Two Oldies But Goodies

The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was none of his business
Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch
Pavilion Books

It’s hard to believe, it’s 3 decades ago since this ground-breaking book was first published.

I clearly recall the day in 1989 when as a member of the local authority advisory steering group for English, our senior adviser called a meeting to talk about the national curriculum that was being foisted upon us. We gathered in a small room and without comment he walked in and read aloud this book. – well not exactly for this one, that I have now is a 30th anniversary celebratory edition.

We sat there in silence avidly listening, knowing full well why we were being treated to this: clearly it summed up what he thought about a curriculum being dumped on us from on high.

If you don’t know the story, it’s the tale of a little mole upon whose head there falls one morning as he pops up from his hole, a sausage-shaped turd. He then goes on to try and find the culprit, asking each of the animals he encounters in turn, “Did you do this on my head?”

Their excretory responses assist him in eliminating them one by one from his search

until finally, thanks to a pair of large flies, the poo perpetrator is discovered and receives his due deserts, after which mole returns to his underground residence.

With its wonderfully droll illustrations providing a ground level view, I’ve yet to share this book with a class that hasn’t dissolved into helpless giggles and now, with this new edition, long may it continue so to do.

Dave and the Tooth Fairy
Verna Wilkins and Carl Pearce
Studio Press

I remember using the 1993 Tamarind Books edition with primary classes and now some 25 years on it’s back in a newly illustrated incarnation for another generation of readers whose parents, like myself, will likely remember the first version.

Having tried unsuccessfully to dislodge his wobbly tooth, one morning at breakfast ‘Dave does ‘his biggest sneeze ever’ causing the thing to shoot out of his mouth, fly across the room and vanish.

His initial excitement quickly gives way to disappointment: no tooth means no Tooth Fairy visit and thus no money for a new kite. No matter where he looks Dave just cannot find the missing object.

When Grandpa comes to stay, Dave comes up with an idea that he hopes will solve the problem …

My original version was read to pieces so I’m unable to compare the illustrations but Carl Pearce’s have a filmic quality that will appeal to today’s avid screen watchers.

Primary Fiction Shelf

The Umbrella Mouse
Anna Fargher, illustrated by Sam Usher
Macmillan Children’s Books

Here’s a war story that’s altogether different. It’s set in London in 1944 and begins in Bloomsbury’s James Smith & Sons Umbrella Shop wherein we meet Pip Hanway and her family of umbrella mice.

When disaster strikes in the form of a bomb on the building, killing her parents, Pip is forced to begin a hazardous hunt for a new home, a home in the Italian hills where her family had its origins.

She is fortunate to meet rescue dog, Dickin, and thus begins a highly unusual tale that draws on true stories of animals caught in the WW2 conflict, a story of resistance, of courage, determination, treachery, sacrifice and bravery.

Anna Fargher’s debut is a powerful, compelling telling that will have readers and listeners charged with emotion as they root for these animals fighting the evil Nazi regime; and with occasional illustrations by Sam Usher of Rain, Sun, Snow and Storm fame to add to the pleasures, the book is strongly recommended for individuals and will also make a great KS2 class read aloud, particularly for those studying WW2.

Turns Out I’m an Alien
Lou Treleaven
Maverick Arts Publishing

The narrator of this zany tale is eleven-year-old Jasper who stands 4ft 6in tall and has green hair and eyes. A highly imaginative child so his teacher tells him, Jason lives with his extremely nice foster parents Mary and Bill Clarkson.
One day in order to bring in some extra cash. Mary and Bill decide to rent out one of the now unused bedrooms.

Before their guest has even arrived, Jasper is beginning to doubt whether his foster parents really are as predictably normal as he’d heretofore thought, especially when he notices Mary cooking what appears to be a kind of glowing green rock and Bill constantly checking the night sky through his binoculars.

Then out of the dark descends a weirdly spherical being with an orange skin uttering greetings from planet Snood and introducing himself as Flarp Moonchaser, “Slayer of the Multi-Headed Muck Monster of Murg” as he stretches forth his hand for Jasper to shake. Moreover, the thing has a strange bag stuffed full of weird and wonderful objects.

I’ll say no more other than that Jasper discovers his alien origins, the children are cascaded into a madcap space adventure to save a planet from the terrible Emperor Iko Iko Iko; there are secret agents, secret, secret agents and things get pretty Gloopy.

Entirely crazy, but readers will be swept along by the unfolding drama, which perhaps doesn’t actually end at The End.

Dennis in Jurassic Bark
Nigel Auchterlounie
Studio Press

Fans of the traditional Beano comic will certainly recognise the characters Minnie the Minx and Walter although this book is a novel, not a comic, albeit with a fair sprinkling of black and white illustrations.

It’s another madcap adventure for Dennis who is plunged back in time 65 million years. First though we find the boy visiting his gran watching a TV news reporter talking about ‘what seems to be a huge mutant, ice-cream stealing seagull’ that Dennis immediately identifies as a Pterodactyl. Dennis however isn’t the only child watching the news item; so too, among others, are his worst enemy Walter and Minnie the Minx.

Before you can say Pterodactyl Dennis finds himself on Duck Island determined to save Beanotown from dinosaur disaster.

There’s no need to be a Dennis fan to be entertained by this madcap romp with its interactive puzzles to enjoy along the way.

Get Christmassy

Pick a Pine Tree
Patricia Toht and Jarvis
Walker Books
There’s a real glow of seasonal joy to this rhyming journey of a pine tree from a tree lot to pride of place as a sparkling family Christmas tree.
A family visits the snowy tree lot, chooses a tree and takes it home on top of their car.

Once indoors, space is created, the tree trunk trimmed and when the tree is safely standing, out come the decorations ready for when their friends arrive to join in the fun of adding all the fairy lights, baubles, tinsel and finally to complete the transformation, right at the top, the star.

From its opening ‘Pick a pine tree / from the lot – // slim and tall / or short and squat. / One with spiky needle clumps, / scaly bark, or sappy bumps.’ Toht’s text bounces along beautifully – just right for a Christmas storytime session and a perfect antidote to the plastic ‘take apart’ trees that have become so popular in recent times.
Jarvis’ mixed media illustrations have a lovely vintage feel to them and there’s a wonderful magical final scene.

Let it Glow: A Winter’s Walk
Owen Gildersleeve
Wide Eyed Editions
Cut paper collage scenes glow with 5 white lights  as a boy walks home on Christmas Eve clutching a parcel. At each page turn the lights softly shine illuminating a fair, carol singers, a snowy hillside with sledgers, a frozen lake on which skaters swirl and then the exterior and interiors of the boy’s home.
Told through rhyming couplets, and presumably intended to be shared in soft lighting, Gildersleeve’s spreads offer plenty of talking points in addition to the twinkling lights.

Red & Lulu
Matt Tavares
Walker Books
With a USA setting this dramatically illustrated, touching tale tells how a pair of cardinals becomes separated when their tree home is cut down and taken to New York City Rockefeller Centre to be its Christmas tree with Lulu, one of the pair trapped inside.
Red returns from his search for food to discover his home gone and with it his partner.
Superb spreads, some wordless or almost so, then follow his search for her, the birds’ reunion and eventual relocation in a park.

Search & Find: A Christmas Carol
retold by Sarah Powell, illustrated by Louise Pigott
Studio Press
Here’s a novel take on the ever-growing ‘spotting’ books: it’s the second in a series of classic tales to be given a search and find adaptation by Studio Press.
It’s not so much a retelling of the Dickens’ story, rather it’s an unusual way to encourage young readers into the world of Dickens and this tale in particular, especially around the festive season.
The characters are all there and waiting to be spotted in various scenes – fourteen in all.
There are four ghost spreads including The Ghost of Jacob Marley (with a spendidly spooky door knocker) the Ghost of Christmas Past and The Ghost of Christmas Present; two parties to visit – Mr Fezziwig’s and the one at Fred’s house; a rather grim graveyard scene and more.
Engaging and fun.