I Spy Island

I Spy Island
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Absolutely full of fun pretty well sums up this first in a new series from Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet of Supertato fame.

Said Island loves nothing better than to play I Spy with its four friends Glove, Banana, Bottle and Bird who appear to reside thereon. It’s while engaged in such a game that the players notice an object that they suspect has recently washed up on Island’s beach.

Speculations start – legs emerging from its head, an upside-down bird, is it edible, a trouser press … but suddenly the thing does a flip and announces itself to be a very important, much sought after treasure chest on account of its priceless contents. Moreover, Treasure Chest really does not want to stay on Island, it desperately wants someone to find it.

Several days later however, there it still is, sad and in need of cheering up.

The Island suggests playing some games to jolly things up a bit and after some initial reluctance Treasure Chest is having the time of its life. So much so that it has a change of heart about the Island, until …

a fierce, scary storm suddenly rages. Where can the four friends go to stay safe until it blows over? And then what?

Let’s just say that one of the players has learned a very important life lesson during the turbulence and all concerned are now ready for another round or two of Island’s favourite game of I Spy …

I have no doubt young listeners will revel in the super silliness of Sue and Paul’s tale and be eager to pay another visit to that cheery place somewhere in the middle of the deep blue sea, ready for when the next mystery guest washes up.

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar/ Pizazz vs Perfecto

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Just right for those starting out on chapter books or for reading aloud, this is the fourth in the Magnificent Mabel series and again there are three episodes.

In the first (my favourite) Mabel embarks on a jungle foray and also gets an unexpected lesson in metamorphosis when it’s finally her turn to take care of class caterpillar Steve over the weekend. Of course, she emerges from the events with her characteristic magnificence.

Story two involves know-all Max Roberts, friend of Mabel’s big sister Meg who comes around on Fridays after school so they can do their homework together. It also involves Mabel’s secret friend Marcella who helps her in times of need; oh yes and there’s also a rather large eraser …

In the third story Mabel decides she needs to wear glasses and keep them in a clickety case like her classmate Sophie Simpson. After all she can’t see America from her bedroom window and in Mabel’s own words ‘At school maths is all muddy.” Is it time to visit the optician?

Gigglesome delight all the way through, made even more fun by Julia Christians’ illustrations on almost every spread.

Equally unstoppable and for slightly older readers is eyeball roller extraordinaire, Pizazz, who returns in a third adventure:

Pizazz vs Perfecto
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Life for the reluctant superhero continues to present its challenges, the latest being in the form of Perfecto who happens to be a whole year younger than Pizazz and about to cause a worldwide sweet shortage so it seems.

There’s also the question of the school talent show: perhaps our young superhero and friends Ivy, Molly and Ed should join forces and form a band. Bring on The Cheese Squares … 

Then of course, their actual music making skills will take a bit of perfecting. But what is the motive for participation in this supposedly non-competition: is it to have fun or is it being perfect and defeating Perfecto. It’s a matter that causes huge dissent among the band members.

What do those Aunties, especially the helpful one, plus Gramps and Grandma have to say about things?

The crux of the whole matter is whether Pizazz can possibly pull off her plan of out-perfecting Perfecto … or is there an even better final outcome? Maybe, but unless you get hold your own copy of this hugely enjoyable sizzler of a book, you’ll never know; and that certainly would be far from perfect.

Mammoth

Mammoth
Anna Kemp and Adam Beer
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Waking from a sleep of indeterminate length an Ice Age mammoth is totally bothered, bewildered and bemused by the strange sights that meet his eyes when he heads to the meadow to join his herd for breakfast.
Having climbed to the top of a hill he sees an enormous ‘gleaming forest’ and makes his way towards it. Instead of his relations, said forest is full of weird smells and alarming sounds.

Nonetheless stuck in the big city, the visitor starts going about his daily business, despite being on the receiving end of some strange looks from those he encounters, not to mention a fair bit of shouty behaviour from the ‘cavemen’.

Deciding to make himself useful the mammoth does a spot of topiary but again his efforts are far from appreciated.

Then his hopes are raised when he finally enters the Ice Age exhibition and trumpets loudly at the mammoths before him. But these creatures he’d thought were from his herd prove not to be so and this disappointment triggers a rampage. Is he really now the only mammoth in the entire world.

In the distance he hears a faint trumpeting sound – strange and beautiful although not a mammoth sound – and it’s calling to him.

Perhaps at last he’s found his herd …

Anna Kemp tells a fun story about finding somewhere to be yourself with people who will accept you no matter what. Debut picture book illustrator, Adam Beer, brings out the humour of the mammoth’s situation, his interpretations of what he sees and some of the daft things he does (sporting a bow tie to visit the museum, for instance) while making readers feel sympathy at his plight.

Grandpa’s Gift

Grandpa’s Gift
Fiona Lumbers
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

The little boy narrator of this story is finding his new life in the city a dull contrast to the open spaces he’d so enjoyed till he moved just over three weeks ago.

Feeling downcast he walks in the rain through the grey dreary streets with his grandpa who has a surprise in store. When they reach a dowdy-looking shop full of what looks like a lot of junk, Grandpa stops and in they go. The lad is totally disenchanted by what he finds inside, but why is Grandpa looking so excited?

Then he opens his hand to reveal …

A geode stone. Underwhelmed, the boy just stares. Then Grandpa tells him something his own grandmother had said to him many years ago: “ … beauty and magic can be found in the most unexpected of places. You just need to look for it.” He then proceeds to prise open the stone. Amazingly a transformation occurs …

With the rain stopped, the two head outside and continue walking, the boy with the stone safe in his pocket. Now he begins to look at the world anew and before long discovers that indeed, there is beauty and magic all around.

With hope in his heart and a rainbow overhead, the narrator takes his Grandpa’s hand and together they start to walk home,

Hugely uplifting is this, the second of Fiona Lumbers’ author/illustrated picture books. Her predominantly watercolour illustrations are an absolute delight – full of interesting details and small jewels of colour. I love the way she uses the geode stone as a metaphor for the city, showing how beauty can be discovered in the most unexpected places.

The Best Worst Day Ever

The Best Worst Day Ever
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Poor Arthur: it seems as though he can’t do a single thing right – this truly IS a really bad day. So bad that the young lad decides the only option is to run away. And so he does, albeit with a few things packed neatly in a bag.

Having been running for what feels like ages, he runs out of steam, lies flat on his back and ponders on his situation, wondering if he should return home. However when he turns around, he’s confronted by a deep, dark forest. 

Considering the options he decides to go right through it, though he’s filled with apprehension on account of the dark and the strange noises he hears.

There follow encounters with first a stomping Bear, then a huffing Elephant … 

and finally a roaring Lion. 

Seemingly these animals know just what Arthur needs and eventually after a great deal of skipping, wiggling, tooting and hooting and finally, singing as they all continue through the forest, where do they find themselves but … 

Should Arthur cross the threshold and face the music for running away after sharing in what’s turned out to be the best worst day ever? Suppose big trouble awaits.

No matter what, it all goes to show just how much can happen in twenty minutes …

What anger, what energy, what drama, what exuberance, what delight is expressed by the characters, human and animal, in this romping, stomping story. Hugely enjoyable for both listeners and adult readers aloud who will, I suspect, find the opportunities to emulate Arthur and the animals irresistible. Sophy’s art is simply fabulous with every spread a visual treat – so full of emotion – and I love the colour palette; it’s quite perfect for this book.

Definitely one to share with preschool and foundation stage youngsters at home or school.

The Dodos Did It!

The Dodos Did It!
Alice McKinley
Simon & Schuster

Jack is obsessed with dodos. A dodo is what he wants more than anything else in the whole world so he makes a wish.
Almost unbelievably … 

Not content with just the one dodo however, the boy keeps on wishing until one has become ten. including a spectacle wearer. The huge fun they provide quickly turns to chaos 

and not surprisingly, two decidedly displeased parents . Jack tells them the mess was made not by him but the dodos, though unsurprisingly Mum doesn’t believe a single word.

The creatures then create havoc at the swimming pool, the playground, the cafe and in the library and the supermarket, 

all the while his mum and dad insisting “Dodos don’t exist” when Jack blames the mayhem on the creatures.

After a whole day of dodo disasters Jack is sent to his room where he makes another wish … Oops!
Jack, you really should choose your words more carefully when you make a wish.

This story will certainly provide giggles aplenty for little ones, but what amused me more than anything else was to see on the title page that Alice McKinley has assigned a name to each of the clutch of mischief-makers, but you’ll have to get your own copy of this romp to find out what they are.

The Invisible

The Invisible
Tom Percival
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

With very little money, Isabel and her family are unable to afford the things that some people take for granted. Isabel takes notice of the beautiful things in life and she loves her family dearly – they’re all she needs.

One day though there’s not enough money to pay the bills or the rent, so the family have to leave their home and move to the other side of the city. Now Isabel feels she doesn’t belong; she’s unable to find a single cheering thing in this cold, lonely environment where nobody seems to notice her at all; it’s as though she’s become completely invisible. Never once though, does she complain.

Strangely though, the less Isabel is seen, the more she is able to see other invisible people in her new locality. Overlooked they might be, but each one in his or her own way, is quietly helping out..

And so it comes about that Isobel too decides to do things to help: she plants flowers, cares for stray animals and joins in with fixing things. Gradually other people join her endeavours;

eventually nobody is invisible: Isabel has done something truly amazing: she’s made a difference.

Moving and compassionate, Tom’s story shows how it’s possible for everyone to feel that they belong, and indeed have a right so to do. It’s a tale that is very personal to its creator who himself grew up in poverty living in a caravan for six years as a child often feeling overlooked; but it’s also the story of everyone who, for whatever reason is overlooked by society. Not all of those as lucky as Tom who says in his author’s note, that as well as love and beautiful countryside, he did have, thanks to a mobile library, plenty of books. Clearly those helped make his world a better place.

This beautifully illustrated, poignant story is one that everyone should read. Tom’s use of colour, or lack of it, mirror Isabel’s changes in circumstances. Readers can almost feel the chill of the ice and snow in the wintry scenes and the contrasting warmth in the spirited energy of a supportive collaborative community.

Pizazz vs the New Kid

Pizazz vs the New Kid
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

You might think that being a superhero is incredible but that definitely isn’t always the case if you happen to be this story’s narrator, the almost 9½ year old Pizazz, a member of an entire family of superheroes, especially when your own particular superpower is highly embarrassing as we discovered in the first book.

Pretty annoying you’ll probably agree, but enter another young superhero going by the enviable name of Jett to make matters worse. Moreover her cape is short so consequently not a continual trip hazard, and, she’s to be in Pizazz’s class at school.

Pizazz decides she’ll offer to be Jett’s buddy and make her feel welcome but that plan is immediately thwarted when Jett chooses, of all people, Serena. Life just isn’t fair.

It gets even less so when after a humiliating trip incident caused by a long cape and one of The Popular’s backpacks, Serena decides that what’s needed is a competition – a SUPER-OFF – between Pizazz and Jett. No prizes for guessing who’s to be in charge of that, and she decides there’ll be not just one but three SUPER-OFFs. No pressure then.

Pizazz’s friend Ivy is reassuring but come break time and round one, it seems to Pizazz that she has only a very few supporters whereas almost the entire school is rooting for Jett. However, with two competitions completed the score stands at one win each. Before the third, Pizazz’s dad announces that he’s invited Jett and her family over for dinner. Awkward? You could say!

What about that third contest, you might be thinking. To discover what happens you’ll need your own superpower – or better still, get hold of a copy of this wacky story and discover how it all ends.

Even if youngsters have missed the first story, this works on its own. The ingredients are similar: Sophy’s offbeat illustrations, some comic-book sequences, lots of idiosyncratic typography, irresistible chapter-openers and distinctive characters – human and animal, not forgetting an abundance of eye rolls.

The Night I Met Father Christmas

The Night I Met Father Christmas
Ben Miller, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini.
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Jackson knows a fair bit about what happens on Christmas Eve night, as well as about that North Pole workshop, so he’s more than a little concerned when his friend suggests that the whole Father Christmas thing isn’t real. He stays up on 24th December hoping that he’ll meet the man himself and lo and behold, he does – in a rather noisy manner when a small elf-like figure clad in red tumbles into his fireplace injuring his ankle in so doing.

At first he denies his identity but Jackson eventually gets him to admit who he is. The boy asks the little character (who isn’t quite what he was expecting) a very important question: “How did you become Father Christmas?” The answer is not at all what he was anticipating. It’s the story of Torvil Christmas, an extremely rich but miserly toyshop owner that the elf recounts, 

as, having accepted the boy’s offer of help to complete his worldwide delivery round in time, the two board the sleigh and take to the air.
Cleverly weaving Jackson’s adventure into a reworking of Scrooge’s transformation in Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, and giving it a liberal sprinkling of magic, Ben Miller has created a sparkling seasonal, read – aloud or alone- that’s just right for the run up to the festive period. I love the additional “Christmassy fun’ pages too, as well as the wonderful black and white illustrations

by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini scattered throughout the telling.

Thinking of Presents: Miffy’s Treasury / A Dancer’s Dream

Here are two recent books kindly sent for review by Simon & Schuster Children’s Books that would make lovely presents this year:

Miffy’s Treasury
Dick Bruna

Almost unbelievably Dick Bruna’s Miffy celebrates her 65th birthday this year and this book is an anniversary collection (in larger format than the originals) of five Miffy stories that will most certainly delight little humans as well as their parents and grandparents, who have likely grown up loving this little white rabbit.
The stories, in order and all told in rhyme are, Miffy at the Zoo wherein the little rabbit and her daddy take a train ride to the zoo, visit the animals and as a final treat, Miffy rides a giant tortoise; 

Miffy’s Birthday – a celebration of fun with family and friends, that finishes with a sharing of food before bed.
Next we meet a slightly older rabbit in Miffy at School. Being Miffy she sports a dress of a different colour from her fellow rabbits as they set off together walking to school 

where they’re greeted by a rather stern-looking teacher, who quickly settles them in and plunges them into writing and maths – not the way it’s done now – before introducing some singing, block play, art and some of the more usual activities one expects in an early years classroom, and ending with a story – hurrah!
I wasn’t familiar with Miffy is Crying (must have missed that one along the way). The cause of her tears is that her beloved teddy bear has gone missing while she slept. After spending a rather miserable day, asking friends and family if they know of teddy’s whereabouts, she gets into bed and discovers a lump under the blankets. The final story sees a very regal-looking Queen Miffy though she’s only royal in her dream of dwelling in a white-walled palace and ruling regally and benevolently over her loyal subjects in Rabbit Land. 

(Love the idea of a tree being planted every year as a royal birthday present.)

An ideal gift to give a toddler this Christmas (or any time): as simple as the art might appear, it offers plenty to talk about. Dick Bruna’s Miffy has lost none of her charm so far as this reviewer is concerned.

A Dancer’s Dream
Katherine Woodfine and Lizzy Stewart

For some, Christmas and the Nutcracker ballet (especially The Dance of the Supar Plum Fairy) go hand in hand. Now here we have an utterly enchanting picturebook story that weaves together the well- known tale of the Nutcracker with a dancer’s tale. That of Stana who is selected to dance the role of Clara at the Imperial Ballet School’s debut performance in St. Petersburg where the classic ballet was first performed.

Stana is determined to do her very best especially as her younger sister, Olga, is ill in hospital and her older sister has convinced herself that if she dances well, then her sister will surely get better. Every step taken to Mr Tchaikovsky’s music brings hope of her recovery.

With inherent themes of love and family kinship, the combination of Katherine Woodfine’s powerfully atmospheric writing that really transports you to a distant snowy city with soft echoes of Tchaikovsky’s music in the background, and Lizzy Stewart’s gorgeous, 

mainly richly coloured illustrations make a super book that’s ideal for giving to ballet fans. It’s full of the spirit of dedicated determination, a passion for dance and seasonal wonders.

Fact and Fiction for your Early Years Bookshelves

All Kinds of Families
Sophy Henn
Red Shed (Egmont)

No two human families are exactly alike but assuredly each of them is special in its own way. So it is for animal families and that’s what Sophy explores in this picturebook as she portrays various ways of parenting in the animal kingdom.

Orang-utan mothers are solely responsible for looking after their young and look after their offspring longer than any other animal parent. In contrast, it’s the emu father that tends the eggs and raises the chicks. 

Clownfish males and females share the care of the little ones – sometimes a mother can lay as many as 1000 eggs, so it’s no easy task, and that’s alongside keeping the home clean for the eggs.

I was interested to learn that in a Long-tailed tit family as many as twenty birds might live together with older infants helping to care for the younger ones. Come winter they can all snuggle together to keep warm. 

Elephants do things completely differently living in large family groups. A senior female takes charge, sharing her knowledge with younger members of the family and all the elephants look after the babies.

Young humans will also find information about the long-living Orca whale families, learn that sometimes two female albatrosses pair up and raise chicks, as well as that for example among cheetahs, little ones without a family might be adopted and reared by two males 

and that Meerkats live in communities.

The final spreads are devoted to first a family portrait gallery and then a double page giving a factual paragraph about each of the animals whose family has been featured. Sophy emphasises that love is key, no matter what in this gorgeously illustrated, first celebratory look at the diversity of family life.

Recommended for foundation stage settings and families with young children.

The Golden Treasure
Marie Voigt
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

As young Max considers whether or not to take his soft toy dog, Toffee to school for show and tell, he spies something glowing high up on the ‘Unreachable Shelf’. It looks like a treasure chest and having wished he could reach it the boy finds himself and Toffee embarking on a magical quest to reach the Golden Treasure. First they convince a knight of their worthiness to continue on their way through the Land of the Brave, 

then comes a challenge by a racing car driver in the Land of the Fast, followed by another from a scornful unicorn in the Land of the Shiny. 

With Toffee’s morale-boosting support and his own bravery, the two finally reach the chest and open it. Then comes a surprising revelation: the greatest of all treasures isn’t what Max was expecting. Now though he has no doubt as to what he’ll be taking for that show and tell session.

This simple fantasy is essentially a tale of friendship, valuing and appreciating what you already have, self-belief and not letting others influence your confidence to make your own decisions. Marie’s glowing illustrations are suffused with warmth, light and a feeling of magic. Young listeners will especially enjoy the various characters Max and Toffee encounter on their journey.

Supertato Super Squad

Supertato Super Squad
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnett
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Everybody is in need of kindness right now as we enter a second UK lockdown and our favourite spud and his super veggie squad are here to show the way.

When Supertato tells his friends that he needs their help to teach Evil Pea a lesson, needless to say they are ready to spring into action right away.
Pineapple provides the box their leader requests, Carrot supplies the string – rather an excess of the stuff …

and Broccoli and Cucumber – chefs extraordinaire – bake a batch of delicious cupcakes adorned with sprinkles.

With box duly packed, the preparations are complete and it’s time to sneak up on their arch enemy, the little green spherical EP. By now Supertato’s pals are a tad confused but he knows exactly what he’s doing and Evil Pea is certainly in for a big surprise …

Sue and Paul have created a splendid, large format cutaway board book treat for little humans that introduces some of the key Supertato characters and in so doing offer an important lesson about helping one another, kindness and collaboration.

Who will you and your little ones surprise over the coming weeks?

Ollie’s Lost Kitten / The Grinny Granny Donkey


Ollie’s Lost Kitten
Nicola Killen
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Ollie returns for an autumnal tale that is every bit as enchanting as her previous stories.
One crisp, blustery autumn morning Ollie, sporting her cat suit and pursued by her beloved moggy Pumpkin, head outdoors. Suddenly Ollie, about to jump into a leaf pile sees that it’s moving and then a sudden gust of wind reveals, hiding among the leaves, a tiny shivery kitten.

Having warmed it up, Olllie and two felines frolic in the leaves, catching them and playing forest explorers until they’re tired out. Before long the little kitten is ready for more play so Olllie joins in, totally forgetting about Pumpkin still slumbering beneath a tree.
The two dash off deeper into the woods where they spot lots of ‘lost kitten’ posters.

The girl knows she must try to find the kitten’s home so off they go, following a path revealed by the leaves, all the way to a little cottage where the kitten lives.

It’s a somewhat tearful Ollie who heads back, suddenly realising that her very own Pumpkin has been left alone. Feeling sadder still, she sits in the dark, lost and a bit fearful, till all of a sudden, she hears a rustle,

and then an extremely welcome ‘miaow’ that she recognises …

Gently suspenseful and beautifully illustrated, Nicola’s gorgeous graphite scenes with pops of orange and occasional cut-outs, give the story an autumnal feel making it ideal for sharing with little ones, just now especially.


The Grinny Granny Donkey
Craig Smith and Katz Cowley
Scholastic

Here’s a tooth-troubled addition, in the form of Grinny Granny, who joins Wonky Donkey and Dinky Donkey in the daft donkey family delights related by Craig Smith and beguilingly illustrated by Katz Cowley.


No grey lady is this one with her swanky styled titfa and adornments of the jewelled kind.

There’s nothing this granny donkey likes better than to sit playing her banjo, sipping a cup of her favourite brew and dunking in her biscuits,

but there’s a snag of the dental kind; her false teeth just won’t stay in her mouth.

Occasionally however she does get a bit down in the mouth, not on account of her teeth (those can be put back pretty niftily) but when her family fail to visit for a seemingly long time. That makes her grumpy and cranky, until up trot her son Wonky and her granddaughter Dinky. Then back comes that toothy smile and it remains, lighting up her donkey countenance for weeks and weeks – hee haw how splendid is that!

Herein with its wonderful sounding dunks, plunky-plinks,

clunks, clinks, clanks and zonks, Craig’s ‘Hee Haw’ -ing cumulative narrative plonks along nicely in time with Granny’s banjo strumming; adorably depicted in Katz’s scenes of this gentle grinning granny jenny.

Little ones will love it especially when read by their own grannies. It’s great for developing awareness of rhyme and sound/symbol associations to boot (or maybe hoof).

The Runaway Pea Washed Away

The Runaway Pea Washed Away
Kjartan Poskitt and Alex Willmore
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

The small green spherical runaway vegetable has already achieved VIPea status so far as this reviewer is concerned thanks to his cracking first outing in The Runaway Pea. Now he returns in a second delicious escapade starring himself but equally for me, his co-adventurer, the little spider that he encounters and proceeds to rescue having met same after being washed down the plug-hole and into the drain along with all the slime and mess. This, surprisingly, doesn’t spoil his fun; indeed, pea positively relishes his surroundings. It’s when he’s so doing that he comes upon the spider all of a panic that’s doing anything but enjoy the lack of a spot on which to stand its eight legs.


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However, the rescue effort quickly turns into an exciting experience – for one of the two anyhow – when they emerge into a stream. As they drift along, optimistic pea wants to take the opportunity to make some new friends; spider on the other hand, proffers several pieces of sage advice that do nothing to dampen pea’s spirits.

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Will the two ever see dry land and safety again?

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Actually it’s a case of yes and no, for the tale, rather like that water down the plug-hole, twists around perfectly to a wonderful conclusion that leaves things wide open for yet more adventures.


Bring it on say I and so will countless young listeners who will doubtless be delighted by pea’s unsquashable joie de vivre. Author Kjartan Poskitt and illustrator Alex Willmore have dished up another cracking rhyming tale with wonderful characters so cleverly given real personalities despite comprising mere spheres and (in the arachnid’s case) the odd few single lines. HapPEA reading.

The Day I Fell into a Fairytale

The Day I Fell into a Fairytale
Ben Miller, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Lana is a lover of stories and books, often using them as a starting point for fantastical games played with her brother, Harrison.
Now though, Harrison has started secondary school and considers himself both too grown-up and too busy with studies to play with his sister. Consequently, Lana feels lonely.

Then something strange and magical happens when with her mum, she visits the mega offers supermarket that’s recently appeared in town and there she discovers something totally unexpected – a portal leading to a fairytale world.

There is SO much to discover in this other world and her own.
Just who is the strange little old man she encounters in the supermarket?

Lana manages to get her brother to take her back to the supermarket
but “tubs of sweets that lead to fairytales … it’s just too far-fetched” is his reaction. But is it so?

Even when both siblings have cascaded through a portal, large white deer fail to convince him of its otherworldly nature; so what about flying arrows?

Lana though, is used to happy-ever-after fairytales and what she experiences are anything but; they’re dark and perilous. Even that odd little man when next they meet him, insists that the Sleeping Beauty fairytale the siblings have just left, is of the scary kind.

Enter Hansel and Gretel, a wicked witch (now where did she come from?) and what in fairytale land do oxbow lakes, Archimedes and the lever principle have to do with anything?

So, can Lana – dubbed Lana of Azupermarket – with the aid of her brother, defeat that evil witch? Perhaps, but only if she can convince him to resurrect his belief in fairytales.

With a big push for the power of the imagination and the importance of having fun, Ben Miller has created stories within a story and it’s so cleverly done. No reverse psychology required to get this reviewer and lover of fractured fairytales to read it right through, relishing every word. I love the border embellishments and occasional illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini too.

As a teacher I’ve never been one to stick to timetables but having read this cracking story, I might just have to think again on that one – in certain circumstances that is.

The Littlest Yak

The Littlest Yak
Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Despite her prowess at clip-clopping up slippery cliffs and her wonderfully curly, whirly woolly back, little Gertie yak is unhappy on account of her lack of “bigness’. She longs to grow up great and tall, when she assumes, her horns and hooves will be impressively huge.

Her mum assures her that ‘bigness’ can take a variety of guises but Gertie remains impatient to assume a larger form.

To that end she embarks on a ‘growing-up’ regime: a diet of healthy veggies and vigorous physical exercise as well as mental training, thanks to her extensive library.

None of which have the desired effect.

Then all of a sudden as Gertie is near to despair, there comes a cry for help from the yak herd. The teeniest, weeniest is stranded in a perilously precarious position on a cliff edge.

Now is the time for Gertie to make use of those super-grippy hooves of hers and so she does. Onto her back leaps the teeny weeny yak and down the mountainside they both go, to safety and a congratulatory crowd.

Later, wrapped up warmly under the stars, might just be the time for one little yak to realise that she’s just right as she is.

Debut picture book author, Lu Fraser’s rhyming text flows beautifully, making it a super read aloud; and she has the perfect illustrator in Kate Hindley whose funny details – look out for the bird characters – add gigglesome delight to many of the spreads. Love those bobble hats, blankets, scarves and other items of warm clothing worn by the yaks. Perfect for this heartwarming tale.

Albie’s 10 Anniversary Blog Tour: How to Catch a Dragon

It’s Red Reading Hub’s turn on the Albie 10th anniversary blog tour and today we have a ROAR of a book as our focus:
How to Catch a Dragon, Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves’ wonderful story that begins with Albie visiting the library to draw a dragon for his homework and takes him off on a fantastical adventure with a young knight.

To celebrate, Albie and his dragon adventure, author Caryl Hart shares five top facts about dragons:

Five Facts about Dragons

1. Dragons appear in stories from all over the world including India, China, Europe, Egypt and America.

2. Some scientists think that, long ago, people found dinosaur fossils and thought they belonged to dragons. Others think the idea of dragons is based on people’s fear of snakes or crocodiles or iguanas.

3. Chinese culture celebrates the Year of the Dragon every 12 years. If you were born between January 2012 and February 2013 then you are a Water Dragon. Chinese dragons are symbols of luck and good fortune and can fly, but don’t have any wings!

4. The How to Train Your Dragon films started out as a series of books written by Cressida Cowell, the first of which was published in 2003. There are now 12 books in the series!

5. Komodo dragons are real creatures that live in Indonesia. They can grow to 3 metres long and eat insects, birds and mammals.

Thanks to the lovely people at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, Red Reading Hub has a copy of HOW TO CATCH A DRAGON to give away.

To enter, follow @jillbennett18  RT the giveaway tweet and tag a friend. A winner will be chosen at random and the publicist will send you your prize book (closing date 12th August UK entrants only please)

Look out next week for the rest of the blog tour; there are going to be lots more fun facts and giveaways.

Look out soon for Red Reading Hub’s review of Albie’s latest adventure How to Drive a Roman Chariot – that sees him whisked away to Ancient Rome where, along with a young girl, he finds himself driving a runaway chariot.

Sophie Johnson Sports Superstar

Sophie Johnson Sports Superstar
Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Young Sophie Johnson appears to have an ever-increasing number of strings to her bow – Unicorn Expert, Detective Genius and now Sports Superstar. Is there no limit to her talents, one wonders.

As the story opens, Sophie is engaged in her training regime and while so doing she tells readers about all her preparations for a ‘Big Race’ . She eschews assistance from her mum as she goes about her work-out. (Since when was raiding the sweet jar good for training miss Sophie?)

The girl has what she calls an ‘Excellent Plan’. This appears to involve consuming vast quantities of fast food and doing the occasional exhausting workout.

Come the big day she’s raring to go

but it would appear that in her enthusiasm there’s one very important skill she’s omitted to hone …

As always, spending time with young Sophie is sheer delight. Team Morag and Ella together have created another funny episode in the life of Sophie Johnson and once again it’s the clever way the quirky pictures and the dead pan words tell rather different stories that make the book such fun.

I love the fact that in this athletic endeavour Sophie is still sporting her tutu throughout and every spread has deliciously diverting details to chuckle over.

The splendidly spirited Sophie’s a winner in my book no matter what she does.

Superkitty Versus Mousezilla

Superkitty Versus Mousezilla
Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Superkitty is back in a new adventure – hurrah! In case you’ve not met this particular superhero before, she heads up a team of assorted animals collectively called the Sensational Superheroes.

Now Kitty (our narrator) has called the crew together in the office to give them the day off to join in the Big City’s Picnic Party. Of course, they can’t go without stocking up on some goodies. Their first stop is Mr Fudge’s sweet shop. Horror of horrors! All the sweets have disappeared; similarly all the bottles in Mr Fizz’s pop shop have been drained

and the bakery has mere crumbs to offer. The owner Mrs Appleton says she has it on the mayor’s authority that mice are responsible.

Superkitty has her doubts; however her team is quickly on the case searching the city starting at the cheese shop.

Suddenly a booming sound fills the air and shortly after, the investigators come upon a massive Mousezilla clutching something or someone.

It looks as though Kitty may have been right in not jumping to conclusions.

Hannah’s Kitty is indeed a wise and determined character; this humorous tale warns against not accepting things at face value – the notion of fake news raises its head too. Add to the mix Paula’s terrific, detailed illustrations that little ones will adore and some, especially the particularly playful scene in the cheese shop, will give adult sharers a good giggle too.

All though will enjoy pondering upon the possibilities that arise with the new additions to Superkitty’s team; she’ll most certainly have her paws full.

Where’s My Jumper? / You Nest Here With Me / Let’s Count Vehicles / ABC Town

Where’s My Jumper?
Nicola Slater
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Meet Rudy: he’s lost his jumper – a pink one and a tad on the short side, but his favourite nonetheless.
The adorable little creature has searched everywhere, upstairs and downstairs, indoors and outdoors and round about. He’s looked in the bedroom, the kitchen, the bathroom, even underground. Where can it be? In his search he encounters a host of quirky creatures – tumbling cats, jiving llamas, prima pigerinas, ski-dogs, soapy blackbirds, jibber-jabbering sea creatures, muttering mice, three crocs,

and passing foxes but of his missing garment there is no sign.

Will your little ones find Rudy’s jumper before the end of the story.

With its die-cuts pages, flaps and lots of funky animals to count, it’s terrific fun and delivered through an enormously engaging text and equally frolicsome, bright, bold illustrations.

Hours of pleasure guaranteed with this sturdy board book that is bound to be read over and over …

You Nest Here With Me
Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple and Melissa Sweet
Boyds Mills Press

Making use of real scientific facts in the form of a narrative rhyming text, a mother and daughter team, Jane and Heidi, have written a delightful board book to share with your little ones at bedtime.

A human mother nestles her sleepy little daughter in for the night and then goes on to share with her the many ways birds bed down to sleep.
‘ … Terns all nest in colonies / Upon high cliffs, above rough seas. // But you nest here with me. // Some owls nest on oak tree boles, / Some down in abandoned holes, … ‘

Lilting and loving, the mother’s words are very easy on the ear, informing gently while helping to induce a safe soporific effect for the listener through the repeated use of ‘But you nest here with me.’

Working beautifully in tandem with the text are Melissa Sweet’s mixed media, gouache and watercolour illustrations executed predominantly in soft hues of green and blue.

As it originated in the USA, the names of some birds will be unfamiliar to UK readers but I’d still recommend this to share with the very young both at bedtime and as an introduction to birds and their nests and other elements of the natural world, at any time – perhaps before a nap or a snuggle together.

Let’s Count Vehicles
illustrated by Josh Cleland
ABC Town
illustrated by Tamara Petrosino
Highlights

There’s plenty to interest pre-schoolers in these two ‘Hidden Pictures’ titles both of which have gatefold flaps beneath which are large busy illustrations of scenes within which spotters have to locate the items pictured on the outsides of the flaps as well as those mentioned in the question, for example ‘Can you find 9 trains and 10 cars?’

The various locations, which include in the counting book, a funfair in the park; urban sights, a building site and a harbour, are populated by anthropomorphic animals.

So too are the town scenes in the ABC, which depict shops of all kinds – including I’m happy to say, a bookshop; a hospital, garden centre and fire station. A library and museum and a karate centre dominate a double spread; there’s an urban park square complete with bathing pool; and a railway line traverses another spread.

Engaging, fun and educative too, both these sturdy board books are great for developing vocabulary and visual skills in addition to the mathematical and alphabetic elements of the titles.

Superkitty

Superkitty
Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles
Simon & Schuster

There’s a new superhero on the block – or rather as Hannah Whitty’s story opens – a would-be one. It’s the fluffy feline narrator of the story and she works at the Sensational Superhero Agency located in Big City.

Her chief role however seems to be office stooge in contrast to Cheetah, Wildebeest, Lion, Elephant, Rhino and Bear. These guys get all the crook-chasing, crime-busting fun while kitty is left behind to answer the phones.

So, when a call comes in from Dr Fossil reporting the theft of a precious bone from her most recent dinosaur discovery, kitty is determined to get in on the act of the most ‘dastardly and diabolical crime EVER’. Grabbing the appropriate gear. She quits the office and despite being told to return to her post by the six scoundrel catchers, she manages to join the action and tails the Sensational Superheroes through the streets as one by one,

they stop off to attend to their own personal whims and fancies.

Eventually the crew reach Sky Tower where it’s kitty’s turn to shine. Scaling up the side of the building she finds herself face to face with the dastardly dog burglar, Nefarious Norman and we all know what dogs love best …

Can Kitty summon up sufficient bravado, face off the thief and save the bone from the stinky breathed canine or is she destined to become a dog’s breakfast instead?

Let’s leave her there and merely add that there’s one mightily happy feline and an enormously satisfied agency customer at the conclusion to this rip-roaring saga. Never let it be said that it’s always the guys who wear the pants (and capes and masks) hereafter.

Fast-moving, funny and illustrated with aplomb by Paula Bowles, this will hold the attention of young listeners throughout; and if my experience is anything to go by, action replays will be the order of the day.

The Sea Saw

 

The Sea Saw
Tom Percival
Simon & Schuster

Tom Percival always hits the sweet spot with his picture books and with this one he’s truly aced it – again.

When Sofia, on a visit to the seaside with her dad, loses her beloved teddy bear she’s totally distraught. The old, tatty object has been passed from her grandfather to her mother (whom one presumes is dead) and then to little Sofia and she’d thought of it more as a friend than a soft toy. In their dash out of the rainstorm said bear falls from an open bag and is left alone on the beach, unseen except by the Sea.

The Sea takes on the role of guardian of the bear, and the search for Sofia begins.

Meanwhile at home, Sofia’s father makes exhaustive enquiries and the two of them return to the beach but all to no avail; all that remains of Sofia’s precious bear apart from memories, is his blue scarf from which she snips a tiny piece to keep in her locket.

Back with the Sea, the hunt continues in earnest with Bear being borne through the water with the aid of marine creatures, surviving hazardous conditions and enjoying more restful periods too. All this takes years and eventually the bear is carried along rivers and a stream,

where it’s spied floating along by a young girl; a young girl who turns out to be Sofia’s granddaughter.

Finally a joyful reunion takes place and as Tom tells us almost at the close, ‘nothing is ever truly lost if you keep it in your heart.’

I doubt many readers will be able to finish this book without having tears in their eyes, a lump in their throat and a happy smile; it’s so moving and SO beautifully constructed. What a wonderful, heart-warming way to think about loss while never completely losing sight of the possibility of reunion.

Such sublime illustrations; every one is to linger over and return to; some send shivers down your spine. Absolutely awesome: another must have book from local-to-me, author/artist, Tom.

What Do They Do With All That Poo?

What Do They Do With All That Poo?
Jane Kurtz and Allison Black
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Of zoo books there’s an abundance, but when it comes to talking about the animals’ poo and what happens to it after passing out of the animals, is another matter. A faecal matter one might say and the author Jane Kurtz knows exactly how to grab the attention of young listeners even before the text begins with poo-filled endpapers – don’t miss those.Then, from the start (with a clever page turn) ‘At zoo after zoo / the animals chew. / And then … // they poo!” she holds that attention throughout.

Thereafter she digs into the diverse nature of droppings using rhyming couplets:‘A hippo sprays a shower / with its flipping, flapping tail. // To weigh a day of elephant’s poo, / you need a sturdy scale.’

Beneath each illustration in smaller print come further facts concerning the animal’s business: ‘Hippos use dung to mark their territories and warn off predators. They shoot their dung out while flapping their tails to spray it around.’ ‘Rhinos can communicate / through piles and piles of scat. // A lion sometimes buries poo – / like any other cat.’
‘Each rhino’s poo has its own unique smell.’ ‘Rhinos smell dung to gather information about each other.’

Cats big and little often bury their poo so it won’t be detected by enemies. But sometimes lions and tigers leave poo unburied as a warning that this is their territory.’

In her playful, scatological scenes Allison Black succeeds in giving each animal a personality with its distinctive shape and wide-open eyes; I love the hippo’s cheeky grin, the snake’s sneaky smile and the wombat’s look of seeming wonder at the shape of its turds.

Having discussed a dozen zoo inmates, the author turns her attention to vast quantities of poo deposited each day (possibly as much as 2,270 kg). Much is taken away in lorries to landfills while some goes to scientists and vets for study and gardeners use some for compost:

did you know carnivore poo can be spread around gardens to prevent deer eating the plants and trees?

In addition to concluding the book with a huge grin on their faces, (apart from the squeamish few who might be feeling somewhat nauseous) little ones will end up having ingested a considerable amount of information to inwardly digest, not the least being that elephant poo can be made into attractive paper products – hmm!

Educative and enormous fun; if used in a school context, children might wish to find out what their nearest zoo does about poo.

The Light in the Night / The World Book Day Monster

The Light in the Night
Marie Voight
Simon & Schuster

Young Betty absolutely loves the night time for it brings with it the most amazing stories, one of which features Cosmo.
Cosmo is a bear that is terrified of the dark and just when Betty is wishing that she could tell him that he has no need to fear it, POP! There he is.
Together they set off, hand in hand, on a journey of discovery. Led by a firefly they walk into the woods where they find a cave
Betty reassures her friend and they follow the firefly inside towards an inky lake whereon a rowing boat awaits to take them further.
The cave grows ever darker as they go deeper within until they come upon a sign.

Overcoming her own initial fear, Betty does as the sign says. An amazing sight meets their eyes and it’s anything but scary.
Once back outside, it’s Betty’s turn to feel anxious; she makes a confession …

With roles reversed, Cosmo now does the reassuring until the two reach Betty’s house safely once more.
Back indoors over hot chocolate (what else) the two talk of their journey until it’s time for Cosmo to leave.

Betty gives him her lantern and a special message.

In the morning she wonders if it had all been a dream: what do you think? You’ll need a copy of this magical book to find out.

Rising star, Marie Voight’s illustrations are adorable and her two characters totally endearing making this a thoroughly reassuring, warm-hearted bedtime story for you and your little ones as well as a lovely one to share in an early years setting.

The World Book Day Monster
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Ada Grey
Egmont

World Book Day is fast approaching, her school is celebrating but Anna has a dilemma. What should she dress up as?

Dad’s suggestion that they pay a visit to the bookshop proves fruitful and thanks to a helpful suggestion from the bookseller, Anna goes home fired with enthusiasm, carrying a book.

After multiple reads she enlists parental help to make her costume and next day she excitedly rushes off to school to show her friends.

Their response however isn’t particularly positive; they all ask, Anna, what are you?” over and over throughout the day.

Happily her head teacher’s reaction is very different; it was a favourite of hers when she was a child and she’s eager to share the book Anna is clutching with the class.

A magical story time ensues that is much appreciated by all her classmates, which leaves Anna thoroughly satisfied, and so she should be as she demonstrates the power of story to thrill and enchant.

Adam and Charlotte’s rhyming text coupled with Ada’s spirited scenes make for a fun book to share around World Book Day or at any time one wants to attest to the power of a story and the importance of the imagination.

Dave The Lonely Monster

Dave the Lonely Monster
Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Dave lives all alone in a retirement cave; his only companion is his guitar.

Back in the day – the bad old days to be precise – Dave had been a huge pest rampaging and roaring wherever he went.

Until that is, the townsfolk, tired of his mess making, exiled him to Echo Rock where he spends the next sixty years, just him, his knitting, the odd poetry book and his old instrument upon which he strummed the night away.
By day the local knights would taunt him and try to engage him in combat, but of fighting Dave would have no part.

One day his slumbers are disturbed, first by a flying cabbage that hits his nose, then a beetroot biffs him in the eye and an aubergine whizzes past.
Out from behind a bush emerges a tiny knight wielding a carrot. “Prepare to meet your doom!” he cries.

Somewhat nonplussed, Dave challenges this lad who calls him a fiendish monster, pointing out that proper knights do not speak so, and that monstrous beasts, like others, also have feelings.
Realising the error of his ways, Percy apologies, a pledge is taken and a firm friendship forged.
The two have the time of their lives

while back in town, on account of the lack of exciting action, boredom and grumpiness have set in. Monster-bashing is what they need, the townsfolk decide.

Can young Percy persuade them otherwise, armed as they are with fistfuls of mouldy fruit and veg.?
Surely there must be a better way to liven things up and bring fun back for those would-be assailants of Dave’s. He certainly thinks so …

Rollicking rhyme that beats out a heart-warming tale of music and friendship – that’s Anna Kemp’s – and delicious olde-worlde scenes of bygone times that might have been but never were, on account of the crazy mix of knights of yore, Dave’s 60s style bass guitar, mini-skirts and dance moves, not to mention a hells angels wooden Harley style bike complete with side car (those are all part and parcel the super scenes created by Sara Ogilvie)  – combine to make a super read-aloud romp with an important message.

Out with rebel-rousing and war; long live love and peace.

This book will have to be one of my ‘secret story-teller’ choices for the autumn term.

Tom’s Magnificent Machines

Tom’s Magnificent Machines
Linda Sarah and Ben Mantle
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

This is a totally awesome picture book that celebrates the very special relationship between young Tom and his father. It also celebrates their inventiveness and resilience in the face of difficulties.

We first meet the two as they zip around their lakeside home with dad pulling his son in a small, simple vehicle they’ve fashioned from bits and pieces.

Gradually however their inventiveness escalates and their home becomes chock full of weird and wonderful whizzy, whirry, hovering machines: life is peachy.

Then unexpectedly, Dad loses his job and with it, so Tom thinks, his smile and his propensity for inventiveness.
Gloom descends and the old machines lie forgotten. Then comes even worse news: they can’t afford to keep their home. Tom is devastated. Taking his trolley-bike he sets off to do some thinking.

Suddenly he has an enormous, hope-filled idea. Back home Dad appears relatively uninterested but finally Tom gets his message across and Dad smiles for the first time in many days.

A great deal of creating, testing, fixing and more ensue until beyond anything anyone could have imagined, they’re ready to open ‘The Museum of Vehicles Made From Things Not Usually Used For Making Vehicles.’
Visitors pour in, and wonder and laughter fill their establishment. Life is once again peachy as Dad says they can stay in their home.

Life does sometimes have a way of throwing disasters in the way of some unlucky people, and so it is for Tom and his Dad.
One night a whirlwind destroys their dream house, scattering its contents and leaving just rubble.

Despite his ‘badly-hidden sad’ Dad however mentions rebuilding;

Tom has other ideas. Off he goes once again on his bike; and returns with a brilliant new suggestion. It’s pure genius and one that will work no matter what the elements throw their way.

Linda Sarah has such an amazing way with words; her story is sheer delight to read aloud: coupled with Ben Mantle’s stupendous scenes of the highs and lows of life as shared by Tom and his dad, the result is a terrific book to share, and share and …

Ballet Bunnies / We Are Family

Ballet Bunnies
Lucy Freegard
Pavilion Children’s Books

Young Betty bunny aspires to be a ballerina but she’s only ever performed for her baby sister Bluebell.

At home Betty dances at every opportunity, in every room, but when it comes to dance class it’s not the same, especially with the end of term show fast approaching. Unlike her fellow dance students Betty feels clumsy and she can’t remember the right steps.
She does however, put her own interpretation on those moves and fortunately her teacher sees the best in every one of his students, providing fun rehearsals and a part for them all.

Betty works on losing her nerves but what will happen come the big day when among the audience will be her biggest fan, Bluebell?

Lucy Freegard’s cute characters and ballet scenes executed in pen and watercolour are sure to appeal particularly to budding dancers of the human kind, while her story of doing one’s best, over-coming your fears and finding confidence should resonate with all.

We Are Family
Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

A celebration of sibling love is exemplified by an array of endearing young animals small and not so small.
Be they lively lion cubs, diving ducklings, mischievous monkeys, milkshake slurping polar bears, fighting foxes, cake consuming kitties or frolicsome frogs,

brothers and sisters can be enormously irritating at times, but no matter what, even the trickiest of tasks become less bothersome with a sibling to assist.

Claire Freedman’s fluently flowing rhyming text combined with Judi Abbot’s captivating scenes of animal activities will enchant toddlers (with or without siblings) as well as their parents and carers.
We all love a little bit of mischief and there’s plenty of that herein.

How to Nab a Rabbit

How to Nab a Rabbit
Claire Freedman and Monika Filipina
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

All kinds of people write books but it’s less often that one reads one penned by the Big Bad Wolf and he appears rather confident in his prowess as author of How to Nab a Rabbit. Not that I have any particular interest in so doing, but I am exceedingly interested in picture books and the fellow appears to have hired a super illustrator to aid and abet him, hence I’m sticking with it.

Despite all the bragging, said author looks to be rather less adept at carrying out his recommended ploys than he’d like readers to think, certainly if the demonstration of The Stalking Strategy is anything to go by. Obviously as he says, the first thing is to locate their lair but when it comes to the second and sly part ‘just pretend you’re passing by’, our writer is well and truly out-smarted by his prey. To make matters worse, there’s a Bear in the vicinity with a penchant for wolf pud.

Next comes The Hole-in-the-Ground Hoax and once again, ineptitude on the writer’s part means he lands himself in it – literally!

And guess who’s there ready and willing to give him a paw out …

He has an audience of the undesirable kind when he executes this one: it’s called The Love Lure and at first glance it appears pretty successful.

Notion number four is even more of a disaster: the guy can’t even have himself delivered to the correct address and gets himself well and truly stuck at the wrong one too.

By now you’re probably thinking that our wolf-writer is a total disaster and you’re not far wrong: maybe his advice about cooking up a veggie alternative is the right way to go, so long as it doesn’t give this particularly bungling wolf any fresh ideas about authorship…

What a smasher of a book this is. Absolutely luscious faultless rhyming narrative from Claire Freedman stirred in with equally appetising illustrations from Monika Filipina will have listeners – not to mention adult readers – dribbling with delight and the former salivating for immediate further helpings. So says this reviewer, who just happens to be a vegetarian!

The Night Watch Ninjas

The Night Watch Ninjas
Lily Roscoe, Lisa & Damien Barlow
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

HIYAAAAAAAA! The Night Watch Ninjas are here, charged with keeping the town free from nocturnal mischief makers and there’s one in particular they’re eager to apprehend; the year’s most wanted bad guy.

Do not be fooled by his cute-looking demeanour: what lies beneath that bushy tail of his is, so we hear, ‘THE BOTTOM OF TOXIC DESTRUCTION’.

That badass has escaped from gaol and there’s a red alert. No time for midnight feasts when he’s on the loose and now he’s dropped one of his gross, malodorous bombs.
He has to be stopped before the entire world is engulfed in egregious odours. Off go the ninjas in their warrior wagon and before long Koala spies a huge green cloud issuing forth from the cinema.

False alarm! Stinker has tricked them.

But who is that little old lady offering her assistance? Don’t be fooled guys; that talk of the object of their search entering the Bat Cave Café might well be another dupe. And it is!
The Ninjas are trapped, well and truly; or are they? One of their number, Koala, is the other side of the door. Perhaps she can release her pals.

Luckily she can and once free, Fox reminds the gang of a vital ninja rule: get inside your opponent’s mind. That’s what they put into practice as they follow their prey into the all-night supermarket. Can they track Stinker down, and if so where?
I’m sure young listeners will be eager to supply suggestions as to what might be the favoured fare of a fiery-bottomed skunk.

It seems that the Ninjas have made a catch. Game over, or is it? …

A bedtime tale quite unlike others: this one will definitely not lull your little ones into a soporific state. Rather they’ll be cheering for those Night Watch Ninjas so colourfully portrayed in Lisa and Damien Barlow’s zany scenes of nocturnal shenanigans, that or issuing a series of ‘EEEEUUUGGHHHs’ and ‘YUCKs’ as you share Lily Roscoe’s wonderfully windy tale.

Lunch on a Pirate Ship

Lunch on a Pirate Ship
Caryl Hart and Kristina Stephenson
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Pirates rule yet again, or is it young Jack, in this lipsmacking adventure that rollicks and rolls along apace in Caryl Hart’s seemingly effortless, rhyming narrative.

Let’s meet Jack then: he’s something of a fussy eater – I’m sure we all know a few of those – and one day, a fine one perhaps like today, he decides that cold chips and crunchy baked beans do nothing to tempt his taste buds.

Instead he fantasises about the possibilities of lunch aboard a pirate ship. Now what might those salty souls sink their gnashers into by way of a lunchtime treat, he wonders – pongy pickled crabs and rancid rotten fish maybe?

Rejecting this unappetising dish, both pirates and Jack set off in search of other more promising fare.

What the giant offers is little better …

so he too joins the hunt – as passenger carrier – and off they all go following a sweet-smelling scent, eventually coming upon a fantastic feast laid out in a field.
Uh-oh! First they must cross a bridge and we all, children in particular, know what might be lurking somewhere in the vicinity of one of those.

What takes place thereafter, I won’t reveal for fear of spoiling your appetite for the remainder of the tale, but let’s just say, they do all, or almost all, get home in time to appreciate their tea that includes some pretty delectable offerings, so long as they eat their greens, that is.

Kristina Stephenson eschews her ‘stinky socks’ for a sojourn on the high seas doing it with absolute appetising aplomb as befits this truly tasty story that so brilliantly mixes food and fairy tale.

Gary’s Banana Drama

Gary’s Banana Drama
Jane Massey
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Gary the huge gorilla is a banana-phile so you might imagine that his discovery one day that there are ‘NO MORE BANANAS’ would send him into a crisis. Not so! Gary isn’t one to panic; instead he dons his smart new titfa’, trims his toenails and sallies forth to carry out his plan: to search for his favourite food.

Pretty soon, it seems as though his plan is going to prove fruitful: there are bananas at almost every step.
The trouble is not one of the banana-looking items is the real thing. Some leap and lick his face, others burst into song

and then have the audacity to peck him; others come hurtling at him courtesy of one Billy.

He sees bananas wherever he looks; it’s enough to drive the creature absolutely err, bananas, especially when it starts to rain.

Then however, Gary’s luck changes. He bashes his bonce on a huge obstacle

and then despite not at first wanting anything to do with the object he’s bumped into, suddenly changes his mind and launches himself off towards the most wonderful place he could never have imagined …

Is it possible though to have too much of a good thing? …

Totally crazy – bananas you might say – but with some wonderful slap-stick moments Gary and his banana-filled drama will have your audience chortling with delight.

Molly’s Magic Wardrobe: Search for the Fairy Star / Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert

Molly’s Magic Wardrobe: Search for the Fairy Star
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Garry Parsons
Egmont

I have to admit that with its pink sparkly cover I was tempted to put this book aside but decided that it was unfair not to bother reading it and I’m glad I did. The Guillain’s rhyming text reads aloud very well –that was no surprise though – telling of an adventure its young protagonist Molly has when she dons a fairy costume found in her granny’s wardrobe and then, in Lion, Witch and Wardrobe style, proceeds to step inside and through to a magical place – fairyland no less.

There she meets a distressed fairy, Flo, who has lost the star from her magic wand.

Molly offers to help and together they begin to search. Their quest takes them inside a castle, through an enchanted wood and into a garden and there are encounters with a giant, a wolf and a witch. These characters are anything but the normal fairytale stereotypes proving friendly (giant),

helpful (wolf) …

and far from wicked (witch) but none has seen the missing star.

The witch does have a wishing well in her garden though.

With the Guillains’ accomplished storytelling, Gary Parsons’ bold, bright scenes of the magical happenings and the added fun of wings and a wand inside the covers of the book for individual magic make-believe, the book’s creators look set to have the start of a winning new series here.

Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert
Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

The narrator of this book clearly has a thing for unicorns and a wonderfully off-beat imagination. She introduces us to her charges, all seventeen of them and goes on to explain what hard work they are even to a unicorn expert such as herself.

The creatures need lessons in magic,

in hunting for food and in safety – especially where balloons are concerned.

Even when they shed their horns,

make mess all over the house …

or need protection, no matter what, young Sophie is always up to the job.

Ella Okstad’s quirky illustrative style is perfect for Morag Styles’ first person narrative. Her pictures show much more is going on than Sophie Johnson is aware of and that’s what delights listeners who relish being in the know– mine did at any rate.

Great Bunny Bakes

Great Bunny Bakes
Ellie Snowdon
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Always on the lookout for exciting debut picture books I was thrilled to receive this mouth-watering one by exciting new author/ illustrator, Ellie Snowdon whose illustrations are a real treat – every one of them full of hilarious detail.

Meet grey wolf Quentin with an unusual hobby: he loves to bake: buns, biscuits, fondant fancies and especially chocolate cake. Hmmm!
There’s a problem however; Quentin has nobody to share these yummy confections with.

Unexpectedly though, everything changes when he accidentally receives an invitation to participate in A Bunny Bake-Off.
Time for a spot of subterfuge thinks Quentin.…

Cleverly disguising his facial features he manages to get into the competitors’ tent where he sets about the five challenges.
With top marks in the first event, Quentin looks well set to secure the trophy although one of the other participants is determined to sabotage his chances.

Quentin continues gallantly but there are more dirty tricks, and as he makes his way to the judging table with his final offering, Quentin slips and …

Will all his efforts now be in vain? Fortunately not; in fact our lupine contestant ends up being on the receiving end of a double dose of good fortune.

Ellie Snowdon’s tasty tale of baking, bunnies, fairness and friendship will delight and amuse.

The Lost Penguin

The Lost Penguin (An Oliver & Patch Story)
Claire Freedman and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Oliver made two new friends in Oliver and Patch, one canine and one human.
In this sequel, the three of them are pretty much inseparable during the day time although in the evenings Oliver and Patch return to Oliver’s flat and Ruby to her house.
Their favourite place to spend time together is the city zoo and it’s there that they see Peep.
Peep, so Sandy the zookeeper tells them is a newly arrived rescue penguin. The friends put his sad look down to the fact that he misses his old home.
The following day when they return to see Peep again, he’s nowhere in sight. Quickly they inform the zookeeper and a search begins.

Children will enjoy spotting the little penguin’s resting places in various locations that Ruby and Oliver fail to notice.
Eventually the friends discover the little creature’s whereabouts aboard a canal boat;

but on arrival back at the zoo, discover it’s closed for the night.
A squabble ensues over who is to look after Peep overnight, after which Ruby and Oliver realise that both Peep and Patch have gone missing.
Where can they be? There’s a long night’s wait ahead but will they find the two missing animals again next morning?

The ups and downs of friendship and the difficulties of settling into a new environment are explored in this reassuring tale.
Kate Hindley provides plenty of amusing details to linger over in every spread so this definitely isn’t a book to hurry through despite the urge to discover what has happened to the missing Peep.

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Birdy & Bou / A Recipe for Playtime

Birdy & Bou: The Floating Library
Mandy Stanley and David Bedford
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

I’m always on the lookout for stories that promote book loving and library use to very young children and here’s a great little book that does both of those things.
Bou is a red-eared panda and Birdy is, well, a bird.

Bou is an avid reader and when the floating library makes its regular stop at the village, he cannot wait to get his paws on his favourite book again.

Once aboard, he searches high and low but no matter where he looks, Bou cannot find his beloved book. Someone else has got there before him.

Off goes the little panda to track down the borrower, which he does eventually, although its borrower, Birdy, hasn’t quite grasped how to read it. Time for a demonstration and a spot of book-sharing.

So absorbed are the new friends that by the time they reach the river again, the library boat has departed. How can they return the book now?

With its bold, bright artwork, simple storyline and lovely surprise ending, this book with its toddler friendly wipe-clean pages, from the duo that created Roo the dinosaur, have another winner in Bou.

A Recipe for Playtime
Peter Bently and Sarah Massini
Hodder Children’s Books

Following on from their A Recipe for Bedtime, Bently and Massini have created a celebration of play. The toddler herein finds delight in block building, painting, constructing and imaginary play indoors,

before heading outside where there’s a slide, a sandpit, swings and lots of places to hide in when it’s time for a game of hide-and-seek with the toys.

Back indoors once again, it’s time to tidy away before snuggling up for a goodnight story – the perfect way to end the day.

Peter’s jaunty rhyme together with Sarah’s scenes of the fun and games, really do capture the joyful exuberance of the very young at play.

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What Makes me a ME? / Words and Your Heart

What Makes me a ME?
Ben Faulks and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a diverting book about identity: “What makes me a ME?” Who am I and where do I fit into this world? – these are questions that everyone ponders.
For the boy narrator it’s a mind-stretching poser as he acknowledges that at different times he’s like a whole range of things: sometimes he’s slow like a snail but he’s not slimy and his eyes don’t stand out on stalks.

He doesn’t have a tail so he can’t be exactly like his puppy Monty, despite being full of energy.
Is he perhaps like a sports car; he’s certainly lightning fast, but that’s thanks to his legs rather than wheels.

No matter what he likens himself to, essentially he’s just himself – special and unique.
Faulks’ funny rhyming stanzas documenting the five year old narrator’s search for an answer to his philosophical question provide Tazzyman plenty of space to conjure up some wonderfully comical scenes, and the boy himself with snub nose, specs and bobble hat is cheekily enchanting.

Words and Your Heart
Kate Jane Neal
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Words are powerful things: they can make your heart soar; they can make your heart sink; they can make your heart sing; they can make your heart hurt.
Words can be a force for good; or they can be a force for causing pain.
All this and more is demonstrated through characters Pip and Cat in author/illustrator Kate Jane Neal’s debut picture book.
‘This book is about your heart.
The little bit inside of you that makes you, you!’

So begins this unassuming book that goes on to say ‘the words that enter your ears can affect your heart.’
Her simple, but compelling message is a wonderful demonstration of how we can all contribute to making the world a better place by being mindful of the words we use to, and about, other people.

Executed with minimal colour, the illustrations, together with the empathetic and compassionate text that is orchestrated by means of changes of font, put forward a message too important to ignore.

A book to share and talk about at home, in playgroups and nursery settings, and in schools.

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Imagination Rules: The Magical Ice Palace & Daddy and I

The Magical Ice Palace
Suzanne Smith, Lindsay Taylor and Marnie Maurri
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

A flight on a gigantic magical snowflake,

a hairy mammoth prince stranded atop a mountain, a dramatic rescue involving an enormous bunch of balloons,

a beautiful palace …

a birthday party and a snow globe: yes Doodle Girl, is back with her magic pencil, of course, and her friends, for another amazing adventure. And it all begins with Doodle Girl’s discovery of a ‘curly CURVY SHAPE’ as she’s skipping through the sketchbook.
Even when the rescue has finally been effected there’s still the problem of a distinct lack of one absolutely vital ingredient for a topping birthday party –the cake. Can Doodle Girl wield her magic pencil one more time and make the Mammoth Prince’s celebration a truly royal occasion complete with cake and candles?
If you’ve not yet made the acquaintance of the wonderfully imaginative heroine, Doodle Girl, I urge you to do so now: she resides in a big red sketchbook and as soon as she so much as whispers the words, “Draw, draw, draw …” amazing adventures start to happen.
Deliciously quirky illustrations, whimsical characters and a sparkling wintry tale add up to another winning flight of fancy for Doodle Girl’s three creators; and there’s a bonus giant doodling poster inside the back cover.

Daddy and I
Lou Treleaven and Sophie Burrows
Maverick Arts Publishing

Saturday is ‘Daddy day’ for the little girl narrator and here she tells of a walk they take together; and what a wonderfully memorable Saturday that particular one turns out to be.
As they set out down the lane, not only is our narrator full of excitement, but her imagination is in full flow too as the pair become first, jungle explorers;

then grass snakes slithering through a field, followed by mountain climbers and cloud watchers.
Next comes a game of ‘Pooh sticks’, (they manage to pack so much into their day),

followed by a foray into the woods; but then there’s a storm and it’s time to make a run for it … all the way back to the dry.

This rhyming celebration of a special bond between father and daughter is beautifully told.
Sophie Burrows has picked up Lou Treleaven’s tuneful text embellishing the everyday sights of their country walk with scenes drawn from the child narrator’s imagination depicting a world where fact and fantasy meet.

Minnie & Max are OK! / Florence Frizzball

Minnie & Max are OK!
Chris Calland, Nicky Hutchinson and Emmi Smid
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Minnie has had a bad day at school having been teased and shunned by two girls, and now she wishes she looked more like them.
When her grandma meets her at the end of the day, she notices than Minnie is upset and decides that a trip to the park might help. On the way both Minnie and her dog Max peer at their reflections in a shop window and soon both of them are full of doubts about their appearance.
As they sit together in the café, Minnie tells her gran how she feels and Gran’ responds calmly, lovingly and reassuringly. “I love you just the way you are!” she says, “I think it’s wonderful that we all look so different … Just look around us.” And Minnie does …

Max sees a great variety of dogs too and before long both child and dog are playing happily with friends.

With its gentle humour, and Emmi Smid’s captivating ilustrations, this is a good book to read with any young child struggling with self-esteem be it related to body image or any other perceived ‘difference’. Equally if shared with a class or group, it should make potential negative commenters stop and think about how much better our world is for its rich diversity.
There is a final spread aimed at adults wherein the authors, both education consultants, offer ideas for discussion on the themes of teasing, self-image and diversity.
All in all, a valuable tool in the fight for embracing and celebrating difference and diversity.

Florence Frizzball
Claire Freedman and Jane Massey
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Florence the small girl narrator of this story has hair issues; her curly frizz is thick and unruly. Her little brother’s sleek, flat hair is altogether more preferable, so she thinks. It doesn’t tickle or prickle …

or obscure anyone’s view on windy days, nor when watching television; and no one else in the family is similarly troubled other than the dog, Scuff.
Can a visit to the hairdressers be the answer perhaps?

It certainly results in a transformation; but is straight hair really so desirable …
With its cute characters, this sweet rhyming tale presents themes of individuality, self-image and self-acceptance in an accessible story for the very young.

The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show

The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show
Mini Grey
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
The lengths performers will go to in order to be in the limelight is beautifully played out in Mini Grey’s latest extravaganza. It stars – or rather should have starred, the Great Hypno himself but he is currently unavailable, so we learn. A new act has taken his place featuring two mischievous rabbits, Mr Abra and Mr Cadabra. Be warned though, this act is full of dangerous sleights of paw and wand-waving, not to mention outrageously difficult knife-throwing.

Oh and there’s a spot of saw-wielding too …

but those bunnies are not the only ones up to a spot of trickery.
The lovely Brenda is now free, and her upper portion is presently performing a feat of padlock-picking while the roguish rabbits are otherwise engaged attempting to persuade their audience to part with their precious items.

So fixated on their grand finale are the pair that they fail to notice that the show’s rightful star is now on the loose, ready to step in and ensure that the show comes to a conclusion with an ear-splitting BOOM! Although that’s not quite the end of the story …
As always, Mini Grey delivers a top class, show-stopping performance, full of surprises, larger-than-life characters and laugh-inducing scenes. Her comic timing is supreme, herein aided and abetted by strategically placed flaps, cutaway pages and a fold-out.

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This is the Kiss / I Love You, Baby

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This is the Kiss
Claire Harcup and Gabriel Alborozo
Walker Books
We join an adult bear and a little one at the end of a day filled with snowy fun and games, but now after a paw-waving signal from the adult, it’s time to wend their way paw-in-paw, back to the cave for a night’s sleep. First though, comes a gentle hand squeeze,

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a loving pat on the head, a benevolent smile, a spot of tickle play,

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a goodnight hug and finally that kiss.
Sweet dreams little one. Gabriel Alborozo takes Claire Harcup brief rhythmic text and adds utterly enchanting visuals (including gorgeous end papers) making the whole thing a thoroughly heart-warming, just before bed read, for adults to share with very young children..
I suspect it’s one that will be asked for over and over. And, such is the simplicity of the writing that those in the early stages of becoming a reader can try it for themselves – make sure you share it first though.

More loving moments between adult and offspring are celebrated in a book coming in March:

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I Love You, Baby
Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster
Various baby animals from penguin chicks to puppies and snakelets …

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to elephant calves are on the receiving end of parental love in this joyous litany wherein adoring adult animals show and tell their offspring how precious they are. Tenderness and gentle humour are key in this one. Although the eponymous I is portrayed as a different animal for each utterance,

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this is an affectionate book for a human parent to share with a very young child.

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Ollie’s Christmas Reindeer / The Christmas Fairy

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Ollie’s Christmas Reindeer
Nicola Killen
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
It’s Christmas Eve; Ollie is suddenly awoken by a jingly sound. What could it be? She creeps to the window seeing nothing but a snowy landscape. Determined to discover the source of the sound, she boards her sledge and off she goes down the hill and into the dark wood.

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It’s there she comes upon a collar studded with silver bells caught on a tree branch. Then from the darkness emerges a reindeer, a collarless reindeer.

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With its collar safely back on, the reindeer takes Ollie on a magical ride through the starry skies…

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Saying farewell to a new friend is hard for Ollie but she knows that there’s important work awaiting him; and then there’s Christmas morning to look forward to …
Judiciously placed splashes of red and silver are used sparingly to enhance the dramatic effect of the otherwise black and white scenes of all the activity that fills this quiet, snowy night. A gentle, simple and magical story.

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The Christmas Fairy
Anne Booth and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
When Clara hears that ‘Christmas fairy’ lessons are on the curriculum she’s thrilled; being a ‘proper’ Christmas fairy is exactly what she’s been wishing for. The trouble is this involves standing statue-still on tiptoes and staying absolutely silent: in other words no giggling, absolutely no wriggling and positively no singing. As show day draws nearer, it looks as though this whole Christmas fairy thing is just way too demanding for Clara.

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The big day arrives and Clara is distraught. Suddenly though events take a turn. Santa’s there in front of her and seemingly he has not just one, but three roles that need filling, and he thinks Clara fits the bill perfectly. Can she step in and save the show?

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And what about that Christmas wish of hers …
Cute, seasonal rhyming fun for tinies. A lovely demonstration of the idea that everyone has something to offer, especially those who are slightly divergent; it’s just a matter of finding what that special something is.

Timely Rescues for Mortimer & Monkey

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Mortimer’s Picnic
Nick Ward
Troika Books
Mortimer is eagerly anticipating the picnic he’s been planning to share with best pal Oggy when he hears that the whole thing’s off – Oggy has an awful cold. Or maybe not. “I know – I’ll take the picnic to his house!” decides Mortimer. So having packed the picnic food, a get well soon card, medicine and a storybook, off he goes to his friend’s house. Almost immediately down comes the rain and up goes Mortimer’s brolly; but suddenly, WHOOSH! up goes Mortimer too and down he comes into the middle of a river – and he can’t swim. In this particular river is a resident croc. who’s only too happy to give Mortimer a lift across in exchange for his sausages.

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Deal done and off goes a decidedly damp rabbit into the ‘dark and scary forest’, followed unbeknown to him, by the still hungry crocodile.
Before long there appears another hungry animal demanding more of the contents of the picnic basket …

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Fearing for his life, Mortimer complies with the wolf’s wishes and is duly led out of the forest, albeit now feeling decidedly snuffly and with yet another pursuer. He’s not out of the woods entirely even now though: more of that picnic is handed over – in return for a safe bridge crossing this time – and a chase ensues …

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before the tale takes a decidedly unexpected turn.
I won’t reveal what happens or how the tale ends: suffice it to say it’s an altogether satisfying finale for listeners, although perhaps not quite so satisfying for some of the characters of this action-packed saga of thrills, misadventures and friendship.
Observant readers will have noticed that before the story starts, Mortimer sits reading …

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and it’s that particular book he chooses to take along with him to visit Oggy – food for thought?

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Doodle Girl and the Monkey Mystery
Suzanne Smith & Lindsay Taylor, illustrated by Marnie Maurri
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Doodle Girl’s place of residence is a magical sketchbook; she wields a magic doodling pencil and has several special friends including Mr Whizzy, Miss Ladybird and the Small Squeakies – there are two of them. The adventure we join them on starts with a pointy shape, which, with a few deft dashes and squiggles, Doodle Girl rapidly transforms into …

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Off they all fly, across an ocean and eventually come to land on a tropical island. It’s there that, by wielding her magic pencil in similar fashion to Anthony Browne’s Bear she manages to pull off the rescue of a little monkey from the snapping jaws of a pair of hungry crocs,

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as well as supplying all concerned with a tasty treat.
I’m all for anything that opens up the imagination and encourages creativity in young children. With the current tick box mentality that is all too prevalent in schools today, I see fewer and fewer opportunities being given in the classroom and even in nurseries for children to follow their own imaginative ideas. All power to Doodle Girl and her flights of fancy …

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One Lion, One Tiger – Two Terrific Tales

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A Hungry Lion
Lucy Ruth Cummins
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Wow! Subtitled ‘a dwindling assortment of animals’ this one’s a humdinger: droll, dark – very dark, and a real twister of a tale.
‘Once upon a time there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a little calico kitten, a brown mouse, a bunny with floppy ears and a bunny with un-floppy ears, a frog, a bat, a pig, a slightly bigger pig, a woolly sheep, a koala, and also a hen.’ Here they all are looking happy enough …

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(I’d count them if I were you.)
Turn over a couple of times and things seem to have changed somewhat : that line up doesn’t look at all like it did … Hmm!

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After a third ‘Once upon a time’ it’s dwindled to a turtle, a pig (the regular- sized one) and the floppy-eared rabbit. One more page turn leaves just A HUNGRY LION and er, that turtle. Oh, oops! It’s just the lion now and he’s about to exit stage right. But on goes our valiant narrator as we’re plunged into darkness followed pretty quickly by …

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Don’t speak too soon though – didn’t I just see that lion with one paw on the light-pull again: then omg …

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That however, is not quite the end or rather, there is an alternative way to finish this meta-tale of mischief and surprises…
Wonderfully and sharply witty, Cummins’ subtle, slow burning, dead-pan narrative voice(s) cry out to be read over and over and … and her mixed media illustrations are equally, to be savoured. In combination, they’re pretty near perfect.
This reviewer’s certainly hungry for more, as are all those – young and not so young – I’ve shared this tasty treat with.

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Augustus and His Smile
Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger Press
There seems to have been something of a richness of tiger picture books this year but nobody captures the tigerishness of tigers better than Catherine Rayner: nothing is more quintessentially TIGER than her paintings of Augustus. The landscapes – grasslands, mountains,

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oceans and deserts
– through which Augustus moves in search of his lost smile are beautifully suggested rather than detailed, leaving space for children’s imaginations to work, and so it is with her carefully chosen words. Words such as ‘He pranced and paraded through the largest desert, making shadow shapes in the sun.’

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The message in this lovely book is one that everyone needs reminding of from time to time: wherever you are, open your eyes to nature’s beauty and you will surely find something to bring on a smile.
I can hardly believe it’s a decade since this beauty first appeared: it’s certainly lost none of its appeal.

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The Three Ninja Pigs & Cat’s Colours

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The Three Ninja Pigs
David Bedford and Becka Moor
Simon & Schuster
Meet the Three Ninja Pigs, always twirling and crashing their way into trouble until Mrs Pig has had enough. ‘Off you go to Granny’s. AND NO MORE TROUBLE!’ she cries in exasperation

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and off trot the three through the woods to Granny’s cottage. But guess who’s got there ahead of them …

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Next stop Uncle Sam’s building yard to deliver his lunch but whom do the Ninja Pigs discover when they get there and he’s threatening total destruction.

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Less than impressed at the ensuing mess he duly dispatches the threesome to a high street destination with a plank for Cindy and the ‘AND NO MORE TROUBLE.’ instruction.
Needless to say a certain hairy character has beaten them to it once more …
but is he about to meet his cum-uppance? Certainly those Ninja Piggies have had enough of his repeated interference and are having a secret meeting …

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Totally crazy! This high energy fractured fairy tale romp has delighted all those 5s to 8s I’ve shared it with, several of whom had great fun with the numerous visual jokes in Becka Moor’s detailed scenes of mischief and mayhem.

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Cat’s Colours
Airlie Anderson
Child’s Play
Cats make me sneezy and wheezy so I am more than a little cat phobic; but the white moggie in this book quickly endeared herself to me as she wandered around, exploring her environment on a grey day. Grey the day may have been, but Cat’s decision to collect some colours – one for each new experience – soon has an uplifting effect. She pauses beneath a tree enjoying the look of the green leafy ceiling, breathes in the scent of some red roses …

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and reflects on the blue pond for instance and at each location she collects a colour. At the end of her walk she has added four more colours purple for a fluttery butterfly, orange for the light of the setting sun, black for the sparkling cosmos and finally, yellow for the moon under which she’ll stop to sleep.

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Before this though, white cat has a delightful surprise finale to share…
How often do we give young children opportunities to pause and truly ‘be in the moment’? Probably not often enough, so cat’s story can serve as a gentle reminder to adults that it (being, not doing) should be part and parcel of every day.

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Surprising Christmases with Slug, Reindeer & Frankie

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Norman the Slug Who Saved Christmas
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Whoever heard of a slug celebrating Christmas; well you’re about to hear of exactly that and more for this crazy tale tells how one, Norman by name (of Silly Shell fame) actually pitches in and averts a seasonal disaster. But that’s to come. We first encounter Norman as he’s tucked up in bed eagerly anticipating a visit from Father Christmas – he’d been a truly good slug after all. Then, down the chimney descends , not Santa but …

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Surely Norman cannot have been that good? No, certainly not; in fact not one of the presents therein is for him. Time to get those slug ideas flowing and put those special slug skills to good use, decides Norman and that is just what he does: sticky tape of course is no problem but who/what is going to pull that cleverly constructed sleigh? …

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And how is Norman going to get that Shelby family’s sack up onto the roof and down their chimney?

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Well, we’ve all talked of snail mail but Norman’s method is something altogether unexpected and genius on his part:

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but quick Norman, you have to hide before those Shelby children appear on the scene.
You can probably guess what he does about that but I’d hate to steal his thunder so either take a guess, or much better, get hold of a copy of this comical Christmas caper and then share it with some under 6s.
Love the story: love this problem solving, divergent thinking mollusc, and love Paul Linnet’s portrayal of same.

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Reindeer’s Christmas Surprise
Ursula Dubosarsky and Sue deGennaro
Allen & Unwin Children’s Books
With occasional, gentle echoes of Clement Clark Moore, Ursula Dubosarsky’s text bounces along on its Reindeer hooves as the chief protagonist sets out delivering gifts to his friends. First there’s Cat …

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followed by Dog …

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and finally, shopkeeper Guinea Pig …

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Thereafter Reindeer tootles back to the comfort of his cosy armchair for a nice rest and a glass of iced chocolate. Perfect albeit decidedly lonely. But not for long: his snooze is rudely interrupted by a terrible racket – what could it be?
Without spoiling the happy ending, let’s just say Reindeer’s heart is full and he’s lonely no longer.
I love the way the story ends with an open-ended question for readers and young listeners to ponder over

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Here’s Emmanuelle deep in thought over just that …

and discuss.
With its gently humorous, delightfully detailed pictures, this heart-warming antipodean tale is definitely one to enjoy this Christmas. And not just for its sunny, summery scenes.

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Frankie’s Magic Football: The Great Santa Race
Frank Lampard
Little Brown
Soccer fanatics Frankie and his trusty team are on a mission: to make Christmas a white one. But nobody wants an everlasting snowy winter; so can they deal with the evil penguin accidentally awoken when the magic football, kicked by Kevin crash lands in Mr Harris’s front garden? Emperor Frostie, for that is the penguin’s name, is determined to create this winter that never ends, not only in their very own town, but right across the whole world. One thing is certain, first, they have to find the whereabouts of Kevin and deal with the tricky problem of his rescue. It looks like a football match is in the offing … Frostie’s team versus Frankie’s.
Assuredly, another action-packed adventure for fans and a seasonal one at that.

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Aliens Love Dinopants & Aerodynamics of Biscuits

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Aliens Love Dinopants
Clare Freedman and Ben Court
Simon and Schuster
Aliens, underpants and dinosaurs all in one story – what more can a pants loving reader ask for? Herein the spacecraft, piloted by the pantsophile aliens, is zapped by lightning as it whizzes through the skies forcing it to crash-land in the jungle.
But BLEEP BLEEPS are heard loud and clear from the pants-tracker and immediately the aliens are hot on the swampy trail. A trail that finally leads them to …

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shortly followed by …

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And it seems those dinosaurs are ready to fight to the death over their precious stash. But perhaps that isn’t going to be necessary: after all both are really on the same side – that of PANTS. So maybe a solution – a pantstastic one – can be found that works to the satisfaction of all concerned …

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And if so, all of us humans had better keep extra special watch over our washing lines when it’s chuddies drying time.
Can it really be the seventh of this ever-popular Underpants series? This one was eagerly seized upon by the five and six year olds I took it to, and several readings were demanded.

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Maria was certainly impressed by the story and left me this.

More power to the seemingly indomitable pants force and the creators thereof.

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Aerodynamics of Biscuits
Clare Helen Walsh and Sophia Touliatou
Maverick Arts Publishing
When hunger pangs strike, Oliver (normally a good, kind sort of a boy) creeps downstairs to raid the biscuit barrel only to find it completely empty. But what are those shadowy things scuttling across the floor, ‘Hauling and heaving, towing and tugging.’ out through the door and into the garden?

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The marauding mice however, are not consuming their spoils, oh no, they’re in the process of constructing or attempting to, aerodynamic biscuit rockets in which to fly to the moon and there partake of some – well you know what the moon is said to be made of.

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However their design skills leave a lot to be desired and it’s only when Oliver offers to help with the rocket building that things start to look more promising, and finally it’s blast off time.
Once at their cheesy destination, the mice can hardly wait to tuck in to the feast that awaits them when they discover that their leader, Captain Sneaky McSqueaky has gone missing: seems his appetite is for something other than cheese …
Are the mice to be marooned on the moon without a craft or can they find another way to return to earth? Perhaps, with Oliver’s help …

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This unlikely story is great fun. The nature of the telling is such that it draws listeners in from the start, keeping them involved and interested throughout and offering possibilities for active joining in with the rocket building and cheese gathering as the story unfolds.
Equally, Sophia Touliatou’s quirky illustrations are packed with amusing details, creating a visual feast of small rodents engaging in all manner of tasks, tiny tools, and tasty treats – sweet and savoury, not to mention a whole host of speech bubbles, noises, labels and more for the eyes to digest.

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SPLATS & BURPS: A Pooping Bird and Burping Twins

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What a Naughty Bird!
Sean Taylor and Dan Widdowson
Templar Publishing
A story about a bird that flies around the world dropping splats of poo upon all manner of unsuspecting animals and some humans too, is bound to be a hit with young children. But when it’s delivered (courtesy of Sean Taylor) via a wicked rhyming narration from the poo dropper himself and coupled with Dan Widdowson’s hilarious renderings of the recipients of said splats it cannot fail to make its mark.
Every spread will brings giggles but my favourites are the large brown bull that gets one right between his horns

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and the bear in whom our inveterate splatterer more than meets his match. TeeHee!

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Young children love this one because they, or at least some among them, know more about ursine skills than does our avian narrator …

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Great fun for an early years storytime session, especially with that oft repeated ‘What a Naughty Bird!’ refrain to join in with.

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The Burp That Saved the World
Mark Griffiths and Maxine Lee-Mackie
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Meet young Ben and Matt the Mustard twins, burpers extraordinaire whose noisy eruptions drive the townsfolk to despair.

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So much so, that they issue the pair with an eviction notice. But then from outer space appears a fleet of alien raider invaders that seize the toys and books of all the town’s children and seemingly nothing can be done to stop them. Or can it? Maybe those burping boys might just save the day …

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With a fun to read aloud rhyming text, crazy and suitably garish, action-packed scenes and plenty of opportunities for adding sound effects, this is the sort of thing that appeals unashamedly to early years children who particularly seem to relish anything that involves bodily functions of the gaseous variety.

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A Bounty of Board Books

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Walter’s Wonderful Web
Tim Hopgood
Macmillan Children’s Books
Walter is a spider with a mission: he wants to spin a perfect web, not a wibbly- wobbly one that is whisked away whenever the wind blows.
His first effort – a triangular one is destroyed by the first puff of wind so he tries another – a rectangle, but with no more success.

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The diamond meets a similar fate but what about his circular-looking one, could that be the answer?
But three wooshes and Walter plus web hit the ground. Nearing despair, Walter stops to think before making one last attempt and by nightfall it looks as if he’s got it the design just right –

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WOW! Walter, you certainly deserved to succeed – top marks for perseverance and a wonderfully intricate web.
This delightful story for the very youngest provides a great opportunity to introduce ideas about not giving up when things get tough and of course, built into the narrative are those six basic 2D shapes.

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The Butterfly Garden
Laura Weston
Big Picture Press
Twenty words and a sequence of half a dozen super-stylish, beautifully patterned black and white illustrations: nothing much to get excited about – right? Wrong: look closely at the first of those black and white spreads.

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How many caterpillars can you spot? Look again at the silhouetted leaves and blooms and you notice there are flaps to lift. Open the top left-hand flap to reveal …

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And then the other four flaps and you’ll see a whole lot going on in vibrant colours …

 

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The subsequent spreads show the life cycle and life journey of the Monarch butterfly. (In North America, the Monarch migrates en masse to Mexico during the course of its life.)

 

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Essentially that’s it and every spread is beautifully designed and arresting first in black and white and then with its flashes of flamboyant colour.
Although the Monarch isn’t a breeding British butterfly, this book is a striking visual account of a butterfly’s life cycle.

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The Tiger Prowls
Seb Braun
Simon & Schuster
It’s hard to choose a favourite from the five animals that pop out from the pages of this seemingly simple yet impressive book. I love the shape and feel of the whole thing – its arresting cover, the way it whizzes through the various habitats the colour palette used and the clever paper engineering. Then there’s the elegant prose of the sentences used to describe each of the iconic creatures that grace the spreads.
First off is that tiger from the cover described thus:
‘The tiger prowls, stalking the jungle. Paw after heavy paw crunches on the forest floor. And so he does emerging from a gentle hint of vegetation straddling that first spread across which slides a muted snake.
Turn over and meet a graceful whale with its cleverly upturned tail and snout;

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the brown bear padding slow through the forest, the mighty elephant taking a shower in the hot sun (If I’m fussy I’d like to have seen an upturned trunk and slightly sharper tusks here ) and finally …

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Gentle, elegant, treetop nibbling, cloud-high grazer giraffe ‘pitching his way across the savannah, like a ship adrift on the open plain.’ (love those bird silhouettes)
Aimed at the very young but I can also envisage older children who get hold of this being inspired to try their hand at making their own pop-up animals.

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Dinoblock
Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo
Abrams & Chronicle
MEET THE DINOSAURS says the sign across the museum doors and on opening them readers (and the two child investigators) find two key questions ‘Who are the dinosaurs?’ and ‘Where are the dinosaurs?’
From then on the book’s clever design really comes into play with a formula that is used to great effect for the next ninety or so pages using a mix of cleverly crafted cutaway pages and a series of similes likening each of the twenty three dinosaurs introduced to something a young child is likely to be familiar with, followed by another spread showing the particular dinosaur in its natural habitat and a sentence giving the dinosaur’s name with its phonetic pronunciation. Thus we have for instance, ‘I have a neck like a goose …

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turn over to ‘I am a Coelophysis (SEE-low-FYE-sis)’…
Or this one:

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The grand finale comprises a spread of drawn-to-scale dinosaurs on a gate-fold that opens out into a farewell display of skeletons of all the dinosaurs featured.

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Of those a fair number are relatively uncommon in books for young children and indeed a few such as Micropachycephalosaurus and Edmontosaurus) were new names to me.
Assuredly a block-buster for the very young but also a book that offers a great opportunity for them to see and think about a favourite topic in an exciting and imaginative new way. And, a jumping off point for further investigation and children’s own creativity.

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Unlikely Criminals

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The World-Famous Cheese Shop Break-In
Sean Taylor and Hannah Shaw
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Situated between the Greengrocer’s and an underwear boutique is The Cheese Shop.

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This entirely bonkers story featuring Daddypops, a paternal rat is narrated by one of his offspring and relates how this father-figure involves his family of mischievous rodent children in a plot to break into the Cheese Shop and steal its tasty wares. Several failed attempts later, there is a complete change of plan: tunneling is the order of the day but this too proves rather more challenging than anticipated …

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Worse is to come though – when the ratty robbers finally resurface, they discover that they’ve actually burrowed into the shop next door: the Fancy Pants Boutique.

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And then, it’s a case of ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ Daddypops becomes the proud vendor of stylish underwear for his fellow rodents…
The sight of those rats with their carrier bags of new undergarments is a real giggle maker,

 

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as are many of the other tasty visual tidbits proffered by Hannah Shaw.
Only Sean Taylor would think of calling a young rat robber Shanice; that’s just one of his crazy verbal details and, as Daddypops’ daughter rightly says “What a cheesy ending.” Tee hee! Delicious endpapers too.

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Molly Maybe’s Monsters: The Dappity-Doofer
Kristina Stephenson
Simon & Schuster
Meet Molly Maybe and her dog, Waggy Burns residents of a sleepy little place called Smallsbury. We first encounter them as they peer out at their neighbour Mr Bottomly who seems to have discovered something unexpected while digging a pond in his garden.

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Thus begins a strange adventure for Molly and Waggy courtesy of their amazing contraption called The Mundervator. This secret contraption conveys them from their treehouse, deep down beneath Smallsbury to the magical monster world of Undermunder where they see this …

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Off they head (guided by Waggy’s Walkie-Talkie collar) to the town square where there are monsters in abundance awaiting the appearance of their leader the Monster Meister. This creature informs the crowd of the loss of The Mydol Idol from its plinth. Shock horror! Banishment of the thief will result unless the precious mascot is back in its place on the stroke of midnight. But which of the throng is responsible?

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It looks like it’s down to Molly and Waggy to solve the mystery of the missing statue and the holes in Mr Bottomly’s lawn …
With its pair of adventure seekers, a whole host of mock-scary monsters inhabiting a subterranean world, and a magical machine to connect one to the other, I suspect Kristina Stephenson has concocted a recipe for another successful series.

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Exploring Big Ideas: Grandad’s Island & Alive Again

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Grandad’s Island
Benji Davies
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books pbk
Sometimes along comes a book that moves me to tears; this is such a one. It really tugs at the heartstrings as it tells how young Syd accompanies his beloved Grandad on a final journey. With Grandad at the helm,

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the two of them set forth on a tall ship across the ocean and its rolling waves to a far distant island. Abandoning his stick, Grandad leads Syd into the thick jungle where they come upon an old shack.

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Having made everything ‘shipshape’, the two of them sally forth to explore and come upon a perfect resting spot.

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It’s there that Grandad breaks the news to Syd that he is going to remain on the island, assuring him that he won’t feel lonely.
So, after a loving farewell, Syd returns home alone. It’s a lonesome journey and a long one and when Syd returns to Grandad’s house, there’s nobody there. But then he hears a tapping at the window and there, sent by special mail is …

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Poignantly beautiful both visually and verbally: Benji Davies has done it again.

 

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Alive Again
Ahmadreza Ahmadi and Nahid Kazemi
Tiny Owl
The well-regarded Iranian poet Ahmadi is the author of this seemingly simple, thought-provoking tale.
One by one, things that a boy loves disappear from his life: are they gone forever, he wonders. Can blossom, rain and wheat come back?

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They can and will, but each in its own good time.
The author’s spare prose allows children to create their own interpretations and fill the gaps left in the telling. Ahmadi gives the impression of being close to young children and the kinds of ideas that preoccupy them from time to time. Themes of change, loss, death, rebirth and renewal, and the cycles of nature

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are all possible ideas to explore having shared the reassuring book with young listeners.
As with all the Tiny Owl titles, the production is excellent and the illustrations superb. The collage style illustrator Nahid Kazemi used here has a child-like quality about it and is likely to inspire children’s own creative endeavours.

 

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A box of interesting fabrics, some decent backing paper, fine-line pens and glue is all that’s required.
A wonderful book for primary teachers looking to further children’s spiritual and imaginative development.

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