The Big Book of Blooms

The Big Book of Blooms
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

How much joy can be packed between the covers of a book? An infinite amount when it comes to Yuval Zommer’s splendiferous botanical offering. I put my hand up to being a botany enthusiast having studied the subject at A-level and spending a gap year working in the herbarium at Kew so have an abiding interest in the subject but I defy anyone not to be bowled over by this visual stunner.

Topically organised the basics are covered in the first few spreads – floral families, plant anatomy,

pollination and reproduction, followed by a look at some of the useful things flowers provide.

Next is a zoom in to some specific kinds of flora: the carnivorous Venus flytrap (there’s just a single species and it grows wild in swamps and bogs on the East coast of the USA); roses – I was astonished to read that it takes 15.4 litres of water to produce a single flower; the ancient proteas that could be found as long ago as 90 million years when dinosaurs roamed the earth; cherry blossom trees with their delicate pink and white flowers that delight so many of us in the springtime; tulips, giant water lilies and another carnivore– the Pitcher plants.

Some flowers, despite their striking, sometimes beautiful appearance, smell something rotten. That’s to attract carnivorous pollinators such as carrion flies; but to my vegetarian sensibilities, their ‘rotting meat smell’ would be a huge turn off: the ‘Stinking Flowers’ spread was the only one I didn’t linger long over: I could almost smell the odour emanating from that parasitic corpse lily that lacks roots, shoots, stems and leaves.

Despite the exotic nature of a number of the flowers featured I think my favourite spread of all is that devoted to wild flowers, some of which are flowering abundantly very close to my home as I write.

The final few pages are allocated to seed dispersal, plant defence, there’s a spread devoted to Kew Gardens and some of the work that goes on there both inside and out; a plea for the protection of vital habitats and some suggestions for becoming a gardener without a garden.

There’s also a final glossary and index.

With the wealth of fauna on every spread, Yuval injects just the right amount of mischievous humour into his illustrations.

To add further interest and to ensure that readers study every page with the close attention it merits, he’s planted a golden bulb to search for on fifteen of the spreads .

Written in consultation with experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. this is a must have for family bookshelves, classroom collections and anywhere that budding botanists might be taking root.

Absolutely BLOOMING BRILLIANT!

Franklin and Luna and the Book of Fairy Tales

Franklin and Luna and the Book of Fairy Tales
Jen Campbell and Katie Harnett
Thames & Hudson

This is dragon Franklin and his human pal, Luna’s third adventure. Herein the two are about to celebrate bibliophile Franklin’s six hundred and sixth birthday.

Luna and the villagers are planning a special surprise party and to distract Franklin, Luna takes him to a strange bookshop where spiders act as assistants to the lady owner and there are exciting books in abundance.

But the real adventure begins when Luna’s pet tortoise Neil is entrapped by an old book,

and Franklin and Luna follow into what turns out to be, the wondrous world of fairy tales.

There they meet the likely characters – the three little pigs building a hotel,

three bears, a boy who has so he says, sold his cow for magic beans, a ‘yawning princess with a bag of frozen peas’ (love that), as well as a host of other story book inhabitants.

Some of these, including the final one they encounter – a large grey wolf – don’t conform to the stereotype: this huffing creature informs the searchers that he’s turned vegetarian and practises yoga. Not only that, he actually points out the missing tortoise (engaged in a race with a long-eared leporine).

Yes, they do escape from the book – just! – and return to the village for that surprise party, but whether it turns out to be their ‘happily ever after’ as Luna wonders during the celebratory picnic, we’ll have to wait and see.

Young listeners will delight in the story and especially relish pointing out their favourite fairy tale characters, while adult sharers will welcome the creators’ promotion of books, stories and proper bookshops.

We Are Artists

We Are Artists
Kari Herbert
Thames & Hudson

For this splendid celebration of creativity, Kari Herbert has selected fifteen influential women artists from various cultures and different parts of the world who succeeded, often against considerable odds.

Each one is the subject of a chapter that includes a quote, a fantastic portrait (by Herbert), a short biography and one or two reproductions of their work.

I was thrilled to see Tove Jansson, especially her Moomins sketches. Kari Hebert’s ‘Back in 1950s Finland, for a woman to love another woman was illegal. But on the islands… they could live and love as they wanted.’ is an example of the sensitive manner in which this book is written.

Abstract Sea, Tove jansson 1963

As you might expect we meet Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo but there are also Corita Kent, Yayoi Kusama and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Among the few artists new to me, and despite my being a frequent visitor to India with two close friends who are artists, is Amrita Sher-Gil whose interpretations of the rich colours she saw in the everyday lives of India’s poor are enormously moving.

Group of Three Girls, 1935

‘In India the light spoke to her’, we read in contrast to the greyness of Europe where as daughter of a Hungarian opera singer mother and an aristocratic North Indian Sikh father, she spent her early years.

Another new discovery for me is Lyubov Popova, one of several avant-garde women artists in Russia in the early part of the 20th century. I love the quote that introduces her: ‘ Most important of all is the spirit of creative process.’

Engrossing and inspiring, this superb book is for youngsters with an interest in art and those who want to encourage creativity especially in young people.

Aaahhh!

Aaahhh!
Guilherme Karsten
Thames & Hudson

Aaahhh! Aaahhh! Aaahhh! Whatever is that noise?

The world’s highest mountain collapses; something weird is happening between the north and south poles; the biggest tiger in the world becomes stripeless.

Aaahhh! Aaahhh! Aaahhh! A terrible eardrum shattering noise is permeating the entire planet.

Nobody can think straight let alone hear other voices. Chaos and confusion reign as computers go crazy with buzzes and beeps.

Where can such a havoc wreaking sound possibly be coming from? Outer space perhaps? Or could it be a catastrophic hit on the trombone factory, or an enormous out of tune saxophone being played? Whatever it is, the sound seems to be drawing more and ever more people towards its source.

A plot spoiler I won’t be so I’ll leave you to decide what or who is the cause of the cacophonous din. The answer certainly came as a complete surprise to me; I was anticipating something completely different.

Enormous fun and full of witty artistic allusions, illustrator and graphic designer Guilherme Karsten’s mixed media illustrations of paint, crayon and collage have details aplenty to pore over. You might want to reach for your earplugs as you read his resoundingly zany tale aloud to a participatory child audience.

Button & Popper

Button & Popper
Oili Tanninen
Thames & Hudson

This is a retro charmer from the 1960s created by award wining Finish author and illustrator Oili Tanninen.

It tells of a family of pixies, a mother and father and their twelve children, who with winter fast approaching, decide that their apple tree home isn’t suitable accommodation for the cold and rain. It’s a worrying, sad time as they consume the pie made from the last apples that evening. Two of the children, twins Button and Popper resolve that the following morning they will go and find a new home.

Out they sneak, very early towards town making inquiries, but all those they ask say the same thing ”Twelve children” and kindly explain there’s nowhere large enough for so many people.

The twins feel more than a little dispirited, but then by mistake the only person in the market they haven’t asked, an absent minded fellow named Professor Prilli, accidentally picks up the basket they’d climbed into, mistaking it for his own and takes it back, leaving it in his cellar.

Realising they’ve left their father’s umbrella at the market the two pixies manage to escape. They retrieve the umbrella and the professor’s own basket and take it back to him.

The thankful professor asks the pixies what they were doing in the market and when he learns their reason, he offers them temporary use of his home till he returns from his South Pole research trip the following spring.

There’s great jubilation all round when the twins give the exciting news to the rest of their family back at the apple tree.

With its orange, yellow and black illustrations adorned with lines and geometric shapes, this delightful tale of serendipity will appeal especially to those who enjoy a touch of whimsy in their stories.

1001 Ants

1001 Ants
Joanna Rzezak
Thames & Hudson

If you stop by an anthill and have time to watch the activity, you’ll discover that ants are fascinating creatures. The trouble is though that we cannot see what is going on inside.

Author/artist Joanna Rzezak shows us on her opening spread of this large format book. Thereon is a cross-section of an anthill where we see chambers connected by lots of branching tunnels, some of the former containing ants, while others hold such things as aphids, leaves and seeds needed as food by the ants.

The factual narrative is brief and light-hearted for we’re told ‘there is a little ant with red socks hiding in every picture in this book’ and asked to try and locate same.

A smell tells the ants it’s time to start walking, where we know not, and we then follow the long line of tiny creatures as they march single file through bracken, over fungi and among fallen leaves. All the while the playful red-socked ant comments and sometimes gets sidetracked.

Surprisingly for this reader, the ants traverse the edge of a pond using lily pads as stepping-stones, fortunately taking a route behind the large green frogs with protruding tongues just waiting for some tasty insects.

Their journey takes them through a field containing a variety of plants in various stages of flowering and fruiting, full of other insects including the caterpillar of a swallowtail butterfly; then beneath a large spider’s web

and even over the body of a huge sleeping bear.

Eventually they reach a tree and up its trunk they climb, carefully avoiding an owl resting therein, along a branch they continue; but this is nature so what is that drumming sound and what is that long pinkish worm-like protrusion.

Oh no!

The food chain must be kept working and so a large bird is left to utter the punch line. Not quite the last word though – that is left for the red-socked ant …

Factual snippets about the flora and fauna encountered on the journey will definitely keep readers interested in the natural history side, while curiosity will drive them forward as they follow the ants’ journey to its end.

 

Deep in the Ocean / The Big Sticker Book of Birds

Deep in the Ocean
Lucie Brunellière
Abrams Appleseed

In this large format board book, readers follow Oceanos, a shiny silver submarine, as it takes an exploratory voyage into the depths of the oceans.
From the first opening, we’re immersed in the ocean’s waters along with the submarine’s scientific crew

but as their craft dives deep and travels through a deep abyss, a fierce storm blows up, whisking the little shiny submarine right off its intended course.

Instead, eddying whirlpools cause it to journey to the polar waters of the Arctic; then it’s pulled by a blue whale towards tropical waters of a coral reef, travelling on until one imagines, it resurfaces, with the crew having collected a wealth of information.

There is a free accompanying 10-minute, atmospheric sound track available to download, though to get the most out of the dual experience, you need to synchronise the track timings with page turns.

It’s easy to get lost in the colourful ecosystems with their standout bright flora and fauna depicted in Brunellière’s multi-layered, finely detailed spreads that do a splendid job of capturing the awe and immensity of our ocean ecosystems.

Dive in and be amazed at the riches therein.

The Big Sticker Book of Birds
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

Following Yuval’s wonderful The Big Book of Birds comes an activity book on the same theme.

Readers are in the company of Polly the Pigeon. She guides us through as we’re told, ‘the feathery world of birds’ and all that’s needed for the journey is a pencil, some colouring pens and ‘a flighty imagination’. Some of the latter might be used in deciding how to adorn the pages with the 200+ stickers provided at the end of the book.

There’s a wealth of fascinating facts embedded within the spreads that are allocated either to specific kinds of birds such as albatrosses or puffins, or to avian topics including feathers, nesting, and migration.

Children might accept Yuval’s invitation to complete a maze,

design a feather for a new bird species, spot the difference, design a bird box, imagine and draw what a dozen magpies might have picked up in their beaks and more. Or what about playing a game of Blackbird bingo or adding foliage to a tree for wild birds to hide among?

I love the way all Yuval’s creatures be they birds or other, have a slightly mischievous look in their eyes, which adds to the allure of the already engaging pages.

Immersive and fun while unobtrusively educating the user(s).

Prudence and Her Amazing Adventure

Prudence and Her Amazing Adventure
Charlotte Gastaut
Thames & Hudson

Amazing is something of an understatement when it comes to young Prudence’s flights of fancy that take place as she blocks out her parents’ increasingly urgent calls to tidy up and get ready to go out.

Out she certainly does go, far, far away to wonderful woodlands,

incredible tropical jungles, deep down into the ocean and way, way up among the stars.

All kinds of creatures, strange and stranger still, as well as some more expected ones, inhabit the landscapes, seascapes and skyscapes she visits on her imaginary journey; until eventually those parental voices once more break into her fantasy worlds and it’s time to answer their call.

As well as her awesome double spread illustrations, French artist extraordinaire, Charlotte Gastaut has included cut-outs and translucent pages to flip back and forth, as readers join the little girl on her incredible adventures.

There is SO much to see in every scene, some of which almost leaps from the page thanks to Charlotte’s bright pink colour pops, whereas other details are less easily discernible hidden between the swirling textures of the rocks, stones and foliage.

Who would want to tidy up a room when it can furnish such breath taking experiences as Prudence’s?

A stunning book to immerse oneself in, and to visit over and over, losing track of time just like Prudence.

Tony T-Rex’s Family Album

Tony T-Rex’s Family Album
Mike Benton and Rob Hodgson
Thames & Hudson

The stream of dinosaur books is never ending and it’s tricky to find new angles but who better than vertebrate palaeontology professor Mike Benton to come up with a novel way of presenting one of children’s favourite topics.

Using Tony-T-Rex as dinosaur family album writer, readers are provided with rip-roaring authentic information about dinosaurs from the tyrannosaurus’ mouth. And Tony really does grab the readers’ interest and grips them between those 20cm long ridged gnashers of his throughout.

First of all he digs deep, unearthing for us just how a dead dinosaur becomes fossilised and how scientists such as the prof. differentiate between a dinosaur and a ginormous lizard. We’re then plunged back 201 million years to the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs rose to power.

Next it’s time to introduce the creatures themselves, starting in the UK with Megalosaurus Big Liz, one of the first dinosaurs and the first to be discovered, surprisingly by one, William Buckland who had no idea of the existence of dinosaurs, mistaking his find for a massive lizard. Happily though scientists soon identified differences between dinos. and lizards.

Thereafter, we travel the world meeting a host of awesome, mind-blowing relations of Tony’s, each of which has a funky name and an extraordinary body.

There’s Tony’s distant ancestor pigeon sized Crash-Test Dex (aka) Epidexipteryx with its long claws and sharp buck teeth. Dex had to perfect tree scrambling for it was a favourite nibble for young dinos with near ground level noses.

We meet the familiar Diplodocus (Dippy herein), Cowboy Spike (Stegosaurus) and then it’s Cruella the Flesh-Eater hailing from Portugal, with 70 dagger-like teeth just right for attacking unsuspecting stegosaurs and diplodocuses – EEEK!

Big Bellied Bill – Tony’s great-great-great-grandpa is memorable for his insatiable appetite for leaves that made him one of the heaviest ever land animals; unsurprisingly he suffered from horrendous wind – PHOOOAH!

It’s impossible to mention all Tony’s Cretaceous relatives here but the fossil of winged Flighty Aunt Nyx is extinct proof of a dinosaur with the ability to fly.

Moving forward to the Cretaceous Period (between 145 and 66 million years ago) we meet another creature with the ability to propel itself through the air: part lizard, part bird, Sinornithosaurus or Crouching Glider, with its alarmingly long teeth and upper jaw pocket was, reputedly, a terror.

I had a good giggle at Dead-Weight Diana (Titanosaurus), Tony’s Argentinian cousin, the heaviest dinosaur in the world, scoffer of the trees’ topmost, juciest leaves. Roamers these, for fossils have been found on every one of Earth’s continents.

You simply must meet the most elegant of all the dinosaurs, Siegfried the Swan (Olorotitan), which I have to admit is new to me. I was fascinated to learn that it had a penchant for dancing and despite its 8m length and 5 tonne weight, this crested beauty loved to demonstrate its ground-shaking prowess to all around.

Two T’s bring the family album to a close, Triceratops and finally our presenter, Tony T-Rex Tyrannosauarus. He’s excited to inform us that his poo might weigh as much as a 6-month old human baby.

The final spreads are devoted to how the dinosaurs died out; a visit to the Great Hall of Fossils; a world map showing where fossil evidence has been unearthed (and might still be); how to go about a fossil hunt and some useful dinosaur lingo for those who want to impress their friends.

This splendiferous tome is a must for family bookshelves and classrooms; all the more so as Rob Hodgson has provided the funky illustrations with the delicious wry humour of his that I loved so much in The Cave.

My Pet Star / Little Fish

My Pet Star
Corrinne Averiss and Rosalind Beardshaw
Orchard Books

Beneath a tree one night, a little girl discovers a star. The star has been hurt by its fall and its glow has gone, so she takes him home.

There she acts as a ‘cosmic super vet’ tenderly nurturing her ‘pet’ star, sharing books with him

and cuddling up with him at bedtime.

The days go by and the young narrator finds out a great deal about her star and his habits and all the while, the star glows brighter. She misses him during the day when he sleeps a lot; and he eschews her games merely looking on silently and benevolently.

At night though, he comes to life, his sparkle preventing the girl from sleeping as he twinkles above her bed – until she makes a decision.

Leaping from her bed she opens wide her window and … whoosh! Away flies her astral friend, fully restored, back into the dark sky where he belongs, from there to brighten up the sky and his new friend’s life from afar.

Corrinne’s magical story demonstrates the importance of kindness, altruism and friendship; it’s beautifully illuminated by Ros. Beardshaw in her mixed media scenes. Her narrator is shown as an adorable child who seems to live alone in a shepherd’s hut or travellers’ caravan.

Little Fish
Emily Rand
Thames & Hudson

Five vibrant, layered neon scenes of life beneath the ocean waves pop out of this book, the covers of which can be tied back to create a standing carousel.

A short rhyming narrative introduces two orange goby fish playing among the corals. The duo become separated when a large shoal swims past sweeping one of them with it, into a dark patch of kelp in which rests a friendly-looking turtle.

Less friendly though is the hungry grouper that lurks in the cave nearby eyeing the little goby. Then, even more scarifying are the white teeth of a marauding shark that appears on the scene snapping its jaws threateningly.

Happily though, the little fish finally makes it back home where it re-joins its playmate on the reef.

A lovely way to introduce your little ones to marine life, but equally this would be great as part of an early years display for a sea-related theme.

The Big Book of Birds

The Big Book of Birds
Yuval Yommer
Thames & Hudson

This is a cracking series and Yuval’s bird book is an absolute beauty.

Each and every spread, starting with the opening Bird Family Tree is full of fascinating facts and illustrated with that wonderfully playful, ‘twinkle-in-the-eye style the artist has.

Despite my partner being an avid bird spotter, I’d not realised before that there are almost 10,000 bird species and here they’re divided into family groups: birds of prey, owls, woodland and forest birds, seabirds, perching birds, water birds and the flightless kinds.

After spreads on being a bird-friendly spotter, feathers and their role in flying, and bird migration, each introduced by a question, we’re given examples of members of each family, zooming in first on great grey owls. Did you know that these are the tallest owls in the world and have special feather-formed discs around their eyes acting as satellite-like dishes directing sounds into their ears; or that with seven more neck vertebrae than humans, a great grey owl can turn its head almost completely around? (The teacher part of me loves that idea.)

Flamingos (pink feathered on account of their diet) and magpies – not thieves of shiny things – come next and then one of my favourites, kingfishers. Currently living much of the time very close to the Nailsworth Stream along which if I’m lucky, I see a kingfisher flash by, or occasionally spot perching on a overhanging branch, these birds always make me feel uplifted; and so it was here.

I don’t think I’ll go and investigate the bank for a stinky fish bone and poo-filled burrow though.

With introductory questions, there are spreads on flightless birds, secretary birds, parrots, bald eagles, puffins, albatrosses, hummingbirds, peacocks – I love to see these on walks in parts of India – robins, swans, hoopoes and red-crowned cranes. Interspersed there are pages looking at nests of various kinds,

eggs – I was amazed to learn as ostrich egg is 16cm long; beaks – their shapes and feeding functions; bird calls and songs – we’re probably all aware of the early dawn chorus these light mornings; city birds and making your garden a bird-friendly place.

If you really want to impress others, there’s a spread on specific vocabulary and as I should have mentioned at the outset, the solution to the ‘can you find the same egg 15 times’ poser from the title.

Absolutely avian-electable; and my copy came with a wonderful pictorial treat – thank you Yuval – before the title page.

If this book doesn’t get your young ones enthusing about our feathered friends, then I’ll be forced to spend a whole day doing various yoga poses like peacock or crow.

How To Light Your Dragon

How To Light Your Dragon
Didier Lévy and Fred Benaglia
Thames & Hudson

What do you do when you discover that your much-loved pet dragon’s spark has gone out? This delicious book with its exciting amalgam of words and pictures offers a range of possible curative strategies.

The dragon belonging to a child owner emits not a single flicker when first we encounter it but the child remains upbeat as ideas are put forward one by one in the manner of an instruction guide.

What about lifting his rear legs and giving him a ‘good shake’? Nothing doing?

Maybe use his tummy as a trampoline. No? A feather duster toe-tickle, underarm feathery feel or a nasal nudge duster-style maybe. Uh-uh, no go!

Make him really, really angry by cheating at cards or make a large cake complete with candles – irresistible surely? Actually no; and even the oven shop with its jealousy-inducing latest models pointed out fails to spark a response.

By now said dragon appears decidedly downcast and even consumes the false flames stuck on his snout then flops down defeated and immobile.

Perhaps the time has come for an entirely different approach; unconditional love – now there’s an idea … recollections of good times shared, a big smacking kiss right on his nostrils and … TA-DA!

The fusion of near show-stopping typography, arresting design, and wildly bright colours is powerful enough; but even that is eclipsed by the message that someone or here, something, is loved no matter what, gives the book its hottest, most radiant magic.

Didier Lévy and Fred Benaglia most definitely lit my fire with this one.

Norm

Norm
Sylvia Liang
Thames & Hudson

Is there such a thing as normal? The narrator – Normal or Norm for short – of Sylvia Liang’s debut picture book certainly thinks so and he epitomises that normal, he and his friends Plain and Simple. These individuals live in an extremely orderly village, made so because its residents spend much of their time measuring themselves and everything around them, and merely hiding or turning away from wrongly sized items be they animal, vegetable or mineral.

Life with this uniformity is, so we hear, pretty peachy with its set shapes, sizes and times for doing things like partaking of afternoon tea from matching crockery.

One day into this utter normality bursts a yellow bird that leads Norm to meet Odd(ette), a very friendly little lass who lives in a town of boot houses.

Norm’s foray into her far from normal environment is shall we say, shocking, but altogether friendly and in fact, enchanting. With such characters as Clouded Apple sweet maker Eddie with his recipe of apple, sugar and imagination in equal measures; milliner Lady Lily whose hats are adorned with marine animals

as well as Mr King, musical maths teacher and messy Professor John whose stories cause the world to melt away.

It’s young Odd though who has something important to convey to her guest: ‘ if you focus on your ruler all the time … you’ll miss the things that will amaze you in this world.’ And when Norm sets aside his ruler, he discovers to his surprise that it’s true.

But what about his friends back home? Are they open to the possibility of the new and surprising; do they too have the potential to accept the odd change?

This reviewer has always been a rule challenger/subverter, so Sylvia Long’s book really spoke to me, for who can measure the freedom one finds when one loosens the hold on the strictures rules impose.

Let’s celebrate all who find the courage to be a little freer in the way they live their lives.

Has Anybody Seen A Story?

Has Anybody Seen a Story?
Mandana Sadat
Thames & Hudson

‘Once upon a time, there were three Thingummies called Sadie, Spike and Smudge. They lived in the middle of Nowhere in a place called Floatyfish, surrounded by soft fluffy clouds. The Thingummies had everything they needed – plenty of water, plenty of fresh air, and plenty of flutterberries, a delicious kind of flying fruit that you catch with a net.’

So begins Mandana Sadat’s wonderfully quirky meta-fictive picture book wherein we join the Thingummies in their search for adventure.
Three days of walking leads the threesome to a crossorads and they choose first to follow the Fairytale Trail. This foray finds them coming face to face with the exceedingly ugly, very old and mighty frightening ZOMBEAST.

Its threat to erase them entirely sends the friends fleeing for their lives back to the crossroads.

Next they select The Future Freeway, a bright shiny, ‘whizzy and busy and bright’ sort of place where a friendly-seeming robot makes them feel welcome and refreshed but not for long. When the mechanical monster starts unloading its own woes, the three Ss decide to beat a hasty retreat before it’s too late.

The Poetry Path sounds entirely promising so off they go again, discovering a place, the air of which is enriched by beautiful thoughts and wonderful words: Now who wouldn’t want to spend time there imbibing such delights.

Alluring though this location is, Spike decides they should try the final road, so having returned to the crossroads they proceed deep below ground to Bedtime Boulevard. Therein resides famous storyteller, Madame Mole and she’s happy to help the story searchers. So soothing is her voice that it has a soporific effect on the three seekers and they soon drop off to sleep,

only to find themselves next morning back at the crossroads.

There they make a startling discovery when they come upon a signpost they’d not seen previously. It’s a discovery that relates to the true nature of story, those ‘what ifs’ and the power of the imagination. That however is not quite the end of their tale for the three decide to follow the road into the Maze of Mumblings and … and … and … ultimately they do discover a story that is worth the telling …

Let the celebratory party begin!

Absolutely bursting with diverting details (verbal and visual) to relish, Mandana’s story quest world is likely to entrap readers for a considerable time, and having escaped once, they’ll find themselves drawn back for further flights of fanciful fun and new revelations.

From Tiny Seeds … / A Walk Through Nature

From Tiny Seeds …
Émilie Vast
Thames & Hudson

Seed dispersal mechanisms and subsequent growth are showcased in Émilie Vast’s series of predominantly visual stories of how plants travel.

Ten different methods are documented, each story being allocated several pages. Some such as flying, that is used by the dandelion (and other composites) will be familiar to many children, since they love to play dandelion clocks.

In contrast, other methods like ‘Being eaten’ as happens to berries including blackberries and elderberries, will be less well known. The berries are food for birds or animals and are passed through the eater’s digestive system.

and excreted partially digested in their droppings, which then nourish the excreted seeds once they’re ready to germinate.

I particularly like her device whereby the respective plants introduce themselves and go on to tell their own stories.

It’s good to see how the important role of humans in distributing seeds to various different parts of the world is documented. Did you know that the green bean was originally only found in Central and South America but now grows all over the world.

Émilie’s love of nature is evident from her beautiful, stylised illustrations for which she uses predominantly black and white with limited bursts of colour on each page.

A Walk Through Nature
Clover Robin and Libby Walden
Caterpillar Books

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare –

So begins W.H.Davies’ famous poem Leisure. Perhaps with these opening lines in mind, as well as concern over the 2015 revelation of some 50 words relating to nature and the countryside, that are no longer included in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, the creators of this book aim to increase young children’s engagement with, and understanding of, the natural world.

The walk takes us through the seasons in addition to a variety of natural landscapes and habitats. We visit a meadow; a tree wherein birds are nesting; a pond with tadpoles, ducks and fishes swimming and water lilies and bulrushes growing.

We home in on minibeasts as they move over, under and sometimes through, an ancient log of wood;

and wander on the sandy beach in the early morning sun noticing the multitude of shells and crabs.

We’re shown seemingly magical changes – the hatching of a blue tit’s eggs, the emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis,

and in the woods and fields, delve down beneath the earth where burrowing animals live.

We witness the gradual change from summer’s greens to autumnal hues; visit a mountainous region where a fresh spring begins its flow to the sea; and follow the migrating swallows as they depart for warmer climes.

Then back to what looks like the original meadow, snow falls transforming the landscape in ‘winter’s frosted cloak, sparkling, clear and bright.’

Finally as dusk spreads its rosy glow, day and night merge into one …

For each stopping place comprising a double spread with a gatefold perforated by small die-cuts, there’s an introductory poem by Libby, the final verse of which is revealed by opening the flap, beneath which are also small vignettes and accompanying factual snippets.

Clover’s collage style illustrations are gorgeous; each one merits spending time over and I really like the way the poems are each framed by a naturalistic collage that uses elements from the full page illustration.

Let’s hope that this ‘ Peek-through’, ‘first book of nature’ paves the way for youngsters to begin a life-long habit of going outdoors, walking and observing the beauties of the natural world.

Stay, Benson!

 

Stay, Benson!
Thereza Rowe
Thames & Hudson

Benson is, so owner Flick believes, the ideal dog. When she leaves home and heads off to school, he stays minding the house and of course, he always obeys her “You stay … No chasing!” command. Flick is confident of that but should she be?

What about the day when no sooner has she bid him farewell, than he’s sneaking off through the back door and teasing a black and white moggy in the garden.

Furthermore, under the impression, so he’d have us believe, Flick’s instruction was “Play Benson!” he begins chasing the cat.

The feline creature leaps over the fence but Benson digs beneath it and then the chase is well and truly on.

No matter what we tell him he insists he’s been told to “Play Benson!” and after scaring the cat out of its wits, he proceeds to chase a squirrel and then goes charging off into the playground after a ball.

Oh my goodness, now what? He certainly is in a playful mood. He’s soaked himself going after that ball

and it appears he’s a bit peckish too.

It’s as well he obeys the picnickers “GO HOME, BENSON!” command however. He makes it back just in the nick of time, for who should come through the door but Flick with a cheerful greeting and a couple of questions to which only we the readers (along with a few characters in the story) know the answers.

It’s impossible not to love this mischievous dog with his zest for life and playfulness portrayed in Thereza’s eye-catchingly bold, retro-style art with its occasional die-cuts and cutaway pages. Offering plenty of audience participation opportunities, her story is a fun read aloud and the built in repetition makes it ideal for those in the early stages of becoming a reader.

The Ear

The Ear
Piret Raud
Thames & Hudson

Suppose you are an ear and wake one morning to find you are no longer attached to a head. Then what? Do you any longer have purpose or meaning? “I am no one,” weeps the headless Ear contemplating possibilities – ear mushroom. fish. butterfly.

There follows an encounter with a gloomy frog that asks if he can sing for her and the result is a positive outcome for both parties.

Thereafter the Ear listens to an elephant’s tale, followed by a confession from a hare that’s consumed a snowman’s nose. Gradually the Ear gains a reputation as the ‘best listener in the land’: A purpose at last.

Then along comes a spider, one with a honey-sweet voice and an evil intent that entraps the Ear in a web of unkindness.

With no head to come to the rescue how can the listening organ escape this entrapment? Could it be that those she’s helped can in turn help her?

This story is somewhat surreal to say the least. We never discover how the ear/head separation came about although at the outset we’re shown clues to it‘s identity. There’s a bearded man, then a wooden chair with cane seat and a vase of sunflowers which many adult readers and children will associate with van Gogh.

Raud’s soft colour illustrations of the characters are strange indeed: there’s Ear with her slightly unnerving eyes while those she encounters are, with their swirly interiors, weirdly complex creatures.

With the importance of listening and feeling empathy at its heart, this story is certainly one to get listeners pondering and would work particularly well as the starting point for a community of enquiry.

Pop-up Moon

Pop-up Moon
Anne Jankeliowitch, Olivier Charbonnel and Annabelle Buxton
Thames & Hudson

Earth’s moon has long been a source of fascination and inspiration to both children and adults, and with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing later this year, as well as the Chinese landing on the dark side of the moon at the beginning of January, this is a timely publication.

In just eight spreads, engineer and scientist Anne Jankeliowitch has packed a considerable amount of information, but it’s Olivier Charbonnel’s four spectacular pop-up visuals that steal the show.

Readers can find out about how the moon came into being; what its surface and atmosphere are like; why it apparently changes shape and how it can have an effect on the tides.

There’s a look at eclipses and their cause; as well as space exploration including the Apollo landings.

Non-scientific ideas considered by many to be mere superstition, receive a mention too.

Space enthusiasts or not, children will be excited when they open the book and images such as this leap out at them from Annabelle Buxton’s illustrations.

The spectacular nature of some of the paper engineering is likely, I think, to result in such enthusiastic handling that this is perhaps more suitable for home than classroom use.

The Secret of the Egg / Amazing Animal Babies

The Secret of the Egg
Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron
Graffeg

What a cracking book this is; the first one I’ve seen in this series by zoologist, poet and author, Nicola Davies and illustrator Abbie Cameron.

Through a highly engaging rhyming narrative, Nicola introduces children to animal eggs of all shapes and sizes;

eggs that might be found in puddles or high in a tree; those you might have to dig for, or search in the sea or pond to discover. There are reptiles’ eggs, birds’ eggs, amphibians’ eggs, fishes’ eggs, even mammalian eggs.

With the exception of the platypus, none of the creatures featured are named so identifying whose eggs are whose is left to Abbie Cameron’s richly detailed, painterly pictures so adult assistance or some additional research may be needed.

This would make a great way to introduce a ‘new life’ topic to young children.

Amazing Animal Babies
Aina Bestard
Thames & Hudson

Animals large and animals small, from various parts of the world feature in Aina Bestard’s book.
Using as many as six intricately detailed transparent overlays the author/illustrator documents in words and aptly coloured visual images, how each animal produces and rears its young.

Herein readers will discover that the penguin parents, as well as the other members of a penguin colony play a part in the rearing of penguin chicks but it’s the Dad penguin that keeps the egg warm while Mum penguin goes off searching the ocean for food. After a chick is hatched however, both parents take turns to find food until their little one can care for itself.

In contrast, having found a safe place to lay her eggs, a mother tortoise leaves them alone to hatch and feed on the surrounding vegetation.

Once they’re laid it’s the father seahorse that takes care of the eggs inside his pouch, whereas with the kangaroo, the baby kangaroo is kept safe in its mother’s pouch.

The monarch butterfly and the common toad never meet their parents and grow up entirely on their own.

The final animal, the blue whale is reared on its mother’s milk, sometimes with the help of other whales.

The illustrations are exquisite and the narrative chatty: prepare to be amazed as you turn the pages of this fascinating book.

A History of Pictures for Children

A History of Pictures for Children
David Hockney and Martin Gayford, illustrated by Rose Blake
Thames & Hudson

It’s great to see so many art books for children published in recent months particularly since the creative subjects – art in particular – are being side-lined in the curriculum; a ridiculously short-sighted act I believe. We need to foster, nurture and develop children’s creativity rather than stifling it. Being able to think outside the box, to say, ‘what if ? …’ is the root of all development including scientific and technical. The current tick-box mentality and constant testing of children does absolutely nothing for their true development; hoop-jumpers are not what is desirable at all.
Hurrah then for such books as this.

Essentially it is a totally enthralling and immersive conversation between artist Hockney and art critic Gayford, wherein through eight chapters they look at, discuss and ponder upon works of art, providing a condensed history of art that encompasses Hockney’s art, those who influenced his works and some awesome work from others through the ages.

Rose Blake provides terrific additional illustrations of her own that cleverly bring the whole enterprise together.

I opened the parcel containing my review copy the day before I was leaving for 3 weeks in India so I tucked it into my laptop bag to take with me. I showed it to my friend Shahid Parvez, an artist and assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts, at Mohanlal Sukhadia University – Udaipur.
He also shared it with his artistic 11-year-old daughter Saba.
Here in brief are their comments:
Shahid: ‘What a lovely book – very readable and absorbing. It certainly makes you curious to know more about art and you don’t want to put it down until the end. I wish we had books such as this one in India to give our kids exposure to art in such an interesting, easy to understand way.

Saba: ‘Such an interesting book telling me about art history and the different aspects of art. I specially liked the “Light and Shadows’

and ‘Mirrors and Reflections’ chapters

and the Timeline of Inventions. I would love to read more books like this one.’

Altogether an excellent enterprise that will assuredly engage and excite both young readers and adults.

Mice in the City: Around the World

Mice in the City: Around the World
Ami Shin
Thames & Hudson

Busker, Stanley Mouse is off on his travels. Pigeon has booked him a place aboard Mrs Crombie’s Skyship; he’s got his passport, a snack, his banjo and is ready for the off: first stop Paris. What Mrs C. doesn’t know is that beneath the deck is an extra passenger.

Unsurprisingly with his penchant for cheese of the whiffy Camembert and Roquefort varieties, this city is one that assaults Stanley’s sensory organs, but he overindulges and then pays the price.

Brazil, with its streets teeming with Samba dancing mice is the next stop. It’s Carnival time and so everyone has to keep moving to the beat: Stanley is soon quite worn out and in need of sustenance and a quiet place to partake of same.
From there it’s on to New York where Stanley plays for some mice to spin to on the dance floor but this almost makes him miss the ship’s departure to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – a great place for a swim with the tropical fish.
China, Etosha National Park in Namibia,

Moscow, Tokyo, India – in particular Agra’s Taj Mahal, Germany’s Black Forest, Mexico City. Amsterdam, Seoul and one of my favourite cities – Barcelona, are also on his itinerary before the Skyship touches down once more in Trafalgar Square.

I’m surprised he isn’t too Skyship-lagged so to do, but Stanley is eager to share his new songs and regale his experiences to those that greet him after all the excitement.

My goodness! What an exhausting adventure. It’s one that’s jam-packed with visual treats to amuse young readers and keep them engrossed for hours. Those who are already familiar with previous titles in the series will be happy to add this tale of two intrepid travellers to their collection; newcomers will also want to explore Mice in the City: London and Mice in the City: New York.

Are You Hungry? / Lois Looks for Bob at the Seaside & Lois Looks for Bob at the Museum

Are You Hungry?
Janik Coat and Bernard Duisit
Thames & Hudson

There’s a veritable feast contained within the few pages of this new addition to the ‘Flip-Flap-Pop-Up series from author/illustrator Janik Coat and paper engineer extraordinaire, Bernard Duisit.

Starting on Monday, we move through the week with an animal per day sharing a culinary delight or two with us. Or should I say that perhaps not all have such mouth-watering allure.

and, while some will meet with parental approval, others probably will not.

Sunday brings a wonderful pop-up spread of treats to keep one little bear going for several days; let’s hope he remembers to brush his teeth like the rabbit on the final spread.

Playfully interactive, each spread has either a wheel to turn, tab to pull, or pop-up to unfold.
Hours of fun for small hands guaranteed from this sturdily built little book.

Lois Looks for Bob at the Seaside
Lois Looks for Bob at the Museum

Gerry Turley
Nosy Crow

Those who have met Bob in previous books will know that he likes nothing better than a game of hide-and-seek with faithful feathered friend, Lois, a game in which toddlers can take part by lifting the variously shaped flaps he might be hidden under.

The beach is the setting for the first story where we also meet, seagull Geoffrey, turtle Maureen, Victor the crab and wait for it – fish Dolores, Mike and Fay.

Where can he possibly be?

Raf (15 months) is eager to find Bob …

In the second book we visit a museum and once again Lois looks for her elusive pal even starting her hunt before entering the place. He’s not behind the curtain, or the painting; he’s not among the vases, nor in the broom cupboard.
We do discover a variety of other creatures in those places but not Bob. Then, what about the café? Could he be there perhaps?

There’s plenty to amuse and involve young listeners in these two additions to the series, although adult sharers will likely have a good giggle over the wry humour, not least in this spread.

Introducing Art to Children – Anna and Johanna & A Journey Through Art: A Global Journey

Anna and Johanna
Géraldine Elschner and Florence Kœnig
Prestel

It’s 12th October 1666 and we’re in the city of Delft where two girls are busy working. One is Anna, the daughter of the well-to-do master of the house; the other is Anna’s maid and co-incidentally they both share the same birthday. Each girl is creating something special for the other in celebration of the day.

For her friend, Johanna, Anna is fashioning a lace collar just like her own, which she knows her friend likes a lot.
In the kitchen Johanna is cooking a special birthday breakfast mousse as a treat for her friend Anna. It’s a breakfast fit for a queen.

But why are they such close friends and why do they share a birthday? Is it co-incidence or something much deeper?

When the girls meet and exchange their gifts, they discover something intended for both of them – a letter addressed simply ‘For your birthday’, which begins, ‘Dear children’ – a letter from Anna’s father telling of an incident that had occurred exactly twelve years earlier and disclosing a secret that he’s been keeping ever since.

Inspired by two of 17th century Dutch painter, Jan Vermeer’s greatest works of art, The Lacemaker and The Milkmaid Géraldine Elschner has crafted a story of friendship and more that reflect the painter’s impressions of domestic life.

Equally evocative of Vermeer’s style are Florence Koenig’s acrylic paintings executed predominantly in subtle blue, yellow, brown and orange hues of the Dutch city’s landscapes and scenes of domesticity.

There are many ways to interest children in art and artists: this lovely tale of friendship and devotion offers an unusual introduction for young readers to Vermeer’s art.

 Journey Through Art: A Global History
Aaron Rosen, illustrated by Lucy Dalzell
Thames & Hudson

Aaron Rosen takes readers on a journey through time and place to visit some thirty locations as he tells how the art and architecture of different cultures developed.
The tour, which travels to four continents, begins in northern Australia at Nawarla Gabarnmung in 35,000 BCE where we see prehistoric petroglyphs.

The next location is the city of Thebes 1250 BCE and then on to Nineveh 700 BCE, followed by more cities – almost all sites visited are cities – and thereafter to the site of a Buddhist monastery hidden in caves at Ajanta in Central India. Those caves contain some amazing sculptures and the oldest surviving paintings in India, done by the Buddhist monks who lived there around 500BCE.

All the locations thus far are included in the first of the three sections entitled Prehistoric and Ancient Art and next comes Medieval and Early Modern Art that encompasses Granada, Florence, the 16th century town of Timbuktu, 1650 Amsterdam where we find the first mention of a woman artist, Judith Leyster who was celebrated for her paintings of musicians.

The final Modern and Contemporary section includes a stop at 1825 Haida Gwaii to view the Northwest Pacific woodcarvings, one of the few non-urban destinations.

At every stop Rosen begins with a spread giving an overview of the site and a painting by Lucy Dazell; following this is another spread comprising information about the culture/customs together with small photos of significant artefacts, paintings and monuments together with printed notes.
The journey terminates at Rio de Janiero where the 2016 Olympic Games took place and thereafter are notes about visiting museums and art galleries and a glossary.

A whistle-stop tour indeed and one that might leave you feeling somewhat breathless but equally one hopes, hungry to find out more about the art of some of the places visited.

Search-and-Find Bonanza – The Walkabout Orchestra, Mice in the City London and Cycle City

The Walkabout Orchestra
Chloé Perarnau
Wide Eyed

What has happened to the members of the orchestra? They’ve all gone missing and there’s an important concert coming up in a few days. Seemingly they’ve dispersed to locations all over the world from where they’ve sent the maestro postcards telling of their various activities. These appear in the top left-hand corner of each locale spread.
In a desperate effort to locate the musicians, the maestro, together with his side- kick, sets off in search of them. Their journey takes them to such diverse places as a fishing village in Iceland, Tokyo, a campsite in France, the pyramids of Egypt, carnival in Brazil and a football field in Abidjan.
In addition to finding the missing musicians, almost every place has a little yellow bird whose speech bubble provides something additional to search for in the lively scenes of the musicians’ sojourns.
Each one is packed with amusing details so that finding the musicians is often no easy matter. However they do all appear within a large arena ready for the concert with their maestro ready to conduct, bird atop his head.
Don’t start reading this if you are short of time, unless you are happy to cheat and look at the answers on the two final spreads.

Mice in the City London
Ami Shin
Thames & Hudson

It’s a mouse takeover: London had been invaded by an army of tiny rodents; some – The Mouses of Parliament for instance, – have jobs to do, others are there to enjoy the sights and some are turning Tate Modern into complete disarray. One daring mouse has even installed herself as Queen Mouse in Buckingham Palace.
A verse introduces each location, opposite which is a detailed whole page pastel coloured illustration of the particular tourist attraction under mouse occupation: every one is full of things to delight and entertain.
The purpose of the book, in addition to enjoying what the mice are up to, is a game of ‘hide-and-squeak’ that entails finding eight things – Inspector Mouse, a stripy tailed cat, Bumble-mouse, a mouse in a bin, a teddy, a Union Jack top hat, a mouse hiding in a top hat and a balloon seller.
Happy Hunting! You’re in for some fun with Ami Shin’s mice.
In the same series is Mice in the City New York. Oh my goodness! Think of the chaos the little creatures might cause in The Strand Bookstore!

Cycle City
Alison Farrell
Chronicle Books

It’s the morning of the Starlight Parade in Cycle City but the parade committee has yet to send out the invitations so they decide to call on the assistance of Mayor Snail.
Can he get all those invites delivered in time for the evening? Perhaps, with the help of Little Ella Elephant who has come to visit one of the city’s residents, her Aunt Ellen. If so, who will play the important role of Grand Marshal at the big event?

A captivating search-and-find for slightly younger readers: this one has a clear storyline and a plethora of speech bubbles and is populated by a vast array of anthropomorphic animals. The spreads are less densely packed than some of its ilk, but have plenty of lovely details, and the endpapers are a visual glossary of all the different bicycles included.

I’ve signed the charter  

There Was An Old Lady / What Can Cats Do? and Who’s the Biggest? / How Many Kisses?

There Was An Old Lady
What Can Cats Do?

illustrated by Abner Graboff
Bodleian Children’s Books
Abner Graboff was an American artist and children’s book illustrator, popular especially in the USA in the 1950s, 60s and 70s who died in 1986 and whose work has since almost disappeared from the radar.
Now Bodleian Children’s Books brings some of this work to a new audience and decidedly quirky it is.
His arresting scenes of the animal guzzling old lady show a wicked sense of humour. The sight of her with a mouthful of bird, delicately holding a salt-cellar between thumb and forefinger and with a window through which we can see the contents of her stomach, is deliciously droll …

So too is this chasing scene …

Adults as much as children will enjoy this picture book version of the nonsense song and because of its cumulative nature, it’s a good one for learner readers.
What Can Cats Do? was inspired by Abner’s own cat called Tarzan and apparently his three sons collaborated with their father on the book, carefully observing the creature and reporting what they’d noticed to their dad.
The outcome is a hilarious, first person narrative look at some of the things cats can do that children can’t – using their tongues as combs, for instance,

as well as a few things cats are unable to do such as shave or laugh.

Great fun for beginning readers and of interest to children’s book collectors and students of illustration.

Who’s the Biggest?
How Many Kisses?

Delphine Chedru
Thames & Hudson
In the first title, award winning graphic designer Delphine Chedru takes a playful look at relative size in response to the title question.
The respondents claiming the size title in ways as different as a whisper to a boom, and a gurgle to a sigh, are as disparate as an elephant, a tree, a bear, a hammer, a mountain, a fishbowl, a leaf …

and the faceless human, ‘me’.
How Many Kisses? invites listeners to blow the appropriate number of kisses to who or whatever is indicated in the instruction facing the animal, human or other named objects.

The book follows the expected number sequence from 1 to 10 (with accompanying dots) and then takes seemingly random jumps to 17, 64, 823 and then to ‘millions’. I suspect it would take an exceedingly long time to give the ‘millions of kisses for all the children playing around the world’ on the final spread and the numbers beyond 10 may well be beyond the capability of young children but they’ll most probably enjoy the possibilities offered by such large numbers.
Both books are illustrated with bold bright images using dense flat blocks of contrasting colour and throughout each the text is white lettering on the black background giving an uncluttered, arresting overall appearance to every spread.

My Worst Book Ever!

My Worst Book Ever!
Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
Thames & Hudson

Whatever would make a reviewer want to open a book with the title of this one and start reading? Two other words on the cover, Ahlberg and Ingman: their collaborative efforts are always a huge treat even when there’s a squashed fly on the page before the narrative proper even begins.

Essentially this is a look at the whole publishing process from the germ of an idea in the author’s mind – that’s Allan of course – all the way through to finished book: a comparatively straightforward operation surely?

It all begins well in Allan’s writing shed at the bottom of his garden. The author has the essential brain fuelling mug of coffee, a pencil and pad, and his ‘Crocodile Snap’ story, just waiting to be written and off he goes.

Then real life intervenes. First it’s the small drama of the cat: this though is but a minor distraction.
Next comes a family seaside holiday (completely forgotten by the author), which interrupts the schedule for a whole week; but there’s that good old shed ready and waiting on his return.

However, it seems as though there have been some hungry visitors during Allan’s absence. (Now I can verify that this is perfectly possible – the same fate met my courier note taped to the front door and I caught the pesky molluscs in action having a nibble.)

Fortunately, this setback doesn’t appear to interfere with the author’s narrative flow and, displacement activities notwithstanding, by the end of the day the story is finished. ‘The End’: time for a celebratory hunk of cake.

The end for the writing maybe, but it’s only the beginning for stage two: enter illustrator Bruce. The guy appears to be pretty taken with the story, claims crocodiles are his favourite protagonists and …

So why is it that a couple of days later, that croc. has been kicked right out of the water so to speak and there’s another creature hogging the show?

Nevertheless, the changes are only temporary and a few days later the co-creators visit the publisher’s office where the editor throws in her own ideas or rather tries to, as does the designer,

and the agreed version of the book then goes off to the printer. End of story …

Not quite, but if you want to find out what comes off the press and is duly delivered to the bookshops, then you’ll have to get your own copy of the book: after all we don’t want yet another story spoiler …

Another winning collaboration between Ahlberg and Ingman no matter what we’re led to believe herein.

Utterly hilarious from cover to cover, this catastrophic account will have you chortling at every turn of the page. It’s a longish read and one you might not choose to share with a group of budding authors just before a story writing session, although; on second thoughts, mistakes are a vital part of the learning process.

Robinson

Robinson
Peter Sis
Thames & Hudson

Drawing on an episode from his childhood as well as the Robinson Crusoe story that he loved as a boy, award-winning author/illustrator, Peter Sis has created an absolute dream of a picture book.

The narrator and his pals’ favourite game is pirates so when their school announces a costume party it seems as though everyone will go in pirate gear. Until that is, Peter’s mum suggests he should go as Robinson Crusoe and he does.

His excitement as he walks to school is quickly shattered when his classmates make fun of him for having the confidence to be different. (Presumably they aren’t familiar with the Crusoe story.)

Peter’s mum takes him home, tucks him up in bed and at this point in a feverish state, Peter’s imagination takes over.

There follows a dream-like sequence where, in stages, his bed is transformed into a three-masted sailing ship heading towards an island.

On the next spread Sis seems to be paying homage to Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are when he says, ‘I float in and out of hours, or maybe days, until I am cast upon an island.

On this island, Peter encounters verdant tropical landscapes, one a maze comprising amazing flora and fauna.

He builds himself a protective shelter, makes his own clothes, finds food and becomes friends with the resident animals;

and all the while the lad is growing in self-confidence, though he still keeps his eyes open for pirates.

Finally, with new-found fortitude, the boy does connect once more with his friends and the story ends in a wonderfully satisfying way.

Sis experiments with several artistic styles in his pen, ink and watercolour illustrations and this serves to intensify the fantastic quality of his island landscapes and his whole journey, both inner and outer.

Thoroughly immersive: this is a book to linger over, read and re-read, and a wonderful demonstration of the power of literature to shape and expand the imagination.

Martha & Me

Martha & Me
created by It’s Raining Elephants aka Nina Wehrie and Evelyne Laube
Thames & Hudson

There’s a touch of Harold and the Purple Crayon and Antony Browne’s pencil wielding Bear about this splendidly playful tale.

It all begins when creative young miss, Martha, paints a large lion picture. And no sooner is it completed than out from the frame steps the story’s narrator, none other than the lion himself.

Then, in rhyming fashion, he relates how the two of them embark on an imaginary amazing adventure over sea, onto an island, through a jungle and then straight into an extremely splashy water fight.

Their playfulness escalates just a tad too far when the narrator oversteps the mark with a jump and a snap of his jaws.

Martha however gives as good as she gets, retaliating with a massive ROAR.

This calms things down temporarily and the two mop up (or rather Martha does while her playmate stays still and quiet), make up and embark upon another adventure in the park.
This culminates in the two friends becoming airborne …

and Martha tumbling down, back into her room sans lion.

Play has come to a halt, but perhaps it isn’t quite the end …

Scratchy line drawing and striking painting with touches of Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism create an imaginary and dynamic play-scape that will delight and absorb both listeners and readers aloud.

The Cranky Caterpillar

The Cranky Caterpillar
Richard Graham
Thames & Hudson

Here’s an uber-stylish debut picture book from Richard Graham based on an utterly ingenious notion and quite unlike anything I’ve seen before:
It revolves round a little girl, Ezra by name and a caterpillar. Nothing very unusual about that, you might be thinking but wait. This particular caterpillar resides inside the piano in Ezra’s home and is anything but happy.

In fact, when the girl discovers the creature, it couldn’t look more woebegone and she resoles to try and improve its lot. After all who could blame the thing having been stuck inside a piano, going round and round, churning out just one sad tune for what feels like an eternity.
Fresh air, a tasty meal …

and a new hat all fail to help the caterpillar change its tune, but then a brainwave strikes Ezra.
She invites her friends Pablo Tuba, Gary Gee-tar and Wassily over one afternoon and along with the house cat, they form a band; a band that fills the room with wonderfully uplifting rainbow colours: imagine the effect upon the caterpillar.
Suddenly from within the piano there comes a resounding ‘BOOM’ and when Ezra looks inside the piano, there’s no sign of its erstwhile resident.
An amazing transformation has occurred …

Irresistibly quirky, this funky tale will enchant readers of all ages especially those with a musical bent.

I’ve signed the charter  

Preschool Menagerie

Animosaics: Can You Find Me?
Surya Sajnani
Words & Pictures
This lovely, large format search-and-find counting book will keep youngsters engaged for ages while they look for the animals illustrated on the right-hand pages that are also hidden within the full-page mosaic style habitat opposite; habitats such as the garden, the pond, on the farm, in the jungle or in the ocean.

In addition this is a counting book wherein you are invited to spot other creatures, for example, 1 butterfly in the garden, 2 tadpoles in the pond, 3 hens on the farm and so on, culminating in 10 fireflies in the nocturnal sky mosaic.
What makes this large format book stand out is Surya Sajnani’s bold, graphic art style, which is immediately striking, and also her cubist-constructed creatures set within the habitat appropriate coloured tesserae.

How Do You Sleep?
Olivia Cosneau and Bernard Duisit
What Are You Wearing Today?
Janik Coat and Bernard Duisit
Thames & Hudson
Here are two new additions to the playful, interactive Flip-Flap-Pop-Up series of board books with Duisit acting as paper engineer for both titles.
In the first readers can by manipulating the tabs, discover the sleeping places/positions of seven different animal species from various parts of the world.

In the second book children will enjoy changing the animals’ dress depending on their location, the weather conditions; or on occasion, the mood of the featured animal. This one has both tabs and flaps to help develop manipulative skills.
I’m sure Rita Rhino’s skirt being lifted by the wind …

will be a favourite with youngsters.

Dress Up Jojo
Xavier Deneux
Twirl
Jojo rabbit is back and he’s in playful mood. He dresses up in eight different ways: as a snowman, a spotty leopard, a sword-wielding knight, a cowboy, an alien, an astronaut bound for the moon, a deep sea diver and finally a pilot.
Toddlers can develop their fine motor skills by covering the little creature with snow, helping him balance on a tree branch, swish his sword, open the gates for him to find his horse, roll his eyes like an alien,

spin around in space, dive down deep in the ocean and resurface, and fly away on an adventure; all by placing a finger on the red dots and using their fingers to activate Jojo in his let’s pretend activities.

Zoo
Lisa Jones and Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow
In the second ‘Tiny Little Story’ Baby Boo and Daddy are off to the zoo on the bus. Once there, they meet giraffe, elephant, lion,

monkey, snake and the penguins and then it’s time to leave.
Short and sweet.
With attractive, brightly coloured, strikingly patterned illustrations and a brief text with some animal sounds to enjoy, soft, squashy cloth pages, and a velcro strap for attaching it to a buggy, it’s a perfect introduction to books for the very youngest; and, it’s washable.

Knock Knock Dinosaur / If I Had a Dinosaur

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Knock Knock Dinosaur
Caryl Heart and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books
Following a delivery to a small boy’s house, in his mum’s absence, a host of dinosaurs invade every room starting with the T-rex that proceeds to consume the freshly baked apple pie standing on the table, followed immediately by two triceratops, three stegosauruses, four velociraptors …

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five allosauruses, six apatosauruses, seven iguanodons – small ones – one of which takes liberties with an item of mum’s underwear. ‘Bras are to put on your boobies, not your ears,’ remarked Ellena, giggling.

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Then come eight gigantosauruses (sporting knickers on their heads), nine oviraptors and finally ten pterodactyls.
The outcomes of all this rampaging is bathwater sploshing everywhere, a smashed mirror, broken bed springs and a smashed vase. By now our young boy narrator has had enough. “Everybody stop!” he yells which prompts the T.Rex to draw the lad’s attention to two important words at the bottom of the delivery note.

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The penny drops which just goes to show that you should always read the small print carefully before clicking ORDER when buying things on the internet. That however is not quite the end of the story. Can they get rid of the chaos and get everything back as it should be before Mum returns? It’ll certainly take some doing … Let operation clean up commence.
Caryl Hart’s rhyming riotous romp is a fun read aloud, but make sure you give your audience – if it’s a largish one – opportunities to explore Nick East’s rainbow-hued illustrations; they’re full of chuckle-worthy details.

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If I Had a Dinosaur
Alex Barrow and Gabby Dawnay
Thames & Hudson
A small girl, would-be pet owner longs for a pet – not a small cat though, she already has one of those. No, something more house sized, something like a DINOSAUR. She then goes on to entertain all manner of possibilities relating to diplodocus ownership. Walks in the park could be just a little embarrassing …

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Her school pals would be mightily impressed, as would her teachers. Providing sufficient drinking water, not to mention a place to swim, might prove a little tricky and he’d definitely need a vegetarian diet.
Dinosaurs certainly do make smashing pets – in more ways than one; walks would be great fun …

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although there would be the question of POOH avoidance …

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The house might need a few minor adjustments – a dino-flap, for instance but the family sofa is plenty big enough for one more, although Dad might get the odd surprise from time to time.

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Not convinced? Then you could try acting on the young narrator’s suggestion, ‘ … just get one and you’ll see!
Dinosaurs are an unfailing source of delight where young children are concerned: Gabby Dawnay’s rhyming contemplation will doubtless provide both fun and opportunities for listeners’ own imaginative musings. They might well, inspired by Alex Barrow’s charmingly witty illustrations, try to create their own If I Had a Dinosaur visuals.

Mother Fox and Her Cubs

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Mother Fox and Her Cubs
Amandine Momenceau
Thames & Hudson
Snow has fallen overnight and a mother fox is greeted by bright sunshine: time to check on her quartet of lively cubs, she decides. The cubs are in a playful mood and a game of hide and seek is on the agenda. Mother Fox searches and eventually, one by one, discovers the whereabouts of her mischievous offspring.

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Night falls and, game over, it’s time to return to the den. Which one of her cubs will secure the coziest spot? Well, they all look pretty snuggled to me …

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This simple story is transformed into a piece of picture book magic – a theatre almost – by debut artist, Amandine Momenceau. Using a limited colour palette, the artist creates a stark wintry landscape.
Her cut out shapes, die cuts and split pages serve to create and re-create the landscape, and allow readers to manipulate the story at their own pace.

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Particularly engaging is the large mother fox-shaped page used to stage a ‘look, he’s behind you’ episode

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The voice of Mother Fox forms most of the text, with occasional interjections from the cubs drawing the reader into the action right from the outset.
I’m sure this is a book that will be read over and over; the weight of paper used should ensure that it can withstand the many re-readings it deserves.

Flip Flap Pop-Ups & Who What Where?

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This Or That?
Delphine Chedru
Can You Keep a Straight Face?
Elisa Géhin
What’s Up?
Olivia Cosneau
Thames & Hudson
All three of these playfully interactive little ‘Flip Flap Pop-Up’ books have amazing paper engineering by Bernard Duisit and each is likely to bring countless hours of delight to small children who will adore pulling and pushing the tabs and turning the wheels therein. (So too will the adults who might feel the need to demonstrate the various mechanisms!)
Differently themed and differently authored, a treat awaits at every turn of the page and flick of the hand:
Can You Keep a Straight Face? asks the book’s author. I doubt it, as all manner of odd things happen when you manipulate the tabs and wheels on each spread – magical fun of the face contortion kind. Prepare to be amazed.

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This or That? presents a varied (and sometimes difficult) array of choices to respond to, all introduced by, ‘Which is better?’ Chocolate or vanilla ice-cream? No competition here: I’d choose this one every time.

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What about the pet question though – in reality I tend to avoid both cats and dogs! I have issues with both.

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But I especially like the final togetherness spread. If I had to choose a favourite (I love all three books), I think it would have to be …
What’s Up? which introduces various birds from the tiny Robin Redbreast (he almost launches himself from the page) …

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to the flambouyant ‘proud peacock’ …

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What a tail! Cool stuff!

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Who What Where?
Olivier Tallec
Chronicle Books
This is a deliciously playful follow up to Tallec’s Who Done It? And again it’s one where close observation is required to answer the question posed at the top of each page along with a visual of the situation. Four, or sometimes five suspects then form an ID parade on the adjoining, lower page with clues to assist youngsters identify the culprit. Here’s an example …

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Who has left a jacket at home?
Every spread is populated by delightful characters – animal and human – each beautifully detailed and rendered in pencil and acrylics and some require a bit more puzzling than others. How do you find this one :

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They’re all sporting blue so colour isn’t very helpful although we can eliminate the character with a gift. Another clue is needed: a blue face, yes but look at the eye reflected. Is it surrounded by black skin? No. So we can rule out number two and five. Where’s the black dot on the eye in the mirror – central or not? Now you’ve got it …
There seems to be something not quite right in this scenario though:

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Who got stuck in the tree trunk? we’re asked. Now take a look at the protruding feet – which way are they pointing – in or out? Now look at the girth of the upside down character: rather stout, yes? So I can’t see the last two becoming stuck so that leaves the first two – both pretty chunky but foot size leads us to suspect number two in the line up and bingo! That’s correct but then why are his feet pointing outwards at the top and inwards in the line up? OOPS!
Youngsters applying their developing logic to this one might well feel somewhat puzzled – I was!
All in all though, terrific fun.

Can I Build Another Me?

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Can I Build Another Me?
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Thames & Hudson
The boy narrator of this powerful, brilliantly inventive book, shares with readers what happens when he comes up with the ingenious idea of building a Kevin replica in order to avoid doing boring things such as homework, tidying his room and generally helping around the house. Off he goes to the electronics shop where he spends all his pocket money on a robot. “From now on, you’re going to be the new me!” he informs the thing, “But don’t let anyone know. You must behave exactly like me.”
The ordinary basic facts are easily dealt with …

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but in order to be fool-proof, the robot needs to know everything about Kevin and that entails getting right up close and personal …

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Even that is not enough though; Kevin has to do a complete self-evaluation and consider the things that REALLY make him, him. No easy undertaking, as talking about himself is not something Kevin likes to do, especially when it comes to tricky considerations such as ‘What do other people think about me?

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Eventually, it becomes evident that Kevin is anything but ordinary

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or as his Grandma has pointed out he’s ‘NO ONE BUT ME … everyone is like a tree … you can choose how to grow … and it’s whether you like your tree, that’s what counts!’
In other words, he’s utterly unique: it’s the Kevinness of Kevin that matters.

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Is that something the robot can ever really take on, no matter how precise a picture he has amassed: will the master plan work or will Mum see through the whole charade right away? Err …
Philosophy for children this certainly is: I lost count of how many times it opens up space for reflection and discussion. It’s also totally empowering, funny, bound to induce self-reflection – who can resist creating some quirky Kevin-style self-portraits like these …

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and the minimal colour palette and superbly detailed illustrations, both large and small, all build up to one thing when it comes to the latest Yoshitake and that one thing is, genius.

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The Big Book of Bugs/A Beetle Is Shy

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The Big Book of Bugs
Yuval Zommer and Barbara Taylor
Thames & Hudson
Now is the time of year to go in search of all things buggish and armed with inventive illustrator, Yuval Zommer’s and bug expert, Barbara Taylor’s fantastic book, you’ll be in a position to find out all about them. It’s absolutely packed full of fascinating facts and some figures relating to minibeasts of all kinds – insects, snails, spiders, centipedes and worms and indeed we are given a classification explaining how to tell what’s what …

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as well as some other general bug-related information, before moving on to look at particular species in greater detail. This, the author does by posing intriguing questions such as ‘Does a dragonfly breathe fire?’ or ‘Just how slow does a snail go?

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as leads in to double spreads on over twenty-five topics. Most spreads look at one kind of mini creature, say spiders, where among the facts we find that spiders have 48 knees (I’ve never thought of spiders having knees before, I have to say); or Ants ‘the queen ant can live for 15 years!

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Or, Centipedes where we discover ‘most of these creatures have around 30 legs and can have over 300.

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And, in relation to Bugs on the Move, ‘A horsefly (my most unfavourite bug) can fly faster than a car on the motorway.’ That’s as maybe, but the one that bit me and caused an infected wound on my back that grew to the size of a duck’s egg and needed daily lancing for over a month, certainly wasn’t doing that!
Each spread is beautifully illustrated by Yuval Zommer, who adds touches of humour here and there, making bug discovery and factual learning a fun activity for all. Zommer even extends his creativity and readers’ enjoyment by including a ‘search and find’ element throughout, asking on the title page, ‘Can you find exactly the same fly 15 times in this book? Watch out for imposters.’ And he’s also hidden a couple of stripey wasps on the Bees spread …

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This is exactly the kind of captivating, treasure trove of a book that will turn youngsters into bug lovers, effervescing with enthusiasm to go on a minibeast hunt. It’s a must have for all family bookshelves, primary schools and early years settings – most of the latter two include some kind of minibeast theme in the curriculum.

Also on the topic of minibeasts, focusing on one category of insects is:

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A Beetle Is Shy
Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books
This one is vibrantly illustrated in glowing watercolours by Sylvia Long, and the poetic text is provided by Diana Hutts Aston. Although originating in the US,(and so some of the species may be unfamiliar to say, UK readers) the book has plenty to offer everyone with an interest in the subject. And some species just have different names ‘Convergent Lady Beetle’ is a ladybird.
The author uses attention-catching phrases such as ‘A beetle is kaleidoscopic’ …

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or ‘A beetle is telegraphic’ …

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to introduce particular characteristics that are then further explored on the spread in text that is perfectly pitched to engage and keep readers involved and wanting to know more.
We learn of the helpful things some beetles do (ladybirds eat aphids for instance), others can be a food source (in India some people eat stag beetle chutney. I’ve never come across this despite frequent visits). But some kinds such as weevils devastate crops like cotton and lettuce.

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A good one for individual reading or for sharing – it reads aloud so well.

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The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty

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Gracie is enchanted by the wonderful scenes

The Marvellous Squishy Itty Bitty
Beatrice Alemagna
Thames & Hudson
Five and a half year old Edith, commonly known as Eddie, longs to be good at something, like the rest of her talented family and when she hears her sister using the words “present… Mum… birthday… fluffy… squishy…itty… bitty…“ she is determined to get her Mum an amazing present too; but what?
Off she sets on her search, first stop Bruno’s bakery, crammed full of tasty treats. He doesn’t have a “Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty” on sale though he does offer a sticky bun. Into Eddie’s bag it goes and off she dashes to the florists.

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Wendy has no “furry squirty” objects and offers instead a lucky four-leaf clover. That too goes in the bag and it’s on to Mimi’s fashion shop, a promising establishment full of furry, feathery things. There however, she has to accept a pearl button and move on towards the antique shop owned by her friend, Emmett.

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His misinterpretation results in the addition of a Threepenny green – a very rare stamp – to her unlikely assortment of bits and bobs; and it’s a somewhat disheartened Eddie who wanders on to her last hope, the butcher’s shop but Theo sends her packing straightaway. (I have to say this veggie reviewer dashed past Theo’s establishment rather than join the long queue.)
So, it’s an even more dispirited little girl who seeks shelter from the snow beneath a roof; but it’s there that she discovers a very odd-looking creature that just happens to be all that she’s been seeking for that perfect and amazingly versatile present.

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… useful for so many things!

That’s not quite the end of the story though. Suffice it to say however, after some further trials and tribulations, our young heroine is able to present her Mum with the an absolutely splendid birthday gift and in so doing has discovered her own special gift too.
This quirky tale is full of wacky characters, the most delightful of all being of course, the fluorescent pink coated Eddie herself: her perseverance and resourcefulness and imagination are assuredly something to celebrate.
I love everything about the book: its richly detailed scenes of the various shops inside and out, that Eddie visits:

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the playful language of the first person narrative, and the matt ivory paper which makes for a seductive French ambiance. Delicious.

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A Clutch of Activity Books

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of activity type books; the teacher part of me would much prefer to provide children sheets of paper, large and small and a variety of materials, some encouragement and let them create. However that’s not for everyone and I know there are some children (and definitely lots of parents) who want something much more self-contained on occasion. So, here’s a clutch of stand-out books that might be just the thing to turn to on a rainy day or when the children seem at a loss for what to do next…

 

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Let’s Go Find a Tiger!
Yasmeen Ismail
Macmillan Children’s Books
In the company of two explorers we foray deep into the jungle seeking a tiger. Tigers however are far from the only inhabitants of this lush environment: there are brightly coloured birds – particularly if you draw some as well as using the stickers provided at the back of the book, a variety of minibeasts, a snake or so …

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a lone monkey that needs feeding (you draw or stick the food and additional monkeys), and some more friends to play with (you decide what).
Further in are some animals already engaged in playful activity; they too need others to join them.
Watch out for that pond: what scary thing lives there? – It’s pretty much up to the reader …
And so the search continues: there’s an encounter with a large, friendly pachyderm, some leopards partying, birds among the branches …

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and finally or almost so – that sought-after tiger.
At the end of the book, the reader has become the co-creator of his or her own jungle story, or that’s the intention. Very young children will need an adult to read the rhythmic, sometimes rhyming text aloud before embarking on the artistic endeavours offered herein.
As always Yasmeen Ismail’s own illustrations are a delight – exuberant and playful. I suspect any youngster offered this book would delight in personalizing it in his or her unique way.

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You Are an Artist
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books
This book takes the form of a series of ‘lessons’ from an artist, THE artist from Marta Altés’ I Am An Artist picture book. The art teacher provides a drawing lesson, a lesson in looking at things creatively wherein you have to find the 10 faces, an opportunity to get colourful, another to use sticker shapes in imaginative ways (I’ve seen foundation stage children engaging in using real objects – leaves,

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flower petals, shells, pebbles, pencil shavings, scraps of paper, wood offcuts etc. in a similar fashion,

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rather than the stickers provided at the end of the narrative). Then there is a lesson on using line, another about looking for and using pattern …

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and some other fairly open-ended activities.
Not only does this book offer hours of fun but also provides the opportunity to think about, and talk about being an artist and what it entails.
I love the assertive message inherent in the title.

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Atlas of Adventure Activity Fun Pack
illustrated by Lucy Letherland
Wide Eyed Publications
Even if you’re not going far afield this holiday, you can visit all kinds of locations near and far courtesy of a companion to Lucy Letherland’s splendid Atlas of Adventure. Essentially it comprises a fair bit of colouring in (this seems to be in vogue at present), things to spot and snippets of information that are scattered throughout the various spreads. So, pens and crayons at the ready, you can ‘Go Wild in Africa’, ‘Party Around the World’, go deep sea diving and more.

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There’s also a flags of the world poster a the back of the book and stickers to embellish the map of the world on the reverse side.

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Pop this into a bag before you embark on a journey with youngsters, no matter what your destination.

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Making Faces!
Jacky Bahbout and Momoko Kudo
Thames & Hudson
With a large die-cut circle through each of the 32 tear-out pages of this book/pad children are provided with a whole host of possibilities to be inventive with mark-making materials, offcuts of paper/fabric, wool, glue and other bits and pieces. Then by peering through the central hole, they can become the star (human or animal) of their own playful scenarios

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with sound effects as suggested on some of the pages, though there isn’t always much room for embellishment around the face hole.
The paper used feels like artists’ paper and the wide variety of topics such as ‘Let’s Space Walk’ or ‘I Love Spiders’ included should offer something to interest most young children.

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Look, Do, Discover

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How Things Work
Thames and Hudson
This large-sized book is a veritable treasure trove of ideas scientific, all using things that are likely to be found in the immediate environment as a starting point for investigation.
We join friends Koko and Alex – the former a deconstructionist fascinated by how things work, the latter a would-be machine builder. We also meet a trio of explorers who act as commentator, questioner and thought provoker, throughout. Starting with How to build a house, our explorers take readers through the process step by step introducing the various materials used. Then we move on to a spread that looks at all kinds of homes and there’s an invitation to play I Spy.

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Back we go next to learn about water and electricity and how not to waste these vital resources in the home.
There’s a materials game to play followed by some playful ‘Can you?’ scenarios to consider such as a paper hammer or wooden specs.

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There’s also a great “How is it made? section about book making from author’s ideas to finished product, followed by instructions on making a concertina book – budding authors/illustrators take note. I could go on but suffice it to say other topics include ‘What is a machine?’ and spin off activities, shadow play and other light-related activities, a look at other power sources and …
As a teacher I’m always encouraging children to ask ‘how?’, ‘why? And ‘what?’ questions and equally they love to do so and then discover answers to their queries. Billed as ‘Facts and fun/Questions and answers/ Things to make and do’,

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this volume, in addition to being a fun introduction to a host of science concepts, is an ideal starting point for enquiring minds.
The illustrations – a mix of seemingly, simple child-like art and photographs –

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are plentiful, amusing, involving and show great attention to detail.
A stonkingly good book all round either for home enjoyment or the primary classroom.

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Creatures Great and Small
Lucy Engelman illustrator
Wide Eyed Editions
Is it a colouring book? Is it a field guide? Actually, this one is more like a sketchpad with thick card backboard and tear-out pages containing thirty five prints of members of the animal kingdom from all over the world is both. Some 250 species in all are featured and these are divided into groups, each one having a page print to colour. So for example there are pages of large mammals, Marine Mammals for instance or Primates as well as Frogs, Toads or Bugs, Beetles and Bees.
The limited space available dictates that only a snippet of information can be given about each creature on the colouring page,

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with further details provided (by Valerie Davies) on the back key page. This includes information on the colour and pattern of each animal drawn.
This is certainly not a book for the very young; rather it will appeal to older readers (child and adult) who like information rendered visually rather in lots of words. There is assuredly plenty to keep anyone gainfully occupied and may very well send readers off to research and find other sources of information although completing the pictures can equally well be an end in itself.

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A Forest & It Might Be An Apple

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A Forest
Marc Martin
Templar Publishing
Once there was a forest – an ancient one that had grown up thick and lush over thousands of years; but then along came people with saws and axes and they began to cut down the trees, Just a little at a time at first and with care, replacing what they’d taken.

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Greed soon replaces judiciousness though and gradually trees give way to smoke-belching factories. There instead stands a city – all but treeless and thick with pollution. Then comes a terrible storm with rain so strong it destroys the entire built environment …

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leaving just one small tree.
Thank heavens for that one tree for, as the years pass it develops into another forest.

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Let’s hope those greedy people stop and think this itme.
This alarmingly thought-provoking fable – a debut book for Australian illustrator, Martin – is a timely (and timeless) reminder of the terrible damage mankind can all too easily do to our precious environment. His mixed media scenes are a felicitous amalgam of digitally manipulated watercolour and fine-lined, close packed pen work.

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It Might be An Apple
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Thames and Hudson
When you see an apple before you on the table, what do you think? Probably, like me – ‘Hmm! yummy – just what I need’ – and you proceed to bite into it.
Not so the boy in this brilliantly inventive, romp of a book. His thoughts are much more philosophical in nature: is it really an apple? Might it perhaps be a jelly-filled cherry, a red fish curled into a ball or an egg? Could it even be packed with clever devices

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such as an engine, a flavour generator, a redness regulator?
Our investigator’s imagination continues to flow – onwards, up and out – till it becomes an amazing house, then an entire crazy fantasy planet populated with tiny apple aliens. Seemingly the possibilities are endless when entertained by our lad herein: does it have feelings? Siblings and other family members? A desire to learn about our narrator? A funky new hairstyle?

 

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Even,’Is everyone else an apple?’

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Then of course, there’s that existential question ‘Why is it here in the first place?’
And much more …

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Not only has Shinsuke Yoshitake picked a common or garden item and peeled off its skin to reveal a world with a multitude of possibilities and more, he also encourages youngsters (and perhaps adults) to adopt a questioning attitude towards the world around. Those comic strip sequences and full spread scenes are fantastic; thought provoking and highly entertaining – in more ways than one. I feel a community of enquiry coming on.
Do, I urge you take a bite of this one; and then go back for more and more and … And, in case you are wondering whether our boy narrator finally samples this object of wonder,

 

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well you’ll have to get hold of this delicious book and discover for yourself. Superb stuff.

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