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!