Alfie and Dad

Alfie and Dad
Shirley Hughes
The Bodley Head
This book comprises three short stories wherein Alfie’s dad, Simon, so we’re told on the introductory page, plays a significant part.
In the first, a disturbed night, on account of relatively new friend Neal’s mention of a possible visit from the “Flying Loobies”, when he visits for a sleepover, calls for reassurance from Dad …

before Alfie can finally settle down for some shut-eye.
This is followed by the temporary loss of Alfie’s beloved soft toy, Flumbo when he, Mum and Annie Rose take a shopping trip by bus. Here again, Alfie’s Dad sorts out the problem. He takes Alfie, the following morning, to the main Lost Property Office

where they retrieve Flumbo

and end up taking home some other ‘unclaimed’ toys to add to Alfie’s collection.
Loss is the theme of the third story too: it’s a in the form of a little marmalade cat that despite misgivings from Dad, not to mention their own cat, Chessie, takes up temporary residence in Alfie’s home.

Dilys, as they call her, doesn’t overstay her welcome though; and after a few days, she disappears again. Not long after, while out walking with Dad, Alfie spies Dilys outside another house and discovers that she, or more accurately Tibbles, has, like many cats, a habit of going missing temporarily from her true place of residence.
As always, Shirley Hughes’ portrayal of Alfie and his family and friends is wonderfully affecting. The temporary setbacks and problems that beset young children, lead to outcomes that are, thanks here to Dad’s timely words of wisdom, satisfyingly resolved.
Alfie will always have a very special place in the affections of those who grew up with his early stories; but thanks to Shirley’s artistic genius with both words and pictures, he will continue to captivate new generations of readers and listeners, who will also take him into their homes and their hearts.

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Dixie O’Day On His Bike!

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Dixie O”Day On His Bike
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
An ‘affable’ chat over coffee with a passing cyclist, Dean, met while Percy is busy polishing Dixie’s car,

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and an increase in the size of Dixie’s waistline, result in the latter deciding he needs more exercise and he tells Percy of his intention to take up cycling. Not only that, he wants to buy a tandem. However on account of their differing leg lengths, Dixie needs to call upon the services of another pal of his, Don Barrakan who agrees to design a specially adapted model  just for Dixie and Percy …

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When the machine is finally delivered, Percy is soon engulfed by Dixie’s enthusiasm and before long the two of them are heading off down the road, but very soon …

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Never mind, Percy, Dixie’s there to pick you up and encourage you to practise, practise, practise … and soon the pals are planning a cycling trip. Routes are considered, maps pored over (with a bit of input from Dean), destinations discussed and an expedition is finally decided upon. The plan is that Dean will take the lead on his bike and the other two will follow, which when put into operation, isn’t quite such a clever idea … as the two bikes hurtle downhill at an alarming speed towards a haystack resulting in …

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Extrication accomplished, the three part company and whom should they meet as they reach home but nosy neighbour Lou Ella. Inevitable comments are passed and smartly brushed aside with Dixie’s “Just a small mishap.”
Is that mishap the end of Dixie and Percy’s flirtation with cycling? Of course not – this is Dixie O’Day we’re talking about but if you want to discover how things develop and I’m certain you do, then grab yourself a copy of this latest delicious Dixie offering from the inimitable mother and daughter team Shirley and Clara.
Shirley’s faultless storytelling and Clara’s delectable illustrations together offer total delight for those ‘just independent’ readers and of course, it’s a cracker for reading aloud, one to one, or with a group.
I’ll just add that there are thrills aplenty and the odd spill (or ”error of judgement”) as Percy puts it,

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not to mention a long-distance race, the Didsworth Cycle Rally and the unmasking of a cheat. Oops! I‘m in danger of telling all in my enthusiasm for this wonderful book … Don’t get left behind; get hold of it rightaway. As well as the story, there’s the usual mix of maps, a quiz, a chat with the book’s creators …

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and more, to enjoy too.

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Purple Passions

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Dixie O’Day and the Haunted House
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
I missed this as a Hallowe’en read due to re-organisation at RH but no matter, it’s an all year round read anyway. Here in the fourth Dixie and Percy adventure, the pals plan a camping trip, “somewhere where there are no other people and we can be alone with nature!” Dixie suggests and despite slight reservations from Percy off they set, with nosy neighbor Lou Ella’s warnings of rain being forecast on the radio ringing in their ears.
They end up in a decidedly dark, scary seeming place having missed this …

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before pitching the tent. (I have to say their efforts at same remind me all too much of my own teenage attempts at same at a location I remember not, but somewhere near Bath.)

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But the watchful cows know better – much better.

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Indeed, after a series of mishaps, or rather disasters – gales, torrents and empty petrol tanks – the friends end up seeking refuge herein …

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All manner of spine-tingling horrors manifest themselves in the darkness; the sights and sounds are pretty alarming but needless to say and Shirley does ‘thoughts of that old dark house and the terrors of the night seemed to fade rapidly.’ as Dixie and Percy head home already planning for a barbecue the following weekend.
Shirley is on top form with her humour herein: those bovine characters Mabel and Margery are a hoot as they pass judgement (and more) on Dixie and Percy’s camp site; and as ever Clara’s two-tone illustrations are wonderful, every single one of them.

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As usual in the series, the book ends not with the story’s conclusion but with maps, a meet the creators chat, some fun activites and a first chaper taster of the next Dixie story Dixie O’Day On His Bike! Like a good many newly independent readers I know, I just can’t wait.
And I’m ashamed to say I’ve only just discovered the delights of the first of another series in the making wherein Clara ‘s wonderful illustrations are an integral part. Again it’s a perfect taking off book:

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Mango & Bambang The Not-a-Pig
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
Bambang is an Asian tapir (from the jungles of Malaysia) befriended by Mango Allsorts when he is lost and frightened in the big city where she lives. Young Mango is certainly a very busy young miss with her karate, pancake making, chess and attempts at clarinet playing.
The first story tells of the meeting of the two with that wonderful traffic-stopping announcement of Mango’s.

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The second sees the friends visiting the swimming pool (Bambang doesn’t quite fit into the bath

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and he misses his muddy jungly pool) and Bambang discovering the delights of toffees.
The third tells how the tapir becomes a connoisseur of hats – yes hats! –

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and an encounter with the dreadful Dr Cynthia Prickle-Posset, newly returned from an overseas visit and none too pleased to discover a tapir disturbing her peace.
In the final episode, Bambang and Mango join forces to create some highly unusual music.

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Everything about this book is enchanting: the characters – meet the whole cast:

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the sweetly funny stories they inhabit, the delicious purple-tinged illustrations, the inviting striped cover, the purple edged pages – hmm, joy.

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Childhood Pleasures: Alfie Outdoors and The Jar of Happiness

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Alfie Outdoors
Shirley Hughes
The Bodley Head
The delectable Alfie is up with the lark and outside in the garden eager to start the day: it’s to be a gardening day with Dad but it’s one that involves a whole lot of digging and clearing, for the plan is to create a vegetable patch and plant some seeds. First though it’s back to the digging, which Alfie actually enjoys or rather, he enjoys investigating all the minibeasts he unearths from the soil.

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Come the weekend Alfie is allowed to choose his own seeds from the garden centre and he has a plan. He wants to grow carrots, not for himself but to feed to his friend Gertrude the goat at the goat sanctuary. The trouble is though, seeds don’t come up overnight, there’s a lot of waiting and watching involved. Just as Alfie is beginning to give up on his carrots, Dad notices some tiny seedings starting to sprout and with Alfie’s daily watering it’s not long before the first carrots are ready for pulling.

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Imagine Alfie’s disappointment then when he gets to the goat sanctuary to discover no Gertrude: she’s gone missing. Almost a day passes, a very sad one for Alfie and then yippee! Good news – Gertrude’s been found and is back where she belongs. All ends happily in true Alfie fashion next morning when he’s finally able to offer a juicy carrot to his favourite sanctuary resident.

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This is such a gorgeous book – another Hughes classic for sure. Shirley knows exactly the kinds of things that make young children content and never loses sight of them: Alfie’s preoccupations are those of every small child …

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and in her own inimitable way Shirley provides another tour de force every time she creates a new Alfie story.

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The Jar of Happiness
Ailsa Burrows
Child’s Play
Is happiness something you can put into a jar and keep bottled up? Young Meg seems to think so when she invents her very own kind, tasting of chocolate ice cream, apple juice and sunshine, smelling of warm biscuits and the seaside and containing all the best colours. Meg however doesn’t keep this happiness to herself; she uses her jar to cheer up glum friends

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or poorly relations; she seems to know just how to use it to maximum effect.
But, one day, Meg’s jar is nowhere to be found; so has her happiness gone forever?

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Fortunately not, thanks to all those Meg has shared her happiness jar with. It’s now their turn to show her their own special ingredients for happiness and none of them comes from a jar.

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Ailsa Burrows’ softly coloured characters have an endearing squidgy, cushiony appearance that make one want to snuggle up with them. And with its warm-hearted feel, this is a lovely snuggle-up-together and share with a young child kind of book.

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Dixie O’Day and the Great Diamond Robbery

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Dixie O’Day and the Great Diamond Robbery
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
Hurrah! Dixie O’Day is back in a second adventure with his best pal, Percy.
When the pair head off on holiday to the posh Hotel Splendide in Brightsea, little do they know that they are driving right into more high adventure.
This time it’s an adventure involving a narrow escape en route thanks to a masked pair in a car, a dramatic sea rescue of Mr Canteloe, owner of a large house with secret passages, a hidden cave, a famous pop star Peaches Miaow, such a divinely cool character it’s easy to see why Percy adores her; a jewel robbery (this includes Peaches’ precious diamond necklace.)

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Oh woe! big drama in the hotel lobby. Then there’s a subterranean encounter – Percy, Dixie and Mr C. and the robbers, a breathless chase (involving same), a torn off sleeve (one of the crooks’s), the  discovery of the stolen hoard by Mr C. Dixie and Percy (who unearths Peaches’ necklace), and an eventual arrest and identification of the criminals.
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DSCN2886 (640x607) Phew!
Percy in particular is more than a little thrilled as the friends finally set off to drive home.

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Once again there are the added extras: an introductory interview with Dixie and Percy and photo portraits of the other characters, a map (Dixie’s) and after the story, Shirley and Clara talk about their favourite holidays, there’s a maze and invitation for readers to be creative, a quiz and a taster of – oh joy – the next adventure, Dixie O’Day Up, Up and Away – I can’t wait.
Like it’s predecessor, this a perfect chapter story both for sharing with children and also for those at that tricky inbetween stage just before confident reading that is so hard to cater for. With Clara’s richly patterned, wonderfully expressive illustrations and a truly entertaining story that sparkles with Shirley’s charm and subtle humour what more can a reader at that crucial stage ask for – other than more, of course.
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Car Capers

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Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
I loved everything about this book – its shape and feel, the cover, the mother/daughter, daughter/mother dedication page,

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the introductory interview with the dapper hero Dixie wherein we also meet his best pal Percy, the annotated cast list of other characters

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and the map;

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all that before the story even starts. There are further delights at the end too, including a taster of the next Dixie adventure and an invitation to young readers to get their creative juices to work designing a marvellous motor. (Teachers – there’s a great opportunity here – children’s designs can be sent to Dixie via his own website: www.dixieoday.com
Dixie O’Day’s classic car is his pride and joy. He takes great care of it and likes nothing better than to take it for a spin in the countryside with Percy seated alongside him.
Dixie’s neighbour is also a car lover but Lou Ella knows nothing about cars and merely wants to impress; in fact she buys a flashy new model every year and is mighty pleased to learn that Dixie’s pride and joy has recently been proving far from reliable.

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One day a race is announced.
Both Dixie and Lou Ella set their sights on winning but who will be the first across the line, the ruthless Lou Ella or the ever-helpful, fair-minded Dixie and his co-driver Percy? Suffice it to say, things don’t go smoothly for either party.

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This is top class entertainment, perfectly packaged, for those just at the independent stage of reading in particular, but actually for anybody who likes a sparkling story told with unfailing charm and gentle wit and illustrated with equal measures of both. It’s presented in seven chapters but in my experience, it’s a case of ”I want the whole story in one go.” So, shared reading could well be the order of the day.

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James reading the story to his brother, Daniel

Clara’s gloriously retro, red, grey, black and white patterned illustrations are perfectly integrated with the text and the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts, which is saying a lot: both are superb.
A classic series in the making, for sure.
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