Mr Scruff

Mr Scruff
Simon James
Walker Books

Crazy but totally adorable is this canine tale from Simon James.

Most of the dogs herein bear a striking resemblance to their owners: there’s Polly and her owner Molly;

Erik belonging to Derek; Martha owned by Arthur and then there’s Mr Scruff, a large rather mangy-looking dog that nobody coming to the rescue centre seems at all interested in.

Also very much wanted are Mick – by Rick

as well as Lawrence with indulgent Florence.

Meanwhile back at the centre, things are looking more hopeful for Mr Scruff. In comes Jim and right away boy and dog seem to take a shine to one another.

Jim’s parents take a bit of convincing: there’s the size difference and surely a pup might be more fun. Jim though has made up his mind: Mr Scruff is going home with them and that’s that.
And so he does.

Now into the centre comes someone else seeking a dog: he makes an unlikely choice too, but no matter because like Mr Scruff this one also needs a loving home. And that’s that.

Animals lovers especially will fall for this tale. The gentle humour of Simon James’ wonderful watercolours ensures that the inherent warmth of the story never becomes sentimental, while the rhyming nature of the narrative makes reading it aloud all the more enjoyable.

A definite winner for me despite my cynophobia.

The Boy From Mars

The Boy From Mars
Simon James
Walker Books

When Stanley’s mum has to go away overnight for work, Stanley too decides to leave the family home. From the back garden he blasts off in his spaceship – destination Mars.
Not long after, the spaceship returns and out crawls a smallish martian …

come to explore “your sibilization” he tells Stanley’s brother, Will.
Their “leader” plays along with the martian thing and there follows a wonderful boundaries testing evening. Martians seemingly don’t wash their hands before meals, are unimpressed with earth food (other than ice cream) and definitely don’t have bedtimes. They don’t brush their teeth or wash before sleeping either and they always sleep in their helmets.

If there’s one thing that gets a martian’s temper flaring it’s being challenged about its identity and Stanley’s best pal, Josh is on the receiving end of a martian’s shove. This results in a morning spent sitting outside the head’s office contemplating his behaviour, something Dad learns of when he collects his offspring from school that afternoon.

When Mum returns in the evening, eager to hear how things have gone, a certain little martian decides there’s only one way to deal with the “Have you been a good little martian?” question … a return to base – of sorts.

Simon James never fails to delight and this book is a cracker. The matter of fact, down-to-earth telling is pitch perfect when read aloud – the dialogue is simply superb. The illustrations reveal a space-obsessed little human with an inventive imagination and much else to contemplate and revel in.

I’ve signed the charter  

Frog and Beaver

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Frog and Beaver
Simon James
Walker Books
Frog and his friends the duck family and the vole family live together sharing the river and life’s pretty peachy. Then one day what should come swimming down the river but a beaver, a beaver in search of a place to build his very first dam.

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Frog’s enthusiastic welcome sells the place to him and straightway Beaver sets his chompers to work.
Next morning though, much to the consternation of Vole and Duck, there’s a decided lack of water in their stretch of river.

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Frog sets off to have a word with Beaver but the creature’s too wrapped up in his endeavour to heed Frog’s anxious words and after several attempts to get him to see their point of view, Frog is forced to pass on the Beaver’s suggestion, “Why don’t you all move up here?” to his friends.
Less than happy, the water voles and ducks shift upstream and set about making new homes. Beaver meanwhile continues building enthusiastically, paying no heed to repeated warnings about the volume of water building up, and is finally ready to show off his completed construction. But then …

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Has Beaver finally learned his lesson about doing things in moderation and can Frog truly become friends with someone so different and so wrapped up in his own concerns?
Simon James’ gentle humour pervades the riverside scenes executed in his signature style pen and watercolours.

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The small close-ups of Frog enthusiastically leaping up and down on Beaver’s back to expel all the excess water he’d swallowed are a hoot.

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Little and Large

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Rex
Simon James
Walker Books
Is it or is it not a case of mistaken identity, is the puzzle readers and listeners are faced with in Simon James’ latest offering. Big dinosaur, a totally scarifying T Rex and terror of the land has his peaceful sleep disturbed by the word “Dadda!” uttered by newly hatched baby dinosaur claiming to be “Rex”.

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The big dinosaur is having none of this and so, hotly pursued by Rex, he goes off on his round of scarifying whatever crosses his path. Night falls and the two bed down in a cave with Rex demanding that “Dad” teaches him to roar. Each day the pattern is repeated – our young Rex is a fast learner though

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and his ‘dad’ decides it’s time to disabuse him of his parental claim.
Poor Rex. During a sleepless night our now disowned little one decides to set out and discover where he truly belongs – a pretty scary undertaking that takes him far away from the safety of the cave. So what is his fate then ? Well, it would be a shame to spoil the end of the tale. Let’s just say Rex does some very fearsome roaring,

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some very fast running and right when it seems things can’t get any worse, he is awoken by the most alarming sound he has ever heard …

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The whole thing – words and images – is suffused with both humour and pathos as we follow the developing relationship between, and the actions of, the big and small tyrannosauruses. Anything Simon James does is a winner so far as I’m concerned; this one, with its themes of belonging, identity and finding one’s true place, is sheer delight from start to finish.
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Also by Simon James and recently released in paperback is the enchanting:

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(previously reviewed on this site in : Picture Book Picks January 2013

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Pig and Small
Alex Latimer
Picture Corgi pbk
When a tiny squeaking Bug lands on the tip of Pig’s nose, he’s hoping it could be the start of a beautiful friendship but Pig is not so sure. He definitely seems to be the one who is having to put in all the hard work.
To compensate, Bug creates a special cake and presents it to Pig. Pig however, merely tosses it whole into his mouth without so much as a glance at the craftsmanship involved. Indeed, all Bug’s efforts are in vain.

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Despair sets in and the two decide to go their separate ways. However, as Pig walks off an idea suddenly hits him – literally.

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The movie outing is a resounding success and so too is the outcome, as the pair begin to discover a whole host of things they can do together; after all, where there’s a will there’s a way.

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So, size is NOT all where friendship is concerned – or is it?

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Alex Latimer’s books seem to get better and better. The quietly comical scenes are infused with a gentle wit and combined with a whimsical telling making this a delightfully diverting read for individuals and small groups. You really do need to be up close to fully appreciate humour in the illustrations.
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