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.