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.

The Boy and the Bear / This Book Just Stole My Cat!

The Boy and the Bear
Tracey Corderoy and Sarah Massini
Nosy Crow

It’s not much fun playing alone as the little boy in this story knows so well; he longs to have a friend to share in such games as hide-and-seek and catch.

One day as he sits alone, he spies a paper boat floating towards him; on it is the brief message, BOO! Could perhaps it be from the best friend he so longs for? Messages are exchanged and a meeting arranged.

Bear however isn’t exactly the kind of best friend he so desires. Nevertheless he does invite the bear to play hide-and-seek. The game is not a success, neither are the other activities they try.

Bear however does have other positive qualities that are revealed one morning in autumn. The two then embark upon a collaborative project –

one that once complete results in a special time together.Time doesn’t stand still though and as autumn gives way to winter, Bear has to depart leaving the boy with a realisation of all that he’s lost. But not lost forever: come the spring boy spies not one but three message carrying paper boats …

Tracey’s enchanting tale of the joys of establishing and maintaining a special friendship is illustrated in Sarah’s equally enchanting spreads that show how the friendship develops across the seasons.

A lovely book to be shared over and over.

This Book Just Stole My Cat!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

A certain book seems to have an insatiable desire for furry creatures (and other items on occasion): first it consumed a dog and here it’s become a cat thief. Poor Ben, for it’s his cat that’s gone missing, followed shortly after by Bella who has kindly offered to help in the search.
Along comes a rescue vehicle and guess what …

That leaves only Ben (and a tiny fluffy rodent) to proceed with the rescue mission: Ben however doesn’t last much longer.

Not long after, a message appears requesting the reader’s assistance: tickling seems to be a possible rescue facilitator for said book is bound to respond to a dose of tickly fingers by emitting a rather forceful sneeze.

Yeah! Success! There’s only a slight issue that needs to be sorted now …

Another fun, interactive tale of Ben and Bella for little ones; it’s great for beginning readers too.

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam The Missing Masterpiece

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam The Missing Masterpiece
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

A fox with a penchant for paintings – really? Yes really; one going by the name of Cunningham Sly and he steals them – in Paris no less.

However, that’s where the famous canine bakers Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam have just arrived with a special commission, to create a culinary edifice – a gingerbread Eiffel Tower- in time for the opening of the art exhibition at Galerie Bonbon. With only an hour to complete their work before the doors open, there’s not a second to lose despite the fact that Sam has spotted a ‘wanted’ poster displayed outside and is already on the alert.

En route to the kitchen Sam points out the location of a masterpiece, so he thinks, to Shifty, but his pal is on his way back to their van to collect something they’d left therein.

Once in the kitchen Sam is surprised to encounter a dapper-looking vulpine character and has a strange feeling he looks familiar. The dapper gent however assures him this can’t be so on account of his being an artist who spends all his time indoors on his work. Sam is impressed. But then as he dashes to inform his pal, they see something alarming and immediately, the chase is on.

Can they apprehend the wily thief and if so, will that dip in the River Seine have ruined the priceless Bone-a-Lisa portrait;

or is there perhaps a possibility that two masterpieces, one culinary and one artistic will be on view for the celebratory opening party of the exhibition?

Time after time in this series Tracey delivers a faultless rhyming narrative that is sheer delight to read aloud and full of tasty titbits. Steven Lenton’s scenes with their Parisian backdrop, portray with panache, the bakers’ plight as they strive to complete their double task and avert disaster. (There’s that spider to spot on every spread too.)

Another successful culinary caper with the crime busting canine duo: this would make a cracking TV cartoon or even perhaps, a stage show.

Oliver Elephant / It’s Christmas!

Oliver Elephant
Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens
Nosy Crow
Armed with a list of people to buy for, Noah, his mum and little sister, Evie-May sally forth to the large Christmas shop; Noah with his beloved Oliver Elephant tucked under his arm.
Once inside, Mummy shops while Noah and Oliver play happily until disaster strikes when Oliver dances into a large jug full of baubles …

That disaster pales into insignificance though when it’s followed soon after by another one.
Having finished their shopping mum takes them all to a café and as they are leaving Noah notices that Oliver is no longer with them.
Back to the big shop they dash but a search reveals no sign of his precious toy.
Does Evie-May perhaps know anything about his disappearance?
Fear not: all ends happily although they do have to dash back inside yet again to make one final purchase …
Beautifully told in Lou Peacock’s faultless rhyme and accompanied by Helen Stephens’ gently nostalgic, superbly expressive illustrations – her characterisation is great– this is just right for sharing after a hectic bout of Christmas shopping with your little ones.

 

It’s Christmas!
Tracey Corderoy and Tim Warnes
Little Tiger Press
The big day is almost here and super-exuberant little rhino Archie is full of the Christmas spirit.
He improves Dad’s Christmas biscuits, and, not content with Mum’s new decorations, redecorates the Christmas tree; but that’s not all; his ideas keep on coming. Having seen Granny and Grandpa’s Christmas jumpers, he decides his own festive jumper needs some sprucing up.
This results in a resounding …

after which mum gives him a very important role as ‘snow watcher’. Bored by the distinct lack of snowflakes though, Archie comes up with his own way of making it snow which precipitates further disasters.
Will the family ever get themselves sorted out in time for Christmas morning?
As always, young Archie knows just how to steal the show and amuse his audience be they young listeners or adult readers aloud.

Seasonally Flavoured Fiction

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Jingle Bells!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

If you’ve yet to meet comedic twosome, the wonderful baker dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam I urge you to do so with this book of three stories. Shifty’s the more industrious, of the pair; Sam means well but tends to lack his pal’s organisational skills.
In the first story, the dogs have been commissioned to create Santa’s Christmas cake and deliver it to him the same afternoon. No easy task especially with next-door neighbour Red Rocket determined to create mischief at every opportunity.

The other two tales, Sea-Monster Ahoy! and The Lucky Cat aren’t Christmassy but they are equally good fun and all are perfect for those just taking off as independent readers, who will particularly relish Steve Lenton’s lively scenes of the canine mystery solvers at work.

Harper and the Fire Star
Cerrie Burnell illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic

Harper, the girl endowed with a rare musical gift, who resides in the City of Clouds and is able to play any instrument she picks up without learning a single note, returns in her 4th adventure and once again it’s full of music, magic, friendship and gentle humour.
In this story, the Circus of Dreams (Harper’s birthplace) is back in town and as well as seeing her parents, Harper has something important she wants to do and that is to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical show. Why he wants to do so is a mystery to Harper and her friends, nevertheless they put on an amazing show but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Then they learn exactly why getting back into the circus is so important to the Wild Conductor: it’s on account of his love for a girl named Fire Star, so called because ‘whenever she heard music she began to shine like a star.’
Adding to the fun of the tale are Laura Ellen Andersen’s sparkly illustrations.
Always ready to help others, Harper is a delight.

The Storm Dog
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing

Young Tilly and her mum are going to stay with her Grandma and Great-Gran over Christmas but when work delays her mum, Tilly travels ahead alone on the train.
Great-Gran (almost ninety) has sent Tilly a parcel to open on the train and inside she discovers a Christmas tree decoration and a photo.
Soon, lulled by the motion of the train, Tilly starts to doze and finds herself back in the time when it was her Great-Gran taking the journey as an evacuee more than seventy years back. (Tilly is learning about World War Two for a school project.) She then re-lives some of Great-Gran’s evacuation experiences along with her two younger brothers who also stayed at Mr Thomas’ farm on the Welsh borders, attended the village school, tended the farm animals, had their first experience of snow and sledging, and prepared for the Christmas season..
Tilly forms a special friendship with Tarran, Mr Thomas’ sheepdog and it’s he that plays an important role on more than one occasion.
Gently told, the twisting, turning adventure draws you in right away and keeps you entranced right through to the end. It’s great for giving young readers an insight into life in WW2, especially those who, like Tilly, are learning about the period at school. Line drawings by Artful Doodlers, several per chapter, are scattered throughout the story, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

Curse of the Werewolf Boy
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This had me gripped from the start. Essentially it’s a boarding school parody of the Gothic kind and its stars, or rather heroes – neither seems to quite fit the bill – Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork aka Mildew and Sponge are pupils at Maudlin Towers School, by all accounts a pretty awful establishment for the ‘Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy’.
Returning after a half-term holiday, the pupils are informed that a terrible crime has occurred: the School Spoon (once owned by the school’s founder) has been stolen and the headmaster threatens terrible consequences for the culprit(s).
Who better for a spot of detectivating than Mildew and Sponge who are about to learn that crime solving isn’t as easy as they might have thought. Particularly when there’s a ghost in the attic, not to mention a Viking wandering around, a history teacher, one Mr Luckless who has a ‘temporo-trans-navigational-vehicular-engine’ (a time machine to you and me); even a werewolf boy (but you’d expect that from the title), and more.
It’s not only the lead crime solvers who are splendid; every single character is wonderful be they pupil or teacher – you can meet the whole cast at once via the role of honour board at the start of the story. With staff names such as Mr Particle actually newly deceased when the story opens; you can guess what subject he taught, Mr Stupendo and the Latin speaking Miss Livia; and Enderpenny and Furthermore numbering among the pupils.
Then there’s the narrative itself which is peppered with such deliciousness as:
I know what a ha-ha is, you nose hair,” said Kenningworth … ; and
… Mildew’s upper lip began to lose some of its structural integrity…”;
a brilliantly controlled plot that twists and turns while keeping readers totally engrossed throughout its mock scary entirety; and if that’s not enough, the book is chortle-makingly illustrated by none other than Chris Priestly himself.
Why am I including this story in a Christmas review, you might be wondering: that’s for me to know and for you to discover when you get hold of a copy of this cracker of a book.