Polka Dot Poems

Polka Dot Poems
Zaro Weil, illustrated by Lucy Wynne

Among Zaro Weil’s 100 nature haiku you’ll meet all manner of weird and wonderful beasties large and small from all over the world as well as flora of many sorts and other inanimate natural things too. I encountered several creatures that are new to me, one of which is the Fossa

another is Zebra duiker ( an antelope residing in the rainforests of the western coasts of Africa) ‘ black-striped / best mates / meander under /green canopy of /gold-striped / sun ‘.

Equally worthy of our attention though is this common or garden oh so bountiful Thistle ‘seeds for birds / leaves for bugs / fluff for nests / nectar-spiked / flowered // giving plant’.

Another is Spider – ‘smart / spinning your own paths / criss-crossing the cosmos / thin thread / by / thin thread’.

Among the inanimate yet brought to life through words is something we’ve all experienced countless times – the coming of a new day: Light ‘oh! / I remember you / morning sun-great / all a-whirl / through my window’.

In stark contrast using the same number of syllables is this contemplation of a Goblin shark, ‘ancient living fish/ your sword mouth/ parts water/ swims through/ millions of years’. Who would not be awed by this ferocious creature sometimes called a ‘living fossil’?

Again, using just seventeen syllables each time, Zaro draws attention to things ever present in our lives such as Pebble ‘so many pebbles / so many years / quietly crunching / underfoot’ and Moon – ‘palest puff / in / just-night sky / that you? // of course / I spy your / crescent wisp’.

No matter where they open this book young readers will find something to delight in; something of which Zaro in her wonderful words has captured its very essence, while Lucy Wynne brings out the gentle humour and playfulness of the writing in her gorgeous illustrations.

Don’t miss the extras – there’s a concluding section of ‘amazing facts about some of the weird and wonderful creatures’ including the Patagonian mara, the Venezuelan poodle moth and the star-nosed mole – wonderful creatures all.

This Orq (he say “ugh!”)

This Orq (he say “ugh!”)
David Elliott and Lori Nichols
Troika Books

Orq back in new book; me happy; me love Orq.
Orq and best friend Woma play happily together …

but despite this, life is hard. The family cave is cold and dark, they dine on raw bison meat and worst of all, Orq is being bullied.
The bully, Dorq, is big, much bigger than Orq; he’s hairy, thoroughly mean, and has a nasty-looking pet named Caba.
The fearsome duo like nothing better than taunting Orq and Woma.
One day Orq and Woma are out hunting when suddenly, Dorq hurls a missile at Woma’s head

causing Orq to see red – literally.
In fury Orq grabs two rocks and bashes them together over and over, causing sparks to fly. The sparks ignite a pile of sticks at his feet: Orq has made a surprising discovery …

Orq is a hero; everybody’s hero: no more cold dark cave, no more raw meat: warm cave, night light, hot bison burgers. Mmm!
Like This Orq (he cave boy) Elliott’s deliciously droll text is written in clipped prehistoric cave-boy speak, which, in combination with Lori Nichols’ wonderfully funny, digitally coloured pencil illustrations, make for another great storytime read aloud.
Individual readers can also enjoy taking ‘The Turtle Challenge’ to discover how many turtles the artist painted for the story; it’s quite tricky.

The Wild Fluffalump

The Wild Fluffalump
Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway
Troika Books

Here’s a lovely rhyming story penned by Bruce Hobson, the well known author, who writes under the name Mwenye Hadithi;
Set on the African plains, it’s a fun read aloud but with a serious intent: Hudson commissioned the book in aid of TUSK (a charity dedicated to protecting wild animals in Africa) with the aim that young children ‘should learn to feel protective towards rhinos and elepahnts’ as well as the more cuddly kinds of wild animals.
When a baby creature goes to sleep beneath a tall Cotton Wool tree, where Leopard’s child has been leaping and bouncing all night, little does it know it’s in for a big surprise the next morning.
When it wakes, it’s as a giant fluffy white ball and doesn’t recognise itself at all.
First on the scene are the Meerkats and they decide it’s a wild Fluffalump.
Other plains creatures come along one by one: Eagle, Buffalo, Lion, Hyena, Vulture, Bush Baby, Rhino, Giraffe and even Leopard’s child …

and with their poking, prodding, pushing and shaking, endeavour to identify the creature.
Down comes the rain, washing off some of its fluff as it heads to the waterhole for a drink. Crocodile cannot resist taking a bite of its bottom causing the thing to emit a loud trumpeting sound.

Recognising the cry, along comes mother Elephant.
She picks up Fluffalump, takes him to the lake, washes off all the fluff and restores the creature to his former self.

He then realises that he is in fact ‘Elephant’s Child.’
Adrienne Kennaway’s paintings of the iconic animals of the savannah are full of humour and suffused with glowing African sunlight. The prodding and poking inflicted upon the Fluffalump gradually expose bits of his disguise so that observant readers may guess the identity of the mystery creature before his mother does.
Great fun and a cause well worth supporting.

Timely Rescues for Mortimer & Monkey

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Mortimer’s Picnic
Nick Ward
Troika Books
Mortimer is eagerly anticipating the picnic he’s been planning to share with best pal Oggy when he hears that the whole thing’s off – Oggy has an awful cold. Or maybe not. “I know – I’ll take the picnic to his house!” decides Mortimer. So having packed the picnic food, a get well soon card, medicine and a storybook, off he goes to his friend’s house. Almost immediately down comes the rain and up goes Mortimer’s brolly; but suddenly, WHOOSH! up goes Mortimer too and down he comes into the middle of a river – and he can’t swim. In this particular river is a resident croc. who’s only too happy to give Mortimer a lift across in exchange for his sausages.

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Deal done and off goes a decidedly damp rabbit into the ‘dark and scary forest’, followed unbeknown to him, by the still hungry crocodile.
Before long there appears another hungry animal demanding more of the contents of the picnic basket …

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Fearing for his life, Mortimer complies with the wolf’s wishes and is duly led out of the forest, albeit now feeling decidedly snuffly and with yet another pursuer. He’s not out of the woods entirely even now though: more of that picnic is handed over – in return for a safe bridge crossing this time – and a chase ensues …

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before the tale takes a decidedly unexpected turn.
I won’t reveal what happens or how the tale ends: suffice it to say it’s an altogether satisfying finale for listeners, although perhaps not quite so satisfying for some of the characters of this action-packed saga of thrills, misadventures and friendship.
Observant readers will have noticed that before the story starts, Mortimer sits reading …

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and it’s that particular book he chooses to take along with him to visit Oggy – food for thought?


Doodle Girl and the Monkey Mystery
Suzanne Smith & Lindsay Taylor, illustrated by Marnie Maurri
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Doodle Girl’s place of residence is a magical sketchbook; she wields a magic doodling pencil and has several special friends including Mr Whizzy, Miss Ladybird and the Small Squeakies – there are two of them. The adventure we join them on starts with a pointy shape, which, with a few deft dashes and squiggles, Doodle Girl rapidly transforms into …


Off they all fly, across an ocean and eventually come to land on a tropical island. It’s there that, by wielding her magic pencil in similar fashion to Anthony Browne’s Bear she manages to pull off the rescue of a little monkey from the snapping jaws of a pair of hungry crocs,


as well as supplying all concerned with a tasty treat.
I’m all for anything that opens up the imagination and encourages creativity in young children. With the current tick box mentality that is all too prevalent in schools today, I see fewer and fewer opportunities being given in the classroom and even in nurseries for children to follow their own imaginative ideas. All power to Doodle Girl and her flights of fancy …

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Take Off and Fly with Fletcher & Zenobia and Rita

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Fletcher and Zenobia
Victoria Chess and Edward Gorey
The New York Review Children’s Collection
Wonderfully wry but then it is Gory, although he didn’t illustrate this one; that was Victoria Chess and a delightfully whimsical job she’s done of it too. It tells of a burgeoning friendship between two unlikely characters, Fletcher a tubby cat who, for reasons known best to himself, resides in a tall tree, and Zenobia, a doll who hatches from a large papier-mâché egg. Oh, I should have mentioned the trunk – that’s also up in the tree and contains an assortment of things including a hat collection and, once Fletcher discovers it, that egg.
Having been released from her eggy prison, Zenobia is eager to learn about her new surroundings but is even more eager to work out a way to descend.
In the meantime, the two agree to have a party, a party that includes a multi-layered lemon cake, peach ice-cream and fruit punch, a fair number of balloons and those hats – of course, the hats …

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and dancing. The latter is interrupted by a new arrival, one that appears to be an ace dancer with an enormous capacity for ice-cream and cake. And it’s this, or more precisely, the resulting increase in the moth’s size that enables Fletcher and Zenobia to finally bid farewell to the tree and take off into the great wide world of beyond …

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So good to see this one available again: a lovely book to share but equally, a good one to offer newly independent readers.


Rita Rides Again
Rita on the River
Hilda Offen
Troika Books
I remember Rita the Rescuer, youngest member of the Potter family, from my early teaching days when this smart young miss delighted many of my ‘just becoming independent’ readers. Now she’s back with some new adventures to entertain a new generation of children. In the first story, the Potter children accompany Grandad to the castle where he’s a guide and it’s not long before Rita is required to transform herself into rescuing mode and save a valuable vase from destruction. That’s not the only thing she deals with though; there’s a ghost to see off, not to mention a whole flock of furious peacocks and a monster in the lake.

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But there’s still more excitement and rescuing of the Rita kind too, in this book and you can be assured that all the time the young heroine is making good use of her thinking skills.
The same is true in the second story. Herein her superhero tactics are called into play almost immediately on a picnic expedition when she’s left sitting on the riverbank while Grandpa and the older children take to the water in boats. It’s not her family members who need rescuing straightaway however, but a puppy. Before long though Grandpa is up the river without a paddle or rather, up the pole without the punt …

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and there’s only one person fast enough to pull off that particular rescue. But Rita’s work is far from done: people seem to end up in all manner of life-threatening situations on the river, so it’s just as well, she took her special outfit along on this expedition. There’s an Eddie and Jim crocodile encounter and a dramatic waterfall snatch to perform before the whole family finally sits down to share that picnic. And the best thing is – and it’s something readers revel in – that none of the rescued knows the identity of the Rescuer.

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This ORQ. (he cave boy.)

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This ORQ. (he cave boy.)
David Elliott and Lori Nichols
Troika Books
Anyone who has had dealings with young children and their speech development (or indeed their emergent writing ) will know that initially they go for the content words and omit the functors from their utterances. A similar thing happens when someone – child or adult – learns to speak an additional language. So it is with the small child protagonist in this story, which begins thus:
This Orq.
He live in cave.
He carry club.
He cave boy.
And continues in similar cave-boy speak vein.
Orq has a pet baby woolly mammoth Woma, but like all infant animals Woma grows and grows …

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From his mother’s point of view, Woma is far from the perfect pet: he sheds his hair, he’s extremely whiffy and he leaves large deposits of pooh on the cave floor.

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Woma has to go she decrees.
Orq is devastated and resolves to demonstrate his beloved Woma’s desirability by teaching him tricks (with a bit of assistance from some of his other smaller pets). The results are a series of wonderfully comic disasters …

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and a far from impressed Mother: No chance of her allowing Woma to set even one tusk tip back in the cave.
Some time later Orq’s imaginary play ‘He mighty hunter!’ turns alarmingly real when a sabretooth tiger with his mind on lunch appears on the scene. A face-off between said tiger and Woma ensues. The latter’s love for Orq proves superior and results in an indebted Mother having a change of heart about Woma.
The spare narrative style with its oft repeated ‘Orq loves Woma’ works well for this emotionally charged prehistoric tale. Elliott succeeds in conveying the strong feelings between boy and mammoth with gentle humour and occasional stabs of pathos, both elements being echoed in Lori Nichols’ splendidly quirky, digitally coloured pencil illustrations. There are some delicious details such as the stone age tricycle on the title page

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and the sign on the cave wall. And that final throwaway twist is just superb. Me love ending. Me love book.
Definitely a winner where young children are concerned and I suspect a proliferation of caveboy speak to ensue temporarily whenever it’s read aloud.

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