Tag Archives: surprises

The Girl, The Bear and The Magic Shoes

The Girl, The Bear and The Magic Shoes
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Perhaps like me you have a particular penchant for shoes, especially trainers (and boots).
How would it be then to purchase a brand new sparkly pair of red ones like the little girl in Julia Donaldson’s super new story. Not only that, but to discover that they are magic and have the power to morph into every possible kind of footwear you need at exactly the right moment, as you attempt to flee ‘Click-click!’ from a backpack-wearing polar bear, ‘Pit-a-pat’.

The first transformation comes at the bottom of an imposing-looking, seemingly unclimbable mountain. Perfect for ‘Crunch, crunch’-ing upwards, albeit pursued still by that bear.

Once at the summit, descent is necessary, so another change produces ‘Whee’, whizzy skis,

then squelch-withstanding yellow wellies,

followed by super splishy,splashy flippers.
All the while though, that bear is hot on the trail; but why would a polar bear be pursuing the child so eagerly? That would be telling – certainly he has no egregious intent.
To find out, hot foot it down to your nearest bookshop (no not shoe shop), bag a copy and discover for yourself.
Oh! I forgot to mention, there’s one final transformation before the shoes reassume their initial jazzy red trainers incarnation.

Lydia Monks’ wonderfully expressive, alluringly bright, funny illustrations sparkle as much as Donaldson’s text. The latter is sprinkled liberally with delicious-sounding onomatopoeia (perfect for helping to develop sound/symbol associations) and irresistibly join-in-able.

To add to the delights, those cracking, textured scenes provide a super tactile experience for young hands to explore. Look out too for the visiting ladybird that keeps popping into and out of view.

A sure fire winner!

Lucie Goose

Lucie Goose
Danny Baker and Pippa Curnick
Hodder Children’s Books

Lucie Goose is, by all accounts, a reclusive creature residing on the edge of a wood. One day while she’s keeping herself to herself and doing a spot of gardening, out from the shadows creeps a wolf. His “Rraaaarrrrrr”s fail utterly to ruffle her feathers …

and she invites the creature, whom she likens to a woolly sausage, in for a cuppa and a slice of cake, an offer the wolf declines.

Next on the scene is a huge ursine character whose roaring is but a mere brief interruption to her strawberry picking. He too fails to alarm and declines the tea invitation.

Then comes Lion and also roaring, but Lucie has flowers to pick and the ‘fat old carpet’ is singularly unalarming in her eyes and is quickly dispatched leaving the goose pondering upon the notion of scaring and being scared.

Enter another goose, Bruce by name. He doesn’t roar but merely explains the unlikelihood of anybody being scared of a goose.
Polite as she is, Lucie suggests tea and cake and home they go together.

However, there’s a surprise – or should that be three or err – awaiting the geese at Lucie’s house.

This is comedy writer, journalist and radio presenter Danny Baker’s first foray into picture books. I hope it isn’t his last. With its splendid similies and other absurd dialogue his narrative is really funny and I suspect you’ll find it impossible to read it aloud without wanting to break into fits of giggles.
Moreover, the showing, not telling finale and the guests’ final comments leave the audience free to use their own imaginations.
Equally humorous are rising star Pippa Curnick’s illustrations. Her sequences showing the interactions between Lucie and each of the other characters are picture book theatre of the first order.

The Very Long Sleep

The Very Long Sleep
Polly Noakes
Child’s Play

Polly Noakes’ latest picture book is essentially a delightful extended joke.

Meet four animal friends Fox, Chipmunk, Marmot and Bear who decide to set up home together. They enthusiastically set about so doing but there is a snag: three of said animals hibernate come the arrival of winter’s frost, something they fail to tell Fox.

Inevitably he is disappointed that none of the others stays awake to share his specially prepared food; he himself is unable to sleep and feels extremely lonely.

Then one day the deliveries start. First it’s a parcel for Chipmunk; next comes a package for Marmot;

and that is followed some weeks later, by a large item for Bear.

Fox is the only one not to receive something through the pigeon post. He waits; his boredom increases: surely a little peep wouldn’t hurt, he thinks.
All of a sudden …

Now what could all that noise mean? …

Illustrated with warmth and humour, this is lovely and potentially rather noisy read aloud to share snuggled up together, especially after a woodland walk. I’d suggest mugs of hot chocolate to sip along with it.

The Bad Mood and The Stick

The Bad Mood and the Stick
Lemony Snicket and Matt Forsythe
Andersen Press

We all succumb to a bad mood from time to time and most of us know how contagious that can be.
So it is here with young Curly who chooses to take her storminess out on her younger brother, Napoleon, by poking him with a stick. That cheers her up but the bad mood is transferred to her mother and thence to carpenter Lou, who ends up in a dry cleaner’s shop.; but, Mrs Durham, the shop’s boss, confronted by the sight of Lou sans dungarees finds herself singularly unaffected by the bad mood

which in fact, sails right out the window and off around the world.
And the stick? It too has a contagious effect; but it is cheer that is slowly spread by the spiky object and, once colourfully clad, it takes pride of place for a while in the twisting narrative,

gaining ultimately, a life of its own and also, bringing into the tale, Bert, proprietor of the ice-cream parlour.
Snicket’s off-beat tale twists and turns in wonderful ways as it reveals a chain of surprises: there’s even a wedding attended by the entire cast of characters, human, animals and even – look carefully – a certain coloured blob …

Despite the prominent Bad Mood character, there’s a great sense of community about the whole thing, visually documented in Forsythe’s deliciously hued, retro-style illustrations of events large and not so large.
If you want a cure for a case of bad moodiness, this is absolutely perfect and even if you don’t, it’s a terrific read aloud for a wide range of audiences.

Dino (A pet unlike any other)

Dino (A pet unlike any other)
Diego Vaisberg
Templar Publishing

Recently there’s been a spate of picture books featuring large and unlikely animals as pets.
What makes this one stand out though, is that it’s screen-printed solely in striking red and blue Pantone colours. The author/artist is graphic designer, Diego Vaisberg whose superbly inventive debut picture book this is.
It begins with the arrival of an egg, albeit a pretty large one, about the size to encase a giant canary, a big lizard or even a huge tortoise; but no: out hatches …

Who wouldn’t want to keep such a cute looking little creature?
The trouble though is that the thing doesn’t stay little for long: it keeps on growing and growing and before long, Dino (a pet unlike any other) has become …

Owning a pet of Dino’s dimensions certainly isn’t without challenges whether inside –
or out. He’s certainly a voracious eater …

So be warned, it might be best to steer clear of any other eggs you may come across.
An ultra-stylish offering from Vaisberg, – an exciting illustrator to watch with interest; and a high quality production from Templar.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Cow Who Fell to Earth

The Cow Who Fell to Earth
Nadia Shireen
Jonathan Cape
If you happen to be a sheep, you might want to watch out for stars and other falling objects.
It’s night; sheep huddle together beneath the stars when suddenly a mysterious body plummets earthwards, landing with a resounding BOOM!
What the sheep are confronted with is something altogether unexpected: a jetpack and a small cow. It’s communication skills are apparently restricted to a single utterance: “WOOO” is the response the sheep receive to their ministrations and their questions about its name and place of origin. Indeed that’s the manner in which the cow transmits its entire story …

a story none of the sheep understands. Nevertheless they decide to call their visitor Dave.
Dave is faced with a communication problem: surely someone must be able to understand her: Bertha the cow perhaps? But no. The other animals are equally mystified.
Poor Dave is distraught; how on earth is she to get back from whence she came?

Could it be that the chickens are going to save the day? And if so, how?

All IS finally revealed in this splendidly silly book but you’ll need to get yourself a copy to discover how the bonkers finale unfolds.
Nadia Shireen’s beautifully bulky beasts are a hoot; and to share this crazy tale is to invite a whole lot of noisy participation of the “wooo” kind.
It was extremely difficult prising my copy back from one three year old I shared it with, who declared, ‘I really, really LOVE that book’ and I had to promise that like Dave, it would be returned to her at a later date.

I’ve signed the charter  

Festive Fun and Frolics

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Nuddy Ned’s Christmas
Kes Gray and Garry Parsons
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Nuddy Ned likes nothing better than to dash around in the altogether and yes, he’s super excited it being Christmas Eve; but dashing outside into the snowy evening chill is nothing short of crackers. There’s no stopping the little fellow though; he’s on a mission to meet Santa and he’s perfectly prepared to charge down the street and around the town completely starkers, parents in hot pursuit, in order to do so. Only some strategically placed flaps and other judiciously positioned items including a bird, a glove …

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and a bauble preserve his modesty.
Does this madcap streak finally get Ned what he wants – that Santa encounter, you’ll probably be wondering. Yes he does and Santa’s none too impressed at Ned’s lack of clothing but in the end it seems like a question of beat’em or join’em: what will Santa do? That would be telling wouldn’t it!
Kes Gray’s cracking rhyming text combined with equally giggle-inducing illustrations from Garry Parsons makes for some delightfully silly festive fun.

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The Queen’s Present
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books
Imagine being able to call on Father Christmas himself for a spot of last minute emergency present buying, but that is exactly what the Queen does in her desire to find the perfect gift for her great grandchildren. Down he comes and off they go on a whistle stop flight with a whole host of hangers-on in the form of Santa’s little helpers who have much work to do in the way of festooning the various landmarks – the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, Himeji Castle, Sydney Opera House …

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and the Statue of Liberty over which they fly before finally landing in the North Pole. Even there though, Her Majesty is unable to find the perfect present. With Christmas Day almost upon them, there seems to be only one thing to do …

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This whole crazy romp is executed using an appropriately seasonal colour palette. It’s not my favourite Steve Antony but it’s full of things to make you smile; and those elves really do earn their keep as well as having a terrific time adorning all those iconic landmarks.

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Winnie and Wilbur Meet Santa
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
The excitement is palpable in Winnie and Wilbur’s house as they bake, write cards and festoon the place with decorations. Then it’s time for writing those all important letters to Santa …

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Christmas Eve comes at last and just as the pair drop off to sleep, they hear a cry for help: something has gone drastically wrong with Santa’s chimney descent. It’s fortunate that Winnie just happens to have her wand right there on the bedside table and with a quick wave and a magical utterance, she soon has their visitor back on his feet and they’re off on an amazing adventure.

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Full of seasonal magic and excitement, this is sure to delight, especially that final pop-out surprise …

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For the very youngest:

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We Wish You a Merry Christmas
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow
This song on which this chunky board book is based is probably one of the most frequently sung in primary schools and nurseries in the run up to Christmas.
Here we join a host of warmly clad, cute animal friends celebrating the seasonal joys together as they sleigh, skate, ski and deliver presents before gathering together in a warm cosy room to share some gifts.

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In addition to the moving parts, you can further add to toddlers’ enjoyment by scanning the QR code inside the front cover and getting an audio version to sing along with.

One Lion, One Tiger – Two Terrific Tales

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A Hungry Lion
Lucy Ruth Cummins
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Wow! Subtitled ‘a dwindling assortment of animals’ this one’s a humdinger: droll, dark – very dark, and a real twister of a tale.
‘Once upon a time there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a little calico kitten, a brown mouse, a bunny with floppy ears and a bunny with un-floppy ears, a frog, a bat, a pig, a slightly bigger pig, a woolly sheep, a koala, and also a hen.’ Here they all are looking happy enough …

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(I’d count them if I were you.)
Turn over a couple of times and things seem to have changed somewhat : that line up doesn’t look at all like it did … Hmm!

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After a third ‘Once upon a time’ it’s dwindled to a turtle, a pig (the regular- sized one) and the floppy-eared rabbit. One more page turn leaves just A HUNGRY LION and er, that turtle. Oh, oops! It’s just the lion now and he’s about to exit stage right. But on goes our valiant narrator as we’re plunged into darkness followed pretty quickly by …

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Don’t speak too soon though – didn’t I just see that lion with one paw on the light-pull again: then omg …

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That however, is not quite the end or rather, there is an alternative way to finish this meta-tale of mischief and surprises…
Wonderfully and sharply witty, Cummins’ subtle, slow burning, dead-pan narrative voice(s) cry out to be read over and over and … and her mixed media illustrations are equally, to be savoured. In combination, they’re pretty near perfect.
This reviewer’s certainly hungry for more, as are all those – young and not so young – I’ve shared this tasty treat with.

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Augustus and His Smile
Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger Press
There seems to have been something of a richness of tiger picture books this year but nobody captures the tigerishness of tigers better than Catherine Rayner: nothing is more quintessentially TIGER than her paintings of Augustus. The landscapes – grasslands, mountains,

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oceans and deserts
– through which Augustus moves in search of his lost smile are beautifully suggested rather than detailed, leaving space for children’s imaginations to work, and so it is with her carefully chosen words. Words such as ‘He pranced and paraded through the largest desert, making shadow shapes in the sun.’

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The message in this lovely book is one that everyone needs reminding of from time to time: wherever you are, open your eyes to nature’s beauty and you will surely find something to bring on a smile.
I can hardly believe it’s a decade since this beauty first appeared: it’s certainly lost none of its appeal.

Use your local bookshop     localbookshops_NameImage-2

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