King of the Swamp

King of the Swamp
Catherine Emmett and Ben Mantle
Simon & Schuster

In a dark dank swamp living peacefully alone and growing orchids in his neat garden, is McDarkly.

One day, this peaceful existence is shattered by a royal entourage led by a roller skating enthusiast King who wants to turn the swamp into a roller-skate park.

However at McDarkly’s mention of orchids the Princess’s ears prick up and an agreement is made that the royal party will give the orchid cultivator just ten days for his orchids to bloom so that the princess can learn from these wonderful plants.

Determined to save his swampy environment from the King’s destructive clutches, McDarkly labours night and day, and as his allocated time is about to end, he comes upon a small green grub on one of the leaves.

Disaster! But all the more so when the one proves to be a great many of the wrigglers and they devour his precious flowers overnight.

Back come the royals, with the King in high spirits when he discovers the lack of orchid flowers. Once again though, it’s down to the Princess to save the day …

Delectably silly, Catherine Emmett’s rhyming tale is an exceedingly clever and enormously enjoyable way of putting across an environmental message or two so that young audiences will be both greatly amused and one hopes, ready to get behind the conservation crusade that still needs lots more activists.

Ben Mantle’s comical scenes are rich in detail – daft and otherwise. Who can fail to giggle over the sight of McDarkly sitting atop a bush outside his home sipping tea from a china cup, or that of the creature singing to his plants.

Too Many Bubbles

Too Many Bubbles
David Gibb and Dan Taylor
Simon & Schuster

Dogs and exceedingly dirty water or mud seem to have a magnetic attraction and it’s certainly the case in musician/songwriter David Gibb’s madcap rhyming tale that begins with an extremely mucky pooch and instructions from Mum to ‘give the dog a bath’.

It’s not long though before this seemingly straightforward enterprise has descended into uncontrollable bubbly mayhem as the three children concerned set out in hot pursuit of their havoc-wreaking pet and the bubbling soapy trail.

As we follow the foam it becomes clear that the cause of the chaos is grasped firmly between the pooch’s jaws as it dashes rather in the fashion of the traditional Magic Porridge Pot, through the market square

and the park to the zoo.

There bubbles soon enclose not just the perpetrator of the chaos but all the inhabitants of said zoo as well. Something has to be done and quickly.

And something is, but it’s not quite what the rescue services have in mind as they risk life and limb…

And the dog? Err – let’s just say he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed himself and is badly in need of another dip in the tub.

Dan Taylor’s effervescent illustrations are enormous fun too: I particularly love the scene of the fountain invasion.

Conjuror Cow / Where’s William’s Washing?

Conjuror Cow
Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt
Macmillan Children’s Books
Although Julia Donaldson’s rhyming in this lift-the-flap- book is impeccable, Conjuror Cow’s magic skills are decidedly lacking as she makes several abortive attempts to produce a white rabbit from her top hat, a cake, a trap door in the floor and a snazzy table cloth,

before Nick Sharratt’s vastly amused mouse and pig onlookers give her the instructions that finally lead to a surprise revelation.

As you would expect Nick’s illustrations are alive with his trademark zany humour. Who can fail to fall for the charms not only of Conjuror Cow but also the team of bit part players?

Fantastic fun for toddlers and readers aloud too.

Where’s William’s Washing?
Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster

What a delight to be back in Treacle Street on a breezy summery afternoon. William Tripehound is taking advantage of the breeze to dry his washing but all of a sudden, WHOOSH! The wind whisks the contents of William’s washing basket and the clothes he’s just pegged onto the line up and away.

The search is on aided and abetted by young listeners who will love to help lift the flaps and discover the whereabouts of William’s red striped apron, his checked trousers, his socks,

and his underpants.

Happily, thanks to audience assistance, by the end of the story William has all his washing back save one item, the new use for which is just too ideal to reclaim, and the pooch is more than happy to serve yummy pie and gravy teas as thank yous to all the Treacle Street helpers.

With her playful text and delectable, slightly retro, detailed illustrations the third visit to Kate Hindley’s Treacle Street is every bit as enjoyable as the previous ones.

No-Bot the Robot’s New Bottom!

No-Bot the Robot’s New Bottom!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster

Bernard the robot, aka No-Bot, is back with a new botty but now again it seems to be giving him trouble. Not however by its absence; rather there are all manner of strange sounds apparently emanating from his rear as he plays on the park equipment with his pals.

Bernard is surprised until he turns his head to discover what looks like his very own, potentially explosive bum.

Bear decides it needs removing which leaves our robot pal in a bot-less state once more.

Reassuringly his friends are ready and willing to assist in finding a replacement but it’s not an easy task as they soon discover, for the bot needs to satisfy certain criteria – right colour, appealing smell, comfortable for sitting

and not too heavy. Will Monkey, Bear, Dog and the birds ever find a bot that it just right or is Bernard to remain in a permanent state of bottomlessness?

Finally, it appears Bernard isn’t the only one having bottom trouble …

Like the first No-bot story this one is delightfully daft and full of the kind of humour that definitely appeals to little ones. Yet again team Sue and Paul have a winner with this one; I certainly know a fair few fans who will be keen to get their hands on it.

I’m Sticking With You

I’m Sticking With You
Smriti Halls and Steve Small
Simon & Schuster

As Smriti’s ursine character tells it in her lively rhyming narrative, Bear and Squirrel are best buddies, pretty much inseparable. ‘Wherever you’re going, I’m going too./ Whatever you’re doing./ I’m sticking with you’ insists Bear.

However, debut artist Steve Small’s illustrations, paint a different picture: this friendship is problematic.

Well- intentioned Bear is huge, clumsy and oblivious to the effect his actions have on his bestie as he unknowingly breaks Squirrel’s teacup, sneezes the roof right off his house and nigh on flattens him as they share a taxi ride.

Then, as they sit squashed inside an igloo, Squirrel’s forbearance cracks causing him to speak out, ‘Erm … actually Bear … I think I need to be on my own. … It’s getting a bit crowded in here.’

The deflated Bear disappears reluctantly leaving his pal to enjoy the space. Physically things seem great

but pretty quickly Squirrel realises that his friend’s absence has created huge gap to fill in his heart and mind … ‘I MISS BEAR!’ comes the cry and out dashes the rodent imploring Bear to return.

Squirrel’s hugs and imploring win for as the small creature says, ‘When we’re unstuck, / we won’t fall apart. // How could we ever? / We’re joined at the heart. … and I LOVE YOU / A LOT!’

Steve Small’s illustrations, spare as they are, convey a great deal of feeling and a gentle humour that work well with Smriti’s story that rolls nicely off the tongue.

A lovely portrait of the ups and downs of friendship.

Ori’s Stars

Ori’s Stars
Kristyna Litten
Simon & Schuster

Far, far out in the deepest darkest depths of space lives a lonely being going by the name of Ori.

In an attempt to keep warm, Ori rubs her hands together and in so doing creates a beautiful shimmering entity that she names star. So delighted is she that she continues creating star after star.

Suddenly into the light that she’s created around her something moves, reaching out for one of her stars.

Ori is somewhat taken aback but agrees to teach Bella, the newcomer, how to make a star too.

It’s not long before many, many more things appear from the darkness congregating around Ori and Bella and all eager to become star-makers.

Together they create incredible coloured starscapes all around …

But then Ori considers the possibility of other lone entities far out in the inky black feeling the same loneliness that she had once felt.

Knowing the joy of friendship, she persuades her friends to join her in an endeavour that will ensure that no-one need ever feel alone in the dark.

Can she succeed in dispelling that fear of isolation and replace it with friendship across the entire universe?

How much we all need to emulate Ori and her newfound friends by reaching out to others during these seemingly dark times. This beautifully told and illustrated story of reaching out to others is just perfect to share with little ones at any time but especially just before bed.

Nine Lives Newton

Nine Lives Newton
Alice McKinley
Simon & Schuster

A dog with nine lives – now that is something different. It’s the case, so we hear, with long-eared Newton the narrator of this story. He’s just discovered the fact … so he thinks, and having shared same with his feline friend, off he goes to do all his favourite things as he lives life in the fast lane.

The moggy meanwhile (along with we readers and listeners), knows what Newton doesn’t, and sets off to pass on the information. Newton has another problem too: close attention to detail is definitely not one of his fortes and therein might lie his possible demise.

High drama aplenty is found in Alice McKinley’s debut picture book. With its wealth of lessons in visual literacy, she’s created a real winner here. Youngsters will love being in the know with the author and the moggy character when they watch Newton coming within inches of his life as he attempts to get the biggest bones; poo wherever he pleases;

select playmates freely; perfect his barking technique and more; as well as taking the occasional break for some R and R.

Now what could happen, if and when that cat succeeds in getting the crazy canine to listen? He may accept that he doesn’t after all, quite have nine lives, but Newton doesn’t look like the kind of dog to let something like that stand in his way of excitement …

Assuredly, excitement and hilarity are what you’ll get with Nine Lives Newton.

The Snow Dragon

The Snow Dragon
Abi Elphinstone and Fiona Woodstock
Simon & Schuster

It’s a snowy Christmas Eve when we meet young Phoebe who lives in the orphanage owned by the cruel Griselda Bones. All the other young residents have had their ‘Miracle Day’, been adopted and departed to become part of a family.

Griselda runs a soulless regime – no daydreaming, skipping or games such as hide-and-seek and as for Christmas – forget it, lessons will continue as always. But even those are interrupted when Griselda throws Phoebe out to spend a night in the kennels for daring to be creative in her grammar lesson.

Then it starts to snow and having managed to climb out of the enclosure, Phoebe with the help of dachshund, Herb, builds a snowman, seeing in it a possibility of something magical.

And something magical is swirled into being before her eyes in the form of a snow dragon …

upon whose back Phoebe is whisked away on a fantastic adventure.

But the Christmas magic doesn’t stop there for there’s something even more awesome to follow …

Everything about this book, (which is an abridged version of a tale included in the collection, Winter Magic), is out of this world gorgeous. The telling is full of uplifting messages for youngsters, not least of which is that even in dark times ‘We all have the gift of wonder’ and mustn’t forget to look at the world’s natural beauty. ‘Be content. Be watchful. Be brave’ the dragon tells her.

Sheer enchantment of the best kind is provided in Fiona’s sublime illustrations, especially those of ‘wonderflible’ Northern Lights and the dragon’s first appearance.

This story is a distillation of all that’s best about Christmas.

A Christmas Carol / A Cat’s Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
retold by Tony Mitton, illustrated by Mike Redman
Orchard Books

In faultless rhyme, poet and author Tony Mitton tells the story – albeit a somewhat shortened one – of the Charles Dickens Christmas classic that begins on Christmas Eve with the miserly Scrooge responding to his clerk Bob Cratchit’s Merry Christmas wishes thus “Christmas? Humbug … A feast for foolish men.”

Then back in his room, come the ghosts – first that of Marley and later in turn, those of the Ghost of Christmas Past,

the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future, each one eerily portrayed in Mike Redman’s atmospheric filmic spreads.

As you’ll know, the vision of Bob’s invalid son looking so frail and ill, and that of all the working poor toiling to earn but a pittance, result in a change of heart in old Scrooge who instead of Scrooge the Miser is transformed into ‘Scrooge, the Man / who keeps as kind a Christmas / as any person can.’

This book offers a highly accessible introduction to the famous seasonal classic for children.

A Cat’s Christmas Carol
Sam Hay & Helen Shoesmith
Simon & Schuster

It’s Christmas Eve and closing time in the large department store. The shoppers have gone and the staff are on their way out bidding each other a “Merry Christmas”.

That leaves just Clawdia the security guard’s cat and a trio of mice that have come in out of the cold. Clawdia attempts to apprehend them but they lead her on a merry chase all round the store, stopping from time to time to point out things that make her ponder on the past, present and future,

and begin to question her “Christmas is for sillybillies” attitude.

But then she receives an unexpectedly kind invitation from the tiny rodents she’s been chasing. That’s not quite the end of the kindness though: there’s an even bigger surprise in store and it’s one that results in a wonderful family Christmas Day for the moggy, the mice and the warm-hearted, welcoming humans with whom she gets into proper festive mood.

Helen Shoesmith’s hilarious scenes of the chase around the store

and the superbly expressed feelings of both animal and human characters bring out the warmth and humour of Say Hay’s story: just right for spreading some seasonal cheer at home or in the classroom.

Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention

Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention
Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster

It’s great to see a second rhyming story about young designer/inventor Izzy Gizmo and Fixer her crow collaborator.

Now she’s super excited, for an invitation to the annual Invention Convention has arrived through her letterbox. Grandpa ensures she overcomes her initial uncertainty about the reliability of her machines and off they sail to Technoff Isle in a machine of Izzy’s design.

Izzy has set her sights on the badge to the Genius Guild to be awarded to the winning design. Inevitably so have all the others

and one in particular is a selfish hoarder of materials.

Despite this and other setbacks, Izzy’s unfailing creativity and ingenuity (not to mention some assistance from Fixer) finally win through …

Izzy’s such a powerful role model – resilient, inspiring but also on occasion apt to let her frustrations get the better of her until Grandpa and Fixer offer encouragement.

Fast paced and spirited as Izzy herself, Pip Jones’ narrative drives its message to a satisfying finale and in combination with Sara Ogilvie’s splendidly energetic, offbeat illustrations, this is a smashing book to set the imagination of young readers and listeners sparking with creativity.

More please!

Be More Bernard

Be More Bernard
Simon Philip and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster

Bernard is a bunny; he does bunny things like nose twitching and ear pricking and he digs lots of deep holes. In fact whatever his fellow bunnies do, Bernard does likewise.

In his dreams though things are rather different; he dreams of decidedly un-rabbity things. But how long can he keep up his pretence of being just like the other bunnies?

One day he decides to eschew the bunny poo baps his fellow rabbits are eating. ‘I can’t do this any more’ he decides.

Little by little Bernard starts to do his own thing, largely ignored by the others until that is, the day of the annual bunny ball when, shock horror, a divergent bunny rolls up!

Ignoring cries of “You can’t wear that!” and “We’re all the same!’ Bernard struts his stuff with joyful abandon, disco dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

Amid the cries of consternation, there’s one little bunny, Betsy, who loves his daring to be different and it isn’t long before Bernard isn’t the only risk taker on the dance floor.

Then comes the big reveal …

which all goes to show that the best possible choice is to be true to yourself whatever that may be.

Long live individuality and difference: that is what is so splendidly conveyed in Simon Philip’s cracking story narrated with such delicious humour by Bernard himself.

Kate Hindley brings out that humour with her splendiferous scenes of the protagonist’s transition from rule adherent to rule breaker, from follower to leader, from ordinary bunny to bunny extraordinaire. Make sure you peruse every spread carefully or you’ll miss the wealth of captivating detail in every one.

Blooming brilliant!

Marcel’s Parcels / Prima’s Missing Bunnies

Marcel’s Parcels
Prima’s Missing Bunnies

Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster

These are the first of Kate Hindley’s lift-the-flap board book stories set in Treacle Street.

Marcel the elephant stars in the first title and youngsters accompany him on his post round. His trolley, we discover when the flap is lifted, is loaded with lots of parcels so he has a busy time ahead.

His first delivery is to Prima Pavlova’s dance school with some much needed gear for their next performance.

The next stop is to unload a very large parcel for William at the pie shop,

followed by a wheel delivery for Arabella at Grease Monkeys Garage.

What about the final parcel; it’s addressed to the resident of the very last house in the street: now who could that be? …

We’re back at Prima Pavlova’s dance school for the second story and it’s the evening of the bunnies’ very first performance. There’s a big problem though: all the star performers have gone missing and Prima is in a terrible state. So much so that she needs the help of readers to search for them.

It’s a search that takes us high and low to the café, the prop shop, the orchestra pit

and finally the dressing room. How could they do such mischief on that important night? The audience are ready but can the curtain go up on time?

Kate’s characteristic quirky, patterned illustrations packed with wonderful details, along with her interactive narrative, ensure that little ones will demand these stories over and over, and eagerly anticipate further visits to Treacle Street.

The Runaway Pea

The Runaway Pea
Kjartan Poskitt and Alex Willmore
Simon & Schuster

We’ve all heard of the runaway gingerbread man and the runaway pancake but now they’ve got some opposition in the exciting escapade stakes – from a fleeing pea no less.
Said little green seed decides to up and leave the plate before tea-time and so he does, despite taunts from fellow veggies over a minor mishap with a splodge of sauce.

Although the little pea might have escaped from becoming tea for a human there are still plenty of hazards to contend with: the dog’s drinking bowl,

a goldfish tank, a mousetrap, a toaster, a tumble dryer and an iron to be precise.
Having managed to avoid the dog’s mouth, been squirted unceremoniously from Adele’s tank, catapulted onto a shelf, blown into a toaster and pinged out again,

buffeted round inside a revolving drum and almost squished flat ‘neath a steam iron, our pea finds himself rolling under a fridge.

Exhausted, in this dark spot he comes upon several shrivelled shapes, which he hears, were also runaways,

They advise the newcomer against remaining to get wrinkly and stinky like them as well as telling him that there’s no point returning to his original plate, leaving the little fellow to fall fast asleep.

And that’s when something amazing happens to him that might just be the start of something truly eye-poppingly astonishing …

Poskitt’s zany narrative rolls merrily along in faultless rhyme and makes for a smashing read aloud, all the more so thanks to Alex Willmore’s dramatic, action-packed art. His scenes of near disaster will likely have your little ones rolling around in laughter at the pea’s plight and clapping in delight at the hapPEA ending.

Paper Planes

Paper Planes
Jim Helmore and Richard Jones
Simon & Schuster

Following his The Snow Lion, Jim Helmore has written another  beautifully observed, enormously moving story.
Mia and Ben are best friends; they do everything together, their favourite activity being making paper planes. In winter, they race them against the geese and hope one day to make a plane that will fly right across the lake.

Then comes some devastating news: Ben and his family are moving to a new home in the city. How will they sustain their friendship when they’re so far apart?

The two exchange planes and vow never to forget one another.

Winter comes; the days are hard for both of them and in her frustration and anger, Mia smashes the plane Ben’s given her.

That night something stirs Mia during her slumbers. The plane in the garden, appears whole once more; and then she’s flying with the geese, high in the sky. Suddenly she spies another plane: could it possibly be?

The next morning she receives a parcel from Ben. Inside is a model plane but it isn’t complete: Ben knows of only one person who can add the wings …

The friendship isn’t broken after all; the connection is still there, and the hope.

Richard Jones’ captures the changing emotions to perfection in his richly textured illustrations. They contain plenty of details, and like the words, a powerful poignancy that is impossible to forget. I love the subtlety of the STEM element especially the way Mia uses both her knowledge from her observations and her creativity to complete her task.

Readers and listeners too will need to use their observational skills to read Richard’s pictures carefully to get the most from this quietly powerful picture book.

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius
Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster

Unicorn expert Sophie Johnson now extends her skills to detecting; she’s a self-confessed expert, ably assisted though she won’t admit it, by fussy eater, anti-outdoors pooch, Bella.

Sophie knows of a ‘terrible crime’ that needs solving and fuelled by the thought of the reward, she’s on the case, determined to discover the perpetrator.

Suspects are arrested and finger-printed while Bella constantly tries in vain to draw something to Sophie’s attention; but so absorbed in her own detecting is Sophie that she’s unable to see what’s right under her nose.

Detecting is tough work but some are more adept at it than others – it’s just a matter of deciding who …

I won’t be a story-spoiler; however observant readers and listeners will likely be making their own predictions well before the final denouement of Morag’s clever, dead pan telling.

Ella’s hilarious scenes of Sophie and her assistant on the case provide the perfect foil for the droll text; and do look carefully at the back cover whereon Sophie’s library is shown.

What will Sophie turn her attention to next? No matter what, bring it on. Meanwhile, for sure, the adorable Sophie will win a lot of new fans with this latest book.

Ollie’s Magic Bunny

Ollie’s Magic Bunny
Nicola Killen
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Ollie has been eagerly awaiting the day when the rain stops so she and her soft toy Bunny can venture outside to play and now that day has arrived. Attired in a bunny suit, suitably shod, and with Bunny in basket, Ollie dashes outside and heads straight to a puddle for a bit of splashing.

Suddenly a breeze blows past and in its wake a cloud of golden blossom. When a petal lands on Bunny’s nose it somehow magically transforms the toy into a real rabbit. He leaps from the basket and he dashes off in pursuit of other rabbits with Ollie in hot pursuit.

With dark clouds gathering and the water rapidly rising Bunny is heading straight into danger.

Ollie is at a loss as to what to do next until she remembers her umbrella and calling on the magical breeze, she makes a wish.

Rescue successfully carried out, she now needs to find somewhere to shelter. Conveniently there’s a tree house not too far off and therein they take refuge until the rain stops and it’s time to head home.

There’s another problem to overcome first though, but happily they finally return safe and sound where back indoors, Bunny reverts to toy mode once more.

One assumes the die-cuts at the start and end of the book signify the transition between reality and fantasy but I’m not convinced they’re needed. Nonetheless Nicola Killen’s limited colour palette illustrations, with those occasional golden glints of the petals, are enchanting. The story itself is gently whimsical and just right for a spring day nursery storytime or individual sharing.

Rosie Is My Best Friend

Rosie is My Best Friend
Ali Pye
Simon & Schuster
‘Rosie is my Very Best Friend. And I think I’m hers.’ So says the narrator of Ali Pye’s new picture book.

We then hear how a little girl and a small dog spend a brilliant day together. Rising early they play quietly before breakfast so as not to disturb the grown ups …

Then after a spot of training the two set about helping with some jobs – gardening, shopping and tidying, none of which receive due adult appreciation. Instead they’re packed off for a long, albeit rather muddy, walk in the park

that concludes with an encounter with a large, extremely scary looking dog.

Safely home, having had tea, the friends spend some time in imaginative play before nestling up together in their very favourite place.

‘… tomorrow could be even better’ says the narrator anticipating another wonderful day and re-stating as the two snuggle into bed, ‘Yes, Rosie is the Very Best Friend …’

But there’s a twist in this tale that listeners may, or may not have been anticipating, as we learn who in fact the storyteller has been.

Who can resist the two faces looking out and drawing readers in from the cover of this wonderfully soft-hearted story of a special friendship? Ali Pye’s characteristically patterned illustrations of child and canine friend are adorably cute without being at all sentimental; even this very dog wary reviewer immediately warmed to the small black and white pooch.

Jingle Spells / Meg’s Christmas

Jingle Spells
James Brown
Simon & Schuster

Unlike other witches, young Trixie is not excited at Halloween, it’s Christmas that she loves and she’s determined to show her fellow witches why.

Who better to help her in her mission to demonstrate that the magic of Christmas is the best of all than Santa himself?
Seemingly though witches have a bad reputation within the walls of Santa’s workshop so her letter receives a firm refusal from his head elf.

Determined to prove that she isn’t ‘naughty’, Trixie sets off to see Santa nonetheless.

What she discovers on arrival at the workshop isn’t the hustle and bustle she’d expected. Instead there’s a decided lack of toys on the elves’ shelves and worse still, it’s not only the elves who are suffering from bad colds, Santa too has succumbed to a very bad attack of the wheezes and sneezes.

Time to mix a special curative potion but will it work; in fact will the smitten even take so much as a sip of Trixie’s warming brew?

It appears to be the only way that Christmas can be saved …

A fun, elf-filled festive frolic featuring an endearing little miss who brings her own special brand of seasonal magic to the Christmas season: James Brown’s Trixie has an irresistible charm.

Meg’s Christmas
Jan Pieńkowski and David Walser
Puffin Books

After all these years Jan Pieńkowski’s Meg, Mog and Owl star in their very first Christmas adventure and the magic still holds good.

When a pipe bursts on Christmas Eve flooding Meg’s residence, there’s only one thing to do and Meg does it: ‘Find us somewhere dry to stay but bring us home for Christmas Day!’ she chants.

Before you can say “magic spell” the broomstick whisks them up and away to …

Instead of hanging up their stockings in the comfort of their own home Meg, Mog and Owl do so in the very spooky room where they spend the night.

Come Christmas morning the three are anxious to be off to meet the friends they’ve invited to their Christmas party. Can they be ready in time for their guests? …

The magic of the threesome never wanes: this seasonal offering will be enjoyed by parents who loved the early Meg and Mog adventures, as well as by their young offspring coming new to the stories penned by David Walser.

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat / Santa’s High-Tech Christmas / Christmas Gremlins / A Very Corgi Christmas

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat
Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Such is his fondness for taking a snooze that Santa’s fluffy feline Sammy will drop off pretty much anywhere and dream of accompanying his owner on the Christmas Eve delivery run.

What he doesn’t imagine though when he dashes off to Santa’s workshop, is the manner in which that dream finally comes true. The somnolent cat gets parcelled up and dropped in among the other packages on the back of the sleigh and then it’s a case of “Ho! Ho! Ho! “ and off they go.

However, Sammy isn’t the only extra rider on Santa’s sleigh that night. Two wicked robbers, Mischievous May and Bad Billy are ready and waiting to seize their big chance and help themselves to some of the parcels.

Can Sammy save the day? And what is the special present Santa leaves for his pet moggy under the Christmas tree?

Festive fun aided and abetted by a snoozy feline delivered in Lucy Rowland’s bouncing rhyme with the addition of a good sprinkling of elves and excitement in Paula Bowles’ pattern-rich illustrations.

Santa’s High-Tech Christmas
Mike Dumbleton and Angela Perrini
New Frontier Publishing

Santa has eschewed the old fashioned methods when it comes to transport and keeping account of Christmas parcels; instead he uses a motorised sleigh and stores all his lists on his smart new techno-pad. But disaster strikes as he’s whizzing over the rooftops by means of his rocket-pack; Santa’s techno-device plummets to the ground and he’s faced with a blank screen.

Enter Jasmin, a techno-savvy little girl who is more that happy to give sad old Santa a helping hand by showing him how to access all the information he needs.

Not only that but she comes to his aid in another way too: after all Christmas really is all about giving.

Mike Dumbleton’s jaunty rhyming narrative is given added zaniness by Angela Perrini’s illustrations.

Christmas Gremlins
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Chris Chatterton
Egmont

Oh my goodness, those gremlins are at large again in another of the Guillains’ rhyming romps and now they’re on the rampage creating havoc in the run up to Christmas. It seems they’re determined to get in on the act no matter whether it’s decorating the tree, baking mince pies and Christmas cake (or should that be gobbling same?), wrapping up all the presents (and everything else in sight), singing – more like screeching – carols at the door or popping out of Christmas cards. But that’s only indoors. Further prankish doings are likely outside too: nothing is safe from their mischief so let’s hope they’re well out of the way before Santa arrives.

With more than 50 flaps to lift, this madness and mayhem will keep little ones entertained as they play hunt the mischief makers on every one of Chris Chatterton’s jolly spreads.

A Very Corgi Christmas
Sam Hay and Loretta Schauer
Simon & Schuster

The royal corgis are among those not feeling the Christmas spirit, far from it, all except for young Bella that is. Dazzled by the lights and excited by the hustle and bustle outside she decides to go and join in the fun. Hitching a ride in the back of a mail van, she gets out at Piccadilly Circus where everything suddenly feels overwhelming – too bright, too hectic and FAR TOO LOUD!

As luck would have it along comes London savvy pup Pip offering to show her the sights. A great time is had by both but suddenly as they approach the palace, Pip goes missing. Will Posy ever see her newfound friend again? Perhaps with the assistance of a very special royal couple …

Delivered with an abundance of Christmas spirit, Sam and Loretta’s London tale is a charmer.

Grandma Bird

Grandma Bird
Benji Davies
Simon & Schuster

As an avid fan of Benji Davies’ world of Noi books, I was eagerly anticipating this new one and it certainly lives up to expectations.

Noi is off to spend the summer with his Grandma whose home is on a windswept rock across the water. He’s less than enthusiastic at the prospect of this solitary place and the idea of Grandma’s seaweed soup. Worse, he discovers they have to sleep head to toe in her small bed where Grandma snores loudly and the blankets itch; and during the day she’s so busy she has no time to play with her grandson.

The boy decides to explore the seashore alone. Suddenly he spies something shining in the distance and discovers a large hole-filled rock – the perfect place for some imaginary play.

The wind lashes outside, the sea beats against the rocks and suddenly out of the storm a little bird drops at Noi’s feet.

Knowing it needs help, Noi tries to make his way back across the rocks towards Grandma’s home and as he battles against the lashing storm he sees the bright red sail of a little boat.

Grandma has come to his rescue and once safely aboard her boat, boy and Gran gather up more bedraggled birds which they take back to dry out indoors.

Eventually the storm abates and the birds depart, all except one. Could it be that Grandma feels lonely sometimes in her solitary existence, Noi wonders.

Then for the remainder of the summer two humans, one young, one old and a feathered companion spend their days exploring the tiny island together.

Despite the remoteness and bleakness of the setting this is a story full of warmth and tenderness. Gran’s apparent absorption with her daily routine doesn’t prevent her from keeping a watchful eye on Noi from a distance and she’s quick to act when the storm blows up, while the notion that his Gran might be lonely occurs to the boy as the rescued birds depart.

Such is Benji Davies’ way with words that they alone paint wonderful images in the mind, while every one of his illustrations, large or small merits close attention. I love Grandma’s upturned boat of a cottage and its cosy interior complete with’ One Hundred and One Uses for Seaweed’ book, not to mention her skill at stone balancing and yoga; all of which can be relished during the course of this tender tale.

Daddy Hairdo

Daddy Hairdo
Francis Martin and Claire Powell
Simon & Schuster

Like many newborn babes, Amy had started life with very little hair: in contrast her Dad was the proud owner of a prolific mop.

As time passes she catches her dad up in the hair stakes and then, as his starts to disappear, she overtakes him.
She decides to join her Dad in a search for his hair but unsurprisingly it has vanished for good.
Eager to discover what happens to hair that’s been shed they search through books and ponder over its disappearance.: both to no avail.
Meanwhile Amy’s hair has grown apace and just keeps on so doing. It definitely needs a great deal of TLC and eventually becomes so long she requires a carry from a kind adult. Even so she’s reluctant to visit the hairdressers.

Dad studies and works on honing his tonsorial skills until he is ready to unleash them on his daughter.
The results are sensational …

There’s a snag however: such funky hair-dos make life pretty problematic: indeed all kinds of Amy’s favourite activities become impossible.

There’s only one solution …

Readers will delight in the splendid creations Claire Powell has depicted and laugh long and loud over Francis Martin’s zany father/daughter tale of tonsure-related trials and tribulations. She and he have created a winner there.

The Secret Sky Garden

The Secret Sky Garden
Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers
Simon & Schuster

Funni loves to visit the disused rooftop airport cark park, coming almost every Saturday to fly her kite or play her recorder but always she feels a lack of something.

She can imitate the notes from the airport tannoy, the whine from the engines of landing planes and the music of the bells in City Square, but something else is needed. Something visual perhaps?

Funni decides on operation transformation and each week for the next three months she brings a sack of soil and collects up all the litter until eventually, the entire surface is covered with soil.

Then it’s time to plant seeds and wait …

Now in addition to flying her kite and making her music, Funni has the flowers to tend but even so, still she feels something is missing.

Then the very first visitor arrives …

What happens thereafter will make your heart sing: I won’t reveal what that is, but suffice it to say it involves a flourishing of flowers aplenty, and friendship, a city soundscape with beautiful music, kite flying and thanks to Fiona Lumbers’ glorious floral scenes, the most gorgeous colours you can imagine.

Linda Sarah’s Funni is an enchanting child and her story, although sparely told is pitch perfect for her themes and has touches of poetry.

With its inherent creativity motif this is altogether an uplifting book that will delight both children and adults alike.

The Turkey That Voted For Christmas / Evil Pea Rules

The Turkey that Voted for Christmas
Madeliene Cook and Samara Hardy
Oxford University Press

Christmas is an overwhelming no-no when it comes to a certain sector of the residents of Pear Tree Farm, all except Timmy Turkey that is. To the horror of his family, he really wants a dose of the festive fun but in the face of so many determined NO voters what’s a young turkey to do?
Seemingly there’s only one thing – hold a ‘Christmas’ election. First though he needs to canvas support among the other animals to see which will join his Christmas party.

Christmas Eve dawns and it’s time for votes to be cast but what will the result be?
Are the turkeys to be stuffed at last or can it perhaps be a win/win scenario despite the outcome of the poll?
A crazy Christmas offering stuffed with nutty puns and served up by the team who created The Mouse That Cancelled Christmas.

Evil Pea Rules!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster

Evil Pea is back and raring to go with his dastardly doings once again. Not content with being ruler of the freezer, he’s determined to take over the whole supermarket with a particularly chilling plan.
With his arch-enemy Supertato duly dealt with, the pesky pea thinks he’s well on the way to supermarket supremacy

but he’s reckoned without the cold-busting power of the chillies.
From its sparkly cover, there’s a decidedly seasonal feeling where this latest Supertato adventure is concerned; so pervasive is it that even Pea finds himself bound to join in with the festivities.
Fans of the series will relish this icy offering, which may well garner additional followers tempted by the arresting cover.

Things to Do with Dad / You Can Never Run Out of Love

Things To Do With Dad
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books

Dad and a small boy make and consume breakfast pancakes together. A promising and joyful start to the day but then Dad turns his attention to the ‘Things To Do’ list tacked to the fridge door – not so joyful.

Dad makes a start with the chores with his son playing alongside. Washing up and bookcase building go smoothly enough but after a vacuuming incident,

the boy seizes the to-do list and his green crayon, and amends the list, starting with the title.

From then on imaginative play rules: ‘Make the beds’ becomes ‘Sail a pirate ship; ‘Hang out the laundry’ is changed to ‘Join the Circus’ and best of all methinks, ‘Water the garden’ morphs into a fantastic jungle adventure.

Good old Dad; he enters into the spirit of things heart and soul, so much so that at the end of the day, an exhausted but happy father and son snuggle together for a well-earned rest under a tree.

With only the list for text, Sam Zuppardi lets his own inventiveness flow in superb scenes of playfulness and the power of the imagination: the characters’ expressions say so much without a single word being spoken between the two.

The ideal way to turn boring chores into a fun-filled day: bring it on. We’re even supplied with a list of further ideas on the final page. I wonder which chores might generate these items.

You Can Never Run Out of Love
Helen Docherty and Ali Pye
Simon & Schuster

‘You can run out of time. / You can run out of money. / You can run out of patience, / when things don’t seem funny. BUT …// You can never (not ever), / you can never / run out of LOVE.’

That’s part of Helen Docherty’s tender, gently humorous rhyming text celebrating love- giving and accepting – and its inexhaustibility. Other things might be in short supply, but never love.

We see, in Ali Pye’s warm-hearted illustrations love in many forms – love between family members; love between friends, love for animals, love between a boy and girl next door …

Affectionate? Yes. Joyful? Certainly. Slushily sentimental? No; but it’s inclusive and perfect for bedtime sharing with young children.

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The Snow Lion / Toby and Tabitha

The Snow Lion
Jim Helmore and Richard Jones
Simon & Schuster
Caro and her mum move to a new house in a new neighbourhood. Then, into the whiteness of everything comes a snowy lion inviting Caro to play hide-and-seek. Their play fills her day bringing cheer instead of loneliness; but can this new animal friend encourage her to venture outside and have fun with the local children?
That proves something of a challenge but little by little, with the lion’s help, Caro starts to find her inner courage and joins in with the other children.

When mum suggests adding colour to their new abode, and invites her new friends round for a ‘painting party’, Caro is concerned that the lack of white will mean no more visits from her wildcat pal.

He no longer appears anywhere inside her brightly painted house, but surely he can’t have deserted her altogether, can he?
A lovely, gentle, reassuring tale about moving and finding new friends.
Richard Jones’s mixed media, warm-hearted scenes of friends real and imaginary are enchanting.

Toby and Tabitha
Alexander Bar and Emma Proctor
Walker Books
Have you ever heard of dancing tortoises? No? Me neither. I suspect nobody has other than young Lucy, whose grandfather owns, the pet shop, Animal Palace. This establishment is full of all manner of desirable pets and one of Lucy’s favourite places. She loves to help with the animals whenever she can, her favourites being two tortoises, Tabitha and Toby.
Lucy has a secret though: when the shop is closed and darkness falls, the two creatures respond to her singing by leaving their beds and dancing together in the moonlight, with Lucy joining them in a ‘Tea for One’ rendition of her own.
Then one day, disaster strikes: Lucy arrives at the shop to find Toby alone: Tabitha has a new home with a little boy, so her Grandpa tells her.

When the boy returns with a question, “what do tortoises like to do?” Lucy has a dilemma. Should she share her secret with Tabitha’s new owner, or keep it to herself?
Who would have thought that a couple of dancing tortoises could be the catalyst for a burgeoning friendship between two children?

This debut picture book written by Mike the Knight creator, Alexander Bar and illustrated by Emma Proctor is a delight.
Bar uses a child-friendly, chatty narrative style with playful language and opportunities to join in and Emma Proctor brings out the humour of the story. Her exuberant, mixed media visuals are such that you want to stop and explore the plethora of whimsical details in every spread.

Poppy and the Blooms

Poppy and the Blooms
Fiona Woodcock
Simon & Schuster

Meet Poppy, Dandy, Bluebell and Buttercup the four enchanting, skateboarding characters that star in Fiona Woodcock’s captivating new picture book. They roam free spreading joy and sunshine wherever they go. Now who wouldn’t welcome a visit from the Blooms?
One day, at Poppy’s behest they zoom off to the city where they discover that its one remaining park is to be closed.
Immediately galvanised into action to save the park off they go, dashing hither and thither, up and down at a frantic pace, leaving trails of colour behind them.

After a somewhat perilous journey they finally sight the park but it’s far below them.
Then it’s a case of grab any opportunity to reach where you need to be.
Down they sail ready to run with abandon, scattering colour and spreading their own special brand of sunshine.

By the time they return home, that sparky quartet has left behind them a park, nay an entire city, absolutely bursting with bright new, happiness-bringing blooms. An absolute transformation.

What a gloriously uplifting finale!
And there’s a gentle reminder from the book’s creator how ‘even something very small, can make a BIG difference.’
Blooming wonderful!

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Have You Seen My Giraffe?

Have You Seen My Giraffe?
Michelle Robinson and Claire Powell
Simon & Schuster
Did you know that large animals have replaced goldfish as fairground prizes? No? Me neither, but it’s so according to the purveyor of this tall tale, so it’s definitely worth being forewarned– just in case you too happen to win a giraffe.
The crux of the matter is keeping one’s parents on board; but if you can’t manage that, you’ll just have to hide the thing – somehow or other.
So, let’s consider the possibilities: a forest would be ideal but since that’s not going to grow up overnight, a temporary expedient will be needed; or camouflage perhaps.

If you are to keep this giraffe, then a name is desirable – even if it is one that’s acquired in less than favourable circumstances …

Could it be however that there might be a solution that would make everyone happy, after all forests can prove pretty hospitable environments for both humans and a certain species of African even-toed ungulates to reside in and they’re great places for the occasional game of hide and seek too.

Gloriously silly scenes of consternation, chaos, catastrophe and clever thinking show just how preposterous the whole idea is: but then, that’s what makes it such a rib-tickler.

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Norton and Alpha

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Norton and Alpha
Kristyna Litten
Simon & Schuster
From the creator of Blue & Bertie comes a wonderfully whimsical tale of robot, Norton. Norton is an inveterate collector of ‘interesting things’; things that he used in the construction of his amazing inventions. Then one day he comes upon a small nameless item that he employs in what he calls Project Alpha and from then on, Norton has a constant companion to help with his collecting. Alpha has a nose for digging deep and unearthing all manner of marvellous things, such as the baffling object he discovers one Tuesday morning …

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Determined to learn more about it, the two eventually manage to extricate it from the ground and take IT home to Norton’s abode.

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Exhaustive tests prove fruitless and finally Norton tosses the object – now distinctly the worse for wear – out of the window. All that remains of their experiments is one very tiny round thing, something Norton decides to keep just in case …
Several days pass and on Friday the conditions are right for another treasure hunting foray. They run to open the doors and the sight that meets their eyes is truly …

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You need little imagination to decide what they spent that day collecting and it mattered not that they knew not what IT was.
What a joyful story, what endearing characters; and Kristyna Litten’s restricted colour palette is altogether apt for her otherworldly story.

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I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat

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I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat
Simon Philip and Ella Bailey
Simon & Schuster
The title of this book is a dilemma that I suspect faces a good many new moggy owners; every cat needs a name after all. Being allergic to cats, it’s not something I’ve had to worry about however though surely this vital task can’t be too problematic, or can it?
The little girl narrator of this tale opens her door one morning to discover an unexpected arrival of the feline kind. She decides to offer him something tasty to eat and when the creature takes up residence, a name becomes a necessity; so what about Kitty? Perfect, thinks out narrator but … it wasn’t.

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So what about Princess High and Mighty? The newcomer is certainly not easy to please; or maybe Pat, or Lorraine, Tricia or Tracey? All good names but err …

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She’s a boy!

So what about Mr Maestro?

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Oops! That could have been the one but suddenly the puss ups and goes as cats often do from what I know of them.
A search proves fruitless though there is a new kind of pet to take his place and this one doesn’t pose quite the same problem. And Steve’s certainly a whole lot of fun, even if he does attract a fair bit of attention – not always of the desirable kind though…

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Could there be  another creature waiting in the wings perhaps?
Simon Philip’s witty tale is just right for rising star, Ella Bailey’s illustrative talent to work on. Her scenes are chock full of delicious details and playful images of feline and human characters, not to mention the marvellous Steve.
This laugh-out-loud book is purr-fect for sharing. Cat lover I’m not, but I really loved this twisting, turning tale.

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The Storm Whale in Winter

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The Storm Whale in Winter
Benji Davies
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Some friendships are forever, no matter the distance between the two friends. Such is the case with young Noi who, in The Storm Whale, formed a strong bond with a young whale washed ashore on the beach near his home and later returned to the sea by the boy and his dad. Now with the coming of winter, Noi’s father sets out on one last trip in his fishing boat, but his failure to return by nightfall alarms his son as he waits and watches from his window.

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Seeing something far out at sea, Noi knows he has to leave the safety of his bedroom and braving the snowstorm raging outside, he goes, as fast as the icy shore will allow, towards the water’s edge. Frozen sea prevents him launching his boat and so Noi continues on foot and is soon lost, or so he thinks. Suddenly he spies in the flickering lamplight, a strange shape:

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it’s his dad’s boat, stuck in the ice but there’s nobody aboard. Nobody aboard, but Noi is not alone: all around the boat is the entire whale family including his friend, the storm whale.

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Another storm has brought the friends together once more. But that’s not the only re-union to take place that freezing night …

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However, it’s certainly one that father and son will talk about often.
Once again, Benji Davies has created a truly heart-warming tale, a tale that celebrates the power of love and friendship and the courage it can engender in the face of adversity. What superbly atmospheric scenes of swirling snow and icy seas grace the pages of this long-awaited wintry sequel.

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It’s Bedtime

 

DSCN6535 (800x600)Unstoppable Max
Julia Patton
Oxford University Press
I suspect many parents of a lively youngster will recognise Max: his batteries never seem to run down. So when it comes to almost bedtime, Max is brimming over with energy and has a whole lot of things on his ‘to do’ list. …”So if you can tidy away your toys, get into your clean pyjamas, and feed Fluffy, I’ll be back in five minutes.” his mum says. A simple enough request except that Max doesn’t have toys; what he has is an army engaged in Operation Castle Attack and stopping is not what Max wants to do.

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Out comes his thinking hat to help our young hero make a choice… sensible – tidying up; or naughty – keeping Mummy out of his bedroom; or crazy – going on an expedition to the South Pole? Max decides and that’s number one task he can tick – more or less …

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However he stlll has the clean pyjamas to get himself into and Fluffy is yet to receive his evening feed. How does Major Unstoppable Max deal with those other two tasks? Suffice it to say he needs a little assistance from that thinking hat, some very careful planning and a rather nifty move or two.
When his mum comes back she’s pretty impressed with young Max but as for following her instructions to “pop to the bathroom and brush your teeth.” – well um …

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A crazy tale of mayhem, making up your mind and an irrepressible imagination, this one’s sure to delight the countless Max’s of the world and make adults smile knowingly.

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Beep Beep Beep Time For Sleep
Claire Freedman and Richard Smythe
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
It’s almost the end of the day and the road-building machines have been hard at work on the motorway: there’s the Backhoe loader, the digger, a tipper truck, a concrete mixer, a dump truck, a grader and a road roller all ready to wind down and take some well-earned rest. But first they need a bit of a clean up and then one by one the vehicles all line up in their yard under the silver moonlight for their nightly slumbers.

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Despite the onomatopoeic beeps, vrooms and pops, this rhyming text has a strangely soporific rhythm about it ,so once youngsters have had the opportunity to explore all the action in Richard Smythe’s busy scenes, (some have fold-out pages), they might well be ready to close their eyes and just listen one more time to the words and let the images drift into their sleepy heads and join the big machines in sweet dreams.

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Coming up next week:
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Friendship, Fun and Feelings

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Blue & Bertie
Kristyna Litten
Simon & Schuster
Bertie is a conventional creature spending his time along with the other giraffes crunchity- crunching the sweet leaves from the treetops, sip, slurping cooling water from the watering hole and then curling his long neck and snore, snore snoozing.

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That’s the way things were and that’s the way they liked them.
But then one day having overslept Bertie finds himself alone and unsure which way to go. Before long our long-necked friend is thoroughly lost and he’s not at all happy about it.

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Enter another creature looking very like himself except in one respect; and not only is this creature reassuring but he’s offering to show Bertie the way home.
A way that takes the two of them trit trotting beside some interesting spots and amazing sights

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and even among …

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Finally Bertie’s herd is in sight. Surely though he can’t be thinking of going back to his mundane existence and letting Blue, despite his difference, walk away all by himself, can he?
Thankfully not – after all everyone’s (or giraffe’s) daily life needs a bit of variety, not to mention a special friend to share it with.
Kristina Litten’s first solo picture book is enchanting: I particularly love the way she uses pattern and perspective in her illustrations. Blue and Bertie delightfully demonstrate what  all young children know: that being different is no barrier to friendship.

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Astro the Robot Dog
Claire Freedman and Russell Julian
Scholastic Children’s Books
Built from metal parts and programmed to obey at all times, robot dog Astro lives with alien boy, Zak on Planet Xog and their life is decidedly lacking in fun. Then one day a message flashes up on Zak’s computer screen …

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Off he goes to Planet Earth with a mission to visit Humankind and make a report. Shortly after landing he finds himself being ‘looked after’ by a small boy and daily life becomes filled with fun activities. As Astro makes his nightly reports back to Planet Xog he begins to wonder whether Zak too would enjoy these earthly activities: He’s now a robot dog with feelings. Feelings that, despite his new found friendship, make him miss his erstwhile friend very much. So when another summons comes – one calling him back home, it’s with mixed feelings that he thanks Boy and bids him farewell and off he goes.

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Thanks to Boy’s kindness however life back on Planet Xog is about to become a whole lot more fun and full of feelings, for Zak and Astro anyway.

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Told in jaunty rhyme, this is a heart-warming story of friendship, fun and a spot of football.

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Love and Safe-Keeping

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I’ll Catch You If You Fall
Mark Sperring and Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press pbk
As a small boy with fishing gear journeys on a small boat on a big, big ocean, the question to ponder is ‘Who will keep him safe?’ His mother is there for that; and the captain to keep them both safe;

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and a star to guide the boat through the stormy seas until they all reach the harbour safe and sound where Daddy waits with open arms.

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And then it is the turn of the little boy to offer safekeeping – to …

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There is a satisfying circularity to Mark Sperring’s short, gentle question and answer text, which is beautifully depicted. Layn Marlow’s illustrations radiate warmth, really capturing those feelings of loving care and security engendered by the words.

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I Love Dad
J.M.Walsh and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster pbk
A young dinosaur narrator relives with readers his day, a day shared with his Dad that’s filled with playful fun and games. Together Dad and offspring walk, cycle (once Dad has fixed up their bikes that is), bounce –that’s little dinosaur using Dad’s knees as a trampoline, and more. Back at home there’s plenty of shared fun too: playing games,

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cooking and sharing a meal; and nobody but Dad can make a bedtime story such an action-packed delight.
After all that, what’s better than to dream of tomorrow’s Dad-filled day?
What young child wouldn’t wish for a father like that Dino-dad who can turn his hand to pretty much anything.

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Enormously endearing characters both large and small in scenes delightfully created in Walsh’s words and Abbot’s warm-hearted pictorial renderings.

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I Love You Daddy Grizzle
Mark Sperring and Sebastien Braun
Puffin Books
In the third story to feature this delightful duo, Little Pip is just about to wake his slumbering Dad one morning when discovers a note saying …

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Unsure what is to be celebrated, he ignores the request and discovers the pair have planned a special day out, a day that starts with the collecting of sticks. Off they go together into the woods and slowly, bit by bit, with Daddy Grizzle’s helpful clues, Little Pip pieces together a whole adventure filled with fun,

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fire-lighting, feasting and a final unplanned surprise …
A gorgeously warm-hearted celebration of paternal affection that quietly delivers a message about love and companionship being more important than material gifts.

 

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Braun’s illustrations are packed with humorous details and heart melting moments.

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Oliver and Isabel: New Homes, New Friends

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Oliver & Patch
Claire Freedman and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster pbk
I’m no dog lover, but nevertheless quickly found myself falling for Patch – he’s a total charmer. So too is young Oliver – new to city life and feeling out of sorts – who comes across the soggy animal while out exploring his new surroundings in the rain. Oliver (who misses his country pals) and Patch are soon firm friends.

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Despite Oliver’s best efforts, for he picks up on Patch’s wistfulness, nobody comes forward as the owner of the small white dog described in his FOUND posters.

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Then one drizzly morning, Oliver and Patch’s explorations take them into what for the boy at least, is unknown territory. Hot on the heels of Patch who has suddenly broken free of his lead, Oliver finds himself in a tiny park confronting a girl all clad in red and he knows at once …

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All is not lost however, for although Ruby is indeed Patch’s owner, she is more than happy to embark on a new friendship.

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Each and every turn of the page elicited “aaahs” and not only from my audience (the butcher’s shop scene didn’t do it for my vegetarian self though); Kate Hindley’s illustrations exude playfulness and convey so beautifully, the characters’ feelings as well as extending what we hear in Claire Freedman’s well-crafted, touching text.

 

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The Girl with the Parrot on her Head
Daisy Hirst
Walker Books
Young Isabel, the girl with a parrot on her head seems perfectly happy spending her time with friend Simon;

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but then Simon moves away leaving poor Isobel with hate in her heart. Even the parrot moves off to perch elsewhere, until that is Isabel ‘felt quiet inside, and decided to like being on her own.’ Back comes the parrot and Isabel’s need for friends is replaced by a system. In no time at all she has (with a little help from her feathered companion) sorted all her belongings into boxes. The parrot however has nocturnal worries about those boxes, in particular the wolves’ one. Isabel too, despite her bravado, has concerns about the relative size of one of the wolves and the system.
Imagine her sense of satisfaction then when she comes across the perfect wolf box while out on her scooter. There’s a snag though: the box is already occupied.

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It’s occupant, Chester, is more than willing to discuss other possibilities than the use he’d had in mind but quickly rules it out as a wolf-container. Instead, the two tell the large lupine about the ideal place for him, whereupon he’s off right away leaving Isabel and her new friend to their own creative devices. Oh! And the parrot becomes an honorary astronaut too.

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Daisy Hirst presents a child’s loneliness as a consequence of her friend moving away in a straightforward text and allows her illustrations to do much of the talking and to reveal much of the emotional content in a gently humorous manner while still leaving gaps for readers themselves to fill. Her seemingly simple child-like images of the young characters at play rendered in bold blocks of paint, alongside outlined, uncoloured images that stand out starkly from the white page and occasional pages where somewhat muted shades of blue predominates,

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make for visual interest at every turn of the page.
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Monsters and Underpants; Dinosaurs and Poo

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Monsters Love Underpants
Claire Freedman and Ben Cort
Simon & Schuster
We’ve had aliens, pirates and dinosaurs with a penchant for underpants; now it’s the turn of monsters, all manner of the beasties. We meet the howlers a-prowl in dingy dungeons and drooly swamp dwellers who fill their pants with gooey slime;

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YUCK – you can imagine what happens to those. Then there’s the spiky, spooky variety from outer space, not to mention the enormous sand dwelling monster whose bum just won’t fit comfortably into his pants. All these and more sport their snazzy underpants at the Saturday night disco and what a sight they look as they jiggle and jive …

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but they must be sure to leave on time. For as they say,
We can’t risk being spotted!
For no one will be scared of us,
In pants all striped and dotted.”
Make sure you don’t leave a pair of yours under the bed …
I can see this one going down a storm in early years settings. The sight of those, mock scary monsters with their day-glo undies is guaranteed to have young children giggling with delight at every turn of the page and the rhyming text is great fun to read aloud. Be prepared for cries of “read it again’ at the end.
I can see lots of potential for creative work here too.

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Savouring the story?

Dinosaur Poo!
Diane and Christyan Fox
Words & Pictures (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
Poo is one topic that unfailingly seems to delight young children; another is dinosaurs: put the two together in a zany no holds barred rhyming text and add wacky, vividly coloured illustrations of dinosaurs in all shapes and sizes, plus flaps to open and reveal all manner of pongy ploppings and it seems you cannot fail to please the under sixes. Certainly that’s the case when the Pterodactyl sets out to prove the superiority of his poo to an unimpressed Velociraptor and the two embark on the biggest and best poo quest.

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Seemingly they are not the only interested ones though; there’s a ladybird that keeps popping up at every dropping site. Fun endpapers too.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

 

 

 

Friendships Tested

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Olive and the Embarrassing Hat
Tor Freeman
Brubaker, Ford & Friends (Templar) pbk
I think this has to be my very favourite of the Olive series. If you’ve ever been given a present you feel a fool wearing then this one is definitely for you.
Olive is given a hat that is anything but stylish by her best pal Joe and he sports one to match – almost. When the two walk out together their other, so called friends, make fun of their offbeat headwear until eventually Olive can take no more and she dumps her offending article in the rubbish bin.

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Her drastic action however, is seen by Joe, who now feels affronted and off he goes. Time to make amends thinks Olive, but how?
Our ever resourceful feline quickly puts her signwriting skills into action and steps out ready to sock it to the world

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and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks, well only Joe and there he comes…
No more will Olive be the butt of anyone’s jokes.

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What a triumph.
Both words and pictures brilliantly explore the boundaries of friendship in this hilarious story; the hat disposal sequence is absolutely priceless.

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Another winning shot from Olive and her creator, Tor Freeman.

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On Sudden Hill
Linda Sarah and Benji Davies
Simon & Schuster pbk
Best friends Etho and Birt spend countless hours in each other’s company, much of it on Sudden Hill where they entertain all manner of flights of fancy as they sit inside their respective cardboard boxes. No matter whether they’re kings, soldiers, astronauts or pirates they are always ‘Big’ friends with a two-by-two rhythm. Then one Monday along comes Shu; he too has a box and wants to join their play.

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Etho agrees; Birt keeps quiet. The three play but Birt is not happy and one night he trashes his box. No more visits to Sudden Hill for him despite invitations from the other two; instead he sits at home drawing, missing his best friend and their play together.
Then one day there’s a knock on Birt’s door and Shu calls him to come and see what they’ve made for him. Imagine his delight at what is waiting outside– an amazing “Monster Creature Box Thing”, Mr Climbfierce by name. And where better to take it than up Sudden Hill; moreover, it’s just perfect for three – Birt, Etho and Stu.

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Now Birt loves their three-by-three rhythm.
A tender, insightful look at the challenges and rewards of accommodating a third person into a best friends scenario. The spare, straightforward manner of Linda Sarah’s telling is a perfect fit with Benji Davies’ expressive paintings. Their muted colours echo the reflective nature of the story and capture so well the joys and small tribulations of childhood.

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Mine!
Jerome Keane & Susana De Dios
Orchard Books
Anyone who has ever spent time with young children will recognize this:
Horse and Fox, both bored, both notice, seemingly simultaneously, an egg shaped object and both claim ownership – no surprises there. … “But I saw it first,” said Horse. “No mine,” said Fox. “I saw it first.” “Didn’t,” said Horse. “Did,” said Fox. “You really didn’t,” said Horse. “Really did,” said Fox. (Such a familiar scenario and so well observed.)
Impasse – something’s gotta give guys.

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A realization dawns – “KIND OF SHARING?” Great idea; but then …

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DISASTER!
Perhaps not after all –

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Wonderful characterization, the dialogue is spot-on, stylish, and very funny, superbly expressive illustrations complete the package.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

Animals real and imagined

Here is a handful of books that got left over in the run-up to Christmas:

S Ann Elep

James was greatly amused by the elephantine invasion

The Slightly Annoying Elephant
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Who is knocking loudly on Sam’s front door? His mum back from the shops? A friend? Not a person at all in fact but an enormous blue pachyderm with a suitcase demanding entrance and claiming that Sam has adopted him. Well, he did sign one of those adopt-an -animal type forms at the zoo. Did he read the small print though? What do you think?
So now all the way from Africa is a very rude elephant wanting a bath, food – lots of it,
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a bike, and a place for a nap. With the house in chaos, can things possibly get any worse? Erm … a whole herd worse. Who’s a Silly Boy then?
Yes there are nods to Judith Kerr’s classic The Tiger Who Came to Tea, but this is David Walliams (of Gangsta Granny and Demon Dentist fame) with his over-the -top, wickedly wacky humour in a debut picture book and he has collaborated with master illustrator, Tony Ross who has created the marvellous scenes of madness and mayhem.
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Tuck me in

Daniel absorbed in the story

Tuck Me In!
Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt
Walker Books pbk
It’s time for bed.
Who needs to be tucked in?
So begins this cleverly interactive bedtime story wherein we meet a whole host of adorable baby animals
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each waiting for a cosy blanket to be placed over them as the stars twinkle above and the crescent moon rises in the night sky.
The straightforward, question and answer repetitive text means that young listeners will quickly start joining in and before long will be reading along and then reading for themselves, this delightful book.
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Little Big Mouth
Jeanne Willis and Lydia Monks
Walker Books pbk.
We all know that name calling is abhorrent so why does Little Green Monster take such delight in calling Blue Monster such things as ‘BAT eared, NIBBLE NAILED short STUMPS!’ or ‘Frog MOUTHED SKINNY RIBBED frilly knickers!’ to name just two of the insulting names he hurls at the newcomer on his first day at Monster Academy? (There are many more combinations readers can concoct by making use of the split pages strategically placed at intervals throughout the book.)
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I’m happy to say though that Little Green Monster’s intolerable behaviour is brought to an  abrupt end when he discovers just who has been on the receiving end of his bad-mouthing. Lesson learned? Let’s hope so – well and truly!
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Barbapapa’s Voyage
Annette Tison and Talus Taylor
Orchard Books
Those of us who remember the seventies may well recall the adventures of a large pink blobby shape-shifter who was born in a garden, discovered by and subsequently became friends with, a boy named Francois. Now, thanks to Orchard Books, the adventures of this larger than life character can be enjoyed by a new generation of children. In this particular story, Francois, concerned at Barpapapa’s listlessness and low spirits, takes his pal to the animal doctor for a check-up. The diagnosis is not sickness but loneliness: a Barbamama is needed. So, with friend Cindy, Francois is given permission to accompany Barbapapa on a quest to discover one of these rarities.
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Their eventful and sometimes hazardous search takes the three to London, India, New York, even to other planets, but without any success. When finally they return safely to their own garden, what should they find but a large black Barbamama. Then it’s a case of love at first sight and after some weeks, there are seven new additions to the Barba family, one green, one pink, one yellow, one purple, one orange, one blue; there’s even one Barbababy with long black hair (which was extremely lucky!). See the end papers for a family portrait.
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Robert Crowther’s Pop-Up World of Animals
Robert Crowther
Walker Books
Visit five contrasting locations in the latest offering from Crowther, master of paper engineering. At each location we are shown the fauna in their habitat and both habitat and each of the many animals featured per pop-out spread has a brief informative paragraph. We see the Savannah grasslands, dive down to the Ocean depths to see submarine life, then view a Desert region, the frozen seas and land of Polar regions and finally, the equatorial Rainforest. There are numerous tabs, flaps, pop-ups and pop-outs.

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Shanu and Shifu, brothers from Rajasthan, investigating how the book works

All in all, a fascinating and thoroughly interactive experience.
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Interactive in a different way – try stopping yourself singing along to this one – is:
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What Does the Fox Say?
Ylvis and Svein Nyhus
Simon & Schuster pbk
I love the picture book rendition of the wacky YouTube hit, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jofNR_WkoCE  by the Norwegian brothers duo that has recently been on the lips of countless children everywhere. I have heard it in several primary schools I have visited in recent weeks.
Yes, the words are pretty ridiculous but I’d buy the book for the illustrations alone  Using a limited colour palatte, Nyhus has created a series of wonderful, slightly surreal scenes that remind me somewhat, of picture books versions of traditional coyote tales

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and those crazy choruses are great fun for sound/symbol association activities. (Try putting them onto an interactive white-board. Children could even make up some more of their own.)
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Find and buy from your local bookseller: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

Love and Friendship

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I Love You, Too!
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
Father Bear has finished Little Bear’s bedtime story but Little Bear does not want to sleep. Instead he tries some of delaying tactics, telling his dad how much he loves him in all kinds of ways. Dad reciprocates, out-loving Little Bear’s love each time until they complete a full circle of love and then a-a-a-a-h-h-h. It’s Dad who finally falls asleep. And his offspring? Having tucked Dad in, he picks up his book and starts reading it all over again …
It’s great to see a father/son bedtime story session.
Foreman’s watercolour illustrations are as alluring as ever; here, extending the text into playful scenes of the two bears having fun together, sometimes clad in their pyjamas and dressing gowns and other times wearing more appropriate apparel.

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Beautful to share at bedtime or any other time.
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Alex and Lulu Two of a Kind
Lorena Siminovich
Templar Publishing pbk
Can you be best friends despite having some very different interests?
That’s the question at the heart of this story featuring best pals, Alex, a lively adventurous dog and Lulu, a thoughtful, artistically minded cat. Of course they do have some common interests such as going to the park but it’s when they get there that their differences manifest themselves. Alex climbs trees and swings from high branches,; Lulu stays still observing ants, intending to paint them at home later. On the way home in the rain, Alex cannot resist splashing in all the puddles; Lulu hurries ahead keeping her feet dry. “..we are just SO different,” she remarks.
Back home Alex begins to wonder if they are too different to be best friends. There follows another day of differences and more worries for Alex.
Then it is down to Lulu to explain how differences can actually enrich and enhance their friendship. It’s a case of opposites attract, their bond of friendship is strong enough for all their differences.
Filled with bright colours, patterns and textures, Siminovich’s illustrations are immediately attractive. Her images are outlined with a thick black line making them stand out against the patterned backgrounds.

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A charming and reassuring exploration of friendship.
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Laika the Astronaut
Owen Davey
Templar Publishing
Laika, the first creature to be launched into space, has her story told and given an alternative ending by the wonderful artist. Owen Davey.
Taken from the Moscow streets as a stray, she, along with other dogs, was trained and tested to undertake the next step in the Soviet space programme intended to maintain their supremacy in the space race. In 1957, Laika was blasted off into space in a rocket and after only a few hours, her craft developed a fault and Laika perished. (Seemingly she would have done so even without this catastrophe, there being no means of returning her craft to earth anyway.)
Davey chooses a happier ending with the lonely Laika finding a new family to love and cherish her. His use of muted tones, stylized images and shadowy figures give a vintage feel to the scenes and it is Davey’s illustrations that are the strength of the book and what make it work seeking out.

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This fanciful story could be a good starting point for a space theme in a primary school with children then going on to research factual reports on the Laika story.
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Doug the Bug That Went Boing!
Simon & Schuster pbk
Sue Hendra
Doug the Bug is in trouble. Not only has he had a quarrel with his best pal Trevor while playing ball, but on top of that, he’s been unceremoniously separated from him by a large shovel. So, can he manage to find his way from atop the tower block back to Trevor and put things right with him? Assisted by a grateful fly, Doug finds himself having a thrilling time, narrowly missing falling into the loo before ‘boinging’ into all manner of strange places – a fried egg yolk, in a shower of pepper, a sponge cake, a pedal bin, even right through a slice of toast.

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But anything is worth a try so that he can get back to Doug and put things right with him.
Bright bouncy illustrations, with some hair-raising scenes, are part and parcel of this light-hearted, action-packed adventure.
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Miki and the Wishing Star
Stephen Mackey
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
In this, the third story about Miki, Penguin and Polar Bear, the three friends share a birthday and are celebrating together, each making a birthday wish. Penguin has first wish but this (to be the biggest penguin in all the world) results in all manner of challenging situations for the threesome. All ends happily however in this gentle, atmospheric tale of magic, wishing and friendship. Makey’s soft-focus illustrations have a dreamlike quality and it’s these that are the main strength of the book.
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Rules of Summer
Shaun Tan
Hodder Children’s Books
If you want to be challenged, made to think deeply and interpret, look, look and look again, then try this latest work of Shaun Tan. It’s dark and mysterious, disturbing even; and both simple and complex – a real paradox – leaving much to the imagination. Is it about rules, challenges, friendship?  Or perhaps all of these as seen through the eyes of one of the boys.
In Tan’s own words, it’s a picture book about the relationship between two boys who could be brothers or close friends whose friendship is tested by challenging situations.
He presents readers with a sequence of thirteen scenes of the two boys each with a single sentence beginning ‘Never …’ placed opposite a enigmatic illustration rendered in oil paints, that is open to interpretation.

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Never argue with an umpire.

After this are three wordless double spreads, two scenes each with a sentence beginning ‘Always…’ then one saying ‘Never miss the last day of summer.’,  a double wordless spread and a final ‘That’s it.’ set opposite a scene of the boys sitting together seemingly watching television.
Definitely a book that raises more questions than it answers and one that readers will respond differently to on each re-reading
I can envisage this book being discussed by groups of children/adults in both primary and secondary schools; indeed, each scene and accompanying text could form the basis of an enquiry.  Just what are those dark, sinister looking birds doing, for example.
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Find and buy from your local bookseller: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

Trolls, Toucans and Travels

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Troll Swap
Leigh Hodgkinson
Nosy Crow pbk.
Meet Timothy Limpet. Unlike other trolls, Timothy is nice, polite and tidy, his cave light and dry; a rubbishy specimen is what his fellow trolls consider him. Meet Tabitha Lumpit, a noisy, messy, loopy little girl who likes nothing better than jumping into muddy puddles and making a ‘super-splashy muddy mess’, much to the consternation of her long suffering parents. When these two characters meet, they decide it’s time for operation place swap. Though initially surprised and delighted at the changes, the trolls and parents soon begin to miss the old Timothy and Tabitha. Equally Timothy and Tabitha find their new ways of being, equally dull; time for plan two – operation swap back. So, do all live happily ever after? Not only that but loopily too.
Sporting spotty clothes, and bobbly headgear, the two misfits are a delight.
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The Toucan Brothers
Tor Freeman
Macmillan pbk.
Meet the super plumbers of Tapton, Sammy and Paul. Their skill is unrivalled when it comes to plumbing problems. One day however, a new plumber arrives on the scene, one Flash Rover. He beguiles the townspeople with all his flashy gear, undercutting his toucan rivals and stealing their business. But, before long, this dodgy dealer has a flood on his hands: thanks to all his botched jobs and short cuts the entire town is awash. Then of course, it’s time to call in the real experts and sure enough the talented toucans save the day with their watery wizardry and send the dastardly dog packing to the jubilation of all Tapton’s residents. For sure he’s one dog that won’t be plying his trade there again.
The toucans’ tale truly trips off the tongue as the talented tradesmen turn near tragedy to triumph. There is talent aplenty too in Tor Freeman’s truly funny, action packed illustrations. Every spread is liberally scattered with visual jokes and dotty details. These in themselves will ensure hours of fun for young children even without an adult reader aloud to orchestrate the action.
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Russell, Grunt and Snort
Jason Chapman
Red Fox pbk.
Russell is certain there’s more to life than muddy fields and pigpens so he starts hatching a plan. A plan that involves, an upturned pigpen, some twisted hedgerow twine, some broken branches and some very tricky cliff -edge manouevering but by the following evening he and his two companions are heading off into the sunset. Well, that was what they thought. However, the world outside the farm is much more dangerous that the three pigs had anticipated especially when they start receiving ‘join us for dinner’ invitations. So will the porcine trio end up as pork chops or can they find that perfect place with all the apples and truffles they can eat after all?
The ending does seem rather abrupt but despite that there is plenty to amuse in this tale of misadventure and the illustrations are great fun; the expressions on the faces of both hunted and hunters are superb.
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Eleanor’s Eyebrows
Timothy Knapman and David Tazzyman
Simon and Schuster pbk.
Insulted at being called ‘silly, scruffy, hairy little bits of fluff!’ Eleanor’s eyebrows take off to have a life of their own in the Big Wide World, determined to find somewhere or someone appreciative. They try out various roles including being caterpillars, a magician’s moustache, woolly hand-warmers for lady beetles, tyres on a stick insect’s motorbike, even an exclamation mark on a SLOW DOWN SIGN. None however prove satisfactory. Having frightened off her own Granny, an eyebrowless Eleanor meanwhile, is realizing the error of her ways. She makes various attempts to replace her missing facial features, but to no avail. Time to think seriously about the next move for all parties concerned; time for a spot of signwriting …
All ends happily in this totally crazy tale, which is certain to make your own eyebrows do more than a little twitching. Tazzyman’s illustrations of the assorted quirky characters both human and otherwise perfectly complement the text .
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