The Little Spacecraft That Could

The Little Spacecraft That Could
Joyce Lapin and Simona Ceccarelli
Sterling

From the title of this book you might expect a story somewhat similar to the Watty Piper classic The Little Engine that Could. Not so. This book is essentially a non-fiction story that, beginning in January 2006, chronicles the journey of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft travelling towards Pluto, a destination that will take a decade to reach, by which time astronomers have down-graded Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. (This is covered in the text)

The author tells how having burst forth from Earth, the first engine is allowed to fall away leaving, encased in gold foil, the spacecraft ‘no bigger than a small piano’ whizzing through space at over 10 miles per second. (Illustrator Simona Ceccarelli bestows a big grin on the face of New Horizons as this happens and thereafter she becomes a quirky character with personality.)

Now tasked with many questions to answer: what is Pluto made of? What colour is its sky? Are there creepy-crawlies? being just three, New Horizons will fly 3 billion miles to collect close-up photographic evidence and other kinds of data and transmit it all back to scientists on Earth.

On route the spacecraft receives a massive gravity speed boost from ‘ginormous’ Jupiter, after which follows a very long period of hibernation during which time a weekly signal is sent back to Earth. Eventually on 6th December 2014, the probe reawakens and soon begins transmitting photos of Pluto,

photos that hugely enlarged scientists’ understanding of the dwarf planet and its moons. 

A few years later, on New Year’s Day 2019, New Horizons reaches another object called Arrokoth that had been discovered since her launch.  Photos of this far distant world helped scientists understand more about the solar system’s early years.  New Horizons continues to travel further out in space and the hope is there’ll be a visit to the Kuiper Belt sometime during this decade.

Altogether an absorbing book that, in addition to conveying a huge amount of information about space exploration and the solar system, makes scientific discovery highly engaging and accessible for readers who might not otherwise be inclined to explore this topic. It also includes a timeline, glossary, and resources for further investigation. 

Diversity Matters: We Are Family / Bindu’s Bindis

We Are Family
Lucy Reynolds and Jenna Herman
Doodles & Scribbles

‘Your family may be big / or small, / tiny or … / terrifically tall. / Perhaps you’re / raised by one dad / or mum. / Or do others / help and . ../ join the fun?…’
So begins the simple rhyming narrative in this non-fiction picture book wherein Lucy Reynolds explores the concept of family.
Fact boxes provide additional information about the exemplars she uses from the animal kingdom 

to show the many varieties there are, while at the same time, the rhyme speaks directly to readers about the possible kind of family theirs might be. The result is a positive, inclusive message coupled with information on the specific creatures chosen, which are illustrated in Jenna Herman’s mixed media, patterned illustrations.
A safe way to explore the diversity of human families, especially in a foundation stage or KS1 classroom. In the latter children can better appreciate the wealth of information about the animals featured.

Bindu’s Bindis
Supriya Kelkar and Parvati Pillai
Sterling

Bindu absolutely loves the bindis her Nani sends her from India each month with their different shapes, sizes and colours; and even more she loves the connection she feels when she wears them.Then one day, joy of joys, Nani comes to visit and the family go to the airport to meet her. However this joy is curtailed as they are soon forced to confront the xenophobic people standing outside with their racist placards. 

At first Bindu wants to rip off her bindi but manages to overcome her feelings of despondency. Back at home child and Nani are soon enjoying one another’s company especially when Bindu returns from school and picks a bindi to match her grandparent’s mood.

Then comes the day for Bindu to wear a bindi to school for the very first time; she’s to perform an Indian dance in a talent show so Nani makes sure the two of them match. But when it comes to her turn Bindu’s worries about other people’s reactions cause the little girl to have an attack of stage fright. 

Can Nani help her granddaughter summon up some inner courage, rediscover her sparkle and thus save the day?
A picture book that demonstrates the strength of family bonds showing how they can transcend long distances. The richly coloured illustrations capture Bindu’s changing emotions throughout the story and the racism strand offers a starting point to open up discussion within a family or an educational setting.

The Worst Class in the World Dares You! / Aven Green Sleuthing Machine / Aven Green Baking Machine

The Worst Class in the World Dares You!
Joanna Nadin, illustrated by Rikin Parekh
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Nits and Dares are the topics of the two riotous episodes contained in this third volume of the exploits of Class 4B taught by the long-suffering Mr Nidgett; yes that’s the one headteacher of St. Regina’s Primary, Mrs Bottomley-Blunt, has decided are “LITERALLY the worst class in the world.” I’ve no idea how she managed to land the job as she thinks learning should absolutely NOT be fun.
However as always, Manjit and Stanley (our narrator) have imaginative fool-proof plans at the ready and as is ever the case, they never intend to cause the mayhem that seems to ensue; it’s just that their foolproof plans do not always work quite as anticipated.
So, when there’s a possibility that an epidemic of Nits could cancel Maths Test Tuesday, the class plot to make certain this does actually happen: they definitely don’t want to have to forgo watching War of the Wizards on TV to revise. Perhaps they might even have to be off school on the day in question. Little do they know what chaos their plans will unleash. After all, those containers full of mini-beasts of various kinds are perfectly safe with Class 4B- surely; err …

The second story sees the arrival of new girl, Bridget Pickersgill and she’s a person who likes dares – of the mad variety; the reward for doing one of her dares is to become an Overlord of the Universe. Anybody fancy eating that ‘Very Dead Fly’ that’s been lying beside the ‘Abandoned Plimsoll’ for over a week? Or indeed accepting any of the other dares the girl dreams up on subsequent days …

Great fun for solo reading as well as a class read-aloud.

Aven Green Sleuthing Machine
Dusti Rowling, illustrated by Gina Perry
Sterling

Despite being differently abled, eight year old Aven Green (born without arms) is still an ace sleuth (a private investigator is what her mum and dad have dubbed their daughter.) Her take on the matter is that all those extra arm cells went instead to her brain.
When someone starts stealing food – her teacher’s lunch and items from the school cafeteria – she’s on the case. But food is just the first thing to go missing. Next it’s her great grandmother’s dog, more food disappears – are these things connected perhaps?
Then a sad-looking new girl joins Aven’s class. Why is she sad? Yet another mystery. That seems rather a lot for one girl however super-powered her brain. Perhaps some help from family members and some of her classmates might be needed to discover what is going on.

With plentiful illustrations by Gina Perry , this is just right for new solo readers especially those who like strong, self-willed protagonists. Moreover, those that do will be delighted to discover that before this story ends, Aven decides to set aside her P.I. business and instead concentrate on baking. Hence she becomes known as:

Aven Green Baking Machine

As this tale opens Aven has already honed her baking skills at home – she uses her feet to crack eggs and measure out ingredients and now, along with her three friends, she wants to enter the baking competition at the upcoming county fair. The first task is to decide which of their recipes to use and the way to do that is to try out each one and decide upon the yummiest.
That’s when the problems begin and after Aven has found fault with each of her friend’s choices, it’s decided that they don’t want to work with her. This offers an opportunity for the sometimes over-opinionated girl to see the error of her ways, learn to forgive and become more open-minded.
There’s a great opportunity for readers who like to cook too: at the end of the narrative, the author provides the six recipes mentioned in the story.

Little People, Big Dreams: Pelé / If You’re Going to a March!

Little People, Big Dreams: Pelé
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Camila Rosa
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This new addition to the best-selling series stars one of the world’s greatest ever soccer players, telling of both his awesome skills on the field and his sterling work off the pitch in helping children in need, not only in his home country Brazil, but the world over.

From modest beginnings in a poor neighbourhood in Brazil, young Edson aka, Pelé fashioned a ball from a sock stuffed with paper and tied with string and used it to work on his footie skills.

Fuelled with a determination to lead his country to a World Cup victory, he was selected at age sixteen to play for the national team in Sweden where he became known as the player of ‘Jogo Bonito’ (‘beautiful game’)

Pele went on to take his country to another two World Cup victories. He’s now recognised as the top footballer who ever lived as well as a voice for unity and for the most needy.

With additional facts at the back of the book, set out along a timeline, and Camila Rosa’s striking illustrations, this is a book to inform and inspire young sports enthusiasts especially.

If You’re Going to a March
Martha Freeman and Violet Kim
Sterling Children’s Books

Although this book originated in the USA, there are plenty of young activists and would-be activists in the UK and in many other countries too; this book with its reader-friendly advice and instructions, will speak to them all, whether their cause is civil rights, the environment, women’s rights, gay rights, peace or whatever. And, children start very young: during my participation in pro EU marches I encountered babes in slings accompanied by parents and young siblings.

There’s advice on such practicalities as making your own sign,

appropriate clothing (check the weather forecast), transport to starting point; plus warnings about such possibilities as getting a bit bored if lots of people want to make speeches; feeling free to let go and dance should the opportunity arise; how to interact with the media; even visiting the loo is covered; (perhaps the spread with the smiling police officers ‘their job is to keep people safe’ is probably more apt for the UK than that of the book’s origins).

The author and illustrator also present the ‘why’ behind marches, rallies and protesting – ‘they are showing they care about their country and want to make things better’, as well as pointing out the possibility of seeing people who disagree with your cause – ‘sometimes democracy looks like disagreement’ and advising politeness. With its focus on the practical and positive elements of activism, this book is a good starting point for adults wanting to introduce the possibilities of political involvement, peaceful protest and community action to youngsters.

I love the way Violet Kim conveys a community feel to her scenes throughout.

Judge Juliette / Bling Blaine Throw Glitter, Not Shade

Here are two recent picture books from Sterling Children’s Books:

Judge Juliette
Laura Gehl and Mari Lobo

Juliette is a girl with a dream – to become a judge; meanwhile she dons her mum’s old black skirt and uses her grandpa’s old mallet to play at so being. Already she’s the person those in her locality increasingly turn to for decisions of what is fair from bedtimes to bat losses.

This causes her parents to decide that their daughter has proved herself sufficiently responsible to be allowed that much wanted pet.

But then who should walk into her courtroom but mum and dad: Mum thinks she should get a dog, Dad pins his hopes on a cat and each parent has plenty of evidence to back up their side of the argument. Moreover, both are prepared to try a little bit of bribery on their daughter. This is going to be tricky to say the least.

How can Juliette possibly make a fair decision in this Cat vs Dog case?

Youngsters, many of whom will already have a strong sense of fairness, will enjoy this story with its bold illustrations, especially the finale, and during the course of a book sharing will likely learn some legal terminology.

Bling Blaine Throw Glitter, Not Shade
Rob Sanders and Letizia Rizzo

Make no mistake Blaine is into all things sparkly; he adorns his school uniform, his book bag and cap with glittery things. He’s popular, spreading happiness wherever he goes, is a sporting star and extremely bright. Most people are accepting of his predilection

but a few lack understanding and eventually those hurtful words begin to take effect on the boy especially when someone calls him ‘Sissy!”
Next Monday he arrives at school sans sparkles and this continues through the week and by midweek the entire school has lost its shine. Something has to be done and so his classmates take action: the following morning several children show up defiantly sporting sparkly items of clothing.

This precipitates a change of heart in others, and after some discussion between the pro- and anti-sparkle individuals,

things change: a small gift is given, and a decision is made: everyone is free to be themselves, at least at this school.

A gentle lesson, with expressive cartoon style illustrations, on the individual’s right to be him/herself, and on being an ally. (the final spread talks about what the latter entails).

Best Day Ever / Invent-a-Pet

Here are a couple of recent titles from Sterling Children’s Books

Best Day Ever
Michael J. Armstrong and Églantine Ceulemans

It’s the last day of summer and William has just one goal on his list left: have the most fun ever, and he has a handy fun-o-meter invention to help in his assessment of attempts.

What he hasn’t bargained for though is the non-stop interruptions by his neighbour Anna, she of the incredible imagination. As he pursues his fun-finding in trampolining, art

and scooting, she subverts his every effort by her messy, noisy creative play that scores high on William’s fun-o-meter, in contrast to his own activities.

Eventually however, the boy realises that perhaps a bit of silly, messy, possibly even dangerous play might be the way to go;

and thus with William way out of his comfort zone, a fantastic day ensues and an unlikely friendship between two contrasting characters is forged. Not to mention that a satisfying green light from a certain fun-o-meter also results.

Debut picture book author, Armstrong’s story is a great reminder of the importance of having permeable constructs, and of accepting and celebrating difference.

In her mixed media art Églantine Ceulemans adroitly shows how Anna’s zany, exuberant world gradually impinges upon the matter-of-fact notions of William. There’s a wealth of amusing details, not least the silent, bit-part playing animals to which William seems completely oblivious.

Invent-a-Pet
Vicky Fang and Tidawan Thaipinnarong

Katie wants a pet, but not anything ordinary like a goldfish: her pet must be something extraordinary.

One day she finds a strange-looking machine in her living room, put there by her mum with a note saying ‘Hope this helps in your quest to find an extraordinary pet!

 

Her first input of a football, a blade of grass and a carrot result in a fluffy green creature– cute, but not what she wants.

Several tries later, she still hasn’t got her desired result, although the house is rather inundated with pets. Time to go back to the drawing board and work out how the machine works, decides Katie.

She selects three new items and starts again. After some time she discovers the correlation between size, colour and the third variable. Is this her eureka moment? Not quite.

With persistence, will Katie succeed in her problem solving task and create the pet of her dreams? Perhaps, but first she has to think of a way to deal with the large number of pets she’s already created …

What a fun way to introduce the process of science problem solving – great for a primary classroom STEM collection. Youngsters will love the pets in Tidawan Thaipinnarong’s comical illustrations and her endpapers are a treat too.

Board Book Bundle

Who Says Peek A Boo?
Who Says Hippity Hop?

Highlights for Children

It’s absolutely NEVER too early to introduce children to books.
In this pair of photographically illustrated books, babies can engage in a game of peek-a-boo with some favourite animals; or join some lively animals chasing after colourful eggs as they decide whether to hippity hop, flippity flop, drippity drop, slippity slop, clippity clop with kitten, duckling, piglet, pony and bunny.
Each book has a mirror on the final page, which completes the question and response sequence.

More questions in:

Do Cats Moo?
Salina Yoon
Sterling

Salina Yoon’s latest in her lift-the-flap rhyming series for tinies that features animals and the sounds they make. This one showcases the titular cats along with pups, hamsters, birds, goldfish, bunnies, hedgehogs and turtles, all of which assemble for a gloriously cacophonous final double gatefold farewell wherein toddlers too can participate with their squeaks, sniffs, snuffles, splish-splashes, glubs, chirps, barks and meows.

Go, Boats, Go!
Addie Boswell and Alexander Mostov
Little Bigfoot

Boswell and Mostov add a new title to their In-Motion board book series with their rhyming introduction to water craft of all shapes and sizes. There are boats, old and new, pedal boats, boats to row and boats to sail, boats for work and boats for leisure, some powered by humans, others by machines; there’s even a boat that appears to fly, in this playful assembly of vessels each one colourfully illustrated in the ten double spreads.

That’s Silly! Rhyme Time
illustrated by Mar Ferrero
Highlights for Children

In just half a dozen double-page spreads, each with a gatefold on either side, youngsters can have fun discovering over 90 daft rhymes in such silly places as a Bog Fog and a Snowflake Lake.
The locations visited vary from a park to the moon, and include a busy town (good to see a bookshop there) and the seaside.

There are hours of potential fun, rhyme style herein; and with rhyme being one of the 3Rs of reading, this is definitely worth sharing with little ones who will also develop their observation skills in response to ‘What else do you see? What else is silly?’ on every page.

Patricia’s Vision / Hosea Plays On

Here are a couple of books about enormously inspiring people from Sterling Books

Patricia’s Vision
Michelle Lord and Alleanna Harris
Sterling Children’s Books

Here’s a super STEM picture book biography by Michelle Lord, of an inspiring African American woman, Dr. Patricia Bath, who followed both her passion and her vision to become a doctor and change other people’s lives by restoring their eyesight by means of tools that she herself had invented, tools that included lasers to remove cataracts.

From her childhood, (as a young child having seen a blind man begging on the street in Harlem in the 1940s, and pondered on how and why it could have happened), Patricia was a girl with a great and growing curiosity. After qualifying as a doctor, she “decided to get the training, education, skills set so I could achieve miracles” and that is precisely what she did, believing that “eye sight is a basic human right”.

She always looked for possibilities where others saw only insurmountable walls, and through her tenacity and determination managed to do what had never been done before often against her naysaying fellow doctors who hadn’t the imagination she possessed to look beyond the information given.

Through her entire life, even in retirement, this awesome woman kept her goal firmly in her sights and when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, she visited a school classroom wherein blind children received their education in a classroom without braille books. On her return home she sent computers to that Tanzanian school so that the pupils could use their fingertips to read braille computer keyboards; this she called “Computer Vision”.

What an incredible woman and what an awe-inspiring book, made all the more so by the inclusion of direct quotations from Dr Bath and animated illustrations that show both emotion and scientific details. A terrific tribute, and a splendid way to introduce young readers from all over the globe, to this medical hero who died last year.
(There’s also a timeline, a note from the author, a further page about Dr Bath and a bibliography.)

Hosea Plays On
Kathleen M. Blasi and Shane W. Evans
Sterling Children’s Books

Both author Kathleen Blasi and illustrator Shane Evans celebrate the street musician Hosea Missouri Taylor Jr. in their fictional homage of a story of a day in his life, when he boards the bus and goes to his favourite spot, Rochester Public Market.
There he would take out his saxophone and play amid the hustle and bustle. On this particular day we see him passing a boy raking leaves who pauses in his work to pretend play using his rake.

Once in the market passers by are entranced by his music and some drop money into his saxophone case; one girl is moved to dance,

their harmonious double act continuing until the rain comes down when she and the watchers, head for cover leaving Hosea to play alone.

At the end of the day, Hosea is thrilled to discover he has earned ‘enough money’ which we understand is the means to buy another instrument – a trumpet –

and in so doing, spread the love by donating it to the lad Nate, he’d spoken to in the morning. Then they play a lovely surprise finale duet.

The vibrant artwork is wonderfully uplifting: Hosea’s passion for music and its power shines out and the story is enormously, joyously heart-warming.

An author’s note explains how the musician’s goal was to keep the neighbourhood children in positive ways. To this end he bought instruments for youngsters and offered them free music lessons: a true advocate for learning through music.

Recommended for all who want to share, or inspire others with the joys of music and of giving.

Go Get ‘Em, Tiger! / As Big as the Sky

Go Get ‘Em, Tiger!
Sabrina Moyle and Eunice Moyle
Abrams Appleseed

Believe in yourself, is the message that grins, growls, giggles and positively shines out from the Moyle sisters’ latest offering.

Throughout Sabrina’s rhythmic, rhyming text that switches between the distinctly upbeat – No matter who you choose/ to be, you’ll be/ TERRR-IFIC./ Wait and see!’ – softer spoken exhortations – ‘ be humble’ and gentle warning – ‘You’ll make mistakes./ Things will go wrong./ And when they do,/ you’ll carry on.’

The emphasis is on resilience, finding your inner strength, and focussing on the possible; on kindness, ( You will see creatures who are stuck, / feeling lost, down on their luck. / To these new friends, you’ll lend a hand … ), consideration (‘use your strength to shine a light / on what is wrong and what is RIGHT ) and thoughtfulness.

Optimism rules.
The same is true in Eunice’s bright (with fluorescent touches), exuberant scenes of little Tiger and its community: they’re expressive and an effective complement to the words.

Perhaps the characters in the next book were inspired by the advice to that Tiger

As Big as the Sky
Carolyn Rose and Elizabeth Zunon
Sterling Children’s Books

Inspired by a real life meeting of the author and Caleb’s parents and sister, this story is of two at one time inseparable siblings, Prisca and her big brother Caleb.

He carries a bucket of water when the load is too heavy for her; and when Caleb gets malaria she brings sweet tea and nsima (a Malawian cornmeal dish) to his sick bed, and makes him laugh by chastising the mosquitos. But Caleb has set his sights on a better education than the village school can provide, so he goes to live with Grandma in Chimwe, a considerable distance away.

Eager to see him but lacking the wherewithal to pay the transport fares, she begins some entrepreneurial endeavours,

creating various items that the kindly peddler, Tewa Tewa, tries to sell on her behalf but without any luck. Still though, the man always receives a warm welcome from the child. The rains come putting paid to her creations,; again there’s no chance to get to Chimwe. But then one bright, dry day Tewa Tewa returns with nothing to sell on his bike.

Prisca asks him if he could possibly carry both her mother and herself all the way to Chimwe. After a little consideration on his part, all three set off on the long bumpy road

and finally, after many hours and absolutely exhausted, the wonderful man manages to reach their destination. There a joyful sibling reunion takes place.

Carolyn Rose’s uplifting story pays homage to the resourcefulness of children who have little in the way of money, but are full of love, kindness and ingenuity. It’s also a window into some of the hardships village-living families face in parts of Africa including Malawi.

When A Tree Grows

When A Tree Grows
Cathy Ballou Mealey and Kasia Nowowiejska
Sterling Children’s Books

Cause and effect meet choose your own adventure in this amusing book set in a forest.

‘When a tree grows … two things could happen. It becomes a scratching post for Moose’s itchy antlers and the tree sways gently side to side.’ Or … he pushes too hard and crash!-boom! Down comes the tree onto a cave waking up a bear. Bear too can do one of two things … and so it goes on with the possibility of an ordinary or an extraordinary happening.

The possibilities get more and more outlandish, even the ordinary ones, until the adventure brings all three characters (and a host more) together for a Welcome Home party for their small bushy-tailed friend …

after which there is a satisfying completion of the circular tale that readers may, or may not, have seen coming.

There’s plenty to amuse as each scenario is presented in this cleverly constructed story wherein text and digital illustrations work well in tandem providing a fun storytime read aloud with a good sprinkling of omomatopoeia that gives young listeners an opportunity to let rip.

The book also offers a model for older audiences to use as a starting point for writing their own similarly constructed adventures.

Lulu’s First Day / Butterflies on the First Day of School

Lulu’s First Day
Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw
Alanna Max

Lulu is starting pre-school and she’s already been well prepared. There have been lots of story time sessions at the library, a visit to the school, and special gifts from Nana and Tayo that she’ll use regularly for school.

She’s even chosen her clothes for the next day and packed extras in her new bag – just in case.

The big day dawns, everybody is up early and with a pause for a quick photo, off she goes with her mum.

There’s a warm welcome from her teacher and Lulu is soon enjoying all that nursery has to offer.

Almost before you can say, ‘circle time’, there she is on the carpet with all her friends and the grown-ups are waiting outside eager to hear of those new experiences.

Yes, its’ been a tiring day, but Lulu can’t wait for tomorrow …

With all the reassurance that little ones need, Anna McQuinn and Ros. Beardshaw present the pitch perfect book for those who, like Lulu, are about to take those next steps into pre-school.

Butterflies on the First Day of School
Annie Silvestro and Dream Chen
Sterling Children’s Books

An enchanting fanciful take on a well-known figure of speech is presented in this story of first day nerves.

Rosie has been eagerly anticipating starting school for a whole month but on the night before her big day, doubts creep in and next morning she announces that she doesn’t feel well.

Her mum tells her it’s just butterflies in her tummy and when she sits chatting rather nervously on the school bus to another new girl, butterflies (seen only by Rosie) flutter from her mouth. Now she understands her mum’s puzzling comment.

More butterflies are released, also seen only by Rosie, every time she opens her mouth in the classroom during that first session,

until by playtime her tummy is less rumbly and she can barely feel any more butterflies.

Out go the children to play, Rosie feeling pretty confident now. Then she notices another little girl standing alone under a tree, hands on her tummy. Rosie introduces herself and when the forlorn-looking girl speaks, a cloud of butterflies come fluttering from her mouth.

With its bold bright butterfly images this is a lovely warm story that will reassure little ones who like Rosie are starting school imminently, along with adults who may well share that first day feeling.

The Colour of Happy / Some Days / A Thank You Walk

The Colour of Happy
Laura Baker and Angie Rozelaar
Hodder Children’s Books

This sweet, simple rhyming story of a boy finding a dandelion seed head and what happens thereafter is the means for an exploration of feelings for young children around the age of the child narrator, using a rainbow of emotions and the fluffy seed head.

The child, out walking with a pup, spies a dandelion clock: ’Yellow is for happy when I spot a special thing,’ he tells us and having picked it, hops and skips along. But when a gust of wind whisks his treasure away, the boy is engulfed in dark blue sadness.

His emotions then run through the colour spectrum: red for anger as he watches it sail away;

green for feelings of envy when he sees a girl with the seed head; grey when he cannot believe things will be okay; gold for the kindly response from a little girl, and the return of hope as they play together chasing the dandelion clock while it sails off again;

purple for the proud feeling when the boy again holds his treasure safe and bids his friend farewell; orange for the mounting excitement as he heads home and finally, pink as he reaches the front door with his somewhat depleted, love-filled offering …

Little ones will certainly relate to Laura Baker’s lovely story, which offers a great starting point for becoming mindful about their own responses to situations. With a foundation stage class, I envisage children talking about the book, their own feelings with regard to a particular happening; and then perhaps responding with paints or whatever medium they feel right, in music or a dance with coloured scarves perhaps.

Some Days
Karen Kaufman Orloff and Ziyue Chen
Sterling Children’s Books

We all experience different feelings at different times and so it is with young children and this book, with Karen Kaufman’s lively rhyming text and Ziyue Chen’s warmly hued illustrations, conveys that huge gamut of emotions through the course of a year.

Through two young children, we share in their everyday highlights such as ‘chocolate pudding pie day’s’, ‘Kites up in the sky days. Jumping super high days’; the joys of swimming and sunbathing;

as well as the downs – a nasty cut knee for instance.

Some days are extra special like that for ‘picking out a pup’ or winning a cup. Then come fussy mum days

and days when raincoats just won’t do, and there are  too wet to play football days with glum stay indoors faces; better though are snow angel making days and watching a warm fire days.

The author acknowledges those bad days when everything feels wrong

and those when it’s best to be alone.

Finally comes ‘Learning to be me days’ which is really the essence of the whole, a book that celebrates the positive but doesn’t gloss over the negative feelings. It’s a good starting point for discussion in an early years setting, or after a one-to-one sharing at home, perhaps about how best to respond to and deal with negative emotions. After all, being mindful of, and being able to talk about, our emotions and feelings helps us best deal with them.

Helping to develop mindfulness in even younger children is:

A Thank You Walk
Nancy Loewen and Hazel Quintanilla
Words & Pictures

Nancy Loewen’s brief story of a mother and little girl walking their dog, Duke, is one of the Bright Start series aimed at developing emotional intelligence in the very young.

Simply expressed it tells how as they stroll hand in hand mother and child interact with the animals they encounter. The barking sounds of Duke, the chirping of birds eating seeds, a neighing pony fed carrots, an overturned beetle that they rescue, which flies off with a buzz-buzz,

are, the child is told, the creatures’ ways of saying thank you.

Cutely and expressively illustrated in black and white with orange pops, by Hazel Quintanilla the book demonstrates the importance of showing appreciation and thankfulness. It’s never too soon to start saying thank you and as an introduction to being mindful about expressing gratitude it offers a useful starter for a circle time session with a nursery group, or for individual sharing at home.

Non-Fiction Miscellany: Ambulance Ambulance / Weird Animals / Castle Adventure Activity Book

Ambulance Ambulance
Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock
Walker Books

An ambulance crew responds to an emergency call out: a boy has come off his bike and ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar …’ off goes the ambulance to the scene of the accident.

On arrival the paramedics make the necessary checks, put a splint on the child’s broken leg and carefully lift him onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.

Then with horn honking and lights flashing, off they go racing to the hospital, “Quick, quick quick. ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar … ‘

Once the boy is safely inside and the hand-over complete, the crew are ready for a rest, but it’s not long before another emergency call comes and so off they go again …

Team Sally and Brian are already well known for their previous picture books such as Roadworks and Construction. Non-fiction loving little ones delight in these books and will doubtless relish this one with its bright illustrations, especially since its rhyming text comes with opportunities for joining in all those ‘Nee nar’ sounds. Share at home or in a nursery setting and watch the response …

Weird Animals
Mary Kay Carson
Sterling Children’s Books

The world of nature is full of strange and wonderful creatures, large and small, a dozen or so of which are featured in Mary May Carson’s Weird Animals. The author specialises in writing non-fiction for children and those with an insatiable appetite for the fantastically weird will enjoy her latest book.

It explains the whys and wherefores of some amazing adaptations, those odd characteristics that help these creatures survive and thrive.

Take for example the Pink Fairy armadillo with its oversized feet and fluffy underside that helps keep the creature warm through cold desert nights.

The frightening-looking fauna from different parts of the world include insects, reptiles, birds, fish, mammals, with explanations for their appearance. Weird and wonderful they surely are.

Castle Adventure Activity Book
Jen Alliston
Button Books

Children should find lots to explore in this engaging historical activity book. There are mazes, matching games, word searches, colouring pages that include things to spot of a medieval kind. Observation skills are also required for matching games, determining the winner of a joust, searching for rats in the castle kitchen and more.

There are medieval scenes to complete by drawing and adding stickers as well as a number of crafty projects. Some, such as making a sword or a conical hat for a princess, require additional items – paper, card, scissors etc. and may also need adult assistance.

Some simple maths, words to unscramble and a scattering of jokes are also part and parcel of this themed compilation that’s a fun alternative to constant screen use.

Polar Bear Island

Polar Bear Island
Lindsay Bonilla and Cinta Villalobos
Sterling Children’s Books

A tale of our troubled times if ever there was one is this separatist fable from Lindsay Bonilla and Cinta Villalobos.

Polar Bear Island is a peaceful place but it only allows polar bears to reside there, a rule strictly enforced by its mayor, Parker. As the story opens said mayor is completing a sign: WELCOME TO POLAR BEAR ISLAND, NO OTHERS ALLOWED. As he does so into view floats penguin Kirby with her large suitcase.

Disregarding the sign, the penguin steps ashore where an angry-looking Parker immediately confronts her.

Grudgingly the mayor grants her a single night ashore.

It isn’t long however, before the visitor is impressing the other polar bears with her foot warming, double-sided ‘Flipper Slippers’. These clever inventions serve both as snow waders and ice-skates,

and because of their popularity among the residents, Parker grants her leave to remain.

Kirby’s enthusiastic letter home results in the arrival of her family with more inventions to wow all the bears with the exception of Parker, but he allows them a week’s stay nonetheless.

Then a self-induced anger accident causes Parker to change his attitude towards outsiders and exclusivity. Time to amend that sign too he decides: better together is his new motto.

Cinta Villalobos’ portrayal of the curmudgeonly Parker is hilarious, contrasting beautifully with the other island residents who are open minded and ready to learn from the new arrivals.

Don’t Feed the Bear

Don’t Feed the Bear
Kathleen Doherty and Chip Wass
Sterling Children’s Books

Teachers of young children know what appeals when it comes to story time; they certainly ought to or they shouldn’t be in the job. Not all of us though can use that knowledge to produce super book texts that make great read alouds like Kathleen Doherty has in this, her debut picture book.

There’s been a plethora of picture books featuring beary characters this year, in fact I’ve featured quite a few on this blog, but none with such wonderful endpapers as this one.

Now what about the story? First there’s that Bear, resident of a forest frequented by campers, a large creature that particularly relishes the tasty offerings left by same. There’s also a ranger, short of stature, seemingly a jobsworth kind of character, equally keen on the food left behind and partial to erecting signs such as the one that gives the book its title.

When she does just that, she triggers a veritable sign-writing skirmish …

lasting much of the day …

until a détente is reached and the signs are amended one last time.

Will those signs have the desired affect now? Here’s a clue …

However, if you want to know who has the final word, then get your paws on a copy of the book and find out for yourself. It’s brimming over with wonderfully join-in-able onomatopoeia – here’s a taster : ‘SMACKITY! SMACK! WHOMP! CLOMP … CLOMP … CLOMP’, there’s the occasional rhyme and a thoroughly satisfying finale, not to mention the understated message that two heads, or rather pens, are better than one.

Then of course there are Chip Wass’s funky, bold scenes of the arboreal antics that are guaranteed to delight.

This is a sure fire story time winner: Kathleen’s short sentences allow the reader aloud to create maximum impact with each one and the illustrations are delectably droll.
Having said all that, the nature of the text is such that after a couple of sharings, children may well feel they’d like to try the book themselves.

Maurice the Unbeastly

Maurice the Unbeastly
Amy Dixon and Karl James Mountford
Sterling Children’s Books

Oh, I do love a divergent character and vegetarian beast Maurice, sweet of voice, gentle of nature and a delight to look upon, certainly fits the bill. In fact his parents are so despairing of his peaceable ways that they send him off to the Abominable Academy for Brutish Beasts to learn to be more beastly.
Now although alfalfa fritters may be his favoured food, Maurice does not want to be a failure so off he goes, determined to do his best.

After just a few days though, the new pupil is close to being ejected from this educational establishment for singing instead of roaring, unsuitable eating habits in a disorderly dining hall;

dancing dashingly when he’s supposed to be havoc wreaking; and his school photo is positively glamorous despite his best efforts to be hideous.
When a strange creature invades the classroom causing teacher and Beastly students considerable consternation, Maurice steps in with his winsome ways and a timely offering, taming the animal …

and earning himself accolades and a new title from the Head.
That however is not the only new thing Maurice is responsible for at the Academy, but for the rest, you’ll have to get your hands on a copy of this enormously enticing offering.
Remain true to yourself Maurice; long may you prevail.
What a delicious cast of characters Mountford has conjured up using a colour palette of black, sage, olive, rust, mustard and coral tones. I’m sorely tempted to make a puppet or soft toy Maurice.
Meanwhile I’m going to be enthusiastically sharing his story with a whole lot more little beasties.

Focus on Animals

Animalkind
Pablo Salvaje
Prestel
Spanish illustrator Pablo Salvaje pays homage to the animal kingdom in this visually stunning picture book that serves as a potent reminder that we are not the sole inhabitants of the earth. Rather we’re members of a vast ecosystem that includes countless numbers of other living things.
Herein we encounter a wide variety of creatures great and small from penguins to peacocks, snakes to spiders and crocodiles to chameleons. Each of these and many others are portrayed in Salvaje’s hand-printed spreads that form the greater part of this book.
By means of its division into sections: Love, Rhythms, Survival, Transformation,

Habitat, Water, Treasures, and there’s a final epilogue, we visit various parts of the planet and discover how like humans, animals too, such as penguins, may form bonds; have their own rhythms; form communities; need food for survival and may fight or co-operate to survive; undergo changes – temporary or permanent and go to great lengths to protect their young.

Compassionate and with a spiritual underpinning, this is a book for all ages and for those of both an artistic and a scientific bent.

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals
DK
How on earth does one decide what to include in a chunky book such as this? I guess cherry-picking is the answer and this really is a dipping-into book.
It’s divided into four sections: All About Animals, Amazing Animals, Animal Antics and More Very Important Animals and there’s a handy ribbon to mark your place, a glossary of animal words and an index.
There’s a wealth of information attractively presented in easily digestible bite sizes – even the odd fable – and a good balance between text and visuals;

the latter being predominantly, superb photographic images.
A worthwhile addition to a KS1 collection, or for families with young children to enjoy together.

Baby Dolphin’s First Swim
Sterling Children’s Books
From the American Museum of Natural History comes a sequence of photographs and accompanying narrative about the very first day in life of a baby dolphin.
We see the new-born close by his mother’s side as she nudges him to the surface of the ocean to take his first breath (through a hole on the top of his head), called a blowhole, so the straightforward narrative says.
Communication, feeding …

and being a new addition to the pod that serves to protect the infant are all part of the first day’s learning documented in the simple text and photographic sequence.
Neil Duncan, a biologist with the museum is featured in two final ‘Meet the expert’ paragraphs although whether he supplied the narrative or beautiful photos is not made clear. Nonetheless it’s an engaging book for young natural history enthusiasts or for a primary school topic box.

Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep / Pete With No Pants

Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep
Leslie Helakoski
Sterling
A storm tosses two eggs from their nests precipitating a parental mix-up.
Hoot hatches in one nest: sometime later, Honk hatches in another. Straightaway there are problems with diet and the sleep-cycles of the hatchlings.

Their surroundings seem rather alien too and that is despite the accepting manner in which the parent birds deal with their offspring.
All ends happily however with both fledglings eventually being reunited with their own families, and adults of each are shown similarly enfolding their respective young in a tender embrace, just like a warm cosy duvet.

Helakoski’s delightfully whimsical tale told through a fusion of gentle staccato, rhyming text that has a pleasing pattern to it, and superbly expressive pastel illustrations is perfect for sharing with the very young at bedtime (or anytime). Ahhh!
In addition, the book offers a lovely gentle introduction to the fact that some birds are diurnal, others nocturnal.

Pete With No Pants
Rowboat Watkins
Chronicle Books
Seemingly pants and imaginative play don’t go together, or do they?
This book cracked me up from the opening line: ‘Shortly after breakfast, Pete decided he was a boulder.’ It’s the conclusion the young elephant, knock-knock joke lover, reaches having given it due consideration: after all he’s big, he’s grey; he’s not wearing pants. QED. But then as he basks in a kind of self-glory, his thoughts are interrupted by a knock-knock joke: result – a plummeting of his enthusiasm for boulderness.
So what about a squirrel? He definitely fits the essential critera for colour, an acorn predilection, non wearing of pants but …

And one far-from happy Mum.
Next day it’s a case of cloud contemplation, squirrel mockery and further knock-knock jokery failures with owls for Pete.

Then Mum, who appears to have undergone something of a change of heart, shows up to play. Whoppee!

Deliciously quirky, crazily anarchic and you need to read the muted pictures very carefully to keep abreast of the happenings. Share with one child, or for individuals to enjoy in ones or twos.

I’ve signed the charter  

Mine! / Thousand Star Hotel

Mine!
Jeff Mack
Chronicle Books
It’s amazing how by using the same word 27 times, Mack can concoct a hilarious tale on ownership with a terrific final twist to boot.
Two mice in turn stake a claim for a substantial-looking rock and then a battle of brain and brawn involving a chunk of cheese, a gift-wrapped parcel,

a pile of rocks and a couple of vehicles ensues over which of them it belongs to. Seemingly this isn’t a conflict easily settled: things escalate …

until with both mice on the point of self-combustion the rock makes a startling revelation and the pals realise what a massive mistake they’ve made.
Wrapped up in this hilarious encounter are important messages about acquisitiveness and possibilities of sharing. Seemingly though as the story concludes, these lessons are yet to be learned by the protagonists herein.
Mack uses lettering the colour of which matches that of the mouse making the utterance to help orchestrate his parable and in addition to being a perfect book for beginner readers (preferably after a demonstration) this is a gift for anyone wanting to demonstrate how to tell a story to a group: inflection and intonation rule!

Thousand Star Hotel
The Okee Dokee Brothers and Brandon Reese
Sterling Children’s Books
The award winning musical duo give a new slant to the Fisherman and His Wife folktale using two riverside dwellers, Mr and Mrs Muskrat. Their life is simple: their dwelling a far from perfect cabin; their diet largely fish in one form or another. One day while out in their boat, Mr Muskrat feels an enormous pull on his line and after a considerable amount of STRUGGLIN’, TUGGLIN’, YANKIN’, and CRANKIN’, they successfully haul out a massive golden catfish. This is no ordinary fish: it’s a magical wish-giving one, and offers the couple a wish in exchange for its life.
Therein lies the rub: Mrs Muskrat is all for simple creature comforts – a hammer and nails to fix the roof, a new soup kettle, or perhaps, a cosy warm quilt. Mr Muskrat in contrast sets his sights rather higher; he wants a life of luxury.

And, he certainly expresses himself in no uncertain terms, getting a whole double spread to call each of his wishes to a halt midstream …

In fact all the dialogue and the rest of the telling is wonderful; and the final fun twist offers an important message. Brandon Reese’s exuberant illustrations of the characters in their wild woods setting have a cinematic quality.
Starlit filled dreams are assured if you share this one at bedtime. There’s a delightful CD with an audio telling and eleven funky songs tucked inside the front cover too.

I’ve signed the charter  

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 

Hooray for Independent Thinkers: Little Monkey & Larry Lemming

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Little Monkey
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books
Size, or rather lack of it, is a big issue for one particular little Monkey, so much so that one day, she comes to a decision – a BIG decision. She won’t be left out any longer; “I will climb to the top of the tallest tree,” she announces and off she goes through the jungle to prove herself.

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What she’s blissfully unaware of as she navigates the deep dangerous river and the tricky path is that although she notices lots of little things doing lots of amazing things …

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she’s not the only one undertaking this journey …
Eventually Monkey reaches her destination: that tallest tree in the jungle and up she goes, higher and higher, until finally she can see the world stretching out below her. By now you’ll have your audience wriggling on their bums crying out to the gallant little creature and even more so, as she stands atop that palm viewing all that’s before her.

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Without being a total story-spoiler I won’t reveal what happens thereafter, but suffice it to say a certain small Monkey feels very proud of herself, after all, ‘ … the smaller you are, the larger your adventures can be.’
It’s definitely a case of showing, not telling being the essence of this deliciously funny tale. Altés comic choreography means that every turn of the page brings something new to giggle over; and the synergy between words and illustrations is terrific.

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Leaping Lemmings!
John Briggs and Nicola Slater
Sterling Children’s Books
Can you tell these lemmings apart?’ Readers are drawn in from the start by Briggs’ opening question to this story. He continues, ‘No? That’s because all lemmings look alike, sound alike, and act alike.’ Not one hundred per cent accurate: meet the wonderfully divergent Larry. Larry is a thinker: he knows he doesn’t fit in with the lemmings crowd …

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and he certainly has no intention of following his fellow lemmings off the edge of a cliff.
Can he avert disaster though, when after abortive attempts to live with the seals, the puffins and the polar bears, he returns home to find the lemmings about to make that fateful leap? Fortunately yes, and as for becoming independent thinkers … job done!

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Wonderfully whimsical and with important themes of thinking for yourself and daring to be different, this book deserves to be shared widely; it certainly offers teachers a great opportunity for discussion, as well as food for thought, not only among the children.
Nicola Slater’s deliciously witty, minimalist artwork is a terrific complement to Briggs’ gently humorous text. As a divergent thinker myself, I whole-heartedly applaud the independently-minded Larry, and of course, his creators.