Matisse’s Magical Trail

Matisse’s Magical Trail
Tim Hopgood and Sam Boughton
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

Matisse the snail confines his creative endeavours to the night-time when there’s nobody about; but during the day the world feels scary and much of his time is given over to preventing himself from being squashed by walkers.

One night in the middle of the city Matisse discovers the ideal place for some drawing and sets to work …

Come morning one of his creations is discovered by a little boy, Leo who adds his own marks to the design on the stone and showing it to Matisse, he introduces himself. Leo’s friends are impressed and eager to learn who the artist is; Matisse though has now disappeared.

Off go the children, returning later with many more items for Matisse to work his creative magic upon, and by the next morning our artistic snail has created a trail; a trail that leads to their school wall.

When their teacher sees what the children are looking at, it sparks a wonderful idea in her. Before you can say, ‘art’ the children are hard at work transforming the wall with their own creative endeavours

and they don’t stop at just a single wall. The school becomes a truly wonderful sight attracting great attention from passers by.

That night Matisse however, realises that his work in this particular place is done; it’s time to move elsewhere; first though he has one final piece of art to create for Leo and his fellow pupils. Teachers and other adults will be able to guess what that is.

Look out for snail magic on walls wherever you go; you might not find Matisse but it’s likely you’ll discover some snail magic.

A super story, beautifully told by Tim and illustrated by an exciting newcomer to the picture book scene, Sam Boughton, this book has SO much to offer. It demonstrates to children the importance of looking carefully and noticing small things – things that can lead to big changes. It also shows the importance of creativity and self-expression and is a smashing starting point for art at home or in schools. For imaginative teachers this could prove inspirational.

Cyril the Lonely Cloud

Cyril the Lonely Cloud
Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press

Cyril is a cloud whose main desire is to see a happy world; however all he seems to do is put the dampers on people and their fun; nobody’s ever happy to see him, a fact the knows all too well.

Cyril decides to go off and seek friendly faces but no matter where he floats be it land or sea he cannot find that which he seeks. All he does is increase in size.

At last the now huge cloud reaches a new and parched land where the cooling effect of his shadow is entirely welcomed by the residents.

Its cathartic effect on Cyril himself is one not of sadness but joy. Nonetheless his tears most definitely achieve his hearts desire – to ‘look down on the world and see a happy smile’. Not just one however, now he sees smiling faces everywhere …

Tim’s story certainly brought a happy smile to the face of this reviewer; he’s made the amorphous Cyril with his smile-inducing mission, a thoroughly endearing character that hovers over gorgeous, layered scenes of the natural world.

Youngsters will love his upbeat, optimistic nature as well as delighting in the wild animals  particularly that of the lion beaming a beatific smile.

If you are studying the weather with foundation stage children this is a must include book for your topic.

Moon River

Moon River
illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press

Once again Tim Hopgood has turned an enduringly popular song into a magical experience that feels brand new.
His latest offering is based on Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini’s song Moon River made famous by Andy Williams. (There’s a sing-along CD featuring the classic song inside the back cover).

Moonlight streaming, river like through a child’s bedroom window gently nudges a slumberer and she embarks on a breathtaking journey of discovery in the company of a white horse and a guitar-playing brown bear.

Together they travel on their small craft through a glowing watery world,

then take to the air flying over not-yet sleeping cities before landing and riding off in search of that illusive rainbow’s end, a place that’s always just that little bit out of reach.

As those notes drift across the pages of Tim’s deliciously dreamy scenes who could resist following them and joining the adventurers as they sally forth into the night on a voyage that will take them they know not where.

Adult readers however, will recognise some of the famous landmarks depicted as they share this gorgeous book with their little ones.

Joy and hope shine forth from every one of Tim’s spreads in this enchanting dream of a book.

Mice Skating / Wow! It’s Night-Time

Mice Skating
Annie Silvestro and Teagan White
Sterling

There’s nothing better after a walk on a chilly day than an exhilarating tale of the great outdoors to snuggle up and share, as you sip mugs of hot chocolate in the warmth of your home; and this one really fits the bill.

Lucy Mouse is something of an exception when it comes to winter: she loves it for the crunchy snow, frosty air and opportunities to wear her woolly hat. Not only does her hat warm her head, it warms her heart too.

Her friends in contrast, much prefer to stay huddled up in their burrow waiting for spring.

Venturing forth alone, Lucy has great fun …

but it’s lonely and she really wants to share the wintry pleasures with her pals. They however, are not interested.

Then she accidentally discovers ice-skating, even making herself a pair of skates from pine needles (I love that); and is all the more determined to get her friends to try this magical experience.

If you can put up with some corny, or rather, cheesy punning in the text (courtesy of Marcello, one of the mice), this is a wintry wonder.

The glowing illustrations exude warmth despite the chilly nature of the world beyond the burrow, and are full of creative details such as the pine needle skates and the furnishings of the mouse abode.

For younger listeners:

Wow! It’s Night-Time
Tim Hopgood
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tim Hopgood’s curious little owl that was enchanted by all the colours she encountered in nature returns to share the wonders of the night-time world with young listeners.
There’s the mole that peeps from his hole, the creeping foxes, the rabbits, bats and mice; and when the clouds part, a beautiful big bright moon surrounded by twinkling stars.
All this she sees but there’s a double “wow!” when she spies the other owls that share her tree.

Just before bedtime especially, little humans will delight in discovering what goes on while they’re fast asleep and enjoy the built-in counting opportunity on each spread.
An enchanting taster of the nocturnal natural world, stylishly presented by Hopgood.

Singing in the Rain / I Want Snow!

Singing in the Rain
illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press

A few years back I was in Udaipur, Rajasthan when the first monsoon rains of the season started to fall. Almost instantly, everyone around, the children certainly, all dashed outside and began celebrating – jumping for joy and playing in the rapidly forming, large puddles that soon became rushing torrents in the streets.
Tim Hopgood’s exuberant illustrations that accompany the words based on Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown’s song too, make rain a joyful experience.

Most adults in the UK certainly, especially teachers, find rainy days a nuisance at best, as they usually mean wet playtimes. Early years teachers though, like the children herein, embrace it as an opportunity to experience puddle jumping and splashing, and have a thoroughly good time – so long as everyone is suitably clad in waterproofs and wellies, that is.
Included with this uplifting book is a CD with the song performed by Doris Day followed by the story with page-turn signals.
So, as the book’s illustrator urges, no matter where you are, be it city or tropical rainforest,

Next time it rains, step outside, feel the rain on your face and give the clouds up above your biggest smile!

Just like the children here in Tim Hopgood’s bright alluring scenes.

I Want Snow!
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

The Little Princess is well known for making demands.
In this, her latest story, prompted by a postcard from her mum in the South Pole, and in spite of it being summer, it’s snow she wants.
But what the Little Princess wants, she usually gets and so it is here – eventually.
First though she has everyone in the palace doing their best, building snowmen out of stones and sand and indulging her with mudball fights.

Is the little madam satisfied? Of course not; even the cook’s proffered glass snow globe fails to please and off she stomps to bed. Endless bed – or almost …

until finally she has something to lift her spirits.
I wonder what she thinks about the long-awaited, chilly precipitation.
The Little Princess does look slightly less little here but her charm shows no signs of wearing thin, and I’m sure she’s especially pleased to have a sparkly cover to her latest book.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Walking in a Winter Wonderland
illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?’ It’s almost impossible not to break into song on seeing those opening words to the seasonal favourite written down, and now illustrator Tim Hopgood has taken that ever-popular Christmas song (with some slight alterations) and turned it into an enchanting and truly joyful, snow-filled picture book experience for children and adults to share together.
As musical notes drift across every spread, we join a family of five walking …

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and playing …

in a woodland landscape populated by wild animals (foxes, deer, a squirrel and rabbits) and birds …

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Hopgood’s pastel and crayon scenes capture the magic of idyllic winter countryside with newly fallen snow, sledging, snowman building, and then the family snuggling up together in the warmth from a fire. I particularly love that musical note tree …

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and the endpapers too are lovely – so simple and SO effective.
To add to the delights, the book comes with a three track CD. The first track is the wonderfully jazzy rendition of the song performed by Peggy Lee, the second is a reading of the book with tinkling sounds to let you know when to turn the page, and the third a (somewhat superfluous) listening game.
A Christmas cracker.

Facing the Truth

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The Truth According to Arthur
Tim Hopgood and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The relationship between Arthur and The Truth is in crisis thanks to a deed done – despite his mum’s warning not to – by the young lad, which has resulted in …

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(that’s Mum’s car and big bro’s bike.). Inevitably his friends ask him about the incident and first Arthur BENDS the truth getting him this response …

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Then he S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-S it “I was just having a little go on my brother’s bike when an alien asked if he could borrow it … I think he thought it would fly.” to which Lula responds similarly. Clearly more drastic action is required thinks Arthur; but his attempts at covering up The Truth, disguising it and hiding it all fail dismally. Maybe ignoring it altogether will work.

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Seems Frankie is suitably impressed …

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but what about his Mum? “Do you have something to tell me?’ she asks Arthur who is then faced with a moral dilemma. What do you think he did? …
Suffice it to say, Arthur and The Truth are now the best of friends …
The Hopgood/Tazzyman combination works a treat in this, their first partnership book. Giggles aplenty are assured when you read this fanciful fibbing fiction aloud to a group of under 7s. In addition to being a fun story to share, it’s just the thing to kick off a discussion on the topic of telling the truth; and Tazzyman’s wonderfully quirky illustrations are likely to prompt satisfied listeners to imagine and create their own flights of fancy on the busted bike/scratched car theme.

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Prince George and the Royal Potty
Caryl Hart and Laura Ellen Anderson
Orchard Books
Never has a royal baby been the star of so many picture books as young Prince George and now here he is again to share his potty training regime with us. Thus far, the infant prince has, so we are told, presented no problems to his household; he’s minded his ps and qs and always kept himself nice and clean …

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but then comes a day when, despite his dad’s reluctance to rush the lad, his mum tells him it’s time to stop wearing nappies,. And further incentive comes later in the day when he discovers that dragon hunting armour and nappies just don’t go together …

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With the potty-using decision made, George then realises that he has no idea how the thing works.
Next day he still hasn’t gone nappyless and the royal guards are far from impressed when he decides to join them on a march past. Eventually the king is called and it’s from him that Prince George receives sterling advice: “Just choose a good book from the shelf. Then sit on the potty and read it. The rest will come all by itself.” Lo and behold in a few days, the little fellow is a potty ace sporting appropriately trimmed pants and with a portable pot on hand whenever he feels the urge …

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Caryl Hart’s right royal rhyme in combination with Laura Ellen Anderson’s exuberant scenes make for a romping good read.

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Fabulous Frogs, Elephants and other creatures

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Fabulous Frogs
Martin Jenkins and Tim Hopgood
Walker Books
I’ll never forget an experience I had in Udaipur, Rajasthan a few years back: during the monsoon time I was caught in a downpour and suddenly hundreds of tiny frogs about the size of a finger nail (and those tiny New Guineas frogs depicted herein) came raining (seemingly) down from the sky. I never knew from where they had really originated – drainpipes and gullies perhaps – but it sparked an interest in these fascinating creatures. I’ve since seen many different kinds in other parts of India, especially the Kerala coast where I had a resident frog that performed acrobatics on my washing line; and every evening also in the monsoon we would be serenaded by a mesmerising frogs’ chorus from the trees and bushes …

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Then there were the tree frogs whose foam nests we saw on branches overhanging the pond very similar to these African ones …

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None of the frog species featured in this lovely picture book is Indian but each one the conservation biologist Martin Jenkins has selected is strange and wonderful in its own way, not least being the Darwin’s Frog. The male puts the soon-to-be hatched eggs in its throat, keeping them and later, the tadpoles, safe therein.
Then there’s the world’s largest, enormous (for a frog) Goliath Frog from West Africa that eats other frogs on occasion.
Illustrator, Tim Hopgood has done these and the other frogs proud in his cracking pictures. A frogilicious book!

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Would an Elephant Enjoy the Seaside?
Camilla de la Bédoyère and Aleksei Bitskoff
QED Publishing
The title of the book is just one of the amusing scenarios explored in this attractive book. Others include
‘Could an elephant join an art class?’ …

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and “How would an elephant say “hello”? Certainly the library would be an ideal place – elephants raise their trunks and trumpet … They also talk quietly … ‘by making low rumbling sounds that pass down their legs

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and into the ground.’ This is picked up by the feet of elephants far away.
Fascinating information such as this is conveyed in a manner that is likely to stay with the reader who is one hopes, then motivated to go on to find out more. Equally importantly this book and others in the series will foster that crucial ‘What if …’ notion in young children.
Also in the series and equally entertaining and informative is:

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Could a Crocodile Play Basketball?
Camilla de la Bédoyère and Aleksei Bitskoff
QED Publishing

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Just imagine one of those jaw snappers in your early years classroom …

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Children’s Animal Atlas
Barbara Tylor, Katrin Wiehle and Martin Sanders
QED
More than a mere atlas, this book has a pocket inside the front cover containing a fold-out poster map, half a dozen postcards to write from various animal locations, a spotter’s guide with facts and a quiz and pages of stickers, that can be used as the reader chooses.

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Find and Colour
illustrated by Joel Dreidemy
QED
For those youngsters around 5ish who like colouring with a few facts thrown in, is this pack of eight books (almost all with an animal theme) complete with pens. As it says on every cover: ‘things to colour and facts to discover’. Just the thing for rainy days and long journeys.

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A Bounty of Board Books

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Walter’s Wonderful Web
Tim Hopgood
Macmillan Children’s Books
Walter is a spider with a mission: he wants to spin a perfect web, not a wibbly- wobbly one that is whisked away whenever the wind blows.
His first effort – a triangular one is destroyed by the first puff of wind so he tries another – a rectangle, but with no more success.

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The diamond meets a similar fate but what about his circular-looking one, could that be the answer?
But three wooshes and Walter plus web hit the ground. Nearing despair, Walter stops to think before making one last attempt and by nightfall it looks as if he’s got it the design just right –

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WOW! Walter, you certainly deserved to succeed – top marks for perseverance and a wonderfully intricate web.
This delightful story for the very youngest provides a great opportunity to introduce ideas about not giving up when things get tough and of course, built into the narrative are those six basic 2D shapes.

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The Butterfly Garden
Laura Weston
Big Picture Press
Twenty words and a sequence of half a dozen super-stylish, beautifully patterned black and white illustrations: nothing much to get excited about – right? Wrong: look closely at the first of those black and white spreads.

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How many caterpillars can you spot? Look again at the silhouetted leaves and blooms and you notice there are flaps to lift. Open the top left-hand flap to reveal …

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And then the other four flaps and you’ll see a whole lot going on in vibrant colours …

 

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The subsequent spreads show the life cycle and life journey of the Monarch butterfly. (In North America, the Monarch migrates en masse to Mexico during the course of its life.)

 

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Essentially that’s it and every spread is beautifully designed and arresting first in black and white and then with its flashes of flamboyant colour.
Although the Monarch isn’t a breeding British butterfly, this book is a striking visual account of a butterfly’s life cycle.

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The Tiger Prowls
Seb Braun
Simon & Schuster
It’s hard to choose a favourite from the five animals that pop out from the pages of this seemingly simple yet impressive book. I love the shape and feel of the whole thing – its arresting cover, the way it whizzes through the various habitats the colour palette used and the clever paper engineering. Then there’s the elegant prose of the sentences used to describe each of the iconic creatures that grace the spreads.
First off is that tiger from the cover described thus:
‘The tiger prowls, stalking the jungle. Paw after heavy paw crunches on the forest floor. And so he does emerging from a gentle hint of vegetation straddling that first spread across which slides a muted snake.
Turn over and meet a graceful whale with its cleverly upturned tail and snout;

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the brown bear padding slow through the forest, the mighty elephant taking a shower in the hot sun (If I’m fussy I’d like to have seen an upturned trunk and slightly sharper tusks here ) and finally …

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Gentle, elegant, treetop nibbling, cloud-high grazer giraffe ‘pitching his way across the savannah, like a ship adrift on the open plain.’ (love those bird silhouettes)
Aimed at the very young but I can also envisage older children who get hold of this being inspired to try their hand at making their own pop-up animals.

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Dinoblock
Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo
Abrams & Chronicle
MEET THE DINOSAURS says the sign across the museum doors and on opening them readers (and the two child investigators) find two key questions ‘Who are the dinosaurs?’ and ‘Where are the dinosaurs?’
From then on the book’s clever design really comes into play with a formula that is used to great effect for the next ninety or so pages using a mix of cleverly crafted cutaway pages and a series of similes likening each of the twenty three dinosaurs introduced to something a young child is likely to be familiar with, followed by another spread showing the particular dinosaur in its natural habitat and a sentence giving the dinosaur’s name with its phonetic pronunciation. Thus we have for instance, ‘I have a neck like a goose …

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turn over to ‘I am a Coelophysis (SEE-low-FYE-sis)’…
Or this one:

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The grand finale comprises a spread of drawn-to-scale dinosaurs on a gate-fold that opens out into a farewell display of skeletons of all the dinosaurs featured.

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Of those a fair number are relatively uncommon in books for young children and indeed a few such as Micropachycephalosaurus and Edmontosaurus) were new names to me.
Assuredly a block-buster for the very young but also a book that offers a great opportunity for them to see and think about a favourite topic in an exciting and imaginative new way. And, a jumping off point for further investigation and children’s own creativity.

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Birds, Beasts and Sausages

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Little Answer
Tim Hopgood
Picture Corgi pbk
Most people have plenty of questions to which they seek answers but sad, lost Little Answer is desperate to find the question to which he is THE answer. Snail offers to help him in his search and off they go. The first encounter is with elephant; his question is (of course) a big one; “What makes the world go round?

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Elephant is totally unimpressed with Little Answer’s response of “Sausages!” Butterfly, Ladybird and Owl are equally unimpressed when they get the same response to their difficult questions.
Snail begins to have doubts about Little Answer fitting any question at all;

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he certainly is not the correct answer to Rabbit’s “Where did everything come from?” No giving up now though, says Snail to a departing Little Answer but then along comes Daisy with something very important to ask …

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This story is an absolute joy to read aloud and has had enthusiastic responses at every sharing with the children on the edge of their ‘seats’ as they anticipate Little Answer’s response each time. Not only is it very funny, it’s beautifully constructed and the tenor is spot on.
So too are the child-friendly illustrations created with simple outlines, shapes and strokes of brush, pen, crayon and pastel on mostly pale coloured papers.
Moreover, countless possibilities for exploration – artistic and philosophical – lie herein.
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The Dawn Chorus
Suzanne Barton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
When Peep hears a beautiful song nearby he is determined to discover its singer. Off he flies, stopping to ask in turn, the owl, a mouse and then a frog. The frog directs him to its source – a tree atop a hill and there he finds a whole host of birds all singing. “We’re the Dawn Chorus,” one informs Peep. Peep immediately wants to join them and an audition is duly arranged for dawn the following day. Peep flies home and practices hard until he falls fast asleep. But next morning to his horror, he discovers he’s missed that day’s singing and begs for a second chance. The following day, having practiced so much and stayed awake all night, he is so tired he can only yawn at the audition.

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It’s a very sad Peep that flies off home and as the sun sets he sings softly. His song is answered by a similar-looking bird.
Why can I sing in the evening… but not … with the Dawn Chorus? “ Peeps asks. Thereupon he receives an explanation and at the same time discovers his true identity and most importantly, finds a soul mate.

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It is possible to detect the Japanese influence on Suzanne Barton’s lovely, mixed media, almost child-like, illustrations. I particularly like the way she has worked those fabrics into her portrayal of the owl

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and Peep’s Indian woodblock print-looking wings.
Here assuredly is an artist to follow with interest; this debut book is a delight from cover to cover. The story itself sends out – like the birds’ songs – a powerful message about identity and belonging and discovering your true self.
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Little Tree
Jenny Bowers
The Big Picture Press
This book is a true wonder to behold. Superbly conceived, illustrated and designed, it takes readers through the seasons alongside Little Tree, showing its changes and those of the surrounding habitat during the course of a year.
Ingenious use is made of the flaps, which serve in a similar fashion to more traditional labels, drawing the attention to particular features the names of which are revealed when the flaps are lifted.

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Nina and Rosa spent ages exploring the wonders of the spring.

Even more ingenious though, is the placing of the developing Little Tree in the same position on each right hand page, while on the left each time we are shown a mature tree and the seasonal changes that undergoes, further enhanced by a strategically placed flap. For instance, in winter, the mature tree has an insect resting in a hole in its trunk covered by a flap in the shape of a seed head; on the next (spring) page the same hole harbours a birds’ nest with first ‘eggs’

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and then chicks, are discovered by lifting the flaps. Summer brings the birds leaving the nest,; in autumn a squirrel eating an acorn is beneath a leaf in the same spot and winter has a mouse nestling in the place the birds have abandoned Thus seasonal change and revelation go hand in hand as a child works through the book.

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DSCN2028 A real sense of awe and wonder is evoked as the sturdy board pages are turned and children explore the delights contained on each and every spread and hear  the gentle poetic  accompanying text.
A treasure trove of opportunities – artistic, poetic and scientific and of course, discussion, is contained within the covers of this gem of a book. No primary classroom should be without at least one copy.
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