Wild

Wild
Sam Usher
Templar Publishing

Grandad and Boy are doing some cat minding for a friend. Boy (the narrator) has done his research and announces that it’s a simple task: they need to feed, cuddle and play with the moggy.

However, cats, like humans, don’t always conform to the norm and this visitor is one of those.

She definitely doesn’t want to play; she turns her back on the food they offer,

and neither a nap nor a cuddle proves any more agreeable.

Boy is convinced the creature doesn’t like him. Grandad is slightly more sanguine until, the cat makes a dash for it.

Through the window she goes with Boy and Grandad following the escapee as best they can,

out into the wilds, where the real and the imagined merge.

Eventually the chase leads them to a fabulously diverse feline gathering where Boy and Grandad join in with the frolics.

Then safely back home once more, Boy decides that perhaps Cat is now more favourably disposed towards him.

Using a repeat refrain as part of Boy’s simple narrative, Sam Usher lets his expressive, superbly detailed, scratchy pen-and-ink images do much of the talking in this splendid celebration of the power of the imagination, and the on-going loving intergenerational relationship.

A Trip to the Future

A Trip to the Future
Moira Butterfield and Fagostudio
Templar Publishing

The future is coming no matter what we do, and most of us are presently looking forward to the near future when things get closer to normal. But what role will science and technology play in tomorrow’s world?

Author Moira Butterfield takes readers on a virtual sci-fi odyssey to look at some of the future possibilities, as well as showing us some of the incredible things scientists and technologists have already achieved.

We start in the home – a smart home of course – where voice command technology will be pretty commonplace.

Each spread thereafter moves further afield and the next stop is the catwalk for a look at Powered Dressing. Imagine being able to charge your mobile with your trousers.

On a more serious note, the prospect of biodegradeable clothing is surely to be welcomed.

So too are the possibilities offered at this recycling centre

where bacteria-munching technology could be used to help break down much of what we presently call rubbish.

In spite of being vegetarian – vegan almost – I don’t think the notion of eating a meal made wholly from algae really appeals and a pondweed burger on an edible plate sounds gross!

A holiday of any kind away from home feels like a dream right now but did you know that already there are plans afoot for a space station hotel that will orbit Earth. I don’t think I’ll be reserving my ticket no matter how awesome the views might be.

And as for holidaying on Mars, I’m not an enthusiastic stargazer so I think I’d give that one a miss too, no matter how successful scientists might be at ‘terraforming’ the red planet.

I do find the notion of a space garden fascinating though. On the Space Garden spread I was interested to learn that already researchers from the University of London have altered the DNA of a lettuce to produce a drug that can treat bone weakening.
The book ends with a look at ethical considerations and the author puts forward 4 ‘future science rules’ for readers’ consideration.

Every one of the 27 Fagostudio designed spreads has its own allure, though it depends on a readers’ predilections which ones they find truly immersive, but the entire book is certainly fascinating, particularly for those with a scientific or technological bent.

Animal Scramble / Space Puzzles

Animal Scramble
Lucy Volpin
Templar Publishing

Whether it’s counting the curly haired among the crowd of camels in the camp, or searching for the five different fruits in the clutches of the acrobatic apes, youngsters will surely enjoy honing their observation skills as they peruse each and every one of Lucy Volpin’s, wonderfully droll, enormously engaging animal scenes created with coloured pencils.

Each of the spreads has an alliterative title and presents an immersive display of animals, (either large or small) that provides such fun possibilities as ‘Playing with Penguins’, ‘Building with Beetles’ ‘Flipping with Frogs’ – my favourite I think,

or, ‘Swimming with Sharks’ – perhaps not!

There’s an introductory factual paragraph and on the opposite page some thought-provoking questions that invite readers to search for objects – a square fish for instance, count, or perhaps ponder upon their own opinions in relation to say ‘which hairstyle would you like?’ on the ‘Acrobatics with Apes’ spread; or “Who do you think is leader of the pack?’ from this one …

Playfulness abounds throughout and the book concludes with a handful of additional questions to consider.

Assuredly a spotting book that merits revisiting over and over, and one that offers an absolute wealth of language potential if a small group of children look at it together.

Space Puzzles
Highlights for Children

In this bumper book of more than 100 cosmological settings, children have to search for over 1800 objects hidden in scenes ranging from a space race to an alien encounter, and a trip on a space scooter to a classroom in orbit.

Each puzzle page contains all manner of likely and unlikely items hidden in plain sight for the eagle-eyed to find, each of which has a visual prompt in the surrounding border. (Answers supplied at the back of the book in case you’re stuck.)

In these black and white puzzles there are moonstruck bears, aliens visiting a drive-in restaurant, a host of animal star gazers and a stellar souvenir shop to stop off at in the space museum to name just a few.

Hours of immersive enjoyment, especially for space lovers (that’s an awful lot of children) who will have fun sharpening their observation skills as well as their concentration: just what’s needed during holidays when you can’t get outdoors.

I Can’t Sleep

I Can’t Sleep
Gracia Iglesias and Ximo Abadía
Templar Publishing

How many people at the moment go to bed with their heads buzzing with thoughts – “I’m missing school,” … “I want to see my friends” and so on, and the consequence is that, like the little girl narrator of this story, that all important restorative sleep just won’t come.

She starts counting sheep to help her drop off and as she starts to count slowly 1 … a sheep emerges from beneath the bed and begins to devour the rug. Then a second sheep drops down the chimney (no prizes for guessing what colour it is).

The counting continues and soon there are fluffy sheep doing all kinds of interesting, though not sleep inducing things, both inside her house

and out.

It’s not until she reaches 9 and a very tiny lamb comes that sleepiness descends upon the little girl and she’s fast asleep before she can count to 10. Zzzzzzz

With Gracia Iglesias’ chucklesome counting text this is great fun for bedtime sharing with little ones, and Ximo Abadía’s illustrations are a delight. Created with graphite, wax and ink with digital colouring, they’re bold, quirky and playful: who can fail to smile at the sight of cuddle sheep number six cavorting across the bedcover

or the wisest old, guitar-playing sheep.

Nervous Nigel

Nervous Nigel
Bethany Christou
Templar Publishing

Bethany Christou’s follow-up to Slow Samson is another winner, even if her young crocodile protagonist is not.

Nigel comes from a long line of water-sport champions and like the rest of his family, Nigel loves to swim and his favourite spot for relaxing and thinking is in the water.

However once he has to start following a training regime, he gets butterflies in his tummy and his tail is all a-tremble, but he daren’t let on to the family.

Then comes the news. Nigel is to take part in his very first competition:

no wonder he has a sleepless night and no matter what he does or says there’s no getting out of it.

When race day dawns Nigel is a complete nervous wreck.

There’s absolutely no way he can take that dive from the starting blocks, so what will he do?

Is there perhaps something else water-related that he can enjoy

and at the same time make his family proud without winning medals?

Suffering from anxiety is part and parcel of growing up so most little ones will appreciate Nigel’s plight; so too will adult sharers who, one hopes put children’s happiness and self-fulfilment above reflected glory.

Bethany Christou’s wonderfully expressive, warm illustrations have a gentle humour that underscores her message about allowing children to be themselves and follow their own paths.

Creature Features Oceans / I thought I saw a … crocodile!

Creature Features Oceans
Natasha Durley
Big Picture Press

For the third in her Creature Features series Natasha Durley plunges beneath the ocean to present some spectacular sea creatures. Organised onto eleven double spreads, all have an attention-capturing, alliterative heading.

Each spread has an explanatory introductory paragraph relating to the specific characteristic – for instance in Gorgeous glow, ‘In the darkest depths of the ocean, there is still light to be found. Some animals, like the toothy anglerfish, create their own light to lure in prey. Others, like the hawksbill turtle, soak up light and reflect it back as a different colour.’ There’s a also a question that leads neatly into the next double spread; here it’s ‘Which creature glows and has a shell?’

Among the gorgeously glowing, youngsters will love encountering the likes of the Atlantic footballfish and the Cookiecutter shark, along with the only one familiar to me among the array, krill.

Animals with Super shells – molluscs and crustacea – show themselves on the next spread, the only one where some of those included can be seen on the beach.

Other than at Bold black & white, no matter where you choose to open the book, super-bright colours as well as incredible shapes meet the eye.

So, be prepared for youngsters to be wowed and linger long to observe the Spectacularly spotty, those with Funny faces, perhaps made so by bulging foreheads or long snouts, an array of Amazing arms, a host of animals sporting Stylish stripes, Fantastic fins or Terrific Teeth. Did you know that those of a Great white shark are about 7cm long? Yikes!  Definitely a lot more alarming than the incredible four-eyed fish on the final spread that are able to see both above and below the surface of the water at the same time.

This sturdy, large-format board book isn’t just for the very young: it would be great for small groups of slightly older children to sit and discuss the weird and wonderful.

Imagine what a smashing jumping off point for some oceanic art it would make too.

I thought I saw a … crocodile!
Lydia Nichols
Templar Publishing

A playful crocodile inhabits this fun little book. Supposedly it’s part of a team of builders but the creature has abandoned the drill and gone AWOL.

Using the slider mechanism on every spread, little ones can engage in a game of hunt-the croc. as they listen to the repeat “I thought I saw a crocodile … Is it …?’ spoken by other members of the crew at the building site.

But does that mischievous creature ever get back to work? What do you think?

Clever, stylishly portrayed interactive fun for tinies who will likely learn some new location specific words and hone their fine motor skills too.

Good Knight, Bad Knight and the Flying Machine

Good Knight, Bad Knight and the Flying Machine
Tom Knight
Templar Publishing

As another term approaches for best friends Good Knight (Godwin) and Bad Knight (Berk), they are hard at work helping friends Warrick and his twin sister Willow fix up Pitchkettle Cottage when Warrick decides to speed things up with a touch of magic.

Suddenly things get just a tad out of hand and before you can say ‘daub’ there’s a gloopy mix of straw, clay and very pongy poo flying everywhere.

The next thing the siblings know is that they’re banned from spell making, hexed by their mum and they’re all made to spend the weekend clearing up the stinky, magic-induced mess.

Rather than achieve fame by being ‘the only wizard in the world who covers everything with poo’ as Willow teases, Warrick realises he needs another way to find fame.

Perhaps something he’s seen in Berk’s book with pictures of flying things might just do the trick (unfortunately written in Italian – a nod to Leonardo da Vinci there), something such as a flying machine for instance.

With the help of his friends and Willow (who seems to have focused much of her attention upon finding and taming the very large, very stinky dragon that harbours a rather large grudge), Warrick must to find a way to prevent any further disasters during his test flights.

All the more so when Godwin’s island is raided by Boog and his barbarians. Now a flying machine that actually stays airborne is vital.

Toss into all this the thoroughly unpleasant teacher Sir Dane, some tapestries that mysteriously go missing, a rather clever chicken and a couple of jars filled with fire beetles and what you have is a madcap Medieval romp to entertain young readers with a thirst for derring-do and riotous revenge. And it’s all brilliantly illustrated by Tom himself.

Moreover there’s a glossary at the end of the book explaining some delicious new words including ‘fopdoodle’, hoddypeak’, ‘fauntkins’ and I guarantee readers won’t be left ‘mubblefubbles’ having read this somewhat bonkers book.

Board Book Treats

Dress Up!
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing

Little ones can make sure the characters in Jane Foster’s Dress Up! are suitably clad whatever the weather or what they want to do.

Bear needs to go out but there’s a downpour so a coat and wellies are required. Hamster is thinking of a stroll in the sunshine – a pair of sunglasses and a hat are a good idea for her.
Brrr! Cat is venturing into the snow: warm mittens and scarf are just the thing.

Frog on the other hand needs to be geared up with goggles and armbands for swim time.

It’s the end of the day when we meet Monkey. Once he’s got on his PJs and slippers, it’s time to say “toys away” and bid him ‘Goodnight’.

On each recto, opening a flap on Jane’s vibrantly portrayed animal, and a slider alongside, enables your little one to assist the animal with its snazzy outfit. A simple descriptive phrase followed by ‘Can you put on … ?’ set against a bright background poses the challenge.

Interactive fun, a predictable text and alluring art – what more can a toddler ask of a board book – oh yes, the chance to develop manipulative skills too.

I Forgot to Say I Love You
Miriam Moss and Anna Currey
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is a sweet story to read with the very young and it’s now available in a sturdy board book format.

It’s time Little Billy Bear was up, dressed and having his breakfast ready for nursery but he’s procrastinating on account of Rabbit his favourite soft toy. Mum though hasn’t time for his dawdles or she’ll be late for work.

Consequently she hurries him along

all the way to where Mrs Brown is waiting at the nursery door where she hands him over and dashes off.

Poor Billy is more than a little bit upset as Mum has left without saying that all important “I love you” to her son; moreover she still has Rabbit in her bag across her back.

Billy is convinced that Rabbit’s lost. Mrs Brown tries to placate the little bear who is now distraught, when suddenly in bursts Billy’s mum with Rabbit safe and sound and she’s ready to comfort him and tell her son she loves him. Then all is finally well.

Anna Currey beautifully captures both Billy’s changing feelings and the inherent warmth of Miriam Moss’s text with her scenes of the early morning rush that include details that make you want to slow down

and savour them rather than rush along with the characters.

The Colour Monster Goes to School / Beautiful Bananas

The Colour Monster Goes to School
Anna Llenas
Templar Publishing

It’s the day Colour Monster starts school and he’s rather confused about what to expect as he anticipates what this new place might be like.

His friend Nuna is there to reassure him about what to put in his bag as well as to introduce him to his teacher and new classmates and to accompany him as he discovers the activities on offer that day.

First comes Nuna’s favourite, music, in which Colour Monster is let’s say, an enthusiastic participant though he seems even more enthusiastic about stories …

There are lessons to learn about turn taking, appropriate use of the toilet facilities

and how to eat lunch.
The afternoon comprises some gymnastics – with an additional piece of equipment; followed by a creative session with Colour Monster as the subject.

Come home time, it’s clear that the newbie has had a fun-filled day; but poor Nuna is completely worn out.

If you’ve not come across the Colour Monster in his previous escapades, then this is a great place to start especially if you have little ones starting school or nursery next term.

With her wonderful mixed media illustrations, Anna Llenas’ funny story of the risk-taking protagonist is a delight, reassuring with plenty to giggle over, as the big day draws close.

Beautiful Bananas
Elizabeth Laird and Liz Pichon
Oxford University Press

There are gentle echoes of Handa’s Surprise in this African setting tale of Beatrice, who sets out through the jungle with a bunch of beautiful bananas for her granddad.

That’s her intention, but along the way a giraffe flicks his tail accidentally displacing the bananas and sending them into a stream.

This sets off a concatenation of animal-related mishaps involving a swarm of bees, then some mischievous monkeys,

a lion, a parrot and finally an elephant each of which apologises and provides a replacement gift, with the story coming full circle with the elephant’s offering. It’s a delighted Beatrice who then heads to her Grandad’s home, assuring herself that after all, “Bananas are best.”

There’s plenty to spot in Liz Pichon’s vibrant scenes, not least the tiny jungle creatures

and the pairs of eyes peeping out from among the foliage as youngsters listen to Elizabeth Laird’s amusing story that is still a winner with me 15 years after its first publication.

Molly’s Moon Mission

Molly’s Moon Mission
Duncan Beedie
Templar Publishing

I have to admit to spluttering with giggles all through this story. From the outset, the idea of Molly the moth attempting to fly to the moon struck me as totally ridiculous but that’s what makes this such a fun book.

Young Molly has an indomitable spirit and despite residing in the back of an old wardrobe, her determination knows no bounds. Her mother’s discouraging words about the slightness of her wings notwithstanding, the little moth trains hard until she’s ready for the countdown to blast off.

After a couple of setbacks due to wrong destinations,

the tiny creature lands up at a lighthouse where at least she receives some words of encouragement for her venture.
Fuelled by same, she relaunches herself skywards until finally …

Success!

Moreover, there’s a role for Molly as assistant to the astronauts before they all set off earthwards with the little bug proudly sporting her newly awarded lunar mission patch.

When she finally reaches home once more, she’s greeted by her mum who on learning of her little one’s adventure, responds, “My Molly, the only moth ever to fly to the Moon!” Thus far maybe, but Molly has plans …

From his The Bear Who Stared debut I’ve loved all Duncan’s picture books but with this one he reaches new heights.

Storm

Storm
Sam Usher
Templar Publishing

The fourth of Sam Usher’s series of picture books about a little boy and his grandfather continues to celebrate their special relationship.

It’s a very blustery autumn morning and when the little boy wakes up he sees leaves flying, dancing and tumbling down.

Eager to get outside, he calls his Grandad who suggests flying a kite. First though they have to find it.
During their search they rediscover several items – a cricket bat, letters and a telescope that bring back memories of previous adventures – until finally, they find the kite.

Off they set under a stormy-looking sky to the park

where they discover lots of other kite fliers. “Hold on tight,” calls Grandad as their fantasy adventure begins.

Up, up, up they go swooping and twisting as the sky is filled with an amazing, colourful array of kites of all different  shapes and patterns.

The wind intensifies and the boy lets go of the kite string. Luckily though, Grandad catches it “There’s a storm brewing!

Let’s head for home,” he urges and they do.

Back indoors, as the storm rages outside, they share some tea and Grandad declares, “The best adventure is an adventure shared.” And so it is, just like the one herein: what better prelude to a kite-flying foray than this.

With russet, gold, orange and brown hues, and a darkening grey, Sam Usher’s watercolour and ink illustrations  capture so well both the trees’ autumnal foliage and the brooding nature of the storm.

Good Knight, Bad Knight and the Big Game

Good Knight, Bad Knight and the Big Game
Tom Knight
Templar Publishing

The two young rival knights are back, not in picture book format but in what looks to be the first of a series and if this one is anything to go by the aptly named Tom Knight is on to a winner.
In case you didn’t meet the cousins in their previous incarnation, Berkeley Paggle is the bad one, Godwin the goody. A rhyming introduction sets the scene reminding us of how Berkeley saved the day by using a terrific stink bomb to send an evil-intentioned dragon skywards.
Now school is about to start again and Berk with his new hero status is eagerly anticipating the day for the first time ever.
Thus begins a delicious tale of derring-do, a dark magic dabble – the dabbler being Warrick Pitchkettle (Berk’s best pal), who has come across an ancient spell book.
The plot is frenetic and throughout, the dialogue is peppered with mock-medieval exclamations, some just plain crazy, others with a tinge of toilet; and there are diary entries, a weird game called bladderball – Berk’s current obsession,

dastardly deeds – of course, great danger in the form of a brush with the evil hordes

and a surprising admission (Berk again, but Godwin too).

The tale is spicily summed up in a few final verses sung by the cast and there’s a glossary should you struggle with some of the wonderful medieval words.

I’ll say no more other than it all adds up to a cracking read liberally littered with super illustrations by Tom himself.

Fearless Mirabelle

Fearless Mirabelle
Katie Haworth and Nila Aye
Templar Publishing

Daughters of famous circus acrobats, Meg and Mirabelle are identical twins; but though they look alike, they are completely different. Much to her parents’ delight, Mirabelle shows signs of following in their footsteps right from the start as she balances, climbs and jumps.

Meg in contrast merely makes an enormous amount of noise. And so it continues as the girls grew older, although their propensities for dare devil moves and incessant talking are now in full flower.

One day the parent Moffats decide to take their twins to work. Once in the circus tent three family members perform amazing acrobatic feats.

Then comes Meg’s turn and with it, as she slowly ascends the ladder and stands on the platform all a-tremble, comes the Moffats’ realisation that this daughter suffers from acrophobia. (Me too).

Once she’s safely back on the ground, her parents offer sympathy and alternative possibilities but nothing really fits the bill so far as Meg is concerned.

Off she goes to sit alone in the caravan; refusing even to come out and see Mirabelle’s debut performance.

The act commences and is an enormous success but then Mirabelle is faced with the inevitable cameras and mikes being thrust at her. That’s the price of success; but the poor child is no longer fearless, she’s positively petrified.
Sisterly love prevails though as Meg steps forward to offer a helping hand and an enormous voice.
Could she finally have discovered her calling?

What a terrific celebration of difference, finding your own purpose in life, and sisterly love Katie Haworth’s story is. You certainly don’t have to be a twin to appreciate its messages, nor to revel in Nila Ali’s spirited scenes of the circus sisters and their parents.
A book that will surely have encore performances demanded after every reading.

Jane Foster’s Summertime / Whose Boat? / Who?

Jane Foster’s Summertime
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing

What things spring to mind when someone says the word summertime?
Delicious, lip-smacking ice cream? Sunglasses and a floppy hat? Cool juice and some fruit? Flip-flops? Swimming? Sunflowers?

All of those sprang into mine before I opened this delicious slice of the summer season from designer/illustrator Jane Foster. And lo and behold, there they all were plus several others each one being stylishly presented in the artist’s pattern rich style, one per spread,

while the final opening reveals all eleven of the summery icons together.

Her chosen, uplifting colour palette absolutely sings out the joys of the summer season in this cracker of a board book that will delight adult sharers as much as toddlers.

Whose Boat?
Toni Buzzeo and Tom Froese
Abrams Appleseed

This board book is essentially a boat-centric guessing game featuring half a dozen workers and their respective craft.

There’s a patrol boat controlled by the harbourmaster, a tugboat with its pilot,

a car ferry and captain, a fishing boat with a ‘lobsterperson’ (that wording is a little clumsy, I think), a lifeboat and coxswain, a fire boat and firefighter.

An image of each boat with clear labels of parts, is placed on the outside of a gatefold which opens to show the answer to the question, ‘Whose boat is that? Do you know?’’

There’s a fair bit of detail, perhaps more than one might expect for the usual board book audience, but for the vehicle curious young child that’s a plus; for those not ready for all those labels, Tom Froese’s bright, stylised nautical scenes are a good starting point from which little ones can absorb whatever they’re ready for.

A good bet for either home or an early years setting.

For even younger infants is:

Who?
Robie Harris and Natascha Rosenberg
Abrams Appleseed
Diversity is key in this engaging look at babies – ten in all – and the relationships they form.

Babies themselves will enjoy the rhythm of Harris’ playful, repetitive question and answer text, and slightly older infants can participate in the guessing game, joining in with, and responding to, the ‘Who? / Who’s that? ‘ as they become familiar with the various relations – Dada, Mama, Gramma,

and Grampa, as well as the animals and inanimate item.

Natascha Rosennberg’s endearing, but not sickly sweet, portrayals of the loving twos should captivate infants while pleasing adult sharers.

A playful board book that is  likely to be used over and over.

The Rhythm of the Rain

The Rhythm of the Rain
Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Publishing

We first meet Isaac playing in a mountain-side pool under a brooding sky. Down comes the rain; water flows in little rivulets from the pool becoming first a stream and then a river. Isaac empties his jar of water into the flow pondering its journey seawards.

We see it passing through country and town eventually joining the vast ocean. However, the journey doesn’t end there (although some of it is swallowed by a whale);

currents deep in the ocean draw water towards a distant shore.

Next morning the warm sun pulls the seawater upwards to form a cloud – a raincloud whose water falls on a village where Cassi lives, filling its pool with much needed water.

Still the water flows, forming a life-giving river

that eventually flows again into the sea and finally right back to Isaac.

Baker-Smith’s narrative documents the water-cycle from raindrops to ocean depths, outlining the importance of the life-giving properties of the element while letting his artwork show its beauty.
The magical and transformative power of water permeates every one of his illustrations be it the luminosity of the mountainside rivulet,

the efflorescence slip-steaming from the ocean dwelling whale, the sparkling spangled surface of the sun-soaked sea or the foaming, steaming spray plunging over an African waterfall.

This breathtakingly beautiful book would make a superb addition to a topic on water or as an introduction to the water-cycle.

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands
Jonny Duddle
Templar Publishing

Just when you were thinking there couldn’t possibly be room on the high seas for another pirate, along comes young Matilda, friend of pirate boy Jim Lad. But can she really cut the mustard as a true pirate or is she the land-lubbing pretender that the other Scurvy Sanders suspect her to be when she goes a holidaying with the Jolley-Rogers?

Excited to be allowed to accompany her pirate pals on a visit to Scurvy Sands, Matilda bids her parents goodbye and three days later, is greeted by Cap’n Ollie Day at the pirate resort who tells them of lost gold buried long long ago by one Mad Jack McMuddle..

The pirate kids are highly doubtful about her pirate credentials, as are the adults,

all of whom are just waiting to expose the girl with her neat clothes, clean teeth, perfect table manners and lack of unwashed odours, wherever she goes and whatever she does.

Take the pirate test” is the command.

What can she do to prove herself?

Suddenly, inspired by a portrait of Mad Jack, Matilda has an idea. All she needs is Jack’s map, a compass and her own excellent sense of direction; oh and a spade carried by her pal Jim Lad.

You’ll certainly need your best array of pirate voices when you share this rollicking sequel to The Pirates Next Door, but don’t worry. I suspect your audience will be focussed on the filmic illustrations, which are absolutely brimming over with larger than life, roguish-looking characters and piratical paraphernalia. Do take a look at the superbly detailed end-papers too.
Whether or not children will on first hearing, notice the underlying theme concerning those who appear different having to prove themselves worthy to gain acceptance, I doubt, they’ll most likely just be carried along by the action.

I Say Ooh You Say Aah

I Say Ooh, You Say Aah
John Kane
Templar Publishing

Ooh, aah, you’re really going to have some fun with this one; it’s a very bossy book – John Kane’s first – that keeps on telling you to do things. Daft things like saying ‘aah’ when you hear an ‘ooh’; patting your head when you see red, or saying ‘underpants’ at the sight of an ant (and then proceeding to admonish you for so doing). I ask you.

And there’s this daft donkey in the book, (apparently he belongs to the author) and he’s called, can you believe, ‘Ooh’.
(Did I hear you just say ‘Aah’?)

The stupid creature insists on prancing about with a pair of spotty bloomers on his head; now why would that be?
Apparently they’re the property of someone else, so he says. The creature really ought to know better.

There’s no real story here, nor is it intended for self solo reading: essentially it’s a kind of crazy pantomime of a book that only works if the listener or listeners play along and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the performance.
Thus far, all mine have done so with enormous enthusiasm, and demanded immediate reruns.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Last Chip

The Last Chip
Duncan Beedie
Templar Publishing

In the light of the recent controversy over rough sleepers in a certain royal wedding town and my concern and distress at the increased number of rough sleepers I observed in Bristol the other day, Duncan Beedie’s latest picture book particularly resonated with me. Actually, the book is set in Bristol and it’s subtitled ‘The Story of a Very Hungry Pigeon’.

Percy is the pigeon’s name and his life on the streets is a tough one. Percy’s patch is the railway station and it’s here that the hungry creature heads at the start of each day in the hope of picking up a few tidbits dropped by commuters.
On one particular morning though, a gang of voracious pigeons has beaten Percy to it. He’s shoved out of the way and ends up with not so much as a single crumb.

With a rumbling tummy, Percy decides to try his luck at the park and off he flies …

only to discover that he’s no match for the greedy ducks that consume everything that’s tossed their way. They certainly have no intention of sharing, so Percy heads to the seaside.
Here too though, he’s insulted and also physically abused by a resident avian, one giant seagull.

In despair, a very weak Percy heads back from whence he came; but dizziness overtakes him and he crash lands onto the city pavement amidst the melee of homeward bound commuters. Dazed and hungry, suddenly, he hears a voice offering him something very special: “Would you like my last chip?

There’s one spot on a street in Bristol that is a whole lot less tough on that particular night.

From his debut, The Bear Who Stared, Duncan Beedie has gone from strength to strength and it’s great to know that 10% of UK profits from sales of this new book will go to The Trussell Trust, which runs some 425 food banks across the UK.
Beadie’s message is a powerful one but he delivers it with a gentle humour and without a hint of preachiness. From his cover illustration, my heart went out to Percy; and the greedy birds, be they pigeons, ducks or that giant seagull, are deliciously nasty characters.
A thought-provoking story that deserves to be shared and discussed widely.

With Giving in Mind

Little Hazelnut
Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard
Old Barn Books

What a simply gorgeous presentation is this tale of a hazelnut dropped by squirrel …

and buried by a heavy snowfall.
Other woodland animals, furred and feathered, come and go but the nut remains undiscovered.
In the spring, a little tree shoot emerges – literally – and a sapling begins to develop: a little nut tree, no less.

Readers are taken on a journey through the changing seasons in this wonderfully crafted pop-up story. The limited colour palette and occasional patterned backgrounds are most effective and the paper-engineering superb.
A book to share, to treasure and to give.

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Michael Morpurgo has selected a dozen magical tales from different parts of the world for this collection, the final one of which, Jack and the Beanstalk is his own retelling. This first person telling from Jack Spriggins aka ‘Poor Boy Jack’ is especially engaging for young listeners. Morpurgo also provides an introduction as well as an introductory paragraph to each story.
Ten illustrators have been used with Victoria Assanelli and Bee Willey having two tales each. Most arresting as far as I’m concerned are Ian Beck’s wonderful silhouettes for Adèle Geras’ rendition of The Pied Piper.

From Japan comes Yoshi the Stonecutter, retold by Becca Heddle and beautifully illustrated by Meg Hunt, the only non-European offering.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk are ‘almost part of our DNA’ says Morpurgo in his introduction: they are universal.
Perhaps not a first collection but this read aloud volume is certainly one worth adding to a family bookshelf or primary classroom collection.
Not included in the above but certainly magical is:

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

To satisfy his youngest daughter’s wish, a merchant steals a rose from the garden of a hideous-looking beast and Beauty, to save her father’s life, goes in his place to the Beast’s palace, falls in love with him and well, you know the rest.
The classic fairy tale is retold in a truly beautiful rendition – a feat of paper-engineering and lavish, cut out illustrations by self-taught illustrator Dinara Mirtalipova.

She has created six multi-layered scenes by using three layers of paper cut to look 3D, so that each spread simply springs into life when the page is turned.
Magical!
I really had to exercise my powers of persuasion to get one listener to part with my copy after we’d shared it.

A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Otter-Barry Books

I clearly remember my father reading Robert Louis Stevenson poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses on many occasions; most notably Rain. The Swing, From a Railway Carriage, Autumn Fires, Where Go the Boats? and my very favourite, Windy Nights (which I still know by heart).
Here’s a beautiful book of those same poems that were first published in 1885, and a century later illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully packaged with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith for a new generation of listeners and readers.
For me Foreman is the perfect illustrator for the poems, his watercolours imbuing them with a sense of timelessness and innocence. One for the family bookshelf.

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

There’s plenty to engage young children during the long winter evenings in this space-themed activity book. There are things to count, to colour and to make; plenty of puzzles, wordsearches and more, plus 4 pages of stickers. All you need are pens, pencils, scissors, a paper plate or so, a couple of sponges and 2 rubber bands (to convert your shoes to moon boots) and some basic ingredients for the Stellar Cakes (plus the help of an adult).
With 60 pages of spacey fun, this should help fill a fair few hours of darkness.

The Real Boat

The Real Boat
Marina Aromshtam and Victoria Antolini
Templar Publishing

The little paper boat has ambitions – big ones. As he floats on the pond, he hears a duck talking of ‘real boats sailing on the ocean’ and decides that just like the other ‘real boats’, the ocean is the place to be. Prove himself he must by leaving the safety of his home surroundings and heading off into waters unknown.
Getting to his destination though, that is going to be tough. Many of the river boats whose help he seeks – the rowboat,

the motorboat, the riverboat and the barge – are singularly unhelpful.
The tugboat however is encouraging and assists him down to the harbour.
There the paper boat is mesmerised by the tall cranes,

the cars coming off the ferry and the lights of a huge passenger liner.
Further help and encouragement though, come from a fishing trawler in whose wake the tiny paper traveller follows as they venture further and further out on the ocean waves.
Then a fierce storm breaks battering the little paper boat and separating him from the friendly trawler. Is all lost for the intrepid journeyer?

Not quite: in fact all ends in a totally unexpected and highly satisfactory manner for the tenacious little adventurer.
From its brilliant cover you know you’re in for a real visual treat with this one: it’s wonderfully tactile and intricately detailed. Then there’s the number of pages: it’s twice as long as the usual picture book length, one of several I’ve seen of late; just the thing to snuggle up with and relish along with a hot chocolate on these long wintry evenings.
Lyrically told and with illustrations that are arresting and demand exploration for their artistry and technique, this modern fable is a thoroughly rewarding read.

The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room
James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon
Templar Publishing

‘It started with an “OOPS!” … and a “LOOK OUT!” and a CRASH!’

So begins this wonderfully eccentric mystery concerning the identity of the guilty party responsible for breaking Father Giant’s treasured china elephant.

The suspects are numerous: it could have been Olive or her brother, Grub – after all they are hiding in a cupboard when the elephant’s owner strides into the room issuing threats of the dire punishment he will dish out to the culprit.
Seemingly though they’re in the clear; but what about the naughty newt, the laughing lady with the golden boot,

the clipping clopping yucky yack? No? Surely it can’t have been Sophie Sofa, the sun or the storm; so who? It must have been someone; after all, the thing is lying in pieces on the floor, but will the case be solved?

The whole thing romps along in absolutely faultless rhyme – for me a cross between Spike Milligan and Edward Lear – to its splendidly satisfying, twisting finale that will cause listeners to wriggle in delight.

Those wacky illustrations of Mackinnon’s – wow! There’s a touch of Seuss about some of them …

and that innovative colour palette with its neon orange highlighting gives the whole thing a slightly hypnagogic feel.

I can’t wait to see what these two come up with next.

Daydreams and Night Dreams

When I Grow Up
Tim Minchin and Steve Antony
Scholastic

Inspired by Tim Minchin’s song of the same name from Matilda the Musical, this book takes a (mostly) light-hearted look from a child’s viewpoint, at what it’s like to be an adult.
Of course, you’ll need to know the answers to a great many questions and that means being smart.
But think of being able to ‘eat sweets every day’,

‘go to bed late every night’, get up with the sun and watch endless cartoons without a care.
Life isn’t all roses though; there are heavy things to ‘haul around’ and creatures that lurk beneath the bed to fight with.

But all that’s offset by daily treats, playful opportunities in abundance …

and days spent lying in the sun without damaging the skin – we wish!
Is that what we grown-ups really do? Hmm …
Steve Antony surely has made adulthood look like a ball, even the less desirable activities; and those young narrators of his are boundless energy personified.

One Moonlit Night
Zanna Davidson and Seo Kim
Templar Publishing

Through a prose poem and amazing pop-ups we share in a little girl’s magical dream of an amazing adventure wherein she flies through the star-filled sky aback a dragon, encountering three-headed giants, trolls and ogres …

before, swathed in clouds, invoking her very own dragon spell.
Magical pop-out scenes of a journey through swirling waters and inky skies make for a wondrous, just before bedtime book to share.

Halloween is Coming: Hugo Makes a Change / Pretty

Hugo Makes a Change
Scott Emmons and Mauro Gatti
Flying Eye Books

Hugo the vampire is a total carnivore: tucking into juicy meat, be it burgers, hot dogs, steak or lamb, is his idea of satisfaction and he doesn’t stop until he’s stuffed himself to bursting.
Then one night he starts to feel bloated, sluggish and downright grumpy. Time for a change of diet he decides and wings it away in search of something new to tempt his taste buds.
Landing in a vegetable garden, Hugo examines the crops and is totally unimpressed with wrinkly leaves, lumpy blobs and bumpy skins. But then he comes upon something red dangling from a tree and feeling those hunger pangs starting up, he sinks his fangs right into the object. Ahhh! the delight; the tang.

Before you can say ‘vegetables’, he’s munching away on crunchy carrots, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers; wisely though he passes on the garlic.
Back home he makes a decision: meat is fine in moderation but a healthy mix of veggies, fruit and nuts is much more satisfying.

Before long he starts to notice the changes in himself: it’s a stronger, happier Hugo who takes his regular evening flight and just cannot resist leaving his mark whenever he stops for a quick bite.

Emmons’ rhyming narrative and Gattis’ bold, engaging illustrations (look out for Hugo’s feline companion therein) make for an entertaining story. If like me you’re a confirmed veggie, you might find yourself heaving somewhat at the opening scenes of Hugo gorging himself on mounds of meaty morsels.
A fun read, and a clever way to demonstrate, without a hint of preachiness, the benefits of a balanced diet: the ideal fare for adults wanting to get across the notion of healthy eating to young children.

Pretty
Canizales
Templar Publishing

Is it better to have ‘a crooked back, a lumpy nose, a big pointy chin and wiry hair’ or have ‘a nice straight back, a neat little nose, a very dainty chin and sleek wavy hair’? That is the dilemma facing the witch when she’s invited for a picnic by the troll.
She starts out duly attired in her best black outfit as her normal self warts and all, but after encounters with Squirrel,

Rabbit, Fox and Mouse, she is persuaded to alter her appearance, with a few deft flicks of her wand, to their perceptions of prettiness.
So effective is her transformation that her date fails to recognise her …

and stomps off in disgust.
The following day the witch invites the troll to a picnic of her own making.
Troll deems the food delicious and it certainly is, in more ways than one, especially if you like your revenge served cold.

A tasty mix of humour, magic, whimsicality and revenge, sprinklings of cumulative narrative and a darkly toothsome final twist, all served up with flat, stylised illustrations in a subdued earthy colour palette: the perfect Halloween offering.

You Choose in Space / Ludwig the Sea Dog

You Choose In Space
Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart
Puffin Books

The You Choose series just gets better and better: now young children can whizz off on countless journeys of discovery in the pitch black of outer space. They can choose their jobs aboard the space-craft; select some snazzy gear to wear; there’s a weird and wonderful assortment of potential friends to get to know;

a whole different diet to sample and much more.
The great thing- or one of them –is, there’s a seemingly limitless choice of possibilities, so that with each blast off, a whole new out-of-this-world story can unfold in glorious technicolour.
The Sharratt/Goodhart team truly have conjured up an inclusive and wonderfully interactive, treat for young space enthusiasts, as well as those who like to be in the driving seat when it comes to a story.

Ludwig the Sea Dog
Henning Lōhlein
Templar Publishing

In this, the second adventure of Ludwig and his friends, the dog receives from his pal, Peter the penguin, whose submarine has broken down, a postcard requesting his assistance.
How on earth or under sea, for that’s where Peter is stuck – is a book-dwelling dog supposed to go to the aid of a friend beneath the ocean?
There are of course, plenty of books to tell him about marine life but these don’t prove as helpful as Ludwig anticipates.

He has to be rescued, and then discovers that water is not his favourite medium.
Perhaps he’ll have better luck with a spot of fairy tale magic, courtesy of the book he’s left in to dry out;

that and of course, some further assistance from his friends.
I’ll say no more other than to recommend that you open the envelope at the front of the book, put on those 3D sea goggles and prepare yourself for an amazing underwater experience. There’s even a fold out spread to explore.

A Briefing of Board Books

Time to Go With Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Ted, the wonderfully imaginative toddler is back and he’s ready to go.
Whether it be to the park, the shops, the pool or the playground swings …

he’s always sure to have the appropriate gear with him.
And being such a friendly little boy, he’s bound to make friends wherever he goes; so come teatime he’s got plenty of guests to share with.
Lift-the-flap pages hide a host of animals as well as opportunities for some noisy roaring, shivering, sploshing and making monkey sounds.

Listen to the Dance Music
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
Just in time for ‘Strictly’ here’s an opportunity to brush up on your dance moves with the animal movers and shakers. You can waltz with the wolves, tango with the horses, practise some Charleston swivels with the bears, salsa with the flamingos, rock n’ roll along with the cats and hip-hop with the frogs. And, to get you and your little ones going, there’s a sound button at the back of the book, so as well as enjoying the dancers visually, you can listen to the various types of music. What are you waiting for: let’s dance.

I Thought I Saw a Lion!
Lydia Nichols
Templar Publishing
Using the sliders on every spread, toddlers can develop their manipulative skills while enjoying playing hide-and-seek with a mischievous lion that invades a variety of venues. Is he somewhere in the restaurant? Or perhaps he’s visiting the fancy dress shop or the bookshop maybe.

Surely he can’t be getting his mane trimmed at the hairdresser’s, so where is he?
Built-in repetition and bold, stylish illustrations enhance the game.

Colours/ Opposites
Britta Teckentrup
Templar Publishing
Two popular topics feature in stylish look and find presentations by Britta Teckentrup.
In addition to the colour element of the first, there are opportunities for counting and developing talk on each spread.

Opposites here entails essentially, finding the odd one out, be that outside, above, fast, short, heavy, white, closed or small. Some concepts such as tall/short or heavy/ light are relative and thus not so clear-cut, but the rhyming text ensures that answering the questions asked is not an issue. Here: for instance,

‘Some animals plod / with a slow heavy pace, / but who is so fast she’s / winning the race?’

Opposites/ Colours
Nosy Crow and The British Museum
The two new Early Learning at the Museum titles contain around thirty fascinating objects from the museum collections per book.
Apart from the basic concepts presented in the two books, each fascinating image offers opportunities for developing open-ended conversations with young children.
You can look into recent history and go back over 2000 years with intriguing artefacts from a variety of cultures in Opposites. Or in Colours go back even further to 2600BC or be bang up to date with a Grayson Perry vase from 2011.
These chunky books will be of interest to children long after they’ve acquired the basic concepts related to opposites and colours.
Adults can scan the QR code in each book to find out more about the featured objects and there is a full key at the back.

The Marine Team / The Forest Folk / The Sky Guys
Madeleine Rogers
Button Books
Here are three new additions to the Mibo board books series featuring five animals, apiece, two spreads being given to each one.
Once again in each book, superb graphics are accompanied by fact-filled rhymes and there is a final fact page that tells you a little bit about each animal presented, their habitats and what we can do to help protect them.
The Marine Team comprises the green turtle, the great white shark, which is actually only white on its lower part, the seal, the blue whale and seahorses.
Did you know that it’s the male that carries the eggs from which the babies are born?
In The Forest Folk we meet temperate forest dwellers, brown bears, grey wolves, red squirrels, otters and deer, both male and female.
The Sky Guys features five bird species – the majestic albatross, the elegant flamingo, the wise owl, the guzzling pelican and the tiny hummingbird.
The rhyming texts will help young children absorb the information as an adult reads it aloud; and each book offers plenty of talking points.

Looking for Yesterday / Oh No! Where did Walter Go?

Looking for Yesterday
Alison Jay
Old Barn Books

It’s most often children who live their lives forward, eagerly anticipating what might come next, whereas adults tend to reminisce about what has already past.
In this story though, it’s the little boy narrator who is eager to turn the clock back: thinking nothing can ever be as good, he wants yesterday all over again.
Employing all his knowledge of science, he searches for a way to travel backwards in time …

and eventually turns to his grandad for help.
Instead, Grandad shares his own treasured memories of things he’s done;

but also shows the lad that there is much to look forward to, for every new day brings the possibility of exciting new adventures.
Although comparatively brief, Alison Jay’s text embraces notions of time and space, of hopes and memories, and of happiness.
Her illustrations add a surreal fantasy element to the story encouraging readers and listeners to embark upon their own flights of fancy. The whole book offers plenty to think about and discuss, especially to those teachers who have community of enquiry sessions with their children.

Oh No! Where Did Walter Go?
Joanna Boyle
Templar Publishing

Meet best friends and partners in crime, Olive aka Master of Mystery,  and the Duke of Daring, Walter her parakeet.
One day Walter goes missing and immediately Olive goes into detective mode following footprints, amassing evidence, interviewing the local residents and sticking up ‘Missing’ posters all over town.
Just when the whole search is becoming a tad overwhelming she receives a helpful pointer and off she speeds to the park: a very green place indeed.

How on earth is she to find her friend there among all those trees and bushes?
Undaunted Olive looks high and low but her search is fruitless: Walter is nowhere to be found and now she too is lost.

Will the two friends ever find one another again and if so, how will they manage to find the way back home?
Unless you look at the final page before embarking on the story, it’s not apparent that Walter is also searching for Olive and puts in an appearance on every spread; (although observant readers will probably spot him lurking somewhere as the narrative progresses). This adds a fun search and find element to the whole book and ensures that once the two characters are reunited, children will immediately want to go back and enjoy hunting for Walter all over again in Joanna Boyle’s stylish illustrations be they multi-framed strip sequences or expansive single scene spreads.

Board Book Shelf

Hidden Animals
Find the Wolf

Agnese Baruzzi
Templar Publishing
Here are two wonderfully playful board books from Italian artist, Agnese Baruzzi.
In the former, the peep-through die-cut pages beguile readers with a series of different coloured shapes which, when the page is turned become transformed into in turn, a bird, a fox, a bug, a cat,

a dog, a jellyfish and a lion.
Part of the fun, once children have worked out what is happening, is to guess the animal from the coloured background on the left-hand side before the page is turned. I was wrong on a couple of occasions.
Find the Wolf takes readers on a hunt for a ”WANTED’ wolf . As we walk through the woods we see for instance, two pointy ears or a set of grey paws. Or are they?
Here Baruzzi uses two die-cut circles on each right hand page and by asking such questions as ‘Are those his eyes?’

leads us to believe’ that behind them the missing lupine lurks. But on turning over we see something completely different.

The elusive creature (or traces of same) is actually lurking somewhere on every recto which further adds to the delicious hide and seek element.

Up and Down
Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
This lovely board book, published in partnership with the National Trust is Rosalind Beardshaw’s latest addition to her A Walk in the Countryside series.
Winter has well and truly arrived; so the two small friends don warm clothes and boots before setting off into the great snowy outdoors.
Then it’s Up hill and Down on their sledges, followed by on foot encounters with a variety of creatures both feathered and furry

as they spend a wonderful day together savouring the delights of their rural romp.
There’s plenty to enjoy and discuss with toddlers in addition to the inbuilt ‘opposites’ the minimal text offers.

Bizzy Bear Ambulance Rescue
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow
Toddlers will delight in making the ‘nee-naw’ ambulance sounds and manipulating the moving parts in the new Bizzy Bear board book.
Bizzy Bear assumes the role of paramedic in his latest episode and he’s responding to an emergency call out. A little cat has had a cycling accident and Bizzy rushes to the scene where he helps lift the patient into the ambulance

which then rushes the injured kitty to hospital where he’s treated for what looks like a broken leg. Short and sweet!

My Museum / Crocodali

My Museum
Joanne Liu
Prestel
Here’s a thoroughly cool little wordless book by Joanne Liu, an illustrator/artist I’ve not come across before.
Max pays a visit to an art museum. It’s full of paintings and sculptures, each one an important work of art. Where better to go for a bit of art appreciation?
Max however, wonderfully divergent and imaginative child that he is, quickly discovers that there’s a whole lot more to see and enjoy than what the curators have put on display.
Art is everywhere, if you know how to look; and if you know how to look, you can also be a creative artist. That’s the message that shines through in each and every action of our young protagonist as he wanders among the grown-ups who are absorbed in the various exhibits, discovering art through the windows, on a burly man’s arm,

by changing his viewpoint, and by seeing the potential in other unlikely places …

He even explores ways of making his own …

A delight through and through.

Crocodali
Lucy Volpin
Templar Publishing
There’s a touch of Hervé Tullet in Lucy Volpin’s latest story. It stars Crocodali, who greets us, more than a little reluctantly, as we enter his studio.
The self-confessed ‘most talented artist in the whole wide world’ is about to start on a new painting but is having a little bother getting his canvas positioned. That’s when he decides to enlist the reader’s help.
Before you can say ‘masterpiece’ he has us tilting, tipping, shaking …

and rubbing and even blowing on the book,

as we become co-creators of his latest work of art. It’s bound to be stupendous; or is it?
Engaging, interactive, humorous and delightfully messy.

I Really Want the Cake

I Really Want the Cake
Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti
Templar Publishing

Now here’s a lip-smacker of a book guaranteed to make your salivary glands go into over-drive.
Who can resist that wonderful aroma of a fresh from the oven chocolate cake?
The little girl narrator of this story really has my sympathies when she follows the delicious smell emanating from the kitchen and discovers a totally yummy-looking confection just sitting there waiting to be tasted.

The trouble is though, her mum has left a warning note ‘YOU MUST NOT EAT THIS CAKE’. There’s no ambiguity about that, so the whole deliciously tempting chocolate cake must quite simply be forgotten.
Easier said than done though and the temptation proves too much for the young miss who, after holding back for a while, then finds herself drawn by an irresistible longing, back to object of her desire. What else could she do but sample the thing?
But then, the lick gives way to a bite, which turns into a slice and …

Oops! No cake!
Still a replacement shouldn’t be much of a challenge, surely?

Simon Philip’s tasty rhythmic, rhyming tale slips so smoothly from the tongue making it a great read aloud. Combined with Lucia Gaggiotti’s high energy, laugh-out-loud illustrations of chocolate cake and calamity, the whole thing becomes a scrumptious treat to serve up to young listeners. (I love the way the narrator takes on a variety of personas as she grapples with her conscience.)
If my experience is anything to go by extra servings will be immediately demanded.
There’s even a recipe for chocolate cake on the final page – mmmm!

I’ve signed the charter  

Mr Left & Mr Right

Mr Left & Mr Right
Daniel Fehr and Celeste Aires
Templar Publishing

Now here’s a book that makes ingenious use of flaps and the central gutter.
It stars Mr Left who lives on the left page and Mr Right who lives on the right page.

Thus far, the neighbours have never met but now they want to and therein lies the problem. There doesn’t seem to be a way to cross that central divide, no matter what they try.
Jumping across is a resounding flop …

as is climbing right over.
Digging under is an absolute disaster …

so seemingly, loneliness will continue to rule.
Unless that is, one of the characters can come up with a brainwave – some divergent thinking maybe.
Celeste Aires cleverly exploits the basic shape and form of the book and its pages using simple shapes and a restricted colour palette of matt red, blues, yellow, white and black to create a wholly satisfying treat that works in perfect harmony with Daniel Fehr’s cleverly conceived text.
I suspect this will appeal across a wide age range and has much to offer anyone studying picture book form be it in primary school or college.

I’ve signed the charter 

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  

Big Brown Bear’s Cave

Big Brown Bear’s Cave
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing

What is more important to you: friends or ‘stuff’? I know which I’d prefer any day.
Could it be though that Yuval Zommer secretly visited our home before writing this story: I certainly wish Big Brown Bear, star of his latest picture book would drop in on our human cave (garage): he’d have a field day surrounded by stuff, stuff and more stuff; and he’d be able to fill his new abode with all manner of goodies.
The ursine collector definitely goes overboard on acquiring creature comforts for his empty cave, so much so that its fame spreads far and wide, attracting the attention of all his pals who are eager to see inside his residence.

Lack of room prevents their entry however, and off they go leaving Big Brown Bear to continue filling the space.
Alone with his boxes, Bear begins to be overwhelmed by lack of wiggle room, so much so that when his three friends return with an invitation, he’s well and truly hemmed in …

Then there’s only one thing to do and our hero does it: wise move, Big Brown Bear.
Zommer’s portrayal of the acquisitive trait, and the accumulative chaos it can cause, is a rib-tickling treat. There’s Bear pondering over the sheer variety of ‘stuff’; and his obvious delight over the selection of his favourites – ‘stuff that came with wheels, stuff that came with handles and stuff that came in boxes.’ He almost looks as though he’s dancing with joy despite the precarious balancing act required to carry that stack of boxes.

This is very much a fable of our time and will, I suspect strike a chord with readers of all ages.

I’ve signed the charter  

I am Actually a Penguin

I am Actually a Penguin
Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek
Templar Publishing

I once had a little girl in one of my reception classes who insisted for the first week that she was a dog, crawling around the place, drinking her milk on all fours, clutching the carton in her ‘paws’ and barking at her classmates. We all played along and soon the novelty wore off.
The small girl narrator of this book is equally cute and equally determined; but having received a penguin suit from her Uncle Pat in Patagonia, she goes into full on, ‘actually a penguin’ mode right away.
This involves all sorts of crazy activities such as festooning the living room with loo paper to create snow in which to keep cool.

Such behaviour definitely doesn’t go down well with a certain older brother although he does approve of the additional penguin at a family wedding …

and is willing to play along at meal times, especially when fish fingers are involved.

All good things do have to come to an end however. Apart from anything else there’s the question of school, not to mention as Dad rightly says, “Your penguin suit needs a wash.
Time for a change perhaps …
Sean Taylor’s zany sense of humour shines through in this narrative providing Kasia Matyjaszek with a hilarious sequence of events to wield her illustrative magic on and she does it brilliantly making every spread a small piece of theatre.

I’ve signed the charter  

Mummy! / First Words & 123

Mummy!
Lerryn Korda
Nosy Crow
What a cool idea: a lift-the-flap board book with an ancient Egyptian setting published in association with The British Museum.
A small girl has been separated from her mummy and is searching for her: “Where’s my mummy?” she asks repeatedly as she looks in various likely locations: the market, the lotus pool,

by the enormous sphinx, among the foliage by the river and in the temple.
Finally, she reaches her own home and …

With nine visual references to artefacts belonging to the British Museum, (each with an associated hieroglyph to discover), this is such a fun way to introduce very young children to history. (The final spread is devoted to photographs of these and there’s a QR code to scan for more information about the objects shown.)
Equally, with such engaging illustrations and simple repeat pattern narrative it’s also great as a beginning to read picture book.

Some interesting reissued board books are:

Alison Jay’s 123
Alison Jay’s First Words

Templar Publishing
In 123, Alison Jay uses a fairytale landscape for counting as a girl dreams that she travels upon a golden goose to different fairytale scenes.  Each new spread features a number from 1 to 10, and then counts back down to 1 again.  Observant readers will notice that on every spread, the artist includes other sets of the number featured.  She also leaves a visual clue that suggests the next spread and perhaps beyond.

First Words begins with a grandfather clock face surrounded by decorative images that point to the four seasons and to what is to follow on subsequent pages. There are visual allusions to nursery rhymes in addition to the opening Hickory Dickory Dock (yes there’s a mouse atop the clock); we see Jack and Jill climbing up the ‘hill’; while for instance, ‘hat’ and ‘fish’ allude to ‘12345 once I caught a fish alive’

The book spans a whole day, but moves through the seasons too. Featuring seemingly random objects, Jay also uses foreshadowing in this book – an added talking point for children and adults; and each page having just a single word leaves readers free to make up their own stories.
In fact I see both these not so much as concept books but as starting points for promoting talk and visual literacy.

I’ve signed the charter  

Dreamweaver

Dreamweaver
Claire Freedman and Carrie May
Templar Publishing

Claire Freedman (of Aliens Love Underpants fame) has created a lilting lullaby telling how as night falls the flowing-haired weaver of dreams spreads her wings, fashions from nature and stows in her sack magical fantasies for soon to be slumbering young creatures.

For her first recipient, Little Bear …

it’s mountain flowers and snowflakes that will create a dream of playful mountain slope sliding with snow bears as companions.
Upon Little Tiger she bestows a dream of flying in space; Little Monkey’s dream is woven from: ‘Grains of sand on a distant shore/ Pink pearly shells from the ocean floor./ Long-lost treasure, a mermaid’s kiss, The shimmering scales from a rainbow fish.’ and will take him to swim with dolphins and dance to the tune of a mermaid’s song.

Her final dream is soft, white and full of love: this will be for the young child just on the edge of sleep; the child who has shared in the magical experiences of the baby jungle animals and is now, lulled by the sibilance of the rhyming text, ready for his or her own nocturnal adventure.
Debut artist Carrie May conjures up a lush nocturnal forest setting for the ethereal dreamweaver to scatter her dreams. The star-spangled dream scenes have for the most part, a somewhat softer palette of predominantly pinks, corals, turquoise, aquamarine, lemon yellow and white.
Just right for bedtime sharing or for other times when a spell of calm is required.

I’ve signed the charter  

Sun

Sun
Sam Usher
Templar Publishing
First came Snow, then Rain and now we have the third of Sam Usher’s enchanting days with Grandad and small boy narrator. Herein, what starts out as a fairly normal day, albeit the hottest of the year: “hotter than broccoli soup“, hotter even than “the surface of the sun“, Grandad deems it perfect for an adventure; and so having collected the necessary items for their foray, the two venture forth in search of the perfect spot for a picnic.
The sun blazes down and pretty soon, Grandad needs a rest, while his designated ‘lookout’ does just that …

You can almost feel the sun scorching them as they trudge on and pause for another rest. Shade becomes the second ‘must’ for their picnic spot, which is hardly surprising, as the landscape has now become incandescent.

Grandpa has added a cool breeze to his list of requirements by the time they reach what looks a likely place.
However, it appears that their perfect picnic spot is already in use.

So it’s a case of all hands on deck; let’s share resources and party …
Once again Sam Usher captures to perfection the closeness of the bond between Grandad and boy, while at the same time portraying the spirit of adventure and utter exhilaration that is brought on by being in the great outdoors, even on such a scorching day.
A sure-fire winner this.

I’ve signed the charter  

Rainbow & Opposites / Little Mouse’s Big Secret

Rainbow
Opposites

Jane Cabrera
Templar Publishing
Pleasing design and adorable illustrations are the hallmark of Jane Cabrera’s books for the very young. Her two latest offerings have both those qualities.
Rainbow has die-cut arched pages that build up to form a rainbow.
It’s a fun board book to enjoy together and each colour spread, with its named items …

could make a great starting point for adult and child to participate in some shared storying.
Opposites uses flaps and while young children acquire concepts such as slow/fast and wet/dry from real life experiences, books such as these can facilitate this development in an interactive, playful way, helping to reinforce the vocabulary.

Here you can play a game with your child or children by asking them to guess what is hidden behind each interesting shaped flap before being allowed to open it. This game also introduces the idea of predicting as an important reading strategy.

Little Mouse’s Big Secret
Éric Battut
Sterling
Little Mouse finds a yummy red apple on the ground and decides to keep it a secret. He buries it. Shhhh! Don’t tell. Friends pass by and each wants to know what Mouse is hiding. “It’s my secret, and I’ll never tell,” is Mouse’s reply to Bird, Turtle, Hedgehog,

Rabbit and Frog.
Nature takes its course and eventually, Mouse’s secret’s out – well and truly. Mouse takes a big decision; he shares and all his friends reap the rewards.

The spare, repetitive text and cute yet subtle illustrations make this best for sharing one-to-one or with a very small group of pre-school children. Equally, it’s ideal for beginning readers who are likely to be sufficiently savvy to realise what mouse doesn’t: that right behind his back, a tree is growing …

I’ve signed the charter  

Welcome to London / Jane Foster’s London & Jane Foster’s New York

Welcome to London
Marcos Farina
Button Books
London seems to be a very popular picture book destination at present and Marcos Farina’s quirky, retro style illustrations certainly make it look an exciting one.
Surrealism abounds right from the arrival at a station whose platform will be familiar to fans of Harry Potter. From then on it’s a case of spot the literary references; chortle at the crazy cast of characters or giggle over the multitude of other visual anomalies scattered throughout as we visit the various famous London landmarks and encounter the multitude of characters that make it such a dynamic and vibrant city.

If like me, you know London, you’ll likely never look at it in quite the same way again: you’ll always be on the lookout for a storybook character lurking somewhere, or an animal emerging from the next taxi that stops close by one of its famous stores.

Marcos Farina’s London encompasses parks, sporting venues, bridges,

palaces, galleries, shopping venues, iconic buildings and much more. His clear, graphic, design led illustrations make almost every page a potential poster for the city.

Jane Foster’s London
Jane Foster’s New York

Jane Foster
Templar Publishing
In bold bright colours, designer Jane Foster introduces the very youngest children to two of the world’s most popular tourist cities.
Set against vibrant, sometimes patterned backgrounds, she places famous landmarks, objects and occasional less likely images such as the red squirrel (I wish there were more of those in London), although New York includes a grey squirrel.

Her intricately patterned imagery is sure to engage both toddlers and adults as they enjoy such iconic London sights as the red bus, Big Ben, the London Eye and Tower Bridge but also fish and chips and a pair of wellington boots. New York boasts the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park as well as Broadway theatre and Staten Island ferry. Interestingly both cities have pigeons.
Foster’s characteristic eye-catching mix of strong colour, pattern and retro-styling do these famous cities proud.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Nut Stayed Shut

The Nut Stayed Shut
Mike Henson
Templar Publishing
Squirrel Rodney, the world’s best cracker of nuts, has a problem: a confounding nut-shaped one. He’s succeeded in cracking nut number 1 and nut number 2; but nut number 3 stays firmly and unequivocally shut. Brute force doesn’t do the trick, so maybe a spot of tickling, or perhaps whopping it with a fish, scaring it maybe? None of these have the slightest effect – on the nut at least: nor do chainsawing, door dropping or even this …

Clearly something larger is needed …

No? Then a big bang maybe?

No matter what Rodney does all through the day and all through the night, not a chink of an opening appears in that nut shell. Is it perhaps time to admit defeat and walk away: it certainly appears as though poor Rodney is cracking under all the strain. Or is there something else he can do? …
With its rhyming narrative and over-the-top notions, this superb piece of slapstick is satisfyingly silly. The staccato rhythm of Henson’s delivery is comic timing of the first order, and leaves just the right amount of space for his visuals to have maximum impact. Rodney’s side-kick, complete with camera to film the champ in action, further adds to the delights of this whole smashing experience.

I’ve signed the charter  

Follow Your Dreams: The Wooden Camel & Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band

The Wooden Camel
Wanuri Kahiu and Manuela Adreani
Lantana Publishing
Despite his youth and lack of stature, Etabo dreams of becoming a camel racer, much to the amusement of his older siblings. But the lad’s dreams are not destroyed, even when his father announces that they have to sell the family’s camels to buy water. He asks the Sky God, Akuj for help but receives the response: “Your dreams are enough.” Surely this cannot be so, but it looks increasingly likely as Etabo and his brother and sister are sent out to mind the goats …

and eventually his siblings too have to find paid work so the task is left entirely to Etabo.
He continues to dream of racing camels; but his dreams are not enough. He begs to ride one of the horses in big sister, Akiru’s care but receives a firm refusal; even the cats, chickens and his favourite goat won’t let him ride on their backs.
Once again, the boy prays to Akuj but receives the same “Your dreams are enough” response.
Akiru, saddened by her brother’s increasing unhappiness, sets to work on a project that keeps those dreams of Etabo’s alive,

and for the time being, they have to be enough. Hold fast to those dreams Etabo.

Adreani’s scenes of the Turkana people of Kenya set against the harsh landscapes are truly beautiful and perfectly complement the soft, sympathetic humour of Kahiu’s text. A book to cherish, to share, ponder upon and discuss widely.

Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band
Tom Knight
Templar Publishing
Jimmy Finnigan has a dream: he wants to start a band. He has something of a problem though – his place of residence has an award for ‘the prettiest village ever’ and seemingly each and every other resident is protective or at least wants to keep their particular place ‘nice’. Every place except the woods that is: they’re a pretty wild spot and the subject of adult warnings to keep away. Jimmy’s parents are no exception and send him to the attic in search of a quiet, indoor pursuit. What he finds though, results, with a bit of help from Dad, in this …

Pretty soon, this musical interest has become an obsession, Posters appear, but there are no takers …

until Jimmy remembers a place that might just prove fruitful; but when he forays into the forest, even that one is nowhere to be seen.
The lad is on the point of giving up the whole enterprise when he hears a distant crashing, bleeping, booshing, boinging, doofing, plonking and crashing. Hardly able to contain his excitement, he follows the sounds to their source and discovers a wild trio busy practising.
A conversation, some shenanigans and a search ensue; a search resulting in something altogether unexpected and beyond Jimmy’s wildest dreams. And after that nothing is ever quite the same again …
Suitably zany, action-packed, wilder than wild, illustrations accompany Tom Knight’s boogying extravaganza. Get your ear plugs ready, your bodies bopping and join the fun. Some of those spirited scenes certainly got me going.

I’ve signed the charter  

100 First Words / Animal Sounds & Things That Go / My First Wildlife Sticker Activity Book

dscn0211

100 First Words
Dawn Sirett and Charlotte Milner
DK
This large format book is definitely a lap style board book not a ‘clutch in the pram’ kind. It encompasses fourteen topics, one per page; and those on opposite pages are related, so we have for instance: My body and My clothes; My toys and Colours, Pets and Wild animals and …

dscn0212

Naming is an important element of a very young child’s language learning but essentially the language learning potential in this book is far greater than that: focussing on a single image could furnish so much language learning, and that is where it comes down to the skill of the person sharing the book with a baby or young infant, (or equally, a person just starting to learn English as an additional language).

dscn0213

The labelled photographic images are clear, uncluttered, and pattern is very much part of the whole look of the book.
Definitely a worthwhile investment if you have dealings with tinies

dscn0228

Animal Sounds
Things That Go
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing
Rich in pattern and colour, and rich in language potential, are the two new board books from fabric designer, Jane Foster. Animal sounds include the ‘meow meow’ of a ginger cat and the ‘woof woof’ of an endearing spotty dog, the gentle ‘flitter flutter’ of a butterfly’s wonderful wings and the contrasting ‘ROAR’ of a lion; and these two delectable creatures …

%0a

The final spread comprises 22 named portraits of all the animals, taking a break from sound-making.
The layout of Things That Go is slightly different. We have eleven items represented: some that move through the air, some through water and others across land. I love the inclusion of this …

dscn0231

Each ‘mover’ has a double spread, its name is given against a subtly patterned page opposite which is the object and an associated sound, I can’t imagine any toddler not enjoying sharing these beauties with an enthusiastic parent or carer.

%0a

I foresee hours of fun and language learning where the three (or four) come together. Both books are a clever, winning mix of simplicity and sophistication.
fullsizerender-63

My First Wildlife Sticker Activity Book
illustrated by Gina Maldonado
Bloomsbury Activity Books
Published in conjunction with the rspb, this attractively illustrated book asks young children to look closely at what is on the printed page: to search for particular fauna and flora, to find matching pairs, to locate minibeasts, add stickers to scenes, find the odd one out and so on. There’s no substitute for seeing the real thing, but one hopes having done the activities herein, youngsters will be inspired to go out and look at the natural world for real.

Charter logo FINAL.indd

I Love You (nearly always)

%0a

I Love You (nearly always)
Anna Llenas
Templar Publishing
Roly is a woodlouse – the king of camouflage, Rita, a super-cool firefly. Surprisingly, or maybe not if you believe the ‘opposites attract’ idea, they like one another. That’s at the beginning however.
One day Rita becomes critical of Roly’s tough skin, his controlling manner and his habit of hiding away quietly. Roly too has issues: they’re logged in his black book: Rita’s light’s too bright, she’s noisy and too fast a flier; in fact she’s downright annoying.

%0a

Can they overcome their differences? Seemingly it’s worth a try.
Roly takes measures to soften his suit, just a little …

%0a

Rita attempts to slow her flight somewhat …

fullsizerender-1

A bond of trust begins to form … And then it’s a case of vive la différence: love conquers all.
What an absolutely brilliant way of demonstrating the importance of friendship and that we should acknowledge and celebrate our differences. Roly and Rita are such endearing characters, so adorably portrayed in Anna Llenas’ mixed media illustrations. Every spread made me smile and the plethora of pop-ups, wheels, flaps and sliders ensures visual delight, not to mention ‘wow’!s from young children, at every page turn.
I’m keeping close tabs on my copy for fear it gets booknapped by an enthusiastic child.

Lucy Ladybird / Where’s Mrs Ladybird?

dscn9779

Lucy Ladybird
Sharon King-Chai
Templar Publishing
This is a re-issue and it’s good to see Lucy Ladybird back in circulation once again.
Ostracised by the other ladybirds, the despondent creature takes off and soon meets Fred Frog. He pays her a morale-boosting compliment and gives her one of his green spots. As she continues to fly all through the seasons, her encounters with Carla Caterpillar, Felicity Fish and Bella Bird yield further compliments and three additional spots …

%0a

after which Lucy returns home feeling like a true ladybird, albeit a variegated one. Will she now fit in with the other ladybirds?
Actually no but something much more exciting happens instead and before long a change has come upon the entire community …

dscn9782

With its themes of difference, acceptance, sharing and friendship this is a super story to share with early years listeners and if my experience is anything to go by, immediate re-readings will be the order of the day.
This one’s rich in potential not only for discussion but creative work – I’ll leave that to your imagination. Sharon King-Chai’s paintbox hued, mixed media illustrations have certainly sparked off a whole plethora of activies, both artistic and other, whenever I’ve shared the story. Vive la difference, say I.

dscn9772

Where’s Mrs Ladybird?
Ingela P.Arrhenius
Nosy Crow
Toddlers will delight in this brightly coloured hide-and-seek board book wherein four minibeasts are hiding behind felt flaps, one on each spread, except the final one whereon they watch the revelation of a mirror just waiting to be looked in.
The single sentence question and answer per double spread follows the same pattern, for instance …

dscn9771

and that makes the audience two-fold: beginning readers can enjoy sharing the book, perhaps with younger siblings.

localbookshops_nameimage-2

The Lumberjack’s Beard

%0a

The Lumberjack’s Beard
Duncan Beedie
Templar Publishing
Delivered with gentle humour, Duncan Beedle’s new picture book is an environmental fable. Herein we meet Jim – Big Jim Hickory, bristly-bearded, burly tree feller who (after his daily limbering-up, or should that be lumbering-up regime) …

%0a

does what lumberjacks do; he takes his axe, heads to the forest and destroys trees.
This activity, he subsequently learns, spells disaster for the forest-dwelling animals: the bird no longer has her new nest, the pine needles and leaves for porcupine’s shelter have gone up in smoke and moving those tree trunks down the river has deprived beaver of his new dam.
Furthermore the alternative accommodation Jim’s providing for these creatures is becoming more than a little troublesome to him.
Time for some felling of a different kind decides our hirsute lumberjack …

%0a

which of course leaves its residents homeless once more. Another idea is needed, Jim – a better one this time. And here he goes …

%0a

The domestic scenes of Jim and his tenants are hilarious and Beedle renders his superb landscapes in appropriately earthy hues –

%0a

as the impact of deforestation is introduced to the very young. The message assuredly packs a powerful punch.

%0a

There’s just SO much to think about and discuss with foundation stage and KS1 audiences. This one’s an absolute ‘must have’ for classrooms as well as individual sharing.

localbookshops_nameimage-2

Classic Christmas Briefing

%0a

The Twelve Days of Christmas
William Morris and Liz Catchpole
Penguin Random House V&A
With a gorgeously tactile cover, this is a super-stylish rendition of the ever popular classic seasonal song. It’s illustrated with a mix of patterns chosen from the V&A’s William Morris archive and glorious new artwork by illustrator Liz Catchpole inspired by the work of Morris who was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement.
Best-loved designs such as ‘Cray’ furnishing fabric …

dscn9394

and ‘Pimpernel’ wallpaper are included …

dscn9395

but every turn of the page brings fresh delight.
Just the thing to give to a loved one especially a book-lover, or to anyone who likes art and design of the classic kind.

%0a

The Newborn Child
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books
Jackie Morris has created her own text as an accompaniment to her gorgeous illustrations for this new edition of a book previously published a decade ago as Little One We Knew You’d Come. This is very much a feelings-centred telling of the nativity story with much of the focus being on how the mother herself feels before …

%0a

and after the birth. There’s beauty on every page: into Jackie Morris’ richly coloured scenes are woven symbols from the natural world – butterflies and moths, birds and their feathers …

%0a

flowers, fruits and shells, making them truly memorable, especially that final mother and child spread with the thumb-sucking infant.

%0a

Little Grey Rabbit’s Christmas
Alison Uttley and Margaret Tempest
Templar Publishing
A classic Christmas read if ever there was one. I can still recall, as a small child laughing over Hare standing outside in the snow “catching cold, and eating it too,” as my dad read it to me. First published in 1939, but still offering lots to savour and talk about, it’s deliciously nostalgic and full of Christmas kindness. Imagine inviting carol singers in, to pass round a mug of wine and hot mince pies …

%0a

Raven Child and The Snow Witch

Raven Child and the Snow Witch
Linda Sunderland and Daniel Egnéus
Templar Publishing
Right from its textured sparkly cover, there’s something of a Russian folk tale feel to this magical, chilling story of love, loss and bravery, from debut picture book author, Linda Sunderland, and illustrator Daniel Egnéus.
Travel with me over frozen lakes and shimmery mountains and through the Forest of a Thousand Eyes to the Snow Garden, home of young Anya and her parents. Despite her chilly surroundings, Anya is kept warm by the dress of feathers woven for her by her friends the ravens whose language she has learned. On the first day of spring Anya’s mother sets out towards the glacier on a mission to collect gentian flowers, her daughter’s favourites, accompanied only by the ravens.

 

Anya and her father remain at home and after a while, the child falls sleep and dreams. She dreams of hearing her mother’s voice telling of her capture by the Snow Witch and this is followed by terrible news from one of the ravens that had gone with her mother.
Anya tends him and listens to his story. What he tells her has father and daughter setting out next morning on a frightening and dangerous journey together in search of Anya’s missing parent.

 

It turns out though, as the two learn during the course of their journey, that Anya’s mother is not the only person missing: a whole village’s children have been stolen away. Anxious not to waste time waiting for the villagers, Anya, accompanied only by the raven she’s named Broken Wing and Half Tail (a fox rescued on the way) travels on, until finally they come upon tell-tale signs that their search has brought them to the right place.

%0a

Deep inside the glacier, Anya must confront her deepest fears; but is she a match for the Snow Witch? Can she rescue her mother and the children from the clutches of the evil woman …
Totally enchanting from cover to cover, this book will grip you right from its introductory verses to Anya’s final flight with the ravens. Daniel Egnéus’ haunting scenes of icy and snowy landscapes and Anya’s encounters with the animals she befriends are spell-bindingly beautiful.

 

One Hundred Sausages

dscn9297

One Hundred Sausages
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing
As a vegetarian, sausages are NOT my thing at all, I’ll cross the road to avoid walking past a butcher’s and I’m certainly no dog lover. That said I was more than happy to see the return of Scruff, mischievous mongrel of One Hundred Bones fame. This funny story revolves around sausages, Scruff’s favourite food in the whole world and he certainly has a nose for them; sausages even fill his dreams every single night. Imagine his devastation then when he learns that his daily sausage sniff has been thwarted by a robbery.

%0a

Even worse, the number one criminal suspect is none other than Scruff himself.
What’s to be done? Either he faces a stint behind bars or he tracks down the real culprit. Straightaway, Scruff goes off to enlist the help of his doggy pals …

dscn9299

But it’s not until the s word is mentioned that the other dogs show any inclination to join the search.
Finally, the hunt is on: a sniffing party hits the city and eventually Scruff’s nostrils catch a whiff. Time to put those paws into action …

%0a

A chase ensues and the thief is finally apprehended …

%0a

after which it’s time to celebrate. You don’t need me to tell you what was on the menu for Scruff and his fellow pooches.
Zommer’s canines are a real laugh, not only Scruff, but Ada the Afghan, Pixie the Poodle, Percy the Pug and Sidney the Sausage Dog too, are real characters with their own idiosyncrasies. Pixie for example likes to file her nails and Percy considers himself a bit of a charmer.
Dog lovers especially will be delighted: the rest of us will have a good giggle over the crazy shenanigans shown in this daft detective tale.

Plants and Animals: Fact & Fiction

%0a

How Plants Work
Christiane Dorion and Beverley Young
Templar Publishing
A sequence of questions is used to introduce nine topics relating to the world of plants in this book that’s jam-packed with information. Each question is explored in a stylishly illustrated double spread, the first being ‘Why do plants have flowers?’ However an even more fundamental consideration: What is a plant?’ is discussed on the fold-out flap on the side of this spread.
This is followed by how plants grow from seeds, what plants feed on and how, defence, habitats and the importance of trees …

%0a

We’re then introduced to some of the ‘weirdest’ plants, the edible ones and the final spread focuses on some of the uses of plants including some ideas that have come from observation of particular plants such as that by Swiss engineer George de Mistral who got his idea for Velcro from the burrs that attached themselves to the fur of his dog.
There are lots of flaps and tabs to explore; and the superb paper-engineering from Andy Mansfield really brings the whole thing to life. (Some of the tabs are not very robust and may not stand up to the enthusiastic handling of classroom use so it may be better to give this to individual readers.)

dscn9340

Knowledge Encyclopedia ANIMAL!
written by John Woodward
Dorling Kindersley
This truly is a weighty, although not a heavyweight, tome. After the contents page, introductory ‘What is an Animal?’, discussions on ‘Evolution and Extinction‘ and a classification diagram, the book is divided into six sections: Invertebrates, Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and finally, Mammals.

dscn9392

The first spread of each section explains the meaning of the class as well as providing some general information.
I learned a fair bit (even with zoology as part of first degree studies) from this fascinating book including meeting some new animals such as the Sugar Glider and the Blue-Tongued Skink (note the helpful thumbnail picture, beside a human hand to give an indication of real size).

%0a

The 3D photographic illustrations are very impressive and many of the animals appear to be leaping right out of the pages, and the textual information has been authenticated by the Smithsonian Institution for accuracy.
A book for the family, for animal lovers young and not so young, and a worthwhile addition to the primary or secondary school library.
For those who prefer animals in stories take a look at:

%0a

Greatest Animal Stories
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press
Author, former Children’s Laureate and co-founder of the children’s charity Farms for City Children, Michael Morpurgo has selected seventeen of his favourite animals tales from various parts of the world for this anthology.
These traditional tales are retold by ten different authors and illustrated by a dozen different artists.
Some of the stories can be read in a few minutes, others such as Pippa Goodheart’s lively telling of Puss in Boots

%0a

Puss in Boots is confronted by the ogre – a   Thomas Radcliffe illustration

and Morpurgo’s compelling rendering of Peter and the Wolf take a fair bit longer. No matter which story you choose to share at any particular time, make sure you allow time to explore the illustrations – every story has superb illustrations at every turn of the page.
All manner of animals from tricksters such as Anansi the Spider, Brer Rabbit, and Baboon to talking cows and cats are featured and Morpurgo provides a brief introduction to each of the tales outlining its origin, underlying message and something to ponder upon.
One for the family bookshelf or classroom library, or to give as a present perhaps.

Pinball Science & The Pen

%0a

Pinball Science
Illustrated by Owen Davey
Templar Publishing
The teacher part of me has always advocated putting scientific learning into a meaningful context: now here is an exciting project incorporating a whole lot of scientific principles that’s a tremendous learning opportunity. All you need to do is open up the box and follow the step-by-step instructions for assembling an 88 piece model complete with levers, plungers and flippers – awesome! In practice, I think it may prove a little more tricky.
Before plunging in though I suggest reading the pages describing the science behind the whole pinball wonder.

image1

Here’s Jack working on the model

It’s fascinating stuff: I learned it in deadly boring, text book only O-level physics with nay a practical in sight, but only understood what some of it really means, for instance Newton’s third law of motion ‘Every action results in an equal and opposite reaction’ when messing around with toy cars while teaching infants many years later. Now, it’s explained along with a simple investigation with a balloon.

%0a

And the difference between kinetic and potential energy? I remember learning that off by heart with little understanding but here, it’s neatly explained through an investigation with a tennis ball.

%0a

These practical activities and many others, all relevant to the enterprise about to be undertaken, provided by authors of the project, Nick Arnold (of Horrible Histories fame) and Ian Graham, are all stylishly illustrated by the wonderful Owen Davey.

dscn8435

The Pen
Raphaël Fejtö
Firefly Books
This near pocket-sized book is one of a series called Little Inventions. It’s a fascinating and delightfully quirky look at the history and development of a writing implement from the beginnings of writing when sharp reeds were used to engrave on soft clay tablets. It takes us up right through to the advent of Biros and then, the disposable BIC pens we’re so familiar with. In Japan, brushes were used for writing and these led to the invention of felt-tip pens so popular today for writing and colouring.
That’s it briefly; and the final page is a memory quiz. With amusing illustrations on every page,

%0a

this is just the kind of book to fascinate those youngsters less keen to embark on fictional stories: a whole lot of information, delivered narrative style, is packed into just 32 pages. Having read this one, I suspect children will want to seek out the other titles in the series: The Fork, French Fries, Glasses, Pizza and The Toilet (I bet that one proves popular!).
Just right for a school topic box, home library – anywhere there are readers (and writers) actually.

The Darkest Dark / Ludwig the Space Dog

%0a

The Darkest Dark
Chris Hadfield and The Fan Brothers
Macmillan Children’s Books
The dark is for dreams – and morning is for making them come true.’ So says Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut on whose childhood this book is based. Herein we meet him as a boy, a boy who dreams of becoming an astronaut, flying to the moon or Mars.
Chris however, was afraid of the dark. For him the darkness that filled his bedroom when the lights were turned out was a darkness filled with aliens, very scary aliens.

%0a

One particular night, he has to overcome his fears and sleep in his own bed or miss the opportunity to visit a neighbour’s house the following evening to view the Apollo 11 lunar landing. So on the night of July 20th 1969, as he watches the TV (the only one on their island home) and sees the events unfolding, he realises just how dark space is – ‘the darkest dark ever’.
This is a turning point for the would-be astronaut. Chris has lost his fear and for the very first time he appreciates ‘the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark.’ And in that dark your dreams await, dreams that can become your life, not tomorrow morning but some time …
The illustrators of this story really bring out both the mystery of darkness and the depth of young Chris’s nyctophobia when everything around him takes on a brooding, sinister appearance …

%0a

Certainly this is an inspiring story to share with youngsters who fear the dark, as well as those with an interest in space, whether or not they aspire to become astronauts: one never knows. Stories can generate dreams and you’ve read what Chris Hadfield has to say about those …
There’s more for space lovers in

%0a

Ludwig the Space Dog
Henning Löhlein
Templar Publishing
I guess if I had to choose an alternative world in which to live, I’d be pretty happy with the one wherein Ludwig and his five friends reside. It’s a world of books no less and unsurprisingly Ludwig loves to read, especially books about space. These books – as books generally do – generate dreams and ideas; and for Ludwig those ideas are about space and flying.
Try as he might though, Ludwig just cannot stay in the air for more than a very short time;

%0a

but then something unexpected crash lands right before his eyes. From that something steps its pilot – a space explorer who is in urgent need of assistance. And that is the starting point for a whole new life for Ludwig. Having fixed the rocket’s engine, he accepts the explorer’s invitation and finally takes flight on an amazing exploration of space.
Children can enjoy entering the bookish world of Ludwig and his friends, and joining the dog on his space adventure through the 3D glasses provided in the pocket inside the book’s front cover.
I love those quirky collage style illustrations of Henning Löhlein, which, even without the glasses, have in places, a three-dimensional look.