The Story Shop Anchors Away! / There’s a Dog in my Brain: Dog Show Disaster

The Story Shop Anchors Away!
Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Tony Neal
Little Tiger

I loved the idea of The Story Shop, the place selling real adventures that its customers can actually be in, when it blasted off during the spring this year. So it’s a delight to be back in the company of shopkeeper Wilbur and Fred Ferret his assistant, with their plethora of props and plot possibilities for three more episodes.

The first begins when explorer Pearl practically tumbles in just when Wilbur and Fred are about to shut for the day demanding they find her an adventure she’s not experienced before. Thus this fearless woman becomes Captain Pearl and after a bit of persuasion, she agrees to take Fred aboard her ship as her pirate assistant, along with pirate, Edie. But what are scarf knitting pirates and other crafters doing already below deck when she wants a PROPER piratical adventure? Yo Ho Ho! Let operation retrieve their priceless black pearl commence.

Having bobbed about in barrels for ages after their successful mission, Pearl and Fred wash up on shore only to be confronted by a bunch of scary-looking pirates led by Long Jane Silver who is convinced the two are spies sent by Blunderbuss Bob, her rival in the up-coming annual raft race.
Stinky Socks!

Can the two come up with a placatory plan to help their captor win the entire event?

The third episode finds Pearl and Fred sans ship, knocking on the door of a guesthouse belonging to Meg O’Cuttlefish. Once within, they accept an attic room and soon find themselves swapping pirating stories with Meg before bedtime. However something decidedly ghostly disturbs their slumbers; what could be the cause of that mysterious wailing sound?

Full of swashbuckling fun, a scattering of puns and Tony Neal’s comical illustrations, this is a treat for story lovers of the land-lubbing kind taking their early voyages as independent readers.

There’s a Dog in my Brain: Dog Show Disaster
Caroline Green, illustrated by Rikin Parekh
Walker Books

Here’s a crazy chaotic canine caper if ever there was one: actually it’s the second canine body switch episode. It all begins when Dudley the dog consumes almost every single one of the cakes Danny’s dad has so lovingly baked and Mum decides there’s no other choice but to send the pooch to Doggy Boot Camp. Needless to say ten-year old Danny is horrified but shortly after he realises that he’s swapped bodies with Dudley, something his parents fail to notice even though the ill-fated creature is absolutely useless at being a human.

However after the incident at the fancy farm shop that ends up costing in excess of four hundred pounds, the hose escapade

and Danny’s feats at canine classes, there’s no option but to reveal to the parents that a body swap has taken place again. But that means Danny as his alter-ego Dudley has to perform at the dog show and take on dog trainer Rex Power’s perfect pooch, Princess Fenella. nothing can possibly go wrong, surely.

Those with a penchant for pooches, slapstick and perhaps cake will relish Caroline Green’s romp, that’s if it doesn’t render them barking mad. Rikin Parekh’s black and white illustrations add to
the hilarity

Hop on Top, Mouse! / Too Heavy Elephant!

Hop on Top, Mouse!
Too Heavy Elephant!

Tony Neal
Oxford Children’s Books

The ideal way for young children to develop mathematical concepts about weight, height etc is through practical experience. Fun books such as these two help the process too, especially when there’s a simple story with vital vocabulary, and funny pictures by Tony Neal to enjoy with a supportive adult.

Hop on Top, Mouse! starts with a cupcake atop a tall cupboard and a tiny mouse looking longingly up at the object of its desire. Too high! says the text. (presumably the mouse’s frustrated comment). he calls on Monkey for help but the cupboard is too slippery for Monkey to climb. They call Rabbit to assist; his hopping skills are pretty good but even so all three are just ‘too short’. So what about a bit of co-operation. First one on top of another, but the cake is still too far away.

Happily though several other creatures are ready and willing to assist in operation cupcake. What will be the outcome – disaster or satisfaction all round?

The episode is followed by some activities for children to try both at home and out walking, and some basic key vocabulary.

The same cast of characters participate in Too Heavy Elephant! along with the titular pachyderm. Mouse and Elephant are keen to play together on a seesaw but inevitably the latter is too heavy but Mouse isn’t giving up that easily; he’s finding another way to get onto the plank but even then he’s just too light and elephant too heavy to operate said seesaw. I wonder how many of Mouse’s animal friends it will take to find the balance …

Co-operation reigns … The friends haven’t reckoned on the appearance of Daddy Elephant however …

Again the funny story is followed by some ‘heavy and light’, and weight comparing activities, and some basic vocabulary.

A thoroughly enjoyable way to support mathematical learning at home or in an early years setting.

The Story Shop: Blast Off! / Dirty Bertie: Poop!

These are two young fiction titles from the Stripes imprint of Little Tiger – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

The Story Shop: Blast Off!
Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Tony Neal

The Story Shop – now there’s an irresistible name to give a place selling stories, but if that isn’t enough to lure in customers, then surely the idea that this particular establishment run by shopkeeper Wilbur and Fred Ferret his assistant, sells stories you can actually BE in with characters you can meet, should be irresistible. Moreover they have a huge stock of plots and props just waiting for customers.
On the particular day the story starts, the first customer to enter is a rather boastful mouse. Said mouse knows just what he wants, demanding “Something out of this world”. Then it’s time for the story pot to appear, and the ingredients to be added. With that task duly done, and an important reminder given to Mouse, WHOOSH! POP! the adventure begins. In no time at all Mouse, together with Fred, find themselves on the moon, whereupon a certain rodent very quickly lands himself in a whole lot of trouble with the resident aliens in a very cheesy environment. However having managed to get away from that particular whiffy situation, largely thanks to Fred’s help, Mouse quickly discovers planets with other kinds of aliens. On the Planet of Games he recklessly bets his tail on a game of Tiddlywonks with Phoebe FairPlay as his opponent. Will he, or will he not, end up tailless.

In the third of the linked adventures complete chaos ensues when a certain Mouse lands on Planet Cog. Can order be restored and even more important will the two space adventurers manage to return safely to the Story Shop?

Bursting with fun and humour, and a wonderful celebration of the power of the imagination, this first of a new series, full of smashing illustrations, is spot on for emergent readers.

Dirty Bertie: Poop!
David Roberts, illustrated by Alan MacDonald

Is there no end to Dirty Bertie’s misdemeanours? Ideal for those fairly new to chapter books here are three further episodes. The first relates what happens when the zealous park-keeper, he who has recently erected new signs, bans him and Whiffler from the park on account of the pongy deposits his pooch has supposedly left on the grass. Could it perhaps be a case of mistaken identity …
In the second chapter there’s more mistaken identity only of the human variety this time. This happens when Bertie tries his level best to get his unfavourite class teacher, Miss Boot, an award for excellence in education and in so doing see her promoted out of his school.

The trouble is that the arrival of the judge pretty much coincides with that of another visitor.
Finally – well not actually finally as we know Bertie will be back – he manages to get himself on a film set in the role of an extra: what could possibly go wrong?

Splendid shenanigans as ever when this young lad is involved, and hilariously illustrated with Alan MacDonald’s plentiful line drawings.

The ABC Factor

The ABC Factor
Katrina Charman and Tony Neal
Farshore

If you’re looking for a smashing alphabet book that’s also a hilarious story then look no further: Katrina Charman and Tony Neal’s presentation is huge fun and highly original. So without further ado let’s join Stick Insect in his search for stardom in Dog’s Amazing ABC. This entails participating in an audition to determine that special ‘difference’

that is Dog’s criterion for inclusion: none of your ordinary bears or cats will do for judges Dog, her illustrator Pony and guest judge Lion.

As the auditioning gets under way it’s obvious that they’re a pernickety lot: Stick Insect’s attempt to justify selection for B (bug) is instantly deemed “boring!” and he tries again for H failing to impress a second time (can you guess what he called himself that time?) and clearly common or garden “insect” isn’t going to cut it.

On go the proceedings somewhat speedily and with the occasional dispute.

Surely though he has to be the choice for his initial S but no – something sleepy is selected ‘zzzzzz’.

The selection process draws dangerously close to the end of the alphabet as the judges zoom through V, W, X and Y. Stick Insect has one last attempt giving it all he’s got …

Youngsters will definitely give star marks to author Katrina and illustrator Tony for this book – it’s definitely a winner for me.

It’s Only One!

It’s Only One!
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Little Tiger

This is a cautionary tale about what happens when people’s actions are thoughtless.

It’s set in Sunnyville, a fun, friendly and generally lovely place – until kind-hearted Mouse offers Rhino a toffee. Rhino tosses the wrapper away with the titular comment, but so do a host of other town residents, with one item landing hard on Tortoise’s head and leaving Giraffe outraged at the ever-growing rubbish heap.

To cheer himself up Giraffe picks a flower from the park with the same “What” It’s only one’ comment ,which of course it wasn’t.

Now it’s Penguin’s turn to feel anger, so to cheer himself up at the loss of all the flowers he turns to music – only one song of course but …

Can anyone or anything manage to curtail this catastrophic concatenation that’s caused the entire population of Sunnyville to become grumpy?

Perhaps Mouse has the perfect antidote – or at least the makings of one …

We all know only too well the terrible impact dropping rubbish has on the environment, wherever we live. And I’m sure we all want to be good neighbours – this is something that’s become all the more evident since the start of the pandemic – but it’s all too easy to slip into thoughtless actions such as tossing aside that odd car park ticket or receipt.

There are reminders from author, Tracey and illustrator, Tony at the end of their story, of the importance of considering how whatever we do might be impacting on others and their happiness. However, it’s the cast of characters (I love their zany portrayal in Tony’s expressive spreads) from this smashing and timely book that have the last word.

Share, ponder, discuss and most important, act upon this – it’s only one but think of its potential payoff.

Impossible! / I’m Sorry

Here are two recently published picture book from Little Tiger:

Impossible!
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal

Dog runs a laundry in a busy city but has a longing to see the ocean.

One day he comes upon Ocean Magic, a new kind of washing powder. The product promises ‘seaside freshness with every wash’ but apparently there’s something else within the box too.
Into the machine goes the powder and out later, along with the clean washing, emerges a crab suffering from a bad attack of nausea.

Dog and Crab discuss the situation over a cuppa

and eventually after declaring several times that driving Crab all the way back home is impossible, Dog lets himself be persuaded to undertake the trip.

Off they go together on a journey that takes several weeks during which they create a special memories map of their trip.

En route they encounter other travellers with seemingly impossible challenges of their own.

Now it’s Dog’s turn to utter the ‘nothing is impossible unless you say so’ maxim and with the assistance of their new friends, Dog and Crab finally reach their destination.

Both are delighted with the ocean paradise but then Dog declares he must return to his city job – or must he?

Follow your dreams and don’t allow obstacles to stand in your way, is the message Tracey’s tale imparts to youngsters. Equally the ‘it’s only impossible if you say so’ message is one we all need to remember especially in challenging times.

Tony Neal’s bright, lively, illustrations inject additional humour into the telling offering fun details to enjoy on every spread.

I’m Sorry!
Barry Timms and Sean Julian

In Walnut Wood live best friends, Scribble (squirrel) and Swoop (owl) and each morning they walk a considerable distance bringing their special things to their regular meeting spot.

Scribble has a special pencil that acts as word assistant in his play script writing, the finished dramas entertaining his friend. Swoop’s special thing is a toolbox that enables her to build anything and everything.

One day they decide to move in together; their place has ‘room for two and a little left over’.

It’s the left over bit – the veranda – that causes a rift, for each has designs on it.

A huge row ensues over the ownership of this: should it be a stage or a workshop?

Scribble decides to try and make amends with the aid of his trusty pencil but can a single word apology fix things or is something else needed?

There’s food for thought and discussion with little ones in this story that demonstrates that sometimes actions speak louder than words. Sean Julian’s beautifully expressive watercolour illustrations are for me the true show-stealers in this book.

Sneaky Beak

Sneaky Beak
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Little Tiger

The dangers of succumbing to advertising are hilariously explored in this tale of friends and house-sharers, Bear and Hamster.

First, Bear allows himself to be persuaded by Sneaky Beak that his bed had lost all its bounce when he’s summoned in response to the previous evening’s TV ad.

Not only does Sneaky rock up in his van, but he brings an entourage of bunnies to help clinch a deal for the ‘Snores-Galore Mega bed’.

Poor Hamster is less than pleased when his things are moved out of the bedroom to accommodate Bear’s purchase.

But worse is to come. That Sneaky Beak leaves a leaflet about a very special kind of bathtub. Bear’s determination to resist lasts only until bathtime when he’s on the phone again and guess who he’s calling …

Not a wise move, Bear; and nor was his ‘twirly thing’ investigation …

I’ll leave readers of this romp to decide themselves which is more catastrophic – that, or his next purchase, revealed at breakfast time the following morning, which results in …

That definitely doesn’t have the Hamster mood-lifting effect Bear’s hoping for.

So why oh why is he letting that wily Sneaky Beak beguile him into making yet another purchase?

Disastrous as the Beak’s new sale might have been, it actually provides Bear with some much-needed thinking space

and all ends happily – with some serious recycling and a certain salesbird’s beak somewhat out of joint.

The combination of Tracey’s tongue-in-cheek telling and Tony Neal’s superbly entertaining scenes of the results of falling prey time and again to a determined capitalist’s sales patter, make for a crazy consumerist caper that is bound to bring on fits of laughter on the part of both listeners and readers aloud.

The One-Stop Story Shop

The One-Stop Story Shop
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Little Tiger

How many stories can you pack into one? A fair few it seems when Tracey Corderoy is the author and the tale is The One-Stop Story Shop.

Having discovered that the terrible dragon he intended to slay is temporarily absent taking a well-earned break, a knight finds himself sans story.

Luckily he happens upon a helpful neighbour who takes him to the perfect place named in the title where his problem might be solved, thereby placing the fearless knight on a hunt to find an appropriate story.

The shopkeeper however, has sold out of dragons and instead offers a feisty ferret.

By means of an ingenious plot said ferret then acts as foil for a series of one act dramatic misadventures – a space extravaganza, a cowboy yarn, a rumble-in-the-jungle adventure,

and a depths of the ocean journey. Along the way additional characters tag along, notably a space robot and on every occasion it’s down to feisty ferret to save the situation.

Do the knight and his entourage finally emerge safe and sound from all their adventuring?

Most certainly they do, arriving back in the ‘real’ world of the shop just in time to welcome a certain dragon back from his hols. and ready and willing to do battle.

The knight’s response to his offer demonstrates that he’s graduated from ready-made tales, and with his ferrety sidekick and friend, is more than capable of finding his own adventures.

Enormous fun, this foray into the magical world of storytelling is a great read aloud. Tracey’s text is comically illustrated by Tony Neal. Every one of his spreads is packed with giggle inducing details; and who can resist a poop joke?

An absolute winner and a smashing take on the knight vs dragon tale.

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Little Tiger

What bear is anticipating as he snuggles up in his favourite chair before a warm fire is a calm cosy Christmas. Suddenly his peace is shattered by a loud horn sounding outside and at his front door he discovers a very excited frog clutching a hotel brochure. The little creature’s map reading skills leave a lot to be desired but kind-hearted Bear can hardly turn his distressed caller away. Instead he invites him in to spend Christmas at his home and then goes to bed worrying that what he has to offer won’t quite live up to the promises of the hotel brochure Frog’s brought with him.

Early next morning Frog can’t wait for the ‘Christmas Extravaganza” to begin.

Instead of the ‘all you can eat North Pole breakfast’ the pair bake biscuits together

and the promised singing Christmas tree is replaced with a huge outdoor one and yes it does sing – or rather the birds therein do.

Best of all though is the stunning sight of the Northern lights that totally eclipses the strings of flashing lights shown on Frog’s brochure.

The two characters, complete opposites in every way end up spending a wonderful time together and the best Christmas gift of all is really not the contents of the large parcel they discover on Christmas morning, rather it’s the friendship forged between the pair.

A lovely demonstration of the true spirit of Christmas; the inherent warmth of Tracey’s seasonal story is underscored in Tony Neal’s scenes of Bear and Frog’s joyful time together.

Not Yet a Yeti / Froggy Day

Not Yet a Yeti
Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal
Maverick Publishing

High up in the snowy mountains live George and his family.

All George’s family are yetis: “When will I be a yeti?” the little creature asks.

Having consulted in turn, his grandfather, his dad, his big sister and his mum, George concludes that he lacks the necessary qualities for full yeti status. He has no desire to terrorise visitors to the mountain,

leave scary footprints in the snow (his feet are too small anyway), or chase ramblers like other family members.

Suddenly George knows what he wants to be …

Lo and behold as he speaks, a horn grows from his forehead, his limbs grow hooves and he acquires a swishy tail and mane.

Alarmed, Mum consults Dad and a compromise is reached: after all if his other family members continue eating hikers, the human race faces extinction.

An offbeat tale of having the courage to be yourself and acceptance that manages to include the creature that seems to be every young child’s favourite at present – the unicorn. For this reason, if nothing else, it’s likely to become a crowd pleaser. Tony Neal’s entire family of yetis are, despite their claims, thoroughly unscary and totally likeable creatures as is George himself.

Froggy Day
Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos
Maverick Publishing

Imagine watching the weather forecast on the TV and being told “Today is going to be froggy, very froggy!” by the forecaster. That however is what happens in Heather Pindar and Barabara Bakos’ zany book.

No sooner are the words out of her mouth than chaos descends in the form of little green amphibians. They create havoc in the streets, on the bus, the supermarket is over-run with the creatures,

the building site workers are totally bemused, animals stampede and frog horns boom out warning the sailors at sea.
There isn’t a single place in town without an invasion of frogs – imagine the uproar in the classroom.

Then comes the evening weather forecast: now what might that hold in store, I wonder …

Crazy as Heather’s tale may sound, I was once in Udaipur, Rajasthan during the monsoon season and as we emerged from a café into sudden torrential rain, it did seem as though it was raining frogs: the tiny creatures (not green ones but brown) fell in thousands from the rooftops of all the buildings. Goodness knows how they got up there in the first place but the sight was truly bizarre.

Heather Pindar’s play on words is a great starting point for her gigglesome story and Barbara’s illustrations of the frogs’ frolics are a real hoot.