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
Scholastic
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  

Flip Flap Pop-Ups & Who What Where?

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This Or That?
Delphine Chedru
Can You Keep a Straight Face?
Elisa Géhin
What’s Up?
Olivia Cosneau
Thames & Hudson
All three of these playfully interactive little ‘Flip Flap Pop-Up’ books have amazing paper engineering by Bernard Duisit and each is likely to bring countless hours of delight to small children who will adore pulling and pushing the tabs and turning the wheels therein. (So too will the adults who might feel the need to demonstrate the various mechanisms!)
Differently themed and differently authored, a treat awaits at every turn of the page and flick of the hand:
Can You Keep a Straight Face? asks the book’s author. I doubt it, as all manner of odd things happen when you manipulate the tabs and wheels on each spread – magical fun of the face contortion kind. Prepare to be amazed.

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This or That? presents a varied (and sometimes difficult) array of choices to respond to, all introduced by, ‘Which is better?’ Chocolate or vanilla ice-cream? No competition here: I’d choose this one every time.

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What about the pet question though – in reality I tend to avoid both cats and dogs! I have issues with both.

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But I especially like the final togetherness spread. If I had to choose a favourite (I love all three books), I think it would have to be …
What’s Up? which introduces various birds from the tiny Robin Redbreast (he almost launches himself from the page) …

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to the flambouyant ‘proud peacock’ …

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What a tail! Cool stuff!

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Who What Where?
Olivier Tallec
Chronicle Books
This is a deliciously playful follow up to Tallec’s Who Done It? And again it’s one where close observation is required to answer the question posed at the top of each page along with a visual of the situation. Four, or sometimes five suspects then form an ID parade on the adjoining, lower page with clues to assist youngsters identify the culprit. Here’s an example …

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Who has left a jacket at home?
Every spread is populated by delightful characters – animal and human – each beautifully detailed and rendered in pencil and acrylics and some require a bit more puzzling than others. How do you find this one :

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They’re all sporting blue so colour isn’t very helpful although we can eliminate the character with a gift. Another clue is needed: a blue face, yes but look at the eye reflected. Is it surrounded by black skin? No. So we can rule out number two and five. Where’s the black dot on the eye in the mirror – central or not? Now you’ve got it …
There seems to be something not quite right in this scenario though:

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Who got stuck in the tree trunk? we’re asked. Now take a look at the protruding feet – which way are they pointing – in or out? Now look at the girth of the upside down character: rather stout, yes? So I can’t see the last two becoming stuck so that leaves the first two – both pretty chunky but foot size leads us to suspect number two in the line up and bingo! That’s correct but then why are his feet pointing outwards at the top and inwards in the line up? OOPS!
Youngsters applying their developing logic to this one might well feel somewhat puzzled – I was!
All in all though, terrific fun.

High Fliers

DSCN2107 Nuts in Space
Elys Dolan
Nosy Crow
Will they or will they not find their way home with their precious cargo? That is the nub of this hilarious story starring Commander Moose and his half dozen crew members. Having completed their mission to find The Lost Nuts of Legend and boarded their super stealth covert cruiser, they discover that the Star Nav of their craft, Forest Fleet’s Finest Starship no less, has malfunctioned. Oh woe! DSCN2108

Moreover, their food supplies are exhausted and their maps have been mysteriously consumed. Hmm! What can they do? Certainly not start on those nuts guys: they are reputed to bestow unimaginable boons: invincibility and bedtimes that are never passed, for instance. Stopping by at the Death Banana to ask for directions? Certainly not a good move, either guys.

DSCN2109 So do those fearless, very hungry, crew members ever find their way back home again? And what about those all-important Nuts of Lost Legend; what is their fate? If you want to know, and I’m pretty sure you do, then get hold of a copy of this action-packed saga. It’s absolutely chock-full of treats – both visual and verbal (not to mention nuts). Well, maybe not NUTS! DSCN2110It’s guaranteed to keep youngsters absorbed for hours, days, maybe even weeks!
Buy from Amazon

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When Angus Met Alvin
Sue Pickford
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Alien Angus is different; there’s nothing he likes better than to rest quietly in his peaceful garden. One day however his peace is disturbed when a spaceship crashes, creating havoc in the centre of his lawn.

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Out jumps Alvin, another alien whose mission it is to demonstrate his ‘special space skills’.
Angus is unimpressed by Alvin’s fancy flying and there rapidly develops a competitive element to their trickery. Time for Angus to consult Professor Poppemoff’s tome for a suitable idea.

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To say that Alvin’s already inflated idea of his skills is further inflated by Angus’s challenge and that it consequently causes his downfall – indeed his total deflation – is no exaggeration.
The resulting pin-sized Alvin is far from amused and quickly makes an ‘I promise to behave myself’ deal with Angus. Thereupon he receives a deft dusting of special, size restorative

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and sets to work to prove himself, which he duly does. Peace is finally restored in Angus’s garden.
A delightfully daft tale of friendship and lateral thinking, laugh-makingly delivered through a combination of completely crazy ideas compiled into a comic text, and playful pictures.

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These are littered throughout with off-beat details and appropriately idiotic images.
I envisage this one sparking off all manner of alien artistry and other imaginative ideas from enthusiastic listeners of the earthling species. It certainly got a huge thumbs up from both large groups of five and six year olds that I shared it with.
Buy from Amazon

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 Pairs of children could be Angus and Alvin and then using the wonderful endpapers as a starting point, can compile and then depict, their own sets of ‘Special Things’ on small coloured pieces of paper. These can then be pasted up on opposite sides of a large sheet of card or paper, one half for Alvin’s, the other for Angus’s.

What about having an alien tea party, Alvin and Angus style, with young earthlings compiling the menu and concocting the food and drink. Then sharing it of course!

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Those Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine
Peter Bently and David Roberts
Andersen Press
I found myself struggling not to break into fits of laughter as I read this one out loud; indeed my ribs were aching trying to keep my giggles in. This absolutely uproarious saga tells and shows what happens when Lambert and Eunice and Marly and Mabs and Old Uncle Ramsbottom, Bart, Ben and Babs (phew!) accidentally take to the air in a biplane.

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Squashed into the cockpit they set forth on a round the world trip to see the sights. They drop in at, among other destinations, France for a can-can, Tibet where little Ben’s encounter with a Yeti is too close for comfort, DSCN2058

and India where a maharajah’s invitation to his Delhi palace for “Mutton curry” sends them scuttling hastily planewards. But then … east? west? Home’s best, the others firmly tell Ramsbottom , so, home they go. The returning plane is spotted by its silver-topped cane bearing owner who rushes eagerly to apprehend the thieves, only to find his empty flying machine at rest atop the hill, but no sign of any thieves, just a field full of white, woolly sheep.

DSCN2059 Wonderful!
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Find and buy from your local bookshop: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

If you are interested in teenage fiction, nominations are called for the Queen of Teen award 2014. For further information got to: http://www.queenofteen.co.uk