Paris Cat

Paris Cat
Dianne Hofmeyer and Piet Grobler
Tiny Owl

Unlike the rest of her large family and many friends, there’s one Parisian Cat that wants to see more of the world than her smelly back-alley home.

So, one wet night she enters a busy café where singer Edith Piaf, is entertaining the customers. Cat decides to do likewise

but is soon sent packing.

Back out in the rain she finds refuge in a dressmaking atelier.

Once again Cat decides “I can do that,” and as soon as the establishment has closed, she gathers up all the fabric offcuts and fashions herself a sparkly dress, dons her new attire and heads to a nightclub.

There she sees Josephine Baker dancing along with a cheetah. Yet again Cat decides, “Pffh! I can do that” and up onto the stage she springs to show her own moves.

Chiquita the cheetah is impressed, so much so that ‘Kitty’ is invited back to dance again the following evening alongside Josephine.

So it is that every night, clad in a new outfit, courtesy of the snippets from Madame Delphine’s atelier, she dances the night away, becoming a regular part of the billed act.

Eventually Cat starts to miss her family and friends. This prompts her to open her very own nightclub – Madame Kitty’s Catacombs Club so that she can see them all regularly again.

Now it’s not just one, but many cats that, if you happen to be in the vicinity after dark, you might see dancing the night away, clad thanks to Madame Kitty, in their snazzy outfits.

And Madame Kitty? She may be there too, or perhaps another new adventure has lured her away.

I absolutely love Piet Grobler’s scratchy scenes of 1920s Paris nightlife that really bring to life Dianne Hofmeyer’s deliciously quirky tale of searching for the new, pursuing your dreams, but not forgetting  where you came from. I love too, the way the author has woven into her narrative the two stars from that era both of whom had difficult early lives.

Bloom

Bloom
Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen
Tiny Owl

Beneath the window of a large house grows a beautiful flower and every morning as they walk to school with their mum, a brother and sister stop briefly by the flower. The little girl would go up close to savour its beauty with her eyes and nose and address it thus, “Good morning, beautiful flower … I think you’re wonderful. Thank you for being here for us. I love you.” She’d then proceed happily into school.

This went on until one morning having woken earlier than usual the man living in the big house saw what was happening and shouted threateningly at the girl and her brother.

Consequently they decided to change their route to school.

Next morning although the sun came out, the flower didn’t. The poor gardener is blamed for improper watering and the man does the job instead – but still the flower stays closed.

Perhaps it’s shade the flower needs the angry man thinks but again it fails to make a difference. No matter what he does or says the flower remains firmly shut and increasingly droopy.

Totally exasperated and full of complaints, the man calls his gardener again. Despite not knowing what the matter is, the gardener is observant and tells the man exactly what the little girl had done every day.

Finally after consideration, the man goes to the school gate, waits for the girl and her brother and tells them tearfully what has happened.

The little girl offers him some advice and the man rushes home. Instead of self-centred, self-interested orders, can kind, heartfelt words succeed in making his flower bloom again?

With echoes of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, Anne Booth’s ultimately uplifting fable demonstrates the power of words and the importance of considering carefully how what you say will impact upon others: positivity is key.

Robyn Wilson Owen’s finely textured, mixed media illustrations show the contrast between the children’s nurturing home environment and that of the man’s lonely existence as well as documenting the changes in the flower through the story.

Felix After the Rain

Felix After the Rain
Dunja Jogan (translsated by Olivia Hellewell)
Tiny Owl

Felix is full of sorrow; in fact the boy appears to be carrying the weight of the world’s sorrows on his shoulders or rather in the huge suitcase he hauls around with him everywhere he goes. Each time something upsetting has occurred in his life, it causes his suitcase to increase in weight; so much so that it’s become almost impossible to move.

One day when it feels as though his sadness has become completely overwhelming, desperately in need of a rest, Felix stops and falls asleep beneath the shade of a tree.

A small boy playing close by sees the case, opens it and all the pent-up feelings are released into the sky causing a tumultuous storm.

Very soon though, the storm abates leaving Felix feeling calm, light and happy. A total transformation has occurred

and with a joyful heart he goes back home mightily relieved and ready to share his happy feelings with everyone around.

With its themes of the power of the importance of friendship, and of letting go of baggage we carry and being able to move forward, this is a very powerful book that speaks to both children and adults.

Dunja Jogan’s storytelling illustrations are enormously potent too, and her colour palette is exquisite.

Families, school classrooms, early years settings, in fact anywhere that children might spend time – should have a copy of this.

Under the Great Plum Tree

Under the Great Plum Tree
Sufiya Ahmed and Reza Dalvand
Tiny Owl

This is a new addition to Tiny Owl’s smashing One Story, Many Voices series.

I felt very pleased with myself for realising as I started reading that the names of the two main characters in Sufiya Ahmed’s version of an Indian fable from the Panchatrantra are the Hindi for monkey and crocodile, only to find on finishing the book a note at the back saying just that. Still it didn’t say that hati is Hindi for elephant!

Now let me introduce the two characters who have formed a rather unlikely friendship under a plum tree in their jungle home. There’s the always kind-hearted Miss Bandari and well past his hunting days crocodile, Mr Magarmach.

The latter regales Miss Bandari with his tales of days gone by but one day instead of his regular story, he invites his friend to lunch as repayment for all her kindness.

That’s an offer too good to turn down so Miss Bandari leaps onto Mr Magarmach’s back and off they go down the river.

After a while they encounter Dame Hati who warns of a terrible danger that awaits should they proceed: the always hungry King Crocodile no less.

Now this troubles Miss Bandari but Mr Magarmuch assures her that King Crocodile wants only to see her big golden heart.

Luckily Dame Hati has her wits about her

and assists Miss Bandari in avoiding a terrible fate.

But the result is that the long-standing friendship between Miss Bandari and Mr Magarmach is tested close to its limits.

Fortunately though the latter’s courage prevails when King Crocodile’s true intentions are revealed and all ends happily.

Sufiya Ahmed’s lively rendition is a great read aloud, while reminiscent of Gujarati Pithora art, Reza Dalvand’s stylised, multi-patterned illustrations flow freely over the pages seducing the eye, making the entire reading experience an absolute delight for audiences and those sharing the book.

The Secret of the Tattered Shoes

The Secret of the Tattered Shoes
Jackie Morris and Ehsan Abdollahi
Tiny Owl

The latest addition to Tiny Owl’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ is a rather different interpretation of the Brothers Grimm tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
Here the princesses are still locked up each night, and their dancing shoes are still worn down each morning.

However, having met a beautiful woman in the forest

and learned of the princesses, the strong handsome soldier who takes it upon himself to accept the king’s challenge to discover their secret, is weary of life.

Unlike those who have gone before he has a different ending in mind from that offered by the princesses’ father.

Jackie Morris’s text is poetic: ‘The soldier followed, out from the twisting tunnel of steps to an avenue of trees lit by curious starlight. The leaves shone with silver as if painted by moonlight’.
It’s also rather dark: it’s certainly not marriage to one of the king’s daughters – the happily ever after ending of the Grimm version that this soldier seeks. Nevertheless although readers are left to decide for themselves what happens to him, we’re left with a hope that the soldier finds that which he goes in search of after leaving the royal gathering.

Ehsan Abdollahi’s collage illustrations are absolutely right for Jackie Morris’s rendition: from endpaper to endpaper, with puppet-like figures, they’re exquisitely detailed, infused with melancholy and mystery, and reminded me rather of medieval tapestries.

Fair Shares

Fair Shares
Pippa Goodhart and Anna Doherty
Tiny Owl

Both Hare and Bear have designs on the juicy-looking pears they see high up in the tree but neither can reach them.

Hare suggests climbing on chairs but there are only three …

“That’s not fair!’ exclaims Bear so one is discarded. Now Bear can reach the yummy pears – SCRUNCH MUNCH – but Hare isn’t happy.

Suddenly a tiny voice pipes up. Beetle puts forward the notion that giving everybody the same thing isn’t always fair and with a visual aid, goes on to explain.

Everyone appears happy but only briefly;

wait for the surprise ending …

Pippa Goodhart’s funny, seemingly simple story will set youngsters’ brains a- buzzing as they contemplate the vexed question of fair shares and fairness.

Before that though, they’ll relish the entire telling wonderfully visualised in Anna Doherty’s lively, splendidly expressive illustrations of the animal participants in this thought-provoking book. Look out for all the minibeasts watching the action and sometimes enjoying the spoils thereof.

Quill Soup

Quill Soup
Alan Durant and Dale Blankenaar
Tiny Owl

This droll tale, the third in Tiny owl’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ enterprise is a wonderful retelling of an African variant of folk tale classic Stone Soup.

Here the protagonist, Noko is a tired, very hungry porcupine that dupes a whole village of selfish, well-sated animals into contributing to a wonderful meal even though they’ve asserted one by one that they have absolutely nothing to spare for the stranger.

Noko’s initial request in the seemingly empty village he arrives at is to the resident of the first house. But his “Do you have anything I can eat?” request is met with Warthog’s response, “I’m sorry, I ate a big lunch and all my food is gone.” Really?

Further excuses come from Rabbit, Monkey, Aardvark,

Meerkat and Pangolin, and all the while Noko is convinced the animals are lying.

Though his body may be tired, the porcupine’s brain most certainly isn’t – it’s as sharp as his own quills and he comes up with a plan to get some of that food stashed away in the villagers’ homes.

The animals feel obliged to his requested large pot of water and some fire, and learn that the visitor is to make his own quill soup using three quills from his own back – a flavourful soup fit for a king.

Mightily impressed that Noko has met the king, one by one the villagers provide the ingredients he mentions as he samples the contents of the pot until eventually the porcupine declares the soup “Perfect’ and then it’s time for a shared feast under the stars.

And by the time Noko requests a hole to bed down in, the other animals have realised that he deserves a much comfier place than that to sleep – after the communal singing, dancing and storytelling, that is.

Dale Blankenaar’s kaleidoscopic illustrations have a zestiness about them that is just right for Alan Durant’s version of the story. Their combination serves up the full-flavoured message that we  should all offer a welcome to strangers in need, sharing our resources to help them, wherever, whenever we can.

The Phoenix of Persia

The Phoenix of Persia
Sally Pomme Clayton and Amin Hassanzadeh Sharif
Tiny Owl

What better way to welcome the month of May than with this wonderful new book and music project from Tiny Owl, The Phoenix of Persia. The tale, told by acclaimed storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton is the second in the publisher’s One Story, Many Voices series.

It’s based on a story from Iran’s most important epic, and one of the world’s greatest, Shahnameh, by 10th century Iranian poet, Ferdowsi and tells of an ancient Persian king.

The setting for the telling is Daneshjoo park where children, including Ali and his sister Shirin, are gathered awaiting the magical ‘Once upon a time …’

We hear of the birth of the multi-hued Simorgh, a firebird with a secret: her feathers have the magical power of granting wishes and making dreams become reality, a bird that is reborn every thousand years from the ashes of her nest. This magnificent creature is the titular Phoenix of Persia.

At that time the land is under the rule of King Sam and Queen Aram who are overjoyed at the birth of a long-awaited child, a son and prince whom they name Zal.

The ruler’s joy is short-lived though for when he uncovers the child’s head he sees, not the locks of a baby but the white hair of an old man. Immediately rejecting what he considers an imperfect infant, the king summons a soldier and orders him to take him to the mountains and leave him. Reluctantly the soldier does as he’s bid, placing Prince Zal on a wind-swept rock.

The sobs of a hungry, distraught babe reverberate over the mountains and are heard by the Simorgh out hunting for food for her chicks. Resolving to care for the tiny human, the creature picks him up, carries him to her nest and tucks him in among feathers.
Years of lessons in languages, the arts,

sciences and princely skills follow and sixteen years later Zal is a wise teenager. His parents meanwhile are suffering – his mother from nightmares, his father from regrets. So terrible does he feel that King Sam calls the soldier and the two men ride off into the mountains, and come upon …

“Can you forgive me?” called King Sam.

Forgiveness follows and a paternal plea to return home initially refused, is accepted thanks to Simorgh’s words of wisdom to Zal that bring about a change of heart.

Then father and son (with some special feathers from the phoenix’s tail) travel home to be welcomed by an overjoyed mother. He adds a fiery phoenix feather for protection to his new crown

and there the storyteller in the arena stops, leaving one of the audience wondering about whether it was ever burned.

With acceptance at its heart, Sally Pomme Clayton’s telling really does feel like a drama unfolding before you, all the more so accompanied by Amin Hassanzadeh Sharif’s wonderful, richly textured, jewel-hued scenes. That’s not all though: there’s a QR code at the beginning of the book you can use to listen to a beautiful musical accompaniment on Iranian instruments to Sally’s narration.

Rich in classroom potential, this book is FAB-U-LOUS!

 

Dare

Dare
Lorna Gutierrez and Polly Noakes
Tiny Owl

Here’s a little book that cries out to be shared with little ones wherever they are. It’s a powerful exhortation to be the very best person you can possibly be.

We see examples of young children who dare to dream big and aspire, to trust and inspire, to do what’s not been done before;

there’s a girl who won’t settle for second place and an acute observer who notices things others miss. Then comes finding the courage to speak out against wrongs;

daring to risk reaching out to others; to sing and dance, to offer a helping hand and to be a trailblazer are equally desirable when it comes to self fulfilment. Above all though be true to yourself …

… a bright star illuminating the dark.

What better message can you give to a young child?

This beautifully illustrated, diverse, empowering book would make a smashing present for a new parent or for a pre-schooler’ s naming ceremony or birthday, as well as being great to read in any early years setting. Foundation stage teachers might easily devote an entire circle time to discussing any one of the statements; the potential is terrific.

Listen! – The Flute / World of Forests

The Flute
Ken Wilson-Max and Catell Ronca
Tiny Owl

The second in the Children Music Life series showcases a reedless woodwind instrument, the flute. Here flautists from different parts of the world come together to celebrate its magic. It’s a colourful magic that conjures up mellow sounds …

and bright ones; that sometimes speaks very softly …

or blows icily.
It might be a scream of pink, a sigh of lilac that is …

The voice through which the flutes speak is pure poetry; now why not try to discover its sounds for yourself … Where will it take you? What will you hear and see: how will you feel?

With rainbow bright illustrations from Catell Ronca and Ken Wilson-Max’s poetic words, prepare to be transported and perhaps to dance with your little one like some of the characters herein. Through music is a wonderful way to introduce very young children to stories: this little treasure of a book will help you do just that.

World of Forests
Robert Hunter
Wide Eyed Editions

Robert Hunter follows his World of Birds with a new Sounds of Nature title in which he explores ten different forest habitats from various parts of the world – Europe (including the UK), the USA, South America, Africa, India, Socotra Island (Yemen) and China.
Each habitat is given a double spread wherein are showcased the animal inhabitants (with a factual paragraph on each one) as well as a general introduction to the particular forest be it of the coniferous or deciduous kind.
Six or seven creatures are included in each location be that the German evergreen forest; the Redwood forest of California; England’s New Forest; the Amazon rainforest; a cloud forest in the Virunga Mountains of East Africa;

a desert forest of Socotra Island; a beech forest of Brussels;

the Sundarbans mangrove forest in the Bay of Bengal (I don’t think this is at ‘the southern tip of India’ as stated in the book though); the coniferous taiga (snow) forest of Alaska; or the bamboo forest in the mountains dividing North and South China.

Pressing the sound button on each spread produces a ten second burst of the natural sounds of 60 or more animals. You’ll need to listen very carefully to identify such creatures as the squawking macaws of the rainforest or the call of the Northern wren in the beech forest.

The whole thing is splendidly atmospheric: with its beautiful panoramic illustrations and fascinating soundscapes it’s a book that is likely to appeal across a wide age range.

Grobblechops

Grobblechops
Elizabeth Laird and Jenny Lancaster
Tiny Owl

Many young children imagine monsters under the bed and sometimes use their fear of same as a tactic to delay bedtime.

In this story based on a Rumi tale it appears that young Amir is genuinely scared in case there’s something lurking in the darkness of his bedroom – a terrible huge-toothed, hungry something that growls like a lion.

Dad’s advice is to reciprocate but be even more alarming This precipitates even more fears: suppose the monster’s dad has an even bigger frying pan for whacking than his own dad;

suppose his mum’s umbrella isn’t sufficiently scary and the end result is that the entire family become targets for monster consumption …

Perhaps it’s time for a different approach: Dad suggests he leaves the hostilities to the parents (human and monster) while Amir and the little monster play with toy cars together. It might even lead to a peaceable discussion between the grown ups.

Now that sounds like a very good idea; but there’s one thing Amir is determined not to share with any little monster and that is his precious Teddy.

Finally, having safely tucked the boy into bed with ted, there’s something Dad wants to know and that’s the name of Amir’s monster: the clue is in the title of this smashing book.

Elizabeth Laird puts just the right amount of scariness into her gently humorous telling. Her perceptive observations of the parent/child relationship underscore the entire tale and her dialogue is spot on, ensuring that adult sharers as well as their little ones will relish the story.

Jenny Lucander employs a fine line in her richly coloured, textured illustrations. Their wonderful quirkiness, especially in the portrayal of the monsters makes them endearing rather than frightening while her human figures give the book a contemporary look.

There’s Room for Everyone

There’s Room For Everyone
Anahita Teymorian
Tiny Owl

The narrator of this book, whom we first meet in his mother’s womb, takes us through his growing understanding of the notion that no matter how small or large, space can always be shared, so long as those involved are empathetic, understanding and willing to accommodate others.

The boy observes the plethora of toys that fit into his bedroom, the sky that contains all the stars and the moon, the garden that has room for all the birds and the library that can hold all the books he wants to read and more.

As a grown-up, he takes to the sea exploring the world. On his travels he sees the plethora of fish (and whales) the sea can contain; the places on land that are home to vast numbers of animals.

Sadly however, he also observes humans fighting for space – on public transport,

at places of work, in loos even; and much worse, fighting wars over territory.

However, his travels have, as travels do, widened his horizons and his understanding of the best way to live, and it’s that crucial understanding he shares on the final spread.

I read this book on a lovely sunny morning, having just returned from Waitrose where I observed in the car park an interaction between two car owners. One belonging to an elderly couple, who had parked their car in one of the comparatively few spaces allocated for those with infants and pushchairs. (The rest were already in use). The other was a large estate car driven by a man (presumably with a child on board, though I couldn’t see). He was blocking the access to all the parking spaces while in the process of being extremely verbally abusive to the couple just getting into their car: the language he hurled at them isn’t fit to be included here. The car park had plenty of other empty spaces. I thought to myself how ridiculous and unthinking the guy was being, swearing horribly at the two, who were just getting back into their car anyway. Yes, perhaps technically they were in the wrong; but surely it was a demonstration of what the essence of Anahita Teymorian’s heart-warming, and oh so true picture book is showing us and what its narrator shares on the final spread: ‘If we are kinder, and if we love each other then, in this beautiful world, there’s room for everyone.’

Looking further outwards though, the book is also a pertinent reminder of our sad, for some, inward-looking BREXIT times, as well as of the way our country now appears a hostile place for those looking to live here, be that as refugees and asylum seekers, those with medical skills, seasonal workers, musicians, artists or whatever.

Beautifully illustrated with a quirky humour, its messages of kindness, peace and understanding, of altruism and sharing what we have, are crucial reminders for all who care about humanity at large, rather than just their own little niche.

Let’s break down boundaries, not only here but in other parts of the world where barriers, real and virtual, are set up for selfish, inward-looking reasons.

Caged

Caged
Duncan Annand
Tiny Owl

Wordless books say so much without uttering a single syllable. They challenge us, move us – sometimes to tears, make us laugh or make us feel joyful; they offer us a different way of looking at the world; sometimes they make us feel hurt or anger.

Duncan Annand’s picture book does all these, certainly for me.

Herein we see, simultaneously two threads of interwoven visual narrative, one constructive, the other, in its way destructive, although a construction project is under way. The latter is the work of two eccentric-looking architects.

As the story opens we see the two men busy in the process of destroying what looks like virtually the last remaining tree; a bonfire is ablaze close by and on a branch, a bluebird perches with a twig.

While the men work at bringing cages of brightly coloured parrots and using them to build a circular-based edifice, the bird flies hither and thither building a nest of twigs.

As the construction takes shape its architects perform some perilous climbing and precarious dangling feats to secure the cages in place.

All the while the bird keeps a watchful eye on the process.

By the time the dome is atop the enormous aviary – for that is what is being built – the bird has laid her eggs.
Job done all round. The men certainly appear to think so as they enter their edifice.

Not so the bird however; she has one final act to perform and it’s one of both liberation and entrapment …

Like the architects in his story, Duncan Annand has set the bar incredibly high for his debut picture book that tells a cleverly constructed, enormously satisfying story of environmental vandalism, just desserts and freedom.

This is most definitely a book for all ages and all people in all places. Like those parrots on the final spread, it’s one to make both hearts and imaginations take flight, particularly, the final denouement.

Priceless!

Cinderella of the Nile

Cinderella of the Nile
Beverley Naidoo and Marjan Vafaeian
Tiny Owl

Cinderella is one of the most often told and recognised stories all around the world with its themes and motifs appearing in the folklore of many cultures.
Rhodopsis is an ancient Greek/Egyptian tale said to be the earliest Cinderella story.

Now, Carnegie award-winning author Beverley Naidoo retells this little known tale, the first in the publisher’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ series. I was particularly excited to see this book having become interested in how stories cross cultures and wrote an assignment on this theme in relation to the Cinderella story while studying at London University’s Institute of Education many years ago.

In this version, unlike the Cinderella most young children are familiar with, a young Greek girl, Rhodopisis is captured by pirates and sold into slavery.
Her master has a special slave, the storyteller, Aesop who becomes friendly with the beautiful red-haired girl and the only one able to make her smile.

After a while her master, unhappy at her unwillingness to smile for him, sells her to a merchant travelling to the Egyptian port of Naukratis.

There she is bought by a Greek merchant who, having heard her story, treats her kindly, rather like a daughter, angering his Egyptian servants, in particular, three sisters who do unkind things to the girl behind their master’s back.
One day her master sees her dancing barefoot down by the river and so he gives her a pair of beautiful rose-red slippers.

Not long after, the Pharaoh sends out an invitation to his subjects asking them to a feast at his palace. Hearing that he was looking for a bride, the three sisters lie to their master and set off to attend.

The kind-hearted Rhodopsis is left to do all the chores and while she does so, Horus, the falcon-god seizes one of her slippers and flies off with it, dropping it into the hand of the Pharaoh Amasis.

Taking it as a sign from the god, the Pharaoh orders messengers to seek out the slipper’s owner: it is she who will become his Queen …

The ancient origins of the story is evident through Marjan Vafaeian’s use of the side on figurative imagery found in the Greek art of the period as well as in Ancient Egyptian wall paintings. Her stylised patterned landscapes in opulent shades of red, brown and green are stunning and a perfect complement to Beverley Naidoo’s fine telling.

World Make Way / Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me

World Make Way
New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
ed. Lee Bennett Hopkins
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” so said Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci who was also a poet.

Award winning poet Lee Bennett Hopkins and the Museum asked a number of poets to look at and respond to classic art from the Museum’s collection and create poems that reflect their feelings.

The outcome is this collection of eighteen poems in many different styles by poets some of whom are completely new to me, as are some of the wonderfully diverse works of art from artists including Gustav Klimt, Mary Cassat, Henri Rousseau, the contemporary Kerry James Marshall whose Studio painting inspired Marilyn Nelson’s ‘Studio’ poem.

and Han Gan whose handscroll painting is dated c.750.This was the inspiration for Elaine Magliaro’s ‘Night-Shining White’.

Hopkins has included brief notes about both the artists and the poets at the back of the book.

It’s a beautiful book to savour both visually and verbally, and equally, one to share and discuss with both primary and secondary age children.

Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me
Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Ehsan Abdollahi
Tiny Owl

Eloise Greenfield is a well-known poet in the USA and I was fortunate to come across some of her books when travelling in the States many years ago and still have them in my collection. Her poems are not however, well known in the UK so it’s wonderful to see that Tiny Owl are publishing this as part of their programme to ‘promote under-represented voices and cultures in literature’ and have Iranian artist Ehsan Abdollahi (When I Coloured the World and A Bottle of Happiness illustrator) to provide the art work for the book.

The book comprises sixteen poems, which focus on a boy named Jace, his dog aptly named Thinker and the friendship between them. Many are penned from Thinker’s viewpoint; in one or two, dog and boy converse while others – also conversational – have Thinker and Jace writing on the same topic.

There’s a sequence beginning with You Can Go wherein Jace tells his dog about the next day’s event at his school. Next comes ‘Pet’s Day’.

This gives Thinker’s musings on being in the classroom for the occasion; it’s followed by Jace’s ‘That’s My Puppy when his proud owner talks thus:
I thought Thinker might / shame me, but I am proud / of him. I pat him on the back’ …
The dog’s response ‘Thinker’s Rap’ is the grand finale– a dog poet that can create rap – how cool is that!

This is a delightfully quirky poetry book with each poem different in style, some very brief including

‘Birds Fly’ and this ‘Weather Haiku’,: ‘Cool out here today, / but I don’t need my sweater. / My hair is enough.’

It’s most likely to appeal to animal loving children and may well motivate readers to take up the author’s suggestion to ‘take some time, now and then, to write a poem or two.’

Inspired by Ehsan Abdollahi’s wonderful collage style illustrations, readers may also emulate the book’s artist and create their own collage pictures.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Drum

The Drum
Ken Wilson-Max and Catell Ronca
Tiny Owl

One of the highlights of the school year in three of the primary schools I taught in before moving out of London was the annual visit of multicultural music workshop providers, Earthsong.
Storm and fellow musicians would come with their van filled with exciting musical instruments from different parts of the world – in particular, an amazing collection of drums – and give first a whole school presentation and then individual class workshops of music and dance for the children, often based on a theme that we had flagged up beforehand.
Once those drums came out and the children got their hands on them, even the most challenging of individuals became totally engaged and remained so throughout the session.

It was evident that drum circles (such as those Earthsong provided) were an opportunity for the children to feel totally connected with themselves and with one another and equally, that playing a drum was a terrific mood booster for every individual, many of whom came from less than ideal home situations.

Author Ken Wilson-Max and illustrator Catell Ronca capture those feel good experiences in their splendid little book for young children that features African drummers captivating both the players themselves and their audience

who cannot resist the invitation to follow Ken’s instructions to ‘Clap your hands … Stomp your feet … Move your shoulders from side to side

… Feel the beat in your belly … Feel the drum in your heart’

and who can ignore the appeal to ‘Shake your body and dance’. I can almost feel the beat and rhythm of the drums in Catell Ronca’s vibrant illustrations and want to start moving in concert with the children portrayed therein.

Spencer feels the beat

I can’t wait to see further titles in this new Tiny Owl series ‘Children, Music, Life’.

The New Baby and Me!

The New Baby and Me!
Christine Kidney and Hoda Haddadi
Tiny Owl

Five brothers speculate upon the arrival of their new baby brother.
Each of them puts forward his idea as to what the infant will be like, bestowing on it a characteristic similar to his own so they can share adventures.

The first sees them as fellow explorers discovering new lands and rare creatures.

The second gives the babe the qualities to be a scientist.

Brother number three declares that his baby brother will share his artistic talent and join him in enhancing the world with their creative endeavours.

A treasure-seeking pirate is brother number four’s prediction, whereas the remaining sibling, a dreamer, sees his little brother joining him in finding wonder in the world.

What a surprise they have when the new baby finally appears.

Let’s just say, this new family member has elements of all the brothers but is very much an individual …
Each of us is different; our aspirations should not be limited according to our gender. No matter whether we are a boy or a girl the world’s opportunities should be open to all of us. This is the message that comes through in this unusual take on the ‘new sibling in the family’ story by debut author Christine Kidney.

Hoda Haddadi’s spirited collage illustrations are a wonderful embodiment of children’s boundless imaginations and bring a joyful sense of eager anticipation to each spread until the baby appears.
Her collage technique is one that children will likely be inspired to try for themselves.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Elephant’s Umbrella

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The Elephant’s Umbrella
Laleh Jaffari and Ali Khodai (translated by Azita Rassi)
Tiny Owl
Elephant, a kindly pachyderm, is always ready and willing to share his prized possession, a brightly coloured umbrella, with his fellow animals whenever the need should arise.
One day though while the elephant is taking a nap, the wind whisks his umbrella away and it ‘gives’ it to the leopard.

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There’s a proviso however issued by the umbrella: ‘If I become yours … Where will you take me when it rains?’ Leopard’s far from satisfactory response causes the umbrella to continue on its wind- born journey … towards a bear. Bear too wants to take possession …

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but his “I’ll take you to the bees … I’ll take their honey. And then I’ll sit under you and eat all that honey by myself.” response to the same question, has the umbrella again chasing the wind.
It begins to rain …

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and the umbrella searches for the elephant, finds him and the two are re-united. You can no doubt imagine what happens next …
This seemingly simple, mild tale has much to say to us all; themes of selfless concern for others, humanitarianism, compassion, empathy and kindness spring to mind immediately. No doubt readers and listeners will come up with more suggestions. As ever, Tiny Owl has provided a beautiful and thought-provoking book that deserves a place on family bookshelves; and it’s a gift for discussion in early years and primary school departments, particularly those that have “Community of Enquiry’ sessions on the curriculum.
Ali Khodai’s use of a lush palette in his illustrations is perfect for the jungly, rainy setting of the tale.

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When I Coloured the World

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When I Coloured the World
Ahmadreza Ahmadi
Tiny Owl
I tend to discourage the use of erasers – in school at least – and especially for the very young who all too easily become obsessed with using them, needlessly rubbing out their so called ‘mistakes’. Not so the child narrator of this beautiful fable wherein we see how colour can change the world and the way we look at it. Her judicious use of a single eraser and her box of crayons makes the world a place of joy and peace, hope, playfulness and much more, filling it with red roses, yellow lights, blue sky to play beneath,

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silver rain and drizzle to eliminate the floods, wheat growing green, peaceful light blue, orange spring filled with scented blossom, dark blue for song and dance, purple laughter, gentle breezes of violet, healthy glowing pink for healing, orange for people whose age is immaterial …

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and finally, with another wielding of the yellow crayon …

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I love the way the author has captured the child-like innocence of this wonderful, empowering book. It’s one I can envisage being shared and discussed widely in schools as well as being enjoyed at home and it’s a great starting point for children’s own colourful, world changing artistic creations.

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Fern rubbed out sadness and wrote happiness in yellow “For sunshine so children can dance and sing outdoors.”

 

 

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Beth rubbed out despairing and wrote celebrating in red.

 

Ehsan Abdollahi, the book’s illustrator too has captured that special child-like simplicity in the uplifting scenes that are aglow with wonderfully patterned, richly hued images.
What riches Tiny Owl is bringing to the UK with the publication of such truly beautiful books from Iran. I hope they achieve the wide audience they merit.

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Bing Paint Day
Ted Dewan
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Anyone who knows Bing (and that is countless preschoolers and their parents and carers) will anticipate the outcome of letting the young Bunny loose with a paintbrush, paints and a pot of water. As usual with Bing, things begin fairly calmly and he is busy producing a colourful scene

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but then a tornado hits and …

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It’s a good job that there’s a single colour left and it just happens to be Bing’s favourite orange; so all ends happily in true Bing fashion because as we know “It’s a Bing Thing”.

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Exploring Big Ideas: Grandad’s Island & Alive Again

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Grandad’s Island
Benji Davies
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books pbk
Sometimes along comes a book that moves me to tears; this is such a one. It really tugs at the heartstrings as it tells how young Syd accompanies his beloved Grandad on a final journey. With Grandad at the helm,

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the two of them set forth on a tall ship across the ocean and its rolling waves to a far distant island. Abandoning his stick, Grandad leads Syd into the thick jungle where they come upon an old shack.

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Having made everything ‘shipshape’, the two of them sally forth to explore and come upon a perfect resting spot.

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It’s there that Grandad breaks the news to Syd that he is going to remain on the island, assuring him that he won’t feel lonely.
So, after a loving farewell, Syd returns home alone. It’s a lonesome journey and a long one and when Syd returns to Grandad’s house, there’s nobody there. But then he hears a tapping at the window and there, sent by special mail is …

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Poignantly beautiful both visually and verbally: Benji Davies has done it again.

 

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Alive Again
Ahmadreza Ahmadi and Nahid Kazemi
Tiny Owl
The well-regarded Iranian poet Ahmadi is the author of this seemingly simple, thought-provoking tale.
One by one, things that a boy loves disappear from his life: are they gone forever, he wonders. Can blossom, rain and wheat come back?

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They can and will, but each in its own good time.
The author’s spare prose allows children to create their own interpretations and fill the gaps left in the telling. Ahmadi gives the impression of being close to young children and the kinds of ideas that preoccupy them from time to time. Themes of change, loss, death, rebirth and renewal, and the cycles of nature

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are all possible ideas to explore having shared the reassuring book with young listeners.
As with all the Tiny Owl titles, the production is excellent and the illustrations superb. The collage style illustrator Nahid Kazemi used here has a child-like quality about it and is likely to inspire children’s own creative endeavours.

 

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A box of interesting fabrics, some decent backing paper, fine-line pens and glue is all that’s required.
A wonderful book for primary teachers looking to further children’s spiritual and imaginative development.

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The Parrot and the Merchant

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Carmen engrossed in the story

The Parrot and the Merchant
Marjan Vafaian
Tiny Owl
Exquisite, jewel-like illustrations grace every page of this thought-provoking retelling of the ancient fable from the pen of 13th C poet/philosopher Rumi. Gloriously visualised by Marjan Vafaian who has made the merchant a woman, it tells of said merchant, named Mah Jahan who collects and cages beautiful birds for her own pleasure, and one particular bird, her favourite an Indian parrot. A parrot that is able to talk.
When Mah Jahan is set to return to India on a trading mission, she asks her servants what gifts they’d like brought back. She also asks her parrot whose response is this: “Please say hello to my parrot friends in India. Tell them that I miss them, and that makes me sad. Ask them if they have any advice for me.”
Mah Jahan promises to do so and sets off on her journey…

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In India, with her trading complete, Mah Jahan heads for the jungle in search of the parrots. She passes on the message as promised and although the parrots are unable to speak they can communicate. Indeed, one becomes completely still and then plummets down from the tree.
Mah Jahan decides to keep quiet about this terrible alarming occurrence but when confronted by her own enquiring parrot on her return, she decides to say what happened. Her account is met with a silent response and then he too drops to the floor. Convinced he has died, a weeping Mah Jahan carefully lifts the bird only to discover it is still alive. Thereupon it flies into a tree rejoicing in its freedom – the gift she’s brought from India. As the parrot takes flight to its true home, a confused Mar Jahan then realizes, how much she loves that bird, that freedom is what it needs and that freedom will bring her happiness too.
A truly wonderful amalgam of words and pictures for all ages.

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Pictures inspired by the story

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