Tag Archives: Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

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.

I’ve signed the charter  

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.

I’ve signed the charter  

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.

I’ve signed the charter  

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.

I’ve signed the charter  

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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Animals: Eyes, Bunches, Numbers and Squares

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Who’s Who in the Woods?
Eryl Norris and Andy Mansfield
Templar Publishing
It’s nighttime in the woods: everywhere eyes peep out from the inky darkness. Eyes belonging to all manner of creatures; but which is the one causing all the unease?
Pop-ups on every spread but the first, leap out from the pages to reveal the animal with a frightening stare, the one with a fearsome roar and more

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in this exciting and engaging little book, written in rhyme for which the artist has used a limited palette to great effect. I suggest it’s best saved for home use as some of the pop-outs are quite fragile and might not stand up to the repeated readings this is bound to have.

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A Tower of GiraffesAnimal Bunches
Anna Wright
Words & Pictures
Subtitled ‘Animal Bunches’ this book is essentially a mixed media visual presentation of just that, with each of the sixteen animals represented under the heading of its collective noun. Thus we have the gloriously messy “A Drove of Pigs”,

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a wonderfully woolly Flock of Sheep,

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the florally coated …

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the oh-so-showy Ostentation of Peacocks and many others all portrayed in their full glory. There is a delightful quirkiness about the whole thing and the range of expressions on the animals’ faces in every group is splendid.
Alongside each animal portrait is a paragraph giving some information about the habits and characteristics. Thus we learn for instance that ‘Flamingos are highly sociable, living in groups of up to one thousand … These fancy feathered friends also work together to make theatrical displays … marching in time to impress other birds.
This book is likely to appeal as much to those interested in design as nature and animals. It is certainly one for the school library or family bookshelf.

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Bear Counts
Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Simon and Schuster pbk
A cumulative counting book whose rhyming text takes listeners through a sequence of encounters along with friends Mouse and Bear from their shared breakfast in the morning sun. Bear is the leader showing Mouse one sun, one dragonfly, one robin on her nest and one mouse disappointedly clutching just one berry. Then along comes Hare clutching two fruits and …

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so on until there’s a whole host of friends splashing and floating in the pond counting …

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Gorgeous double page spreads of the various stopping points alternate with the counting pages where the focus is on the individual items seen on the previous friend-encounter spread.

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Take a Square
Britta Teckentrup
Words and Pictures
This is one of a new series for the very young that looks at concepts in a fresh, imaginative way at the heart of which is clever design and uncluttered images. Herein, we trail a small dog as he involves readers in a follow-my-leader game taking them through the pages on a playful journey that encompasses a toy truck, the demolition of a block building, a cat, a bone, a toy robot, children playing,

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a visit to the park and finally, a bus ride home and bed.

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But the story is not quite over as closer study reveals …
As the journey progresses, the line of objects accumulates down the left-hand side of each double spread forming a kind of visual list of the story ingredients. Totally involving and lots of fun.

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Solutions for Alan and Barnaby

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I Need a Wee!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster pbk
Alan, the lovable blue bear depicted on the cover of this book is determined to have fun, no matter what. And the ‘what’ makes itself obvious almost from the start of the story: it’s the need for a wee. A need that grows more and more urgent as Alan insists on having another go on the helter-skelter, stopping to buy a balloon and partaking of Claude’s birthday cake. Finally Alan and friends reach the loos and guess what –there’s a long queue. Dolly offers the use of her toilet but it’s too “teeny tiny” so Alan looks elsewhere.

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but the Magic Rabbit is having none of it. Things are getting pretty desperate when Alan makes a dash up the steps and behind a curtain – so he thinks but then he discovers he’s actually on stage where his energetic efforts to control his bladder are rewarded with a large golden trophy

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and he knows just what to do with that; so why is he saying that he still needs a wee?
With its luminous cover, charming cast of characters colourfully illustrated and tension-building text, this one should certainly make under fives (and those who have dealings with them) laugh.

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A Monster’s Moved In!
Timothy Knapman and Loretta Schauer
Little Tiger Press
Monsters come in all shapes and sizes: the one that’s referred to in the title of this rainy day story is roughly child-sized and green. He arrives as a result of Barnaby’s den building activity and his somewhat foolish (in the light of what then happens) utterance, “Sometimes I wish a monster WOULD move in!” Before you can say, “I don’t believe it!” which is what young Barnaby does in fact say, there, clutching what looks like a packed lunch box, is Burple. Burple heads straight for Barnaby’s den and the boy, joins him. ‘BIG MISTAKE!’ In less time than you can say to yourself, “He seems harmless,” for that is just what our young protagonist does, Burple has started producing ear-splitting howls. Moreover, the contents of his lunch box has escaped and is hell bent on consuming Barnaby’s den.

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Ideas are needed and Barnaby suddenly has a good one. Some imaginative activities proceed, some rather too imaginative

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until at last the rain stops and boy and monster head to the park for some outdoor pursuits.

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At the end of the day, both declare it’s been their best ever day. And the following one – well, that would be telling.
Monsters, den building, imaginative play, tree climbing – just the kind of things young children love. Put them altogether in a slightly crazy, laugh-inducing story and illustrate it with verve and vigour, and just a touch of cuteness, and the result is a book with enormous appeal for those around the age of the chief protagonist, and I suspect, monsters.

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Two Brave Young People – Malala and Iqbal

Malala A Brave Girl from Pakistan/
Iqbal A Brave Boy from Pakistan
Jeanette Winter
Simon & Schuster
Let us not pray to be sheltered
         from dangers
But to be fearless when
         facing them.
This quote from Rabindranath Tagore sums up perfectly the attitude of the two indomitable-spirited young people in these real-life stories. Both Malala Yousafzai and Iqbal Masih were faced with terrible cruelty and violence and by being brave and speaking out about the right for freedom and for education, are an inspiration to people the world over.

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The name Malala Yousafzai is possibly better known due to her recent (co-) winning of the Nobel Prize for Peace 2014, the youngest ever recipient.
The story here outlines how Malala stood firm against the threats of the Taliban and spoke out against their orders to her and fellow girl students in the Swat Valley of Pakistan not to go to school, and not to read. ’I have the right,’ she said and continued both to speak out and to go to school somehow. We are told how the van Malala and fellow students travel to school in is stopped and the young activist shot almost losing her life.

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After her recovery we hear of the speech she gave to world leaders on her 16th birthday,
They thought that bullets would silence us,
but they failed …
One child, one teacher,
One book, one pen,
Can change the world.”
So said the girl from Pakistan who has really made the world listen.
Flip the book and you have the other story:

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When he was just four years old Iqbal’s parents, needing money for his brother’s wedding, took a loan of just 600 Rupees (around 12 dollars) from the owner of a carpet factory, In return Iqbal became a bonded labourer working at a loom from before dawn until after sunset, weaving intricately patterned carpets alongside fellow child workers. Despite this Iqbal’s mind remained free.

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Then one day he attends a meeting about Peshgi (the loans holding such children in bondage) and learns that the practice has been outlawed making him and his co-workers truly free. Thereafter, Iqbal studied and also continued to speak out against enforced child labour, even travelling to America so do so until eventually after receiving threats against his life, twelve year old Iqbal is shot and killed while riding his bicycle.
Both stories are powerfully and succinctly related in a text appropriate for young primary school audiences. Executed in a subdued palette, the pictures and their patterned borders strongly evoke the sense of place and make more tangible the emotions of the characters. The image of a kite, an image that symbolises both childhood and freedom serves as a link and connecting thread between the two stories – stories with one transcendent theme.
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