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.