Tag Archives: visual humour

Roald Dahl’s 123 & Roald Dahl’s Opposites

Roald Dahl’s 123
Roald Dahl’s Opposites

illustrated by Quentin Blake
Puffin Books

‘Board books with bite’ announces the accompanying press release.

Said bite comes courtesy of The Enormous Crocodile that features large and very toothily in both books.

Toddlers can have some enjoyable counting practice along with the little ‘chiddlers’ – 10 in all, who co-star in the 123 along with the wicked-looking croc. that, having spied some tasty looking fare while lurking in the undergrowth, then disguises himself as a roundabout ride, a palm tree, a seesaw and a picnic bench.

And all the while he’s biding his time, waiting to sate his lunchtime appetite: oh my goodness those gaping jaws, those vicious-looking teeth.

Will the 10 chiddlers cease their play and beat a hasty retreat before they become 1 Enormous Crocodile’s next meal?

Fifteen opposites are demonstrated, thanks to the creatures big and not so big that feature in the second book, along with of course, a certain Crocodile.

On alternate spreads, this book has foliage of different kinds, behind which are hidden a ‘little’ mouse, the ‘upside down’ crocodile, the same crocodile now snapping through a ‘low’ tree trunk, as well as a ’light’ frog leaping.

But what will the wily Crocodile snap ‘closed’ his enormous jaws upon? That question is answered on the final page.

The countless parents who were brought up on the originals will relish the opportunity to share these new incarnations with their offspring. Clearly the intended toddler audience of the board books will not be familiar with Roald Dahl’s characters and Quentin Blake’s iconic images of same, but they will still delight in language such as the BFG ‘childdlers’ and the storyline of both the counting book and the opposites.

Look for Ladybird in Plant City

Look for Ladybird in Plant City
Katherina Manolessou
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There seems to be an ever-increasing number of ‘search-and-find books’ of late: here’s one from rising star, Katherina Manolessou that really caught my eye for its zany, action-packed illustrations.
When Daisy’s pet ladybird – a rather cheeky little creature – goes missing, she enlists the help of Basil, Plant City’s best detective.
Then with notes duly written by Basil, and appropriate tools in hand, the two begin a frantic search for the lost minibeast.
It’s a search that takes them through the entire city starting at Big Bones School, then moving on to the station, the museum,

the funfair, restaurants, the plant nursery. That would seem a likely place with its abundance of insect life; but there’s no sign of Ladybird. Actually, there is, but Basil and Daisy fail to find him, as they do in all the other locations; though that is part of what makes the book such fun.

Readers however, will eventually discover Ladybird’s whereabouts on every spread; or if not, they can always look at the answers inside the back cover.
In addition to the missing pet, there are five bees, five grey mice, someone crying and someone sleeping, all of which are waiting to be discovered at each place the detectives search, plus all the items printed in capital letters in the narrative for each venue.
I say ‘detectives’ in the plural because, as well as recovering Ladybird at the end of the search, Basil makes Daisy an offer she can’t refuse and that, I suspect, means more cases are to follow.
I spent ages poring over the wealth of details in each of the ten locations: every one has signs to read, visual jokes

and a plethora of diverting happenings which I’m sure, young readers will enjoy as much as this reviewer did.
Between the covers of this book lies rich potential for language development, but more important, it’s enormous fun.

It’s Time For School

               Here’s a handful of picture books, each with a school setting, albeit a somewhat unlikely one in the first three.

First Day at Skeleton School
Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Following on from First Day at Bug School, Sam Lloyd moves deep into the dark forest for her new school-based offering. (Some of my listeners recognised the illustrative style having spotted it on my table and eagerly pounced on the book demanding an immediate reading.)
Skeleton School doesn’t restrict its intake to skeletons though; all manner of creepy pupils are to be found here in this night-time educational establishment run by one, Mr Bones who stands ready and waiting to welcome newcomers (and readers).
I’m happy to see that there’s a school library, albeit a haunted one; but at least one of the pupils needs to learn some appropriate behaviour – maybe she just hasn’t learned to read yet.
The curriculum includes a jingle jangle dance class with the skeletons, how to float through walls, ghost style and spell making, which has some surprising outcomes, not least for Mr Bones.

Sam Lloyd gives full rein to her imagination and in addition to the zany storyline delivered in her rhyming text, provides a visual extravaganza for young listeners to explore and chuckle over.
The endpapers cutaway spread of the school interior will definitely illicit lots of giggles not least over the toilet humour.

More crazy happenings in:

School for Little Monsters
Michelle Robinson and Sarah Horne
Side by side stand two schools, one for monsters, the other for ‘nice boys and girls’. The question is which one is which? And if it’s your first day, how do you know you’re in the right school, especially when some little monsters have been up to a spot of mischief making?
No matter which door you enter, there are some rules to abide by – fourteen in all;

and the whole day is assuredly, a steep learning curve for both human and monster newcomers; and has more than a sprinkling of the kind of gently subversive humour (bums, poo, trumps and bottoms) that young children relish.
Riotous scenes from Sarah Horne showing the pupils’ interpretations of Michelle Robinson’s rhyming rules in this read aloud romp.

Old friends return in:

Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School
Simon Puttock and Ali Pye
Nosy Crow
Cat, Bat, Owl and Mouse are not newcomers to Miss Moon’s Moonlight School; they already know about the importance of sharing; but listening? Certainly Cat still has a lot to learn where this vital skill is concerned.
On this particular night Miss Moon is taking her class on a nature walk to look for ‘interesting things’. She issues instructions for the pupils to walk in twos and to stay together. “Nobody must wander off,” she warns.
Before long, it becomes apparent that Cat has done just that. She’s spied a firefly and follows it until it settles far from the others, on a flower.

Suddenly though her delight gives way to panic: where are her classmates and teacher?
All ends happily with Cat’s friends using their observation skills until they’ve tracked her down; and the importance of listening having been impressed upon Cat once again, they return to school with their findings.
Ali Pye’s digital illustrations are full of shadows brightened by the moon and stars and Miss Moon’s lantern, illuminating for listeners and readers, the delightful details of the natural world on every spread.
Puttock and Pye seem to have a winning formula here: my young listeners immediately recognised the characters and responded enthusiastically to the sweet story.

Now back to reality:

Going to School
Rose Blake
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The pupil here is a girl, Rose, who shares with readers a very busy day spent with friends in their primary school class. There’s certainly a lot to pack in for our narrator, her classmates and their teacher, Miss Balmer: geography, art, English, maths, PE, science, computing and drama.
Fortunately though, it appears to be an active curriculum …

and Miss Balmer reads a story to the children in the “Book Nook’. Hurray!
Seemingly all of the children have firm ideas about their future paths and what they want to become. This is reflected in their choice of activities at work and play: visual clues as to what these are occur throughout the book.
Rose Blakes’s digitally worked spreads are full of visual narratives offering much to interest and discuss, and though this certainly isn’t a first ever day at school book, she certainly makes school look an exciting place to be.

I’ve signed the charter  

Let’s Find Fred


dscn9950Let’s Find Fred
Steven Lenton
It’s early evening in Garden City Zoo; all the animals are snuggled up ready for sleep, all that is except one. Fred is anything but ready for his bedtime story; in fact he’s off on an adventure … albeit with zookeeper Fred on his trusty old motor scooter, in hot pursuit. The latter’s view is more than a little impeded by a large bus allowing the escapee to have a whole lot of fun making new friends, enjoying a musical interlude and sampling some yummy ice cream while his pursuer makes himself look somewhat silly with a spot of mistaken identity at the market.


Next stop for Stanley is the park where his requests for help in his search for Fred result in his having to negotiate the complex Pand-a-Maze.
Fred’s thirst for fun isn’t yet sated so he heads for the dizzying delights of the Funfair – from which he suddenly needs to make a hasty exit.


There follows a frantic chase through the Art Gallery and out towards a panda party. But is Fred there? That is the question. …


With plenty of Panda-puns and other word play scattered throughout the action-packed scenes; and visual references to famous paintings including a Warhol and the Mona Lisa; as well as the Fab. Four …


there’s plenty to absorb and delight both child audiences and adult readers aloud.
PAN-TAS-TIC fun from start to finish.


Bear on a Bike

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Bear on a Bike
Hannah Shaw
Alison Green Books
Meet Bear, an immediately engaging character who has made a scrummy-looking cake for his pal Mouse. But, on arrival at Mouse’s house, he discovers that said friend has already departed, zooming off on his trusty motor scooter. Thus ensues an amazing chase with Bear in hot pursuit having quickly abandoned his bike, bagging rides on all manner of vehicles: a lorry, a bus, a trolley,

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a skateboard, a train,

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a canoe, a crane even. This one deposits our ursine hero onto a steamboat and he then moves to a campervan, a tuk-tuk, (love it!)

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a stately sedan, skis, a biplane, and finally, a parachute that drops him unceremoniously into the welcoming arms – almost – of …

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And you might guess where the meeting takes place.
This one is fab. Totally brilliant. Especially the fact that all the while during the chase, Bear has Mouse in his sights and oh, so nearly within his grasp.
And, even better, it has all the vital elements for beginning readers and some: a hugely enjoyable story, great characters, text perfectly matched to hugely humorous, story-telling pictures (these are visually cumulative in places and every one is a potential starting point for children’s own flights of fancy,) rhyme and rhythm, speech bubbles, signs – great to see a bookshop among them and more…
With its circular structure what more can any one ask?
I have been thinking for some while about re-doing elements of Learning to Read with Picture Books (that I penned as a fledgling teacher) as a weblog. This will be among my very first recommendations thereon.

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Identity Puzzles: My Wild Family/Who Done it?

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My Wild Family
Laurent Moreau
Chronicle Books
On outsized pages, through a first person narrative, readers are introduced to all manner of family members and finally, as she calls herself, the ‘unique’ female narrator.
I have a very special family” we are told on the opening spread and assuredly that is true for the girl then goes on to show each family member as a wild animal. Her older brother is ‘strong and respected’; her younger brother in contrast is ‘flighty and a dreamer, his head often in the clouds.’ Unsurprisingly he’s also an excellent singer.

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Sweet and generous’ her grandmother likes to stay at home whereas her aunt ‘always perfectly primped, never leaves the house without looking her best.’

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The animals themselves are never named; you have to look carefully at the respective scenes – a classroom, busy street, sandy beach, a shopping centre for instance, to discover which one each person is portrayed as.
Friends too get the ‘treatment’: her best female friend ‘makes the best scary faces’

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and, to outrun her record-breaking runner, best male pal, would be well nigh impossible – unless that is, you were another member of the same species.
Audiences will delight in hearing the narrator’s family story and if mine are anything to go by, will be inspired to think about themselves, their own personality traits and those of their families in animal terms. (A lead into the Phillip Pullman daemon idea perhaps.)
Below are two from children I know…

Gracie thought about her younger brother thus

and …


James’ brother is often very amusing …

The retro-modern illustrations have just the right amount of detail and I particularly like the judicious use of red outlines that give an added dimension to the scenes. For sheer energy, my favourite has to be that ‘Cousins’ ‘scene

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and here the text does actually spill the beans as to the animal identity.
The whole thing is imaginative, funny and splendidly thought- and talk-provoking.

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Who Done It?
Olivier Tallec
Chronicle Books
The title question is not one of the twelve posed to young children as they work their way through this unusual shaped book. With his minimalist, not quite static art work, Tallec proffers, all manner of amusing scenarios, interrogating a delightful line-up of characters – human and animal – with such as Who forgot a swimsuit? , Who ate all the jam?


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And, the funniest and favourite with my testers, ‘Who couldn’t hold it? ‘ has a delicious degree of ambiguity but that’s half the fun of the whole thing.

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The same is true of the jam spread. Number one suspect is the jam-spattered fox; but equally the dark haired boy has an enormous grin across his face and the rabbit looks decidedly as if he could throw up at any moment. For those who require certainties, the final page supplies all the ‘correct’ answers.
The allure of this one is great and the promise holds good throughout. Every delightful double spread sets the scene for the development of talk and imaginative storying, culminating in what is probably the most tricky poser of all to decide: Who is in disguise?

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The book’s probably best shared with small groups or individually; and in addition, the predictable nature of the text makes this a good bet for beginning readers.

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Have You Seen Elephant?

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Have you seen Elephant?
David Barrow
Gecko Press
Ever thought of playing a game with an elephant? If you do, just make sure it’s not hide and seek …

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or if there’s no option then don’t let the elephant be first to hide. That’s the mistake the boy makes in this debut, corker of a book from David Barrow. It’s one of those stories where children are in the know almost from the outset and relish so being: they, like the boy’s dog can see all elephant’s hiding places and good as he insists he is, that elephant does choose some pretty ridiculous, albeit creative spots.

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But that’s the fun of it for audiences.
There is visual hilarity in abundance: in some ways elephant is rather like a toddler when it comes to hiding places – if he can’t see the seeker then he can’t be seen. But then that’s the way this book works: we all have to suspend our disbelief and play along with elephant just like one does with a toddler.
Barrow comically times his painted visuals to perfection: every spread is bang on in this respect, as is his use of light and shade. I love the somewhat restrained/muted colour palette with those orange,

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pink and purple hues.
Great family portrait endpapers – make sure you compare front and back. Make sure too that you keep your eye on what the dog’s up to; oh, and watch out for this character:

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he also has a special talent when it comes to games … so he says.
Love it, love it, love it! Assuredly a book to enjoy over and over (and with its minimal text), one beginning readers can, after an initial sharing, try for themselves.
I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what’s next from this extremely talented newcomer who is incidentally, the winner of the Sebastian Walker Award for the most promising children’s illustrator 2015.

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David Mackintosh
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Mum’s announcement of “a surprise at dinner tonight” sends Leo and his big narrator brother into a frenzy of escalating speculation about what it could possibly be.


Quickly those possibilities grow from crinkly chips through tickets to The Amazing YoYo Super Show, a backyard swimming pool to a prize fortnight’s holiday in Hawaii all expenses paid.


This latter idea takes hold and before long seemingly everyone has been told about the family’s good fortune.


Home go the brothers to pack their holiday things but what’s that Mum is shouting …
PIZZASurely not. What about that celebratory free time outside everyone at school was awarded in honour of the prize? How will the boys face everyone again?
Off to the bedroom goes our narrator. Before long though, Leo who has told his parents all, is at the door shouting about a “different surprise”.


A surprise that demonstrates that what you have already – a family who can laugh together – can indeed be sufficient to make you feel lucky.
Another of David Mackintosh’s books wherein he uses humour to make a serious point. The quirky, slightly surreal mixed-media illustrations are genuinely funny and the manipulation of fonts and integration of text within the pictures is inspired. Great stuff!

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Animal Antics


Little E engrossed in Teddy’s bedtime tale

Teddy Bedtime
Georgie Birkett
Andersen Press
In this board book we have some sixty words and seven spreads through which toddlers can enjoy sharing in the bedtime rituals of a trio of teddies plus other toys. Said teds play together then go upstairs for some fun in the bath.


After that , it’s pyjamas on, teeth brushed, storytime and lights out.
A jolly rhymimg text and cute pictures with lots of patterns and items of interest for the very youngest; for bedtimes and other times too.
Buy from Amazon


The Short Giraffe
Neil Flory and Mark Cleary
Allen & Unwin (Murdoch Books) pbk
When photographer Boba the baboon arrives to take a photo of the tallest animals in the world, he is confronted with a poser of a problem. The desired perfect photograph can easily fit in five giraffe faces but what about Geri? The shortest ever giraffe offers to step aside but the others are having none of it; all credit to them. Various ideas are proffered – stilts, stacking,


inverting, inflating and winging him; but none is successful and eventually the giraffes’ ideas are exhausted. Along comes a caterpillar with a seemingly simple solution (children of course, will already have got there).


Then it’s just a case of a bit of repositioning and neck arching and with Geri in the centre front … click! Perfection at last.


There are laughs aplenty in this neatly simple story of inclusion, embracing differences and exploring things from different perspectives.
With touches of slapstick, Cleary’s digitally manipulated images set for the most part, against manila coloured paper which has the effect of making the candy-coloured animals stand out, (and up) are bound to make you smile.
Share with individuals and small groups.
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The Mouse Who Ate the Moon
Petr Horacek
Walker Books
Little Mouse adores the moon, so much so that she longs to have a piece of her very own. One morning when she wakes up, there, just outside her hole is a slice of her heart’s desire – so she thinks. It smells so wonderful that she takes a tiny nibble, and another and …


Oh no! No round moon now. But when she tells Rabbit and Mole her sad news, they say that nobody can eat the moon. A distraught Little Mouse returns to her hole until dark begins to fall when she hears a noise outside. It’s her friends Mole and Rabbit and they have something to show her, something large and shiny and ROUND in the starry sky. Time for a celebratory sharing of the rest of Little Mouse’s portion of moon, they decide. Mmm – delicious!
This cleverly designed book, with its peepholes and cutaway pages build up the scenes and extend the action as the story progresses. Horacek’s striking illustrations are created with a variety of media including wax resist and strong watercolours; the various techniques serve to add depth and texture.


After sharing the story adults may well take the opportunity to examine more closely with their young audiences, how the scenes have been created and this could well inspire children to try out the techniques for their own artistic creations. Not only a charming and amusing story, but a great art lesson in looking.
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Nina orchestrating the story for her sister

The Farmer’s Away! BAA! NEIGH!
Anne Vittur Kennedy
Walker Books
When the farmer’s away, the animals play. What a din they make too as they tell the story in their very own words: a story of their day of boating,


picnicking, switch-back riding, waterskiing, taking a trip in an air balloon and dancing. All that, until ‘ARF, arf, ARF’… dog gives the warning of the farmer’s return.Then it’s a mad dash, a CHARGE and a leap over the fence


and shh shh shhhhhhhh. Phew!


With its only words being those neighs, baas, quacks, arfs, oinks, rees, clucks cheeps, ribbets, quacks, moos and more uttered by the farm animals as they enjoy their anarchic day while the farmer – with the odd hmm hmm or oh dee doh – toils away on his tractor in the fields –, this delightfully silly story will appeal to children’s sense of the ridiculous. They will love joining in to create that animal cacophony (what better way to sharpen up those sound/symbol associations than this?) as well as relishing the shared joke between them and the author.
The watercolour illustrations of the rural scenes are an absolute hoot too.
Leave this one around in your infant classroom and you’ll hear those sounds echoing all over as children have a go at reading the story themselves.
(You might even create and laminate those animal sounds and leave them for the children to orchestrate their own versions of the book. Then what about some masks? small world play maybe … endless possibilities here.)
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