Milo’s Monster

Milo’s Monster
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the sixth of Tom’s wonderful Big Bright Feelings series the green-eyed jealousy monster appears.
Milo loves to spend time with his best friend and neighbour, Jay. But then a new family moves into a house opposite the boys and Milo watches a girl dashing about in her garden. That same afternoon when Milo calls for Jay he learns that he is across the road with Suzi.

Inevitably Milo feels left out and that manifests as a funny squirmy feeling in his tummy. The same thing happens the following day: suppose Jay doesn’t want to be his best friend any longer. That awful feeling gets stronger and stronger until right before Milo’s eyes is A GREEN-EYED MONSTER.

Thereafter said monster invades all Milo’s thoughts; the thing just won’t leave him be and Milo decides he will ignore Jay and Suzi. Instead he sulks and skulks away from everyone except the monster

until one day Suzi stops him. From what she says, Milo knows that it’s time to get rid of that horrible lying monster once and for all. A battle of wills between attacker and attacked ensues and at last, realising the truth, Milo apologies and is free to have fun, not just with one friend but two.

This compelling story offers a great way to show young children that jealousy can make you feel really miserable. It’s a wonderful book to start a circle-time discussion and perhaps look at ways to help deal with feelings of jealousy that everyone has from time to time.

Tilda Tries Again

Tilda Tries Again
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Tom Percival’s latest addition to the Big Bright Feelings series is yet again spot on: herein he uses his empathetic understanding of young children’s emotions to present Tilda.

We first meet this little girl as a bright happy child but then suddenly something happens to turn her world upside down, leaving her feeling utterly downcast. Now things that had once seemed easy, feel the absolute opposite: she doesn’t want to meet her friends; indeed everything feels a struggle.

What does she decide to do? Absolutely nothing at all.

One day she notices a tiny ladybird stuck on its back. Immediate recognition but there’s a difference: the ladybird is doing its upmost to put itself right whereas thus far Tilda has suffered complete inertia. Then suddenly the little creature flips itself over and flies away leaving Tilda alone with her thoughts.

Time for a change of perspective she decides, and calling forth that ‘can-do’ attitude, little by little she starts to persevere with things and the more she tries, the more she can do. But can she summon up the courage to join her friends in their play?

You bet!

An enormously uplifting story of patience, perseverance, resilience and self-belief that youngsters (and their adults – be they parents, teachers or carers) will relate to.

Tom’s change of palette from bright colours to predominantly grey shows the stark changes in Tilda’s emotional journey; and with everything that youngsters have been through during these last 18 months, this book could not be more apposite.

A must have for family bookshelves and classroom collections.

The Invisible

The Invisible
Tom Percival
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

With very little money, Isabel and her family are unable to afford the things that some people take for granted. Isabel takes notice of the beautiful things in life and she loves her family dearly – they’re all she needs.

One day though there’s not enough money to pay the bills or the rent, so the family have to leave their home and move to the other side of the city. Now Isabel feels she doesn’t belong; she’s unable to find a single cheering thing in this cold, lonely environment where nobody seems to notice her at all; it’s as though she’s become completely invisible. Never once though, does she complain.

Strangely though, the less Isabel is seen, the more she is able to see other invisible people in her new locality. Overlooked they might be, but each one in his or her own way, is quietly helping out..

And so it comes about that Isobel too decides to do things to help: she plants flowers, cares for stray animals and joins in with fixing things. Gradually other people join her endeavours;

eventually nobody is invisible: Isabel has done something truly amazing: she’s made a difference.

Moving and compassionate, Tom’s story shows how it’s possible for everyone to feel that they belong, and indeed have a right so to do. It’s a tale that is very personal to its creator who himself grew up in poverty living in a caravan for six years as a child often feeling overlooked; but it’s also the story of everyone who, for whatever reason is overlooked by society. Not all of those as lucky as Tom who says in his author’s note, that as well as love and beautiful countryside, he did have, thanks to a mobile library, plenty of books. Clearly those helped make his world a better place.

This beautifully illustrated, poignant story is one that everyone should read. Tom’s use of colour, or lack of it, mirror Isabel’s changes in circumstances. Readers can almost feel the chill of the ice and snow in the wintry scenes and the contrasting warmth in the spirited energy of a supportive collaborative community.

Attack of the Heebie Jeebies / A Case of the Jitters

Attack of the Heebie Jeebies
Tom Percival
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tom Percival is extremely empathetic and skilled when it comes to creating highly engaging picture books dealing with children’s emotions – think of Ravi’s Roar and Ruby’s Worry for instance.

Now comes the Dream Team series (this is the first) that aims to help slightly older readers explore childhood emotions.

Meet Erika Delgano who is far from happy. Her baby brother is getting away with everything, ruining her favourite toy, scribbling on her pictures and generally making an atrocious noise. Worse than that, her parents are too tired or even too busy to talk to her.
Angry to the point to exploding,

Erika stomps off up to bed; but, going to bed angry can result in bad dreams, an Angermare indeed. Uh-oh!

She finds herself in a very strange world with rainbow coloured trees, bouncy grass and waterfalls that flow in an upward direction. This world powered by dream crystal is the province of the Dreamteam whose role it is to protect children from Angermares and Anxietymares. However, weird creatures called Heebie Jeebies (fluffy beings with fangs) have invaded Erika’s dream and are consuming it.

They also steal a vital object – a powerful dream crystal – that could assist the girl in returning home safely, worries overcome, before the end of the dream cycle. The alternative is that she remains forever trapped in the Dreamscape.

With a host of weird characters in addition to the titular ones,

including a stoneman Wade and Madam Hettyforth, Tom has deftly, sensitively and with gentle humour, woven together a wonderful story with several threads, that explores angry feelings and their management.

With a purple colour theme, his fantastic illustrations are full of wonderful details and add to the impact of the book.

The development of emotional literacy in children is crucial if they are to grow up confident, happy, well-adjusted individuals. Tom deserves accolades for his contribution to that end in a way that encourages both self-reflection and conversation.

Whether or not there’s a new sibling at home, this is a corking book for home or school reading.

A Case of the Jitters
The second adventure begins with Erika contemplating a notice about the school talent show and desperately trying to think of a talent of her own to perform when suddenly she receives a communication via the magic crystal from Silas of the Dream Team. They have a rather tricky case and her help is required  with a girl named Chanda Anand.

Chanda is decidedly lacking in confidence, her dreams being haunted by a jittery dark shadow that refuses to go away, even in the daytime, such is its power.

Now it’s up to the Dream Team to help her regain control of both her dreams and her life. It certainly won’t be an easy task, but courageous Erika isn’t one to give up easily. Could it be that she does indeed have a special talent?

Another superb read (you have to work on your inner demons in order to deal with those outside of you) wherein friendship features strongly, anxiety is got to grips with and self-belief emerges. And, another set of terrific illustrations, this time with yellow, and some great new characters including a boxing kangaroo.

What next for Erika in Dreamteam story 3?

Red Red Red / Ravi’s Roar

Here are two picture books about young children and their anger

Red Red Red
Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

It’s tantrum time for the toddler in Polly Dunbar’s new picture book. A tantrum that’s precipitated when the infant attempts to extricate a biscuit from the jar up on the high shelf, bringing both jar and child hurtling to the floor.

A sympathetic mum is quickly on the scene but her attempts to placate her little one only make things worse until she suggests a calming, counting strategy that gradually transforms the toddler,

allowing all that fury to dissipate.

Polly’s scenes of anger and its management – of biscuits,

bumps and breathing – are sheer delight. The cathartic counting sequence in particular is absolutely brilliant.

Just the thing to share post-tantrum with little ones – make sure  they’ve completely calmed down first of course.

Ravi’s Roar
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Meet Ravi; he’s the youngest and smallest member of his family. This is perfectly fine most of the time but there are days when everything goes wrong.
The day of the family picnic was one of those.

First of all he’s squished into a train seat between a grown-up and a farty dog; then the game of hide-and-seek is a dismal disaster.

Ravi’s lack of stature puts paid to his enjoyment of the adventure playground but then his Dad steps in with a suggestion intended to help diffuse the lad’s rising anger.
That too goes badly wrong causing Ravi to lose it completely.

He’s suddenly transformed into a furious roaring tiger, which does seem to result in some short-term advantages.

But then the tiger overdoes his wildness, so much so that nobody else wants anything to do with him.

All alone, sadness starts to take the place of Ravi’s fury: what was it that had caused his anger anyway? The reason eludes him but he knows that an apology is called for.

After that the rest of his tigerishness seeps out leaving a calm child once again. PHEW!

In case you’re wondering, that was the last time Ravi ever became a tiger although he does still emit the occasional moderated growl …

Once again Tom Percival demonstrates his empathetic understanding of young children and his skill at exploring a subject that is very much part and parcel of their emotional make-up.

Add this enormously engaging book to your family collection or classroom shelves.

The Sea Saw

 

The Sea Saw
Tom Percival
Simon & Schuster

Tom Percival always hits the sweet spot with his picture books and with this one he’s truly aced it – again.

When Sofia, on a visit to the seaside with her dad, loses her beloved teddy bear she’s totally distraught. The old, tatty object has been passed from her grandfather to her mother (whom one presumes is dead) and then to little Sofia and she’d thought of it more as a friend than a soft toy. In their dash out of the rainstorm said bear falls from an open bag and is left alone on the beach, unseen except by the Sea.

The Sea takes on the role of guardian of the bear, and the search for Sofia begins.

Meanwhile at home, Sofia’s father makes exhaustive enquiries and the two of them return to the beach but all to no avail; all that remains of Sofia’s precious bear apart from memories, is his blue scarf from which she snips a tiny piece to keep in her locket.

Back with the Sea, the hunt continues in earnest with Bear being borne through the water with the aid of marine creatures, surviving hazardous conditions and enjoying more restful periods too. All this takes years and eventually the bear is carried along rivers and a stream,

where it’s spied floating along by a young girl; a young girl who turns out to be Sofia’s granddaughter.

Finally a joyful reunion takes place and as Tom tells us almost at the close, ‘nothing is ever truly lost if you keep it in your heart.’

I doubt many readers will be able to finish this book without having tears in their eyes, a lump in their throat and a happy smile; it’s so moving and SO beautifully constructed. What a wonderful, heart-warming way to think about loss while never completely losing sight of the possibility of reunion.

Such sublime illustrations; every one is to linger over and return to; some send shivers down your spine. Absolutely awesome: another must have book from local-to-me, author/artist, Tom.

Ruby’s Worry

Ruby’s Worry
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

All children have worries from time to time and so it is with young Ruby.
She’s always felt upbeat doing the things she loves until the fateful day she discovers, uh oh! a Worry.

At first the worry is tiny, barely noticeable in fact, but the trouble is it begins to grow … and grow, day by day until it seems to be there all the time no matter what she does or where she goes.

Nobody else can see the thing and Ruby tries to stay positive but the Worry gets in the way of her doing her favourite things. Suppose it never goes away, she worries. Oops! Big mistake – the thing expands,

until it’s completely filling her every waking moment.

Then one day as Ruby is walking in the park she comes across a sad-looking boy and, something else is lurking beside him. A worry perhaps?

What happens thereafter is of enormous benefit to both the boy and Ruby herself.

Yes of course, she still does have the occasional worry but now Ruby has a coping strategy so that she’ll never feel so overwhelmed again.

Tom Percival is such an empathetic story maker. Once again he explores a subject that affects so many young children through an empowering, book that all can relate to.

I love the way he adjusts the colour balance of his illustrations so that as Ruby’s worry grows, the pictures take on an increasingly grayscale appearance, with full colour returning when the two children’s worries are banished in an exuberant rainbow of joy.

A perfect book for stimulating discussion about worry sharing.

Goat’s Coat

Goat’s Coat
Tom Percival and Christine Pym
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Alfonzo is a goat with a brand new, dapper coat; wearing it makes him feel on top of the world. He also has a kind heart so when out strutting his stuff in his stylish garment and he comes upon a family of homeless frogs in need of help Alfonzo is faced with a dilemma.

Altruism wins: the frogs sail off in a new blue boat; Alfonzo walks on in a cuffless coat.

But then he discovers a trembly cat, her tail in a trap. A bandage is required to stem the blood …

Soon the cat’s tail is covered: the goat’s nether regions anything but.

Further encounters with a panic-stricken hen …

and shivering hedgehogs leave the benevolent Alfonso alone and entirely coatless. Snow falls as night approaches.

Will the goat freeze without his coat?

Tom Percival’s rhyming cuddle of a tale is the perfect antidote to the current political climate demonstrating so beautifully that happiness lies not in possessions or self-interest but in friendship and selflessness. Christine Pym’s illustrations for his heart-warming story capture the feelings of helper and helped perfectly, injecting appropriate touches of humour along the way.

Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Norman begins life as a normal boy but then something unimaginable happens: he suddenly finds himself with wings.
Wowee! What fun he has soaring and swooping with the birds all day until dinner is called.

Now a lad with extraordinary wings is going to look more than a tad strange sitting at the table with his very ordinary family, so Norman decides a cover-up is necessary. It works as a wing concealer but nonetheless his parents are a trifle bemused when their son wears his parka at dinnertime.

Further challenges come at bath time, and at bedtime he’s positively roasting.
The great cover-up continues; but nothing is fun when you’re wrapped up and hiding your greatest asset. Normal Norman feels normal no more, other than on rainy days, that is.
Things come to a head when another boy attempts to remove his security cover leaving Norman to ponder on what it is that’s making him feel so bad.
Light bulb moment!
Time for a revelation and …

freedom.
Tom Percival documents Norman’s mundane, wing-covered existence, in black and white and shades of grey with only minimal colour, whilst his extraordinary gift is spotlighted in full colour – a nifty device which heightens the impact of the whole thing.
An elevating tale of finding the courage to be true to yourself no matter what.

I’ve signed the charter  

Message in a Bottle

There have been several personalised books launched in the past couple of years and as far as I know this is one of the most recent. Here, established picture book author Tom Percival joins forces with Finnish book publisher/illustrator Tuire Siiriainen in a project for adults and children together and the outcome is:

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Message in a Bottle
Tom Percival and Tuire Siiriainen
Blueberry & Pie
Meet Kiki, a Scarlet Hawaiian Honeycreeper who longs for adventure. When a bottle containing a message is washed up on the shore of her island home, it seems she’s being offered an opportunity to fulfil her dearest wish, to travel and see the world beyond her own tropical environs. Kiki resolves to deliver the message – bottle and all.
Now what this message is, and who is to receive it, is where the personalised part comes in: the giver of the book presumably already having decided upon its recipient, now creates the message that Kiki finds. This can be written in English or one of the other European languages offered: French, Polish, Luxembourgish or German. The message can be one of those suggested by the publisher or composed entirely by the sender of the book.
References to the recipient and their address are made throughout the story helping to heighten the engagement as Kiki’s journey progresses. That’s getting ahead of things though, for Kiki has no idea which way even to start flying.
With assistance – or not – from a somewhat confused clackety-clawed crab …

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a whale, a grizzly bear, a plover with no sense of direction, a sailfish, a troop of monkeys who squabble over the bottle, and a wise owl, Kiki and bottle meander their way across the globe from her Pacific island via North and South America, the Atlantic, Africa and Europe to England’s shore, and finally, onto the windowsill of the recipient’s bedroom.

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For Leo, only just four, this was the climax of the book. Having been riveted throughout the story, absorbed by the vibrantly coloured, cartoon style illustrations, and excited at the references to his address and name throughout, as well as listening avidly to the message in the bottle, he was less engaged with the final part about Kiki’s return home.
Older recipients of the personalised book will I suspect, be fascinated to discover Kiki’s Kids online club where, by clicking on the interactive map, they can find out more about the fourteen animals from the story.

To order your own personalised copy of the book visit the Message in a Bottle website.

Herman’s Holiday

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Herman’s Holiday
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Unable to afford the fabulous destinations featured in the glossy brochures, Herman, desperate not to disappoint his best pal Henry, discovers just the thing – a bargain break offer.

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In no time at all he’s packed and ready for a fun-filled trip and so excited. Henry however, doesn’t share his enthusiasm as they wait for their transport to arrive.
Once at the campsite Herman throws himself heart and soul into the experience.

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Poor Henry on the other hand, is finding life under canvas pretty tough.

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No holiday is complete without sending a few postcards decides Herman, but the sentiments expressed thereon differ somewhat ‘Amazing’ writes Herman. ‘Awful” is Henry’s comment. Once again Herman puts pen to postcard – several postcards in fact and soon all manner of packages start arriving.
Nightfall finds Henry sleeping; not so Herman. He spends the hours of darkness on his transformatory plan …

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And from then on life at the camp-site becomes pretty peachy for both of the friends, so much so that Henry’s parting message is ….

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Deliciously droll scenes of the delectable duo, lift the flap postcards and an overloaded rucksack, and Tom Percival’s understated verbal humour are all part and parcel of this great follow-up story, at the heart of which once again, is friendship.

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Dolci was impressed with Herman’s building skills and asked for the story at least 5 times in quick succession

It’s a pity this book is published so near to the end of the summer holidays. I would have loved to send it to any friends and relations about to go off on camping trips; still there’s always next season for that.

Use your local bookshop  localbookshops_NameImage-2

Co-operation Rules OK

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Rex Wrecks It!
Ben Clanton
Walker Books
What are T.Rexs renowned for? – destruction and Rex, the small one in this funny fable is no exception. In fact you can probably find a human one of similar disposition in every single nursery or reception class the world over. In total contrast Gizmo (a robot), Sprinkles (a cute pink unicorn rabbit) and Wild (monster) love to build. Rex would probably be deemed to have ADHD were he human; he loves nothing better than wrecking every single thing they make so “RAWR!” smash – that’s Gizmo’s OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD rocket ruined, “RAWR! RAWR!” Bang goes Sprinkles’s MAGICAL heart; “RAWR! RAWR! RAWR!” – you’ve guessed it – Wild’s ‘wooden wonder of WOWDOM’ is no more.
Out come the drawing boards: the three decide to co-construct a block castle so big that even Rex cannot topple it.

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They build; Rex destroys. Three furious friends, one remorseful (“rawry”) Rex.
Then Gizmo has an inspiration and it’s back to the drawing board, this time with Rex’s involvement at the outset,

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to build something even bigger and better and…

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eminently more wreckable.
One cannot help but applaud Rex’s playful exuberance despite its sometimes catastrophic results. (Clearly he needs help to channel it rather than misuse it.) Clanton catpures that beautifully in his pen, ink and watercolour illustrations which positively fizz with energy.
Inclusion and accommodation are the main themes that emerge from this witty portrayal of small characters and their imaginative block play.
A must have for early years settings and families with young children.

Another story where co-operation is key is:

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Bubble Trouble
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
A bubble blowing bonanza leads to a bust-up in more ways than one as erstwhile best friends Rueben and Felix build bigger and better machines in their endeavours to blow bigger and better bubbles than one another. When the day of the ultimate contest dawns, their complex constructions lead to catastrophe and it’s not just the bubbles, but the machines that burst well and truly.

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Back to the drawing board chaps: it’s not technology you need but teamwork – that plus a few preparatory yoga breathing exercises perhaps.
Best friends again? It all depends on Rueben’s response to Felix’s final comment.
It’s not so much bubble talk as bubble flaps in this funny cautionary tale. There is bubble talk too and lots of other environmental print that forms an integral part of the effervescent illustrations – an additional talking point.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

October Miscellany

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Aunt Amelia
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Showing not telling is the name of the game in this charming and witty book. The two small children in the story are in a bad mood; Aunt Amelia is coming to look after them overnight. Mum and Dad leave her a list of instructions but fortunately for her charges, she interprets these instructions with a considerable degree of latitude.
It’s not surprising then that the youngsters are eager that their parents issue another invitation to come and stay very soon and moreover, they suggest she be left another of those ‘helpful’ lists of instructions.
What makes this story such a delight is what we are shown, rather than told what takes place while the parents are away. Rebecca Cobb’s watercolour, pencil and ink illustrations are executed with a child-like freshness and panache that is appealing to both adults and young children.
Buy from Amazon

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Pigeon Pie
Debbie Singleton and Kristina Litten
Oxford University Press
It’s market day so life down on Farmer Budd’s farm is especially hectic. There are the cows to milk, the eggs to collect, cherries to be picked so Mrs Budd can bake cherry pies, and the remaining cherries to be protected from marauding birds. Then there are all the animals to be fed, the scarecrow needs a replacement hat and the milk and eggs have to be loaded into the trailer. Busy, busy busy; but oh dear! Farmer Budd has forgotten to close the gate to the cornfield. He’s forgotten too, that there is a goat in the next field. Before long the scarecrow is reduced to a pair of crossed sticks – the ideal perching place for five peckish pigeons with their sights set firmly on the corn. It’s fortunate for him then that a tiny chick has a clever plan in mind, a plan that involves telling the other farm animals about a special dish that Mrs Budd is preparing to serve that day; and it definitely is not cherry pie.
There is plenty to make you smile in this gently humorous story. Children love the way the pigeons are duped and delight in joining in with the repeated refrain, ‘Pigeon pie! Oh my! ‘ That – and of course – the burping opportunities.
Kristina Litten’s richly patterned, comical pictures abound with amusing details, in particular the antics of the bit part animal characters, the rat trio and the snail that are never mentioned but greatly add to the fun. Then there are those wacky pigeons with their red-rimmed eyes and ballooning bellies; the sight of them shooting up into the air when they spy what they think is the dreaded dish being prepared is a hoot.

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I really like the way the end papers are part of the story portraying the changing time from early morning when Farmer Budd fixes the FREE RANGE EGGS for sale notice to his fence at the front, to early evening when the sign indicates ‘sold out’ as the sun sinks below the horizon.
Buy from Amazon

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Spider Sandwiches
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Do NOT accept Max’s invitation to tea or any other meal for that matter, unless like that green hairy monster, you have a penchant for all things disgusting. The things he dines on are sure to make your stomach heave; things like toenail scrambled eggs, grasshopper legs smoothie, cold, crunchy, cockroach curry or horror of horrors, squiggly spider sandwiches. Odd then that he turns his nose up at a relatively ordinary vegetarian soup with small, green spherical objects floating in it.
This rhyming litany of loathsome fare is one that will have your young audiences UGGGHHING, EWWWWW and YUCKING almost continuously as you read. And, they will love to feast their eyes on Sue Hendra’s suitably garish illustrations, which depict a series of satiating scenes. The supermarket for example, has shelves packed with an alluringly awful array of produce.
If you plan to read this aloud around Hallowe’en (or any time for that matter) I’d suggest making sure you can get your tongue around all those nasties first.
Buy from Amazon

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Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten
Alison Murray
Nosy Crow
This is one of those pink, glittery covered books that are instantly attractive to many little girls. All too often though, such books fail to live up to their external sparkle. This one, and yes it does feature a little princess, proved to be an exception, and, that string bling does actually serve a purpose. What lifts Alison Murray’s book above most of its kind is her charming, retro illustrations with their fresh palette, gentle humour, and judicious use of pattern. I particularly enjoyed the scene with the balletic butler and the portrait of the princess on her prancing pony.

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Essentially the story, told in rhyme, revolves around Princess Penelope and the mischievous kitten that snatches one end of a ball of wool from the queen’s knitting basket and dashes off through the palace entangling almost everything in sight.
Buy from Amazon

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Sugarlump and the Unicorn
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Wishing and magic are the ingredients for former children’s laureate Julia Donaldson’s latest collaboration with What the Ladybird Heard artist Lydia Monks. The magic comes from a blue-eyed unicorn and the wishing is done by rocking horse, Sugarlump. He is happy rocking to and fro when the children are at home to ride him but when they go to school he has nothing to do. That’s when the wishing begins. He wants to be out in the big wide world. So, thanks to that unicorn and her flashing eyes he is able to try out all manner of horsey roles – a farm horse, a race horse and a circus horse; but then Sugarlump wants to go back home to the children. Time has passed though and the children have outgrown their once favourite toy. He makes another wish but fortunately, the unicorn is on hand again and she comes up with a much better one and Sugarlump finally finds somewhere in the world that is just perfect.
As one would expect from Julia Donaldson, the rhyming text reads aloud beautifully but this adult reader and some children among my audiences were rather brought up short by Sugarlump’s last request, “I wish I had never been born!” It proved a good talking point afterwards though.
Lydia Monks’ bold, bright, mixed media illustrations have a joie-de vie and sparkle even without the added glitter on every page.
Buy from Amazon

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The Princess’ Blankets
Carol Ann Duffy and Catherine Hyde
Templar Publishing
The princess in this story can never get warm. The king promises that anyone able to stop his daughter feeling so cold, can have the reward of their choosing ‘even unto half his kingdom’. Intent on winning the princess as his prize, a cruel-eyed stranger covers her in turn with four blankets: the ocean’s blanket, the forest’s blanket, the mountain’s blanket and the earth’s blanket. All to no avail: despite his efforts, the beautiful princess remains as chilled as ever. Then a newcomer arrives, a musician with a flute and a good heart: just the heart to warm that of the princess as he fills her body with the beauty of his music, and his love.

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Lyrically told, this neo fairy tale has a pertinent message for our times: a message about mankind’s carelessness, greed and continuing destruction of our world. It is beautifully interpreted through Catherine Hyde’s powerfully atmospheric paintings, which orchestrate the story showing the changes brought about by the elemental blankets and finally, the power of love.
Not so much a picture book, more an illustrated story, with its longish text, this book is likely to have a wide appeal from primary age children to adults and one to return to over and over.
Buy from Amazon

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Dragon Loves Penguin
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Baby penguin, Bib, lives in the land of ice and snow with his mummy and daddy. One bedtime as a delaying tactic he asks, ‘ “… can I have a story? The one about dragons.” ‘ So begins a tale of a dragon that wants an egg and an abandoned egg that needs a mummy. Perfect – or so it seems. Certainly the dragon loves her Little One and the Little One loves her. But, Little One’s appearance isn’t quite like that of the other recently hatched creatures; no flying, fire breathing or rock chewing. She doesn’t grow big and strong with a long neck and hard scaly covering. Rather she is slow, careful, small, fluffy and courageous – rather like a penguin. The others are showered with flashy gifts but Little One receives the best of all possible gifts; love and time.
Then one day all the big dragons have to leave their little ones and that’s when Little One is taunted by the small dragons and made to feel an outcast. So, feeling hurt, she takes himself off to be alone. However, things can happen for a reason… Little One suddenly feels her soft feathery body getting very, very hot; the volcano is alive. “FLEE FOR YOUR LIVES!” he yells to the others and so they do, leaving Little One behind hotly pursued by the flames of the volcano. Fortunately for her though, she takes a tumble all the way to the bottom of the flaming mountain and what should she find waiting for her at the bottom? – an egg. And, thanks to her mummy, Little One knows just what to do…
Loving and being loved, being yourself and being different are all themes of this tender tale that moves between present and past, seamlessly uniting the two through the medium of story. For, Bib is the egg at the end of the bedtime story and Little One, his Mummy penguin.

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Debi Gliori’s charcoal and watercolour illustrations are glorious and beautifully convey the loving feelings that are a vital element of this book: the penguins and main dragon character are truly endearing.
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Herman’s Letters
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
When your very best friend in the entire world moves far away, what do you do? Promise to write to one another and remain best friends forever.
That’s just what best pals Herman, a large brown bear, and Henry, a reddish raccoon resolve to do. Henry keeps his side of the bargain, writing often as promised and giving details of his new friends and the exciting things he’s been doing. But, his letters don’t make his old pal happy; instead he’s overcome with jealousy and begins to doubt the friendship. Poor old Herman.

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Eventually hibernation time draws close and he still hasn’t written.. Another Henry letter arrives; one that is much more reassuring and this one spurs Herman into a flurry of activity. He finally writes a letter and dashes off to post it right away. Oh no! The post office has closed for the winter. There is only one thing left for Herman to do – deliver that all-important letter by hand. Off he goes into the snow. But can he make that long, long journey before sleep overtakes him? Can he make it at all in fact?
With its realistic looking lift the flap letters and endearing characters, this book is a delight. Despite the inherent sadness of parting and feelings of loss, there is a gentle humour running throughout the whole thing. The sequence depicting Herman’s journey to deliver his letter into his friend’s hands is wonderful.

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The message (along with Herman’s snoring) comes across loud and clear: true friendship knows no bounds.
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Teachers wanting to stimulate children’s writing, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this and share it with the class group. Then turn an area of your classroom or nursery into Herman’s home with a letterbox another space into Henry’s. Add writing materials to each and start the enterprise going by writing a Henry letter of your own for the children to find.

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