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.

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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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