Teapot Trouble

Teapot Trouble
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

Stars of Spaghetti Hunters, the highly opinionated Tiny Horse and Duck – he’s the thoughtful, pragmatic one – return in a new story. Duck has a problem and is far from happy: a crab has taken up residence in his teapot. Of course, Tiny Horse knows exactly how to sort out a teapot disaster; all that’s required is a wave of a whisk – or maybe not …

No matter: know-all Tiny Horse has plenty of other tools to try – a toothbrush and a net for instance; moreover, once Duck has almost certainly identified his teapot usurper, the diminutive horse claims to be an experienced crab-tamer – a picnic will definitely lure the unwanted visitor out. 

Failure follows failure until poor Duck is convinced he’ll never reclaim his teapot home.

Problem solved, announces Tiny Horse but his friend thinks otherwise. 

Now at a complete loss, off Duck stomps teapot on his back, to the beach for a spot of shell collecting. Needless to say Tiny Horse ridicules the notion of a shell teapot; but what will the outcome of this potty problem be?

Morag Hood’s wonderfully quirky wry humour will have both children and adults laughing out loud over this latest of her terrific picture books. I love the characters and I love the way they interact.

The Tiger Who Came For Dinner / The Littlest Elephant

The Tiger Who Came For Dinner
Steve Smallman and Joëlle Dreidemy
Little Tiger

In this fourth story to feature Wolf, Hotpot the lamb and their crocodile, Omelette, the friends are playing their favourite game of fetch when instead of a stick, Omelette brings back a tiny, soggy lost tiger. Hotpot is keen to keep the little thing but Wolf shakes his head “ … little tiger’s family must live further up the river. We have to take her home,” he says.
Next day off they go and on the way they encounter other animals, all of which think the little cub is a delight.

Omelette however, is not sure and becomes even less so as their journey continues; moreover he is able to recognise crocodile tears.

The following morning the group reaches a cottage – it’s the tiger cub’s home at last – and the little cub had a tricky plan tucked in his fur all the time. Can anybody save the day?

As with previous titles in the series, the importance of friendship is key. Steve and Joelle imbue the characters with warmth and oodles of personality and those already familiar with the other books will gobble up this one; however it matters little if you start here: this witty tale still works as a smashing read aloud.

The Littlest Elephant
Kate Read
Two Hoots

Having just learned to swim, such is Ellie the littlest elephant’s enthusiasm that in her haste to demonstrate her new skill, she charges off to the pool to be first in the water. On the way though, she dislodges chameleon, frightens the frogs, disturbs the monkeys’ mangoes scattering them far and wide, upsets the minibeasts and the birds,

stamps on the tiger’s tail and almost squishes a little mouse. Only then does she stop and pay heed to their warning cries to slow down and watch where she’s going. Time for some apologies realises Ellie, and with them duly accepted, all the animals head off to the swim together, with the littlest pachyderm being mindful of the wise words her new friends have spoken, until they eventually reach the pool.

Now to make the biggest splash EVER!

Kate Read captures Ellie elephant’s excitement beautifully in her bold, bright mixed media illustrations while at the same time portraying the feelings of creatures she encounters on her charge through the jungle equally well. Her story reminds youngsters – indeed all of us – of the the need to slow down sometimes, to be mindful of others , and to show empathy, consideration and kindness towards them; important lessons delivered unobtrusively in a fun picturebook.

Aunt Amelia’s House / We Want Our Books

Aunt Amelia’s House
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books

When it comes to aunts, Aunt Amelia, is surely unique. Now the children are mega-excited as they’re off to stay at her house for the very first time.

Arriving with high expectations of lots of fun, they certainly aren’t expecting her to present them with a long list of jobs that need to be done.

However, whether it’s watering the plants, picking fruit and sharing it with the neighbours, feeding her pets, hanging out the washing, cleaning the windows,

or entertaining visitors, Aunt Amelia has her own highly unusual way of doing it. And the children need not have feared about chores being enjoyable: done Aunt Amelia style they are enormous fun, albeit pretty exhausting.

As always, Rebecca’s illustrations are full of fun, fascinating details making each spread one to linger over, while both words and pictures exude warmth and a gentle humour that celebrates the special relationship young children have with aunts (or other family members).

With its unexpected ending, this is a super story, to share at home or in the classroom, that will likely spark discussion of what is special about listeners’ own aunts or other relations.

We Want Our Books
Jake Alexander
Two Hoots

When Rosa visits her local library she discovers that it’s been closed. Horrified, she seeks advice from her elder sister who says that a protest is what’s needed. However their ‘SAVE OUR LIBRARY’ poster fails to impress and so the girls try to enlist help from other people in the town but they’re all too busy even to see them, or to hear their voices.

The girls aren’t giving up that easily though, so they up their game much to the disapproval of the developer.

Determined to thwart the planned closure, the family stands outside the library where they soon discover that they’re not the only ones who feel strongly about saving what is very much a vital part of their community.

Finally it’s a case of mission accomplished and rather than losing interest in using the facility, the community members make the library a thriving establishment; and it was all thanks to one little girl who reignited their enthusiasm.

Powerfully illustrated and simply told using Rosa as narrator, this story of determination and community beats the drum for local libraries, too many of which have already had their hours drastically cut or been forced to close altogether, and demonstrates the importance of protesting peacefully for what we believe in.

Charlie Chooses / The Truth About Babies

Charlie Chooses
Lou Peacock and Nicola Slater
Nosy Crow

Charlie is an anxious, indecisive little boy unable to make decisions about such small things as light on or light off at bedtime, and what ice-cream to have, wearing spotty pants or stripy ones, which would often result in going without.

So when it comes to choosing what he wants for his birthday, he really is faced with a problem. Lou presents these difficulties uncritically even this biggie, merely allowing Nicola’s illustrations to do much of the talking to young audiences.

We see a downcast Charlie emerging from the library having consulted the ‘perfect present’ book, then suddenly and unexpectedly being offered that hitherto illusive idea – a rescue dog.

Off he goes but uh-oh! At the rescue centre he’s faced with yet another choice and a very difficult one

so Charlie leaves the centre sans pooch but then …

One determined little canine supplies the perfect ending to this story and Charlie ends up with just the right companion to help soothe those choosing-worries henceforward. But what about a name? Maybe …

Most certainly this delightful book is one I would choose to share with little ones, be that one-to-one or as a class.

The Truth About Babies
Elina Ellis
Two Hoots

A small child narrator talks of the arrival of a new baby as his parents extol the virtues of babies in general.

These tiny beings are supposedly beautiful, fond of sleeping, they’re joyful little bundles, sweet smelling

gentle and delicate – perfect angels no less. Or are they?

Now comes the big reveal from our older sibling who nonetheless considers one particular newcomer to the family monstrously, irresistibly lovable …

There’s a touch of Tim Archbold about Elina Ellis’ comical illustrations of a family with a new baby and what that really means rather than what her text says.

Great fun to share and discuss whether or not listeners have experienced (or are about to) a new addition the family.

Counting Creatures

Counting Creatures
Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai
Two Hoots

Gorgeous illustrations of adult animals and their young by Sharon King-Chai accompanied by an expertly constructed rhyming narrative by Julia Donaldson make for a terrific book to share with young humans who will want to spend ages pouring over the wonderful details on every spread. There are cut-away pages, die-cuts, fold-outs and flaps that are part and parcel of such scenes as the flying bat with a wing covering just 1 baby, a sheep with 2 baby lambs (one eating, the other bleating), a leopard with 3 tottering, swaying, punching, playing cubs.

Particularly striking is the seemingly lone wild dog behind which are hidden 4 pups, two nosing and nestling the other two writhing and wrestling.

Having reached 10 (piglets) the numbers go up in 5s, so next comes a turkey with 15 poults either peeping or cheeping and the question (repeated each time), ‘Who has more babies than that?’. In this instance the answer is ‘This butterfly’ whose wings cover 20 munching caterpillars, followed by a frog on a lily pad where beneath another there are 25 wriggling squiggling wiggling tadpoles.

The final two spreads serve to send readers hunting back through all the pages to locate ‘LOTS of spiderlings that Julia informs are ‘all over this book.’ (Surely not literally! I hear you cry!) Plus another quite challenging question to answer.

Hours of pure pleasure for adult sharers and their young ones, who will certainly need no persuading to peruse the pages that show the various animals, their habits and their habitats, as well as doing the intended counting on their wildlife journey.

Albert Talbot Master of Disguise

Albert Talbot Master of Disguise
Ben Manley and Aurélie Guillerey
Two Hoots

From Ben Manley the author of The Misadventures of Frederick and the illustrator of Daddy Long Legs, Aurélie Guillerey, comes a book that celebrates the power of the imagination in children.

We spend a day in the company of young Albert and his various alter egos from the time his mother calls him to get up until she tucks him in to bed at night.

In between Albert is faced with a number of challenges each of which he rises to by assuming a new persona.

First as his mum wakes him, he’s notorious desperado Clate Stouderhoofen, ‘the incognito kid, the man with no name’. W-hay!

As he has to leave for school, Albert is ‘Rusti Buffels, Fearless Mountaineer and climber of Mount Chirrachit. Show and tell time sees him as Professor Octavius Pickleswick, mechanical engineer presenting his greatest robotic invention.

At the poolside before his swimming lesson,

he becomes Zandrian Delaclair, Antarctic Submariner – destroyer of the abominable Vampire Cuttlefish! – you bet!

Back home there’s one more change of identity and then, come bedtime, tired by his day of imaginings, Albert realises that at that particular moment as sleep calls, he’s very happy just to be himself.

Children and adults alike will delight in the weird and wonderful names Ben Manley has created for Albert in his far-out fusion of fantasy and reality, while Aurélie Guillerey’s illustrations, be they those of Albert’s imagination or reality, are full of quirky detail as they show the boy as hero or rule subverter.

Imagination is power – what a great message.

Spaghetti Hunters

Spaghetti Hunters
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

Poor Duck is nonplussed; his spaghetti has gone missing. Enter right, atop the tea caddy, Tiny Horse, self-declared greatest ever spaghetti hunter, promising to ‘save the day.’

Rest assured Tiny Horse has all the necessary gear at the ready

and once it’s safely stowed in Duck’s backpack the hunt for this particularly problematic pasta is ready to begin.

Things don’t go as Duck expects but Tiny Horse is confident in her plan and soon has – to her friend’s consternation – amassed a fair bit of the missing spaghetti.

Or perhaps not!

Utterly infuriated Duck returns to the sanity of his teapot and a good book, but he soon has an uninvited visitor disturbing his peace

and criticising his culinary skills.

However, the proof of the spaghetti is in the sampling but Tiny Horse being Tiny Horse, just has to have the last word (or two, to be precise).

For me this is Morag Hood’s best yet – and that’s saying a lot. Splendidly silly, it was all I could do not to splutter my coffee all over my Mac as I was composing this review.

I Can Catch A Monster

I Can Catch a Monster
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots

In a castle in a mountainous region in days of yore live Erik, Ivar and their little sister, Bo.

When her brothers announce that they’re off on a monster hunt Bo wants to accompany them. “You’re far too little,” comes the reply but what Bo lacks in stature she makes up for in determination. “I’m smart and brave and strong!” she thinks before sallying forth on a monster quest of her own.

Very soon she has her first ‘monster’ encounter: “… get ready to be got!” she warns the creature, only to learn it’s a griffin and far too polite to be a monster.

Indeed he offers to assist Bo in her quest.

Her next encounter takes her (inadvertently) plunging beneath the ocean waves to face a kraken. She too seems at first, monstrous

but again Bo’s assumption is wrong, for the kraken also assists her.

Next destination is a cave from which issues an enormous roar.

Surely deep within must be the scary monster Bo has been seeking all along. However the roar turns out to be a dragon venting its parental anguish over missing baby, Smoky.

From then on the quest becomes not a monster hunt but a Smoky search, which eventually brings the story full circle, with Bo face to face with two human monsters.

Now she can prove well and truly, who really is in charge.

I love Bo’s rebellious attitude and applaud her open-mindedness and willingness to learn from her mistakes. There’s plenty of potential discussion sparkers in Bethan’s tale but it’s her wonderful illustrations that are the book’s real strength.

Executed in gouache with a more varied colour palette than in her fairy tale reworkings. Bethan’s idiosyncratic art uses teal, duck-egg, orange and pinks to create the mock-medieval scenes for this story. Love those end papers too.

Meerkat Christmas

Meerkat Christmas
Emily Gravett
Two Hoots

The splendid Meerkats return to share some Christmas spirit with readers.

As the big day approaches, in the distant Kalahari all those in the Meerkat family are busy with preparations for the Perfect Christmas , all except Sunny that is. He has the distinct feeling that something is lacking; actually a whole lot of things if it’s to live up to the ‘Perfect’ criteria in his magazine – deep snow, tasteful decorations, piles of presents, well boiled sprouts on the menu and all to the accompaniment of Christmas carols.

With bag packed and sporting his Santa style hat off goes Sunny to find somewhere that fits the bill.

His travels take him to see several friends, but although each location offers something from his list, there’s always something missing.

Will he ever find that elusive Christmas perfection? …

With Sunny’s Christmas cards detailing his progress (I love how his writing changes in each one),

a final surprise package and wonderfully humorous details aplenty on every spread, this story is superbly funny.

Children will love it; so will adult sharers especially teachers, as it’s rich in potential for classroom activities of the enjoyable kind.

One Fox / The Button Book

Just right for an early years collection are:

One Fox
Kate Read
Two Hoots

One moonlit night down on the farm, with his two sly eyes, one famished fox is on the prowl. Lots of lovely alliteration describes the happenings:

The three plump hens need to keep their ears and beady eyes open.
However that fox is in for a big surprise when he takes six silent steps towards the hencoop and taps seven times upon the outside …

In a dramatic and satisfying climax (although not for the fox), debut author/illustrator Kate Read takes us right up close to the action in her counting story.

With an economy of words she creates a visual comedy that is both exciting and gently educational; but It’s her superb visuals that carry the power – bright, textured art combining paint and collage – that build up expectations of the outcome

and then turn the tale right over on itself.

The Button Book
Sally Nicholls and Bethan Woollvin
Andersen Press

Take a group of inquisitive animals and an assortment of ‘pressable’ buttons of different shapes and colours; add several generous spoonfuls of imagination and stir. The result is this playful interactive picture book for little ones.

Squirrel starts the whole thing off by prodding at the red button with his stick and wondering what will happen. It beeps, and that sets off the button investigation.

To discover which is the clapping button, which one sings songs;

which blows a raspberry;

what joys the yellow button delivers, and the pink and purple ones, you need the fingers of a child or so, and the willingness to indulge in some pretend play.

This is children’s / YA author Sally Nicholls debut picture book and it appears she’s had as much fun creating it as will its intended preschool audience. The latter will take great delight in all the noisy, occasional mischievous activities offered at the mere touch of a button. Adult sharers on the other hand might well be relieved to learn what the white button does.

Seemingly too Bethan Woollvin had fun creating the illustrations; she’s certainly done a cracking job showing the seven characters having a thoroughly good time as investigators and participants in their own comedic performance.

I’m Actually Really Grown-Up Now

I’m Actually Really Grown-Up Now
Maisie Paradise Shearring
Two Hoots

Meena’s parents are having a party but, so she’s told as she reluctantly goes to bed, it’s for grown-ups only. Party loving Meena however makes her own plan.

The following morning she makes a very important announcement to her family, “I’m actually really grown-up now!”

What’s more she is having her own party – parents welcome.

Raiding mum’s wardrobe to find the perfect outfit is fun;

but grown ups also have to work and of course the party itself needs to be prepared.

Who will be invited? What about the food – that has to be bought. (with Dad’s assistance).

Before too long, Meena realises that this grown-up business isn’t all easy or fun.

And as for the party? Perhaps best not to expect too much

and just go with the flow …

The author’s skill at appreciating and portraying the spirit of adventure young children have in this wryly humorous story of the ups and downs of childhood is superbly presented in both her playful narrative and illustrations. Both exude warmth and understanding while her protagonist is an absolute delight – determined and resourceful, and ready to capitalise on whatever situation she finds herself in.

The Misadventures of Frederick

The Misadventures of Frederick
Ben Manley and Emma Chichester Clark
Two Hoots

Frederick lives in a large mansion surrounded by beautiful countryside and seemingly lacks for nothing, except the one thing he truly wants – freedom.

Emily in contrast is free to roam but lacks a friend and playmate.
One day she notices Frederick and realising he is bored, she sends him a note inviting him to join her outside for ice-cream.

Much of the ensuing story takes place through Emma Chichester Clark’s exquisite illustrations that are alternately dark and gloomy (when the focus is on Frederick), or bright and full of light and colour when showing Emily’s actions in the great outdoors.

The text in contrast is almost exclusively in the form of the written communication between the two characters; Emily’s being short, sharp notes;

Frederick’s are penned in a rather flowery, poetic style characteristic of a child who lives his life in his head.

Gradually Emily’s messages grow briefer until there comes a cry,

a cry that finally lures Frederick into taking a risk and tasting what it’s like to be free.

His freedom however comes at a small price as the final page shows; but readers are left knowing that one small setback isn’t going to deter the boy in future.

I absolutely loved this book: the combination of the clever narrative and the story extending illustrations makes for a highly unusual picture book with a strong message for risk averse adults as well as listeners whether or not they’re unlucky enough to be in situations similar to Frederick’s.

Starbird

Starbird
Sharon King-Chai
Two Hoots

When the Moon King has a daughter, he determines to give her the most wonderful gift in the world, the beautiful Starbird whose singing weaves magical dreams.

He captures the creature and puts it in a cage so the girl can hear its enchanting song.

For the princess though, the joy of hearing Starbird’s sweet evening song is short- lived for she soon sees how captivity is affecting the creature. She opens the cage and lets it fly away thus incurring the wrath of her father.

He sets off in search of the bird that is only on the wing by day while the Moon King sleeps.

Starbird’s travels to find home once more take him to the jungle,

the ocean, desert lands and the mountains; but although the creatures of each are kind and caring, none of their homes is home to Starbird. The mountain creatures though tell of a faraway place that just sounds right for him.

But the Moon King grabs Starbird as he takes flight before the stars are hidden, and once more he is put in the cage; this time with terrible consequences.

Happily though it isn’t too late to save the prisoner, for the Moon King’s daughter finally makes her father understand.

Told in rich language, this lyrical fable of love and freedom has a timeless quality that will enthral and delight readers and listeners of all ages. Sharon King-Chai’s illustrations play with light using shadows, silhouette and reflection as well as colour to stunning effect.

Exquisite and powerful as they are though, they never detract from her telling; rather the entire work becomes one seamless magical enriching experience that is woven together rather like the Songbird’s song itself.

Totally FAB-U-LOUS!

Aalfred and Aalbert

Aalfred and Aalbert
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

Aalfred and Aalbert are two aardvarks with adjacent burrows. Nevertheless their paths never cross on account of their totally different sleep cycles: Aalbert sleeps at night, Aalfred in the daytime.

Despite the occasional yearnings of each to be part of a twosome, this pattern is permanent. Or is it?

Perhaps a plan can fix things; a plan executed by a little blue bird involving strategically placed broccoli (Aalfred’s favourite) and a ball of string.

I’d hate to spoil this story of friendship against the odds, so I’ll say no more on the matter other than to urge you to get hold of a copy of Morag’s latest book. Once again it’s brilliant. Her narrative voice is like no other, wryly funny and absolutely to the point. She conveys so much in relatively few words and delicious bold artwork,

and every one of her characters is priceless.

In the aardvark tale though there’s a real tenderness: let it sit with you, let it simmer. I think it’s my favourite so far.

This treat is not to be missed; in fact you really shouldn’t miss any of Morag’s books.

Anna and Otis

Anna and Otis
Maisie Paradise Shearring
Two Hoots

Imagine befriending a snake. Not keen probably, but snake, Otis is the unlikely best friend of young Anna and the two spend happy, adventurous days together safe in the confines of the garden.

One day though, Anna announces to Otis that tomorrow they ought to go exploring the town, a suggestion that leaves Otis lost for words. After all neighbours and delivery people tended to tread very cautiously when they spied the reptile, so an entire town, Hmmm!

Nevertheless, next day, Anna having attempted to allay Otis’ concerns, the two sally forth.

Anna’s words however are very soon proved wrong: seemingly everyone in the town gives the impression of being as she’d put it earlier, ‘very silly mean’ people.

Inevitably, Otis is sad; Anna angry, though she tries to be reassuring. Bravery and direct approaches are her suggestions, first stop being Silvio’s hairdressing salon. The visit proves a success and word starts to spread.

Emboldened Anna purchases a skateboard for herself and a set of wheels for Otis.

Pretty soon, people at the skate-park are impressed at his wheelie prowess; the bush telegraph springs into action again and come lunch time it’s more of a party than a meal for two.

By the time the day’s over the friends are very tired. Anna invites Otis to spend the night and thereafter the friendship continues apace, sometimes just the two of them but on other days it’s a trip into town to visit all their wonderful new and very welcoming pals.

In her funny tale of overcoming fears and gaining acceptance, with gently humorous illustrations full of wonderful details to delight and linger over, the author portrays an unusual friendship that should, if not endear readers to Squamata such as Otis, at least help overcome their angst about them.

Stuck for more summer reading for your children? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Cyril and Pat

Cyril and Pat
Emily Gravett
Two Hoots

The super-talent that is Emily Gravett adds another book to her roster of read aloud crackers.

It stars a squirrel named Cyril, a lonely creature until that is, he meets Pat, another ‘squirrel’.
Thereafter the two spend happy times together in Lake Park inventing fun games, putting on puppet shows, skate-boarding and playing Hide-and-seek and Pigeon Sneak.

Cyril is completely oblivious to the outward differences between them despite being told time and again that his friend is not like him.

So what, I can hear you thinking; it was certainly my reaction.
Eventually though, Cyril heeds the negative comments of the other animals and he and Pat part company.

Inevitably Cyril is lonely once more: those games are no fun when played all by himself and he leaves the park putting himself in great danger.

Will he now realise his mistake and find his erstwhile friend once more?

Worry not: the author in her inimitable way provides a wonderful resolution that is altogether satisfying for both her main characters and her audience, although not for pooch, Slim, pursuer of the friends throughout most of the book.

Yes, this fine friendship story is wonderfully funny and stunningly illustrated in lush colours, but like all good stories it raises questions for readers to ponder as well as an important unspoken environmental message. (Love the Tidy rubbish bin.)

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel & Gretel
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots

Most children are familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel wherein the siblings are cast out from their home into the forest where they encounter a wicked witch; but in her latest fairytale reworking, Bethan Woollvin mischievously turns the tale completely on its head.
Here it’s Willow, a very good witch, who follows a trail of breadcrumbs dropped by the brother and sister.

She sees those breadcrumbs as messy and likely to lead vermin to her gingerbread home. Her request that they tidy up is ignored and she’s left to do the job herself, but- ‘Willow did not get angry, because Willow was a good witch.’

On returning home she finds Hansel and Gretel tucking into her house, literally, but despite their appalling behaviour, instead of being angry she invites them into her home for dinner; they must be very hungry she tells herself .

Rather than being grateful for her hospitality, the gluttonous children continue pushing Willow to the limits of her patience until finally, she does get angry.

The totally unexpected and wonderfully dark and humorous finale is spl-utterly delicious.

In her striking signature graphic style and limited colour palette, Bethan Woollvin has again produced a wonderfully witty visual narrative from simple shapes and textures. I love the scattering of birds and tiny animals watching the events from the vegetation that somehow make you pay attention to those stark shapes both large and small. Love the clever endpapers too.

Perhaps not for the most faint-hearted, but I can’t imagine many listeners not devouring this one and asking for more.

Stonkingly brilliant!

I Am Bat

I Am Bat
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

Morag Hood is a visual storyteller par excellence and in her usual fashion, she couples that with a minimal text of perfectly chosen words.

With his Dracula-style teeth, Bat is a somewhat irascible character and he most definitely does not like mornings. What he does like though are cherries, lovely juicy red ones and he guards them fiercely.

Woe betide any creature that so much as touches even one; that will cause bat to unleash leonine-like ferocity.

Surprisingly though, Bat leaves his precious cherries unguarded and they start to disappear.
Readers, although not Bat, will be quick to notice that the culprits are animals; he even has the cheek to accuse us having stolen his hoard.

I will never be happy again,” he declares; but then what should appear right before his eyes but a luscious alternative.

Fickle Bat now has a new favourite fruit to sink his fangs into.

Who could fail to have a good laugh at this small melodrama: an utterly batty book that will have a wide audience appeal.

Old Hat

Old Hat
Emily Gravett
Two Hoots
There’s certainly nothing old hat about Emily Gravett: her latest offering simply brims over with that droll sense of humour she has.
Are you a slavish follower of fashion, no matter whether or not the latest styles are right for you? Do you use clothes to express your personality or are they a means of hiding that true self? This is the question explored herein.
Harbet has a practical hat, a warm cosy, much loved one, knitted by his Nana; but teased by his so-called friends, he discards what they tell him is ‘OLD HAT’ and sets about becoming a follower of fashion.
The problem so splendidly examined has him sporting ever more outrageous styles of titfer. There are some absolutely amazing styles to feast your eyes on: the vitamin-loaded, high fibre fruity kinds are most tasteful …

and the intricately drawn, elaborate nautical styles are truly mind blowing.

The trouble is once he’s left the hat shop, his particular model is already so OLD HAT!

What is a chap to do? There’s only one thing for it: Harbet must eschew all forms of headwear and set his own trend.
Hats off to Harbet for learning a crucial lesson about celebrating one’s own uniqueness rather than trying to be like others, a dedicated follower of fashion.
This is one that will be appreciated by adults as much as young readers, and might well spark off some millinery manipulation in the nursery or classroom.

I’ve signed the charter  

Rapunzel

Rapunzel
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots
The witch in Bethan Woollvin’s alternative version of Rapunzel has a good little business going: she snips off lengths of the girl’s golden tresses and sells them.

Keeping Rapunzel locked up in the high tower she threatens her with a curse should she dare to attempt an escape.
With Rapunzel however, the evil woman has more than met her match. Far from being fazed by such threats she’s positively emboldened.
If the witch can ascend using her captive’s hair, then the girl can descend by the same means; and so she does.
Once free Rapunzel explores the forest, forms a friendship and hatches a plan.

No it isn’t with a handsome prince: this wily young miss is more than capable of managing her own fate. She’s determined to get the better of the old hag. Thus it’s Rapunzel, not the witch who wields the tonsorial scissors and sacrifices her flowing locks ridding herself of her jailor once and for all.

Then with the aid of her forest friend, she embarks upon her very own witch hunt.
Again Bethan Woollvin uses a limited colour palette – black, grey and yellow on an expansive white background to dramatic effect for her fairy tale rendition. Her assured lines and minimalist shapes are rendered in gouache and she injects subtle humour into every scene: the flies bothering the frog, the abandoned sock on the floor, and more darkly, her subversive heroine continuing to show no fear in the face of her captor’s threats, standing meekly before her with her intended weapon of witch destruction hidden behind her back.
Make sure you check out the endpapers too: the hunted of the front ones becomes the hunter at the back.

I’ve signed the charter  

Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs
Nadine Brun-Cosme and Aurélie Guillerey
Two Hoots
Matty’s Dad drives him to nursery; that’s what he always does; but on this particular morning their old green car has had starting problems. So, when Dad drops the boy off, young Matty is more than a little troubled. “What if the car doesn’t start again?” he wants to know. Dad’s response is that he’ll borrow their neighbour’s red tractor. Now most youngsters would, I suspect, be thrilled at this idea but not Matty. He comes back with another what if … ? Seems this little guy is something of a worrier; either that or he enjoys exploring ‘what if’ possibilities for pretty soon, Dad has had his alternative modes of transport – a ride on the back of Matty’s old teddy; an airlift by the garden birds; a sailing boat with water supplied by a neighbour’s garden hose …

hopping rabbits under his feet and a dragon flight all countered by further ‘what ifs’ on his son’s part.
Matty seems determined to have the last words. Has his Dad finally run out of ideas?

Is he stuck at nursery trying to reassure his child until it’s time to go home? Or is there perhaps one particular personal attribute that he can always depend on, and thus finally allay Matty’s fears.
With its echoes of Hush Little Baby (the Mocking Bird Song) this reassuring tale is perfect for sharing with young children, particularly those of an anxious disposition. Having taught both nursery and reception age classes I am aware that there are always fears lurking in the minds of a few individuals; so this is a book to have on hand in any early years setting to allay any doubts that niggle: no matter what, Dad, (or Mum, or another special person) will always come for them.
All children will enjoy the give and take with its escalating chain of fanciful notions; and be amused by Guillerey’s wonderful retro illustrations of Dad’s responses.
A good one to give Dads on their special day.

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When Grandad was a Penguin / Snip Snap Croc

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When Grandad Was a Penguin
Morag Hood
Two Hoots
When is a Grandad not a Grandad? That’s the dilemma facing a little girl when she goes to visit her Grandad. His behaviour seems somewhat out of character, he looks a trifle different, he keeps talking about fishing, his clothes are ill fitting and he keeps turning up in unlikely places such as …

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Could it perhaps be his age? Fishy indeed.
Can a timely phone call, followed by a trip to the zoo, sort things out? Grandad certainly looks at home in his icy surroundings, so will he agree to another change of environment?

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Unlike the child protagonist in this latest Morag Hood delight, young readers and listeners will happily go along with the whole crazy situation, aware that they’re being taken for a ride, so to speak; and they’ll certainly have a good giggle over the silly scenarios. Best shared with a Grandad, but shared it needs to be. The restricted colour palette, controlled ink and lino print scenes and a simple direct text delivered by the child narrator combine to make a delectably droll drama …

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and that final twist is inspired.

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Snip Snap Croc
Caroline Castle and Claire Shorrock
QED
This tale takes us to the River Nile, where, should you happen to be wandering along its banks, you might encounter Snip Snap Croc. If so beware: this creature boasts of sixty snip snipping teeth just waiting to ‘nip, nip, nip’. Mama Baboon, Mama Meerkat,

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and Mama Lion, whose homes are along the river all urge their little ones to stay close to their sides.
On the bank meanwhile Snip Snap Croc is busily engaged digging and very soon TAP! TAP TAP! and out come …

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Soon she has twenty three new born baby crocs to take care of; but it looks as though she’s gobbling them up – at least, that’s what the other baby animals think …

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Mama Croc – the newest mama on the riverbank has a secret though – a protective one; and once she has moved her offspring to a suitable spot, she opens her enormous jaws and plop, plop, plop: out come the twenty three babes, with a word of warning from their mama, “Stay close by me and / no harm you’ll meet./ For I love you more/ than the river is deep.” As it is with the other mothers, so it is with Snip Snap Croc. Now, as day gives way to evening, all the animals know they can rest content that night.
The text moves in and out of rhyme as the story flows merrily along and Claire Shorrock’s illustrations have a droll humour about them, which adds to the enjoyment of the shared joke between author and readers.

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A Perfect Day

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A Perfect Day
Lane Smith
Two Hoots
What makes a perfect day? Seemingly it depends on your perspective: for the animals in young Bert’s care, that’s certainly the case. For Cat it’s basking in the daffodil bed feeling the warmth of the sun on your back; for Dog it’s sitting in a cool paddling pool. Bird’s perfect day is a feeder full of birdseed and for Squirrel, there’s nothing better than a tasty corncob to nibble on.

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Life is pretty peachy in Bert’s garden on this day.
Enter stage left, Bear, an enormous hulk of a beast that comes lumbering across the garden (and the page) …

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totally sabotaging their idyll, and entirely unaware of so doing. It WAS a perfect day for Cat, Dog, Bird, and Squirrel: but now who is having the perfect day, full, after devouring the food of others, cooled by the water from the pool and dozing in the warm sunshine?

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And the perfect picture book? This one is surely a contender, (as was the author’s There is a Tribe of Kids). Lane Smith’s glorious textural illustrations are masterful in so many ways. They’re imbued with that sardonic wit of his; then there’s the way his ursine character takes centre stage, filling the spreads as he pursues his own pleasures, pleasures so satisfyingly portrayed through those blissful expressions; and the beautiful pastel colour palette. Added to all this, is the simplicity of the playful text with its equally satisfying repetition that is so perfect for reading aloud and for learner readers.
Yes, for me, this IS certainly a perfect picture book.

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How to Find a Friend / Flying Lemurs

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How To Find a Friend
Maria S. Costa
Oxford University Press
I love the double narrative style of this, Maria Costa’s debut picture book. Herein we follow the search for friendship of Squirrel and Rabbit, both of whom have just moved into new abodes. The trouble is (despite the  stage whispers from a pair of bit-part players) the two animals are just not looking in the right places. Listeners will delight in the manner in which we’re shown the unfolding dramas of the two main characters, one in full colour, the other in outline, highlighting their invisibility to one another: It’s all very hit and miss – or rather hit …

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and hit …

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Children will love the mismatch between words and pictures as well as the fact they can use the story maps at the front and back of the book to track the action and the crossed paths of the main characters.
Maria Costa’s linocut illustrations are terrific fun: her use of a limited colour palette is particularly effective in highlighting this small drama of flipsides, folly and friendship – eventually. And I particularly love that when the going gets tough, Squirrel finds solace in his books …

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That, and the gentle irony of the whole thing.

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Flying Lemurs
Zehra Hicks
Two Hoots
The lemurs are a talented jumping family: Mum on the trapeze, Dad the trampoline and Granny is an ace cannon jumper. There’s one little lemur however, who just cannot jump at all. Other family members encourage …

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and demonstrate …

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but the result is DISASTER  – always …

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Fortunately, her family is sympathetic and even more encouraging …

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so can their little one finally cut it as a rocket jumper?
This funny story is just the thing for those who strive but find things challenging; it demonstrates beautifully how it is possible to overcome your fears, unlock your personal aptitudes and find your own forte.
Zehra Hicks’s illustrations, be they in strip format, whole page or full spread, are wonderfully chucklesome and I love her choice of colour palette; it’s absolutely right for the circus setting.

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Be Who You Are

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Introducing Teddy
Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
There’s been a fair bit about gender identity and transitioning in the media of late; finally it has become more acceptable: now here is a picture book on the theme. It’s subtitled ‘A story about being yourself’ and this is what it celebrates: something that is of vital importance to us all, whoever we are. Equally it’s a celebration of friendship and in particular the friendship between Thomas the teddy and his pal, Errol who play together every day.

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One day though, Teddy seems sad. Errol hopes a trip to the park will cheer him up …
but even the swing doesn’t work its usual magic. “What’s wrong, Thomas? Talk to me!” Errol urges.

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And reluctantly Thomas explains. “I need to be myself … In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy. I wish my name was Tilly, not Thomas.” Like the true friend that he is, Errol assures his pal that no matter what, Teddy and henceforward Tilly, is his friend. And when another friend, Ava arrives on the scene, Errol introduces the re-named Tilly to her. After minor adjustments to her adornments, Tilly joins the others in a session of swinging, see-sawing and generally enjoying being themselves …

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Tenderly told and empathetically portrayed with just the right degree of gentle humour, this is a book to share with young children at home or in school.

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Colin and Lee Carrot and Pea
Morag Hood
Two Hoots
Lee is a small green pea; Colin isn’t. Unlike all Lee’s other pals, Colin is a tall carrot stick. They’re close friends despite the fact that Colin isn’t any good at rolling, bouncing …

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or playing hide and seek with the other peas. He does however make a superb tower as well as …

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all of which combine to make him a smashing individual to have as a friend: those unique carroty characteristics are what count where friendship is concerned.
In this quirky celebration of individuality, Morag Hood – with her unlikely characters – brings a fresh spin on uniqueness and being yourself, whatever you are. I love the fact that she created her funny collage and paint pictures with the help of supermarket plastic bags. A great debut; I eagerly anticipate what comes next.
As well as being a great book to share in an early years setting, the simplicity of the text makes it ideal for beginning readers: they surely deserve unique books not dull, uninspiring fodder.

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There is a Tribe of Kids

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There is a Tribe of Kids
Lane Smith
Two Hoots
Connectedness is a longing that we all feel and it’s this need to belong that starts Lane Smith’s child protagonist off on a journey exploring the natural world through a day and a night, as he searches for that vital connectness. He begins on a craggy mountainside where we see him in the swirling snow, almost completely concealed among the TRIBE of KIDS. The kids leave him one after the other and our protagonist moves on and soon finds himself face to face with a penguin. This penguin takes him to a COLONY of PENGUINS that lead the lad in a merry dance and more

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until he finds himself plunging beneath the ocean where he mirrors the movements of a SMACK of JELLYFISH before being rescued by a POD of WHALES, seized by an UNKINDNESS of RAVENS and left alone on a FORMATION of ROCKS. Rocks from which he tumbles into a rubbish pile and thence, by some acrobatic manoeuvring, into a jungly GROWTH of PLANTS. There he has encounters with a whole array of marchers and musicians large and small …

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until a sudden torrential downpour halts him temporarily and he comes nose to nose with a caterpillar,

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and then …

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His wanting to connect however, drives him further until at nightfall we see him standing on a moonlit shore and thereon he sleeps till morning, discovers a trail of shells that lead him at last, to the where place he knows he should stay.

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A Place where he can be and belong: and there, let the wild dance begin …
Here, in this celebration of playfulness, acceptance, belonging and sharing is Lane Smith at his creative best and the whole thing is ingeniously built around collective nouns.
I urge you to get hold of a copy of this wonderful book and look, look and look again and then keep on looking. With its puns – visual and verbal – this is most definitely one to savour.

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Tidy

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Tidy
Emily Gravett
Two Hoots
Meet Pete – an unlikely name for one of his kind. This forest dweller is a tidiness fanatic: he detangles fox’s fur, grooms all the birds, sweeps, vacuums …

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and even polishes the rocks. Autumn is a particularly trying time for our badger friend.

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But our zealous leaf sweeper-upper hits upon what looks like the perfect solution to the ‘bare and scrappy’ trees he’s left with.

 

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But then, down comes the rain which becomes a flood with its inevitable aftermath …

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I don’t think those particular tools are going to cut it Pete!
No matter: here comes another of those practically perfect solutions …

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How though is Pete to satisfy his longing for a well-deserved treat, let alone get into his sett? …

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Time for a spot of hunger-induced thinking I suggest, and come morning operation restoration is in full force …

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With its gift-to-the-reader-aloud, rhyming text and an abundance of visual humour, Emily Gravett’s latest offering is an example par excellence of how such vital themes as the importance of forests and the dangers of deforestation can be delivered without the tiniest bit of preachiness creeping in. What we have here is a wonderfully funny cautionary tale of the environmental kind, that is bound to delight young listeners and those who share it with them equally.
There is so much to discuss, and to see in the details of the scenes …

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(including the gorgeous panoramic cover and lovely endpapers) you’ll need several readings to begin to do justice to this one.

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Little Red

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Little Red
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots
Ever since seeing the publisher’s press notices about this one last year I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival and boy was it worth the wait. That wolf is a wolf to beat all wolves,

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but not Little Red Riding Hood: wait I’m getting ahead of myself here. First off, let’s meet, clad as one would expect, the young miss, as she’s about to set off in the usual way through the woods to visit her poorly Grandma.

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Pretty soon, she’s accosted by this nosy creature demanding to know where she’s going; but is she bothered by the fearsome beast? No way! She replies politely and proceeds on her journey leaving wolfie behind with a plan in his tricky mind …

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Behind initially, but the cunning beast knows a shortcut so he hot foots it to Grandma’s making short work of her before Little Red arrives, donning her night attire and adopting what he hopes is a suitably Grandmotherly pose in her bed. ‘Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.’
There’s no fooling our young heroine though; she immediately sees through his disguise and she too makes a plan. Then, playing along with all the usual “Oh Grandma! What big ears you have” etc. chat,

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and armed with a certain sharp implement she just happens to have picked up along the way, she calmly executes her own plan and off she goes back home to mum.

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I simply love the way the young heroine grabs hold of the story and subverts it to her own ends in Bethan Woollvin’s stonkingly brilliant debut picture book. The comic timing is spot on in this black comedy recreation of the nursery favourite making it one that will appeal to anyone familiar with the traditional story. Those arresting visuals will remain in the mind long, long after the book has been closed. Bethan’s narrative voice is pitch perfect and her title choice perfectly summarises her judicious use of colour in this otherwise black and white delight. Little Red will, I suspect, be much read.

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