Human Journey / Prehistoric Pets

Human Journey
Professor Alice Roberts, illustrated by James Weston Lewis
Red Shed

Readers may recall the BBC documentary series researched and presented by biological anthropologist, Professor Alice Roberts about a decade back called The Incredible Human Journey and now at last we have this superbly presented illustrated book Human Journey for children.

In a dramatic telling, that includes sufficient but never an excess of detail, we’re taken on a journey way, way back to the beginning of time to trace our ancestors. Did you know that at the Dawn of Humankind, our early human ancestors lived on the grasslands of Africa some two and a half million years ago?

It’s those people whose migrations it’s possible to trace to other parts of the globe, and that’s what this fascinating, highly accessible book does. We follow the spread of humankind to Asia, then to Australia; then around 50,000 years ago to Europe where Homo sapiens encountered the Neanderthals.

Then come several spreads on the Ice Age after the peak of which, human hunters began to colonise the Americas – first North and then South.

There’s a map at the end tracing the entire human journeys; journeys where there were perils to face in the form of deserts, climate change, oceans, volcanoes, enormous creatures, floods

and even more. Incredibly however, the people adapted and invented, survived and thrived.

If you’ve ever pondered upon what it means to be part of the human race, this book is one to read. It’s one too where, with their wonderful details, the illustrations of James Weston Lewis merit close attention. There’s also a useful timeline and glossary.

For family bookshelves and school collections from KS2 on.

Prehistoric Pets
Dr Dean Lomax and Mike Love
Templar Books

If you’ve ever wondered what your moggy or your pooch’s ancestors long, long ago were like, then this book is for you. And even if you haven’t or perhaps don’t own a pet but are interested in the branch of science that is concerned with fossil animals and plants, called palaentology as is the author Dr Dean Lomax, then this book will fascinate you.

Herein Dr Lomax has selected seven animals, four of which are mammals: representing the rodents is Ernest the guinea pig, the Felidae is Flossy the cat; there’s Toby whose Canidae family first evolved some 40 million years back,

while horse, Pippa with her thick keratin hooves to help her run on both hard and soft ground, is the Equidae representative.

Each of these creatures, as well as budgerigar Lucky, Jasper the corn snake and Goldfish, Bubbles that belongs to a group of ray-finned fish that first appeared some 415 million years back – wow!

Every one has a double spread with a gatefold that opens to reveal, not only lots more fascinating paleontological information including a fossil file, but also an exciting, sometimes alarming pop-out creature, its prehistoric ancestor, which virtually springs to life before you.

Illustrator Mike Love provides the visuals and has done a terrific job in making every page alluring and exciting; indeed the design of the whole book is terrific.

I Really Want to Shout!

I Really Want to Shout!
Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti
Templar Books

Author Simon Philip and illustrator Lucia Gaggiotti deliver with high energy and humour, a third in their series of life’s vital lessons.

The opening lines of the little girl narrator go like this: ‘Sometimes I find it really tough / to make sure I’m not in a huff / because there’s simply so much stuff / that makes me want to shout.’

Well, it is pretty infuriating to have to eat all your ‘green and yucky’ things before having your pudding, as well as when you have stacks of things you want to do, your parents insist it’s bedtime.

School’s no better – getting blamed for someone else’s meanness is assuredly, a letting off steam with an explosive scream occasion.

Thank goodness then for a best friend with whom to share all that angst, somebody to make you laugh and offer rage-coping strategies – even if the teacher’s less than impressed.

Thank goodness too for an understanding Dad who will comfort and put forward other shout-control suggestions – not a total panacea but assuredly they go a long way towards solving the anger conundrum.

We all get angry occasionally, perhaps more often than normal at the moment, but like the determined protagonist here, knowing what to do about it makes SO much difference.

Youngsters need books like this rhyming, high octane drama more than ever right now: ones that offer ways forward in a fun non-preachy style that you can share and enjoy over and over.

I say BOO You say HOO

I say BOO You say HOO
John Kane
Templar Books

In his previous interactive ‘I say’ offering John Kane had readers shouting ‘underpants, underpants’ at the top of their voices. When you read this one a fair number of ‘stinky poo’ utterances will be required.

So, let’s find out what’s actually between the covers of the book. There’s a little ghost named Boo who (oops, nearly!) lives in a haunted house and is uncharacteristically, afraid of the dark.

Now to tell the story requires the reader’s help, duly prompted by a series of cues – verbal and visual. There’s a tree, dark (which means you must bark as per instructions,) oh yes, and crows – nose holding needed for a sighting of those particular corvids – this picture may prove a trifle challenging …

In fact I have to admit that by the end of the book I really didn’t know whether I was coming or going – barking (mad), shouting or indeed tearing my hair out.

As for the noxious emanations, I’m certainly not owning up to any of those;

and it’s as well Boo is in a hurry to reach home before dark.

However, even after telling us to bid the little apparition a fond farewell, the author has the chutzpah to issue an invitation for a further reading of the book.

The thing is, he knows (should that be hopes, on his part) and I know to my cost, what the answer will be once you’d shared it with an individual, a few children or indeed a whole class. It’s quite simply another superbly ridiculous repartee of to-ing and fro-ing.

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Minibeasts / Flip Flap Snap! Pets

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Minibeasts
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

Award-winning illustrator Axel Scheffler has created another in the Flip Flap series and the possibilities just might be even more bonkers than ever with this one of minibeast muddle ups that can be created from the dozen real minibeasts – over 120 if my reckoning is correct.

So, what would you get if you cross a butterfly with a bluebottle? That would be none other than a buttottle – Flutter! Flutter! Bzzz! Bzzz!

And what about an earthworm with a grasshopper? That, naturally (or rather unnaturally), is an earthwopper.

Youngsters (and grown-ups) will delight in discovering all kinds of splendidly silly creatures and their weird and wonderful sounds in this playful book.

Giggles galore for sure thanks to Alex Scheffler..

You’ll have to wait till early September for this one:

Flip Flap Snap! Pets
Carmen Saldaña
Templar Books

Want to meet a rabbigar? Or maybe you’d like to see a gecky? By flipping the flaps little ones can create some petty permutations at the same time as learning a little from the pet narrators whose rhyming information is accessed by lifting the flaps on the left-hand side of each double spread.

The fun pop-up facial features that are part and parcel of Carmen Saldaña’s amusing illustrations will likely encourage toddlers to play for some time with this jolly mix-and-match book.

My Nana’s Garden

My Nana’s Garden
Dawn Casey and Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Templar Books

This is one of the most beautiful picture books about love and loss I’ve seen in a long time.

The little girl narrator visits her beloved grandmother through the different seasons of the year. Together they savour the joys of the tangly weeds or ‘wild flowers’ as Nana insists; harvest the bounties of fruit trees and wonder at the wealth of minibeasts and small animals that find their way among the jungle of brightly coloured flora.

There’s a crooked tree that’s home for an owl and a multitude of other creatures.

Evening is a lovely time too with both starlight and light from their bonfire to illuminate them as the two snuggle up together and bask in the warmth.

In late summer there’s an abundance of fruits, vegetables and seeds to collect,

but with the onset of autumn Nana starts to look frail.

Come winter it’s clear that like her garden, Nana is fading, letting go her hold on life and by the time her garden is clad in snow, only a robin sits on her chair. (A nod to John Burningham by Jessica perhaps there.)

The wheel of life never stops turning and eventually a tiny snowdrop peeps through. The little girl realises, that along with that revolving circle, her precious memories go on and on. Grandma is still there in the blossom on the trees, the smiling faces of the flowers, the starlit bonfire and in the wild abundance of all that flourishes in her garden. A garden that is now a refuge too, and a place wherein we see evidence of other changes in the narrator’s family.

Tremendous sensitivity is inherent in both Dawn’s lyrical rhyming text and the rich tapestry of flora and fauna and the Nana/child relationship shown in Jessica’s illustrations, which together epitomise that ‘a garden is a lovesome thing’.

Follow the Star / Santa’s Christmas Handbook

Here are a couple of Christmas crackers from Templar Publishing

Follow the Star
Andy Mansfield
Templar Books

‘A STAR appeared, shining bright, to mark a very special night.’ Thus begins the poetic telling of how the Star of Bethlehem lit the sky on the first Christmas and still shines forth today over the countryside, over cities where people hang their own stars and gather together to share their love for each other and to give gifts around the Christmas tree, atop which the star finally stops.

Andy Mansfield, pop-up book creator and paper engineer extraordinaire has worked his own magic on six scenes that, in diorama style, show all this, inspiring readers, certainly this reviewer, to in these increasingly troubled times, wish for peace all over the world not only during the Christmas season but throughout all seasons.

A beautiful book that would make a smashing gift.

Andy Mansfield also created the paper engineering for:

Santa’s Christmas Handbook
Christopher Edge, illustrated by Tim Hutchinson, Richard Johnson, Maggie Kneen, Sandy Nightingale, Mike Philips
Templar Publishing

This seasonal offering is written by Santa’s elves no less, and they let us in on a hithertofore well-kept secret: Santa is extremely accident-prone and when it comes to technology he needs more than a little assistance. Hence this handbook wherein Santa can find exactly what he needs to know so that he can whizz around the entire world in a single night and deliver presents to all those sleeping children and stay in tip-top condition while so doing.

Let’s see what the merry little men in green have to say then: first off we see his high tech. sleigh made so by the mechanic elves who have added such niceties as Booster rockets, an antenna – his link to the North Pole, snow lights, all terrain tracks should the vehicle have to deal with exceedingly bumpy ground. They’ve even given extra padding to the seat, added present nets to take care of any gifts that get dislodged and a host of other refinements.

Next comes a ‘know your reindeer’ guide to prevent mishaps during the journey; this includes a special first aid kit should any of the team get struck down by such ailments as Frost-hoof or Tinsellitis. Yes Dasher, Dancer and co. suffer from pollution too.

Further spreads deal with ensuring that the route can be completed by dawn: the sat nav or rather Santanav, is crucial if Santa is to take the fastest route; the “All About Presents’ instructions has sound advice to cover everything Santa needs to know on that topic. There’s a guide to gaining admission to all residences whether or not there’s a chimney;

instructions on how to behave once inside a house; a how to look after yourself regime;

a bumper assortment of entertainment for the journey and finally, visual ‘do not leave behind’ reminders.

It’s evident that the elves have not only created a comprehensive manual, but also had a wonderful time so doing. It’s totally hilarious, tongue-in-cheek interactive stuff from they who know. Those lucky enough to get this as a gift when Santa comes a-visiting will simply love it.

Books to Give

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll illustrated by Minalima
Harper Design

Beautifully designed and arrestingly illustrated with interactive features is the award-winning design firm Mina Lima’s latest classic from Harper Design. It’s clear that Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima (best known for their visual graphics for the Harry Potter films), thoroughly enjoyed doing the visuals for this weird and wonderful world created by Lewis Carroll.

Some of their delights include Alice with extendable limbs for growing and shrinking; Tweedledum and Tweedledee have layers of interchangeable articles of attire – brilliant;

an unfolding chess board map to navigate one’s way through the world of the Looking Glass; the Cheshire Cat has a pull-tab so you can make it appear and disappear leaving only a grin.

Reading this story beloved from childhood in an interactive way, opens up new insights and every page turn brings fresh delight be it the tiny motifs surrounding the numbers, the ornate borders, the flamingo croquet club that swings to whack the hedgehog, or the richly patterned, deliciously quirky full page scenes – the portrayal of the card playing King and Queen of Hearts is out-of-this-world genius.

I could go on at length extolling its delights but let me just say, this is a book to treasure, to buy and to give; it deserves a place in everybody’s collection.

Seasons
Sam Usher
Templar Books

This super boxed set contains Sam Usher’s seasonal picture books Snow, Rain, Sun and Storm, all previously reviewed on this blog and now in a smaller format.

They portray the beautifully observed, very special relationship between a lively little boy and his Grandad (who likes to take his time), and the adventures they enjoy together

In each story Sam’s wonderful humorous ink and watercolour illustrations show the possibilities of the season to perfection.

What a cracking present this would make for any young child who doesn’t already own the full size editions of the tales.

The Story Orchestra: Swan Lake
illustrated by Jess Courtney-Tickle
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Here’s a short, look and listen retelling of a classic Tchaikovsky ballet, the listen element coming from the ten sound buttons – one per spread dropped into the scenes of the flock of swans as they fly past Siegfried; the lakeside at sunset where the four cygnets become dancers watched seemingly by deer, squirrels, birds, the trees even, and others. We see Odile dance with Prince Siegfried and dupe him into believing that she is Odette, the enchanted swan, watched we’re told by the wicked Rothbart who has placed the princess under a curse.

This version has a ‘happy ever after, on Earth’ ending.

At the back of the book, is a short biography of the composer, Tchaikovsky, with details about his composition of Swan Lake. Alongside you can replay the musical excerpts and read a discussion of each of the instruments, rhythms and musical techniques that make them so compellingly beautiful.
There’s also a glossary giving definitions of musical terms.

Tyrannosaurus Rex

Tyrannosaurus Rex
Dougal Dixon and Rachel Caldwell
Templar Books

Subtitled ‘ A Pop-Up Guide to Anatomy’, this totally splendid book from Dougal Dixon and Rachel Caldwell, zooms readers right up close to and within what is possibly THE most fearsome of the dinosaurs.

Dougal so he would have readers believe, is in attendance at the dissection of one of these incredible creatures – ‘a world first’ so he says as we’re treated to the stripping away of its layers.

First there’s the integumentary system (outer covering), then a look at the musculature system

beneath which is the skeletal support system. All of these reveal just how amazing an anatomy these super-strong, speedy predators had. It is after all called by many, the lizard king of all the dinosaurs and Rachel’s stunning illustrations certainly make that evident throughout – oh my goodness those daggers of teeth and colossal jaws – bone crushers they surely were.

The book is designed to give the impression of a Victorian science tome with medical notes, masses of facts, sketches of the instruments used in the dissection and of parts of the creatures and much more. There are flaps aplenty, many revealing additional facts as well as visual information

and the back endpapers have a glossary and a superb view of a Victorian laboratory cupboard filled with scientific paraphernalia.

Awesome through and through – the book as well as the dinosaur; what superb innovation; what brilliant pop-up paper-engineering. A wonderful interactive offering that makes my zoological dissections back in the day look totally pathetic; and yes I still have the set of instruments tucked away so I might have to dig them out for my next reading of this stunner of a book.

Slow Samson

Slow Samson
Bethany Christou
Templar Books

Samson’s favourite activity is spreading happiness as a consequence of which he has lots of friends and many party invitations.

However this is problematic as he frequently stops on route to a venue to help a fellow animal or merely for a friendly chat.

This tardiness causes him to miss out on all the fun, not to mention the cake at Terry’s birthday bash.

Samson resolves to do better and hurry to the next party. True to his word, he dashes past all those in need but still when he arrives, the party is over; worse though without his help, others had suffered. Poor Samson sobs, despairing he’ll ever be on time on account of his slowness.

Unbeknown to the sloth, Samson’s friends are concerned and after considerable thought, come up with a plan. An invitation is sent and Samson decides that despite his lack of speed, he just cannot disappoint his pals.

Next day, off he sets but he doesn’t rush – his friends do however, causing him to feel bad; but on he goes – slowly, slowly, convinced he’ll be very late. But is he?

For fear of being a party pooper, I’ll leave the little creature dangling and you deciding for yourself.

What I will say is that with its rainforest setting, debut picture book creator Bethany Christou’s warm-hearted tale of altruism, friendship, determination, kindness (and the odd piece of cake – oops!) is a great read aloud and a perfect starting point for discussions with young listeners.

I love the expressively portrayed animals especially Samson, and there’s plenty of gently humorous detail to enjoy in every scene as well as in the playful endpapers.

Wakey Birds

Wakey Birds
Maddie Frost
Templar Books

A host of insomniac birdies feature in this story set in the jungle, an exotic location wherein reside all manner of interesting creatures including the titular avians.

To facilitate their sleep with soporific sounds though, are other feathered friends, notably the Soothing Shushers and the Go-To Sleep leapers. Such sounds appears to have worked wonders on this particular night except for the very Littlest Wakey Bird who seems full of life and raring to go.

Eager for some fun and games she sets about some noisy wake-up sounds to rouse her fellow Wakeys. And the cacophony works a treat;

in fact the noise escalates rousing the very noisiest of all the jungle dwellers, the Shrieking Monkey. Big mistake!

The din disturbs that which should ‘never, ever be disturbed -the Dreaded Jungle Beast fast asleep in his cave and he is NOT amused.

Out he comes confronting the Littlest Wakey Bird who, fearing for her life, speaks out. Guess what: she doesn’t become his next snack but soon she and the other Wakeys are entranced by a wonderful story read in the dulcet tones of the dreaded beast;

and it’s effect is to bring on a wonderfully satisfying finale …

Maddy Frost’s book is bedtime reading of the first order, but equally, fun in the daytime. The nocturnal frolics of the jungle inhabitants will delight youngsters at any time; be prepared for a very noisy story session when you share this one.

In the Swamp by the Light of the Moon

In the Swamp by the Light of the Moon
Frann Preston-Gannon
Templar Books

Shhh! Can you hear that sound? It’s little frog down in the swamp sitting alone quietly singing his little frog song ‘neath the light of the moon.

Coming to a sudden stop he lets out a sigh and deciding solo singing really isn’t fun, hops off to find someone to join in.
He first enlists a friendly humming, drumming crocodile …

but still the tune lacks something so he adds some mice with their ‘la’s some “OH OH OH!” –ing fish, three coo-ing birds (at their own request);

but still the song isn’t right.

Then Froggy happens on a tiny shy bug convinced that her song isn’t worth adding to theirs.

Froggy however speaks thus, “… your song’s unique and important like all the rest. Even small voices count … only you sing your song.”

And so the little bug sings and as she does so, she shines like a bright star .

The voices blend beautifully as the song rises to a brilliant crescendo, the tune permeating every part of the swamp until everything on earth has joined in the singing.

This book delivers such a vitally important message in its celebration of the softly spoken introverts (I remember being such a one as a child, rather than the outspoken woman I now have become.) It’s a book that needs to be shared widely in nurseries, schools and with individuals particularly those similar to the little bug. It also speaks to the socially confident extroverts who may need to be made aware of the importance of leaving space for everyone to have their say.

Told through Frann’s lyrical rhyming narrative and her splendid collage illustrations (I love the way she places images on the page), this inclusive tale is a huge winner in my book.

Halloween is Coming: The Right One / Monster School / Bizzy Bear Spooky House

The Right One
Violeta Noy
Templar Books

New Spanish author/illustrator Violeta Roy presents in bold graphics, a cute story about daring to be different ghost-style: it’s perfect for Halloween, especially for those who don’t like to be scared.

Roderic is the smallest ghost in a very large, ancient family. They all look pretty much alike on account of wearing sheets although Roderic’s is the tiniest.

This diminutive ghost is the last of a long line and he feels more than a little insignificant. None of his family seems to notice his presence. Roderic decides to do something about this. His name is fixed, ditto his family but he can change his appearance. Both a hat, and a scarf prove problematic.

Next morning, deciding a more radical approach is required, our little ghost experiments until finally he’s ready to sport his new gear.

However the reception he receives isn’t quite what he’d hoped, so off he goes to strut his stuff among the city folks. Once again though, nobody notices him at all: poor little thing is now feeling even more invisible than ever.

Back home again he’s given a fresh white sheet but it makes him anything but happy. His frustration causes things to start flying around, one of which just happens to land upon the little ghost and yippee! It feels absolutely right.

What’s more, it looks absolutely right and now nobody is going to stop him from wearing it.
And maybe, just maybe, his new appearance might have some influence on other members of Roderic’s family.

For older readers:

Monster School
Kate Coombs and Lee Gatlin
Chronicle Books

A school it may be, but despite its fairly typical activities – homework for example, there’s a class pet and a regular weekly menu on offer at the cafeteria – Monster School’s pupils are anything but your usual boys and girls; the staff are pretty weird too.

Let’s meet some of them. There’s Stevie the Loser, who manages to lose pretty much anything and everything from backpack, book and homework, to his eyeball, kneecap and arm; what a zombie! He may not be able to find said homework but keen-eyed readers will surely spot it still attached to that missing arm of his.
There’s also ‘a ‘multicultural’ miss – whose family tree comprises giants, witches, trolls and other ghoulies.

Computer Wizard has tech skills aplenty: app creator, program writer extraordinaire, with a mouse that dines on virtual crackers and cheese and a ram that consumes virtual grass; seemingly this guy can do anything so long as it’s not a word problem.
I should also mention she of the amazing hair; it’s entirely reptilian with an abundance of adders, vipers and other venomous twisters and twiners.

Katie Coombs imaginative verses employ a variety of forms that will send tingles down the spines of primary age readers while Lee Gatlin’s creepy illustrations home in on the grim and gruesome with plenty of details of the shivery kind.

For the youngest:

Bizzy Bear Spooky House
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow

In his latest adventure, Bizzy Bear dons his starry costume and accompanied by his pal, ventures into a spooky house. Therein are plenty of things to make him shiver as he enters the spiders’ web festooned hall, climbs the creaky stairs and discovers a surprise party at the very top of the house.
Benji Davies’ scenes have plenty to amuse and explore and with a slider or tab to manipulate on every spread, this is mock scary Halloween fun for toddlers.

Norbert

Norbert
Joanna Boyle
Templar Books
Why would anyone with a whole lot of friends and family decide to uproot himself and set off for distant shores? That’s what penguin Norbert decides to do when he discovers one day, a flyer about a musical in the big city.
None of his fellow penguins shows the least bit of interest in joining him so, sad as he feels at their lack of enthusiasm, Norbert sets sail on a somewhat perilous voyage of rough waters and seasickness

that finally takes him to an enormous city.

Perhaps it’s time to write home, he thinks but the sight of the theatre sends the notion clean out of his head. Instead he heads straight inside where he is quickly spellbound by the performance.
Immediately, Norbert knows he too wants to be on the stage. He joins a long line of auditioners – singers, all.
The judges are seemingly, impressed; but the role they allocate Norbert isn’t exactly what he’d hoped for.

He does get a chance to try his flippers at various other jobs too; plenty to tell those at home, yet still he doesn’t write.

Then one day, the star of the show –something of a prima donna – quits and guess who is asked to step in.

Norbert wows the audience; he’s a star. Life as a famous singer comprises rounds of party going, being a passenger in a limousine and singing in every Broadway musical you can think of. Still he doesn’t write that letter home.

When he wins a prestigious award, the star penguin suddenly feels there is something he really must do – right away.
Letter of apology duly penned and posted he waits for a response.

Meanwhile back in the Antarctic his penguin pals have been busy organising something special to welcome him home.

What could it be? They’ve certainly been inspired by their friend and are eager that he return to their midst.

Joanna Boyle has created a super story of determination, difference, following and fulfilling your dreams and friendship. Imbued in turn with pathos and humour, her illustrations both large and small are staged with impressive style.

Raj and the Best Day Ever!

Raj and the Best Day Ever!
Sebastien Braun
Templar Publishing

Meet young and entirely lovable tiger, Raj and his cool Dad.

They’ve drawn up a plan of the adventure they’re about to embark upon and are super-excited about the whole enterprise. Then it’s a case of back-pack packed and they sally forth.

First stop the library and book chosen, it’s time to show your library card. Oh NO! Disaster! Dad hasn’t brought his wallet. Without that all the things on that list have just flown out of the window so to speak.

Raj is convinced that their perfect day is ruined before it even begins., especially as down comes the rain.
Time to get those imaginations powered up …

Off they go and before long, it looks as though the day might just be rescued,

but then the wind whisks their list up and away and in Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad style, Raj fears that without their list, they won’t know what to do.

Good old Dad! Imagination rules again and off they go once more.

With a wonderful twist in its tale, Sebastien Braun’s story is an absolute winner. Sadly my copy arrived too late for Father’s Day but this is a perfect share on any day: a Dad who’s willing to pitch in and enjoy life no matter what; a book enthusiast offspring equally willing to look on the bright side – two colourful characters superbly portrayed by Seb Braun whose books just keep on getting better.

This one could be the perfect distraction from that seemingly wall to wall soccer and it’s a cracking demonstration that companionship and imagination are all that’s needed for the very best day ever: no money, no technology, just free-flowing fun.

Little Mole is a Whirlwind

Little Mole is a Whirlwind
Anna Llenas
Templar Books

I’ve had a Little Mole in some of the classes I’ve taught over the years: ADHD, whether or not it’s so labelled, is challenging for all involved but underneath the child who is at times making you feel deskilled is usually a youngster who is desperately trying to reach out for reassurance and help. It’s certainly the case in this new story from Anna Llenas.

With his bounding, bouncing and bellowing, Little Mole exhausts his parents.

At school he finds it almost impossible to concentrate and is constantly distracted, fiddling, fidgeting and forgetting so it’s no surprise that his classmates shun him. Sadly the little creature has all sorts of labels assigned to him.

His teacher is at the end of her tether; try as she might, she just can’t help Little Mole to focus.

A note goes home asking for a parental conference but almost simultaneously a newspaper is delivered advertising the services of ‘Serena the Forest Bunny’ offering ‘creative learning for wonderful children’. Could this be the answer?

Little Mole’s parents take him to meet Serena who thinks she might be able to help.

The following day Little Mole tells her about his worries regarding his end-of-year project, about his inability to stay focussed and his lack of friends.

In response Serena takes him to a room filled with creative materials and gives Little Mole free rein. At first he’s over-excited and soon chaos reigns.

Serena remains calm and supportive both then and on subsequent visits as they play, cook …

and even stargaze. Most importantly though, they talk, and gradually over the course of several months his concentration span increases.
Serena helps her pupil discover what he really likes to do and with her reassurance that he’s wonderful just the way he is, Little Mole is ready to work on that end-of-year project.

Come the last day of term his teacher has a wonderful surprise when it comes to project showing time. Little Mole has finally found his passion and his outlook on the world is completely changed.

Anna Llenas understands all this so well and her story, with her trademark collage style illustrations, portrays Little Mole as a thoroughly likeable character deserving of the tolerance and understanding shown by Serena.

Rufus

Rufus
Simon Bartram
Templar Books

Meet Rufus, sharp toothed and super-stinky bottomed; an altogether splendid scary monster: not TIP-TOP scary though on account of having nobody to scare.

Off he goes in search of a Peopley Person to roar, rage and rant at, but all he can see in the desert is vampires and a witch. The forest is equally unpeopley as is the ocean and as for the sky, that’s full of spooky characters zooming through the clouds in various aeronautical machines.

Just when Rufus is on the point of giving up his search he hears music coming from a brightly lit barn: surely all that fun sounding noise must be coming from Peopley Persons within.

Seemingly not, for all that meets his eyes is this super spooky party scene …

Rufus is about to leave when a small ghost grabs his hand inviting him to have some fun.
Surprisingly, with the ghost’s help, fun is exactly what Rufus has and then comes a revelation …

Now Rufus has his chance to become that TIP-TOP SCARY MONSTER he’s always wanted to be. What will he do?

With its surprise finale, endearing protagonist and the unremarked clues scattered throughout Bartram’s bright acrylic scenes as to the possible reason for the seeming lack of Peopley Persons, this is a highly enjoyable teaser of a book.

Princes, a Princess and a Dragon

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The Red Prince
Charlie Roscoe and Tom Clohosy Cole
Templar Publishing
Set in a make believe kingdom named Avala, this wonderfully illustrated neo fairy tale is the story of how the young prince is kidnapped by strangers who invade the shores of the realm one night. Having seized the city, the invaders capture the prince hiding him away in a dark fortress dungeon.
Near to despair, he eventually manages to escape one dark night and off he dashes through the falling snow

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until he comes upon a young girl who tells him he must get to the city. You will find help in unlikely places, she reassures him. Her words prove true …

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for having crossed the island and managed to sneak through the city gates an amazing sight meets the red prince’s (and the reader’s) eyes …

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With all Avala sporting red prince garments, the strangers realize they are now faced with a near impossible task, so they return to their boats and sail away.
In his powerful illustrations Tom Clohosy Cole makes dramatic use of dark and light

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creating amazing atmospheric scenes employing all manner of angles and perspectives.

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The Princess Who Had No Fortune
Ursula Jones and Sarah Gibb
Orchard Books
A princess (albeit one with a best pal talking cat) too poor and with too much work to do to go to the prince’s ball surely has its roots in Cinderella. However, in this neo fairy tale the work to be done is down to her father’s latest exploit: she has to prepare for a special party to celebrate the inaugural flight of the king’s latest flying machine. Cupcakes not court balls are her preoccupation, and so is getting the garden into shape for the event.
However, the young man who gets the gardening job is about as good at doing his task (he tries to cut the lawn with a penknife) as she is at baking cakes – terrible!

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When the two sit down together for a coffee break, the gardener makes some suggestions.

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The princess turns down his first idea of a “prince in shining armour” but what about “making a wish to your fairy godmother,” Now there’s a thought, even if you’re not sure you have one …
Ursula Jones witty tale is perfectly complemented by Sarah Gibb’s lush illustrations:

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her colorful collage and paint style scenes resemble a theatrical production and the alternate silhouette spreads, which put me in mind of those by Jan Pieńkowski, are stunningly beautiful.

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The Extremely Greedy Dragon
Jessica Barrah and Chris Saunders
QED Publishing
When a sleepy and very large dragon decides to take a snooze on the railway line at Little Chiddling the residents have a problem, or most of them do. Young Georgie Johnson however is eager for the reward money offered to anyone able to move the creature and so decides to try her luck.
The crisps she offers the huge beast hit the mark …

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and before long Georgie and the dragon are off in search of more tasty tidbits to satisfy what proves a very large appetite. Those they encounter however are happy to share their food in return for a little help from the dragon in drying out the picnic spot, lighting the barbeque fire, warning up the wedding venue and finally, once Georgie has persuaded the mayor, drying out the damp fireworks to make the festival go with a sparkle and a bang.

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With its inbuilt messages about not judging by appearances and eating healthily, there’s plenty of food for thought and discussion herein.

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Exciting event in Piccadilly, London till 29th October : The Children’s Book Illustration Art Exhibition

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