Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue
Robert Tregoning and Stef Murphy
Bloomsbury Publishing

Imagine your reality is a dystopian one wherein those in power have decreed that everything must be the colour blue. Imagine too that you are a child who loves yellow growing up in such a place. That’s how it is for the boy protagonist in this powerful story and as a result he has become indoctrinated with the idea that to be a yellow-lover is bad, so much so that he dare not even tell his Dad about his secret.

One day when participating in a collection of all things not blue to await collection by the refuge disposal crew, the boy discovers a tiny yellow rubber duck. This he stashes in his school bag. Back home he hides the duck away in the cupboard with all his other yellow things and then sits down to dinner with his Dad. How he longs to tell Dad of his find. That night the boy retrieves his duck carefully and then in an act of brave defiance he liberates all his treasures …

When he hears footsteps approaching, the boy fears the worst, but his Dad’s reaction is both surprising and reassuring. Perhaps being a lover of yellow is acceptable. Thus begins a chain reaction and before too long, change is afoot until everyone feels safe to be true to themselves in a glorious rainbow coloured world.

Would that this were so throughout our own world so that everybody can be fearlessly proud of who they are.

Robert Tregoning’s powerful, sensitive rhyming story grew out of his own experience of growing up gay in the 1990s under Section 28 law, which didn’t disappear from the UK statute books until early this century. Stef Murphy’s equally powerful illustrations capture both the fear and the liberating feeling of joy, not only of the boy but also of the book’s diverse cast of characters.

Love yourself no matter who or what you love is a crucial message that children need as soon as possible. Sharing a special picture book such as this one is a great place to start.

Let’s Tell a Story!: Pirate Adventure / Jungle Adventure and I’m the Bus Driver / I’m the Tractor Driver

Let’s Tell a Story!: Pirate Adventure
Lily Murray illustrated by Stef Murphy
Let’s Tell a Story!: Jungle Adventure
Lily Murray illustrated by Essi Kimpimaki
Wide Eyed Editions

These books offer a way into those choose-your-own-adventure fiction series for solo readers as well as story making. They would have been especially useful during the periods of lockdown and school closures in the past couple of years when youngsters were stuck indoors much of the time and adults often struggled with home schooling. However they can act as fun prompts for story telling or writing at any time.
Each has an introductory spread telling how the book works and then follow fourteen pictorial spreads each one offering lots of options such as: Which hero will you be?; Which clothes will you dress in? What will be your destination? Why are you going? Who will accompany you? How will you get there? What will you take? There are potential disasters in the form of enemies who appear with ‘dastardly’ plans,

and finally, ways to end your chosen story. And, there’s a penguin that keeps appearing in both books adding a search and find element.
It’s possible to have fun creating hundreds of different stories though I suspect in the pirate adventure, some children (as well as this adult reviewer) would find the female characters somewhat stereotypical. On the other hand a hijabi doctor is a welcome possibility: indeed the crew members choice spread is definitely inclusive.

There’s a wealth of learning potential in these imagination sparkers be that at home or in the classroom.

I’m The Bus Driver
I’m The Tractor Driver

David Semple and Kate Woolley
Oxford Children’s Books

If you watch youngsters playing you might well catch sight of a child pretending to be a bus driver among them. Now with the first of these books they’ve got the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of bus number 4 on its 8am morning journey that takes among others children going to school and other passengers off to work or the shops.

In the second title, little ones can try their hand at driving a tractor down on the farm. It’s definitely an eventful day in the driver’s cab with Scally the sheepdog for company: the cows need their breakfast, there are empty barrels to collect from the barn, as well as a hay baler that has got stuck in the mud and needs assistance.
The bright stylised illustrations provide opportunities for colour and shape recognition, and simple counting in these interactive books for the very young.

The Surprising Lives of Animals

The Surprising Lives of Animals
Anna Claybourne and Stef Murphy
Ivy Kids

The author of this look at animal lives talks in her introduction of the close link between humans and other animals, dividing the book into five aspects of behaviour that we all exhibit. She then goes on to explore elements of each one through a wide variety of animals both large and small, using playfulness (Having Fun), Thinking and Feeling, Everyday Life, co-existence and community (Living Together), and Settling Down and reproducing, as themes.

Adults as well as young readers will find plenty of interest: I was surprised to learn for instance that seagulls have been observed playing catch by dropping a stick or a stone from high up in the sky then swooping down to catch it before it reaches the ground – an aspect of playfulness so some scientists think.

Did you know that octopuses are highly intelligent and are able to work out how to undo screw-top jars and childproof containers to get their tentacles on tasty snacks?

Or that that an African grey parrot named Alex, studied by animal brain scientist Dr Irene Pepperberg was able to identify different colours, shapes and materials, and sort items into categories? This is just one of the numerous things she discovered during her 30 years of training and working with the bird.

Equally clever in their own way are the Army ants found in South America that are able to build bridges out of their own bodies. Then having done so they use the bridges to get across gaps and work co-operatively until all members of a colony have traversed the gap. That’s teamwork for you.

Anna Claybourne mentions the work of a number of animal scientists in her ‘Scientist Spotlight’ insets. Her narrative style makes the entire book highly readable as well as informative; and Stef Murphy’s illustrations illuminate not only the animals’ fascinating behaviours but also their habitats and characteristics.

Recommended for family bookshelves as well as primary school collections.