Hello Horse / How Far Can a Kangaroo Jump?

Hello Horse
Vivian French and Catherine Rayner
Walker Books

This is one of the Nature Storybooks series that provides a perfect amalgam of information in narrative form and superb illustration, in this instance with Vivian French as author and Catherine Rayner as illustrator.

Vivian’s text gives just the right amount of detail for a young child to absorb as she describes via her boy narrator what happens when he is introduced to her friend Catherine’s horse named Shannon.

The boy soon overcomes his initial apprehension about meeting the horse but under Catherine’s guidance his fears are soon allayed as he learns about how to approach, touch and feed a horse. He also learns about grooming and finally, how to ride Shannon.

Every one of Catherine’s watercolour illustrations is beautiful and she does bring to life beautifully the equine creature that we learn in an author’s note really does belong to the illustrator.

A gorgeous introduction to horses and riding.

How Far Can a Kangaroo Jump?
Alison Limentani
Boxer Books

Ever wondered how far a kangaroo can jump; or perhaps four rabbits, or even eight coyotes? If so this book is definitely for you.

It’s beautifully illustrated by the author who showcases eleven different animals in total, each demonstrating its leaping, diving, hopping, bouncing,

skipping, bounding, vaulting, hurdling or springing skill.

Don’t be misled into thinking the titular marsupial is the longest jumper of all though; there’s a creature that well and truly outsprings it; now what might that be?

The book concludes by answering Alison’s own question: ‘How many kangaroo jumps would it take to get all the way around the earth?’ and posing another for young humans to answer.

Trainers on? Ready, steady, jump …

On landing, readers can compare their efforts with those of the other animals from the book, each of which is shown mid spring on the explanatory back endpapers.

We’re Getting a Cat!

We’re Getting a Cat!
Vivian French and Salvatore Rubbino
Walker Books

Vivian French does narrative non-fiction beautifully and so it is in this book about a family that have recently moved into a flat in an old house. A flat that’s overrun with mice.

Dad is no cat enthusiast but he likes small furry rodents even less, so a decision is made. It’s off to the cat rescue centre and that’s where they meet big, strong Kevin. His skills as a mouse-catcher seem certain and so a week later, the girl narrator and her sister are thrilled by Kevin’s arrival at their home.

With the help of cat-owning neighbour, Mrs Harris, the family help Kevin settle into his new home. He learns how to use his litter tray

although he does use the family toilet for his own purposes.

He also discovers the best place for a good old scratch – certainly not Dad’s favourite chair – and gets used to the feeding time routine. In short he makes himself comfortable but as for mouse catching, it’s a great big No. It looks as though Dad might well decide to send him back to the Rescue Centre.

“Isn’t that what cats do” the narrator asks their neighbour on the mice-catching topic, the answer isn’t exactly what she’d hoped though.

But then Kevin takes himself off to explore the great outdoors and vanishes. Has he read Dad’s mind perhaps?

Up-beat in style, with additional captions that provide information on feeding, grooming and cat care throughout the book and a final ‘If you’re getting a cat’ page at the end, along with an index and some helpful websites, this is an ideal read for potential cat owners.

Even this cat-phobic reviewer was charmed by Rubbino’s scenes of the trials and tribulations Kevin puts his new family through, and the manner in which he establishes himself as an essential part of their household.

Try and Say Abracadabra! / How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim

Try and Say Abracadabra!
Maria Loretta Giraldo and Nicoletta Bertelle
Ragged Bears

It’s spring; all the little birds are learning how to fly and having a great time so doing. All that is except Little Owl who, despite support from teacher Mrs Pigeon, is left standing on his branch terrified.
Tortoise comes along and encourages him suggesting he use the super magical word ‘Abracadabra’

but when Owl tries, the word comes out wrong and he crashes to the ground.
Two attempts under Mouse’s direction fail to achieve more than a little flutter and then along comes Hedgehog with his suggestion that owl shout the magic word as loud as he can and …

Success!
Now the grateful little creature is ready to pass on the secret of his success to a baby frog that’s afraid to jump …

The power of Giraldo’s never give up message is artfully portrayed in Bertelle’s mixed media, digitally worked illustrations of the endearing characters.

How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim
Vivian French and Hannah Foley
Little Door Books

All hippos LOVE swimming!” So says Billy Hippo’s dad in response to his son’s declaration that he doesn’t like swimming. The water’s too cold and too wet; Billy is convinced of that.
Other members of his family try their hardest to encourage him to join them in the water but Billy stands firm on the river bank.

However Billy’s family aren’t the only ones aiming to get him swimming. Two frogs have, all the while, been watching the whole situation unfolding and scheming up their own plan. With the strategic placing of a well-chosen item or two, they cause Billy – as Hannah Foley shows in this splendid slapstick sequence –

to hurtle into the water and after a deal of glugging, not to mention swirling and wallowing, Billy announces, “I love swimming.”

Simply told in a direct manner that leaves Hannah Foley plenty of room to fill in the details in her fun-filled illustrations, this is a good bet for little ones who have a reluctance to take the plunge.
You can down load a free audiobook and songs from the publisher’s website.

The Covers of My Book Are Too Far Apart / Harvey the Hero

The Covers of My Book Are Too Far Apart
Vivian French and Nigel Baines
Picture Squirrels
Huh! Reading’s rubbish!” So says the angry-looking boy on the first page of this lively, enormously engaging, cartoon-style book. It tackles the ‘reluctant reader’ issues precisely and wittily; and the anti-reading comments will most likely be familiar to those of us who are teachers, as well as a fair number of parents.
Each ‘grumble’ is allocated a spread with a host of pro-reading people countering the moan with their own positive idea. Thus, the ”I don’t have time to read. I’m too busy!” guy is offered: on the bus, just before sleep, in the bath, instead of tidying a room, as an accompaniment to doing something boring such as shopping, and while the dinner’s cooking as possibilities.
The most important thing that Vivian French and Nigel Baines do is to make this a truly inclusive book with an extremely wide range of characters being featured: there are those who want to read but don’t find it at all easy …

but possibly my favourite spread starts with the opener “Pictures are for little kids” …

It’s great too that reading is interpreted broadly to include comics (love the superhero advocate who puts in an appearance at every possible opportunity); audio books, eBooks, picture books (at any age or stage) but most important of all is – and it’s the reason that every primary classroom should have at least one copy of this –

‘Reading isn’t a competition! It’s FUN!’

that and another fact many teachers tend to forget – that reading, at any stage, is a highly personal process: one size DOES NOT fit all. Inspired and inspiring both.

Harvey the Hero
Hrefna Bragadottir
Nosy Crow
Would-be superhero, Harvey is thrilled to be attending a book signing of Superhero Steve. But after the event, Steve drives off leaving his cape behind: Harvey resolves to follow him to the Big City and return the cape.
The Big City though is a bustling place and Harvey needs help – a map perhaps …
Seemingly he’s inadvertently helped in the apprehending of a thief …

In fact, during his search for Steve’s house, Harvey is responsible, unwittingly, for extinguishing a fire; and rescuing a little bunny.

Then, having returned the cape to his hero, Harvey returns home and gets the surprise of his life: could his dream of superherodom really be coming true?
Young superheroes and would-be superheroes of the human variety will delight in this tale of misadventure and applaud Harvey’s final rise to hero fame. Like Baxter’s Book, Hrefna Bragadottir populates her second story with a host of whimsical animal characters whose activities make both children and adults chuckle.

I’ve signed the charter  

For Your Fiction Shelf

The Cherry Pie Princess
Vivian French (illustrated by Marta Kissi)
Walker Books
Vivian French is a cracking storyteller. Oliver’s Fruit Salad and Oliver’s Vegetables have been perennial favourites with many, many infant classes I’ve taught; ditto Yucky Worms. Here though she is writing for a slightly older audience and immediately I was drawn into her story – partly because when it begins, the setting is a library. Grating Public Library to be more precise, and the staff (Miss Denzil at least) are eagerly anticipating a visit from seven princesses. Much more circumspect though is the chief librarian, a rather crusty old dwarf by the name of Lionel Longbeard.

When the party duly arrives, it turns out that only one princess has any interest in books and she is Princess Peony. The book she takes, or rather later, sends a pageboy for, is A Thousand Simple Recipes for Pies, Puddings and Pastries and, she holds on to it for a very long time. The king though, has the librarian arrested for breaking the rules, on account of his kindness in speaking to the princess, and locked up in his dungeons. The princess meanwhile, takes to baking until her overbearing father puts a stop to it.
Years pass, a new royal baby is born …

and a christening party duly announced and invitations sent out – with one notable omission.
Now that sounds like there could be trouble on the horizon. What happens thereafter involves a whole lot of rule breaking, a rescue and a host of exciting twists and turns, The story moves along at a fast pace and is made all the more enjoyable by Marta Kissi’s pen and ink illustrations, which are liberally scattered throughout the book adding to the slightly zany tone of the whole thing.

Spy Toys
Mark Powers (illustrated by Tim Wesson)
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Imagine a totally weird bunch of superheroes and you’d probably never quite come up with such an unlikely crew as those in Mark Powers’ book. So let’s meet Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear, Dan, made by accident 1000 times stronger than was intended;

rag doll, Arabella, a far-from friendly character; a soldier with an eyesight issue (which can sometimes be a hinderance) … and a foot where his head ought to be; and Flax the rabbit, a policebot on the run and more.
All have computerised brains and are recruited by the Department of Secret Affairs for a mission to protect the prime minister’s son from one Rusty Flumptrunk – a half-human, half-elephant breakfast cereal promotion gone wrong. What follows is a cracking, crazy, fast-moving, action-packed yarn full of slapstick and witticisms: lots of fun and made all the more so by Tim Wesson’s zany illustrations.

Louie in a Spin
Rachel Hamilton (illustrated by Oscar Armelles)
Oxford University Press
Louie is enjoying life in New York at the School for Performing Arts and is determined to remain upbeat despite the efforts of Arnie and grumpy dance teacher, Madame Swirler. Here though, it looks as if he might be losing the battle: in error, he’s been signed up to represent his dance school in the ballet category at a national dance competition. With the school’s reputation at stake, can Louie, with an enormous amount of self-belief to make up for what he lacks in skill, save the day?
It’s all beautifully funny and one cannot but admire Louie’s inexhaustible supply of inner strength and positivism. Long live Louie who is made all the more adorable through Oscar Armelles funky line drawings

Nelly and the Flight of the Sky Lantern
Roland Chambers (illustrated by Ella Okstad)
Oxford University Press
If you’ve enjoyed Pippi Longstocking – or even if you haven’t, you really should meet Nelly Peabody in her second splendid story. Here, on returning from her first adventure, Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody, the fearless explorer discovers that her mother has mysteriously vanished and nothing will stop the young redhead from tracking her down. This entails a flight in a laundry basket, high above the clouds, not to mention a deep-sea dive courtesy of a tin can contraption. As ever, of course she’s accompanied by her best friend, Columbus the turtle.
It’s quirky, full of deliciously off-beat characters and most important, superbly written, with wonderful illustrations by Ella Okstad in black and white with touches of red.

I’ve signed 

At Sea with Captain Cranky & Mayday Mouse

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Captain Cranky & Seadog Steve
Vivian French and Alison Bartlett
Little Door Books
Captain Crankie lives with his canine pal Seadog Steve beside the sea. They spend their days taking villagers and visitors to watch seals and dolphins in the Mary Rose, and their evenings together in their tidy home. However, the locals are a messy lot: they leave all kinds of rubbish lying around spoiling the look of the place and upsetting the captain. Enough’s enough, he decides and he and Steve drag and haul all the rubbish back to their house, load it into the Mary Rose and set off out to sea where they jettison the lot overboard, leaving it to sink down into the depths. Before long though, there is a whole lot more rubbish …which also ends up in the same place deep under the waves much to the consternation of mermaid Millie. She resolves to speak to Capain Crankie and next evening she’s there waiting atop a rock as the Mary Rose heads out with another cargo of rubbish. Before long Millie is leading the Captain and Seadog Steve on a deep sea dive to see the results of the Captain’s thoughtless dumping.

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What’s to be done? It seems Seadog Steve might have a good idea up his sleeve…

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The result of the villagers’ fishing expedition is certainly some unexpected hauls; but it’s not long before everything has been put to a new and exciting use and everyone is happy.

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An important environmental message is embedded in this charming story. It’s told in a straightforward manner that is easy to read and easy to absorb without being simplistic, by Vivian French; and through Alison Bartlett’s richly coloured, detailed illustrations.

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Mayday Mouse
Seb Braun
Child’s Play
I really love Captain Mouse’s spirit of determination and optimism in the face of adversity. She sets out in her walnut shell boat one sunny day with an important mission – to deliver her brother’s birthday present. Her friends bid her “Bon voyage” warning her to keep watch for “big waves and watery perils” and instructing her to shout “MAYDAY” should she need their help. Mouse however is convinced all will be well; but then the wind drops. Undaunted, she whistles a sea shanty three times and lo and behold, back comes the wind and off she goes again with the wind getting stronger and stronger …
Suddenly, down comes the rain, the boat starts filling with water and a storm blows up …

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tossing mouse and boat into the air and towards a crashing sound and ‘a dark and dangerous cave’.
Quick-thinking Captain Mouse steers past only to find herself about to crash into some large rocks and the next moment …

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What is it that Mouse is thinking? Surely not “This is the end of me!” as she hurtles onto a small sandy island where, cold and exhausted, she’s soon fast asleep.

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Is she going to be left stranded or will she eventually reach her brother and deliver that birthday surprise? It’s fortunate then, that she keeps her cool, remembers her resourceful friends’ instructions and …

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Here they come with everything needed for a quick repair to her boat and off they go.
There’s a lovely musical finale that delighted my audience and had them joining in with the birthday greetings .

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Despite the very damp interlude, this is a thoroughly heart-warming story with a plucky little heroine. Good on you Captain Mouse. Did you spot the polluting object in that final scene? It was certainly a hazard for our heroine.

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Quests of Wonder

DSCN4633 (800x600) (2) Little Bell and the Moon
Giles Paley-Phillips and Iris Deppe
Fat Fox Books
Every night at bedtime,Little Bell watches the Moon and hears its tales of whales, boats and treasure: DSCN4632 (800x600) (2) each loves the other and all is well. One night Bell asks her friend to show her that magical-sounding world and together they fly far across mountains, seas and forests. DSCN4631 (800x600) Each night thereafter, they journey and at dawn Bell is safely back home. For sixty years they explore the galaxy until Bell begins to fade, growing more and more frail DSCN4630 (800x600) (2) till it is time for one final farewell tale from a mournful moon before Bell’s soul takes flight on its last journey. A journey that takes it far, far out into space wherein it comes to a special resting place – a ball of light among the stars. ‘ The darkness soon began to clear,/Then the moon did reappear./Upon the light its eyes did dwell,/Within it, it saw Little Bell. /And as the Moon shone back at Bell/They both felt all was well.’ A deeply affecting and tender story of life’s journey, ageing and death. The latter can be a tricky topic for young children. Here though, with poetic text and powerful atmospheric scenes, author and artist have created a safe place from which to explore the inherent themes. Definitely one for the spirituality bookshelf at home or school: a book that resonates long after its reading.   DSCN4655 (800x600) The Most Wonderful Thing in the World
Vivian French and Angela Barrett
Walker Books
A king and queen ponder the future of their kingdom and decide a husband must be found for their daughter, Princess Lucia. Having consulted Wise Old Angelo, they promise their daughter’s hand in marriage to the young man who can show them the most wonderful thing in the world. Lucia meanwhile has made the acquaintance of one, Salvatore, DSCN4653 (800x600) and at the princess’s request, the two explore the city together. At the palace however, her parents are inundated with suitors, each one showing something wonderful. No matter how amazing the items proffered by the endless stream of prospective bridegrooms, DSCN4651 (800x600) nothing seems quite right to the by now, completely overwhelmed, king and queen who then decide to call off the search. First though they must locate their daughter to tell her of their decision and it is only when they locate her and find themselves face to face with a young man claiming to have found what they are seeking,   DSCN4654 (800x600) that things feel right. For what he tells them is absolutely so. It’s then that the eyes of the king and queen are finally opened and all ends, in true fairytale fashion, with a happily married couple adored by all in their kingdom. Angela Barrett’s exquisitely detailed, mannered illustrations grace the pages of Vivian French’s enchanting and admirably crafted telling of this wondrous fairy tale, seemingly given an Italian setting here. For romantics and lovers of fairy tales especially, no matter what their age.
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