Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small
Dr Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillón
Walker Books

Talking to nine year olds about nano particles? Surely not, you might at first think. However the author of this book knows just how to do it.

This is a totally captivating look at materials and the uses scientists make of them by physicist Dr Jess Wade from Imperial College, London and illustrator, Melissa Castrillón.

Right from the opening spread containing the words, “Look around your home. Everything is made of something … “ readers are drawn in, all the more so as the text then goes on to use the book itself as an exemplar to remind us of some basic descriptions of materials as well as introducing the importance of microscopy. 

That leads neatly in to a spread on atoms – those building blocks from which ‘every single thing on this planet is made …’ and molecules.

A great thing about this book is that every new term that’s introduced – elements for instance- is immediately then related to something familiar to its target audience:. So we’re told, the human body comprises eleven different elements including carbon. This element is part of the make up of every living thing, but sometimes existing solely as layers of carbon atoms; graphite (the lead in pencils) is given as an example.

By moving on to graphene (created by removing a single layer of carbon atoms from graphite) the author takes us into unfamiliar territory with a new material: or rather, a ‘nanomaterial’ that has taken countless experiments and many years to make.

Graphene, we’re told, already has many uses in technology but because nanotechnology is a dynamic field of study, there are further possibilities, some not perhaps even dreamt of yet. Neatly bringing the narrative full circle to the reader, the author concludes ‘There are so many secrets left for scientists to unlock, And who knows the key person might just be … YOU.’

A hugely inspiring combination of superb science and awesome art.

Maybe …

Maybe …
Chris Haughton
Walker Books

“Whatever you do, do NOT go down to the mango tree. There are tigers down there.” So says the departing adult monkey to the three little monkeys. An invitation to do just that, if ever there was one and as you might expect, after due consideration and a quick scan below, the trio start descending through the canopy lured by an irresistibly delicious sight.

After another quick scan for tigers (your audience will have spotted something but not the eager threesome), they dash down, secure a yummy fruit and consume same. But is just one sufficient? Of course not, so the monkeys climb right the way down to the ground.

As they sit feasting on some succulent spoils, the monkeys become aware that this latest step was perhaps one too many, for there follows a dramatic case of tiger confrontation and a splendidly scary, suspenseful dash for their lives that listeners will relish. But what about the monkeys?

To discover that, and how the story ends, you’ll need to creep out to a nearby bookshop and get a copy of your own.

Maybe, just maybe this is my favourite of Chris’s books so far, but then I love boundary pushing risk-takers. That chase over four double spreads is absolutely superb; in fact the whole book is simply brilliant.

Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog Takes Up Sport / Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog Learns to Play

Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog Takes Up Sport
Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog Learns to Play

John Yeoman and Quentin Blake
Walker Books

The laugh-out-loud antics of Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog take the form of a variety of playful activities in these two paperbacks.

In the first, Old Mother Hubbard is unhappy at the sight of her canine companion merely lazing around all day and suggests he get up out of his chair, set aside his book and do something more active. And so he does. First it’s tennis (over her full washing line), followed by a spot of pole vaulting, then soccer – with very muddy results.
Having had a bath beside the fire the daft creature heads outside again and further athletic mayhem ensues including putting the shot using live projectiles.

Eventually, unable to stand any more, Old Mother Hubbard orders Dog inside and suggests a much more sober activity.

The second episode begins with Dog in his favourite chair reading once more. Old Mother Hubbard expresses a wish that he “learn how to play.” Before you can turn around she hears a raucous rendition on a flute, closely followed by various other musical instruments. 

Greatly regretting her ill-chosen words, Old Mother Hubbard is at a temporary loss to know what to do, but is ready to try anything including some drupe diversion tactics …

Brilliant nonsense both in John Yeoman’s rhyming narrative and Quentin Blake’s exuberant portrayal of the canine capers; adults and children will love this craziness. Don’t miss the back endpapers.

Frog vs Toad

Frog vs Toad
Ben Mantle
Walker Books
Seeing beyond our differences lies at the heart of Ben Mantle’s splendidly silly fable.

It begins when an unassuming fly is zapped by the tongue of Frog, followed shortly after by a second attack from the opposite side, this time by Toad. A nightmare situation for sure but what the fly says …

precipitates a set to between the two amphibians both of which feel grossly insulted by the fly’s remark. A tirade of verbal insults are hurled and the squabbling continues

until they reach the swamp where things get even more heated when Frog issues a final threat followed shortly after by some mud slinging of the physical kind, triggering a free for all with everybody joining in.

Both sides are so busy SLIP! SPLAT! SPLOTCHING and SQUELCHING that they fail to notice the approach of a large grumpy reptile displeased at being aroused from its slumbers. Quick to jump to their own defence Frogs and Toads blame one another but the jagged-toothed creature tells them something that comes as a huge surprise.

Both Frog and Toad are ready to accept one another as family members and apologies ensue, followed by some words of thanks to their informer. But that’s not quite the end of the story …

This is the first picture book for which Ben Mantle has written his own words. Being both a cracking storytime read aloud, and with an abundance of droll details – small and large – in every scene it’s a definite winner with me.

The Lipstick

The Lipstick
Laura Dockrill and Maria Karipidou
Walker Books

This is a hugely entertaining story of what happens when the small child protagonist gets hold of one of Mum’s lipsticks.

Having used it for its intended purpose, our young narrator gets his creative juices flowing as he ‘takes the lipstick for a little walk.’ Actually not such a little one as his enthusiastic doodles and oodles are soon adorning various walls,

playthings, the floor and more. And that’s only upstairs. Down he goes guided by the mark making stick, jazzing up the bathroom,

things in the kitchen, big sister’s bedroom and more until …
DETECTION!

Apologies attempted (not by the smug lipstick needless to say) and then it’s time to let operation clean up commence. Were any parts left unscrubbed? What do you think?

I absolutely love the mischievous spirit of this infant who reminds me very much of an even younger relation of mine whose cheeky doings are equally let’s say, experimental. I must make sure I keep this book well away from her or I’m sure it will give her ideas …

The combination of Laura Dockrill’s text and Maria Karipidou’s rib-tickling storytelling pictures with that all-seeing moggy, make for a smashing story to share with an early years class or group just past the stage of the little boy narrator.

The Giants’ Tea Party / Lottie Luna and the Giant Gargoyle

The Giants’ Tea Party
Vivian French, illustrated by Marta Kissi
Walker Books

In the kingdom of Little Slippington, the royal coffers are empty and with the bills unpaid the king and queen are in desperate need of some gold.

Rather than marry a wealthy princess, the anything but heroic Prince Max reluctantly embarks on a mission to the valley of the giants who, according to legend, are rich beyond imagination and might (or might not) be persuaded to part with some of their gold. First though the prince needs a steed of some kind and the only one available is Horace a rather grumpy old donkey. Deal done, off they go, first stop the abode of the Wisest One. She tells him his journey will mean having to cross the Hungry Marshes.

Meanwhile in Golden Hollow, Glom king of the giants also has a problem. Two actually, one being the need for some Papparelli roots (the only food that will make the geese lay their golden eggs), the second the constant interruption from his grand daughter Hamfreda reminding him of the first while he’s trying to put the finishing touches to his flying machine.

Wonderful weaver of words, and fashioner of neofairy-tales, Vivian French, includes a talking cat, marshes hungry for stories, a blank book and some decidedly unsavoury characters, the Crimps in her enchanting narrative: but will Max succeed against the odds? That’s the key question and to discover the answer you’ll have to read this cracking book. Marta Kissi’s illustrations bring out the humour inherent in the telling,

making this whole immersive world even more enjoyable.

Here’s another treat from Vivian: her 4th in the smashing Lottie Luna series:

Lottie Luna and the Giant Gargoyle
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Young werewolf, Lottie Luna, she of super strength, super speed and X-ray vision , is concerned about all her Shadow Academy classmates discovering her special skills when an end-of-term talent show is announced,

and worse, she hears that all parents will receive a personal invitation from the head teacher. Her close friends, Marjory and Wilf are determined to help her keep her secret, but with ‘Awful Aggie’ always on the lookout to make trouble, she’s going to have more difficulty than she’s faced before convincing the other students she’s just like everyone else. No wonder she’s in no hurry to give her parents their invitation to the big event.

In the meantime Lottie wants to help Wilf and Marjory polish their magic act, as well as deciding what she’s going to do in the show. They certainly don’t want Aggie taking the prize gargoyle.

With Nathan Reed’s splendid black and white illustrations, this latest Lottie adventure will delight her many fans and likely win her some new ones too. Despite its setting and main protagonist, the pupils in this otherworldly story face challenges similar to those struggling to fit into a typical school, making it all the more easy to relate to.

Can Bears Ski?

Can Bears Ski?
Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

Why does everyone keep asking “Can bears ski?” That’s the puzzle for the little bear narrator of this story.

Dad says it frequently, the kindly class teacher says it,

puzzled classmates say it, “Can Bears ski?”

One day after school Dad takes his little cub to visit an ‘au-di-ol-o-gist’ She does lots of tests and she too asks that same question …

The audiogram shows little bear has hearing loss.

Eventually several weeks and more tests later she prescribes hearing therapy and lip-reading classes. She also gives little bear a pair of ‘plastic ears called hearing aids.’.

These enable the cub to realise what everyone has been asking all along. “Whoa … Is life this loud?!”
All the noise now means that our narrator feels tired sometimes and out come the hearing aids. The library was a place of peace pre hearing aids; perhaps it will be still; and a bedtime story is certainly on the agenda with Dad taking care to speak clearly and look directly at his little one.

And what about answering that titular question? What do you think?

The book’s author, poet and educator Raymond Antrobus, is himself deaf and this, his debut picture book draws on his personal experience, demonstrating how a small deaf child can feel frustrated and isolated in a hearing world. The illustrator Polly Dunbar also brings her own experience of partial deafness to her scenes of the hugely likeable protagonist attempting to cope with a plethora of sensory challenges – shaking bannisters and wobbling pictures, a ground shaking classroom floor for instance..

The resulting collaboration is a hugely compassionate book wherein Dad’s love is evident throughout. (This is just one individual’s experience of being deaf so there’s no mention of BSL or any form of signing.)

A thoughtful story to share in foundation stage settings and families whether or not these include a young one with hearing loss.

Can You Whistle, Johanna? / Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls

Can You Whistle, Johanna?
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund
Gecko Press

Here’s a book from Swedish author Ulf Stark that will surely touch your heart.
The boy narrator of the story, Ulf has a grandfather he visits regularly. His friend Berra doesn’t have a grandfather but wishes he did so he could enjoy a similar relationship, so Ulf tells him that he knows just the place to find one.

The following day, he takes Berra to visit an old people’s home and there they find an elderly man, Ned

who although initially surprised, is more than happy to accept Berra as his grandson.“There I was, just sitting and feeling a bit lonely, and then you came along!”

A wonderful connectedness develops between the two with Ned remembering his wife, Johanna, and things about his world – the smells, colours and simple joys, as well as those that are now too much of a challenge. The boys learn from Ned new skills and they have tremendous fun

including sharing special ‘birthday’ celebrations …

although there is one particular skill that Berra finds difficult to master – hence the book’s title.
This leads to the boys’ visits to Ned becoming less and less frequent but not before the boys give him a very special birthday celebration.

Finally, after several weeks Berra is ready to demonstrate to Ned his whistling prowess but when he boys get to the home they learn that Ned has died. Berra is devastated.

Despite being profoundly affected by his loss, Berra wants to go and say a final farewell at Ned’s funeral and it’s then that he whistles the old man’s tune.

We see how this special relationship has enriched the lives of both Berra and Ned, and that’s what shines through this sensitively told story despite the boys’ loss. Equally moving are Anna Höglund’s wonderful droll illustrations that support the text splendidly.

Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls
Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Walker Books

This is the second enchanting book of three short tales starring Tola, the youngest of three siblings who live with their grandmother in a crowded, run-down flat in Lagos.What she lacks in stature, Tola makes up for in spirit and determination. Money is short and so Grandmummy spends almost all her time selling groundnuts at the roadside to earn sufficient for the children’s schooling but little else.

The first story takes place on a Saturday with all three siblings indoors but only Tola doing the chores. As she squats picking out the stones from the rice, her brother Dapo is using his knees to play with his football (strictly forbidden inside) while big sister Moji is studying on a computer on loan from her school.
Ignoring her warnings to stop or incur Grandmummy’s wrath, Dapo dislodges the contents of a shelf with a wild ball sending her gold earrings flying into the air. One is quickly retrieved but can they manage to find the other one before Grandmummy returns?

In the second episode Grandmummy falls ill with malaria and the siblings resort to desperate measures to buy her the vital medicine she needs; and Dapo surprises everyone by using his skill to make money.

The three fine girls of the title are cool, indulged young misses in their fancy gear that Tola notices when she’s out and about. The same three posh ones that she manages to impress later on when she accompanies Mr Abdul to the masquerade.

There are so many things to love about young Tola especially her resourcefulness and ability to think on her feet; but her entire family are a delight. Onyinye Iwu’s black and white illustrations are a delight too, filling in some of the details about the life of this Nigerian urban family.

Over the Shop

Over the Shop
JonArno Lawson and Qin Leng
Walker Books

This is a wordless picture book that tells an uplifting tale of acceptance, trust and transformation.

As the story starts we see a child and her grandmother who is evidently the proprietor of the corner general store, at the back of which are their living quarters. It’s a run down place and upstairs is an empty flat. It’s not an inviting prospect for renters as is evident from the number of people who turn their backs on the place having viewed it.

Then, along come a couple of young people and it’s clear from the grandmother’s expressions that she has her doubts about them as tenants. They however are able to see past the run-down state of what’s on offer, and the child appears to be drawn to them and so begins project metamorphosis.

Not only do they, aided and abetted by the girl and the occasional neighbour, enthusiastically transform the apartment,

they also give the shop’s exterior a fresh coat of paint and help with the day-to-day running of the enterprise.
Meanwhile the girl has also enticed inside the cat her grandmother shooed away early on in the story, and that too now has a home. Thus from unpromising beginnings, a wonderful new family is formed.

Full of vitality, Qin Leng’s intricately detailed storytelling pictures rendered in ink and watercolour, are somewhat reminiscent of Sarah Garland. The presence of a rainbow flag in the final couple of spreads confirm what readers attentive to the fine detail might already have suspected.

This is one of those books where the more you look, the more you discover and the more stories emerge.

The House at the Edge of Magic

A House at the Edge of Magic
Amy Sparkes
Walker Books

Life is tough for young Nine: it certainly doesn’t give her strawberries. She spends her time on the streets stealing whatever she can to pay back Pockets, the Fagin like character who has sheltered her since her infancy in the Nest of a Thousand Treasures.

One day when attempting to steal a woman’s handbag, a tiny house-shaped ornament falls from it. Nine stuffs the object in her satchel and flees to a safer place to examine it more closely. As she strokes it imagining what life might be like to live in such a place, she touches the door knocker Bizarrely it emits a buzzing sound and the whole thing becomes a large, higgledy-piggledy house.

Thereafter the situation becomes progressively surreal for she’s pulled inside the house and she meets first a weird troll named Eric, shortly after to be joined by a strange wizard introducing himself as “Flabbergast. High Wizard, Chair of the Tea Tasters Committee, World Hopscotch Champion 1835”, and a spoon, aptly named Doctor Spoon, clad in a kilt and brandishing a sword. She learns that the three have been trapped in the house under a curse for years. They request Nine’s help to break said curse and set them free. For her help she’s offered a priceless gem.

At first she leaves without agreeing but then later realises that she’ll be far better off returning to the cursed house and helping its occupants. With the possibility of a new life, back she goes. Before you can say “cup of tea” it’s revealed that they have only till the clock strikes fifteen to discover the magic words to break that curse or face extinction. No pressure then.

Deliciously quirky with lots of humour, this story will definitely keep readers turning the pages till its wonderful finale. The magic house residents are brilliant fun. I love that feisty Nine finds solace in books she ‘acquires’ thanks to a genial librarian and that despite being desperate to escape her life on the streets, she acts for the greater good.There are some terrific bit-part players too.

Whether read solo, or aloud to a primary class, this will leave audiences wanting more – this reviewer included.

Let’s Play Monsters!

Let’s Play Monsters!
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

It’s always a delight to see a new picture book from Lucy Cousins and this one (inspired by a game its creator played with her own grandson) will most definitely delight little ones.

Three year old Gabriel urges each of his family members in turn “Come on, … / I WANT TO PLAY! / You chase me / and I’ll run away.”

First to participate in the romping stomping pursuit is big sister Josie who morphs into a horror ‘green and scary, / with sharp, pointy teeth / and feet that are hairy’ and eager to MUNCH, CRUNCH, SCRUNCH, her brother for lunch.

Uncle Rufus obligingly grows imaginary cow horns and pig’s tail and sets off in hot pursuit …


The game continues with his gran and the family moggy giving chase as a pink jelly, smelly footed monster and a hissing roaring clawed creature; even the potted plant joins the frolicking …

The established predictability of the game takes a twist though when it’s Mum’s turn. She proceeds to comply with the child’s desire but his “Hee, hee, hee! / But you can’t / catch me!” is met with his ensnarement in her outstretched arms and an instruction that leads to the book’s highly satisfying finale.

As always Lucy Cousins’ signature illustrative style is arresting: accompanied by her rhyming narrative with its reassuring predictability, this entire chasing game is MONSTROUS fun and just right for a lead-up to bedtime story. I love the endpapers too – the front one shows the cast of characters as per normal and the back depicts their mock scary other selves; and of course, the entire book is an endorsement of the power of young children’s imaginations.

I Talk Like A River

I Talk Like A River
Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith
Walker Books

The transformational power of just a few words can sometimes be truly amazing and so it is in Jordan Scott’s autobiographical story. He’s a poet and this is reflected in his lyrical prose wherein he reflects on his childhood stutter and how a conversation with his father after a particularly bad day at school made all the difference.

That day gets off to the usual kind of reflective start but it’s in the classroom where things really take their toll.


When his dad collects him after school, the two take a walk beside the river. It’s quiet surrounded by nature, and having watched his son finally let the pent up emotions of the day flow from his eyes, “They don’t see a pine tree sticking out from my lips instead of a tongue.”

dad sits beside the boy and together they watch the water. “See how that water moves? / That’s how you speak.” he says.

The boy sees ‘bubbling, / whirling, / churning, / and crashing’ and then, keeping his dad’s words in his head he wades into the sunlit water. (shown behind a glorious gatefold) …

Next morning at school the narrator is able to recall these words and ‘to think of the calm river beyond the rapids / where the water is smooth and glistening. … Even the river stutters. / Like I do.’’
No, there’s no instant cure, but this experience does enable the narrator to find a way to tell the class about his favourite place. One cannot help but feel tearful at reading his final few sentences.

I can think of no better artist than Sydney Smith to illustrate Scott’s often painful language. Smith’s wonderfully atmospheric paintings are simply exquisite capturing not only the gut-wrenching pain the boy feels but also the power and energy of the river and of nature itself.


Following the story is a moving ‘How I Speak’ note by the author. Herein he gives additional details of his own childhood experience – his road to self-acceptance and finding a context in which to place his own stutter: ’he (dad) gave image and language to talk about something so private and terrifying.’

This reviewer was absolutely swept away by this awesome collaboration.

The Tale of the Valiant Ninja Frog

The Tale of the Valiant Ninja Frog
Alastair Chisholm and Jez Tuya
Walker Books

Siblings Abby and Jamie certainly aren’t lacking in imagination and they love to hear a good story, so a night camping under the stars offers the perfect time and place for a tale from Dad. He’s more than willing so, as he toasts marshmallows over a fire, the children suggest the characters to include – the Prince, the Frog, (inspired by Abby’s soft toy) the Princess, the Witch and a MONSTER.

Dad begins his yarn: “It was a dark and stormy night and at the bottom of a horrible mountain … were the heroes.” Enter the cast – mounted on his steed comes the handsome Prince; then there’s the Princess (a closet jewel thief of the daring kind), witch Bogwort – (a Ninja when necessary)

and the gruesome Grubber.

Soon the interruptions start: first it’s Abby who seems set on ensuring that the Frog features large despite its diminutive stature. Thereafter the siblings’ interjections turn the plot this way and that as the three of them co-create a very funny, exciting fantasy with Dad accommodating the children’s ideas into the narrative. A narrative made all the more fun thanks to Jez Tuya’s comical – often slapstick – illustrations of larger-than-life story characters particularly that hirsute giant,

and Barry the frog – hurrah! Yes, despite Jamie’s dismissive scorning, the part he plays in making a happy ever after finale is far from small.

I love the close-up perspectives and the panel sequence

– actually I love everything about this book. So too will young listeners who will surely respond with relish to any adult sharer giving it the dynamic performance the tale deserves.

If Winter Comes, Tell It I’m Not Here

If Winter Comes, Tell It I’m Not Here
Simona Ciraolo
Walker Books

As the small boy narrator of this story revels in the last days of summer, swimming at every opportunity, his elder sister tells him of the approaching seasons.

First will be autumn with its chillier air and falling leaves,

followed by winter. That’s a time of constant rain, darkness and being stuck indoors, cold and dullness.

Time passes and inevitably autumn and winter come. There’s a distinct lack of yearning for ice-cream or a swim; however, each season brings delights of its own: there’s a parent’s long, long scarf to use as a wrap, and family snuggles on the sofa in autumn;

and yes lots of rain but also yummy warm soup.

But it’s winter that’s most surprising and hurrah! Our narrator has lots of exhilarating fun in the snow

and determines to make the most of every opportunity. Big sisters aren’t always right after all, it would seem.
Simona Ciraolo certainly portrays the best of each season in her illustrations and the characters’ expressions speak volumes. This, her latest book is one that offers a good starting point for a discussion on seasonal changes and favourite times of the year with youngsters.

The Midnight Guardians

The Midnight Guardians
Ross Montgomery
Walker Books

I was totally gripped by this wintry tale set in WW2 right from the opening pages. Twelve-year-old Col who has recently lost his father, has been evacuated to his Aunt Claire’s. He feels totally alone, for his older sister has remained in blitz-ravaged London where she faces constant danger while helping with the war effort.

Col starts hearing voices calling to him – the same voices he heard as a younger child. They’re the voices of his imaginary (so he supposes) childhood friends – the Midnight Guardians. Step up gallant knight, King of the Rogues (small and fearless), Pendlebury, a tiger brave and noble, able to change size at will and, Mr Noakes, a gentle, scruffy old badger with a nose for finding food, who sports a waistcoat.

These three have come to help him in his quest to save his sister and telling him that he’s in mortal danger as darkness, in the form of The Midwinter King, is determined to take over the land. Thus begins a race to bomb-blitzed London, accompanied by Kindertransport refugee Ruth, a brave, strong-willed girl with her own reasons for going to the capital.

So, it’s a double battle: Col and his entourage on the side of The Green Man – against time and the forces of dark. Ross Montgomery has created a terrific cast of characters that, in addition to those already mentioned, includes bogeys, fairies and Gog and Magog(s) all of whom Col encounters in this compelling tale of hope and enchantment in a world where myth and legend, history and hardships are interwoven.

Ultimately, it’s a perfectly paced tale of strong friendship, courage and trust: hope and love versus hatred and fear.

The Song of the Nightingale

The Song of the Nightingale
Tanya Landman and Laura Carlin
Walker Books

Based on a creation myth, this fabulous book is a neo pourquoi tale about how the animals got their colours and a feathered creature acquired something very special.

In powerful prose Tanya Landman presents a dramatic unfolding of a spectacular creative enterprise by one named as ‘the painter’.
With the young earth and its flora already rich in colour, she summons all members of the animal kingdom together in their dreary drabness, speedily organises them and then, in a determined manner (sleeves rolled up), she opens her paintbox. Starting with the fiddly wrigglers, sets about adding colour to each and every creature – small and great.

Enter illustrator Laura Carlin to wield her own paintbrush bestowing with sweeps, daubs, splashes and spatters upon the grey creatures their rich array of tints and tones until all earth’s fauna have undergone a remarkable transformation. Some such as the mandrill

and the parrots are instrumental in their own colour schemes.

But what of the one that comes after the painter has closed her box for the day? That shy little creature too scared to leave the shadows until nightfall when the painter’s colours are, seemingly all used up – or are they?

With consummate skill Laura captures both the wit and the lyricism of Tanya’s telling; the combination of the two make the book itself such a wonderful work of art. It’s most definitely one to return to over and over wherever it’s read.

How To Make A Bird

How To Make a Bird
Meg McKinlay and Matt Ottley
Walker Books

This stunner of a book has at its heart, the imagination. It shows through the eyes of a solitary young girl protagonist, the importance of hope and determination in the creative process as you embark on a journey, not entirely sure of where it will lead.

We follow the girl as she collects, designs and builds using hundreds of hollow, light bones (when they rest in your palm you will hardly feel them, she says.) So much the better if they are to become airborne, but that’s kind of getting ahead.

As she lays them out into a bird shape, she contemplates, ‘the proud arch of an eagle, the soft curve of a sparrow’. Maybe, but this is a slow process,

this fashioning into a finished form and it can’t be done without feathers for both warmth and flight

and of course, a fast-beating heart. Then come those finishing touches that make your creation entirely unique – so much more that the sum of its parts.

That’s the magic and eventually it’s time to set free your deeply personal entity, to let it soar up and away …

Truly special, this is a book for all ages, a book where words and pictures are in complete harmony, a book for anyone who loves nature and being creative. Such is the attention to detail throughout that readers will want to pause on each exquisite spread, fill with awe, and wondering at the precious nature of life itself. Matt Ottley’s art has a musicality that is simply perfect for this story, as he gently infuses his visuals with the intimacy of Meg McKinlay’s telling : a telling that has an ethereal haunting quality that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Santa Post

Santa Post
Emma Yarlett
Walker Books

A few days before Christmas something comes whooshing down Santa’s chimney and into the fireplace. It’s a letter from someone signing herself Amy but the vital information about what she would really like for Christmas has been burnt away, leaving Santa puzzled but determined to discover what the missing words were.

There’s certainly one person he can turn to for the help he so badly needs: Head elf Elfalfa at the North Pole. With a letter duly dispatched all he can do is wait. Meanwhile at the North Pole the elves are exceedingly busy but Alfalfa issues a toy-making request to the only one of her helpers free to assist – Elf Boggins. The little fellow does his best with what little resources are left in the almost bare cupboard and Amy’s present is back to Santa, special delivery with an attached note of explanation. Imagine Santa’s reaction when he opens the parcel and sees this …

Still determined to find the perfect present, Santa decides to ask for further help from others of his North Pole pals.

Will he ever be able to deliver to Amy what she truly longs for?

With letters and parcels to open, this joyful festive offering from Emma is sure to delight. Her splendidly expressive illustrations combined with her deliciously quirky humour evident in both words and pictures, make this a seasonal treat that will be brought out and enjoyed year after year by teachers in classrooms, and families with young children.

Monster Clothes & Monster Food/ Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Monster Clothes
Monster Food

Daisy Hirst
Walker Books

Here are two monstrously enjoyable board books from Daisy Hirst. The first introduces a host of delightful little monster characters to show little humans what they like to wear. There’s hat wearing Harriet, socks sporting Simon, pants parading Pauline, and Terrence with a tomato titfa’. That’s three out of four with their chosen garments upon their heads. 
Of the next four, three are relatively conformist in how they wear their gear but divergent Cassie chooses something completely unexpected … 

Then come Vera and Duncan, each conventionally clad, followed by leafy Lester, Beatrice with booted hands and feet, which leaves just Evie and she’s been unable to make up her mind and appears shall we say, somewhat over-dressed.
Love the alliterative descriptions of the endearing fashionistas as well as Daisy’s eye-catching, funky illustrations.

Monster Food sees nameless monsters devouring fruits, while others chew chairs – yes really – and some nosh on noodles or stew leaving one to chomp upon a shoe. 

Cereal is preferred by one, another breakfasts (unhealthily) on cake but I can’t see the allure of that rake, nor the mechanical items selected by some. Instead, they should take the advice of the child and her monster pal on the final spread and stick to putting food in their bellies. Nom, nomm exceedingly tasty fun – well mostly!

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow

Yu-hsuan Huang populates her delightful version of the ever popular nursery song with small anthropomorphised animal, in particular a bear and a rabbit. These two cute-looking characters meet up and cycle off into the night. After parking their bikes, they walk until they find a suitable spot to make a camp and enjoy a sing-song under the stars,

before snuggling up for the night.

In addition to enjoying joining in the song, (there’s a QR code to scan for an audio version) little humans can have fun manipulating the sliders, talking about the details in the illustrations and following the story as it unfolds in Yu-hsuan’s beautifully coloured spreads.

Will You Be My Friend? / The Purple Puffy Coat

Here are two enormously enjoyable but very different books, each of which has friendship at its heart. Thanks to Walker Books who sent them for review.

Will You Be My Friend?
Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

This gorgeous sequel to Guess How Much I Love You (now celebrating its 25th anniversary) comes with a touch of sadness as author Sam McBratney died recently. The new story continues on from the first with Little Nutbrown Hare venturing out to look for a playmate. Initially he finds only replicas – a reflection and a shadow of himself.

But then up on Cloudy Mountain he comes face to face with the real thing. It’s Tipps, the Cloudy Mountain Hare and she too wants a friend and playmate.

They play chase and engage in other fun activities, followed by a game of hide and seek. Tipps goes off to hide but will Little Nutbrown Hare ever see her again?

Another timeless treasure and classic to be, to add to family bookshelves and to share with early years children.

The Purple Puffy Coat
Maribeth Boelts and Daniel Duncan

With Stick Insect’s birthday just a week away, his pal Beetle just can’t wait to give Stick Insect his present. It’s a purple puffy coat, wonderfully warm and ideal for wearing when the two go out for walks together. There’s a slight snag though for Stick Insect is rather an introvert and isn’t sure this rather ostentatious coat is quite his style. However, Beetle insists that he dons the new garment and off they both go to show off this ‘generous gift’ around town. And so they do: Beetle boasts and Stick Insect keeps well out of the way.

And even when the former notices what’s happening, he’s adamant that that a daily outing in the coat will get his friend used to being looked at.

On the eve of the birthday, Beetle decides that he’ll give his friend a second gift. And it’s while preparing it that he realises what Stick Insect’s recent glum expression signifies.

Time to reconsider the coat situation and to fix things once and for all …

This wry lesson about respecting and understanding one another’s differences is delivered through a text that’s largely dialogue between the two friends and Daniel Duncan’s delightfully droll illustrations of the rise and fall of the purple puffy coat and those that either wear it or encounter it being worn about town.

A Polar Bear in the Snow / In the Half Room

Here are two recent picture books from Walker Books kindly sent for review:

A Polar Bear in the Snow
Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris

In dramatic fashion a sleeping polar bear stirs, sniffs the air and sets forth on a walk the destination of which is known only to himself. Readers join him as he’s observed by seals, arctic foxes,

a human even

until, having traversed the snowy, icy landscape, he arrives at the startlingly blue sea.

Plunging in, the creature’s feeling playful as he enjoys frolicking amidst the fishes and fronds,

before clambering back onto the snow and continuing on his way.
Wither is he bound now? That is left for readers to ponder upon …

Splendidly playful: who can resist accompanying the polar protagonist in Mac Barnett’s spare narrative and Shawn Harris’s arresting torn paper art that’s cleverly layered to give the illustrations a three-dimensional effect, as the creature sallies forth on his walk.

In the Half Room
Carson Ellis

This is a somewhat surreal, enigmatic, rhyming bedtime book wherein Carson Ellis presents a moonlit room in which everything is carefully cut in half. We don’t see the entire setting initially; rather we’re shown a series of partial items – ‘Half chair/ Half hat / Two shoes, / each half / Half table / Half cat’.

Then, once the room has all the half items mentioned, comes ‘Half a knock on half a door’ and there stands the woman’s other half.

Having come together, she’s wholly ready to dash out to embrace the world beneath a starry sky.

Meanwhile, in through the door left ajar, comes half a cat

to participate with its other half in a half-cat fight’ after which the two entwine un-united, on the mat and fall asleep.

With bold images, this is wholly entertaining and intriguing though perhaps some youngsters will be left feeling just a tad bemused by such an offbeat offering.

Zombierella: Fairy Tales Gone Bad / Theodora Hendrix and the Monstrous League of Monsters

Zombierella: Fairy Tales Gone Bad
Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Freya Hartas
Walker Books

As a massive fan of fractured fairy tales, I couldn’t wait to read this and wow! do I love it. Told in the form of a verse novel by performance poet Joseph Coelho, it’s quite simply utterly brilliant, dark, funny and splendidly subversive to boot.

The Grimm version is the one Joseph has chosen as his starting point and right from the start he hooks readers in, holding them enthralled throughout as the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways.

We learn that our heroine has got her name because she carries her biological mother’s ashes with her in a locket. Now she is forced to live with her foul FAKE mother and her equally FAKE beautiful sisters who are living off the inheritance that’s rightfully Cinderella’s. Her one true trusted friend is her horse, Lumpkin but early in the story, he ceases to be and the poor girl has to bury him. But not before she comes upon a piece of drifting paper. It’s a flyer informing the reader of three balls on consecutive nights, on the final of which the prince will choose his bride. She assumes that said prince is moving into the old abandoned mansion atop the hill on the edge of Grimmsville.

Needless to say those FAKE sisters of hers are eager to go to the ball

but can’t abide the thought of Cinderella doing so and as well as leaving her with instructions to clean the house in their absence, they leave a trap for her at the top of the stairs. A trap that causes her demise. Enter The Fairy of Death and Cinderella becomes Zombierella, able to go to the ball, but for three nights only …

I’ll say no more on the tale but merely urge you to get hold of the book and relish every detail, gory and otherwise. Equally relishable are Freya Hartas’ illustrations that add to both the gloomy atmosphere and the humour; her use of space on the page is superb too

and make sure you look under the cover flaps.

I’m eagerly anticipating any further fairy tales Joseph chooses to turn bad with his magic pen.
More shivers and giggles in:

Theodora Hendrix and the Monstrous League of Monsters
Jordan Kopy, illustrated by Chris Jevons
Walker Books

Here’s a terrific mix of monsters, mystery, horror and humour: it all begins ‘just shy of Halloween’ in an abandoned graveyard cemetery on the edge of Appleton. There in an unmarked grave, seemingly just waiting to be discovered lies a small squalling human. And discovered it is by one George Hendrix, a zombie (along with his vampire cat, Bandit). What do they do with said baby? They take it to a mansion – occupied by the Monstrous League of Monsters (MLM) where Georgie is assured the infant will be well cared for. The carers are a group comprising a mummy, ‘Mummy’ to the infant, a vampire, a werewolf and cubs, a witch, the skeleton butler, an operatic ghost, a crow and more – I wonder …

They name the babe Theodora and surprisingly, fall for her charms, but she must be kept secret.

Full speed forward a decade and there’s Theodora thriving and loving life along with her loyal arachnid associate, a dapper tarantula named Sherman.
But then mysterious anonymous threatening letters start to arrive. Seemingly somebody or something has found out about the group and is determined to expose them and their secret to HQ. Theodora is equally determined to discover the identity of the letter writer; so too are the others.

But Theodora decides to fly solo and hatches her own plan. Can she (along with her very first human friend), solve the mystery or are her monster family members doomed to rot imprisoned in Transylvania? And what of her own fate if she succeeds? …

Told by a mysterious narrator this is a smashing story, with some laugh-out loud moments, an abundance of family love and loyalty that shows how diverse family and friendships can be.

Great for reading aloud or solo reading and made all the more fun by Chris Jevons delicious black and white illustrations

The Boy and the Gorilla

The Boy and the Gorilla
Jackie Azúa Kramer and Cindy Derby
Walker Books

Profound in its impact, this is a story of loss, mourning and grief told entirely in dialogue and through a sequence of absolutely beautiful, understated illustrations.

We see a young boy, his grief palpable, on the day of his mother’s funeral as he envisions a companion – a gentle gorilla

– that accompanies him through those dark hours ready to answer all the questions that the little child is reluctant to put to his father. The creature’s wisdom is demonstrated through its responses to ‘Where did Mum Go?’ ‘No one knows for sure.’ Can’t my mum come back home?’ ‘No but she’s always with you.’ ‘I wish my Mum was here to read to me.’ ‘It’s a good story. Your father might like this book too.’ 

And little by little, through this unlikely friendship, the boy starts to open up and express his feelings: ‘Sometimes I want to be alone.’ … ‘Mum and I loved baseball.’ He also begins to find comfort in such activities as biscuit baking and tending to the garden flowers: ‘The seeds you planted together are like your mother’s love, a gift to keep forever.’

What this gentle gorilla shows is the importance of being able to talk about what you’re going through, particularly with those (like dad) who will be feeling equally sad and alone, as yet unable to open up.

Eventually, we see father and son beginning to feel their way forwards together through sharing a story and planting new flowers

and finally, walking off together, taking those first steps on the path to healing.

Olga: We’re Out of Here! / Judy Moody Goes to College / Zara and Moonbeam

Olga: We’re Out of Here!
Elise Gravel
Walker Books

Olga and her ‘adorable’ albeit rather smelly creature Meh (found in her rubbish bin) return with Olga – fed up with annoying humans – considering leaving Earth and moving to another planet. Perhaps they could even find Meh’s home planet.

Actually, there are several humans that Olga’s not fed up with including her pal, the dog loving Chuck and librarian extraordinaire, Ms Swoop. The latter might just be able to help with Olga’s possible foray into space.
But then Meh starts having digestive problems and before long is so poorly that Olga is truly concerned especially when she notices some unpleasant pimples on the creature’s belly.

Time to visit the library for a bit of investigation, but when Olga gets there she finds not the friendly Ms Swoop but the grumpy Mr Gumstrap on duty. Maybe a trip to the vet’s is a better option. Or is it? …
All ends happily however, and with some exciting news about Meh’s mystery ‘illness’.
Wonderfully quirky and with such an unconventional, research-loving outspoken protagonist, this illustrated notebook style story is such a fun read for primary children.

Judy Moody Goes to College
Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books

The latest story of Judy Moody finds the girl struggling with maths according that is to her sweet obsessed supply teacher, Mrs Grossman. The reason for this is that being unimpressed with said new teacher, Judy’s concentration is on anything but the measurement topic that’s being taught. Home goes a note to Judy’s parents who decide that their daughter needs a tutor. Stink, her little brother teases her talking of ‘baby flashcards’. Unsurprisingly Judy is not impressed with this tutor idea either but then she discovers that her tutor is a college student and that she too is going to college – sort of!

Pretty soon, Judy declares that having a tutor like Chloe is ‘crucial’ – ‘maths is everywhere. Maths is life.’ However, less impressed with this new-found enthusiasm of Judy’s are her school friends and it’s not long before she’s playing alone and lunching solo. Moreover, she finds herself sent to the attitude tent by Miss Grossman who’s finding her lippiness just a tad too much. Can Chloe help Judy sort this out too? Perhaps, with a bit of calming, peace-inducing yoga …

Huge fun whether or not the reader is an established Judy fan. I love Peter H. Reynolds illustrations.

Zara and Moonbeam
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Is this really the 15th magical story set at Unicorn Academy, the school on Unicorn Island where you meet your very own unicorn and have awesome adventures together. Now it’s Zara who is eagerly waiting for her unicorn to reveal her magic power. But Moonbeam keeps seeing pictures in her head and saying strange things: surely that can’t be connected to her magical power, or can it?

Suddenly who should appear but school inspector, Mr Longnose: could he perhaps be connected with the awful heatwave they’re experiencing? Zara and her friends are determined to find out. When Moonbeam keeps seeing the same images over and over she starts to think she can see into the future.

Then a school field trip is announced and after a while, Zara climbs an enormous rock and finds herself in trouble. Can Moonbeam find her magic power in the nick of time and save the girl?

With Lucy Truman’s black and white illustrations adding to the drama, Unicorn School enthusiasts especially, will devour this adventure, probably in a single sitting.

Glassheart / Brand New Boy / Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean

Glassheart
Katharine Orton
Walker Books

Prepare to be both chilled and enchanted, bothered and bewitched as you read this, the second of Katherine Orton’s stories. It tells of Nona who has lost all her family in the war (WW2) and of her adopted Uncle Antoni. This though isn’t a tale of war itself, but of its aftermath, as together they travel through the wilds of Dartmoor, each caring and protecting the other as a magical adventure unfolds. With echoes of folktale and legend, the landscape that the author crafts is wild, unpredictable – sometimes sinisterly nightmarish.

Her tale is one of power, fragility and also strength as the two walk side by side, stopping to replace stained glass windows, Nona with a small piece of magical glass in the form of half a heart reminding her of what once was, Uncle Antoni with his skill and artistry in stained glass.

With the girl as his apprentice, they undertake a mysterious commission that sees Nona face to face with her nemesis. But though fragile, Nona has an inner strength, loyalty and determination which drives her on in her endeavour to protect those she loves.

Truly evident is Katherine Orton’s understanding of suffering and the assuagement of grief.

Brand New Boy
David Almond, illustrated by Marta Altés
Walker Books

George joins an ordinary class in an ordinary school somewhere in northern England. Daniel is fascinated and watchful, especially when George’s ear falls off. It’s clear that this newcomer is far from ordinary. But then Daniel is actually not so ordinary either. He’s capable of doing extraordinary things: he’s caring, perceptive, questioning, open-minded and ready to accept somebody just a little bit different.

So, while he and his friend Maxie in particular go about their football and other activities at school, his mind is full of thoughts about the mysterious newcomer. But then just as suddenly as he came, two days later, George is there no more. Will he ever come back?

If ever there was a story to encourage children to think about what they are and to consider the true meaning of being human, and of freewill, then this is it.

Deceptively simple in its telling David Almond’s story has a quiet power while Martha Altés illustrations bring out the humour inherent in the tale.
Never underestimate children; all too frequently I see both teachers and parents so doing. They too should read this book.

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean
Justin Somper
UCLAN Publishing

This is a reissue of a book (the first of a series) originally published some fifteen years back. It’s a swashbuckling tale of pirates and vampires set in the future in an attractive-sounding location – Crescent Moon Bay on the Australian coast.

We meet twins Grace and Connor, who are left entirely alone in the world when their lighthouse keeper father to whom so many owe their lives, suddenly dies. The children cast themselves off in his boat out to sea and all too soon are hit by a storm but they’re not to meet their demise in the ocean. Grace is rescued by Lorcan Furey, one of the vampire crew of a strange boat, Connor by friendly pirates.

The action then switches between the two as their stories unfold alternately with secrets emerging until at last, the two are reunited. With its lively cast of characters (depicted before the title page) this is an entertaining start to a sequence of further adventures for older primary readers and beyond.

Ella’s Night Lights

Ella’s Night Lights
Lucy Fleming
Walker Books

Ella is a tiny, moth-like girl who longs above all else to see the sunrise; but she has to avoid the sun, so delicate are her feathery wings. Consequently, Ella leads a nocturnal existence collecting light from all that glows and glimmers by moonlight and sleeping by day. 

This light she would share with anyone who needed some help in the dark, while repeating her heart-warming chant “Here’s some bright light, here’s a night light. / A little ray to calm your fright.”
One night she bestows this light upon a little fox named Sable 

and the two become friends, searching together nightly for ‘shimmering light’.

Another night – a snowy one – she shines a calming light on a lonely little owl in a tree; then Luna joins forces with the light-givers, and the animals always ensured that little Ella was safely back before sunrise.

One night her animal friends decide that it’s time that Ella’s kindness is returned: together they create a very special gift to show their appreciation of her thoughtfulness and altruism, a gift to make her dreams come true.

Through both words and pictures, this story positively exudes charm, and sweetness – of the magical not the cloying kind. It’s a lovely warm-hearted book to share with youngsters especially now when we all need some light and kindness to help us through these difficult times.

Where Snow Angels Go

Where Snow Angels Go
Maggie O’Farrell and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini
Walker Books

‘Have you ever woken suddenly, in the middle of the night, without knowing why?’ So begins Maggie O’Farrell’s debut picture book wherein it’s young Sylvie who wakes unexpectedly to find her bedroom pulsing with a glimmering light, her curtains disturbed and a chill in the air. Suddenly a breathtaking sight meets her eyes, glowing white with a shimmering outline and an enormous pair of snow-white feathery wings. Before her an angel is creeping across the room muttering softly to himself.

Amazed that Sylvie can see him, he says that he’s her snow angel, there to look after her: Sylvie, he insists, is not as well as she thinks. He also reminds her that she has, despite what she says, heard of a snow angel, having made one the previous winter.

Assuring the girl that he’ll always be there watching her, the being disappears.

Many months later, after a long illness, Sylvie is feeling much better and recalling the visit, longs to see the angel again, for it was he who saved her life. Now she has a lot to tell him and even more she wants to know but of the snow angel there is no sign. Sylvie decides risk taking and putting herself in danger might precipitate his return, but throughout the summer nothing works. Then, as summer draws to an end, there are occasions when she feels he’s responsible for saving her life, but still she doesn’t see her angel.

Determined that those she loves – family and friends – have their very own protector, the girl tries asking if they too have ever made snow angels. Maybe if she calls on her Snow Angel to grant her a very special wish, something truly amazing can happen …

Maggie O’Farrell together with artist Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, have created their own small miracle in this powerful, exceptionally beautiful book that is essentially a 21st century fairy tale about a little girl, bravery, wishing and love – and of course – the wonders of snow. Daniela’s illustrations are hauntingly ethereal at times, at others superbly realistic, but always full of charm and in perfect harmony with Maggie O’Farrell’s compelling, suspenseful story weaving. (I love the circularity of her telling.)

Destined to become a seasonal classic assuredly. Make some hot chocolate, snuggle up and read with family this winter.

Rain Before Rainbows

Rain Before Rainbows
Smriti Halls and David Litchfield
Walker Books

My first thought on seeing the amazing cover of this book was the first song that I learned to sign, the foundation stage favourite, Sing a Rainbow. As I turned the pages, I felt that both Smriti and David truly are singing a rainbow in this awesome book that was originally released as a free download during the summer in partnership with Save the Children’s #SaveWithStories campaign.

On the opening spread we’re in the company of a girl as she follows a fox through a rainstorm, ‘Rain before rainbows. Clouds before sun,’ we read as Smriti’s lyrical rhyming text takes the child to the departing day as she pauses, illuminating the fox with her lantern under a star strewn sky.
The walking continues and we read of mountains to climb, ‘Journeys to take.’ …

until it’s time to rest under the now star-filled sky and dream hopeful dreams.

Yes, there are likely to be dark days when worries beset us; days when storms rage both within and without,

but somewhere there’s light and footsteps to follow, friends who care, to guide us all through troubled times, out of the dark and into the light where new life will always come, little by little seed by seed, flower by flower,

bringing hope and cheer, and the promise of better things beyond that darkness, under that rainbow …

Both author and illustrator have clearly put heart and soul into this breath-taking book. Smriti’s reverie of resilience is honest and reassuringly uplifting, while David’s dazzlingly spreads are out-of-this-world gorgeous. Every single one is a place to pause, reflect, imbibe its beauty (even the dark ones), and only then to move on, empowered and full of hope.

Julian at the Wedding

Julian at the Wedding
Jessica Love
Walker Book
Love, love love this stunner of a book wherein we see the return of mermaid- loving Julian – at a wedding. Not his of course but he does pretty much steal the show.

As the story starts, we see dapper looking Julian arriving at the celebration accompanied by Abuela, being greeted by a friend of hers who is accompanied by a little flower girl, Marisol. Both children are to be in the wedding – a ‘party of love’. And so it is – in more ways than one.

During the meal, Julian, Marisol and the brides’ dog, Gloria decide to make a break for it

and off they head to a “fairy house” as Julian calls the weeping willow. All three have terrific and rather mucky fun with the result that Marisol’s dress is dappled with paw prints and mud splodges.

Julian comes to the rescue with a creative idea and thanks to the magic of that fairy house … a transformation takes place. Now both parties are dressed divinely and just how they like to be.

Then they’re discovered by their grandmothers– time for Marisol to fess up and face the music but does anybody mind? Of course not: the brides welcome their return to the party and the loving festivities continue … under the stars.

There’s an abundance of love and tenderness, just the right amount of rebellion and wildness, and of course, individuality, acceptance and understanding.

Jessica Love’s illustrations (gouache and watercolour) are simply divine – vibrant and brimming over with glorious details making every spread one to pore over.

Sheer joy from cover to cover.

Inch and Grub

Inch and Grub
Alastair Chisholm and David Roberts
Walker Books

What’s the most important thing in your life – is it the acquisition of ever more ‘must have’ stuff, or is it something as simple as friendship? I’m pretty sure that during this on-going pandemic, this is something most of us have been considering and discovering the answer to.

Let me introduce two cavemen, Inch and Grub. The latter’s cave is bigger so that makes him the best, so he says. Inch responds by adding a water feature to his abode but then Grub makes fire.

This ignites their competitive natures well and truly, resulting in a contest wherein each one tries to outdo the other, creating bigger and better things, until their colossal, precariously perched towers of furniture, homes, modes of transport,

technological devices and more,

reach their tipping point – uh-oh!

The outcome is, both rivals learn a valuable lesson – actually more than one – about themselves …

With its timely and vital message, this terrific story will make you and youngsters giggle all the way through as you eagerly anticipate the seemingly inevitable denoument.

David Roberts’ wonderfully quirky illustrations adroitly amplify the impact of the telling, showing how such games of brinkmanship are almost bound to end in disaster.

Superb!

Sona Sharma Very Best Big Sister / Agents of the Wild: Operation Icebeak

Here are two terrific young fiction titles from Walker Books

Sona Sharma Very Best Big Sister
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun

Young Sona Sharma lives with her family in the Tamil Nadu city of Chennai.

As the story opens, she’s getting increasingly agitated about the forthcoming birth of a new baby sibling, an event about which the rest of her household and extended family seems obsessed. (It’s also one that children in a similar situation to Sona might find difficult adapting to).

Sona most definitely needs the sympathetic listening ear of Elephant, her best friend and constant companion (except at school). Everybody seems set on Amma having a baby boy and when talk of the naming ceremony comes up, Sona resolves to help her Appa find the perfect girl’s name (her Amma is ‘looking for boy names’ he tells her.) Nobody in the family is allowed to know if it’s a boy or girl until after the birth.

Even with this important task, sharing is still a big issue for young Sona: can it be resolved before the baby arrives?

Can Sona become the very best big sister and live up to that family motto ‘Iyavadhu Karavel’? (Always help as best you can.)

I totally fell in love with Sona and the rest of her family and community (how great to have a woman auto driver). Through Chitra’s absolutely gorgeous story of welcoming a new arrival into the hearts and home of a loving community, told from Sona’s perspective and beautiful line drawings by Jen Khatun, readers/listeners will encounter some of the traditions

and rituals – cultural and familial – of this large Indian Hindu family which may well be new to them.
I can almost smell the jasmine and feel the steamy heat as I’m transported to one of my most favourite parts of the world – one I can’t wait to revisit once this terrible pandemic allows. Till then I have this warm-hearted tale to re-read over and over (until I can bear to pass it on). More please.

Agents of the Wild: Operation Icebeak
Jennifer Bell and Alice Lickens

Now permanent SPEARS field agents, Agnes and her partner Attie receive an emergency call and before you can say ‘penguins’ the two of them are disappearing down a speed funnel, destination Antarctica. It’s from there, sent by the team at the marine outpost, that the distress call came.

What is causing the seismic tremors being felt within and around the vicinity of the treatment centre, outpost 22? Why are all the Adelie penguins behaving in such an odd fashion? And, what on earth is the celebrity presenter and rare bird expert Cynthia Steelsharp, (one of Attie’s heroes) doing in a tent in the middle of the ice fields?

Moreover, why is she so interested in the little shrew’s trinoculars (that he’d needed to pass a two weeks training before being allowed to use in the field)?
Looks as though it’s a case of ‘operation species rescue’ for the SPEARS partnership (even though it may also mean an operation rescue of one of the pair).

Once again, team Jennifer (author) and Alice (illustrator) successfully interweave ecology and biology into an exciting and very funny story making it both enormously entertaining and educative (not a hint of preachiness at all).

Established Agnes and Attie enthusiasts (and I know a fair number) will devour this, likely in a single sitting; but you don’t really need to have read the first book to love this one, though if you’ve missed it I’d recommend getting hold of book Operation Honeyhunt and then move on to Operation Icebeak.

If you’re a teacher of 7s to 9s and would like to encourage your children to become eco-warriors, either book makes an enormously enjoyable class read aloud. (Back-matter includes information about the fragility of the Antarctic ecosystem and how readers can help reduce global warming.)

A word of warning – two actually: first -never say the word ‘onesie’ to your partner, let alone one clad in a watertight thermal body suit with SPEARS emblazoned across it; second – it doesn’t always pay to trust little lizards with the ability to change their colour.

Honey for You, Honey for Me

Honey for You, Honey for Me
collected by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Walker Books

I danced around the kitchen and leapt in glee on opening the parcel containing this book from the team that gave us the anthology A Great Big Cuddle.

It’s an absolutely stonking first book of forty nursery rhymes and one of the very best gifts you could give a baby or toddler.

Michael has always been fascinated with nursery rhymes calling them ‘surprising little dramas, full of mysteries and unanswered questions.’ Like this reviewer he’s been an avid collector of books of nursery rhymes and in this new one of his, Michael has put not only popular favourites and playground chants, but also some rhymes that have lain forgotten perhaps for a generation or two.

From cavorting elephants en route from Wibbleton to Wobbleton, wibbly wobbly jelly and frizzle frazzle sausages,

as well as dancing ones summoned into life by a whistling boy, a mop-consuming dog and a ton weight of a giant who’s all a-tremble at the mere sight of a mouse – we know we’ve entered that magical land of topsy turvy where playful language is loved for the sheer delight it offers both to those who hear it and to those who utter it.

Chris Riddell’s illustrations are outstanding, making the characters utterly memorable in a new way, be they of those you might already have met such as the all in black clad Miss Mary Mack and Little Poll Parrot or some delightful revelations that for me were the hiccup remedy …

the hungry frog and for the sheer joy of sharing something delectably new and bouncy to boot, ‘Dibbity, dibbity, dibbity, doe, / Give me a pancake and I’ll go. // Dibbity, dibbity, dibbity, ditter, / Please to give me a bit of fritter.’

For utter adorableness, Chris’s character illustration that completely stole my heart was The man in the moon.

Guaranteed to become a favourite in any household with young children, in nursery and early years settings and with anybody who wants to promote a love of language and art for their own sake (surely, that’s pretty much all of us), this is joyful magic from cover to cover.

My First Cook Book

My First Cook Book
David Atherton, illustrated by Rachel Stubbs
Walker Books

I’m far from an expert cook, nor have I really any aspirations so to be as my partner serves up delicious vegetarian dinners every evening. I wasn’t one of the many people who turned to baking during lockdown but nonetheless I was motivated to try some of the exciting recipes in 2019 The Great British Bake Off Winner, David Atherton’s book, aimed primarily at children. David has also been an International Health Advisor and is a fervent believer in the importance of teaching young children about healthy eating.

In My First Cook Book, he presents over forty nutritious recipes organised under four headings: ‘Starting the Day’, ‘Lunches and simple suppers’, ‘Delicious treats’ and ‘Teatime bakes’; and despite its title, this is very much a family book; adult supervision is required for each recipe. The author is an advocate of cooking together as a family and before the recipes, provides an illustrated list of basic kit for cooks, definitions of some terms used, notes on measurement and more.

I’m sure little ones will absolutely love the Banana bear pancakes (so long as they like bananas) – fantastic to see that young spinach leaves are included in the batter mix.

I was especially drawn to the Edible chia bowls that you can fill with whatever you so choose. I’m going to use a plant-based yogurt as the only slight deviation from the ‘live plain yogurt’ suggested in the ingredients.

If you’re thinking of lunch during a walk, why not try the Piggy buns as part of your picnic, filled with something of your family’s choosing. They look almost too cute to consume.

Among the ‘Delicious treats’ are goodies both savoury and sweet including Hummus lion and Energy stars – now they look truly tempting.

From ‘Teatime bakes’ I’m sure few people will be able to resist the Mega-chocolatey cake. I’ll say no more, other than that the recipe given makes 24 servings: what are you waiting for …

I had to laugh at David’s comment about pretending to be a dog as a kid in his Peanut butter bones introduction. It took me back to a reception class I once taught where for the first 2 weeks a little girl insisted she was a dog and crawled everywhere, even down the corridor to the hall for an assembly. The head was less than impressed with me: now these biscuits I’ll make for Farhannah, whom I’ll never forget.

I could go on raving about the recipes herein but I’ll merely say, get hold of his book and tuck in. It’s terrific! Made all the more so thanks to Rachel Stubbs’ fantastic illustrations of both the step-by-step food creation and the families having fun in the processes of cooking and consuming.

Ride the Wind

Ride the Wind
Nicola Davies and Salvatore Rubbino
Walker Books

Out on a fishing trip with his father Tomas and Uncle Felipe, Javier sees that an albatross has been caught on one of the fishing hooks and is barely alive. He wraps the bird in a tarpaulin and hides it away.

Once they reach the shore, he stows it safely and starts nursing it back to health with the kind help of some of the village residents who give him healing ointments, a dog’s bed and fish at low cost.

As Javier and the bird get to know one another, the boy becomes sure it’s a female he’s caring for, but it’s impossible to keep its presence a secret.

His father agrees to allow it to stay until their next sea trip but the lad has his own very special reason for caring so much about the bird’s fate.

Little by little the albatross gets better but as the trip draws ever closer, she shows no sign of taking to the wing.

Then talk of an imminent ‘big wind’ gives Javier an idea. But when he goes to find the bird, he learns that his father has got rid of it.

Not caring for the consequences of his actions, Javier is determined to rescue the albatross and send her flying homewards.

Can he pull off his daring bird launch? And what will be his father’s reaction when he discovers what his son has done?

Salvatore Rubbino’s splendid watercolour illustrations capture both the emotions and the drama of Nicola Davies’ heartfelt telling that interweaves a father and son’s grieving, and the albatross and its fate. (Nicola also includes an introductory note about wandering albatrosses like the one in her story.)

Ellie’s Dragon

Ellie’s Dragon
Bob Graham
Walker Books

Bob Graham has created yet another gorgeous picture book, one that celebrates the imagination of young children.

It features Ellie who when quite young discovers a multi-hued, newly hatched baby dragon atop an egg box in the supermarket. She names him Scratch and takes him home with her.
There she accommodates the tiny creature in her doll’s house feeding him on such fare as nasturtiums, chillies and burnt toast. All the while her mother sees nothing unusual.

As she grows and changes, Ellie’s love for the dragon remains constant: she takes him to nursery

on outings and even to the cinema.

Like Ellie though, Scratch grows and changes. When Ellie turns eleven, her dragon begins to fade away until for the teenage girl, he finally disappears.

It’s time for Scratch to find a new child …

As always, Bob Graham’s illustrations are suffused with his own brand of gentle humour and full of wonderfully whimsical details, as he documents this poignant portrayal of growing up and losing that sense of awe and wonder, that boundless imagination that sadly, so many children have ‘educated’ out of them.

Catch That Chicken!

Catch That Chicken!
Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank
Walker Books

Set in a West African village compound this is essentially Lami’s story. Lami has a special talent for catching chickens and everyone of the villagers knows she’s the best.

That’s not to say that her family and friends are without talents of their own – sister Sadia is a super speller,

brother Bilal is brave with bulls

and friend Fatima is a super-speedy plaiter of hair.

One day while chasing a chicken around the compound, Lami ignores the shouts of “Sannu! Sannu!”, “Slow down!” as she dashes madly towards and up the big baobab tree.

Suddenly as she makes a grab for the bird, Lami slips and comes hurtling to the ground where we see a painfully sprained and very puffy ankle and a very tearful little girl.

Some well-chosen words from her Nana Nadia result in a change in Lami’s chicken strategies but it’s one that proves that there’s more than one way to be an ace chicken catcher.

Once again team Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank have created a winning, enriching, gently humorous story, which shows the strong community spirit of Lami’s village wherein everyone is valued. Angela Brooksbank’s spirited scenes abound with colour, texture and pattern showing much about this particular way of life in West Africa.

A great book to add to the family shelves or foundation stage/KS1 classroom collections.

Roxy & Jones: The Great Fairytale Cover-Up

Roxy & Jones: The Great Fairytale Cover-Up
Angela Woolfe
Walker Books

I absolutely love fairytale pasticcios and Angela Woolfe sets hers in a world where witches and magic are real, and fairy tales are recent history.

It begins once upon a modern time in the city of Rexopolis in the kingdom of Illustria wherein resides eleven year old Roxy Humperdink along with half-sister Gretel who apparently works as loo cleaner for the Ministry of Soup.

Not long before midnight Roxy is brushing her teeth when she notices a slip of paper sticking out from beneath the bath. Pulling it free causes the bath panel to break and as a consequence Roxy finds herself pyjama-clad and shivering in a cold, dark labyrinth of corridors beneath the aforementioned Ministry.

Enter a girl dressed as a giant buttercup in search of a particular rhyming book – Mrs Tabitha Cattermole’s Chronicle of the Cursed Kingdom. This rather rebellious young female is Jones (aka Cinderella) and she disappears as quickly as she arrived dropping the book she’d just found.

Roxy takes the book back with her and as a result has to spend a night in the Decontamination Zone where she finds herself face to face with none other than the scary Minister Atticus Splendid. Roxy, we learn has a photographic memory, which is fortunate because Atticus has the book destroyed, something she informs Jones when next they meet.

That’s when the two become a proper team, aided and abetted from time to time by Jones’ fairy godmother Frankie who, on account of an errant spell, has the appearance of a ten-year-old boy.

A host of other fairy tale characters make appearances as Roxy and Jones go all out to save the world from the evils of a queen who has recently broken out of prison and can hardly wait to re-establish herself as ruler.

It’s fabulous stuff, very funny and the dialogue is superb; assuredly as fractured a fairy tale, or many, as you could wish for. Apart that is from wishing for further adventures of Roxy and Jones, I won’t divulge any more. Instead I’ll go in search of some special vegan muffins to consume, sans goji berries I hasten to add.

The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle / Stick & Fetch Investigate: Off the Leash

New additions to  two very popular Walker Books series for primary readers:

The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle
Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

When a decidedly unsavoury stink starts wafting in from the goat pasture, Princess Magnolia has little choice but to leave her bridge-building in the kitchen, don her Princess in Black gear, mount her trusty steed and follow her nose to the source of the stench and deal with it.

So she does temporarily, but all she’s actually done is shift this particular stinky emanation elsewhere as it quickly becomes evident. For, one by one other masked princesses appear on the scene to try and overcome what they discover is a stinky monster.

This stinky monster however is truly powerful – ‘stinkier than a full litter tray … stinkier than a blocked toilet … stinkier than a pile of dirty nappies on a hot summer’s day. …more stink than monster.’ PHOAW!

It’s definitely time for all the princesses and the Goat Avenger to join forces and try a spot of teamwork.

This is book seven and the final pages indicate that there’s still more to come – something that will please the large numbers of newly independent reader fans of the series

Stick & Fetch Investigate: Off the Leash
Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Detective partners Sally Stick and Fetch are hot on the trail again in a third adventure.

Following an operation Granny Stick is holidaying for a week at the seaside, staying at The Roxbee Hotel and that means Sally and her dog are there too.

No sooner are they installed in their very own room than the detective duo start discovering clues and looking for evidence of criminal activity.

So who is the mysterious thief that’s breaking into rooms, stealing shampoo, towels and other things, loading them onto a getaway trolley and eating chocolate bars?

This is assuredly an unusual case – or is it even a case? That would be telling.

What can be told though is that this crazy story is enormous fun for new solo readers. The mix of Philip Ardagh’s bonkers humour and Elissa Elwick’s chucklesome illustrations makes for a splendid first full-length adventure for the Sally and Fetch team.

Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Great Big Purple Underwater Underpants Adventure

Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Great Big Purple Underwater Underpants Adventure
A.L.Kennedy, illustrated by Gemma Correll
Walker Books

I can’t believe we’re already at number four in this utterly bonkers, somewhat surreal series starring Uncle Shawn, his llama pals, badger Bill et all.

What on earth is causing all those mysterious Purple Bottom explosions and creating great alarm with regard to underpants the world over?

There’s surely one person who knows how to deal with a crisis such as this Particularly Purple one: look no further than Uncle Shawn, plan or no plan.

There is a plan though of sorts; it involves leaving the farm to the llamas and embarking on an adventure to find and save the Living Fish Tree. All it takes, surely, will be several pairs of Undersea Boots, a plentiful supply of powdered undersea air, buckets (to go over heads) and a bit of bravado.

There’s an encounter with Timothy the shark, one of the Great White variety (apparently Uncle Shawn has saved the creature’s life back in the day). Let me say here that sharks’ mouths can, when needed, be extremely useful means of rapid transportation particularly if you need to get from Scotland to the Pacific Ocean.

They’re also a pretty decent place to consume a lunchtime sandwich should you feel a tad peckish, oh and the tongue’s a suitable place for a game of snap and while so doing discussing the likelihood of the nefarious Sylvester Pearlyclaws being behind the massive, ever increasing, purple problem.

But is this a problem too large even for Uncle Shawn et al? I for one would hate to be a story spoiler so I’ll leave you on tenterhooks and a tad entangled in the hope you’ll get hold of a copy of this delicious daftness served up by A.L. Kennedy, garnished by Gemma Correll, and discover for yourself.

My Red Hat / Sometimes Cake

It’s an absolute joy to catch up with some recently published Walker Books picture book treats

My Red Hat
Rachel Stubbs
Walker Books

I’m sure every young child would absolutely love to have a hat such as that in Rachel Stubbs’ meditative story. Said hat is bestowed with love upon a little girl by her grandfather one day.

But this is no ordinary hat, quite the opposite; it has an enchantment all of its own for its possibilities are seemingly without limit.

It might for instance keep you warm and dry, or cool; it can serve as an artist’s subject or a drink container, you can wear it to stand out or blend in…

It’s a holder of dreams, a hider of secrets, a cover for fears; it will take its wearer to the most wonderful places far away

before bringing you right back to snuggle up on Grandfather’s lap.

In keeping with the harmony that exists between Grandfather and young child, there’s a sense of perfect harmony between Rachel Stubbs’ illustrations in her beautifully understated colour palette and her minimal text that leaves so much for readers and listeners to fill in.

Sometimes Cake
Edwina Wyatt and Tamsin Ainslie
Walker Books

Deliciously sweet but never sickly is this treat of a picture book.

It tells what happens when Audrey meets a lion carrying a purple balloon. She asks if it’s his birthday and he replies, “Sometimes, but not today.” Nonetheless, it must be someone’s birthday reasons Audrey and so they celebrate with a song and cheers.

There follow several further encounters between the two. In the next Lion brings a cake and they celebrate both Tuesdays and coconuts (for the icing). They go on to celebrate orange and yellow – Lion sporting a hat.

These celebrations appear to be a regular occurrence but then comes a change: Lion appears sans anything and announces it’s just an ordinary day.

Thereupon Audrey leaves him alone and goes off to set about preparing for a party to celebrate a perfectly ordinary day – only it isn’t for there’s Lion to celebrate and plenty more besides.

A tender reminder of the importance of being in the moment; and that being with a friend is always cause for celebration – something we’ll all endorse as we come out of lockdown. It’s full of warmth and the wonders that simple things can sometimes offer, beautifully expressed by Edwina Wyatt and equally beautifully illustrated in soft watercolours by Tamsin Ainslie.

Snuggle up with little ones and share with cake, especially on Tuesdays.

Kaia and the Bees

Kaia and the Bees
Maribeth Boelts and Angela Dominguez
Walker Books

Kaia is pretty fearless but there’s one notable exception: having been stung on the foot, she’s super scared about bees despite her dad being a bee-keeper with two hives on the roof of their apartment home.

Dad does his level best to enthuse his daughter about his favourite topic but it takes being found out about her aversion by the children who also live in her block for Kaia to overcome her melissophobia.

With protective suit on she follows her Dad up the stairs and out onto the roof. There her bee education continues apace and her fear of the little insects slowly diminishes

until she thoughtlessly removes one of her gloves and OUCH! Kaia is stung again. “I’m never EVER going near those bees again!” she cries and sticks to her word.

Soon comes the time for collecting the honey from the hives. The family work hard all day in the kitchen filling jars with sweet smelling golden honey.

Then Dad’s “It’s a mystery, isn’t it!’ awakens a feeling of wonder in the girl and later, after another bee encounter, Kaia understands something about the tiny creatures that she’d never considered before.

At last she appreciates just how incredible bees are and alongside that, she finally feels brave inside.

Maribeth Boelts’ story that gently educates about the importance of bees is written from the perspective of being part of a bee-keeping family and she fully appreciates both how awesome and vital to our ecosystem the creatures are, as well as understanding that some people might, like Kaia, feel scared unless helped to overcome their fear. This understanding can be applied to a fear of anything, making the book even more helpful.

I love that Kaia’s family live in an urban location; and Angela Dominguez’s mixed-media illustrations both provide detail about bee keeping and clearly show the characters’ feelings throughout.

The Walloos’ Big Adventure

The Walloos’ Big Adventure
Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

Allow me to introduce the Walloos. Living on a rocky island at the edge of a lake, there’s a big one, a spotty one, an old one and a little one.

Each Walloo has its own particular penchant. Little Walloo loved to grow plants, Spotty Walloo had a culinary bent especially with regard to soups and salads; boat building was Big Walloo’s love and Old Walloo’s favourite occupation was storytelling, particularly about the old days and his visits to tropical-exotic islands.

Fired up by his tales, Little Walloo longs for her own tropical island adventure and one day Big Walloo builds a boat and away they go, sailing through nights and days until they spy something exciting: – a ‘tropical-exotic island.”

It’s a truly beautiful place but there’s something slightly strange about it that only Little Walloo notices – at first anyway; this island seems to be moving. It’s not long before Old Walloo agrees with her.

When is an island not an island? To tell would be to spoil this enchanting story. But what can be said is that what happens involves an idea, problem-solving, seeing things from the perspective of others, teamwork, kindness, caring and the co-creation of more stories of ‘tropical exotic adventures.

There’s an abundance of warmth and gentle humour in this smashing story of the Walloos that reminded me just a little of the Moomins in the way the characters engage with and understand one another, their charm and their thirst for adventure.

Then there’s that gentle environmental message made more evident in Anuska Allepuz’s wonderfully whimsical illustrations.

I can’t wait to share this with young children – it’s an absolute delight.

Chick and Brain: Egg or Eyeball? / Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere

Chick and Brain: Egg or Eyeball?
Cece Bell
Walker Books

Presented in graphic novel format, a super-silly sequel to Smell My Foot and once again Chick and Brain go head to head in a dispute. This time it’s on account of the ovoid object that Brain has come upon. It’s an eyeball he insists, but Chick knows better: after all, the creature emerged from such a thing. A bout of bickering ensues though perhaps Chick has the upper ‘hand’ for he produces a book to back-up his argument.

In comes Spot the Dog to claim the item as his lunch and he too is on the ‘egg’ side. The ensuing noisy exchange between the three wakes up a rather large cat and then it’s Chick’s insistence on politeness that almost causes him to become the moggy’s lunch.

Brain however steps up to the mark to save the day and the daftness continues with the arrival of Something Else and then comes the great revelation, for this being happens to be sans something rather important …

Daft it is, but who cares; even the most book-averse will find themselves giggling their way through this wacky comedic offering.

Presented in a semi-graphic novel format and rather more challenging a read is:

Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere
Elise Gravel
Walker Books

Inquisitive young Olga is an animal obsessive (barring mosquitos that is) who aspires to be a world-famous zoologist. (She’s less keen on humans however.) Olga loves everything about the world’s fauna – farts and all, writing all her observations in her notebook and it’s this that she gives readers access to.

Imagine her delight when one day she discovers a trail of rainbow poo that leads her not to the unicorn she suspects it might be, but to what she describes as ‘a ‘cross between an inflated hamster and a potato drawn by a three-year old’, calling itself a ‘Meh’.

Some observations and introductions ensue and then Olga takes the erstwhile rubbish bin resident home for closer observation.

Finding out what the creature actually is (a new species perhaps?) and what it likes to eat proves pretty challenging, so much so that our scientist in training has to resort to accepting the assistance of other humans.

One day disaster strikes: Olgamus Ridiculus disappears. It’s then that some of the previously annoying people prove to be anything but, and all ends happily, albeit a tad unexpectedly.

Elise Gravel’s style of presentation is a zany mix of first person narrative, splendidly expressive comical style illustrations, lists, diagrams, jokes and more that will ensure laughs aplenty and a wide appeal.

Hugo / Cat Ladies

Hugo
Atinuke and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

Atinuke uses an unusual narrator for her heartwarming story that’s set in and around a small, urban park, it’s Hugo the pigeon. Hugo is a park warden and every day, through all the changing seasons he patrols the park looking after various humans –

that’s his particular Spring task, while in summer he has to clean up the mess left by picnickers and his autumn days are occupied with child care (to give their mothers a rest).

On chilly wintry days Hugo sees it as his role to visit the apartments near the park to remind the residents that spring isn’t too far off.

At one window though the curtains never open but Hugo knows someone hides whenever he knocks.

Then one day the curtains part to reveal a small girl whom Hugo treats to his ‘Spring-is-coming’ dance moves.

Not long after the bird is late to arrive and the child leans right out to look for him. So enthusiastic is his ‘here I am’ dance that Hugo fails to notice another arrival.

Happily Hugo lives to finish his story but receives an injury that completely changes the lonely life of his young rescuer, for the better. No wonder Hugo loves his job.

Birgitta Sif’s illustrations are the perfect complement for this offbeat tale – gently humorous and alive with deliciously quirky details at every page turn; and her colour palette is always beautiful, no matter which season she portrays.

Cat Ladies
Susi Schaefer
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Here’s a delightfully tongue-in-cheek tale of Princess, a well and truly pampered moggy: she has not one but four ladies with whom she shares her time. That involves plenty of work but Princess doesn’t mind for she receives more than her share of treats for participating in ‘grooming days’ with Millie, running errands with Molly,

and a spot of bird watching with Merthel. Band practice time spent with Maridl is the noisiest activity but Princess has ‘everything under control’.

Then one day, horror of horrors, Princess discovers that her favourite napping spot has been usurped by a ‘stray’. Not only that though, this creature seems to have taken over other roles too.

When her efforts to retrain the ladies fail, Princess ups and leaves in a jealous sulk. However things don’t quite go smoothly when she searches for an alternative place to take her catnap and the moggy finds herself in a very uncomfortable situation.

Fortunately the young interloper has an acute sense of hearing and picks up the ‘MEOWW!!!’ issuing from the feline and all ends happily with four ladies becoming five.

Susi Schaeffer’s bold, lively digital art is given a textured feel by the addition of hand-painted designs; the older human characters are delightfully eccentric and the story will appeal particularly to cat lovers young and not so young.

You Can’t Count On Dinosaurs!

You Can’t Count On Dinosaurs!
Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Subtitled An Almost Counting Book this zany story begins with Rex. a mischievous little T-Rex. He’s quickly joined by Patty and the two play a game of chase. Onto the scene appears Brian, a cute-looking little fellow; hold on though, he’s vanished. That surely isn’t the reason Rex is burping, or is it?

Okay, on with the count: enter stage right, Steggy closely followed by Argy. Hurrah we’re up to four, though maybe splatted Patty doesn’t count.

Seemingly she does and the four decide a bit of aquatic amusement would be in order, courtesy of good old Argy.

While so engaged a pretender appears on the scene. Rumbled! Pterosaurs are not dinosaurs, but Terry has some news for his dino. pals concerning a certain Rex. Apparently this dinosaur is able to fly …

Hang on, I thought this was a counting book and this reviewer’s lost count so needs to follow the instruction here …

However no matter how hard you try and how good your one to one correspondence is, by the time you reach the final spread, you won’t get ten dinosaurs (unless of course you want to count in the one in a certain Rex’s enormous belly. No wonder the author chose to call his stomping romp You Can’t Count on Dinosaurs.

All this madness and mayhem is shown vividly portrayed in Elissa Elwick’s arrestingly coloured scenes of this prehistoric perambulation that offers fun, and sometimes tricky, lessons in counting and conversation for your little humans.

The more scientifically minded among them can try getting their tongues around the real identities of the frolickers captioned on the endpapers.

Grow

Grow
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

Nicola Davies has a rare skill when it comes to explaining sometimes quite tricky concepts to young readers and Emily Sutton’s illustrations are always superb.

With the opening statement ‘All living things grow’, award-winning team Emily and Emma then explore for young readers, the mysteries of DNA, the genetic code that determines the characteristics of every plant and every animal including we humans.

First are examples of different speeds of growth ranging from the desert four o’clock plants that grow from seed to flower in ten days

to the guahog clams found in the chilly depths of the Arctic Ocean that take 500 years to grow to the size of the palm of a child’s hand. WOW!

The importance of how much things grow is considered next followed by another aspect of growth, that of change,

and that leads neatly into DNA.

We find out about its four bases and how they can be combined in different ways creating a genetic code pattern, comprising for we humans, 20,000 genes.

Everyone has a unique genetic code half of which comes from their biological father and half from the biological mother (identical twins however share a genetic code).

There’s follows a spread showing the relative closeness of the human genetic code to various plants and animals; another points out that thanks to DNA all living things are connected. DNA also provides a connection that can be traced right back to the beginning of life on Earth – awesome – and all on account of the fact that as Nicola concludes ‘all life has always been written in one language’.

This is just the kind of book I would have relished as a child; it will surely inspire as well as educate youngsters.

Buy for home and for KS2 primary classrooms.

Follow Me, Flo!

Follow Me, Flo!
Jarvis
Walker Books

Anything but a follower of the rules, young ducky Flo prefers to do things in her own divergent way and so it is when she and Daddy Duck set out to pay a visit to Auntie Jenna’s new nest.

Daddy lays down some ground rules from the start – ‘FOLLOW ME all the way. No chasing or hiding’ and then off they go with Daddy inventing a song to help keep his little one on the straight and narrow: “We’re off to somewhere new./ So stick to me like glue.// FOLLOW ME, FLO!/ Come on, let’s go!/ We’re sure to be there soon.// Follow me UP… . // Follow me DOWN… . / Look straight ahead and NOT AROUND!”

Inevitably it isn’t long before Flo begins to feel this song isn’t right for her.

Instead she invents her own much more exciting version and so pleased with same does she become that she fails to realise that she’s strayed right into the path of a certain Roxy Fox with other things on her mind than singing.

Fortunately however, Jarvis’ ducky ditty takes an unexpected turn for Flo remembers in the nick of time, the words of her Daddy’s song and is back on the right track, even managing to earn some praise from her pa and all ends happily.

It’s all in the eyes with Jarvis’ delectable images of young Flo’s recalcitrant romp that young humans will relish, especially those with a streak of rebellion, and that’s pretty much all of them; they might even learn an important lesson along the way too.

Adult sharers will love to give voice to this rollicking read aloud with its liberal sprinkling of accompanying minibeasts adding to the delights.

Mr Brown’s Bad Day / Bunnies on the Bus

Mr Brown’s Bad Day
Lou Peacock and Alison Friend
Nosy Crow

Mr Brown is a Very Important Businessman with a Very  Important Briefcase that he takes to his Very Important Office where he spends his time signing Very Important Letters and attending Very Important Meetings.

Every lunchtime clutching his Very Important Briefcase he leaves his office to eat his lunch in the park.

One Tuesday however, a baby elephant snatches the briefcase while Mr B is busy thinking important thoughts.

There follows a frantic chase on foot and by tricycle as said briefcase is passed relay style onto the back of an ice-cream trolley and then in the possession of a group of children, onto the fairground’s big wheel, and the bus back through the town to school.

Mr Brown finally catches up with it when the bus stops to disgorge the passengers.

Eventually with darkness falling it’s a very weary tiger that heads home clutching his briefcase. Once there he checks to make sure the contents are safe before heading up to bed for a well-earned rest and some more ‘Very Important Business’ …

But what was inside that briefcase? Now that would be telling and I’m no story spoiler.

Great fun with a wonderful final surprise revelation. Alison Friend’s illustrations are a treat too with plenty of detail and action to engage your little ones as they listen to Lou Peacock’s tongue-in-cheek tale.

Bunnies on the Bus
Philip Ardagh and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

TOOT! TOOT HONK! HONK! Madness and mayhem abound as the bunnies take to the bus one summer’s day in Sunny Town, so the rest of us drivers and pedestrians had better steer well clear as the bunny driver has clearly gone rogue, careering past the bus stops narrowly avoiding the other animals going about their daily business.

The bunnies meanwhile are having a ball aboard FLUFF 1, cavorting down the aisle; there’s even one up on the roof.
Where is this vehicle bound for you may well be wondering as it suddenly leaves the road completely.

No matter, for at the next stop, those bunny passengers instantly set their sights on another mode of transport as they make their exit and err … where one journey ends another begins so to speak …

Anarchic fun for your bouncy little ones created by the terrific Ardagh/ Mantle team whose combination of energetic rhyme (Philip) and cracking illustrations jam-packed with gigglesome details (Ben) is perfect cheering up material.

The Stars Just Up the Street

The Stars Just Up the Street
Sue Soltis and Christine Davenier
Walker Books

Mabel’s grandpa loves to tell stories of the thousands of stars in the night sky where he grew up and this draws in his granddaughter Mabel who loves to look at the five stars she can see through her bedroom window and the nineteen visible from her back garden’s ‘narrow patch of sky’.

When Grandpa and Mabel go walking in the town looking for the myriad of stars he saw in his youth, the plethora of street lights and houselights make it impossible.

What can she do about the lack of the real darkness that would allow the stars to become visible?

Now Mabel has a mission: to convince other people to turn off the lights. First she goes to her neighbours who having done as requested are amazed at the number of stars now visible – around two hundred. “Look, the Big Dipper!” cries one in surprise.

More people agree to switch off but to get the street lights turned out, Mabel must appeal to the town’s mayor. This, with dogged persistence and a reminder that everyone was a starry-eyed, star watching child once upon a time, she eventually does.

The story concludes with a community celebration with everybody gathering up on the hill to view the wonders of the night-time sky, now filled with stars,

an event that seems destined to become an annual new moon tradition with  picnics and telescopes.

Sue Soltis’ beautifully told, inspiring story of the love between Grandpa and grandchild, of determination, community and controlling light pollution, will appeal to urban star-gazers especially, as well as one hopes encouraging youngsters to take up the challenge and campaign for what they believe is right and to stand against those things which are detrimental to our world. Christine Davenier’s ink-wash illustrations capture both the beauty of the night sky liberally sprinkled with stars, and the young girl protagonist’s heartfelt determination.

Would that it were so relatively easy: our towns and cities at night are ablaze with unnecessary artificial lights, almost wherever one looks: every town, every city needs a Mabel.

Midge & Mo / Judy Moody Super Book Whiz

Midge & Mo
Lara Williamson & Becky Cameron
Little Tiger

Starting at a new school is almost always a bit scary and many children go through those ‘I want things to be how they were before we moved’ feelings. It’s certainly the case for Midge in this latest story in the Stripes series of full colour fiction for new solo readers.

Midge’s parents have separated and Midge is faced with having to start at a new school with all the challenges that presents. He really doesn’t want to embrace the change, instead he wants his old school and friends, and his parents together.

On his first day he receives a warm welcome from teacher, Mr Lupin who asks Mo to be Midge’s buddy. This proves to be a challenging role, for no matter how hard she tries, Midge remains sad and silent.

At the end of the day, Mr Lupin encourages her to keep on trying.

Back at home that night, Mo has an idea. She reaches for the snow globe her mum and dad gave her when she was a newbie at school and sits down with her parents whose words of wisdom inspire her to create a special something for Midge.

At school the following morning, she tries again with Midge and her actions precipitate a change in him: little by little, the clouds begin to shift …

Told and illustrated with obvious empathy, Lara’s words and Becky’s illustrations express so well, the emotional turmoil of Midge. It’s a lovely warm-hearted story for young just-independent readers as well as providing an ideal opportunity to explore the feelings associated with changing schools and/or a parental separation.

Judy Moody Super Book Whiz
Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books

My goodness, I hadn’t realised just how many Judy Moody books there now are.

Although there is a competition in this story regarding factual recall of things in stories and I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that, books and reading rule and that must be a good thing.

Judy Moody and her brother Stink are both on their school bookworm team (along with Frank and Judy’s erstwhile arch nemesis Jessica, Frank and Sophie). They have to read all the books on the list in order to beat the team from a school in the nearby town. There’s money for the school library as a prize and their much-loved teacher, Mr Todd is asking the questions, but can team Virginia Dare Bookworms out-perform The Fake-Moustache Defenders with their star, ‘Mighty Fantasky, Fourth grader’.

In order to be in with a chance the Bookworms will need to read at every possible opportunity – on the bus, in karate class, at the dining table, sick in bed, even.

Judy tries speed-reading while Stink fashions a cape using sticky post-it notes both of which are not quite the answer.

However, enthusiasm for reading never wanes in this exciting bookish battle, (all titles read are listed after the story), and let’s just say that it’s a win for books, for hard work and for determination.

I’ll leave you to decide to whom that applies and suggest you get a copy of the book for your classroom or a bookish young reader. Either way the final list of books, as well as the story, with its liberal scattering of funky Peter H. Reynolds illustrations, provide literary inspiration and enjoyment.