The Mouse Before Christmas / Can’t Catch Santa!

Here are two festive books from Sunbird Books -thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

The Mouse Before Christmas
Tracey Turner and Jenny Lovlie
Sunbird Books

‘ ‘’Twas the night before Christmas, / when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring / … except for one mouse.’ So begins Tracey Turner’s mouse-themed tribute to Clement Clarke Moore wherein a tiny white mouse clad in a red fur-trimmed suit opens the action by giving a wink to readers and holds up a ‘ssh’-ing paw to his mouth before introducing his fellow mice all fast asleep. He then departs on his Christmas Eve delivery round in a small-scale sleigh, pulled by stag beetles portrayed in festive hues.

“On, Stiggy! On Twiggy! On, Scatter and Skitter! / Come, Snipper! Come, Skipper! Come Patter and Pitter!” he urges, guiding them down through the trees to a smooth landing in the snow instead of on a rooftop.
Then taking one of the sacks containing gifts for all, he heads for a house, leaving snowy mouse tracks (no boots for this Santa figure), entering via a crack in the wall and thence to a convenient mouse hole. Stockings are duly filled with Mouse toys and of course, lots of cheese as well as crackers. Then it’s back to the waiting sleigh, and with a flick of the reins, a squeak and a “Merry Christmas to all, / and to all a good night!” off he flies into the moonlit sky.

If you’re looking for an alternative to the original classic poem, this one with Jenny Lovlie’s mouse-centric setting complete with a cotton reel table, holding a candle, a thimble pot containing a decorated branch, mouse paperchains and a larger branch to which tiny stockings are affixed, is a delight. Cute and cosy but not overly so thanks to the wealth of humorous details, especially those Christmassy beetles.

Can’t Catch Santa!
Emily Cunningham and Steph Lew
Sunbird Books

It’s Christmas Eve, just the time to try and catch Santa: so says the canine narrator of this lift-the-flap board book. Santa however seems somewhat elusive as each seeming sighting of the jolly fellow turns out to be something altogether different – a bobble hat worn by a carol singer glimpsed through the window of the front door, it’s a snowman wearing the black wellies and so on. It’s not until several more spreads have been explored that Santa actually does make an appearance but when he does eventually do so, his would-be catcher isn’t quick enough to apprehend the jolly fellow. Still there’s always next year …

Slightly silly, but that’s all part of the fun that toddlers will enjoy, along with the festive spirit and the build-up.

A History of the World in 25 Cities

A History of the World in 25 Cities
Tracey Turner and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Libby VanderPloeg
Nosy Crow and The British Museum

If you want to be a time traveller as well as a world tourist, then this is for you.

In collaboration with experts from The British Museum, authors Tracey Turner and Andrew Donkin, present a brilliantly conceived and executed large format book, superbly designed and illustrated by Libby VanderPloeg. Featuring 25 detailed city maps, it takes readers on a historic world tour visiting locations from every continent at a specific moment in time, and in so doing offers a look at the development of humankind.

‘Cities are full of possibilities.’ say the authors in their highly thought-provoking introduction, ‘… They are where big ideas are born, because they welcome people from far and wide, bringing them together to live and work, and to swap skills, inventions and thoughts.’

We’re taken first to the walled city of Jericho around 8500 BCE and as well as a map (carefully researched), there are pages vividly illustrating life then(and now) as well as bite-size paragraphs giving details of same. (for instance ‘Being close to the salty Dead Sea meant that the people of Jericho could trade salt for other goods.’ There’s also, bordering one page an ‘In Numbers’ feature.

Other cities featured are Memphis circa 1200 BCE, Athens 500 BCE,

Xianyang 212 BCE , Rome 100-200 CE, Constantinople, Baghdad, Jorvik, Beijing, Granada, Venice, Benin City, Cuzco, Tenochtitlán circa 1520, Delhi, Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney, Bangkok, London, Saint Petersburg, New York City, Berlin, San Francisco and finally, Tokyo of today – now the world’s most densely populated city and originally a small fishing village.
Through the wonderful visuals and text it’s possible to imagine walking at the bottom of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the ornate gardens of 1400s Islamic city kingdom of Granada; wandering the beautiful palm-oil lamp-lit streets of medieval Benin in the West African rainforest; or roaming within the walls of capital city Delhi in 1660 with those packed bazaars of Chandni Chowk and its impressive buildings such as the Red Fort. (it’s not all that different today).

Another of the featured cities I’ve visited is one of my very favourites, Amsterdam, where in the 1670s the 100km canal system was key in transporting goods to buyers around the city and beyond.

With a final look forward to the cities of tomorrow in the hope that they will become increasingly green, this amazing book bursting with historic detail, maps and engrossing illustrations, is one for class collections and for giving to youngsters who want to broaden their horizons.

Exploding Beetles & Inflatable Fish

Exploding Beetles & Inflatable Fish
Tracey Turner and Andrew Wightman
Macmillan Children’s Books

Sam, narrator of this funky STEM information book is totally obsessed with all that’s weird and wonderful about members of the animal kingdom. (There is mention of the occasional plant too.) He keeps four pets – stick insects of the Indian variety named Twiggy and Wiggy, a goldfish named Bob (deemed boring by Sam’s elder brother) and a hamster, Letty. Readers learn a fair bit about these creatures along the way including the fact that stick insects often eat the old skin they’ve shed and as a defence mechanism, they might exude from their joints a foul-smelling liquid or spray attackers with a nasty chemical substance. Best not to attack a stick insect then.
I should say at this point that throughout the book Sam has drawn or rather claims to have done (actually Andrew Wightman is the illustrator) all kinds of funky creatures eating, pooing and just generally going about their lives.
On the poo topic, did you know that a fair number of animals including woodlice eat their own? (they never ever wee though) Or that wombats have cube-shaped poo – how on earth do they manage excreting that without discomfort?

I’m pretty sure your reaction to the revelation that bombardier beetles can explode like toxic water pistols will be similar to mine – best to steer clear of their bums.

Much of this fascinating information is related during a hunt for Twiggy. Sam discovers that the little creature has gone awol from his vivarium when he goes to spray water inside.

Happily she is eventually found (hiding in plain sight) but not before Sam has shared a considerable number of amazing factual snippets with readers.

Terrific fun and gently educational too.