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.