The New Girl

The New Girl
Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher
Graffeg

Softly spoken, sensitively rendered and enormously moving is Nicola and Cathy’s latest picture book narrated by a member of the class into which the new girl arrives ‘wrapped up like a parcel’ and not understanding a word that was said by her classmates.

Almost unbelievably, the newcomer is set apart to eat her lunch on account of its ‘funny’ smell and as school ends she walks away quite alone. This cruel behaviour continues day after day as winter arrives bringing with it dark and dreariness.

Then one day into that dark something wonderful appears on the teacher’s desk.

Each day after that another one appears somewhere in the classroom bringing with it feelings of warmth and cheer until the beautiful objects stop coming.

At their teacher’s suggestion, the children start trying to make their own paper flowers, the narrator unsuccessfully … until the new girl shows her how.

Flower making isn’t all that’s learned in that classroom on that particular day though; so too is a new language and the importance of accepting difference, of understanding and of friendship …

Cathy Fisher’s illustrations are startlingly realistic, full of feeling and atmosphere – the ideal complement to Nicola’s text.

Primary classrooms should definitely add this to their collections.

There’s Room for Everyone

There’s Room For Everyone
Anahita Teymorian
Tiny Owl

The narrator of this book, whom we first meet in his mother’s womb, takes us through his growing understanding of the notion that no matter how small or large, space can always be shared, so long as those involved are empathetic, understanding and willing to accommodate others.

The boy observes the plethora of toys that fit into his bedroom, the sky that contains all the stars and the moon, the garden that has room for all the birds and the library that can hold all the books he wants to read and more.

As a grown-up, he takes to the sea exploring the world. On his travels he sees the plethora of fish (and whales) the sea can contain; the places on land that are home to vast numbers of animals.

Sadly however, he also observes humans fighting for space – on public transport,

at places of work, in loos even; and much worse, fighting wars over territory.

However, his travels have, as travels do, widened his horizons and his understanding of the best way to live, and it’s that crucial understanding he shares on the final spread.

I read this book on a lovely sunny morning, having just returned from Waitrose where I observed in the car park an interaction between two car owners. One belonging to an elderly couple, who had parked their car in one of the comparatively few spaces allocated for those with infants and pushchairs. (The rest were already in use). The other was a large estate car driven by a man (presumably with a child on board, though I couldn’t see). He was blocking the access to all the parking spaces while in the process of being extremely verbally abusive to the couple just getting into their car: the language he hurled at them isn’t fit to be included here. The car park had plenty of other empty spaces. I thought to myself how ridiculous and unthinking the guy was being, swearing horribly at the two, who were just getting back into their car anyway. Yes, perhaps technically they were in the wrong; but surely it was a demonstration of what the essence of Anahita Teymorian’s heart-warming, and oh so true picture book is showing us and what its narrator shares on the final spread: ‘If we are kinder, and if we love each other then, in this beautiful world, there’s room for everyone.’

Looking further outwards though, the book is also a pertinent reminder of our sad, for some, inward-looking BREXIT times, as well as of the way our country now appears a hostile place for those looking to live here, be that as refugees and asylum seekers, those with medical skills, seasonal workers, musicians, artists or whatever.

Beautifully illustrated with a quirky humour, its messages of kindness, peace and understanding, of altruism and sharing what we have, are crucial reminders for all who care about humanity at large, rather than just their own little niche.

Let’s break down boundaries, not only here but in other parts of the world where barriers, real and virtual, are set up for selfish, inward-looking reasons.

Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star

Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star
Maria Farrer, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Oxford University Press

Mister P is back and now he’s dropped into young Ruby’s already packed life. With absent father, a mother and a little brother Leo to take care of, let alone attending school, her days and nights are pretty jam-packed and there certainly isn’t room in it, or their not very big flat, for a large white furry polar bear.

He’s certainly not what she had in mind when she made that wish for a birthday surprise. The trouble is, having drifted down in a hot-air balloon and landed in the nearby park, it doesn’t look as though he’s going anywhere in a hurry.
Thank goodness then for kindly neighbour, Mrs Moresby, who’s not averse to supplying the odd packet or so of fish fingers.

Activities as diverse as busking (to raise money to repay Mrs Moresby), and skateboarding (Ruby is a fan on account of her father and eager to improve her skills; Mr P. needs four skateboards and he’s pretty inept but determined) feature large and very large.

‘Perseverance, guts, determination, friends’ those are the requisites for Connor to be a skateboarder. They’re also what Ruby deems she needs to survive.

Survive she does and much more, emerging by the end, emotionally stronger, with a greater self understanding and generally an all round better person, thanks in no small part to Mister P. a character that utters not a word throughout the whole story, but also thanks to Mrs Moresby, an understanding headteacher and new friend Connor.

This fine book encompasses a number of themes including empathy, tolerance, acceptance and diversity, all of which are subtly woven into the story that also includes the needs of young carers. It’s beautifully illustrated by Daniel Rieley.

Julian is a Mermaid

Julian is a Mermaid
Jessica Love
Walker Books

Here’s a picture book that transcends so many boundaries seemingly effortlessly delivering a powerful punch, or rather several, through a wonderfully empathetic affirming story and richly coloured, heart-stoppingly beautiful, watercolour and gouache illustrations.

On a ride home one day with his Nana, Julian sees three mermaids, or that’s what he considers them to be. When they enter his carriage, the boy is totally transfixed – he LOVES mermaids.
We then join him in a wordless 3-spread daydream that shows the boy becoming a mermaid swept along in a mass of sea creatures.

Once back home, while his Nana showers, Julian sets to work: he adorns his hair with palm fronds and flowers, applies some make-up and fashions a flowing tail, transforming himself into a fabulous mermaid.

What will his Nana’s reaction be though? His anxiety is palpable when she returns and we’re left momentarily, as unsure as Julian. Is he in trouble? Shamed perhaps?

Then comes her reaction and it’s truly what we’re longing for …

With the boy’s transformation complete, Nana leads him to a place filled with other people like him.
(I must add here that it’s not only the main characters that are so ‘real’: just look at the people they pass: their portrayal is genius).

An awesome unforgettable tale of non-conformity, understanding, acceptance and belonging; it speaks to the desire for love and understanding in us all, no matter who we are.

A book to be shared and celebrated by anyone and everyone, young or not so young and amazingly, this is Jessica Love’s debut picture book – wow!

Little Mole is a Whirlwind

Little Mole is a Whirlwind
Anna Llenas
Templar Books

I’ve had a Little Mole in some of the classes I’ve taught over the years: ADHD, whether or not it’s so labelled, is challenging for all involved but underneath the child who is at times making you feel deskilled is usually a youngster who is desperately trying to reach out for reassurance and help. It’s certainly the case in this new story from Anna Llenas.

With his bounding, bouncing and bellowing, Little Mole exhausts his parents.

At school he finds it almost impossible to concentrate and is constantly distracted, fiddling, fidgeting and forgetting so it’s no surprise that his classmates shun him. Sadly the little creature has all sorts of labels assigned to him.

His teacher is at the end of her tether; try as she might, she just can’t help Little Mole to focus.

A note goes home asking for a parental conference but almost simultaneously a newspaper is delivered advertising the services of ‘Serena the Forest Bunny’ offering ‘creative learning for wonderful children’. Could this be the answer?

Little Mole’s parents take him to meet Serena who thinks she might be able to help.

The following day Little Mole tells her about his worries regarding his end-of-year project, about his inability to stay focussed and his lack of friends.

In response Serena takes him to a room filled with creative materials and gives Little Mole free rein. At first he’s over-excited and soon chaos reigns.

Serena remains calm and supportive both then and on subsequent visits as they play, cook …

and even stargaze. Most importantly though, they talk, and gradually over the course of several months his concentration span increases.
Serena helps her pupil discover what he really likes to do and with her reassurance that he’s wonderful just the way he is, Little Mole is ready to work on that end-of-year project.

Come the last day of term his teacher has a wonderful surprise when it comes to project showing time. Little Mole has finally found his passion and his outlook on the world is completely changed.

Anna Llenas understands all this so well and her story, with her trademark collage style illustrations, portrays Little Mole as a thoroughly likeable character deserving of the tolerance and understanding shown by Serena.

This Zoo is Not for You

This Zoo is Not for You
Ross Collins
Nosy Crow

A misunderstanding is at the heart of Ross Collins’ latest picture book.
It stars a bus-driving platypus who arrives at the zoo on a day when interviews for new admissions are in progress.
He’s duly made to put up with a series of scrutinies by some very self-important residents.
First off is panda, Chi Chi an enormous creature propped up by a large heap of self-promotional items, who disdainfully utters, ‘To get me here / was quite a coup. But you don’t even / eat bamboo. I think this zoo / is not for you.

All the other animals are in agreement. The flamingos liken him to a ‘worn-out shoe’; the monkeys bombard him with poo;

his lack of colour displeases the chameleons and elephant instantly fails him on account of his diminutive stature.
Off goes platypus; the interviewers confer and eventually a monkey actually bothers to open and read platypus’s dropped communication.

Is it too late to make amends?
This playful tale, told in jaunty rhyming couplets accompanied by splendidly eloquent illustrations is a delight to read aloud and destined to become a storytime favourite. With its inherent themes of difference, understanding and acceptance, there is so much food for thought and discussion.

Henry and Boo!

Henry and Boo!
Megan Brewis
Child’s Play
When Boo intrudes upon Henry’s peaceful tea break one day, the floppy-eared character is far from pleased; even less so when Boo resists Henry’s instructions to leave. The only response issuing from the little rabbit is “Boo!” Now that’s no way to win friends surely, but there you are; it’s what the pesky bun. insists on doing over and over. What’s a chap to do when Boo follows him everywhere …

and does everything he does – even headstands? Not a good idea for a little bunny, nor is intruding on the cake making, washing up (think I’d allow that one) and vacuuming – ditto, so long as Boo took a share of driving the machine …

Ignoring just has no effect: Boo pops up everywhere you can imagine, and everywhere you probably can’t and try as he might, all he gets is the cold shoulder.
Hello, what’s  peeping out from behind the tree, right by that sign?

Eventually Henry runs out of Boo-avoiding strategies; even hiding in a box doesn’t do the Boo-banishing trick: the ‘boos’ merely increase. Then as a last desperate measure Henry is about to despatch the intruder when events take a dramatic turn …
Perhaps Boo has some uses after all (that’s in addition to giving audiences irresistible Boo’ opportunities) Could what began as a total no-go situation, perhaps be the start of a wonderful new friendship? …
You’ll certainly have your audiences eagerly joining in with that irresistible oft repeated ‘Boo’ as they relish this super story with its enchantingly quirky characters, so deliciously illustrated and with important themes of understanding and friendship.

I’ve signed the charter