-tingling horrors manifest themselves in the darkness; the sights and sounds are pretty alarming but needless to say and Shirley does ‘thoughts of that old dark house and the terrors of the night seemed to fade rapidly.’ as Dixie and Percy head home already planning for a barbecue the following weekend.
Shirley is on top form with her humour herein: those bovine characters Mabel and Margery are a hoot as they pass judgement (and more) on Dixie and Percy’s camp site; and as ever Clara’s two-tone illustrations are wonderful, every single one of them.

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As usual in the series, the book ends not with the story’s conclusion but with maps, a meet the creators chat, some fun activites and a first chaper taster of the next Dixie story Dixie O’Day On His Bike! Like a good many newly independent readers I know, I just can’t wait.
And I’m ashamed to say I’ve only just discovered the delights of the first of another series in the making wherein Clara ‘s wonderful illustrations are an integral part. Again it’s a perfect taking off book:

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Mango & Bambang The Not-a-Pig
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
Bambang is an Asian tapir (from the jungles of Malaysia) befriended by Mango Allsorts when he is lost and frightened in the big city where she lives. Young Mango is certainly a very busy young miss with her karate, pancake making, chess and attempts at clarinet playing.
The first story tells of the meeting of the two with that wonderful traffic-stopping announcement of Mango’s.

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The second sees the friends visiting the swimming pool (Bambang doesn’t quite fit into the bath

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and he misses his muddy jungly pool) and Bambang discovering the delights of toffees.
The third tells how the tapir becomes a connoisseur of hats – yes hats! –

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and an encounter with the dreadful Dr Cynthia Prickle-Posset, newly returned from an overseas visit and none too pleased to discover a tapir disturbing her peace.
In the final episode, Bambang and Mango join forces to create some highly unusual music.

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Everything about this book is enchanting: the characters – meet the whole cast:

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the sweetly funny stories they inhabit, the delicious purple-tinged illustrations, the inviting striped cover, the purple edged pages – hmm, joy.

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Childhood Pleasures: Alfie Outdoors and The Jar of Happiness

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Alfie Outdoors
Shirley Hughes
The Bodley Head
The delectable Alfie is up with the lark and outside in the garden eager to start the day: it’s to be a gardening day with Dad but it’s one that involves a whole lot of digging and clearing, for the plan is to create a vegetable patch and plant some seeds. First though it’s back to the digging, which Alfie actually enjoys or rather, he enjoys investigating all the minibeasts he unearths from the soil.

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Come the weekend Alfie is allowed to choose his own seeds from the garden centre and he has a plan. He wants to grow carrots, not for himself but to feed to his friend Gertrude the goat at the goat sanctuary. The trouble is though, seeds don’t come up overnight, there’s a lot of waiting and watching involved. Just as Alfie is beginning to give up on his carrots, Dad notices some tiny seedings starting to sprout and with Alfie’s daily watering it’s not long before the first carrots are ready for pulling.

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Imagine Alfie’s disappointment then when he gets to the goat sanctuary to discover no Gertrude: she’s gone missing. Almost a day passes, a very sad one for Alfie and then yippee! Good news – Gertrude’s been found and is back where she belongs. All ends happily in true Alfie fashion next morning when he’s finally able to offer a juicy carrot to his favourite sanctuary resident.

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This is such a gorgeous book – another Hughes classic for sure. Shirley knows exactly the kinds of things that make young children content and never loses sight of them: Alfie’s preoccupations are those of every small child …

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and in her own inimitable way Shirley provides another tour de force every time she creates a new Alfie story.

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The Jar of Happiness
Ailsa Burrows
Child’s Play
Is happiness something you can put into a jar and keep bottled up? Young Meg seems to think so when she invents her very own kind, tasting of chocolate ice cream, apple juice and sunshine, smelling of warm biscuits and the seaside and containing all the best colours. Meg however doesn’t keep this happiness to herself; she uses her jar to cheer up glum friends

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or poorly relations; she seems to know just how to use it to maximum effect.
But, one day, Meg’s jar is nowhere to be found; so has her happiness gone forever?

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Fortunately not, thanks to all those Meg has shared her happiness jar with. It’s now their turn to show her their own special ingredients for happiness and none of them comes from a jar.

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Ailsa Burrows’ softly coloured characters have an endearing squidgy, cushiony appearance that make one want to snuggle up with them. And with its warm-hearted feel, this is a lovely snuggle-up-together and share with a young child kind of book.

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Dixie O’Day Up, Up and Away!


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Dixie O’Day Up, Up and Away
Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
Hip! Hip Hooray! Dixie’s up and away. Well not quite yet but he will be soon in this, his third adventure.
Dixie and Percy have a new friend, Ariel, a parrot belonging to their neighbour and arch enemy, Lou Ella. When the three friends set off to Didsworth Air Show, she’s quickly in her car and hot on their trail to recover her bird. Ariel however, has no wish to be caught so when he spies her, he makes a dive for the basket of a hot air balloon, hastily followed by Percy and Dixie.

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A gust of wind saves them from her clutches and, loosened from its tethers, the balloon takes flight – up, up and up it soars leaving a furious Lou Ella far below. None of the three aeronauts has any ballooning experience so it’s a case of learning by doing and UP seems their best option.
Time passes, lunch begins to feature in their thoughts but suddenly, down comes the rain, followed by thunder and lightning. The friends are soon soaked through and as the wind buffets them dangerously, they cling on searching for somewhere to land till they spot what appears to be an island.

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Down they go but it’s not quite the tropical variety Ariel had in mind. Rather, it’s a roundabout at the centre of a busy junction.
Clearly the animals have never been to forest school: their efforts at shelter building are a dismal failure and even worse, there’s Lou Ella come to claim her pet. He though, tells her in no uncertain terms what he thinks of her and flies off into the nearest tree; but that’s not the end of the story.
I won’t spoil that but suffice it to say, there’s another frantic balloon flight, an encounter with a flock of parakeets

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(have they flown over from Bushey Park?) after which Ariel decides to spread his wings, and a stop-off at a favourite venue for Dixie and Percy.

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I know a good few young readers who have been eagerly awaiting this book and they won’t be disappointed. In addition to another exciting story from Shirley, gloriously funny, retro-style illustrations by Clara, grace every spread; there are pages of interesting activities and a short taster of the next adventure of Dixie and Percy. Who can ask for more?


Here’s 7 year old James who was absolutely thrilled to get his hands on a copy.


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Mums and Grandmas

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Mummy’s Home!
Christopher MacGregor and Emma Yarlett
Picture Corgi pbk
This is by way of a companion volume to Daddy’s Going Away from the same author/artist partnership, only herein it is Dad who is left in charge when Mum is elsewhere. Again we share the feelings of an alien child narrator as she assists her mum (and herself) prepare for the departure; and then it’s over to Dad to keep the ship afloat

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and provide jellybeans to help in the countdown until her return. In the meantime of course, there are letters and phone calls to be exchanged,

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not to mention emails.
Having a Mum who comes and goes like the one in this rhyming story is very hard for children of all ages to cope with but this particular family are up front and talk about everything; and that helps enormously. But at last, there are preparations for Mum’s homecoming to get under way

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and then …

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In setting the story in a virtual alien world, as Emma Yarlett does, she somehow allows children more easily to enter that place from which to become aware, the space which is so important for young children to be able to access that is provided by a good story.

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Alfie and Grandma
Shirley Hughes
Red Fox pbk
This is more of a repackaging than completely new material in that it brings together three previously published stories which focus on Alfie’s relationship with his Gran; it’s a treat (especially for Grans and their grandchildren) to have them in one book nevertheless. And if you are an Alfie fan and don’t already have the books these tales originally appeared in, then you’ll surely want to have this one.
In the first story, we join Alfie, Annie Rose and Grandma as they help a neighbour hunt for her missing tortoise, Winnie. They spend all day looking but to no avail and at suppertime Alfie in particular, is very upset. So, after supper, Grandma takes them on one last Winnie hunt before bedtime. Alfie fears the animal might have fallen into a ditch somewhere

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but an exhaustive search along the road yields nothing so they start back empty-handed.
Then, Alfie stops to look carefully at the stones in Mrs Hall’s cottage garden; one of them certainly isn’t white like the others, so could it perhaps be…
The second story is a delightful description of Alfie, Annie Rose and Grandmas’ wet day as the rainy outdoor adventure they start out on gives way to a rather drier, indoor one that takes them on A Journey

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to the North Pole, which also serves as Grandma’s attic.
Alfie and Gran assist a strayed sheep with a mind of its own get back to the rest of the flock

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in the third story and the book ends with a map showing Grandma’s House and all the places around it that have been mentioned in the episodes, helping to put everything in context.
Pure pleasure, as are all things Alfie.

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Grandma in Blue with Red Hat
Scott Menchin and Harry Bliss
Abrams Books
The boy narrator of this story goes to a Saturday morning art class at the museum, an exciting activity where his teacher maintains that “Anything can be art. Toys, hair clips, guitars, water bottles. Anything”. After some musings on the part of the narrator, there follows a discussion among the children about art and artists. “… it’s beautiful.” says one, “different,” another thinks;

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but it can also tell a story, come from far away, make you feel good, be funny or unique, suggest others.
This discussion induces in the young protagonist an interesting, indeed inspiring notion. His Grandma ought to be in the museum, he decides and even goes so far as to suggest it to the museum curator. Fortunately for both boy and Grandma, his offer is rejected and the boy has a much better idea. His beautiful, different, funny, story-telling relation who makes him feel good and comes from far away can instead become the subject for an exhibition to celebrate her amazingness.
And so she does, when the young narrator puts together an entire mixed-media collection.
DSCN4153 (800x600)DSCN4152 (800x600)Bliss in contrast, uses watercolour and pen and ink for his re-creations of famous works of art, and the human characters who populate the story. In combination with Menchin’s minimal text and speech bubbles, this author/artist partnership offers young readers the opportunity to become art critics as well as perhaps inspiring them to venture down the creative path with some family portraits of their own making. And one thing all readers are likely to come away with is an abiding memory that Picasso “liked to paint in his underwear.”

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Fun, expansive empowering and inspiring.

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London Christmas, Country Christmas

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Katie’s London Christmas
James Mayhew
Orchard Books
Fast asleep on Christmas Eve, Katie and Jack are woken by a loud sneeze coming from downstairs: Grandma, they suppose, but when they creep down, whom do they discover busy with presents by the tree – not Grandma but Father Christmas himself. Not only does he have the snuffles, but he’s also behind with his parcel deliveries. Katie and Jack are more than ready to help and so ‘WHOOSH!’ off they all fly over the rooftops of London in the swirling snow. They see the lights of Regent Street, get a view of Covent Garden, then it’s on past that glorious Trafalgar Square Christmas tree

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to the Houses of Parliament and around Big Ben before starting the night’s work proper. And what a busy time they have delivering to all manner of houses; but there’s one very important delivery left to do involving a royal chimney, a very special family and some sleeping corgis.
With glorious paintings of some of the most famous sights of London coated in snow and bathed in starlight

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and glowing indoor scenes, this magical, charming story with touches of gentle humour, is truly wondrous.

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And Then Comes Christmas
Tom Brenner and Jana Christy
Walker Books
When the days barely start before they’re over again,
and red berries blaze against green shrubs.
And bare branches rake across the sky …
Then hang up boughs of fir or spruce or pine,
Dotted with cones and bits of holly, welcoming winter.’
So begins this heartwarming seasonal book wherein we share with a rural family, the time leading up to Christmas Day itself. First though there are decorations to hang up, a visit to Santa at the store, parcels to keep hidden and a tree to choose and to cover with baubles and lights. At school there is the inevitable concert, and presents to make for mum and dad. Come Christmas Eve the whole house is scented by delicious baking smells and neighbours come to visit. Then there are stockings to hang, presents to put under the tree, not forgetting a special offering to leave for Santa and his reindeer before snuggling up in bed for a favourite story. When … the whole world waits seemingly …

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Then next morning …

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Beautifully and poetically written, and portrayed in glowing scenes of seasonal wonders both inside and outdoors, this is a gorgeous book to share in the days before Christmas either at home or school. The patterned text uses the same When/Then structure right through with a general ‘When …’ statement

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followed by a ‘Then’ action for the featured family.

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Seasonal smells, sights and sounds are evoked on every spread so that each turn of the page brings sensory delight.
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No young child’s Christmas is complete without:

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Alfie’s Christmas
Shirley Hughes,
Red Fox pbk
Alfie’s Christmas
Shirley Hughes
Bodley Head
Making cards and decorations, counting down the days with an advent calendar featuring a nativity scene, Christmas cooking, buying and decorating a Christmas tree, choosing and wrapping presents, writing to Santa, carol singing, hanging up Christmas stockings and a family Christmas dinner with visiting relatives:
these are just some of the ingredients of four-year old Alfie’s Christmas so lovingly told and illustrated in Shirley Hughes incomparable style.
This is a traditional family Christmas full of warmth, friendship, love, bustle and excitement, and some secrets too. It’s Christmas as we would wish it to be for everyone, before Christmas started in October and consumerism took over.
Assuredly, a book to buy and cherish year after year.
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Daisy Saves the Day

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Daisy Saves the Day
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books
Young Daisy Dobbs is sent away from home to be a scullery maid for stern, elderly sisters, the Misses Simms. She greatly misses her family and housework is definitely not her forte.

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Then one day the Simms sisters have a visitor; their niece, Mabel from America and shortly after, things change for the better for Daisy. Miss Mabel persuades her aunts to allow Daisy to borrow books from the parlour bookcase.
The story is set in London against the background of preparations for the celebrations for the coronation of King George V. When the great day arrives Daisy wants to join the other members of the household watching the procession but is told she must stay indoors. However, a determined Daisy finds her own way to be a part of the celebrations.

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Her colourful contribution most definitely does not meet with the approval of her employers. Disgraced, she is given a very hard time but eventually manages to redeem herself and in so doing is given an exciting opportunity to escape the domestic drudgery and better herself.
As ever Shirley Hughes’ illustrations draw you in and make you want to linger over each one, in this instance to explore the wealth of period detail included. Children (I suggest from around six up) can learn so much about what life was like a century ago– the clothes worn and domestic detail, by looking carefully at each and every illustration; and of course about the characters themselves – their manner, feelings and lifestyle. (You can visit where there are some related activities and Shirley talks about writing the book.)
All in all, a thoroughly satisfying book for the family bookshelf and primary school library.
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Dixie O’Day and the Great Diamond Robbery

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Dixie O’Day and the Great Diamond Robbery
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
Hurrah! Dixie O’Day is back in a second adventure with his best pal, Percy.
When the pair head off on holiday to the posh Hotel Splendide in Brightsea, little do they know that they are driving right into more high adventure.
This time it’s an adventure involving a narrow escape en route thanks to a masked pair in a car, a dramatic sea rescue of Mr Canteloe, owner of a large house with secret passages, a hidden cave, a famous pop star Peaches Miaow, such a divinely cool character it’s easy to see why Percy adores her; a jewel robbery (this includes Peaches’ precious diamond necklace.)

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Oh woe! big drama in the hotel lobby. Then there’s a subterranean encounter – Percy, Dixie and Mr C. and the robbers, a breathless chase (involving same), a torn off sleeve (one of the crooks’s), the  discovery of the stolen hoard by Mr C. Dixie and Percy (who unearths Peaches’ necklace), and an eventual arrest and identification of the criminals.
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DSCN2886 (640x607) Phew!
Percy in particular is more than a little thrilled as the friends finally set off to drive home.

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Once again there are the added extras: an introductory interview with Dixie and Percy and photo portraits of the other characters, a map (Dixie’s) and after the story, Shirley and Clara talk about their favourite holidays, there’s a maze and invitation for readers to be creative, a quiz and a taster of – oh joy – the next adventure, Dixie O’Day Up, Up and Away – I can’t wait.
Like it’s predecessor, this a perfect chapter story both for sharing with children and also for those at that tricky inbetween stage just before confident reading that is so hard to cater for. With Clara’s richly patterned, wonderfully expressive illustrations and a truly entertaining story that sparkles with Shirley’s charm and subtle humour what more can a reader at that crucial stage ask for – other than more, of course.
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Incredible Journeys



Nina engrossed in the story

Pigsticks and Harold and The Incredible Journey
Alex Milway
Walker Books pbk
Pigsticks, last of a noble line of explorers is certain he too is an explorer and what’s more he’s decided that The Ends of the Earth is his destination. However, he cannot travel alone: an assistant is required so out goes an advertisement. By happy accident, he comes upon Harold hamster,


a kindly but not altogether willing travelling companion until that is, a promise of Battenburg cake seals the deal. Off the two go on their eventful trek, a trek that includes encounters with a snake, crocodiles


and many other hazards.


The relationship between the contrasting characters  is highly humorous: Pigsticks totally confident and Harold the complete opposite, constantly asking questions of his fearless friend but it is he whose final question ultimately makes the whole enterprise happen.


This highly entertaining story – saga almost – is just the kind of thing to keep readers turning the pages to see what is coming next. The illustrations too are splendid: ranging from some taking almost an entire double spread to others that are vignettes;most show so much more than we are told in the words.
It’s a wonderful mix of subtle humour and near slapstick; pretty near perfect for that in-between stage of reading. More please.
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Another book that is ideal for the same stage is just out in paperback:


James loved this story when it first came out in hardback

Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
Red Fox pbk
You can find a full review of this wonderful book about a very eventful car race for duo Dixie and Percy, also ideal for that in-between stage of reading under Car Capers.
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Christmas is Coming part 2


I Love You Father Christmas
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
A small child’s delight in the festive season is lovingly portrayed through Giles Andreae’s bouncy rhyme, which is actually a letter to Father Christmas, and Emma Dodd’s characteristically bright, bold pictures.


The latter have enormous child appeal and her jolly scenes of a totally endearing character should reassure any young child who is slightly nervous about Santa.
One to give to the youngest children.
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Are You Ready For Christmas?
Helen Lang
Templar Publishing
It’s Christmas Eve and Reindeer meets and greets friends Mouse, Squirrel and Dove. Each tells him of their special last minute preparations but then Reindeer seems to have forgotten what his special role is. The final fold-out reveals all.

This is actually in board book format but I think this rhyming story could be enjoyed by children beyond that stage too. With its bold, coloured lines, patterns and touches of sparkle, Helen Lang’s artwork is quirky and charming. The scenes set against the dark night sky are particularly striking.
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Lollipop and Grandpa and the Christmas Baby
Penelope Harper and Cate James
Phoenix Yard Books pbk
When Lollipop receives the news that there’s to be a new addition to her family and that it will arrive just in time for Christmas, she is far from enthusiastic. Crying, stinky and attention grabbing is what she thinks of babies. “Christmas is ruined!” she feels as the infant’s arrival time draws ever closer. Fortunately for Lollipop, Grandpa is on hand to involve her in all the festive preparations and when on Christmas Eve, Dad and Mum have to leave her to go to the hospital, he helps her hang up the stockings. But on Christmas morning, although Santa has left presents, her Mum and Dad still haven’t come back. It’s over to Grandpa once again – to do the Christmas dinner this time. And even if it’s not quite the conventional festive meal her parents might have expected, it does have that Wow factor. So too does the tiny Christmas Baby that Dad is holding all wrapped up and definitely NOT crying.
This, the fifth of the series, is as enjoyable as the others and Lollipop should win some new friends with this seasonal goodie.
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Belle and Boo and the Merry Christmas
Mandy Sutcliffe
Orchard Books
The fourth in this series about a little girl and her rabbit friend (toy or real?) sees the inseparable pair getting ready for Christmas. First they decorate the tree and Belle has to explain to Boo what Christmas entails and then together they put up paper-chains, make cards and Christmas cookies, hang up their stocking and finally snuggle up for the night. Then, next morning after opening their respective presents, Boo decides they should share the joys of Christmas with their animal friends outside in the garden.
A gentle, slightly whimsical story with an old-fashioned charm, illustrated in appropriately soft colours. with just a touch of festive sparkle on the cover.
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Father Christmas Comes Up Trumps!
Nicholas Allan
Red Fox pbk
A few years back, Father Christmas was in need of a wee; now he needs something much more explosive. It’s the result of his over indulgence in – wait for it – Brussels sprouts – on his final supper before departing on his Christmas Eve delivery round. With his wind-filled tum, it’s a good thing that Santa is accompanied by his helpful elf who is on hand to push him down chimneys and utter ‘Sssshhh!“ warnings when those bubbling, rumbling, gurgling sounds start to emanate from his explosive belly. Santa does his level best to keep his wind in but his utterance of “Ooooo! my tum – it’s going to start. This time I’m really going to f . . . !” signals that the effort has become just too much. Out comes a ‘cheep’ and its time to run from the stirring child. But, horror of horrors! His reindeers are totally zonked in the sleigh. Perhaps it’s as well then that the elf’s final exhortation goes unheeded: time to make use of that WIND power to launch the sleigh skywards and homewards. PWHOOOAH!
As before, this slightly risqué humour will have young children wriggling on their bottoms in delight especially, in anticipation of the final grand
F F A A A R R T T !
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A Letter for Bear
David Lucas
Flying Eye Books
Bear is a postman, painstakingly ensuring he delivers every letter in his sack to the correct address each day and then trudging back to his cave to drink soup and wonder what it would be like to get a letter himself. The trouble is Bear never sends any letters. One windy day when out on his round, the wind takes the mailbag scattering the contents all over the snow. Bear collects all the letters but the addresses are smudged so he conscientiously knocks on each door to ensure correct delivery. The recipients are thankful but Bear feels even lonelier as he returns to his cave. Time for a change, he thinks as he gazes out at the snowy night. He sets to work writing Christmas party invitations and next morning he delivers a whole snowstorm of letters to his new acquaintances.


That evening having waited for ages and ages, Bear is about to give up when he hears voices outside. It’s party time after all and even better, the following morning guess who gets a whole sackful of letters of his very own.
The real strength of this book is Lucas’ intricately patterned illustrations. Almost every double spread has a geometric border of patterned triangles, rectangles, diamonds or scallops and set into some of the scenes, we view Bear’s lonely world through circular peephole vignettes. His use of limited colours – shades of blue, orange, purple, russet, pink and orange and his use of geometric shapes for, or to pattern, trees, buildings, flowers and more, add to the impact. Then there are angled viewpoints, interrupted borders and beautiful snowscapes . This book is a small masterpiece of design.
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The Smallest Gift of Christmas
Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books
Having eagerly anticipated the great day, Roland is less than impressed when he dashes downstairs on Christmas morning to discover a very small parcel awaiting him. So, he wishes for a larger one again and again and … Still not satisfied he storms off and eventually launches himself in a rocket to search the whole universe. It’s not until he glimpses Earth as a tiny dot growing ever smaller through his telescope, that Roland begins to realize that bigger isn’t always better, unless of course, it’s your home and you are heading back towards it.
A simple message amusingly rendered through Reynolds’ comic scenes. This author/artist has the unfailing knack of getting right to the nub of things every time and, he clearly demonstrates with all his books, that small things can often be among the very best.
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Alfie’s Christmas
Shirley Hughes
Bodley Head
Making cards and decorations, counting down the days with an advent calendar featuring a nativity scene, Christmas cooking, buying and decorating a Christmas tree, choosing and wrapping presents, writing to Santa, carol singing, hanging up Christmas stockings and a family Christmas dinner with visiting relatives:


these are just some of the ingredients of four-year old Alfie’s Christmas so lovingly told and illustrated in Shirley Hughes incomparable style.
This is a traditional family Christmas full of warmth, friendship, love, bustle and excitement, and some secrets too. It’s Christmas as we would wish it to be for everyone, before Christmas started in October and consumerism took over.
A book to buy and cherish year after year.
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Don’t forget:
Snow Bunny’s Christmas Wish
Rebecca Harry Nosy Crow pbk
Lonely Snow Bunny’s Christmas wish is for a friend so she writes to Santa with her request.
For full review of this lovely story, now in paperback, see Seasonal Selection: Christmas Books 2012

Also reviewed there and now in paperback is :
When It Snows
Richard Collingridge
David Fickling Books pbk
A small boy’s favourite book transports him on a magical snowy Christmas adventure .

Car Capers


Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
I loved everything about this book – its shape and feel, the cover, the mother/daughter, daughter/mother dedication page,


the introductory interview with the dapper hero Dixie wherein we also meet his best pal Percy, the annotated cast list of other characters


and the map;


all that before the story even starts. There are further delights at the end too, including a taster of the next Dixie adventure and an invitation to young readers to get their creative juices to work designing a marvellous motor. (Teachers – there’s a great opportunity here – children’s designs can be sent to Dixie via his own website:
Dixie O’Day’s classic car is his pride and joy. He takes great care of it and likes nothing better than to take it for a spin in the countryside with Percy seated alongside him.
Dixie’s neighbour is also a car lover but Lou Ella knows nothing about cars and merely wants to impress; in fact she buys a flashy new model every year and is mighty pleased to learn that Dixie’s pride and joy has recently been proving far from reliable.

One day a race is announced.
Both Dixie and Lou Ella set their sights on winning but who will be the first across the line, the ruthless Lou Ella or the ever-helpful, fair-minded Dixie and his co-driver Percy? Suffice it to say, things don’t go smoothly for either party.


This is top class entertainment, perfectly packaged, for those just at the independent stage of reading in particular, but actually for anybody who likes a sparkling story told with unfailing charm and gentle wit and illustrated with equal measures of both. It’s presented in seven chapters but in my experience, it’s a case of ”I want the whole story in one go.” So, shared reading could well be the order of the day.


James reading the story to his brother, Daniel

Clara’s gloriously retro, red, grey, black and white patterned illustrations are perfectly integrated with the text and the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts, which is saying a lot: both are superb.
A classic series in the making, for sure.
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