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.