Lifesize: Baby Animals / My First Book of Minibeasts

Lifesize: Baby Animals
Sophy Henn
Farshore

This is the third of Sophy Henn’s ingenious Lifesize series and right from the cover image, this slightly oversize book draws you in. The focus is on some of the world’s most amazing baby animals. We start by staring right into the eye of a baby blue whale, the world’s biggest baby, that when born is astonishingly about the same size as an ambulance and grows to be as long as two buses.

That’s just one of the wow moments Sophy provides along with the interesting facts and fun questions. Here’s an example relating to the baby flamingo: “What colour would you be if you turned the same colour as your favourite food?’ (not that humans are born grey like baby flamingoes)

Such questions are one of the interactive features of the book.

I had to look twice to spot the baby zebra seashores that at first glance looked like musical notes emanating from the adult’s pouch. Did you know it’s the male seahorses that give birth and there can be as many as 2000 born at one time. Alongside a wealth of other marine fauna including green turtles, these creatures live on Australia’s coral reefs.

An adorable-looking baby black bear stares straight at readers from another spread. Imagine a human baby growing to three times its birth size in three months – that’s something to consider. These bears are mostly found in the mountain forests of North America, a terrain they occupy along with wolves and raccoons.

Readers will also meet red panda cubs with their super-long tails, clouded leopards, golden snub-nosed monkey babies and then when they open a double spread showing an African waterhole and turn the book through 90% they’ll meet a baby African elephant that is likely to be taller than some younger child readers.

The final interactive element involves measurement: you can see, when measured in Lifesize books how large some of the babies are at birth and when fully grown. Readers are then invited to do the same kind of measurement with their own family members.

Cleverly designed, with stunning images at every page turn, this is a book to read and delight in over and over.

My First Book of Minibeasts
illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books


This new addition to the My First Book of series is, like its predecessors, a great place to start exploring the topic. Herein Zoē Ingram strikingly portrays twenty minibeasts, one per double spread. Each illustration is accompanied by a fact box containing its scientific name, lifespan, diet and habitat, another presents its size in silhouette form and in millimetres; there’s also a ‘did you know’ feature and a main paragraph giving basic facts.

Youngsters will meet the shade-loving garden snail and the gorgeous glow worm – did you know it’s only the females that have bioluminescent tail lights? There are among others, bluebottles, black garden ants that live in colonies,

the emperor dragonfly and the Red-tailed bumblebee. (0nce called a dumbledore, interestingly.)

An ideal book to share with young children before going out exploring be that in the garden, the park or further afield.

Memorable Characters Return – Pizazz vs the Demons / Magnificent Mabel and the Very Bad Birthday Party

Pizazz vs the Demons
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Super-talented Sophy Henn’s fourth book starring the irrepressible, eye-rolling, weirdly super-powered 9½ year old superhero, Pizazz sees her having to face not one but five Demon Pizazzes on account of that super bad Copycat with her Super Power Duplicator.
But how does this dastardly device actually work? That is what Pizazz must find out; but the really big issue is that she must defeat those deadly demons or maybe they’re only ‘five awesome but slightly bad’ alter egos, all on her own.

One thing is certain however and that’s the urgent need for an unlimited source of snacks to help things along.
Next day when it seems the situation can’t really get any worse, Mrs Harris picks our narrator(s) to read in the following week’s special happiness assembly.
Can Pizazz possibly get the better of so many demonic selves in this, her trickiest ever undertaking?

Fans of these part graphic novel style stories will devour this in a single sitting and it’s likely Pizazz will also win some new followers too.

Magnificent Mabel and the Very Bad Birthday Party
Ruth Quayle and Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Young Mabel unleashes her magnificence for three further episodes in this, her sixth book.
In the first, it hardly seems fair that on 25th August, her birthday, despite all her best plans Mabel ends up writing and sending out party invitations to every one of her classmates. It’s either that or face a distinct shortage of presents on the big day.
Then comes the question of those packed lunches her parents send her to school with. Cheese sandwiches, yogurt and a measly apple every day is pretty terrible, especially when one of her classmates, Elsa Kavinsky is allowed to consume such alluring items as Star Bars: it’s enough to leave her weak with hunger. Time to procure one of the tasty treats for herself – uh-oh! But whose lunches contain those most important muscle-building vitamins?
It’s holiday time in story three but rather than being the restful time Mabel so hoped for, her family members are always doing something or other and like them, she doesn’t get a minute to relax. Can Mabel discover the delights of being busy too or is she doomed to have a horrible time away?
At the end of the day, no matter what happens, wherever she goes, whatever she does, this young narrator always emerges as magnificent.

Ruth Quayle’s amusing writing again presents ideas that young children relate to and together with Julia Christians’ equally amusing illustrations aplenty, this is spot on for young readers just starting to fly solo. It would also make a fun read aloud for reception classes.

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar/ Pizazz vs Perfecto

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Just right for those starting out on chapter books or for reading aloud, this is the fourth in the Magnificent Mabel series and again there are three episodes.

In the first (my favourite) Mabel embarks on a jungle foray and also gets an unexpected lesson in metamorphosis when it’s finally her turn to take care of class caterpillar Steve over the weekend. Of course, she emerges from the events with her characteristic magnificence.

Story two involves know-all Max Roberts, friend of Mabel’s big sister Meg who comes around on Fridays after school so they can do their homework together. It also involves Mabel’s secret friend Marcella who helps her in times of need; oh yes and there’s also a rather large eraser …

In the third story Mabel decides she needs to wear glasses and keep them in a clickety case like her classmate Sophie Simpson. After all she can’t see America from her bedroom window and in Mabel’s own words ‘At school maths is all muddy.” Is it time to visit the optician?

Gigglesome delight all the way through, made even more fun by Julia Christians’ illustrations on almost every spread.

Equally unstoppable and for slightly older readers is eyeball roller extraordinaire, Pizazz, who returns in a third adventure:

Pizazz vs Perfecto
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Life for the reluctant superhero continues to present its challenges, the latest being in the form of Perfecto who happens to be a whole year younger than Pizazz and about to cause a worldwide sweet shortage so it seems.

There’s also the question of the school talent show: perhaps our young superhero and friends Ivy, Molly and Ed should join forces and form a band. Bring on The Cheese Squares … 

Then of course, their actual music making skills will take a bit of perfecting. But what is the motive for participation in this supposedly non-competition: is it to have fun or is it being perfect and defeating Perfecto. It’s a matter that causes huge dissent among the band members.

What do those Aunties, especially the helpful one, plus Gramps and Grandma have to say about things?

The crux of the whole matter is whether Pizazz can possibly pull off her plan of out-perfecting Perfecto … or is there an even better final outcome? Maybe, but unless you get hold your own copy of this hugely enjoyable sizzler of a book, you’ll never know; and that certainly would be far from perfect.

The Best Worst Day Ever

The Best Worst Day Ever
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Poor Arthur: it seems as though he can’t do a single thing right – this truly IS a really bad day. So bad that the young lad decides the only option is to run away. And so he does, albeit with a few things packed neatly in a bag.

Having been running for what feels like ages, he runs out of steam, lies flat on his back and ponders on his situation, wondering if he should return home. However when he turns around, he’s confronted by a deep, dark forest. 

Considering the options he decides to go right through it, though he’s filled with apprehension on account of the dark and the strange noises he hears.

There follow encounters with first a stomping Bear, then a huffing Elephant … 

and finally a roaring Lion. 

Seemingly these animals know just what Arthur needs and eventually after a great deal of skipping, wiggling, tooting and hooting and finally, singing as they all continue through the forest, where do they find themselves but … 

Should Arthur cross the threshold and face the music for running away after sharing in what’s turned out to be the best worst day ever? Suppose big trouble awaits.

No matter what, it all goes to show just how much can happen in twenty minutes …

What anger, what energy, what drama, what exuberance, what delight is expressed by the characters, human and animal, in this romping, stomping story. Hugely enjoyable for both listeners and adult readers aloud who will, I suspect, find the opportunities to emulate Arthur and the animals irresistible. Sophy’s art is simply fabulous with every spread a visual treat – so full of emotion – and I love the colour palette; it’s quite perfect for this book.

Definitely one to share with preschool and foundation stage youngsters at home or school.

Pizazz vs the New Kid

Pizazz vs the New Kid
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

You might think that being a superhero is incredible but that definitely isn’t always the case if you happen to be this story’s narrator, the almost 9½ year old Pizazz, a member of an entire family of superheroes, especially when your own particular superpower is highly embarrassing as we discovered in the first book.

Pretty annoying you’ll probably agree, but enter another young superhero going by the enviable name of Jett to make matters worse. Moreover her cape is short so consequently not a continual trip hazard, and, she’s to be in Pizazz’s class at school.

Pizazz decides she’ll offer to be Jett’s buddy and make her feel welcome but that plan is immediately thwarted when Jett chooses, of all people, Serena. Life just isn’t fair.

It gets even less so when after a humiliating trip incident caused by a long cape and one of The Popular’s backpacks, Serena decides that what’s needed is a competition – a SUPER-OFF – between Pizazz and Jett. No prizes for guessing who’s to be in charge of that, and she decides there’ll be not just one but three SUPER-OFFs. No pressure then.

Pizazz’s friend Ivy is reassuring but come break time and round one, it seems to Pizazz that she has only a very few supporters whereas almost the entire school is rooting for Jett. However, with two competitions completed the score stands at one win each. Before the third, Pizazz’s dad announces that he’s invited Jett and her family over for dinner. Awkward? You could say!

What about that third contest, you might be thinking. To discover what happens you’ll need your own superpower – or better still, get hold of a copy of this wacky story and discover how it all ends.

Even if youngsters have missed the first story, this works on its own. The ingredients are similar: Sophy’s offbeat illustrations, some comic-book sequences, lots of idiosyncratic typography, irresistible chapter-openers and distinctive characters – human and animal, not forgetting an abundance of eye rolls.

Fact and Fiction for your Early Years Bookshelves

All Kinds of Families
Sophy Henn
Red Shed (Egmont)

No two human families are exactly alike but assuredly each of them is special in its own way. So it is for animal families and that’s what Sophy explores in this picturebook as she portrays various ways of parenting in the animal kingdom.

Orang-utan mothers are solely responsible for looking after their young and look after their offspring longer than any other animal parent. In contrast, it’s the emu father that tends the eggs and raises the chicks. 

Clownfish males and females share the care of the little ones – sometimes a mother can lay as many as 1000 eggs, so it’s no easy task, and that’s alongside keeping the home clean for the eggs.

I was interested to learn that in a Long-tailed tit family as many as twenty birds might live together with older infants helping to care for the younger ones. Come winter they can all snuggle together to keep warm. 

Elephants do things completely differently living in large family groups. A senior female takes charge, sharing her knowledge with younger members of the family and all the elephants look after the babies.

Young humans will also find information about the long-living Orca whale families, learn that sometimes two female albatrosses pair up and raise chicks, as well as that for example among cheetahs, little ones without a family might be adopted and reared by two males 

and that Meerkats live in communities.

The final spreads are devoted to first a family portrait gallery and then a double page giving a factual paragraph about each of the animals whose family has been featured. Sophy emphasises that love is key, no matter what in this gorgeously illustrated, first celebratory look at the diversity of family life.

Recommended for foundation stage settings and families with young children.

The Golden Treasure
Marie Voigt
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

As young Max considers whether or not to take his soft toy dog, Toffee to school for show and tell, he spies something glowing high up on the ‘Unreachable Shelf’. It looks like a treasure chest and having wished he could reach it the boy finds himself and Toffee embarking on a magical quest to reach the Golden Treasure. First they convince a knight of their worthiness to continue on their way through the Land of the Brave, 

then comes a challenge by a racing car driver in the Land of the Fast, followed by another from a scornful unicorn in the Land of the Shiny. 

With Toffee’s morale-boosting support and his own bravery, the two finally reach the chest and open it. Then comes a surprising revelation: the greatest of all treasures isn’t what Max was expecting. Now though he has no doubt as to what he’ll be taking for that show and tell session.

This simple fantasy is essentially a tale of friendship, valuing and appreciating what you already have, self-belief and not letting others influence your confidence to make your own decisions. Marie’s glowing illustrations are suffused with warmth, light and a feeling of magic. Young listeners will especially enjoy the various characters Max and Toffee encounter on their journey.

Bad Nana Older Not Wiser

Bad Nana Older Not Wiser
Sophy Henn
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is the first book in what is to become a series and it’s mega-talented Sophy Henn’s debut as a writer of profusely illustrated younger fiction. It certainly looks as though she had great fun creating the three wickedly funny episodes narrated by young Jeanie, age 7¾ about the outrageous exploits of the grandma known to the family as Bad Nana; she of the black dress, pointy black shoes and gigantic earrings, who carries a walking stick – not necessarily for that purpose – and a massive handbag crammed with everything from emergency knicker elastic to stinky fish paste. All this and more, including things about Nana’s friends and acquaintances

and some of her past escapades, we learn in the first part “Things You Should Know’.
One of Bad Nana’s favourite locations is the park and part two of the book tells of Bad Nana’s extremely mischievous way of dealing with the plethora of “DO NOT” signs put up all over the park by the new and inordinately officious park keeper; and then goes on to recount what took place when a sweet wrapper just happened to drift from her hand and land in front of said park keeper.

Bad Nana lends a hand in the final and longest part. She somehow manages to get herself engaged as a school-trip helper when Jeanie and her class visit the local history museum, probably THE most boring museum ever.
Not so however, when a certain trip-helper decides to well and truly bring local history to life by inserting herself into one of the displays.

The whole episode is utterly hilarious and had this reviewer spluttering with laughter all the way through.

Sophie’s distinctive narrative voice in tandem with her splendiferous artwork makes for a stonklingly good chapter book for primary readers whether or not they cut their teeth on Pom Pom and her other picture book characters.

Board Book Choice

Where is Little Fish?
Count with Little Fish

Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Lucy Cousins who created Hooray for Fish adds two new board books to her undersea titles and they’re absolutely perfect for babies and toddlers.
In the first, Little Fish is in playful mood as he enjoys a game of hide and seek with his undersea friends. The repeat question starting ‘Is Little Fish … ‘ is an open invitation for listeners to join in with the game.
Finding him is tricky as there are all manner of hiding places on the ocean floor – behind the coral, inside a shell or the treasure chest, perhaps even among the seaweed fronds.
Tinies can enjoy discovering his location and meeting some of his playmates by manipulating the flap on each spread.

Here’s one year old Raf. doing just that!

Count with Little Fish is a rhyming suggestion to join in as the tiny creature swims through the water meeting 2 fin-fin fish

3 counting fish, 4 flying fish, 5 fat fish, 6 thin ones, 7 scary sharp toothed ones, 8 shy ones, 9 that have turned themselves upside down and finally 10 fish swimming in a circle.
A fun-filled first counting book.

Who is Sleeping?
Who is the Biggest?

Petr Horáček
Walker Books

Lift the flap fun with classy, textured images of wonderfully personable creatures partially hidden, on spreads absolutely bursting with colour in Petr Horáček’s signature style: what more could a toddler want?
In Who’s Sleeping? they meet a dozing owl, a napping frog, a snoozing crocodile, a sleeping fish and a slumbering Polar bear and a final child in dreamland in this enchanting guessing game.
A variety of descriptive words are introduced as contrasting sized wild animals pose side by side in the half dozen spreads of Who is the Biggest? There’s ‘Brave Lion and Shy Meerkat, Short Penguin and Tall Ostrich, Slow Tortoise and Fast Hare, Heavy Whale and Light Jellyfish, Noisy Parrot and Quiet Mouse and these two beauties …

But the biggest of all lurks behind Big Monkey’s tail. Now what could that be?
Wonderfully shaped wild beasts and flaps to explore add up to hours of visual pleasure and some new vocabulary to learn along the way.

Storytime with Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Red Reading Hub’s favourite board book character stars in a new addition to Sophy Henn’s lift-the-flap series as he contemplates the possibilities of storytime.
Will it be full of magical wizards with their twinkly spells? Or a stomping dinosaur adventure perhaps. What about a fairytale; Ted loves this one …

but he also enjoys spooky tales; maybe he’ll choose one of those.
Now his animal audience is assembled, and they’re all sitting comfortably, what will their “Once upon a time… “ story be? What would you choose?
Ted and his entourage never fail to delight and so it is here. If you and your toddler have yet to encounter Ted, I urge you to do so right away; he’s utterly adorable.

I’ve signed the charter  

Almost Anything

Almost Anything
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books

Sophy Henn has already created some wonderful characters; Pom Pom, Bear and Edie immediately spring to mind and now there’s another; meet George.
On this particular day, his fellow forest dwellers are all busy enjoying themselves in one way or another; not so George who sits doing nothing.
The little rabbit seems to be completely lacking in self-belief. “I can’t …” is his response to offers from his friends to join them in their activities.

Along comes Bear, very old and very wise. She produces a newspaper from which she fashions a hat. Telling George that it has magical powers, she persuades him to give it a go and see what happens.

Slowly, slowly the ‘magic’ starts to take effect and it’s not too long before George is roller skating, which he follows by dancing to the beat, a bit of painting, some reading and much more besides. In short, George is a very busy bunny indeed, so busy that he fails to notice that his hat is no longer on his head. Suddenly …

Fortunately Bear is close at hand with an explanation of where the magic is really coming from …

As a teacher I’ve always told children that there’s no such word as ‘can’t’ when it comes to their learning and now here’s this wonderful new story from an author who really gets to the heart of how young children think .
Almost Anything is such an empowering book both for youngsters who lack self-belief and all those adults who do everything they can to offer encouragement and support to them when it comes to giving it a go.
Risk taking isn’t easy for everyone but this is a cracking book to help those who find it a challenge.

As always Sophy’s matt illustrations executed in a gorgeous muted colour palette, have just the right degree of gentle humour and the animals’ body language is quite brilliant. Look out for Badger, a truly stylish skittle player, and those hedgehog dancers sporting head bands and leg warmers are just adorable.

If this hasn’t convinced you that this is a must buy picture book then I’ll eat my ‘Almost Anything’ magic hat with its wrap-around instructions for making, kindly supplied by Puffin Books.

Bears and More Bears

Willa and the Bear
Philomena O’Neill
Sterling

Made by her Grandma Bibbie, Willa’s rag doll Rosie is her constant companion until one winter’s day as Willa and her parents are on their way to Grandma’s birthday celebration, the doll falls from the sleigh and is lost in the dark snowy woods.

They stop and search but have no luck; little do they know that the doll has been found.

When they reach their destination, her gran gives Willa a little bear that she’s made. Later, Willa spies a real and very large bear through the cabin window …

but when they open the door all they find on the doorstep is Rosie. “That bear must be a friend of yours,” her gran tells Willa.

On the way back home Willa leaves her new toy bear in the snow with the words, “My friend will love you,” …

Despite its chilly setting this is a warm-hearted, albeit rather unlikely story of reciprocal giving and receiving; and the old-fashioned, cosy paintings have a Nordic feel.

Where Bear?
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books

The fabulous Sophy Henn’s first picture book is now out in board book format and is just right for small hands.

It’s a heart-warming tale that stars a bear and a boy who have shared the boy’s abode since the bear was a cub and the boy considerably smaller.

Bear has now grown too large for the house and the boy, eager to find his friend a suitable new residence, sets out with him.
But where bear?” he asks over and over, until finally they find a suitable location and the boy heads back to his home.

Both bear and boy are happy, particularly as their friendship can be continued, verbally at least.

With such superb characterisation it’s a delight through and through.

A Briefing of Board Books

Time to Go With Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Ted, the wonderfully imaginative toddler is back and he’s ready to go.
Whether it be to the park, the shops, the pool or the playground swings …

he’s always sure to have the appropriate gear with him.
And being such a friendly little boy, he’s bound to make friends wherever he goes; so come teatime he’s got plenty of guests to share with.
Lift-the-flap pages hide a host of animals as well as opportunities for some noisy roaring, shivering, sploshing and making monkey sounds.

Listen to the Dance Music
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
Just in time for ‘Strictly’ here’s an opportunity to brush up on your dance moves with the animal movers and shakers. You can waltz with the wolves, tango with the horses, practise some Charleston swivels with the bears, salsa with the flamingos, rock n’ roll along with the cats and hip-hop with the frogs. And, to get you and your little ones going, there’s a sound button at the back of the book, so as well as enjoying the dancers visually, you can listen to the various types of music. What are you waiting for: let’s dance.

I Thought I Saw a Lion!
Lydia Nichols
Templar Publishing
Using the sliders on every spread, toddlers can develop their manipulative skills while enjoying playing hide-and-seek with a mischievous lion that invades a variety of venues. Is he somewhere in the restaurant? Or perhaps he’s visiting the fancy dress shop or the bookshop maybe.

Surely he can’t be getting his mane trimmed at the hairdresser’s, so where is he?
Built-in repetition and bold, stylish illustrations enhance the game.

Colours/ Opposites
Britta Teckentrup
Templar Publishing
Two popular topics feature in stylish look and find presentations by Britta Teckentrup.
In addition to the colour element of the first, there are opportunities for counting and developing talk on each spread.

Opposites here entails essentially, finding the odd one out, be that outside, above, fast, short, heavy, white, closed or small. Some concepts such as tall/short or heavy/ light are relative and thus not so clear-cut, but the rhyming text ensures that answering the questions asked is not an issue. Here: for instance,

‘Some animals plod / with a slow heavy pace, / but who is so fast she’s / winning the race?’

Opposites/ Colours
Nosy Crow and The British Museum
The two new Early Learning at the Museum titles contain around thirty fascinating objects from the museum collections per book.
Apart from the basic concepts presented in the two books, each fascinating image offers opportunities for developing open-ended conversations with young children.
You can look into recent history and go back over 2000 years with intriguing artefacts from a variety of cultures in Opposites. Or in Colours go back even further to 2600BC or be bang up to date with a Grayson Perry vase from 2011.
These chunky books will be of interest to children long after they’ve acquired the basic concepts related to opposites and colours.
Adults can scan the QR code in each book to find out more about the featured objects and there is a full key at the back.

The Marine Team / The Forest Folk / The Sky Guys
Madeleine Rogers
Button Books
Here are three new additions to the Mibo board books series featuring five animals, apiece, two spreads being given to each one.
Once again in each book, superb graphics are accompanied by fact-filled rhymes and there is a final fact page that tells you a little bit about each animal presented, their habitats and what we can do to help protect them.
The Marine Team comprises the green turtle, the great white shark, which is actually only white on its lower part, the seal, the blue whale and seahorses.
Did you know that it’s the male that carries the eggs from which the babies are born?
In The Forest Folk we meet temperate forest dwellers, brown bears, grey wolves, red squirrels, otters and deer, both male and female.
The Sky Guys features five bird species – the majestic albatross, the elegant flamingo, the wise owl, the guzzling pelican and the tiny hummingbird.
The rhyming texts will help young children absorb the information as an adult reads it aloud; and each book offers plenty of talking points.

Just Like Me! & A Handful of Playful Board Books

Just Like Me!
Joshua Seigal and Amélie Falière
Flying Eye Books
A joyful spin off from the favourite nursery game ‘Everybody Do This’ populated by adorably playful animals, a hairy, sluggy-looking quadruped, and one small girl, that simply cries out to be joined in with. There are instructions to ‘suck your thumbs’; ‘rub your tums’; ‘lick your lips’;

‘shake your hips’, ‘spin around’; ‘touch the ground’

and ‘stretch up high’.
I’m pretty sure your ‘littles’ still have plenty of oomph left to enjoy flapping their arms and trying to fly, tapping their toes, nose picking – not much energy required for that but the instruction will be greeted with relish; and then comes a final leap before snuggling down for a little nap zzzz …
If this book doesn’t fill your nursery group with exhilaration, then nothing will.
Perfect for letting off steam; but equally so for beginning readers.

Peek-a-Boo What?
Elliot Kreloff
Sterling Children’s Books
This title from the ‘Begin Smart’ series is just right for a game of peek-a-boo with a baby. Its rhyming text, bold, bright collage style, patterned artwork and die-cut peep holes, introduce in a playful manner some animals, a chain of rhyming words – boo, two, blue, shoe, moo, zoo and who’. Irresistible delight; and there’s even a ‘Dear Parents’ introduction explaining the rationale behind the game/book’s design.

What Do You Wear?
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books
Taro Gomi takes a playful look at the outermost layer of various animals including penguin’s classic suit, snake’s snug stocking – striped in this instance, and goldfish’s patterned ‘skirt’ …

Although perhaps the metaphors will go over the heads of toddlers, they will delight in the sheer silliness of animals supposedly wearing clothes; and sight of the small boy in his nuddies. Slightly older, beginning reader siblings can enjoy sharing the book with their younger brothers or sisters too and share in the whole joke.

Welcome to Pat-a-Cake Books, a new Hachette Children’s Group imprint focusing on the years from babyhood to preschool. Here are two of its first titles, both board books:

On the Move
illustrated by Mojca Dolinar
This is one of the ‘First Baby Days’ series and aims to stimulate a baby’s vision ‘with pull-tabs to help … focus’. With a carefully chosen, high contrast, colour palette, a sequence of animals – using different modes of transport – cars, a train, a space rocket, an air balloon, and a boat is illustrated. Every spread is beautifully patterned; the illustrations stand out clearly; there are transport sounds to encourage baby participation and of course, the sturdy pull-outs to enjoy.

Colours
illustrated by Villie Karabatzia
This title introduces the ‘Toddler’s World’ Talkative Toddler series with colour spreads for red, blue, orange, yellow, green, pink, brown, purple, grey, black and white; and then finally comes a multi-coloured fold-out spread with an invitation to name all the colours thereon. Each colour spread has at least nine labelled items and patterned side borders.
Each book is sturdily constructed to stand up to the enthusiastic handling it’s likely to get.

Bedtime with Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
This is one of a pair of enchanting, lift-the-flap board books from the amazing Sophy Henn. Herein the utterly adorable toddler fends off shouts of “Bedtime, Ted!” with a chain of wonderful deferral tactics: sploshing in the bath with flappy penguins; brushing “teeth with a snappy crocodile”; slurping milk with a big, stripy tiger; jumping “out the fidgets like a bouncy kangaroo”. Then it seems, young Ted is finally ready to bed down – along with a few snuggly pals of course.
Perfect bedtime sharing; make sure your toddler is already in bed first though …
Ted himself is a tiny tour-de-force.
The companion book is:
Playtime with Ted
Herein the little lad uses a cardboard box for all kinds of creative uses: racing car, digger, submarine, train; and space rocket bound for the moon – whoosh! And after all this imaginative play, he’ll make sure he’s back in time for his tea. Play is hard, appetite-stimulating work after all. Two must haves for your toddler’s collection.

I’ve signed the charter 

Edie

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Edie
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books
Who could wish for a more utterly enchanting helper than Edie, the young narrator of Sophy Henn’s wonderful new book?
She’s an inveterate helper of pretty much anybody and everybody, from the moment she gets up. Having woken her parents – now wouldn’t you like a nice rousing guitar solo first thing in the morning? – she dresses herself …

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In between there’s breakfast to prepare followed by a walk to the supermarket where she’s amazingly helpful – really truly – finding SO many things for the shopping trolley; and in the park on the way home she finds lots of pals to help.
Helping is an exhausting occupation though; so once home a short rest is called for but then with energy restored, there’s Mum’s office in need of a spot of organisation; dad needs help tidying up and little brother has lessons he just has to be helped with. As for her grandparents, during their naps when they come to visit is the best time to provide them with ever so helpful makeovers …

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and Dad’s shoes will never look quite the same again after the addition of some snazzy adornments, helpful? Errrm?

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Ditto the walls; whereon her wonderful artistic mural just might be a step too far … ‘Sometimes I have to remember NOT to be quite so helpful,’ she tells us.
She’s soon back to her normal ‘best’ helpful self once more …

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After all, this adorably little character does have a special skill that’s pretty much indispensable, and she’ll undoubtedly make all who encounter her laugh in delight. Sophy Henn’s neo retro illustrations, executed in delectable hues, are just SO perfect for the story. It’s not just Edie though who is so special; Sophy makes every one of the characters somebody you’d love to meet. Don your pompom hat and go help somebody and let’s have more of Edie, PLEASE …

Pom Pom is Super

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POM POM is Super
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books
This has got to be my favourite Pom Pom title yet (and I’ve LOVED the previous ones). If that isn’t testament enough to the quality of this tale, then nothing is. Dare I say, it’s a howlingly, show-stoppingly, way beyond magnificent, book.
Pom Pom is so excited at the prospect of is friends coming round to play that he’s full of fidgets; in fact his feet start dancing all on their own. He’s got his favourite toys at the ready and the snacks too when DING DONG! The first friend has arrived: its Buddy or rather “Buddy the FANTASTIC Footballing FLASH!!!’ and he’s already strutting his stuff right around Pom Pom’s living room when who should burst in but “The ANT King“: (aka Rocco) and “Swooshing SCOUT the SPECTACULAR” complete with cape and more.

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They are closely followed by “Twinkly Twirly TORDANO BEAR” – that’s Baxter and he’s certainly pretty good at twinkling and twirling.
Eager to get on with the day’s agenda, Pom Pom tries introducing the toys – not very successfully –

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FLASH! SWOOSH! TWINKLE! SCURRY …

so he hastily follows up with the snacks and it’s then that Pom Pom admits he might be a little short on superness. (Not in my book you aren’t, little guy.)
He decides to try his hand – or rather his whole self – at flying. Do we have lift off here? Urm, not quite …

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but maybe his pals can come up with an idea or two …
Wow! Pom Pom, you really are a true super-duper mover par excellence WHOPPEE!

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Sophy Henn has done it again and this would make a brilliant little TV show me thinks.

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Friends Forever

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Side by Side
Rachel Bright and Debi Gliori
Orchard Books
Deep in the heart of Wintermouse Wood,
Down in the grass where the autumn trees stood,
Lived all kinds of creatures
So begins a search by one of the wood’s tiniest residents, huge-hearted Little Mouseling, who wants a special friend to stay by her side. All manner of animals offer friendship but, unlike Toad, the mouseling can’t swim, she’s too frightened to climb like Big Brown Squirrel and she certainly cannot fly like Batty Fangs. Seemingly there’s no perfect match for our little seeker: sad and quite alone she has run out of scurries and skips, and tears begin to fall.

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But then up from a little hole pops a head belonging to ‘A tinyful, weenimous, little black vole.’ Equally shy and quiet, he cannot ignore Mouseling’s tears; indeed he offers a wonderful antidote to sadness. Let’s dance and sing ourselves happy, he suggests and thus they start to discover all manner of things a twosome can do, a twosome that is destined to last a life time. ‘A friend by your side makes life twice as good.’

 

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I know not whether Rachel Bright and Debi Gliori are good friends but they’ve certainly demonstrated a superb author/artist partnership in this book.
Rachel Bright’s captivating rhyming text just trips off the tongue and is a pleasure to read aloud even without any visuals. Add to that Debi Gliori’s enchanting, warmly comic illustrations and the result is a gratifying book to share with individuals, groups and classes. I love the way Debi uses shadow

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and light to draw our focus of attention to characters

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and events in the story.

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Where Bear?
Sophy Penn
Puffin Books pbk
I missed this one earlier but am so pleased to get the chance to review Sophy Henn’s debut picture book now.
It features a bear and a boy who have been friends living together in boy’s house since the bear was a cub and the boy, well a lot smaller than he is now.

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Eventually Bear outgrows the house and the boy, determined to find his ursine friend a new abode, sets out with him on a mission to find the just right home.
But where bear?” asks the boy. However, finding a new place for his best pal to be “bearish and big” proves more than a little challenging: bear turns down every single possibility boy offers

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Then where bear? “ is the oft-repeated question until finally the boy suggests a location that is acceptable. Both are happy especially as they are able to keep in touch and remain the best of friends.

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A truly heartwarming tale that explores such important ideas as moving away from a best friend, learning to let go and seeing things from another’s point of view.
Sophy Henn’s characterisation is wonderful and her visual portrayal simply gorgeous. Indeed everything about this book is noteworthy – the choice of colours, the use of space on the page; simplicity is the key and it works brilliantly.

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Alfie & Pom Pom Face Their Feelings

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The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade
Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys
Scribe
Alfie is filled with apprehension the day before the underwater fancy dress parade. He’s practised wearing his Captain starfish costume at home

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so he won’t end up bottling out like on the day of the running race, or Antoinette’s reptile party.
After a sleepless night filled with scary underwater dreams, Alfie is even more sure he hasn’t the courage: “I can’t,” he tells his Mum. She however has a plan – one involving a visit to somewhere special.

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It’s here that Alfie spots a little fish that likes to hide away among the corals.

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That orange fish,” his Mum explains on the way home, “was a clownfish” … “Sometimes they need to hide away… It’s just what they do.” and Alfie understands. “There’s always next year,” he tells his Dad and the cowboys on his wallpaper at bedtime. And, with such understanding parents, Alfie may well have overcome his shyness by then.
In her gorgeous retro style illustrations executed with limited colour, Allison Colpoys conveys Alex’s fearfulness beautifully and the tale is sympathetically and convincingly told – a demonstration of both the artist’s and author’s understanding of how young children try to cope with shyness/introversion.

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Pom Pom Gets the Grumps
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books
Every early years teacher and parent will recognize the scenario so perfectly documented in 2015 World Book Day official illustrator, Sophy Henn’s second book. And, despite the dour-faced panda depicted on the front, it’s sheer delight from cover to cover.
Like all of us from time to time, Pom Pom wakes up in a bad mood. Uh-oh – from the very minute he gets out of bed (on the wrong side of course) it seems everything and everyone is against him. Pom Pom’s tetchiness escalates as he goes through the day: his blanky is missing, his baby brother has taken his favourite toy, there’s soggy cereal and bitty juice at breakfast time and worse, his mum is in soppy song mode. That’s just the beginning of the day through which Pom Pom “Harrumph!”s and scowls and glowers.

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At nursery it’s a case of “NO!”, “NO! and “NO!” to each and every suggestion made by his friends and when he yells at them to “GO AWAY!” that’s exactly what they do. Surprise, surprise -that isn’t right either, but it’s a turning point for our surly protagonist. The little fellow sees the error of his ways and off he goes to make amends.

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Harmony is restored – well let’s just say, for the time being …

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Seemingly Sophy Henn knows young bears (and children) very well indeed. She achieves such depth of character seemingly effortlessly and her portrayal of Pom Pom is spot on. She manages to make him adorably cute; even when he’s in the biggest of sulks what you really want to do is to laugh and give him a big hug. In fact one could go so far as to say he deserves one for he never lashed out physically during the whole sorry day. I absolutely love her crisp, clean contemporary illustrative style and look forward eagerly to further Pom Pom capers later in the year.

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