Octopus Shocktopus!

Octopus Shocktopus!
Peter Bently and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

‘One day, we found an octopus / had come to live on top of us.’

What a wonderfully wacky notion and one that instantly grabs the reader’s attention – well, with those eight day-glo orange limbs and body what else would you expect?

Said octopus has descended upon the narrator’s neat-looking house on the cliffs causing consternation with neighbour, Mrs Antrobus who calls the fire-brigade.

However they fail to shift the creature and so it remains, limbs a-dangle and looking decidedly bored with life until the children invite it to play.

It’s great fun for all concerned and they quickly discover that there are lots of other advantages to having a gigantic octopus for a pal. (Pitch that one to a class of five year olds and see what  they can come up with.)

But then comes the fateful day when the roof is bare save for the tidy rows of blue tiles. Tears are shed all round but worry not; a splendiferous finale awaits …

With themes of acceptance and friendship Peter Bently’s rhyming narrative is sheer delight to read aloud and Steven Lenton’s wacky scenes are a visual treat: the octopus’s eyes are just wonderful

and there’s SO much to explore on every spread. Make sure you peruse the endpapers too.

A treat from team Peter and Steven that’s bound to be requested over and over …

Runaway Robot

Runaway Robot
Frank Cottrell-Boyce, illustrated by Steven Lenton
Macmillan Children’s Books

After being in a road accident, twelve year old Alfie has been fitted with a prosthetic hand – this makes him ‘a bit bionic’ he tells us. Along with the loss of his hand though, the boy has lost his confidence.

He explains how he bunks school( aka Limb Lab) – ‘swerving school’ he calls it, and instead of joining in the “New Life’ lessons he goes to hang out at the arrivals lounge of the airport.

On one such swerving occasion Alfie accidentally loses his state-of-the-art hand. At lost property, instead of his hand, the lad finds Eric, a six-foot tall, metal robot with a propensity for singing the national anthem. “I AM YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANT” Eric announces and “I CAN ANSWER ANY QUESTION” (except the ones he doesn’t know the answer to, that is.)

Eric too is missing a limb, one if his legs. Despite this, unlike the other robots Alfie decides Eric is anything but ‘a disappointing robot’. Indeed, he declares him ‘the most-not-disappointing robot you could ever meet’.

It’s no surprise then that the boy will do everything he can to keep the illegal Eric from being crushed at the R-U-Recycling scrapyard.

No easy task as despite his fine manners, Eric takes instructions literally, which inevitably gives rise to a fair few problems.

But with reports of a rogue robot at large terrifying the estate, should Alfie even be bent on saving Eric?

Alfie’s world might be full of things robotic (he does make some new human friends too) though in essence this story is about what being human really means.

With a plot that makes you both laugh and cry, that’s what makes Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s highly original book so satisfying. Add to that a sprinkling of Steven Lenton’s smashing illustrations and what you have is an unmissable treat.

 

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam The Missing Masterpiece

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam The Missing Masterpiece
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

A fox with a penchant for paintings – really? Yes really; one going by the name of Cunningham Sly and he steals them – in Paris no less.

However, that’s where the famous canine bakers Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam have just arrived with a special commission, to create a culinary edifice – a gingerbread Eiffel Tower- in time for the opening of the art exhibition at Galerie Bonbon. With only an hour to complete their work before the doors open, there’s not a second to lose despite the fact that Sam has spotted a ‘wanted’ poster displayed outside and is already on the alert.

En route to the kitchen Sam points out the location of a masterpiece, so he thinks, to Shifty, but his pal is on his way back to their van to collect something they’d left therein.

Once in the kitchen Sam is surprised to encounter a dapper-looking vulpine character and has a strange feeling he looks familiar. The dapper gent however assures him this can’t be so on account of his being an artist who spends all his time indoors on his work. Sam is impressed. But then as he dashes to inform his pal, they see something alarming and immediately, the chase is on.

Can they apprehend the wily thief and if so, will that dip in the River Seine have ruined the priceless Bone-a-Lisa portrait;

or is there perhaps a possibility that two masterpieces, one culinary and one artistic will be on view for the celebratory opening party of the exhibition?

Time after time in this series Tracey delivers a faultless rhyming narrative that is sheer delight to read aloud and full of tasty titbits. Steven Lenton’s scenes with their Parisian backdrop, portray with panache, the bakers’ plight as they strive to complete their double task and avert disaster. (There’s that spider to spot on every spread too.)

Another successful culinary caper with the crime busting canine duo: this would make a cracking TV cartoon or even perhaps, a stage show.

Dinosaurs Don’t Draw / Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!

Dinosaurs Don’t Draw
Elli Woodward and Steven Lenton
Macmillan Children’s Books

‘Of course they don’t’, children will be thinking in response to hearing the title of this book, but they’re in for a surprise thanks to Picassaur and his strange find. Said find is a white object and it’s not long before the young dinosaur has transformed his surroundings.

His mother is less than impressed: “We’re fighters and biters, as fierce as can be!” is what she tells her dino. infant.

Far from being put off, Picassaur continues with his creative endeavours, in glorious technicolour this time, but his father’s reaction is the same as his mother’s.

Despite his amazing third artistic effort, Picassaur’s cousins too respond negatively, telling him to forget his drawing and do battle instead.

Then all of a sudden they get the surprise of their lives …

Is that the end for all the little dinosaurs?

It certainly seems likely they’ll be the next meal for that T-rex; but something even scarier than himself meets his eye when he turns around …

Whoever thought pictures could be that powerful … Three cheers for peaceful solutions rather than conflict and another three for Picassaur who dared to be different.

Elli Woodward’s zippy rhyming text flows nicely inviting audience participation and in tandem with Steven Lenton’s spirited scenes of dinosaurs and the artistic outpourings of one of their number, makes for a fun story-time read aloud.

A rather different dino. character stars in:

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Zachariah OHora
Abrams Appleseed

We all know that tyrannosaurs are renowned for their destructive ways and so it is for young Tyrannosaurus rex here. This young terror is not intentionally bad but his lack of awareness and over-exuberance results in a pre-school setting of angry-faced characters whose creative activities are ruined,

and whose quiet endeavours are disturbed.

Eventually thoroughly infuriated by all this wrecking, his classmates have had enough. “Tyrannosaurus – go!” comes the cry.

This causes contrition on the part of the antihero but even then his attempts to make amends flounder due to his ungainliness, at which point his fellow dinos. muck in, overseeing and facilitating the reparation.

However, just when harmony seems about to be restored we see that the little Tyro.dino. isn’t the only one capable of precipitating a disaster …

Zachariah OHora’s stand-out bright scenes of the classroom will attract pre-school humans but also include the occasional visual joke such as the Styracosaurus writing ‘climate change’ over and over on the chalk board to amuse adult readers aloud.
With its fun rhythm and rhyme, this stomping romp invites noisy audience participation.

Seasonally Flavoured Fiction

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Jingle Bells!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

If you’ve yet to meet comedic twosome, the wonderful baker dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam I urge you to do so with this book of three stories. Shifty’s the more industrious, of the pair; Sam means well but tends to lack his pal’s organisational skills.
In the first story, the dogs have been commissioned to create Santa’s Christmas cake and deliver it to him the same afternoon. No easy task especially with next-door neighbour Red Rocket determined to create mischief at every opportunity.

The other two tales, Sea-Monster Ahoy! and The Lucky Cat aren’t Christmassy but they are equally good fun and all are perfect for those just taking off as independent readers, who will particularly relish Steve Lenton’s lively scenes of the canine mystery solvers at work.

Harper and the Fire Star
Cerrie Burnell illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic

Harper, the girl endowed with a rare musical gift, who resides in the City of Clouds and is able to play any instrument she picks up without learning a single note, returns in her 4th adventure and once again it’s full of music, magic, friendship and gentle humour.
In this story, the Circus of Dreams (Harper’s birthplace) is back in town and as well as seeing her parents, Harper has something important she wants to do and that is to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical show. Why he wants to do so is a mystery to Harper and her friends, nevertheless they put on an amazing show but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Then they learn exactly why getting back into the circus is so important to the Wild Conductor: it’s on account of his love for a girl named Fire Star, so called because ‘whenever she heard music she began to shine like a star.’
Adding to the fun of the tale are Laura Ellen Andersen’s sparkly illustrations.
Always ready to help others, Harper is a delight.

The Storm Dog
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing

Young Tilly and her mum are going to stay with her Grandma and Great-Gran over Christmas but when work delays her mum, Tilly travels ahead alone on the train.
Great-Gran (almost ninety) has sent Tilly a parcel to open on the train and inside she discovers a Christmas tree decoration and a photo.
Soon, lulled by the motion of the train, Tilly starts to doze and finds herself back in the time when it was her Great-Gran taking the journey as an evacuee more than seventy years back. (Tilly is learning about World War Two for a school project.) She then re-lives some of Great-Gran’s evacuation experiences along with her two younger brothers who also stayed at Mr Thomas’ farm on the Welsh borders, attended the village school, tended the farm animals, had their first experience of snow and sledging, and prepared for the Christmas season..
Tilly forms a special friendship with Tarran, Mr Thomas’ sheepdog and it’s he that plays an important role on more than one occasion.
Gently told, the twisting, turning adventure draws you in right away and keeps you entranced right through to the end. It’s great for giving young readers an insight into life in WW2, especially those who, like Tilly, are learning about the period at school. Line drawings by Artful Doodlers, several per chapter, are scattered throughout the story, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

Curse of the Werewolf Boy
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This had me gripped from the start. Essentially it’s a boarding school parody of the Gothic kind and its stars, or rather heroes – neither seems to quite fit the bill – Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork aka Mildew and Sponge are pupils at Maudlin Towers School, by all accounts a pretty awful establishment for the ‘Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy’.
Returning after a half-term holiday, the pupils are informed that a terrible crime has occurred: the School Spoon (once owned by the school’s founder) has been stolen and the headmaster threatens terrible consequences for the culprit(s).
Who better for a spot of detectivating than Mildew and Sponge who are about to learn that crime solving isn’t as easy as they might have thought. Particularly when there’s a ghost in the attic, not to mention a Viking wandering around, a history teacher, one Mr Luckless who has a ‘temporo-trans-navigational-vehicular-engine’ (a time machine to you and me); even a werewolf boy (but you’d expect that from the title), and more.
It’s not only the lead crime solvers who are splendid; every single character is wonderful be they pupil or teacher – you can meet the whole cast at once via the role of honour board at the start of the story. With staff names such as Mr Particle actually newly deceased when the story opens; you can guess what subject he taught, Mr Stupendo and the Latin speaking Miss Livia; and Enderpenny and Furthermore numbering among the pupils.
Then there’s the narrative itself which is peppered with such deliciousness as:
I know what a ha-ha is, you nose hair,” said Kenningworth … ; and
… Mildew’s upper lip began to lose some of its structural integrity…”;
a brilliantly controlled plot that twists and turns while keeping readers totally engrossed throughout its mock scary entirety; and if that’s not enough, the book is chortle-makingly illustrated by none other than Chris Priestly himself.
Why am I including this story in a Christmas review, you might be wondering: that’s for me to know and for you to discover when you get hold of a copy of this cracker of a book.

Classic Characters Return

The Hundred and One Dalmatians
Dodie Smith, Peter Bently and Steven Lenton
Egmont Publishing
Peter Bently has adapted the original Dodie Smith text for this first ever picture book take on the perennially popular story with absolutely spotalicious illustrations by Steven Lenton; and right from that ritzy cover it’s an altogether classy double act.
Peter Bently’s text is a great read aloud; it’s direct, zesty and spot on for a much younger audience that the original, yet he’s managed to retain the spirit of the Smith classic I remember from my childhood.
Steven Lenton’s illustrations are simply magnificent in every way. Somehow he’s made real characters out of every one of those Dalmatian pups …

as well as the other pooches – no mean feat; and as for the humans, Cruella is evil incarnate; Sal and Jasper suitably roguish and the Dearlys, charming.

From the joyful opening London-based Dearly scenes, to the murky, sombre Hell Hall of Cruella and her dastardly crew, right through to the joyful seasonal finale, every spread is a visual extravaganza.
Superb!

Meg and the Romans
Jan Pienkowski and David Walser
Puffin Books
There’s a touch of history, thanks to an encounter with an ancient Roman in the latest Meg and Mog adventure, as well as an opportunity to learn a few words of Latin unless, like this reviewer, you managed to bag yourself an O-level in the language back in the day.
As always the humour is there right from the start when Meg, Mog and Owl’s excursion to the seaside finds them face to face with the captain of a boat who introduces himself thus, “Julius Romanus sum”.
Meg invites Julius to share their picnic but an accidental injury to Julius’s foot means that getting to Londinium is going to require something other than pedestrian means.

Fortunately a trusty, but very lively steed, Dobbin, is available to transport Julius all the way there at, thanks to a spot of magic from Meg, breakneck speed, albeit with the odd mishap en route.

Meg and friends, despite having been around for nigh on forty five years, show no signs of losing their popularity with young children; they will I’m sure lap this one up.

Forays into Fairytale

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The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book
Thierry Robberecht and Grégoire Mabire
Ragged Bears Publishing
An overcrowded bookshelf in Zoe’s room precipitates an adventure for the black wolf that spills out of a falling book as it hits the floor. With his pointy teeth, said wolf, in his own environment is a scary creature but once out of the book he becomes something else altogether – a frightened creature anxious to escape from the resident moggy. In some desperate attempts to keep himself out of the cat’s clutches he gets into all manner of testing situations

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and tries to escape into other story books. None of the first few he tries can furnish a safe hiding place

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but our lupine friend isn’t giving up which is a good thing because on entering the next one he finds himself in a large forest wherein he meets …

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This little character is much more welcoming: in fact it turns out the wolf is just what she needs by way of a shoulder to cry on and of course, he’s more than happy to offer a helping paw to ensure a safe passage through the forest to Grandmother’s house.
Superbly subversive and with its sprinkling of fairy tale references and such a beguiling main character this is enormous fun to read with under 7s and a great book to spark off children’s own wolf adventures. Grégoire Mabire’s comic rendering of that toothy wolf and his larger than life feline adversary are both hilarious and wonderfully dramatic.

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Fairytale Frankie and the Tricky Witch
Greg Gormley and Steven Lenton
Orchard Books
I like a book with a twist to the tale: with its plethora of fairytale characters and diverting illustrations this playful modern story certainly has one or two.
Frankie is a fairytale fanatic and one morning as she’s enjoying a peaceful read in her bedroom, a princess bursts in asking for a hiding place and thus begins a visitation from a whole chain of unlikely intruders large

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and small …

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all asking for somewhere to hide from the witch.
When Frankie realizes she too should take cover, the witch bursts in demanding to know where the other characters are. Frankie doesn’t let on so the witch has to resort to more drastic measures to discover their whereabouts before uttering some words that finally cause the confused Frankie to understand what is going on.

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Help!
Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
Hodder Children’s Books
From the partnership that created Shhh! and Keep Out! is another playful foray into the world of traditional tales. This time there’s a big bad wolf at large and three porcine characters are rather keen to apprehend him and they’ve enlisted the reader to assist in the search, not to mention a teddy bear and a whole drove of their fellow swine.
There are so many possible hiding places to check out and lots of false starts although plenty of evidence that the BBW isn’t far away.

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So it’s on with the search and the poster pinning …

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until they discover more evidence of tricky doings.
But the creature’s still at large and the search continues till the seekers come upon a sturdy-looking house that might just be THE place.
Engaging, entertaining and from the opening lines, totally involving. There’s even a pair of mouse observers/commentators to add to the fun.

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Thieves At Large

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Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: The Cat Burglar
Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lennon
Nosy Crow
Reformed robbers of repute, Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam are now successful bakers with their own café, an establishment frequented by those who particularly enjoy a good gossip; and there are plenty. One day Sam shares the latest news headlines with their customers: one Kitty Le Claw – a fiendish feline if ever there was one – is in town.

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Such news warrants a top secret meeting, but this is no sooner under way when a desperate-looking job-seeker arrives at the door.

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Ruby, for that is her name (supposedly – though young audiences will already be suspicious) is quickly taken on and becomes a star baker of delicious confections, waitress and cleaner.
At the end of the day as a result of Ruby’s sweeping and tidying, the dogs discover a secret tunnel in the basement of their establishment and are almost tempted back into their old ways but instead find themselves turning detective. But can they manage to apprehend the criminal and turn her over to the law? Well, Kitty is a certainly a pretty slippery character but …

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This is a second crazy canine caper from Corderoy and Lenton; she provides a pacey text that’s enormous fun to read aloud especially if you enjoy high drama; and he supplies the delectable visuals. The details therein are almost as delicious as the fare served up in Shifty and Sam’s establishment and the sight of those infant canines looking longingly at the cakes is a joy in itself.
Yummy stuff say I.

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The Cherry Thief
Renata Galindo
Child’s Play pbk
Chef Armand is a celebrated pastry cook; the rosy red cherries he decorates his confections with are his trademark. He’s even named his patisserie La Cerise. But then one day he notices that the cherries have begun to disappear. Quelle horreur! Has he merely forgotten to add them perhaps? No, not so but what an embarrassment when customers complain …

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Time to discover the perpetrator of the outrage decides the chef. I could say track down but our perplexed chef has missed the clue. His dog however, like children, is more aware and has noticed the telltale tiny blue footprints.
Having drawn Chef Armand’s attention to same, the two lie in wait and eventually the thief makes an appearance. A chase ensues: the thief eventually escapes leaving behind in the trail of havoc, something amazing

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and ultimately fruitful for all concerned…

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A tasty diversion illustrated in a spare style that children may well try to emulate. My audiences loved the slapstick humour of the chase,

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delighted in the small details and characterisation, and were surprised by the rapid growth of the tree. “Well, it’s just magic,” one suggested.

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