Gerald Needs a Friend

Gerald Needs a Friend
Robin Boyden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Guinea pig Gerald is a loner and fanatical about his routine. His entire world is his garden wherein he spends most of his days nurturing his flowers, fruit and vegetables.

Come 5 o’clock he goes indoors and has tea, reads twenty pages of his book and at 7pm he retires to bed: a risk-taker he most certainly is not.

One morning he heads off into town with his shopping bags and is surprised to discover a new stall run by two lively mice. The mice introduce themselves and for the rest of the day, after some initial hesitancy, Gerald experiences lots of fun exciting things

and thanks to Marcy and Marcel, has the time of his life until …

That night he lies awake in bed contemplating the day and next morning …

Robin Boyden’s Gerald most certainly discovered that by stepping out of the comfort zone of his hitherto fulfilling life, the world had a lot more to offer, the most important thing being friendship.

The illustrations are terrific – hugely expressive and full of amusing details to pore over. A book to share with KS1 classes (make sure you allow time to explore each spread), as well as individuals and small groups.

Beyond the Burrow

Beyond the Burrow
Jessica Meserve
Macmillan Children’s Books

Rabbits prefer to stay close to their cosy burrows with other rabbits for company and juicy carrots for sustenance. When it comes to other creatures, particularly large hairy ones with claws, they’re considered terrifying, avoid at all costs, beasties.

When the Rabbit protagonist in this story discovers what looks like the most delectable breakfast carrot, little does she know that it’s about to change her life.

In attempting to reach said carrot, she takes a tumble and finds herself entering the wrong hole. Not only that but when she emerges it’s to feel herself plunging into the depths of a river. Happily she surfaces and is able to cling tight to a passing log but she’s far from her burrow. But then comes a face-to-face encounter with a not-rabbit that has all the alarming features Rabbit most fears.

Time to make a rabbity leap for safety and dig for all you’re worth.

Is this the end for our long-eared friend? She fears it might be so. Instead however, the not-rabbit pushes something towards her and such is Rabbit’s hunger that she risks a tiny bite.

Then follows an entirely new, brave idea that results in her climbing way up out of her comfort zone until she sees …

Despite claws and hairiness, the giant not-rabbit turns out to be ‘no so very scary’. Likewise the other not-rabbits that have gathered up in the treetops. Mutual acts of kindness ensue and Rabbit decides that falling can sometimes be fun.

That night though, she stays awake thinking about home and come morning, she spies a familiar sight far away. Time to try to reach it, but with friends in tow everything feels less scary

and eventually her burrow is in hopping distance …

Can things get any better? Perhaps, but to find out, you’ll need to get hold of a copy of Jessica’s book …

With plenty of dramatic moments, and full of warmth and humour, the story is huge fun to read aloud. Jessica’s depictions of ‘NOT very rabbity’ behaviour and indeed the antics of the treetop dwelling menagerie are highly entertaining. So too are the plethora of signs scattered strategically in various places throughout Rabbit’s adventure.

The Kiosk

The Kiosk
Anete Melece (translated by Elīna Braslina)
Gecko Press

Imagine living and working your entire life in a small kiosk – impossible you might be thinking – but so it is for Olga the protagonist of Anete Melece’s picture book. She has customers aplenty and lots of friends among them as she spends her time selling, chatting, assisting others and generally being a good, kindly person going about her daily routine. Come evening when the crowds have gone, Olga remains stuck inside her small domain, reading of faraway places and dreaming of distant sunsets.

One morning though, after a chain of unfortunate incidents, disaster strikes and the kiosk topples right over taking Olga with it. Physically unhurt, up she gets and off she goes walking within her erstwhile fixed abode and for a while all is well. But then comes a canine encounter which precipitates a fall –

and Olga, kiosk and all are pitched off the bridge and into the river.
After several days afloat in her mobile home,

Olga arrives at the seaside where enterprisingly she sets herself up in a new business … and each evening from her beach vantage point she enjoys the sun setting – ‘splendidly’.

Yes it’s hard sometimes to make changes, but sometimes it’s good to step right out of your comfort zone and just to “go with the flow” seeing what life brings and embracing new things with an open heart. It’s never impossible if you really want to find a way …
That’s what Anete Melece shows us with humour and heart.

The Sloth and the Dinglewot

The Sloth and the Dinglewot
Nicole Prust and Amanda Enright
New Frontier Publishing

Think how many wonderful things you might miss if you never step outside your comfort zone.

That’s exactly what Samuel the sloth does one drowsy summer’s morning. Bored with merely lazing around like his fellow sloths, he takes the opportunity provided by Dinglewot Jinglewot Dingledum Dee, the colourful bird with bells on its feet that offers him an adventure.

Samuel is forced to embrace his fears as he decides to follow the Dinglewot through the treetops, across the grasslands, past the mountains, down a ravine to a dark cave.

Then, after exciting encounters with baboons and later, bats, they finally reach Dinglewotville, the land of the bird’s birth.

There Samuel discovers an amazing carnival and dances the night away – his best night ever.

But eventually for our adventurer it’s time to leave.

He returns to his fellow sloths in the hope that some of them too might set aside their fears and join him and his new friend on another adventure. You never know …

The flowing rhyme of debut author, Nicole Prust’s narrative and Amanda Enright’s richly coloured illustrations make for a lovely storytime read aloud that shows the importance of risk taking and of seizing life’s opportunities.

Musical Mac / Just So Willow

Musical Mac
Brendan Kearney
Sterling

Here we have a solo offering from the illustrative half of the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series.

Millipede Mac loves to play music but the thought of competing solo in the Soggy Bog Talent Show fills him with fear.

To get round this he decides to join a band, so packing up his numerous instruments he sets out in search of a suitable one.

He tries his luck with several rehearsing groups – a tiny antennae orchestra, a band of alleycats, he plays guitar with frogs and drums with dogs but despite his talents none of the bands will take him on.

After a too close for comfort encounter with a bird choir, Mac is so thoroughly frightened that he dashes right on to the stage of the talent show – all alone.

Can he – with a bit of encouragement from the other bands he’s met on his way – summon up the courage to give it a go? He certainly has plenty of instruments …

Full of zany detail. Brendan Kearney’s illustrations provide plenty to pore over and the scattering of alliterative phrases adds interest to the text.

Just So Willow
Sara F. Shacter and Stephanie Laberis
Sterling

Bear cub, Willow, is fanatically finicky even ironing her underwear and unscrambling her spaghetti.

When a snowstorm covers her backyard one morning, Willow is delighted at its perfection and is determined to keep it just so. But then a stray snowball tossed by one of the children playing close by is deemed to be the start of her perfect space being turned into a ‘lumpy, bumpy mess’ Willow just has to stop them. But how?

Shouting doesn’t work as she can’t get close enough despite some athletic efforts, but the little bear just keeps on trying.

Eventually she accidentally toboggans into the centre of the group of frolickers creating a perfect ‘crisp white ribbon around the yard.

Then it’s time to discover the possibilities of different kinds of perfect and a whole lot of fun with friends too perhaps …

It’s evident that author Sara Shacter understands children like Willow (I love all the playful language) and illustrator Stephanie Laberis goes to town with the characters’ expressions especially those of Willow in her comical scenes.

A fun story about stepping outside your comfort zone and risk taking.

Mr Particular & Super-Powered Ollie

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Mr Particular
Jason Kirschner
Sterling
Superhero he may be, but the particular superhero of Jason Kirschner’s debut picture book hasn’t been given his name without reason. Yes, he’s able to perform all manner of amazing feats such as car lifting (toy cars that is), and outrun trains – the kind you see at the zoo – and keeps strictly to his 7.30pm bedtime every single evening. (Parents, take note). He has however, a somewhat self-limiting issue: the little guy ‘liked things the way he liked them – and only the way he liked them.’ There’s an element of that in all of us but his weakness – so we’re told – is that of specifics: ketchup with all non-dessert foods, positively no humming, shirts must always be untucked, nothing with even a slight whiff of coconut about it, no squishy mud or oatmeal and anything green is a total no-no.
All these quirks do have a tendency to hinder him and his pals in their keeping the universe safe from Bad Guys mission …

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Eventually those long-suffering friends, Atomic Bear, Daring Duck and co. call an emergency meeting, the outcome of which is that Mr Particular is a group member no more; instead Dr Slimyhands -recently defected to the good guys side – takes his place.
Poor Mr Particular is devastated: surely his fate isn’t to be left at home playing with nappy-filling SUPERPOOPER.

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Change is needed … and boy does our hero try, but to no avail – old habits definitely die hard. You’ve gotta hand it to the guy though, he keeps on trying over and over …

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Then suddenly an opportunity presents itself: – those very Super-Duper Group members who have just ousted him – seem rooted to the spot …

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while Atomic Bear dangles by the seat of his pants from a tree branch. He is however, suspended right above an exceedingly muddy, mega- slimy patch and there just happens to be rather a lot of small insects creating something of a buzz right alongside. Can Mr P. finally overcome those pet aversions of his and save the day, whether or not Atomic Bear is faking the whole thing?

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Highly entertaining, this is told in action-packed comic-book format and is a wonderful take on sensory defensiveness and aversions. And with a few pooey touches thrown in to keep young listeners super-attentive, this one is bound to appeal especially to superhero addicts – and that’s an awful lot of youngsters – who will at the same time be absorbing messages about drawing on one’s inner strength, never saying never and only holding on to what, ultimately is of use to us. Let those super-powers shine through. And for those determined to do so and one hopes that’s everyone, then the inside covers have a show of everything for the job in hand …

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Ollie and his Super Powers
Alison Knowles, illustrated by Sophie Wiltshire
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Language has tremendous power in the way it affects those around us; that we all know from recent events in the UK.
In this slim, illustrated book we meet seven year old Ollie who no longer has his brand new trainers: he’s been bullied into giving them over to two much bigger boys. Ollie’s mum is furious and he’s only told her that he’s left them at school. “You did what? … They cost a fortune, Ollie. You know I can’t afford to get you another pair. Oh Ollie, how thoughtless.” is what she says and off they both go in the car to visit the old people’s home where she works.
It’s there that one of the inmates, Mr Wilcox listens to Ollie and the whole sorry tale of how not only his trainers but other things have been taken from the lad, and about the name calling too. Mr Wilcox then suggests Ollie uses his superpowers to sort out the bullies. And thus begins the unleashing of Ollie’s amazing superpowers: Courage, Bravery, Strength and Calm among others; and with Mr Wilcox as his friend and guide, it’s not too long before Ollie

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(and his team of superpowers) is ready to begin Operation Positivity …
What a good example of the importance of using positive language to encourage, and/or reinforce, positive behaviours.
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