Mum, Me and the Mulberry Tree

Mum, Me and the Mulberry Tree
Tanya Rosie and Chuck Groenink
Walker Books

Rituals are important and this lovely gentle book evokes the joys of simple childhood rituals as shared between a mother and child one day; rituals that will become cherished memories as well as giving pleasure in the here and now.

We follow the two from sunrise to sunset as they relish a day trip to the countryside, a special journey that takes them by bus to visit a large mulberry tree that stands on a hill in a field – ‘our tree’. Once there, the mother lifts her child high into the canopy of the tree and together they gather its abundant mulberries, eating some and getting juice all over themselves.

When they stop for a picnic lunch, down comes the rain so the two hurry back to sit sheltered beneath their tree. After lunch Mum cannot resist climbing the tree to search for more berries till as the sun sets, the two, tired but very happy, travel home together.

Back indoors Mum assisted by her daughter, gets to work preparing and baking a pie

which they sample together before the sleepy, pie-filled child is taken to bed ready to dream of her happy mulberry day.

Tanya Rosie’s lyrical text is a delight to read aloud and the calming nature of her writing makes the book an ideal bedtime share. Equally though, this would be a lovely story to share with a class of young children. Warmth radiates from Chuck Groenink’s illustrations, be they double spreads, single images or smaller framed scenes, they show so well the close relationship of mother and child and are the ideal complement for the words.

John’s Turn

John’s Turn
Mac Barnett and Kate Berube
Walker Books

As the story opens we’re party to an event in the school canteen; here every Friday a school assembly takes place and one pupil presents something in what’s called the ‘Sharing Gifts’ performance. On this Friday it’s John’s turn and it’s pretty clear that he’s feeling nervous as he eats breakfast and dons his attire. Singing over, Mr Ross introduces John and out the boy steps as the curtain is pulled aside.

There’s some sniggering at the music that starts playing (‘strings, violins and things, and then maybe flutes’)

and the dance begins.

We’re treated to a sequence of double-page spreads – three wordless, two almost so – showcasing John’s moves: how stunning they are as we see his facial expressions and body language change as his fears dissipate and seemingly effortless, graceful capability takes over making him joyful.

Joyful too are the members of the audience as their doubts turn to real appreciation.

Kate Berube’s paint and ink illustrations communicate John’s feelings and showcase his accomplished athletic performance superbly, perfectly complementing Mac Barnett’s text, which takes the form of a simple pertinent narration that one assumes is by one of John’s fellow pupils.

Wonderfully empowering, this is a gorgeous book about finding the courage to be your true self that will speak to any child.

Pick a Perfect Egg

Pick a Perfect Egg
Patricia Toht and Jarvis
Walker Books

A little girl and her mother pay a visit to Patty’s Farm and there they pick their own eggs including a perfect white one. Returning home the two of them set about making coloured eggs for Easter: they boil the eggs and then as they cool, prepare the dyes using a mix of natural plant colours and bought ones.

The child suggests using a white crayon to create designs on eggs before dyeing them. Job done, the girl goes to bed thinking of what will happen in the morning.

The following day, she’s up as the sun rises, and donning her bunny suit and lining a basket, off she goes hand in hand with Mum, to join her friends for the Easter Egg hunt.

There’s plenty of excitement as the children discover all manner of eggs – chocolate ones, plastic ones with treats inside, and then there are the dyed eggs: what a very special one the little girl has crafted for this springtime celebration.

Finally it’s time to enjoy some of the chocolate variety as you wish everyone a very Happy Easter.

Patricia’s rhyming narrative and Jarvis’s brightly coloured illustrations capture so well that mounting excitement and the fun of those Easter rituals that most children love so much. With a gorgeous cover, this is a really fun book to share in the run up to Easter but make sure you read it in time for children to try some of the egg decorating ideas presented.

The Wishkeeper’s Apprentice

The Wishkeeper’s Apprentice
Rachel Chivers Khoo, illustrated by Rachel Sanson
Walker Books

This debut novel is a tale of belonging, wishes, family and self-belief. set in a magical world of wishkeeping.

One day when his sister hasn’t turned up to collect him, feeling lonelier than ever, ten year old Felix Jones tosses a penny into Whittelstone’s wish fountain and makes a wish. To his surprise almost immediately he notices a very unusual man fishing for his coin in the fountain. It turns out that this is none other than the town’s wishkeeper, Rupus Beewinkle, who shows surprise that Felix can see him and then invites the boy to partake of some hot chocolate with him. It’s then that the elderly man reveals his identity and announces that Felix is to become his apprentice saying, “The future of Whittlestone depends on you helping me. And I do believe fate has brought us together.”

Thus begins a new education for Felix who takes home the book Rupus gives him entitled A Complete Guide to Wishkeeping and that evening begins reading it.

Well, Felix had been wishing that things were different and now perhaps he’s got his wish. There are new things to learn about such as wish grades from one (‘highly suitable’) to four (‘ungrantable’); but he also learns of the malevolent presence of the Wishsnatcher. This menacing being is intent on reversing existing wishes and preventing any future ones being made.

A wishless world is a very bleak place with inconceivable threats to Rupus, Felix and indeed Whittlestone town. Felix has a quest: to fight for good: what a roller-coaster of a ride he’s embarked on.

The imagery in the story is superb: Rupus’s home, Snugwarm, is chaotic but has lots of unlikely magical objects including a wishofax machine, the vanquisher (fire extinguisher to defeat the villain), and the messaging wishfulness gauge.

Emerging above all from the book are the comments Rupus makes to Felix, “I remembered there is more to life than darkness and despair’ and “A creature capable of great wonders could turn into the greatest monster of all when deprived of hope.” Pertinent in our world assuredly and vital for today’s young readers.

Add to Rachel Chivers Khoo’s superb storytelling, Rachel Sanson’s black and white visuals, which add even more sparkle to this book: it’s a cracker either shared with a class or as a solo read.

Carry Me!

Carry Me!
Georgie Birkett
Walker Books

It’s a while since Wilbur was an easy to carry, snuggly baby; he’s now considerably bigger and stronger. Nonetheless he still tries insisting, “Carry Me!” He loves piggybacks, shoulder rides and being pushed in his buggy regardless of the weather.

Unsurprisingly, all this effort eventually takes its toll on Wilbur’s Mummy and even when she suggests he should try walking, Wilbur is ready with an excuse or two.

One day however, when out with his mum, Wilbur drops his toy, Rabbit. Out of the buggy he leaps and off he hops to retrieve Rabbit.

On his return, who should be sitting in the buggy but his Mummy. I wonder what the little lad did next …

Thereafter, Wilbur and his Mummy can be seen walking home side by side, chatting happily and Wilbur’s chief want is no longer Carry Me! He’s replaced it with another request.

A smashing story for busy, weary grown-ups to share with their little ones. It would make a warm hug of a book to give a mum on Mother’s Day but equally it’s a great one to read to a nursery group or a small child at any time. Make sure you start reading from the front endpapers where. Georgie Birkett portrays Wilbur’s mum carrying her unborn child. The illustrations throughout show so much more than the straightforward narrative; you will definitely want to linger over every spread enjoying the humorous details and watching the changing expressions and body language of the two main characters.

Montgomery Bonbon: Murder at the Museum

Montgomery Bonbon: Murder at the Museum
Alasdair Beckett-King, illustrated by Claire Powell
Walker Books

With a moustache and beret at the ready, there’s a new sleuth on the block; it’s ten-year-old Bonnie Montgomery aka Montgomery Bonbon, Widdlington’s best detective. He is always at the crime scene on the look out for likely suspects and searching for clues, usually accompanied by erstwhile ice-cream seller, Grampa Banks whose van comes in very useful for stake outs. Clever, easily ignored by adults and with excellent powers of observation, this unlikely crime-fighting duo are the stars of this first in a mystery series.

As the story starts, Bonnie and Grampa Banks are visiting the Hornville Museum – Widdlington’s oldest building. Suddenly there’s a frightful scream and they are plunged into darkness. A security guard has been murdered and a carved stone eagle has been stolen. On goes her disguise and transformation! There is Montgomery Bonbon, on the case in an instant. Quickly on the scene too is Inspector Sands; she is definitely not a fan of Montgomery Bobbon and in return Bonnie has a very low opinion of the detective.

A few clues are soon found and Bonbon is immediately on the trail of suspects, the thief and the appropriately named Blowpipe Killer. Could any of the museum staff have played any part in the murder or theft? I love the clever way illustrator Claire Powell provides readers with a look at Bonbon’s case notes throughout and her depictions of the characters are superb.

With some tricky red herrings, an interfering scarlet macaw, seagulls, crisps and scones along the way, can our determined young detective maintain her cover and solve the case before disaster strikes again?

Beckett-King has created some superb characters in his gently humorous, thought-provoking debut novel, not only team Bonnie and Grampa whose fondness for one another and their age difference are a big asset, but several others too including Bonnie’s new friend Dana Hornville. Youngsters will love meeting them and like this reviewer, eagerly anticipate more of Bonnie. Has she been perhaps taking lessons from a certain Belgian detective whose voice (or rather David Suchet’s) I caught echoes of as I read.

Batpig: Too Pig To Fail

Batpig: Too Pig To Fail
Rob Harrell
Walker Books

Batpig, aka Gary, returns along with his pals Brooklyn (bat) and Carl (fish) in three further episodes.

In the first, The Class that Wouldn’t End, the three are stuck in what seems to be a never ending maths class: something is definitely wrong here – it’s apparent even to maths fan Brooklyn. It turns out that the slowness of time is on account of vengeful Time Guy (the name Timekeeper was already taken). Thanks to a ‘supernatural bolt of energy’ Time Guy is now able to control time and has gone rogue. Batpig must now figure out how to make time fly if they ever want to escape the monotony of endless fractions. 

Could fun be the answer? …

The (much shorter) middle story Aquarium Dreams features ‘fin socks’ – a scam by all accounts, or rather Carl’s – and bees – which he greatly fears. This sets things up nicely for episode three, Light, Camera, Chaos! This crazy comedy features a pair of space aliens, a torrent of stinky gym socks and a Bumblekitten intent on attacking Mrs Fishbol’s establishment. Can Gary et al. save the day again?

Supportive friendships are key in these super-hero scenarios.

Established fans will gobble up Too Pig To Fail; those new to the gang might be better to start with When Pigs Fly and then move on to this one.

Get Real, Mallory!

Get Real, Mallory!
Daisy Hirst
Walker Books

Nomi loves drawing; her Dad makes positive comments about her dog depiction but her brother Stephen makes fun of her Mallory picture. “…why is your bear in the sky? … You’re better at drawing fish” he comments. However with a fish tank on the kitchen counter top that’s no surprise; if Nomi had a real dog, it would make dog drawing much easier, so she thinks. But nobody in their flats is allowed a dog so “HA! Get real, Nomi” is Stephen’s response.

That evening in frustration, Nomi scrunches up her picture and tosses it aside. Mallory’s smile don’t make the dog special; “Get real, Mallory!” she says. And Mallory does just that.

Somewhat conflicted: ‘I wanted to tell everyone. I didn’t want anyone to know.’ Nomi suggests heading to the park, which happens to be where her brother is going.

Dogs are banned from the playground but ever resourceful, Nomi provides Mallory with a disguise and adds occasional barks to his. No matter her brother ignores her, a wealth of opportunities keep the pair happily engaged for a long while,

until hunger pangs eventually cause her to head homewards.

What of Mallory come bedtime? Happily he’s not too far away …

Daisy Hirst has a great ear and eye for detail. With Nomi as narrator, her text is a delight read aloud and her images of the child and her imaginary dog capture the togetherness of the two with panache. There is SO much to enjoy about this book, especially the way it celebrates the power of the imagination.

As Brave As A Lion

As Brave As A Lion
Erika Meza
Walker Books

The little girl narrator and her lion have a special relationship, so says the child. No matter what she does, her brave lion friend stays close by. It helps her find the courage to use her voice and makes her feel safe in the dark.

One day they set out on an adventure together in the playground where a new ‘rocket-fast’ slide has been installed.

Up, up, up climbs the girl, with the lion following but just before she reaches the top she looks down. Confidence crisis! Both the narrator and her lion are stranded. Will they have to remain stuck up there forever, both too frightened to move either up or down?

No matter how fast I go, or where I end up, my brave lion sticks with me—my lion’s always there! So thinks the little girl to herself. Moreover he makes her feel as though she can do anything so maybe now it’s time to reverse roles. Can she summon the inner strength to be there for her large companion when he clearly needs her to?

Vibrantly illustrated, mostly in primary colours, Erika Mesa’s first person story really captures the little girl’s thoughts as it portrays an exceptional friendship showing how the child is enabled to find unforeseen courage thanks to her bond with an imaginary creature.

Share and talk about either at home or in the classroom: this is a book to empower young children.

I Am Happy

I Am Happy
Michael Rosen and Robert Starling
Walker Books

Here is the third in the series from this author/artist partnership that uses animals to present feelings and emotions to young children.

The little puppy narrator is almost bursting with happiness, so much so that it skips through puddles, chases after bubbles, dances the waltz, turns somersaults, rolls down a mountain, puts on a show and more.

Yes it’s absolutely a flight of fancy but it certainly expresses that unadulterated mood of sheer joy of little humans that we adults love to see.

With guest appearances from the cat that starred in I Am Angry and the squirrel from I Am Hungry Michael’s exuberant rhyming text and Robert Starling’s bold, energetic illustrations will surely act as an open invitation to youngsters to talk about and celebrate their own feelings.

Great for sharing with individuals or in an early years setting. I wonder if the rabbit that pops up and joins in the action part way through the book will be the main protagonist in the next title in this sequence.

Word Trouble

Word Trouble
Vyara Boyadjieva
Walker Books

Starting somewhere new is often stressful but when everybody else speaks a different language it is likely to be much more difficult. So it is for Ronnie who has just moved to a new country.

Despite his parents’ efforts to equip him with some basic English vocabulary, his attempts at communication when his nursery teacher asks Ronnie to introduce himself are less than perfect. Sadly his classmates seem unwelcoming and Ronnie is upset that everybody giggles at him.

Back home he recounts what has happened to his mum and dad who do their best to reassure him.

The next day begins well and the other children want to get to know Ronnie better, but due to his lack of vocabulary he is unable to respond appropriately to their questions, leading to further confusion and leaving Ronnie as despondent as ever.

A trip to the park with Dad after school opens the way first to some non-verbal communication and then joyous laughter. It’s this laughter that leads Ronnie not only to the beginnings of friendship,

but also a realisation that both laughter and kindness are universal languages.

Illustration too is a universal language as Vyara Boyadjieva shows in her empathetic portrayal of Ronnie’s feelings and the challenges of being in a new country.

Ultimately uplifting, this sensitive debut picture book deserves to be in all early years and foundation stage settings.

Granny and Bean

Granny and Bean
Karen Hesse and Charlotte Voake
Walker Books

Granny and Bean are out walking on the beach: the sea and the sky are dreary shades of grey and beige, but Granny and Bean are undeterred. Suitably clad in raincoats, warm hats, and boots, the pair make their way along the beach, enjoying their time together. Nothing is going to stop these two making the most of their time together. ‘Their laughter rose. Full of joy, it spilled / ‘cross sand, through mist, / as the curlews trilled.’ As they watch the spotted gulls,

so strong is the wind that their hats are blown off, their hair gets progressively wetter and their ‘cheeks chafed red’.

Still they keep walking, only pausing briefly to greet dogs, slowing while Bean jumps over logs until eventually they find a place out of the way of the wildness and there they stop and sit. Time for some tea: bananas and cakes come out of the bag Granny has brought with her. Then they sort through the things they’ve collected during their walk

and keeping only the best shells and a stone, with the sun trying to break through the clouds, the two head for home.

Karen Hesse’s rhyming text has the ideal complement in Charlotte Voake’s mixed media illustrations, which capture both the chill beauty of the natural environment and the tender, loving bond between grandparent and young child. I love the way the stand-out colours of their clothing helps to focus the reader’s attention on their faces and body language throughout.

Memories are made of days such as this; days spent in the natural world. From endpaper to endpaper, a gently magical book to share over and over, especially between grandparents and grandchildren.

Begin the New Year with a Board Book or Two

Name Your Numbers
Smriti Halls and Edward Underwood
Walker Books

Using a jaunty rhyming text Smriti Halls introduces little ones to eleven different creatures, each of which offers a counting opportunity and is accompanied by a bit part player (or two). Here for instance is Leopard Evan:

Both words and number symbols for one to ten are used and the final spread has a snappy stand-out surprise, no numerals or number words but a chance to take those counting skills to twenty and beyond. Edward Underwood’s illustrations cry out for youngsters to emulate the subject of each spread be that with some bouncing, trumpery-trumping , growling, roaring or whatever.

One slight snag rears its wings however when Billy Bee states with reference to his stripes, “I’ve got three!” Astute observers may well point out that here the image shows the bee with four yellow stripes and three black ones.

Zebra Won’t Wear Spots
Noodle Juice and Mr Griff
Noodle Juice

Zebra detests spots, so much so that she never wears any clothes, until that is, her pals point out that going nude can be thought of as “rather rude!” There’s a snag though, Zebra doesn’t possess clothes of any kind. So, her friends take her on a shopping spree and after an exhausting day, Zebra has clothing for all occasions. Even then, so unused to being clad is our stripy friend, that she gets all in a tizzy when she has to choose what to wear for a trip to the pool; and as for drying herself with a spotty towel – not a chance: nor will she don a spotty sweater in the park as darkness descends

or join in the game of Twister at Giraffe’s birthday party.

However hard she tries though, there are some spots that simply cannot be avoided …

This board book about an aspect of good manners presented in a rhyming text and accompanied by wacky illustrations of Zebra and her friends will certainly amuse little ones who will love the unexpected turnaround.

Two-Headed Chicken

Two-Headed Chicken
Tom Angleberger
Walker Books

This graphic novel stars a two-headed chicken (one head is pretty stupid, the other head, a whole lot cleverer). This strange entity (in part you the reader, in part your sister) is being chased through the multiverse by an angry green moose, Kernel Antlers, determined to capture, fry and consume it.

In each chapter they travel to a different universe in the multiverse, courtesy of the rechargeable Astrocap, invented and worn by the cleverer head. With a “Bzoop.”this device transports them out of every dangerous situation in just 42 seconds, the intention to find a spot where the moose doesn’t exist. The chase has halts in universes that pastiche Harry Potter and Charles Dickens.

There’s a stop in one universe where “lava is actually lukewarm pizza sauce,” and another in which everyone uses “ginormous” old mobile phones. And the hero makes a number of far out friends along the way.

But who will prevail? Will it be that moose or our intrepid hero? That would be telling; or would it.

Then there’s the fact that the less clever chicken attempts to tell the world’s longest knock knock joke throughout the book and there are several crazy quizzes and puzzles.

The author’s boldly coloured art (and some real NASA photos of the universe) tells most of the story and Angleberger gives credit to the joke books of his childhood as inspiration for the brand of humour and the style of drawing.

A ridiculous romp if ever there was one and possibly the most absurd book I’ve ever read. Those with a penchant for craziness of the exciting kind will enjoy this bumpy ride.

My Father is a Polar Bear

My Father Is A Polar Bear
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Felicita Sala
Walker Books

Drawing on his own experience, Michael Morpurgo wrote this story over fifteen years back with the insight of adulthood. It’s hugely poignant as, starting in 1948, we read of two boys, Andrew and big brother Terry and their search for their biological father. Andrew is aware that he has two fathers; Douglas the one the boys live with, and the one who is never spoken of.

When his brother shows him a picture of a polar bear in a Young Vic Company’s dramatisation of the Snow Queen and says it is his father, five year old Andrew is more confused than ever. However, Andrew’s father is an actor. playing the role of the polar bear and it is that which triggers their search. It’s one that takes many years until eventually both Andrew and his brother

find the way back to their birth father and to a healing acceptance.

Michael’s beautiful prose and Felicita Sala’s drawings both capture so well, the child Andrew’s view of the world in this short pensive book.

The Real Dada Mother Goose

The Real Dada Mother Goose
Jon Scieszka and Julia Rothman
Walker Books

I wonder who had more fun, Jon Scieszka, guided by Dadaism turning half a dozen nursery rhymes inside, outside upside down, or this reviewer reading the outcome. It is dedicated to Blanche Fisher Wright, who in 1919 illustrated the The Real Mother Goose and whose art is reproduced throughout the pages here. The whole book is just so clever, playfully subversive and absurd. 

Scieszka and illustrator Julia Rothman transform each nursery rhyme starting with Humpty Dumpty, into six new versions. These renditions are a censored form where key words are covered over, a verbose version, a boring version wherein the King’s horses and men ‘Didn’t really have to do anything.’ Then come a postcard from Humpty to his parents, a version using morse code and finally a version translated into a series of five foreign languages.

Jack be Nimble is given in three coded forms; in Esperanto, there are multiple choice options, presentations as a grammatical exercise, one is given the Spoonerism treatment and a classroom book report.

I love the Jabberwocky version of Old Mother Hubbard 

and in two variations, Old Mother Hubbard has morphed into ‘Old Mother Luvven’ who went to the oven ‘To get her poor iguana some crickets and mealworms.’ and ‘Young Dr Fabratory’ who went to the laboratory, ‘To refit her latest robot with a new, faster and larger memory.’ The two are left pondering however on account of the disappearance of the laboratory. Brilliant mucking about this.

Hey Diddle Diddle becomes a news article in The Daily Goose, a recipe for stew, 

a map of Diddle Town, a knock knock joke, the topic for a quiz and this splendid haiku ‘Hey diddle diddle, / Cat fiddles, Cow moons, Dog laughs / “Run!” says Dish to Spoon.’

And so it goes on finally coming full circle – kind of.

Throughout Julia Rothman has fun cleverly manipulating Wright’s original illustrations and there’s a wealth of backmatter that will please older children and adults be they teachers, parents or interested others. Dadaist delight this.

Detector Dogs, Dynamite Dolphins and More Animals with Super Sensory Powers

Detector Dogs, Dynamite Dolphins and More Animals with Super Sensory Powers
Christina Couch and Cara Giaimo, illustrated by Daniel Duncan
Walker Books (MIT Kids Press)

This fascinating book introduces animals large and small, each one having been selected because it has the ability to perform a specific task such as testing treated water, or has a special highly developed sense.

There are eight main topics, one per chapter and readers are also given briefer notes on many others. First we learn of a dog named Eba, trained to help a human killer whale biologist track endangered orcas. Eba is ‘possibly the only dog in the world trained to sniff killer whale poop’. Then there’s Cynthia, a ferret living underground in Leicester. One of fifty, their task is to help humans run cables through ‘skinny underground pipes and replacing pipes when they break.’ This they do by means of their whiskers.

Rosita is a goat – a risk abatement goat – one of a herd that climb over the rocky hills of Southern California, eating dried-out bushes, grasses and other dried-out plants, thus removing fuel sources for small fires which could get out of control, as well as creating paths that are helpful for human firefighters coming to put out flames.

Did you know that since 2002 researchers working on the ICARUS project have used tracking tags placed on thousands of animals the world over and monitored from space as a means of predicting earthquakes. One such is a cow named Bertha in Italy; in 2016 she was able to sense an imminent earthquake.

Each chapter is followed by a related ‘activity’ for children to try out. These include simple guided experiments to test their abilities to for instance follow a scent trail or use echolocation.

All the creatures mentioned help their human co-workers tackle real-world problems like pollution and global warming but sometimes there are ethical considerations and the authors don’t overlook these.

In addition to the colour photos, Daniel Duncan provides some gently humorous illustrations;

and the source notes and bibliography are excellent. Altogether an engaging and enlightening book.


Katharine Orton
Walker Books

With her exquisite descriptions Katharine Orton brings her own special brand of magic to this sparkling fantasy tale.

To live in the shadow of Mountainfell, is to live in perpetual fear be it from witches cursed with hex-magic, the cloud dragon that terrorises the community, or from the earth-shaking tremors rolling down from the wild mountains.

Erskin, a shy lonely girl and her elder sister, Birgit, are the children of the mountain keeper, the guardian of their village of Lofotby; and when Birgit is snatched by the dragon, Erskin knows she must summon all her courage to embark on the journey of a lifetime to find her and bring her back home.

What ensues is a perilous quest that not only tests Erskin’s determination and bravery but some of her long held beliefs and she finds herself searching not only for her sibling but much more besides.

She makes some surprising friends, meets a least one heinous villain and there’s magic aplenty as she finds out more about that supposedly deadly dragon. She also has to try and avert an ecological crisis and learns to accept herself as she is, thanks in no small part to a friend she makes, who accompanies her on her journey.

This is one of those books where you are desperate to discover how the breathtaking adventure turns out, but equally, you don’t want the story to end; it’s just so brilliant and for me Katharine Orton’s best yet.

Namaste is a Greeting / Balloon to the Moon

Namaste is a Greeting
Suma Subramaniam and Sandhya Prabhat
Walker Books

When I first started visiting India many years ago ‘namaste’ was explained to me as ‘my heart to your heart’ – a lovely summary I thought. Now the author and illustrator of this delightful book explore the meaning of the word namaste, used by Hindi speakers as a greeting. Herein a little girl discovers that in fact ‘namaste’ is all around her and can be expressed by a smile, through friendship, celebration, a yoga asana, silence and much more.

I love Sandhya Prabhat’s bright storytelling illustrations showing the interactions between the child and the grandmother character and how the former nurtures a plant for the latter.

This seemingly simple book has considerable depth and is one to share over and over with young children; it’s a delight.

Balloon to the Moon
Becky Davies and Jennica Lounsbury
Little Tiger

Drawing on mindfulness and meditation techniques, Becky Davies’ dreamy lilting rhyming text and Jennica Lounsbury’s soft lyrical illustrations encourage young children, safely tucked up in bed to let go, relax completely and gradually drift off into dreamland.

An adult switches out the light and we watch as the moonlight calls through a small girl’s window, causing her bed to lift and balloon-like, drift gently out into the star-filled, moonlit sky, guided by firefies. Silver songbirds and sheep-shaped clouds accompany the moving bed over land and sea to the accompaniment of dolphins’ songs, shushing water and chorusing whales

as it continues its journey through the velvety night sky towards the smiling, welcoming face of the moon and sleep’s loving embrace.

If you’re looking for a sleep-inducing picture book to share with young children, try this gentle, reassuring story just before bed.

Johnny Ball International Football Genius / The Naughtiest Unicorn and the Firework Festival

Johnny Ball International Football Genius
Matt Oldfield, illustrated by Tim Wesson
Walker Books

In this third title in the hugely funny Johnny Ball series, the nine year old football manager has perhaps his biggest challenge yet: to take the Tissbury Tigers all the way to becoming winners of the WORLDIES (aka the World Youth Championships). Just imagine the headlines in the local paper. There’s a big problem though, Johhny’s elder brother, the mega-talented striker Daniel has been injured – a broken tibia – and has been instructed to rest for two months. 

However, with their victory in the play-off match, the Tigers are on their way to Capdevila in Spain. Next comes organising their coaching team and after that, the players. With four needed to make the squad complete, it’s time for a team trial. Job done, and with packing also complete, the journey begins.

Arrival means that Johnny’s brain must go into overdrive as the matches get under way. With three results in the group table, the Tigers reach the semi-finals and after a day of rest, must play the Lions. 

What happens thereafter, I will leave readers to find out and just assure them that so doing is definitely worth it.

Full of hilarious moments and some nail-biting ones, this story, with Tim Wesson’s rib-tickling black and white illustrations, will most certainly be a winner with young soccer enthusiasts.

The Naughtiest Unicorn and the Firework Festival
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell

Having missed the Diwali extravaganza, Mira is really excited about the forthcoming firework festival at Unicorn School, especially as she’ll be watching with her unicorn Dave. Once there though, Mira finds out something upsetting: there are to be no fireworks. Surely that can’t be right?

Step forward DI Mira Desai to try and solve this mystery. It doesn’t help matters that Dave has already managed to get himself covered in sticky caramel after immersing himself in the toffee apple mixture in the cauldron; but the investigation must go ahead no matter what. That means Mira and Dave must track down the ‘Lightning Bugs’ that live in the Fearsome Forest. Said creatures love to put on magical light shows with their glowing bums and the key to getting the bugs to perform is to make them laugh. Off go Red Class plus unicorns into the forest … 

But what will make those bugs laugh? It’s certainly not going to be straightforward.

With a considerable number of rear end emanations from Dave, this latest episode starring Mira and Dave will provide plenty of fizzing fun and frolics for fans of the series whenever they read it.

The Red Sledge / We’re Going on a Sleigh Ride

The Red Sledge
Mick Jackson and Victoria Ball
Walker Books

Mabel Taylor is thrilled with her shiny new red sledge. She dresses herself warmly and opens her front door only to find – no snow. Back indoors she sits in her sledge and starts to imagine …
She visualises herself as a bobsleigh champion and next morning, quite excited, she races to open the curtains. But what does she see; no snow at all. Back in her sledge she gets and this time she imagines herself as a polar explorer dragging her laden sledge and trudging through the deep snow. ‘Tomorrow it might just snow, she thinks. 

The following morning, a little bit excited she opens the door and peeps out only to find – you’ve guessed it – not a single snowflake has fallen. Again she sits in that sledge and takes on the Father Christmas persona, with her sledge being drawn by four reindeer. Next morning convinced there won’t be any snow she almost fails to notice what is happening through her window: heavy snow is falling – whoopee!
Warmly wrapped up, she crosses the field, climbs the steep hill and pausing to take in the view, gets into that sledge, breathes deeply and Wheeeeeeeeee! She’s off at last.

Although it’s not mentioned, in the words, young children will likely deduce from the excited look on the child’s face in the first illustration, that Mabel’s sledge is a Christmas present. I love the way she copes with the disappointments of no snow, turning them into opportunities for imagined indoor adventures.

We’re Going on a Sleigh Ride
Martha Mumford and Cherie Zamazing
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Having chased elves, hunted for eggs and treasure in previous books, it’s now Christmas Eve, time for Martha Mumford’s bunnies to wrap up warm, load the presents and take off on a round the world sleigh ride with Santa and his reindeer. Much of the rhyming text comprises the refrain “We’re going on a sleigh ride./ HO! HO! HO!” along with some onomatopoeia (‘Honk! Honk!’ ‘Ding-a-ling-aling!’) and more. Readers and listeners meanwhile can have fun hunting alternate spreads for the hidden gifts and watching their tally mount and they reveal them.

The narrative zips along merrily and Cherie Zamazing’s jolly watercolour illustrations show the varied locations visited with all kinds of animals enjoying the spectacle of the sleigh whooshing by. I suspect little ones will relish the sight of Santa with his feet waving from a chimney top, down which, aided by one of the four reindeer, he’s attempting to enter a house.

With lots of flaps to explore, this is a perfect Christmas Eve read together and equally, the simple text makes it ideal for those in the early stages of reading for themselves.

The Christmas Doll

The Christmas Doll
Amy Sparkes and Katie Hickey
Walker Entertainment

I have a lot of admiration for Jay Blades having heard him share some of his back story on the radio recently so was especially excited too see him as one of the characters in this seasonal Repair Shop story.

Evie and her great granny Sue, have come to the Repair Shop with a very special doll named Lizzy, who’s in need of some TLC from Jay’s Teddy Bear Ladies. “That is a very beautiful doll. Can you tell me something about her?” he asks Granny Sue. His inquiry transports Sue back to her childhood. She then recounts the story of how she was evacuated as a young girl from London at the beginning of the war in 1939. Sent to stay with the Russells, a husband and wife who treated her with such loving kindness, that by Christmas Eve, the little girl is feeling much more at home. On Christmas Day she can hardly believe her eyes when she discovers a beautifully wrapped present at the end of her bed. Inside is the doll and she names her Lizzy, taking the doll everywhere but thinking that at the end of the day she will have to return her. Imagine her joy when she’s told Lizzy is hers to keep for ever. What a truly magical Christmas.

Eventually however, it’s time for Sue to bid farewell to Mr and Mrs Russell and return to London. Even now, Granny Sue recalls the couple with fondness, going on to explain that Lizzy’s damaged state is on account of all the love and cuddles she’s been given over the years. Enter Amanda and Julie. Lizzy is left in their safe hands while for the next week they work on the precious doll

and Granny Sue is overjoyed with the result of their creative work. But that’s not quite the end of the story: a new chapter in Lizzy’s life is about to begin …

Amy Sparkes has worked her own magic by fashioning the ‘true story of the Christmas doll’ related at the end of the book, into an utterly charming, heartwarming new tale wherein past and present come together seamlessly. The Repair Shop team are immediately recognisable in Katie Hickey’s portrayal and she infuses the scenes of Granny Sue’s childhood memories with a warm glow. Don’t miss the gorgeous endpapers – the front one captures that wonderful community spirit of Jay’s team.

This is a book I see being shared in countless families and classrooms over and over, as part and parcel of the Christmas season.

The Red Red Dragon

The Red Red Dragon
Lynne Reid Banks, illustrated by Kristina Kister
Walker Books

The author transports readers to a world of dragons and uprights (humans as we know them). The latter have been forced from the mainland (the Great Ridding) following years of war between them and the dragons. Now the dominant beings, the dragons have become a caring, peaceable community and they solve any problems that arise through discussion and debate.

Into the dragon community is born a dragon named Ferocity but on account of being the only red dragon he becomes known as Red once he starts dragon school. Not only is Red a different colour, he appears to possess the capacity to use his ‘think-space’ to think thoughts that other dragons can’t. Add to that, the notion that he is central to some ancient legends that are important for a shared future for them all. The current problem for dragons however, is their essential need: supplies of coal have almost gone and need to be replenished in order that their chest fires can remain hot. The only way to do so is make contact with the uprights, they who have hands and can mine. This is the mission that Red and his parents undertake.

It’s wonderful watching how Red develops during this mission, which is full of adventures, especially as the bond between him and the young upright Lou, grows. Particularly exciting is the development of his ‘thinks’ as he gains an understanding of ideas such as the imagination described thus, ‘It had the sound of beautiful newness. Like the start of warm-time when everything is bursting, and anything is possible.’ Indeed it is the young beings – Red and Lou, who are the real channel for meaningful interactions between the two sides and with them lies the possibility of future reconciliation.

This is a wonderful, moving story that radiates warmth and hope for a better world. Wonderful too are Kristina Kister’s black and white illustrations, especially those between blocks of the narrative.

Penguin Huddle

Penguin Huddle
Ross Montgomery and Sarah Warburton
Walker Books

Meet the penguin pack, a playful lot that spend their days having fun, then at sundown they come together under the starry skies and form a huddle. Thus they keep snug and warm throughout the nights; till one night a particularly fierce gale blows up and the following morning the penguins awake to discover they’re stuck fast together. No amount of pulling and puffing, shuffling and scuffling can unfreeze the ginormous ‘penguin ice pop’.

Acting on tiny Pipsqueak’s suggestion they call on their friends to help; but neither the heaving and hugging of the snow hares, nor the prising and puffing of the walruses made the slightest difference. Can Pipsqueak’s clever idea diffuse the panic that now besets those huddling, muddling penguins?

By means of various modes of transport the penguins journey over land and sea until they eventually reach a shining city, the streets of which are full of animals from all parts of the world.
Several of the creatures are ready to try defrosting the huddle but they meet with no success. Just when the other penguins are on the point of abandoning their search, Pipsqueak has another idea. Can they reach the establishment of Doctopus before the surgery closes? Happily their new friends are there to assist.

What happens when they reach their destination though …

This is a cracking tale of friendship, community and helping those in trouble that will surely melt the hearts of young audiences and the readers aloud who share it with them, be they huddled, cuddled or snuggled. Sarah’s portrayal of all those penguins is absolutely wonderful, especially Pipsqueak.

Ella and the Useless Day

Ella and the Useless Day
Meg McKinlay and Karen Blair
Walker Books

Having had a good look around their house, Dad and Ella decide it’s time for a serious clear out and so they get to work right away. Together, they search, scramble, sort, poke, pick and pile all the useless stuff they find into the trailer to take to the rubbish tip, where useless things go. However, before they’ve even set off, their neighbour delightedly relieves them of the tricycle, calling it “Absolutely perfect!” and so it goes on until by the time they reach the dump, their trailer is almost empty,

even the holey blanket has been given a new lease of life. Then Ella realises that the final item is one they can make use of back in her own bedroom.

Meg McKinlay tells a subtle, gently humorous tale of recycling and reusing, creativity and community, that is highly pertinent in our throwaway society, where we all ought to be giving serious thought to living more sustainably. One wonders what on earth can be done with the “fashion disaster” of a suit,

the leaky goldfish bowl, the broken crockery and other things but young listeners/readers could have fun thinking of possibilities before turning to the final wordless spread where in a series of vignettes, Karen Blair shows just what their new owners did with them. Throughout the story, her watercolour and pencil illustrations provide lots of delightful details and underscore the wry humour of the words.

How To Make A Picture Book

How To Make A Picture Book
Elys Dolan
Walker Books

If you’ve ever considered the possibility of making your own picture book, then look no further. Elys Dolan, aided and abetted by her annelid assistant, Bert, shows you how in this humorous, step by step guide. First make sure you have all your favourite pens, pencils, crayons, brushes etc to hand.

Of course, inspiration is key and according to our trusty tutor it’s time to visit your gallery of muses – in other words, your very special things; these can be used to generate a ‘story idea’. Then there’s the creation of credible characters, the first being the main protagonist and you need to get to know them very well.There’s lots of advice from Doc Dolan on how to do so.

Setting is another consideration – where is your story going to unfold and hugely important is what is going to happen throughout the story and how the events will be structured.

The use of building blocks is suggested – not the things young children love to play with – but sequences of words.

Two other vital elements in the creation of a picture book are also discussed. The placement of words and pictures on each spread means the creator needs to decide what the pictures should look like and how they and the words will use the space on each page. This allows the pace of the telling to be changed at different times: for example zooming in on a particular moment in the story heightens the dramatic impact,

whereas framing a picture creates distance between the action and the reader of the book. Moreover in the best picture books, the illustrations show things not said in the text and the text should say things not shown in the illustrations: not always easy this.

Our pro has one last tip to make the book a winner and it concerns colour: that means the author/illustrator putting themselves into the shoes or maybe that should be head, of the reader and then choosing appropriate colour(s) to generate the feeling wanted.

With a sequence of activities, tips aplenty and jokes too, Elys’ guide is highly entertaining and very informative. (Bert has even sneaked in step-by-step instructions on how to make your own blank book.) It’s a brilliant tool to use in the primary classroom or at home.

The Dream Train

The Dream Train
Sean Taylor and Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

Rather than sharing a story with your little one(s) before bed why not try some poems for a change. From popular picture book author Sean Taylor comes this collection of thirty poems that are perfect bedtime reading. The book has three sections: Night Arrives, Shut-Your-Eyes Time and Dream Wheels Turning. No matter if you want something magical or musical, something to give you a good giggle or to snuggle up warm with, then you will surely find it herein. Offering something snuggly and warm is The Blanket: ‘Dad says there’s a little bit / of love in every stitch. // … I’m sure it sometimes whispers “Good night, love. Sleep tight.”

From the first section, Story Time provides something musical, which is confirmed in the final verse: ‘Right round the world, / you will always hear it. / Wherever there are children, / you will always hear it … / the soft music of story time.’ If only that were so for all children everywhere.

Magical for me are the words of Once There Was: ‘The day is done. / Darkness comes. // Once there was a lake. / Now there’s a mirror of stars.’ Making this one even more magical is Anuska Allepuz’s watery twilight scene.

To induce a giggle or two you could turn to The Middle of the Night, tell your child to close eyes and imagine as you read of knives and forks asleep in the kitchen, towels asleep in the bathroom, flowers asleep in the gardens. Can they suggest what those things might be dreaming of when ‘the stars are awake in the sky.’ ?

Anuska Allepuz’s illustrations are a visual treat: their subtle, muted shades and soft focus pastels give a dreamlike quality as befits the overall theme of the book.

Add to family bookshelves if you have a young child.

On the Move: Poems About Migration

On the Move: Poems About Migration
Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Walker Books

This is a subject very close to the poet’s heart as is evident right from the start when he explores his roots. We read of the experiences of Michael Rosen’s Family and Friends in the first of the book’s four thematic sections. We read too of when he was just a boy and he writes about growing up in London after the end of WW11, and his Polish-Jewish heritage.

The poems in the second and shortest section, The War, are equally poignant comprising parental reminiscences of World War II and incidents during family travels in various parts of postwar Europe

Enormously potent is The Migrants in Me. In this third part, Michael considers missing family members. So says his father: “I had two French uncles. / They were in France / at the beginning of the war. / They weren’t there at the end.”
In the next poem ‘Finding Out,’ Rosen purposefully searches out information about these uncles—Oscar and Martin, learning of old photos of them in a long-hidden box labelled Family Photos.
Then come heart-wrenching poems directly addressing Oscar and Rachel, his wife; these imagine their feelings during escape, discovery by Nazis, and being sent to Auschwitz.

In On the Move Again we read of the poet’s thoughts about migration today, in particular the plight of refugees who flee their homelands in the face of war, famine or other adversity, to start life afresh. It ends with the compelling ‘Today’ – ‘What you did yesterday / can help you choose what to do now. / What you did yesterday and what you do now / can help you plan what to do tomorrow. / But you can only do something now.’

At once commemorative, historical, political and celebratory, Michael’s poems herein have a straightforward power that is echoed in Quentin Blake’s black and white illustrations that have a haunting quality of their own.

The book opens with an explanation of the difference between refugees and migrants and concludes with suggestions of organisations that support refugees.

Ballet Kids

Ballet Kids
Holly Sterling
Walker Books

Before the title page we meet a small boy holding up a doll dressed in ballet attire, who introduces himself thus, ‘I’m Thomas, and I want to be a ballet kid.’

He then goes on to share with readers in a straightforward manner, the events of a ballet class day. Having dressed up warm as befits the snowy day and packed his ballet shoes, off he goes to the dance studio clutching mum’s hand. He introduces us to each of the friends he meets on the way, all of whom are heading to the class too.

Once there, with their ballet shoes on, the children start their lesson. Thomas takes readers through the warm up, and the various moves, describing the exercises,

defining ballet terms, while speech bubbles provide comments from the young participants. Mr Elliot, their teacher is enormously encouraging as are the children one to another and then with Christmas approaching, the pupils choose outfits and thus, roles for the winter show, a performance of The Nutcracker. Thomas picks out what he thinks is the most wonderful costume he’s ever seen. “You’re the Sugar Plum Fairy”, Mr Elliot tells him and puts on the music for him to dance. When it’s time to leave Thomas has started feeling butterflies in his tummy but they’re soon allayed by his teacher’s words, “Just listen and move with the music, the magic will come from within.” And it most certainly does …

In her inclusive illustrations, Holly Sterling captures that magic and the sheer joy of the young dancers both in their class and as they perform the winter show. Young audiences will surely be swept up in that enchantment, especially the aspiring dancers among them.

The Book That No One Wanted To Read

The Book That No One Wanted To Read
Richard Ayoade, illustrated by Tor Treeman
Walker Books

This is one of the most crazy books I’ve ever read: it’s the first actor, writer and director, Richard Ayoade has written for younger readers. It’s also fiendishly funny, clever and thought-provoking.

Let’s consider how it feels to be a book – the best way is to allow a book to be both main character and the narrator telling things from its own viewpoint – sounds as though we’re getting a bit autobiographical here. Still that way allows us readers to imagine such things as the importance of making one’s cover alluring – failure to do so could all too easily result in being hurled across the room, abandoned under a whiffy pant pile or, horror of horrors, left on a shelf to be nothing more than a mere dust collector. And unless the tome under consideration happens to be a yogi there’s the possibility of having to perform some pretty sophisticated folds,

have your spine broken or, should you be totally unwanted then – gasp! – be sent off to a warehouse and there ‘pulped’ to near oblivion.

Hang on though, this book that we’re reading is in the process of charting its own destiny and that means finding its way into the hands of readers like us who will take great delight in discovering it in a bookshop – preferably on a display table with that irresistible unicorn cover or similar.

Tor Freeman captures with panache, Richard Ayoade’s wry humour in her wonderfully quirky illustrations that accompany the narration. Contrary to its title, this is a book you most definitely WILL want to read.

Cloud Babies

Cloud Babies
Eoin Colfer and Chris Judge
Walker Books

This story is inspired by events in the family life of Chris Judge, the book’s illustrator.
Young Erin’s favourite game is spotting animals in the clouds with her mum and dad and friends. She sees all kinds from cats to crocodiles and snowball polar bears to puff-less dragons. She calls them her cloud babies.

One day, Erin is very ill and has to spend a considerable length of time in the children’s hospital. She’s made to feel very welcome, is looked after with loving care by doctors and nurses and makes lots of friends. Even in hospital Erin takes delight in playing cloud babies with her new friends and either personally or remotely, with her dad. 

Eventually Erin is thrilled to be discharged from hospital but learns from the doctor that she will still need to have further “Hospital days”

Rather apprehensively she returns to school but things have changed considerably and Erin, now six, is sad to find that people there don’t share her imaginative interpretations of clouds. Indeed that comforting world she’d built and become used to in hospital feels distant and unfamiliar; moreover she decides that cloud babies aren’t for her any longer. It’s SO difficult to feel a part of either her hospital friends’ or her school friends’ group.

However her loving, empathetic parents don’t give up on those cloud babies and with their guidance and support from her class teacher and classmates, Erin comes to understand that through sharing her world and her cloud babies, she will find joy in being her true self again.

This story is written with great warmth and sensitivity by Eoin Colfer who has also included a special letter to readers at the front of the book. Chris Judge’s art is a skilful fusion of photographic images and vibrant illustration that blend children’s unlimited imaginative powers with the day to day world of a children’s hospital. No mean feat and the end result is an upllifting book that offers great help and comfort both to children faced with illness and to the adults who share their lives.

I would love to see Cloud Babies in all children’s hospital wards and doctors’ surgeries.

Well Done, Mummy Penguin

Well Done, Mummy Penguin
Chris Haughton
Walker Books

I’m a big fan of Chris Haughton’s animal picture books and immediately fell for the penguin family, especially Little Penguin.

As the story opens Daddy Penguin is explaining that Mummy is off searching for yummy fishy dinner for them all in the chilly waters of the Southern Ocean. She needs to swim very fast and dart at great speed – swoosh swish swoosh

and while she is so doing Little Penguin seeks reassurance that she will return safely. And so she does but to do so she has to jump, climb a slippery slope – cu-crunch cu-crunch cu-crunch and then tip-toe carefully past some slumbering seals – shh! – in case she wakes them.

Little Penguin is concerned to see that Mummy Penguin finds herself face to face with one now wide awake seal

and as a result has to perform an amazing leap. Fear not though for Mummy is unstoppable and Woo-hoo! she lands safe and sound with a tasty offering for her little one. Can you guess what he says having consumed his dinner with relish?

With beautiful Antarctic landscapes, this is a gorgeous celebration of mothers, be they penguins or other; I’m sure little humans will love following Mummy’s progress and joining in with the onomatopoeic words sprinkled throughout the telling.

Planet Football

Planet Football
Michelle Robinson and Chris Mould
Walker Books

Jackson is football mad; everywhere he goes and everything he does involves football: he lives and breathes it.

One dull wet day he decides to play outdoors no matter the thunder, and making a run up to his ball he wonders just how high he can kick it. WHAM! Off it soars skywards, narrowly missing a plane and a space vehicle. This stupendous kick catches the attention of a passing reporter and the following day a huge crowd awaits Jackson all demanding he attempts even more. What follows is a tour of cities and towns the world over and each time his massive kick sends a ball sailing up but it never returns to earth.

Where can all those balls have gone? The answer is, they’re all up on the moon where the moon-folk are becoming football crazy. However the lack of a single ball on Planet Earth means disaster: the world Cup is cancelled. Now what?

Jackson knows he must fix things forthwith but can he do it? Perhaps with the help of all his pals: let operation moon mission commence.

This totally bonkers tale is told in Michelle’s rollicking rhyming narrative and Chris Mould’s highly comical, inclusive scenes of soccer mania. With the countless young soccer fans out there I have no doubt this will be a resounding success

The Mouse Who Carried A House On His Back

The Mouse Who Carried A House On His Back
Jonathan Stutzman and Isabelle Arsenault
Walker Books

Vincent is a mouse ‘with boots on his feet, a hat on his head, and a house in his back.’ He also has an enormous heart and a special skill of knowing just where to stop and put down his house. Said house is no ordinary house however: it expands to accommodate whomsoever needs shelter. On this occasion he puts it down upon a hill and almost immediately along comes a weary bullfrog. Straightway Vincent offers him a roof over his head and in goes the frog, surprised that he can fit within. It’s not long before the house has expanded to welcome in also a hungry cat, a family of wet hedgehogs, a fox, badgers and a herd of deer and Vincent serves them all with dinner.

Just as they’re all seated around the table an enormous bear knocks saying he’s lost. The other animals are terrified. insisting, “there is no room for a bear.”

Vincent however thinks otherwise. “This is my house … all animals are welcome, “ he insists. And so it is on that night all the animals sleep safely and comfortably, ‘full of honeycomb and warm milk under a sky that stretched for miles.”

Jonathan Stutzman adopts a formal tone for his telling using repetition to good effect in this fable-like story of unconditional acceptance and inclusion. Isabelle Arsenault’s playful gouache, ink and cut-paper illustrations bring these themes to life: on the opening spread, she shows Vincent’s house as a simple cut-out pentagon and each time a new visitor appears at Vincent’s doorstep, a new house in a different style appears on the hillside adjacent to the pentagon, gradually creating a conglomeration of homes; then a gatefold spread captures the final proliferation.

A timely message of open hearts making for open doors in these troubled times of ours.

Magic Keepers: Crystal Chaos / Theodora Hendrix and the Snare of the Shadowmongers

Magic Keepers: Crystal Chaos
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Hoang Giang
Little Tiger

This is the first of a new series wherein Linda Chapman establishes a magical world based at Curio House. Ava and her mother have just moved into what was her archaeologist great aunt Edith’s home, where she has left her collection of curios saying in her will that this must remain there and not be sold. Rather it was her hope that one of her relations would find this collection ‘special’. 

Enter Ava and her dog, Pepper. Pretty soon Ava discovers that special means magic or perhaps ‘Magyck’ in the case of the crystals. Each of said crystals holds its own potential energy. It’s into this magical world that Ava, together with her new friends Sarah and Lily fall. Ava discovers an ancient mummified crocodile that is affected by the resurrection crystal and it’s down to the three girls (and Ava’s dog Pepper) to discover how to control and make use of the other crystals’ powers, and do so pretty snappily, if they are to prevent the scaly creature terrorising the entire town.

As well as an exciting adventure this is a tale of new beginnings and of friendship that demonstrates that everybody is different and that working together is the best thing to do for them all.

A thoroughly enjoyable read for primary age children, strikingly illustrated by Hoang Giang. I wonder what comes next for the Magic Keepers and that curio collection.

Theodora Hendrix and the Snare of the Shadowmongers
Jordan Kopy, illustrated by Lisa Hunt
Walker Books

Theodora, the girl raised by monsters, is back for a third adventure along with Sherman (spider) and friend Dexter. Theodora is excited at the prospect of visiting New York for the Christmas holidays (other than having been given homework on the very last day of term, which she’ll have to take with her). She can’t help thinking of all the pizzas she will be able to consume. On arrival they discover that the Big Apple is packed with the horrendous Shadowmongers, supposedly banished to the Antarctica several thousand years back; and then they come upon the sinister Hilda who says she has unbanished them and now they have joined forces. Their aim is to bring down the Monstrous League of Monsters and with it Theodora, once and for all, thus putting humans the world over in the most terrible danger, causing them to have nightmares every night for the rest of their lives.

Facing perils aplenty, Theodora (the one who sees the Shadowmongers), Dexter (who doesn’t) and Sherman (he seems to know a fair bit about these vile creatures) have to navigate the city where the ghastly beings seem to reappear whenever they think they’ve escaped them.
With New Year over, it’s time to head back to face another school term but is that the last of the Shadowmongers? That would be telling …

With Lisa Hunt’s expressive black and white illustrations throughout, this is just right for autumnal reading, especially for those who enjoy spooky stories tinged with humour.

Creeping Beauty: Fairy Tales Gone Bad

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

We’re back in the Library of Fairy Tales Gone Bad for the third and sadly, final tale in this cracking series, where the Librarian has found a really frightening treat. Prepare to meet Eshe, the youngest of thirteen sisters, which makes her a tredecimalet. Eshe, like her sisters, is a fairy godmother with the ability to bestow amazing gifts, and thus invited to every christening party in the land. However Eshe has a rather different ability: she is able to to see into the future.

One day she foresees something truly terrible – ‘a world blanketed in thorns!’ endlessly growing vines that defy the sharpest of axes, shears, and even weedkiller. At the centre of all this is a beautiful girl, Princess Rose. It’s to her christening party that the sisters have just received an invitation and whereas her siblings are focussing on suitable gifts for the baby, Eshe’s head is filled with thoughts of the terrible future. She must attend the christening and she absolutely must try to prevent the very worst. This however will required, deep and very powerful magic and the use of her alchemistical Eye of Grimm.

Moreover she will require the help of others …

Dreadfully dark and brilliantly subversive, Joseph’s decidedly prickly twisted take on Sleeping Beauty is, like Zombierella and Frankenstiltskin, absolutely awesome. Long live the power of love and friendship. Freya Hartas’ wonderful black and white illustrations are in turn eerily eye-catching or cleverly comical.

Crimson Twill: Witch in the City / Midnight Magic: Witch Trap

Crimson Twill: Witch in the City
Kallie George, illustrated by Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

Crimson Twill is anything but your typical witch. Instead she wears a hat to match her name, giggles rather than cackling and she’s a dreamer. She can hardly wait to pay her very first visit to the world’s biggest department store, Broomingdale’s in New Wart City. There she will spend her hard earned money, but what will she buy? After some deliberation, she heads off to the Cat floor and yes there are plenty of cats, but what interests Crimson most is actually a puppy; this she rescues from a highly disapproving saleswitch, Ms Whiskers.

It’s not until she reaches the hat floor that the quirky little witch finds something she likes, a hat completely different from all the pointy ones: this one has a huge bouncy bow but there is only one of them and just as she’s about to make a purchase, Crimson encounters another witchling whom she learns has been saving up for this very hat for weeks. What will Crimson choose: the hat for herself or happiness for her fellow witchling? 

This turns out to be only one of the opportunities Crimson has to demonstrate her compassionate nature and in the end she realises that not only is it okay to be different, but also that there is something more valuable than any purchase she might have made – friends.

With its theme of being true to yourself, full of witchy whimsicalness and gentle humour – I love the fun word plays – this is the first of Kallie George’s chapter book series. Birgitta Sif’s black and white illustrations are a delight, depicting an inclusive city community.

Midnight Magic: Witch Trap
Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick
Little Tiger

This is the third in the rhyming series starring black cat Midnight and her human friend Trixie. It’s October half term and the two are building a den in the garden (‘their own top-secret lair’), while Nan plants bulbs and Dad sweeps up leaves. With his magic, Midnight creates a leaf dragon and the friends are so excited they fail to notice that somebody is watching them. That somebody is a witch called Wendy who is especially interested in Midnight’s special powers and tries to buy her. Trixie gives her a flat refusal and the witch flies off with a worrying glint in her eye, leaving Trixie a tad concerned.

That night into the room where Midnight and Trixie are fast asleep creeps Wendy, who takes the cat away in a cage. The following morning Trixie discovers a clue to the identity of the catnapper 

and off she goes on a rescue mission, accompanied by Dad and Nan. Readers meanwhile discover why Wendy has taken Midnight and the cat in turn learns that her family is coming to her rescue. All ends happily with further revelations, a promise, understanding, kindness and more.

Huge fun for reading aloud or reading solo, this sparkling story has an autumnal feel thanks to Elissa Elwick’s choice of orange to predominate in her bold illustrations of the action.

India Incredible India

India Incredible India
Jasbinder Bilan, illustrated by Nina Chakrabarti
Walker Books

As a frequent visitor to India I know that to be there is an onslaught on the senses. You almost experience that when you read Jasbinder Bilan and Nina Chakrabarti’s book and as the author implies in her ‘welcome’ introduction, to visit any of the states is like visiting a different country. I totally agree when she says this vast country has a ‘huge welcoming heart’. Indeed it has many, for I have formed some very close friendships over the years with people in various states from Rajasthan to Kerala.

The book is narrated by Thara whose nanijee has a very special old trunk full of precious objects collected over the years as mementos of her travels all over the country. Every Friday night the two sit together and nanijee takes out one object and tells her granddaughter all about it – the state of its origin, what makes it unique and why it’s so special to her.

The first item is a book entitled Ganga and we learn the story of the goddess Ganga and the origin of the holy river Ganges that starts its journey in the Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand. I was excited to see that second object was an envelope with a stamp showing sculptures from a place I once visited – Chandigarh’s sculpture garden – where everything is made from recycled waste.

As the journey continues, readers will discover something of the history of Delhi, where ancient and modern sit side by side; see some of India’s amazing and diverse wildlife, be astonished by the beauty of some of the architecture, notably the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple in Amritsar – the holiest city for members of the Sikh religion and Udaipur’s Lake Palace. Rajasthan and in particular Udaipur is like my second home.

If you take a trip on a boat along Kerala’s backwaters, you may well encounter elephants taking their morning bath.

But no matter where you go, there will be markets, some selling good things to eat, others, richly patterned clothing, wonderfully crafted jewellery or perhaps dhokra (metal statues like those in Odisha and West Bengal.)

I could continue enthusing about the multitude of wonders India has to offer, and this book with its splendid illustrations, gives a real taste of those wonders, so I suggest you get a copy, read it and start planning your visit.

The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish

The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish
Chloe Savage
Walker Books

Dr Morley is passionate about jellyfish; she’s even more passionate about finding the giant Arctic jellyfish, a creature nobody has ever seen. Having spent years researching and planning with the aid of her dedicated crew, she’s ready to start out on an adventure, bound for the icy waters of the Arctic Circle.

Their first animal sighting is of narwhals; perhaps they can lead the ship to that elusive jellyfish: or could it be the scientific data and samples members of her team collect as they dive hopefully into the chill beneath the ice? Days pass, blizzards howl but still the search continues. The days turn to weeks and then months but even then that hope remains strong. Eventually crew members start to think of home: maybe that giant Arctic jellyfish doesn’t really exist.

However, driven by their loyalty to their leader they don’t give up. At last thanks to the sunshine, comes hope in the form of a massive patch of algae. Convinced this is the opportunity she’s been waiting for, Dr Morley dives down.

Can you imagine how she feels on seeing nothing? Time to head home, she decides.

The words tell the story of the expedition from Dr Morley and the crews’ point of view but Chloe Savage’s stunning, action-packed illustrations documenting the search show that the creature is never far away but always, tantalisingly, just out of sight of the exploring party; or is it?

Cat Problems

Cat Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books

Following a Giraffe and a Penguin with problems, this is the third hilarious title in the Animal Problems series. It features a perturbed moggy who shares its inner feelings about a far from purr-fect existence as a confined creature that’s not been outside for eight whole years.

First it’s “I’m awake, and I only got nineteen hours of sleep.” Then it’s a meagre dry meal, followed by another (ginger) cat that insists on curling up exactly where Cat wants to curl. Oh my goodness, now there’s monster.

Further tirades ensue and eventually a slightly sanctimonious squirrel that has been watching the continuous grumbling through the window holds forth with a powerful lecture on being thankful – most certainly it’s food for thought for our moaning moggy – in more ways than one. Will our grumbler ever cease from grumbling?
Using a muted colour palette Lane Smith brings out the hilarity of the protagonist’s tirade

and the design of every spread further amplifies the visual impact of the book. Providing plenty of food for thought, this droll offering is definitely one young listeners will lap up and likely ask for second helpings.

Cress Watercress

Cress Watercress
Gregory Maguire, illustrated by David Litchfield
Walker Books

As the story begins young rabbit Cress, her mother and baby brother Kip are grieving the loss of Papa Watercress, who ‘went out and didn’t come back’; (though Cress still has hopes of him being alive). Mama Rabbit has decided to move her family from the warren to new digs: the one-room basement of an ‘apartment tree’ – a dead hollow oak known as the Broken Arms. Its landlord is Mr Titus Pillowby Owl and he takes payment for rent in moths. Failure to pay could result in eviction or if he changes his diet, the loss of their lives. Other residents include a noisy squirrel family with a doctor father, rent collector Manny and wife Sophie mouse and two songbirds. The birds are always on the lookout for dangers ,particularly in the form of the legendary snake ‘The Final Drainpipe’ and Monsieur Reynard the fox.
We’re treated to a mix of adventures, domestic detail, growing pains (Cress), clever crafting (Mum rabbit weaves tapestries) and great danger. Examples of this are when Cress and squirrel Finian are swept over a waterfall on a raft;

Cress confronts and enchants Tunk the Honeybear, but then she and Finny are held captive for a short while by pompous skunk, Lady Cabbage – she who has designs on Cress as a housemaid.
Full of heart, with some sadness, essentially this is a charming story of moving on, growing up, forming friendships and learning to love, becoming part of a new community and flourishing.

Or as Cress tells Fricassee the hen, “today might not be good. But it might be good enough.” In his glowing illustrations David Litchfield captures both the wry humour of the tale and its unforgettable cast of characters.

Read aloud or read alone, animal lovers especially will be utterly enchanted by both words and pictures..

The Season of the Giraffes / Wild Animals of the World

The Season of Giraffes
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

This the first of the publishers new Protecting the Planet series looks at the effects of climate change on the much loved giraffes of Niger; its inspiration was the work of climate activist and film maker, Kisilu Musya.

Once some time back giraffes were very much a part of everyday life in Niger: and considered a blessing in the same way as the birds, the trees and the rain. The children saw them browsing the trees on their morning walk to school or when they brought home the cattle at night; the giraffes had a strange fighting regime and communicated in a language of grunts and snorts.

However the number of these graceful animals sadly started to decline as more and more buildings, roads and farms filled the land and then on account of climate change the rains began to fail too. The result was terrible droughts that parched the land causing much suffering to both animals and humans.

Soon very few giraffes were left in Africa but in the country of Niger, there was still time to save the few that remained. The humans stopped hunting, protected the trees giraffes fed on as well as the creatures’ favoured places and gradually, then more rapidly, the giraffe population increased. So much so that some have been transported by truck to other parts where they live under the watchful eye and care of wildlife rangers and scientists. The hope is that one day these beautiful animals might be able to return to the places they once roamed.

Nicola’s story of optimism shows how with resolve, we humans can change things for the better; it’s gorgeously illustrated by Emily Sutton who captures both the grace of the animals and their homeland, and the lifestyle of some of the people of Niger.
(There’s additional information about giraffes, climate change and what we can all do to help both causes.)

Wild Animals of the World
Dieter Braun
Flying Eye Books

This sumptuous volume brings together Braun’s Wild Animals of the North and Wild Animals of the South taking us on a world tour that begins in North America, moving in turn to South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and finally, Antarctica.

Magnificent art takes the forefront in an awe-inspiring introduction to an array of creatures great

and small of the land, sea and air. Sadly some – the Asian elephant, the Emperor penguin for instance – are on the endangered list, others are threatened, though this isn’t stated in the book.

Dieter Braun manages to encapsulate the very essence and spirit of every one of the hundred and thirty plus animals portrayed. Some have an accompanying factual paragraph, others leave the labelled illustration to speak for itself. (Both scientific and common names are given.) A great gift for young wildlife lovers.

A Practical Present for Philippa Pheasant

A Practical Present for Philippa Pheasant
Briony May Smith
Walker Books

Philippa Pheasant lives in the forest close to Fairhurst village. Whenever she tries to cross the Old Oak Road in search of juicy blackberries, she’s almost knocked ‘pancake-flat’ by the cars that speed past seemingly out of nowhere. One day she decides that enough is enough; her friend hedgehog suggests writing to the Mayor, which Philippa does but her letter receives no reply.

The following day as she wanders along the lane near the school Philippa notices something that interests her greatly. A woman wearing a bright yellow uniform is standing in the middle of the road stopping the traffic so that the children can cross safely outside their school. This gives Philippa an idea; right away she sets about making something

and the next morning there’s a large gathering of woodland creatures waiting to hear what their pheasant friend has to say. Why is she wearing that strange attire?

Suddenly Philippa is thrust into the local limelight.

And the rest, shall we say, is full of surprises.

With her wonderful portrayal of rural life by day and by night, and a brave, determined avian protagonist, Briony May Smith has created another winner. I love the autumnal tones of the scenes, the wealth of amusing and interesting details, and the way Briony has used light and shadow to give her illustrations extra depth, all of which make the story even more of a delight.

The Mooncatcher’s Rescue / The View from the Very Best House in Town

There are two fiction titles for older primary age readers from Walker Books – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review.

The Mooncatcher’s Rescue
Karen Lamb, illustrated by Lia Visirin

Something of a loner, River is a boy who likes going mooncatching, skimming his net over the reflections of the night sky in the Bigdeepby village pond. One night while so doing he accidentally awakens the ghost of Mona Brightly and learns that she drowned in that spot and is now searching for her lost treasure so she can go and join her erstwhile husband Raphty. She suggests River dip his net again and what does he pull out but a badger. Not the toy he first thinks it is but a real one that Mona says is an old friend of hers called Boot and that River should take it home with him.

Next morning there’s lots of talk outside class about ghosts in the pond, but then in the classroom is a new girl Kaleisha, who serves as a temporary distraction from the ghosty discussion and gives River hope that he might finally have found a friend in this new girl.
Next time River meets Mona, she talks of a dastardly pirate, one Dashbuckle Fearless, also on the hunt for her treasure and the lad becomes determined to find Mona’s lost treasure before the pirate.

Absolutely full of heart, this magical, sometimes funny adventure is superbly imagined and shows that sometimes friendship can be found in the most unlikely places. Lia Visirin’s splendid black and white illustrations add an additional sprinkling of enchantment to the telling.

The View from the Very Best House in Town
Meera Trehan

Sam and Asha have been best friends for years; they both have an autism diagnosis and each has a special, intense interest. Sam’s is in killing Screech-Leeches in his favourite Househaunt game, Asha’s obsession is with architecture, in particular that of Donneybrooke, the mansion that overlooks the town where she lives. Said mansion is home to Prestyn who is Asha’s arch enemy. (Asha has been banned from visiting since an incident at a party some years before).The story is told from three viewpoints, those of Sam, Asha and the mansion, Donneybrooke.

When Sam is accepted at the prestigious Castleton Academy, everything starts to fall apart between the two friends. After they work together on a school project, Prestyn appears to be befriending Sam but has she a hidden motive in inviting him to her home? Sam feels conflicted: he’s not telling his mother where he really goes instead of football and he knows he’s starting to ignore Asha, but finds Prestyn’s invitations to Donneybrooke hard to resist; she’s certainly very manipulative. It’s when her mind games put Sam in real danger that he realises there’s only one person he can really trust. That person is Asha and he calls out to her.

I felt myself growing increasingly angry at the unkind way some pupils, and adults too, treated both neurodivergent youngsters, but sadly this does reflect real life and this story – a friendship tale with a thriller element is definitely one that will make readers ponder upon what makes a true friend, as well as what is a real home. Powerful indeed.

Leila The Perfect Witch / Winnie and Wilbur: The Festival of Witches

Leila The Perfect Witch
Flavia Z.Drago
Walker Books

Young Leila is a multi-talented little witch with awards for fast flying, cunning conjuring, sneaky shape-shifting and crafty carving. However, there’s one trophy she longs to add to the display cabinet – her dream is to win the Magnificent Witchy Cake-Off. Leila comes from a long line of baking experts and this year she’s at last old enough to enter the contest and has high hopes of claiming the prize. Then comes a big shock: in contrast to her other endeavours, Leila finds that the requisite skills for becoming an expert in the Dark Arts of Patisserie elude her. Not so her determination however. She eschews having fun with her siblings and devotes her time to creating that perfect recipe – with disheartening results. What will her family think? It’s not what she anticipated.

Instead, her sisters offer to help. Leila accepts, learns a lot and thoroughly enjoys the time they spend together.

When the night of the event arrives, she overcomes her nerves and does her best.
Leila doesn’t win that trophy but she does learn something very important: there’s more than one way to feel like a winner and sharing an experience and being supported by a loving family are wins for her.

Take one little witch, a supportive family, a froggy friend, a bowlful of whimsy, lashings of visual humour, spoon in a visitor from another picture book, mix them all together and the result is a very sweet, satisfying story with an agreeable message.

Winnie and Wilbur: The Festival of Witches
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

Winnie and Wilbur have been enchanting children for about thirty-five years and still the magic holds good. Now it’s time for the two of them to have a holiday – a very special one on an island in the middle of the ocean. So, with suitcase packed off they fly to the Festival of Witches. It’s an amazing event attended by witches from all over the world and a considerable number of cats too.

There are opportunities to learn new spells, dance, sing, eat lots and generally have a great time. When she’s about to depart, Winnie receives lots of invitations from other witches to come and pay them a visit; these Winnie stashes in her suitcase. Now this had happened on previous occasions but Winnie had never responded to any such invitations. However after a few days in her own home, Winnie begins to miss the company of the other witches. Out come those invitations and she goes through them.

Selecting four places to visit, Winnie and Wilbur go first to a tree house, then to a mountain top residence, a seashore castle owned by three witches and finally, a lighthouse.

Once again though, the peace and quiet of home on their return is a tad underwhelming; but then …

Korky Paul’s vibrant, richly detailed illustrations of the diverse witch community and their interactions will keep youngsters entertained for hours, long after they’ve heard this thoroughly enjoyable story read aloud.

Sona Sharma: A Friend Indeed / Barry Loser Worst School Trip Ever

Sona Sharma: A Friend Indeed
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun
Walker Books

Sona is in a state of emotional turmoil. Her family is busy planning a first birthday celebration for her little sister Minmini causing Sona to feel left out and her class teacher has just announced an election for their class leader. Sona puts herself forward to stand as she wants to prevent Pradeep from becoming their leader but this has caused her to be at odds with both of her best friends. Joy has also put herself up as a candidate and Renu seems to be taking her side. This is one of those instances when Sona has acted before thinking things through and now she must face fighting against her best friend whom she knows would be a great class leader.

Can her beloved stuffed toy Elephant and the President (Sona’s other grandmother) help her decide what to do so that the rift between the three girls can be healed allowing them all to enjoy doing something special for Minmini’s birthday?

Set in Tamil Nadu, as always with these stories warmth, loving relationships and gentle humour are key ingredients, and readers also learn something of the traditions and foods of Sona’s Hindu family. A delightful addition to this series of illustrated chapter books for younger readers.

Barry Loser Worst School Trip Ever
Jim Smith

The Barry Loser series reaches its stupendously silly ninth book with this one. Now with baby brother Desmond most decidedly ruling the household at breakfast time, Barry sets out for school anticipating a dreadfully boring visit to a museum with his classmates; the aim being to find out about the history of television.

It seems as though Barry’s worst fears about the trip will be realised unless he and his mates can pull off their plan; the intention being to sneak out of the museum and onto the set of Future Ratboy

What unfolds is not quite what Barry hopes but there’s a plethora of daft pranks, one involving a gathering of grannies in a loo queue, a grossness of egg and cress sandwiches of the minuscule kind and a large spattering of jokes about bodily functions, as well as a crazy cartoonish drawing on each page, all of which fans of the stories will love.

The Circles in the Sky

The Circles in the Sky
Karl James Mountford
Walker Books

After reading this intensely powerful fable-like picture book I needed to sit quietly and just be for a while.

Having spent a night hunting, Fox is reluctant to leave his den, despite the disturbing chorus of birds outside; but follow the sound he must so strange and different does it sound. He follows the birds across the rushing river, past the forgotten house and through the old woodlands to a place where many kinds of flowers grow: an entirely new place for Fox. He also misses the birds huddled in a circle on the ground till they suddenly take to the air, but one is left there, lying quite still. Nothing Fox tries can make this broken Bird move but unbeknown to him his attempts have been watched by Moth.

Moth starts to talk to Fox; she talks of the moon reflecting the sun’s rays, even long after sundown. Fox remains puzzled until Moth explains that the bird is dead. “I was trying to be kind,” she tells Fox. “Sad things are hard to hear. They are pretty hard to say, too. They should be told in little pieces. Bird isn’t here any more … because … Bird is dead.” As the realisation dawns for Fox, Moth offers him comfort and the two sit and share their sadness for a while. Further understanding follows for Fox – like the moon always remembering the sun, he can remember Bird.

Yes, death is a confusing time for those left, as Mountford shows, but equally he offers through Moth a model of being there for the grievers, a simple ritual for saying goodbye and most important of all, hope.

Using earthy hues of the natural world that starkly contrast with the black of sinewy Fox, Moth and Bird, geometric shapes including circles aplenty, straight lines and angles, James’ art captures so wonderfully both the stillness of things gone and the movement of living things.

Not a single hint of talking down to children is there in this awesome book, just a beautiful message beautifully presented.

My First Baking Book / Kids Can Cook Vegetarian

My First Baking Book
David Atherton, illustrated by Harry Woodgate
Walker Books

Great British Bake Off winner David Atherton has a new cookery book for young cooks and it’s bursting with exciting recipes, each with a healthy twist. It’s divided into five sections – breads, cakes, sweet biscuits and bites, pastries and finally, some extra special ‘showstoppers’ but first of all David offers users some helpful tips, ‘tricks’, a few facts and an equipment list.

I’ve certainly never thought of baking a loaf in a flowerpot but this is one of the ideas in the bread section and it was interesting to find chocolate chip buns in the same section – a recipe to try when I have young relations staying; that’s if I can tempt them way from all the alluring cakes in this book. The chocolate garden cups remind me of when we visit Udaipur, Rajasthan where the owner of our favourite cafe would quickly rustle up chocolate cup cakes (sans gummy worms) for us when they’d run out of the pre-baked ones. I think those were cooked actually in the cups rather than a baking tin like they are in David’s recipe.

My very favourite idea is the show stopping focaccia sunflower picture. This is actually a flatbread that looks like a work of art in Harry Woodgate’s illustrations. It’s the perfect thing to offer any Ukranian guests you might be hosting, or to bake with a primary school class where there are Ukranian children.

As with his previous books David puts exciting, creative twists on baked goodies that might otherwise seem relatively ordinary and there are plenty of those in this book, each one clearly and alluringly illustrated by Harry Woodgate.

Kids Can Cook Vegetarian
illustrated by Esther Coombs
Button Books

Comprising an introduction giving information on safety, equipment and basic techniques and more than thirty recipes divided into three sections, this is for a vegan like myself, a very welcome addition to the Kids Can cooking series.

First come the ‘snacks and sides’ – savoury treats and three dips. Main meals is the largest part and includes breakfast burritos, falafels – my mouth is already watering at the prospect of making these, a yummy sounding roasted vegetable bowl, bean burgers and carrot hot dogs – now there’s another great idea. 

For those with a penchant for pasta, several of the recipes in this section include some kind of pasta, though I rather like the thought of courgetti, which looks like a noodle dish but uses long thin strips of courgette. This is definitely going on my list to try.

There are six ‘sweet treats’, two of which are for pancakes (blueberry and banana) but the recipe that is top of my must make treat list is the courgette brownies.

With easy to follow, step by step instructions for each recipe, illustrated by Esther Coombs, this book offers hours of fun in the kitchen (under the watchful eye of an adult) and an assortment of goodies to look forward to consuming. Wash those hands, put on your apron and off you go.

Greek Heroes: Top Ten Myths and Legends

Greek Heroes: Top Ten Myths and Legends
Marcia Williams
Walker Books

Well-known for her adaptations of classic tales into comic strip format for younger readers, Marcia Williams has chosen ten heroes almost all of whom are male to present in this collection and all having the requisite characteristics – strength, looks, charm and brains. Marcia lists ten heroic essentials on the opening spread then goes on to introduce the gods of Olympus, they who hold in their hands the fate of every would-be hero, most importantly those we meet in this book.

I love the way a cheeky Pan puts down his musical pipes and moves around the beautiful borders augmenting Marcia’s comic strips with his interjections, as readers meet first Perseus, slayer of the gorgon Medusa; Bellerophon destroyer of the Chimera, who loses his winged horse Pegasus in so-doing, and then Atlanta – she who uses her spear to kill a monstrous boar.

The remaining encounters are with Jason, Achilles – he of the vulnerable heel; daring Heracles who spent ten years undertaking the ten labours set by King Eurystheus; Theseus, the stunningly beautiful Psyche, tragic lovers Orpheus and Eurydice and finally, Odysseus of Trojan horse fame who blinds the Cyclops, resists the song of the Sirens is captured and kept for seven years by a nymph, Calypso and finally returns home to his wife Penelope who has trouble recognising him after so long apart.

This is enormous fun for individual readers and a terrific primary classroom resource.

Together With You

Together With You
Patricia Toht and Jarvis
Walker Books

No matter the weather or the season, the small child in this absolutely gorgeous book enjoys every moment with his beloved grandmother. In spring suitably clad and wearing wellies, a sudden
shower doesn’t wet the two as they dash side by side beneath a large umbrella.

Summer is a time for shorts, sprinkler hosing and sucking sweet ice-lollies together then cooling down under a shady tree. Come autumn it’s time for warmer clothes – a sweater and cosy hat for gran and a fleece and snuggly scarf for the boy narrator as they take advantage of the strong winds for some kite flying fun.

Winter’s chilly days are for wrapping up in soft thick quilts, pulling on furry slippers and sharing a story together especially when it’s followed by delicious hot drinks – peppermint tea for gran and cocoa topped with marshmallows for her grandson. It’s definitely a cuddle right up close season.
Having said all that, it matters not what the weather is, as Patricia Toht’s rhyming narrative confirms, ‘every day spent with you is the very best thing.’ Memories are created from the everyday events they turn into adventures.

Come rain or shine, sweltering heat or frost and snow, Jarvis’ illustrations exude warmth and love at every turn of the page. The jewel-like colours are simply beautiful and the details in every scene, sheer delight.

Grandmothers in particular will love spending time sharing this treasure of a book with their young grandchildren over and over again.