Tag Archives: Steve Smallman

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? / I’m Not Grumpy!

Will You Help Me Fall Asleep?
Anna Kang & Christpoher Weyant
Hodder Children’s Books

Little Frog is anxious to fall asleep and asks readers to help him for if he doesn’t get sufficient sleep his mother won’t allow him to participate in the Frogatta boat races the following day; in other words he’ll be in BIG, big trouble and there’s no fooling his observant mum.

He tries our (supposed) suggested counting sheep, a bedtime book – definitely not the best idea – and a chat with last year’s prize caterpillar toy all of which fail and then he recalls his teacher, Miss Chon’s advice to breathe long and deep then mind travel to his ‘happy place …

and joy of joys, zzzzzzzz.

Whether the final wordless spread is Monty’s blissful dream or the young frog’s elated presence (along with his parents) at the next day’s Frogatta is left open to readers to decide: no matter which, one cannot help but root for little amphibious Monty in this frog-a-licious bedtime tale.

With Christpher Weyant’s super, lively, cartoonish scenes of Anna Kang’s dramatic telling, the book is enormous fun for pre-sleep sharing, especially for little ones with a touch of insomnia.

I’m Not Grumpy!
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger

Waking up to discover a huge furry bottom blocking your door might put most of us in a bad mood; it certainly does Mouse whose mood further deteriorates when he’s splatted on the nose by – so he thinks – a splashy raindrop.

In fact it’s a tear shed by a distraught little badger just outside his window wailing, “Where’s my Mummy?”

Together the two animals set off in search of the Mummy Badger only to find themselves lost.

Encounters with Squirrel and Owl both of which recognise Mouse as ‘that grumpy mouse”, (hotly denied by said Mouse), are willing to help in the search and off they all go deep into the forest.

There they come upon a large bear. On learning that Mouse is in fact helping Little Badger get home, the bear changes his grumpy accusation to “a kind friend”; a first for Mouse.

They travel deeper into the forest until Mouse becomes overwrought

which results in Owl giving him a cheer-up hug – another unusual event for the little creature. Suddenly out of the bushes emerges a very scary, very hungry predator.

Does that mean Squirrel, Badger, Owl and Mouse become a lupine’s evening meal?

Happily not. I won’t divulge the ending, but what ensues will certainly bring a happy smile to the faces of young listeners.

With opportunities for audience participation, Steve’s warm-hearted story with Caroline Pedler’s expressively portrayed woodland animals provides a good starting point for circle time discussion with early years children on themes of friendship, kindness, and on how their moods might affect other people.

The Wolves Who Came for Dinner / The Lamb Who Came for Dinner

The Wolves Who Came for Dinner
Steve Smallman and Joëlle Dreidemy
Little Tiger

Wolf and Hotpot (who nearly became Wolf’s dinner in a previous story) are now the best of pals much to the puzzlement of the other forest animals.

So when Wolf invites all the bunnies for a playdate and subsequently spends the morning cooking carrot cakes, his greeting of “Teatime!’ has the bunnies fleeing for, so they think, their lives. Poor Wolf is downcast. Hotpot assures Wolf of his goodness and in return Wolf suggests going out to find and play with the bunnies in the forest.

Things don’t go well in the hide-and-seek game; the terrified bunnies make a bolt for it.

Wolf decides to invite his lupine pals to meet Hotpot instead; but when they turn up Gripper, Nipper and Growler have ominously grumbly tums. Wolf however serves up a yummy vegetable soup after which they settle down for a story followed by a snuggly sleep.

Nevertheless the other forest creatures remain convinced Wolf’s friendship with Hotpot is a sham and things turn very soggy for good old Wolf.

Back home, who should be waiting for the two friends but Gripper, Nipper and Growler requesting another story and a sleepover.

So bothered about Hotpot’s fate are the other woodland animals that they stage a further rescue attempt, charging in on the slumberers.

Initially the other wolves are reluctant to drop their stereotypes, offering to consume some of the intruders; but Hotpot stands up for her best pal and all ends satisfactorily like all good stories – and I definitely count this one among them, -with the whole cast of characters living ‘happily ever after.”

Steve’s toothsome tale is a great one for challenging stereotypes and showing that it’s wrong to prejudge others, while simultaneously gently advocating a plant-derived diet. And as someone who eschews animal and dairy products I’m all for this.

Joëlle Dreidemy’s characters are splendidly rendered in her hilarious scenes of the woodland animals as they gradually come to terms with, and overcome, their prejudiced assumptions.

The Lamb Who Came for Dinner
Steve Smallman and Joëlle Dreidemy
Little Tiger

A dozen or so years ago I reviewed in BKF, this story of love and vegetarianism triumphing over Wolf’s inherent carnivorous instincts. I loved it then and do so now with Steve’s super characterisation, deliciously funny text and Joëlle Dreidemy’s droll illustrations.

Now with an accompanying audio CD, a new generation of listeners will relish seeing and hearing of what appears to be a thoroughly menacing Wolf’s first encounter with a freezing cold lamb that comes a-knocking on his door seeking shelter from the elements.

Itchy Scritchy Scratchy Pants

Itchy Scritchy Scratchy Pants
Steve Smallman and Elina Ellis
Little Tiger

Stories about pants are always popular with young children but what about itchy scritchy scratchy ones like those of the title? They don’t sound a very inviting prospect at all but don’t be put off; this bum-tickling rhyming tale is terrific fun.
It features a gang of five Vikings who are suffering from chilly nether regions on account of their participation in a fight resulting in the destruction of their bum-covering undergarments.
Time for some new knickers they decide and head to the appropriate shop wherein they locate, not the desired knickers but a knitter of same.
She’s sold right out and is unable to meet their request unless they can provide a new supply of wool.

This means yet another quest- a very bleak and chillsome one – for the hardy crew.

Off they set to track down the famous and mysterious yeti from whose wool she can fulfil their knicker order with the warmest ever pants.

It’s certainly an action-packed, hair-raising adventure.

Off the wall – or rather – off the bum – craziness, both visual and verbal will assuredly have enormous appeal for children who will especially love the notion of yeti fleas feasting upon the nether regions of that Viking crew. YEOUCH! Not what anyone wants from their eagerly anticipated new underwear.

Smashing end papers, smashingly silly story and hilarious scenes of Viking shenanigans: Steve and Elina have done a great job to tickle the fancy of young listeners.

Scaredy Bear

Scaredy Bear
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger Press

What’s BIG and HAIRY and cause for alarm in the deep, dark forest? According to Little Bob’s mother (rabbit) one bedtime, it’s a terrible creature with a roar like thunder, huge scary teeth and long, equally scary, claws.

Little Bob however, wants to find out about this creature for himself and so waiting until his mum is fast asleep, he arms himself with an extra pointy carrot and creeps out into the forest: a forest that in the moonlight looks considerably more scary than it does by day.

Having narrowly dodged a hunting owl, he dives into a huge bush only to discover it isn’t a bush at all but an enormous ursine creature. He tells the creature about the BIG HAIRY; they introduce themselves to one another and having decided to become friends, the two Bobs Big and Little, continue the search together.

When Bear, now hungry, asks about Little Bob’s carrot, he’s told it isn’t for sharing but instead the little rabbit intends sticking it up the Big Hairy’s nose. Ouch!

This prompts Big Bob to comment on Little Bob’s unexpected bravery. “How can you be so brave when you are so small?” he wants to know. ‘Because,” comes the whispered response, “I’m big on the inside.” He also tells Big Bob that he too must have a big bear hiding within if only he could let it out.
By this time Little Bob too is feeling hunger pangs so his pal goes off in search of food. Suddenly from behind leaps a very hungry fox.

Now Big Bob needs to find that inner big bear in time to save his friend from becoming fox’s supper. He lets out an enormous …

and that gives the game away well and truly.

When Little Bob finally realises who his saviour is, can the two of them sort things out between them without the little rabbit having recourse to that carrot of his? Or could there perhaps be a better use for it …

Steve Smallman’s lovely story about finding your inner strength and making a special friend is a great reminder that we can all be brave no matter our shape or size so long as we have the confidence to draw on our inner resources.
Caroline Pedler’s moonlit woodland scenes are aglow with tension and she captures the animals’ changing feelings wonderfully.

Being a Hero/Being Brave

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Monty the Hero
Steve Smallman
QED Publishing
Inspired by his favourite bedtime story, Monty Mole makes a big decision: he’s going to be a (super) hero. He cannot wait so off he goes tunneling up and up until he reaches the magical setting of his storybook where he immediately encounters Herbert Hedgehog. Donning a conker shell for protection against monsters, Monty invites Herbert to become a hero too.
All too soon though, the two have their first MONSTER encounter but thanks to Monty’s mushroom morphing and Herbert’s prickly bottom, the ‘monster’ is soon beating a hasty retreat.

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But, pride comes before a fall it’s said and certainly that’s the case here for as they banter over Monty’s heroic – or not – qualities, Herbert finds himself in a bit of a fix.

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A spot of hasty tunneling from Monty soon does the trick and then two heroes set off in search of a wish fulfilling magic wand. Having found same, they just need to give it a shake but …
That’s not quite the end though: all ends happily for both heroes and Monty’s mum hears the magical story (with just one omission) as they walk off home together.

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A gentle, amusing story with some atmospheric nocturnal scenes to enjoy around bedtime or to share at any time in an early years setting. I love the fact that Monty’s adventure was sparked by that bedtime tale his mum read to him.

More lessons about being a hero to be learned in:

 

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Be Careful Barney!
Lucy Barnard
QED Publishing
Herein Barney’s attempts at being a superhero land him in big trouble when he ignores his teacher’s ‘stay away from the river’ instructions when the class goes on a school trip.

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Brave As Can Be
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed
A now not so little, self-assured girl shares her erstwhile fears and how she managed to overcome each one, be it her fear of the dark, a neighbour’s barking dog, a scary dream, a thunderstorm, creepy crawlies even, or her angry teacher (not so frightening when imagined with feathers) …

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On Hallowe’en however, with a cackly laugh and pointy hat, it’s her turn to be scary.

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Being scared can be fun though, especially when it’s listening to one of Dad’s spooky stories.

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Cleverly conceived and executed with all kinds of cutaway shapes strategically placed, this is a real charmer as is the narrator herself.
Deliciously humorous and unsentimental, this sturdily constructed book , subtitled a ”A Book of Courage’ is bound to delight and may well help children find their own fear-facing coping strategies.
It’s brilliant for sharing with children in an early years setting and a great starting point for talking about personal fears and how they might deal with them. With its board pages the book is built to stand up to the numerous readings I suspect it will have.

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Whiffs, Pongs and A Foiled Robbery

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Poo in the Zoo
Steve Smallman and Ada Grey
Little Tiger Press pbk
Young children simply revel in all things slightly whiffy; I know one two year old girl who became fascinated by the various poos she saw in the countryside even saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to the sheep droppings in a particular spot.
This poo-centred picture book is an absolute hoot – or rather, toot, if you like that kind of thing and I’ve yet to find a four or five year old who doesn’t. (So long as it isn’t their own of course). Herein we meet Zookeeper Bob who is finding his muck-shovelling duties rather too much as he goes around collecting all the dollops, drippy droppings, plummeting splats, steamy pongy pats and ducking from Monkey’s speedily tossed poops.
When he goes to clear Iguana’s mess, the creature gives him the slip, escaping to create havoc around the café as it gobbles everything in sight including some sparkly fireflies (‘he fancied something light’ you see.)

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Imagine the surprise when next the creature plops a poop: a glowing extra-terrestrial poo, thinks Bob. News quickly spreads, and the zookeeper receives a visit from a fellow poo collector who simply has to have the Iguana’s illuminated wonder. Will Bob part with it though? Well, let’s just say that he no longer has to do that poo-picking up for himself thanks to …

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This rhyming super-stinker just cries out to be read aloud; indeed it only really works if you do. Ada Grey’s scatological scenes induced howls of delighted laughter from my audience of 5s to 10s, several of whom wanted to paw over the pages for themselves

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after the immediate re-read they all demanded.

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Rex and the Crown Jewels Robbery
Kate Sheppard (illustrator)
Walker Books pbk
This amusing canine caper is loosely based on a real historical event that happened in 1671, during the reign of King Charles ll. It tells how scruffy mongrel, Rex, excavates a litter bin chock full of deliciously stinky rubbish and finds himself somewhere totally unexpected…

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… where his nose detects a wonderfully meaty aroma, which of course, he must follow. It takes him to an old tower wherein he spies some shiny objects closely guarded by …

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But there’s a dastardly plan afoot to steal those shiny objects aka The Crown Jewels. Can the two dogs foil the plotters and save that priceless crown, orb and sceptre?
There follows a frantic dash and much more until eventually Rex finds himself back more or less where he’d started on Tower Green.
Funny, fast and full of comical scenes that are sure to appeal to young time travelling enthusiasts especially.

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Sir Scallywag and the Battle of Stinky Bottom
Giles Andreae and Korky Paul
Puffin Books
King Colin has another mission for six-year old Sir Scallywag – to locate the giant Golden Sausage – an object that could confer immortality on the king so he’s heard. The probability is that said sausage is located in the centre of Lake Stinkybottom, a truly malodorous place. Off rides bold Sir Scallywag on his trusty steed, deep into the woods and beyond, to the troll-infested swamp where, in the gloaming he locates the sought article. Outnumbered one hundred to one though, can the young knight outwit the troll king and his army? Yes; and he does duly deliver the glowing object to the royal kitchen but that’s not quite the end of this madcap rhyming romp of derring-do …

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It’s great fun to read aloud;Korky Paul’s hilarious action-packed scenes are an absolute riot and brim over with witty details.

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Hippobottymus

DSCN4189 (600x800)Hippobottymus
Steve Smallman and Ada Grey
Little Tiger Press pbk
There’s a pleasing circularity to this rhyming tale; and not just because of the bubbles – or maybe it is, on second thoughts. It all begins with a little mouse and a bubbling creek. Then, during the course of the performance – for that is essentially what the book is all about (though that too is arguable), add to the squeaks (mouse’s) and the bubbles (the creek’s), a tweet (a bird’s), Centipede’s beat ‘Tip-tap-a-tippy-tappy’,

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a ‘Woo-hoo! courtesy of Monkey, a big bass drum (Warthog’s bum) and the PLINK PLINK PLINK-A-PLONK! – of a bone along Crocodile’s teeth.

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The result? Music to dance the day away for sure; and with so many contributors to the band too. But there is another animal as yet to be announced as contributor to the cacophony. No, it’s not that small rodent basking there in reflected glory.

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Why is Hippo claiming credit? Let’s just say, his involuntary bubbling contribution to the whole caboodle came courtesy of his erstwhile bean feast: ‘ TRUMP-PARP-bubble-bubble! TRUMP-PARP-POP!’
What a hoot – or should that be, toot?!
This daring duet from Smallman and Grey is surely destined to become a firm favourite among early years audiences who will definitely demand repeat performances and may well want to orchestrate the whole thing themselves – BEWARE! You didn’t hear that from me …

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The Dinner That Cooked Itself and A Runaway Snack

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The Dinner that Cooked Itself
J.C.Hsyu and Kenard Pak
Flying Eye Books
This elegant retelling of a Chinese folktale (no source is given) centres on Tuan, a hardworking young man orphaned as a child and brought up by  kindly neighbours. When he comes of age, the couple seeks the services of a matchmaker for Tuan. The first suggestion has an unsuitable animal symbol, the second has a clashing elemental sign, the third seems promising but her parents reject Tuan for being too poor.
A lonely Tuan continues working hard and one evening when out picking cabbages he comes upon a large snail. The kindly young man sees this as a sign of good fortune and takes it home to care for. Indeed his luck does then take a turn for the better. The next night and for several thereafter, he returns home from work to discover a delicious meal awaiting him on the table.
Curious as to who is doing him such kindness Tuan resolves to discover the identity of the cook. Coming home earlier the next evening, he sees something most curious: from the snail’s jar emerges a beautiful woman ‘in long silk robes that flowed like water’. She tells Tuan that she’s a fairy sent by the Lord of Heaven to care for him until he marries and to whom she must now return as she cannot be seen in her true form by a mortal.
However, she leaves behind her shell and that never runs out of rice, so Tuan always has food. He does eventually find a wife and the couple live happily together in true folktale fashion.
Pak chooses a palette of muted, predominantly earthy tones

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to create the mixed-media illustrations for this unusual story, which is told in an appropriately direct manner as befits a traditional tale. Interestingly he gives all characters an angular jaw structure,

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which reminds me of the calligraphic strokes shown on the final double spread and this makes them stand out in stark contrast to the fluidity of elements portrayed in some of the scenes.

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Keep Running, Gingerbread Man
Steve Smallman and Neil Price
QED Publishing
Billed as a story about keeping active, this version has the Gingerbread Man running away from his makers, the little old man and woman, (good to hear they were both involved) dashing from the clutches of various animals as he chants his well known ‘Run, run as fast as you can … “ refrain until he encounters a fox. This vulpine character is a keep-fit enthusiast, which enables him to keep up with the escapee

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and of course he is more than happy to give the little fellow a lift across the river. The tricky hitchhiker however, manages to make his escape (this time) leaving his breathless pursuers participating in a keep-fit class, led, of course, by that fitness-fanatic fox.
This is a fun twist on the tale vividly and amusingly illustrated by Neil Price. The healthy lifestyle message is clearly evident visually and verbally within the narrative so why the need for the ‘Next Steps’ page at the back of the book. Wearing my teacher’s hat I found the suggestions unnecessary and condescending. Undoubtedly though, the book would be a good starting point for discussions about watching one’s weight and keeping physically fit; I’m all for stories across the curriculum.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

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Circles, Shapes & Time with Esther,Moose & Wilfred

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Esther’s Rainbow
Kim Kane and Sara Acton
Allen & Unwin
As she sits eating her lunch one Sunday, Esther spies a rainbow tip poking out from under her stool – soft, warm and smelling like honey.
But as Esther slides her fingers over the rainbow it vanishes and thus begins a wonderful multi-sensory exploration for Esther and readers alike as she spends the rest of the week searching for it. On Monday she finds violet – in a bruise on her shin, in the velvety-feeling a couch

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and in the taste of Granny’s chocolate creams.
On Tuesday she finds indigo in ‘a wonky hat’, in shiny, hard nail polish and in the smell of the cool midnight sky. Wednesday’s visit to the swimming baths reveals blue in her brother’s ‘swim-cold lips’ and the echoing pool. On Thursday there is green of fishpond slime

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and in the mint smell as she crushes its leaves. Friday is yellow day, with sticky egg yolk and warm tasting pears and Saturday brings orange – a duck’s beak, tea stains and the feel of clay.

 

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Then it’s back to Sunday once more and there’s red in the ruby-seeds of pomegranate, in the warm bricks of the garden wall and in the smell of her Gran’s roses but still no rainbow.
Monday comes again bringing a rain shower, breakfast pancakes, a honey-hum and at the edge of the mirror– joys of joys as the hum grows louder and light is refracted by her mum’s ring – her very own special ‘rainbow to sing her own.’
There is something awesome about a rainbow to both children and adults – those shimmering hues and almost magical the way it appears. The author and artist have captured this magic in both text and pictures. Kim Kane has chosen her words so well to encourage young listeners to engage all their senses to explore the world around – to see the colours, but also to smell them, feel them and taste them.
Sara Acton’s gentle watercolours are the perfect accompaniment adding further feeling and depth to the story: a story that skillfully and unobtrusively weaves in the days of the week as well as the colours of the rainbow and reads aloud beautifully. And what a delicious ending:

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Esther’s rainbow ends not in a pot of gold, but a pile of sweet-smelling honeyed pancakes. It’s pitch perfect, this one.

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Circle, Square, Moose
Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky
Andersen Press pbk
Having recovered from his near wrecking of an alphabet book, Moose is back on the attack; this time it’s a book about basic shapes he’s invading. Everything starts well with the introduction of a circle.

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Turn the page though and here we go …
that mischievous moose is already making his presence felt. The unseen narrator tries to keep cool: gently ticking off the intruder and moving on to the next shape – triangles. Guess who’s there (plus feline friend) to complete the didactive rhyme: “A TRIANGLE is A Wedge of Cheese/A piece of pie

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Both are told to leave but does Moose do as he’s asked – no chance; he’s even started wielding that paint brush to make his presence felt more strongly.
Enter stage right: an arbitrator, Zebra (also from the alphabet book). He’ll sort things out – err maybe.
Not before a riotous chase wherein Zebra gets entwined in ribbons, and almost frazzled. Then it’s time for Moose to step in and save the day, or try to, with one of the shapes –

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This involves the pair of them exiting through a kind of black hole thus saving the book and further forging their friendship with the help of yet another shape –

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Zebra’s favourite and, what’s more, Moose offers a rhyming finale specially for his pal …
Madcap frolics, endearing characters, all manner of fonts, speech bubbles and riotous illustrations and a few simple shapes, (yes one might argue that some of the examples such as the triangles aren’t, strictly speaking, mathematically accurate.) But hey! This book is about having fun, not learning maths, after all – what more can anyone want?

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What’s the Time, Wilfred Wolf?
Jessica Barrah and Steve Smallman
QED Publishing
Wilfred Wolf has a little problem: he cannot tell the time. So, when he receives Ella’s party invitation he has a problem – how will he know when 3 o’clock comes? He certainly doesn’t want to miss the fun. His pal Boris lends him a cuckoo clock – that should do the trick – 3 cuckoos means 3 o’clock. However the clock doesn’t survive until then, nor does the digital watch Amelia lends him. Perhaps Oscar Owl’s offer of three hoots down the chimney will work.
William dresses up for the party and waits … he hears three hoots and off he goes to Ella’s house.

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Oh dear, Wilfred; don’t you know that owls are nocturnal creatures? Back home he goes and sleeps soundly well into the afternoon. Does he ever get to the party?

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Let’s just say, he has some thoughtful and enterprising friends willing to play that well known children’s game to help him on his way.

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