Tag Archives: Walker Books

Stick & Fetch Investigate: The Wrong End of the Stick / The Naughtiest Unicorn

Stick & Fetch Investigate: The Wrong End of the Stick
Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Top-notch undercover detective duo Sally Stick and her canine pal Fetch return in another set of gigglesome episodes.
In the first, Glass Half Full, we learn that the friends have had to shift their operation to a temporary HQ on account of their stay at artist Uncle Bob’s residence for the duration of Granny Stick’s hospital sojourn.

It’s not long before the detectives have a case: Uncle Bob has lost his glasses and there’s a tasty reward on offer for finding them. But there are glasses, and there are glasses. The particular ones in question have gold rims and although there are glasses aplenty in the house, none have gold rims – or do they.

This is a case of can’t see for looking; but can Sally and Fetch solve it ?

Hmmm! What’s that smell – could it be sausages? …

Bothersome beavers are at the heart of the next case, or so the detectives surmise when they come across a snapped-in-two lamppost on their way back from the library where they’d read about the tree chomping creatures. They find  clues in the form and aroma of baked beans; and see a sign indicating the location of a swimming pool. Sally puts two and one together and off they head to the pool.

Time to go undercover, but will they find a beaver on arrival and if so, can a damming crisis be averted?

Two further cases, equally zany are concerned first with, assisting the police when a spate of bag-snatching breaks out –

there’s a frog and a whiffy man involved here; and the second, a bit of bed-digging that might just happen to yield treasure, of a sort.

Delectably silly, enormously engaging and very importantly, celebrating the imagination, (or maybe just the wrong end of the stick), with its plenitude of comical illustrations by Eliissa Elwick, this smashing little book is perfect just flying solo reading.

The Naughtiest Unicorn
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Egmont

The particular Unicorn School in this story runs during the holidays and young Mira is overjoyed when she receives an invitation to join, especially as her sister is also a pupil and her mum had been too.

Having successfully entered the portal with another newcomer Raheem, Mira meets her teacher and classmates, then enters the hall to learn of the principles on which the school prides itself. She can hardly wait to be paired with her unicorn and at last it’s her turn.

However, the squat, pot-bellied creature, Dave, that is eventually coaxed through the door is somewhat lacking in sparkles, although he does have a twinkle in his eye.

Once in the classroom, Mira hears that there are only two days before they must go out on their first magical quest.

Can she possibly get ready when the recalcitrant creature objects even to being groomed? Do they actually have a totally magic bond?

Things don’t look promising especially as Dave’s penchants seem to be for doughnuts and falling asleep in lessons. Will Mira’s ambitions to go on that quest ever be fulfilled? Perhaps her friends Darcy and Raheem can help …

Just right for newly independent readers, this is a sparky tale that focuses as much on friendship as the glittery world of unicorns, showing that magic comes both from the former and the latter. Humour runs throughout Pip Bird’s telling and is brought out further in David O’Connell’s zany illustrations clearly drawn with a twinkle in his eye. Add to all that a quiz to help readers identify their unicorn type, and some jokes; and those who enjoy the book will be excited to learn that there’s a promise of more to come.

The Anzac Billy

The Anzac Billy
Claire Saxby, Mark Jackson & Heather Potter
Walker Books

I totally fell for the little boy character in The Anzac Billywhen I saw him on the front cover. Based on true events, it’s set during World War 1 in a week when Christmas is approaching and the boy (and his family) are packing carefully chosen items into a billy in the hope it will reach his dad in time for Christmas. From Monday to Friday, one thing per day, the small boy puts in butterscotch (his own favourite), yucky fish (Dad’s favourite), walnuts from their tree, a bar of chocolate, and a pair of ‘just-knit’ socks.

On Saturday it’s Mum’s turn and she adds a razor, safety pins and soap (‘to wash his undies’) and Nan fills the remaining space on Sunday with a couple of handkerchiefs and paper and pencil for writing home.

Now all this so lovingly packed cannot be posted, nor sent by road or rail; it has to be shipped along with boxes of other billies; and naturally the boy is concerned that it might not reach his own dad for as his Mum tells him, ‘there’s a Christmas billy for every warfield soldier, filled by families, filled by friends’.

To make sure though, Billy puts in a note requesting that if another soldier receives his offering, then ‘please send my letter on.’ – this letter that he so carefully penned during that week from which we see how much he misses his Dad.

Claire Saxby’s telling feels authentic and is full of tenderness and poignant moments; all this is echoed in Mark Jackson and Heather Potter’s soft sepia scenes of Australia in a bygone era when light was not electric and life was much harder for everyone.

An ideal book for young readers, and KS1/ lower KS2 pupils studying the period; it would also make an unusual, but highly pertinent, Christmas time story.

 

Hummingbird

Hummingbird
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Ray
Walker Books

Nicola Davies is a champion of wildlife; and the creature she has chosen here is a tiny one, smaller than a thumb and lighter than a penny, the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Using the framework of the loving relationship between a Mexican grandmother and her granddaughter, we experience the migration pattern of such birds that are soon to depart, bound for the north, perhaps as the grandmother tells the child, “they’ll visit you in New York City?”
Seated in her Grandmother’s lap, the girl is asked to “Keep still” as they proffer bowls of water to the birds; and come they do ‘Tz-unun! Tz-unun!’ flashing their feathers and beating their wings.

We then follow the birds’ migration route over several double spreads all the way from over the Gulf of Mexico,

through the USA and all the way to Canada. And there they set up home and later in the summer,

a little girl walking towards the park spies on the grassy verge, evidence of ‘a visitor from Granny’s garden’.

The days get shorter and it’s time once more for the hummingbirds to fly south though not all will make it safely to their destination. Granny however is anticipating their arrival as she sits in her garden reading a special letter from her granddaughter now far away, while in her lap is a tiny eggshell wrapped in cotton wool and a newspaper cutting telling of hummingbirds nesting in Central Park for the first time.

Jane Ray’s, stunning – as jewel-like as her subjects – detailed watercolour pictures almost vibrate with the Tz-unun! Tz-unun! of the hummingbirds’ wings, while tiny lines in her illustrations inject movement into the flight path of their long journey, 3000 kilometres northwards, and back.
Dropped into the spreads are such facts as what hummingbirds feed on; their nest size, and other details of their journey; and there’s a final page on which Nicola explains in detail how ornithologists have ringed and tracked hummingbirds over the years. I was intrigued to learn that they can live to be nine years old – incredible!

Altogether a fascinating book.

The Prince and the Witch and the Thief and the Bears

The Prince and the Witch and the Thief and the Bears
Alastair Chisholm and Jez Tuya
Walker Books

This is essentially a bedtime story treasure trove – a fairy story with a very clever twist or two, or even more.

It begins with Dad asking son Jamie what kind of bedtime story he’d like. Jamie requests “A made-up one!” to include the titular characters and so Dad does as he’s bid and begins to tell his tale within a tale and a right rambling yarn it is into which Jamie insists breaking with questions and interjections. Dad then weaves these into his telling, no matter how far off piste they might be or how irritating. “Why couldn’t the Princess rescue the Prince? … Mum says Princesses in stories are rubbish.” Dad eventually concedes only for Jamie to decide, “No actually I want the Prince.” …

The Princess has been incarcerated in a tower by “her wicked aunt, a Witch with an Evil Eye, ” Dad continues and so it goes on.

We discover that the castle is made (to Jamie’s disgust) entirely out of broccoli and the Witch is really a Ninja. Uh-ha! And if that’s not enough topsy-turvyness, then I’ll have you know that as they approach Castle Broccoli the Prince is actually carrying the horse

and the Princess isn’t all she seems.

Nonetheless all ends happily – twice over- in this splendid romp of a bedtime tale telling experience that will delight both receivers and deliverers. It well and truly flips the traditional fairy story right on its head and not only is it a smashing bedtime offering (albeit not a brief one); it’s absolutely bursting with classroom potential too; and not simply because Dad promises a continuation involving the Bears on the following night.

Yes, Alistair Chisholm’s telling is terrific, but Jez Tuya’s illustrations are pretty cool too – or should that be hot – certainly so here …

and full of hilarious, chortle worthy details.

Early Years Round-Up

Father’s Day
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

A gorgeously warm celebration of moments shared with a beloved dad are woven together to make a super little book for dads and their very little ones to share around Father’s Day, or on any other day. There’s a lively early morning awakening and musical rendition at breakfast time and a walk to playgroup. The highlight though is a day spent at the beach, playing, snoozing, sandcastle building and picnicking. Then it’s back home for bathtime, a spot of first aid,

a goodnight story and some moon spotting.

Bliss! And who better to show all that than the wonderful Shirley Hughes.

Maisy Goes to a Show
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy and friends are off to the theatre to see a performance of Funny Feathers, starring Flora Fantastica. Maisy finds it hard to contain her excitement as they queue, browse a programme and eventually take their front-row seats just as the music starts and the curtain lifts for the drama to begin.

During the interval, there’s time for a loo visit and snacks before the bell rings for curtain up again and the cast, led by Flora, sing in the big city of their desires before heading back to their jungle home, and a curtain call farewell.

Maisy fans will love it, and she’ll likely win some new followers with this latest “First Experiences’ story.
More new experiences come in:

The Scooter
Judy Brown
Otter-Barry Books

Twin rabbits Bruno and Bella and back in a second story. Bruno is thrilled to bits with his brand new scooter, practising eagerly using alternate legs and travelling at different speeds in different places. The only trouble is he forgets to perfect one crucial aspect of the entire process: how to use the brake. This precipitates some high drama as he whizzes downhill, through fields, a garden, the market and the park before Bella finally catches up with him – almost.

Anyone for a repeat performance?: Bruno certainly and I’m pretty sure very little humans will demand a re-run too; it’s smashing fun and who can resist Bruno’s enthusiasm?
And for slightly older listeners:

Sandy Sand Sandwiches!
Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick’s ‘sticky stickers’ awarders, The Little Adventurers return with their zest for life and bonhomie. It’s a very hot day as they assemble in their HQ shed, collect the necessary items and await one of their number, Finnegan who eventually turns up already sporting his snazzy trunks.

Off they go to the beach in his daddy’s car, arriving full of enthusiasm but with a modicum of good sense as they share the safety rules before heading onto the sand for some sculpting.

Masterpieces complete, it’s time to stand back and admire each one in turn.

Then after ice-cream treats it’s off for some paired rock-pooling,

followed by shell collecting and an unplanned treasure hunt. Then it’s time for a quick dip before they all head home with a few grains of sand to remind them of their day and back at HQ, a final sticker awarding, including one to Snub for his very helpful ‘mouse-sitting’.

Brimming over with silliness, friendship, sandy treats and other adorable delights (including the occasional fact), this is a treat for littles around the age of the characters herein.

Finally, if you missed the original, there’s now a board book version of:

Princess Mirror-Belle and the Dragon Pox
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Now a tiny version of a favourite spotty tale for very littles.
Ellen has chicken pox; she’s covered from head to toe in horribly itchy spots; and what does she want to do to those spots? Scratch them, especially the one right on the tip of her nose. As she gazes in the bathroom mirror, about to do the deed, she hears a voice – no, not mum’s but Princess Mirror-Belle’s.

Thus begins a funny story, delivered for a change in prose rather than Donaldson’s more usual rhyme. Lydia Monks’ sparkle-spangled, collage constructed illustrations offer readers an abundance of opportunities for visual and tactile exploration.

 

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life / Dreaming in Code

 

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life
Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu
Sterling

Elegant film star Hedy Lamarr’s first love wasn’t in fact for making movies – she wasn’t at all interested in glitz and glamour – rather her passion was science and technology. It’s this lesser known side of her that’s the focus of this book.

Her greatest invention was ‘frequency–hopping spread spectrum’ a wonderful technological idea developed in collaboration with musician George Antheil, that helped allow the communication devices of torpedoes to change frequency quickly cutting down the opportunities for radio signals to be altered, intercepted or blocked completely; sadly it wasn’t used by the US navy during WW2 though.

Still relevant today, their invention now helps to keep our mobile messages private and defends computers from hackers.

Hedy’s various inventions are described and each spread includes a quote from her: here’s one I particularly love.

We also learn of her childhood in Austria in the early 1920s and how her father, who also had a love of science and technology was such an encouragement to her curiosity and thirst for knowledge, and her creative ideas.

Laurie Wallmark’s engaging text is both inspiring and concise; and Katy Wu’s stylish, retro feel illustrations transport readers to the time when women’s achievements were under played and often undervalued (it took 50 years for her awesome brilliance to be fully recognised). However when Hedy and George finally received in 1997 the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their contribution to computers, Hedy commented thus.’” It’s about time.” … “My life was full of colours, full of life … I don’t regret anything … I learned a lot.” Brilliance recognised at last.

So too will readers of this picture book, which also includes a timeline, bibliography, suggestions for further reading about women in STEM, a list of her films and an explanation of her secret communications system.

Equally inspiring, for older readers is:

Dreaming in Code
Emily Arnold McCully
Walker Books

This is a fascinating biography of Ada Lovelace, daughter of poet Lord Byron, who is celebrated for being the first computer programmer.

Ada’s childhood was anything but conventional; she never got to know her father and was brought up by her domineering mother who, despite showing little emotional warmth, provided for her daughter through private tutors, an intellectually stimulating education, a protection in part from any instincts towards developing her father’s poetic talent. Thus Ada developed a terrific thirst for mathematical and mental puzzles and scientific discovery.

At age seventeen, the young aristocrat Ada, was introduced at a party to widower and famous inventor and mathematician, Charles Babbage, who was to transform her life. We learn of their collaborative friendship and how Ada’s leap of imagination took her pioneering thinking beyond that of her friend and his ‘Analytical Engine’. This is what she wrote, ‘Many persons imagine that because the business of the engine is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols.’

We read of her marriage to William King who admired Ada’s intellect as well as being rich and handsome; her motherhood years, her addictions and death at an early age from cancer.

Beautifully written by Caldecott-Medal winning author, Emily McCully this carefully researched, accessible portrait of Ada Lovelace is likely to inspire future groundbreakers to follow their dreams and not let anyone or anything stand in their way.

(There are also photographs from archives, illustrations, source notes, a glossary and a bibliography.)

Little Frida

Little Frida
Anthony Browne
Walker Books

Who better than the inimitable, brilliant Anthony Browne to create a picture book about another brilliant artist, Frida Kahlo? And what a wonderful and surreal (it is Anthony Browne after all) story he tells. It was inspired by her ‘magic friendship’ and her “The Two Fridas’ self-portrait that she painted in 1939.

From the start our young narrator Frida says, her physical difference made her an outsider, often lonely but not unhappy at being ‘separate’, which she quite liked.
The wish to fly filled both her night-time dreams and her daydreams but her birthday dream of a toy plane is dashed when instead her parents give her a pair of wings. Rather than show her disappointment, alone in her room the young girl lets her imagination take flight.

She runs and runs and when all her energy is spent she stops by a dairy. Finding no way in, she’s about to return home, another door opens,

cascading her down, down to the earth’s depths and there she meets a strange but seemingly familiar girl.

This girl then begins a magnificent dance of life and while she does so, Frida shares with her, her own secret worries

and a close friendship is forged.

All too soon the time comes for Frida to bid farewell to her friend from the dairy and return to her own reality a much happier child than before, and ready to begin her artistry with a paintbrush.

Iconic Frida truly was, so too in his own way is, Anthony Browne. Allowing the imagination to take flight and soar so you become free is what Frida did and what Anthony has done here in his magnificent magical scenes, every one of which is packed with images that will inspire in readers further flights of their own fancy.

I’d love to show every single illustration but to see the rest, you will need to get your own copy of this stunning, out-of-this-world picture book.

B is for Baby

B is for Baby
Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank
Walker Books

Here’s an absolutely cracking circular story that’s simply bursting with love. Atinuke’s verbal narrative focuses entirely on things starting with the letter B as she takes us on a journey through a West African rural landscape.
First though we meet the titular Baby; see her mother Beading her baby’s hair and Baby raiding the Banana basket, toppling in and partaking of some Breakfast.

Brother is next on the scene; in he bops and loads said basket complete with baby, on the back of his bicycle ready to go to visit Baba.

Oblivious to his stowaway passenger, he pedals along the Bumpy road towards Baba’s bungalow.

Passing beneath the Baobab – a Big one – they emerge into an area with fields either side; and a bird from the previous spread is now seen in full view with its gloriously coloured plumage – Beautiful – as is the blue butterfly that flies behind the bike, while ahead are trees filled with baboons.

As they pass under a tree a Baboon grabs the lid from the basket revealing the stowaway baby.

The journey continues with baby handing out a banana to a child leaning from the Bus window as they pause before crossing the Bridge (B is for Bridge) and before long they arrive as their destination: a Bougainvillea surrounded Bungalow outside which waits a happy-looking Baba … ‘B is for … Baba!’

That happiness increases enormously though when he opens the basket …

One shocked brother and an overjoyed Baba.

After all that there’s only one thing to do: sit down together and partake of some yummy snacks – ‘B is for Biscuit!’ as well as some bubbly bottled liquid refreshment; and I bet they polish off the whole lot.

A sensory delight if ever there was one, is this rural ride from one much loved family member to another. (The last two spreads show the return journey, which culminates back where the siblings started, and finally, a relieved-looking mama clutching tight her Baby.) Visually stunning, vibrant and infused with humour, the entire book is bursting with energy, warmth, rich colour and beauty.

A total treat to share and to pore over; an enriching must have for home, nursery or school collections and another terrific Atinuke/ Angela Brooksbank collaboration.

The Pawed Piper

The Pawed Piper
Michelle Robinson and Chinlun Lee
Walker Books

Michelle Robinson’s moggy twist on the Pied Piper legend was specially written for illustrator Chinlun Lee because her home in Taiwan has an over-abundance of cats. In addition Chinlun asked others to send pictures of their cats to her and as a consequence every feline featured herein is real.

The story begins with the small girl narrator telling us of her desire for a cat. She then relates how she goes about acquiring such a cuddlesome creature by means of kitty creature comforts along with some advice from her gran.

Preparations done, the child waits … and waits, but not even a kitten comes so she retires to bed, cuddles up with a book and falls asleep.
Suddenly though, something soft, warm and purry disturbs her slumbers: it’s her gran’s Hector but he’s brought some friends along with him, rather a lot of them.

Sixty seven moggies of all shapes, colours and sizes.

The next day our narrator enjoys the company of her new feline friends but on her way to return Hector to her gran, she makes a rather alarming discovery … She’s not the only one looking for a cat …

Gran’s instruction to return all her new acquisitions seems somewhat unfair but back at home the little girl makes an exciting discovery.

Even if like this reviewer, you’re not a feline fan, you’ll likely fall for Michelle’s furry tale that breaks into rhyme from time to time. Chinlun Lee’s cat characters are terrific – every one looks different and despite my allergy I almost felt myself reaching out to stroke some of the softest seeming, most cuddlesome-looking ones among them.

Snuggle up and share with your little ones, with or without an accompanying moggy and make sure you look at the endpapers.

Little Green Donkey

Little Green Donkey
Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

This is another absolutely delicious story from Anuska Allepuz. It’s narrated by Little Donkey who is, shall we say, a rather picky eater.

When we first meet him, his food obsession is grass: grass first thing in the morning, – he starts by eating his grassy pillow – grass all day, every day by all accounts.

On this particular day though our little grey ungulate friend hasn’t noticed the effects all this grass consumption is having upon him (observant readers doubtless will immediately do so) and as he heads off cheerfully for some refreshing water to quench his grass-induced thirst, he’s in for a shock.
What he beholds in the water certainly brings him up short and his immediate concern is what his mother’s reaction will be.

Some hasty disguise art takes place …

before Little Donkey heads home; but his Mum isn’t fooled at all. “It’s really time to try and eat some new food,” she urges.

Her son’s response is to sample several different coloured items – oranges ‘too juicy’; watermelon- too seedy; broccoli too green – really? Apples are just too yucky; grapes are instantly ejected, but what about crunchy carrots? Now they are …

Uh oh! we know what’s coming …

Little ones, as well as this reviewer, will eagerly anticipate the finale as well as giggling helplessly at upbeat Little Donkey, his antics and his foodie fads as portrayed by Anuska. Adults will relish the opportunity to plead their case after sharing this tasty neo-cautionary tale with their own picky eaters.

A laugh-out-loud delight through and through – grey, green, orange or any other colour!

My First Book of Birds / Birds

My First Book of Birds
Illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books

This is a smashing little book that introduces to youngsters twenty or so birds that commonly visit our UK gardens.
Such is the quality of Zoë Ingram’s illustrations that as well as taking delight in them, little ones can use them to help in avian identification.
After an opening spread explaining that the birds are presented in size order as well as talking about conservation status (this is given to each one in the ‘Bird Facts’ window) and feeding, each bird is showcased in a double spread.
The first is the tiny Goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird, that over winters in Britain while the largest and final bird featured is the omnivorous Magpie that has a wingspan about four times larger than the Goldcrest.
In between are some real beauties including the mellifluous colourful Goldfinch;

the yellow-billed Blackbird and the glossy feathered, bold Starling,

As well as the facts window, each bird has a paragraph about such things as plumage, diet, song; plus there are egg facts and a ‘Did you know?’

Ideal for home use as well as to add to a primary school collection; it’s important that youngsters get acquainted with birds and this is a great starting point.

Birds
Carme Lemniscates
Walker Studio

Not a guide to birds, (although you will doubtless recognise most of those the artist includes but never names); rather, the words are at least in part, the thoughts of a little girl narrator as she moves around the countryside on foot, on her bike or even as a flight of fancy, on the back of a goose.
What starts out as straightforward observation, ‘Some birds are really big. // Others are tiny.’

gives way about half way through to simile and metaphor: ’A bird’s song is like the loving words of a friend. // A happy song that greets us every morning. // And our hearts sing, too, because birds are like good news coming. // Or messages of peace.’

The digitally rendered illustrations are richly coloured, enticing and immediately attractive to little ones, though I do wonder if there’s a slight mismatch between the intended audience for the book and some of the latter part of the child’s narrative.

A book to use with one child or a few, rather than a class I suggest.

Builders & Breakers / A Bare Bear / In A Minute

Here are some picture books suggestions for your early years book collection:

Builders & Breakers
Steve Light
Walker Books

Two small children, whose father has left behind his lunch box, are sent by their mum to give it to him. They run to his place of work, an urban construction site.

There they see the employees hard at work banging and jackhammering, digging

and welding, operating cranes and pushing wheelbarrows. – the entire structure creating process no less.

So noisy is the site and so intent on his work is their dad, that it takes a while for the children to attract his attention amid the bangs, rat-a-tat-tat-tats

and sparks, but eventually they do.

And then (sans hard hats), they’re hauled up to join him for a well-earned break perched precariously on a horizontal construction beam.

With its onomatopoeia, alliteration and other wordplay, Light’s minimal text is perfect for little ones to join in with during a storytime, and for beginning readers to try for themselves. No matter which, they’ll absolutely love Steve Light’s scribbly-seeming, intricately detailed scenes of the construction workers and the impressive machines they operate.

Don’t miss the endpapers or the author’s final note wherein he talks of his fascination with and love of, classical, Gothic and art deco architectural styles.

A Bare Bear
Caz Hildebrand and Ashlea O’Neill
In A Minute
Clare Lowther and Ashlea O’Neill
Ladybird Books

Subtitled ‘A book of words that sound the same’, A Bare Bear will certainly transmit the ‘language is fun’ message to little ones as well as demonstrating to adults the importance of word and language play in young children’s development.
It contains bright, attractive, humorous spreads depicting examples of homonyms

or homophones.

With the book’s contemporary feel and subtle language lessons, young children will have a good laugh at the same time as being gently educated into the delights and vagaries of the English language.

In a Minute invites readers/listeners to ‘Take the 60-second challenge!’ as it first makes a statement and then issues a related challenge on the opposite side of the spread.

Have lots of fun joining your early years children in such inviting activities as a minute’s competitive sticking your tongue out and in

or hopping on one foot.

Great attention has been paid to the design of each spread: I particularly like the one of two woodpeckers attacking opposite sides of a tree trunk, that of the star-jumping girl and … actually, they’re all immediately arresting and invite longer engagement.

Get counting, get active – what are you waiting for?

Everybunny Dream! / Hop Little Bunnies / This is Owl / Sleep, My Bunny

Everybunny Dream!
Ellie Sandall
Hodder Children’s Books

Ellie Sandall’s latest Everybunny tale is essentially a bedtime story.

Through a gentle rhyming narrative and a sequence of captivating scenes, some frolicsome, others more peaceful, we share in the bedtime ritual of the little bunnies as they respond to their mother’s instructions,

until they’re tucked up cosily under the covers.

Who should appear suddenly though but another creature with a long orange bushy tail, also clad in night attire.

Before long there’s a host of baby fox cubs sitting with the little bunnies – who have now all hopped out of bed – avidly listening to a good night tale

and then it really is time to snuggle down altogether for some shut-eye and perhaps some pleasant dreams.

A lovely way to send your little ones off into the land of nod at the end of a busy day.

Hop Little Bunnies
Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Based on nursery favourite Sleeping Bunnies, Martha Mumford has written a jaunty text that includes not only the bunnies of the original song but also fluffy lambs, tiny chicks, kittens and ducklings

all of which sleep until noon and wake up and make lots of noise.

They then go on to play for the rest of the day before a bedtime song sends them all off to sleep once more.

With plenty of flaps to investigate and sounds to make, Laura Hughes charming rural illustrations add to the springtime bounce of Martha’s words.

This cheery charmer is likely to become a much requested book for young listeners be that at home or in an early years setting.

After an initial sharing I’d suggest an action packed story session with sleeping, hopping, leaping and swimming, not forgetting baa-ing, cheeping, mewing and quacking.

Another book that invites interaction is:

This is Owl
Libby Walden and Jacqui Lee
Caterpillar Books
The sun is shining, Owl is fast asleep and doesn’t want to wake up but the book has to start so the reader’s help is needed to rouse our feathered friend.

Tummy tickling is only partially successful so the sun needs to be extinguished and replaced by a moon.

Hurrah Owl now has both eyes open but Beetle further along the branch is causing a distraction.

A considerable amount of page flapping is required to help Owl reach Beetle but then they both disappear. Oops! Where can Owl be?

With the help of several more birds Owl is eventually located and it seems one has become two for alongside is Other Owl.

Strangely the pair of them are doing a little uncharacteristic nest building so a bit of twig collecting from reader’s won’t come amiss.

Sometime later, once that threatening raincloud has gone, Owl has something in the nest to show off to readers.

By the time the sun starts to come up once again, two owls have become three and it’s time to bid them all farewell.

Feathery fun with a tad of scientific learning included, Libby Walden’s gently humorous, guiding words, in tandem with Jacqui Lee’s eye-catching, funny illustrations will certainly make for an active animal shared book experience.

Sleep, My Bunny
Rosemary Wells
Walker Books

Here’s a lovely way to wind down with your little one(s) at the end of the day.

Rosemary Wells’ gently flowing text reads like a lullaby as it talks of the sounds of evening: the simultaneous song of owls and crickets; the night wind that has ‘taken the moon for a ride’, the first soft summer rain.

Alongside we see, in Van Gogh-like impressionist style, a sunlit tree outside and then as the sun goes down, a series of gradually darkening skies shown through the window, foregrounded by scenes of a little bunny going through his night-time routine with his mother and father.

On each spread the textual border mirrors the sky seen outside.

There’s obvious love and tenderness in this bunny family so adorably depicted in this lovely bedtime book.

What’s Next?

What’s Next?
Timothy Knapman and Jane McGuinness
Walker Books

Time and again Timothy creates wonderful picture book stories. Here’s another winner.

It tells of curious Baby Badger who loves nothing better than to go exploring; and having exhausted the possibilities in his underground home, he asks his father, “What’s Next?”

Daddy Badger’s response is to take his little one up and out to the forest the very next night.

It’s an exciting place with soft moss to roll in, and bluebell bulbs to snuffle for.

Under the starry sky, Baby Badger thanks his dad, inquiring again, “What’s next?” Daddy points out the sinking moon and announces that since day is coming soon, it’s time for bed.

Little Badger understands that next comes daytime and this too stimulates his curiosity, all the more so since his dad has only dim memories of the daylight world.

Unsurprisingly sleep eludes our ever-inquisitive little friend and he follows his nose out of the sett once more.

The daylight forest is certainly a bright, colourful, exciting place;

but it’s also rather lonely and proves an overwhelming experience for Baby Badger, who now wants nothing except his cosy home and his beloved Daddy.

You can easily imagine what comes next – a wonderfully satisfying finale …

Jane McGuinness has created the perfect pictures to illustrate this smashing story. Rich in detail and beautifully textured, her mixed media scenes of the natural world provide delight at every turn of the page.

A smashing book to share with little ones that will likely stimulate interest in the natural world.

My Grandma and Me

My Grandma and Me
Mina Javaherbin and Lindsey Yankey
Walker Books

What an utterly gorgeous book is this tribute to a beloved Iranian grandmother from the young Mina with whom she lived.

The two do everything together be that cooking, cleaning, praying or visiting neighbours: grandma is the centre of Mina’s universe.

There are companionable times when two sets of best friends – young and old – play, or chat and knit together;

occasions that will make readers laugh, like Mina’s account of draping her grandma’s beautiful chadors to build a rocket ship or using one to transport her on her astro-explorations.

Be it during Ramadan, when the two would visit the mosque together for midnight prayers; or showing ingenuity over getting a fresh loaf daily without leaving their 3rd floor apartment,

this autobiographical celebration of a special intergenerational bond is truly special; in part because it’s a portrayal of a culture and country relatively few children will be familiar with.

With her lovely patterns, Lindsey Yankey’s beautiful, respectful visual portrayal is the perfect complement to Mina’s written memories in a book that transcends cultural boundaries and speaks to everyone.

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate / The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate
The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare

Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

I know a fair number of newly independent readers who will be dancing in delight at these latest The Princess in Black stories.

In the Mysterious Playdate, Princess Magnolia, aka the monster-fighter, Princess in Black has an engagement with Princess Sneezewort.

Off she goes, accompanied by Blacky, to execute her ‘mysterious plan’ leaving Goat Avenger guarding the hole into Monster Land to prevent any monsters escaping. Or so she thinks, for a shape-shifting monster is following her and manages to hide away on her carriage as Frimblepants pulls it to her friend’s kingdom and her castle residence.

While the two princesses play

the monster’s hunger gets the better of him and he tries to eat someone’s kitten.

Soon both princess have made excuses to leave the castle, donned disguises and set out to rescue the little animal.

When kitten’s duly saved there’s still the matter of the elusive monster. With ninja moves aplenty, they might just succeed in capturing the monster as well as keeping their secret identities undiscovered.

Princess Sneezewort is a thoroughly delightful addition to the bum-wiggling superhero troop in this action-packed treat.

In the Science Fair Scare, Princess Magnolia’s destination is the Interkindgom Science Fair, an event she hopes to keep monster-free especially as she’s going to present her project poster on the growth of plants.

Once there though, having met her friends, she begins to feel her project is inferior to those of the other participants particularly that of Tommy Wigtower. His talking volcano soon has the princess’s alarm bells ringing.

Happily her new friend aka The Princess (Sneezewort) in Blankets just happens to be nearby and before long a fierce battle is under way and it’s not just those two princesses, but three more, who join the fray.

Can they succeed in their endeavours to prevent the goo monster from devouring everything in its path?  Perhaps it could find a new home through that hole to Monster Land so zealously guarded by The Goat Avenger.

Welcome three more princesses to the superhero brigade. It’s good to see an addition to the series of a STEM story with its teamwork and spot of problem-solving alongside the monster pounding.

Another satisfying tale from the Hales with as always, splendidly spirited illustrations from LeUyen Pham.

Toppsta have a new reading record that is particularly appropriate for school use: see the details on Toppsta

Circle

Circle
Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Walker Books

This is the final book in the Shape trilogy that featured first Triangle and then Square as main character; now it’s the turn of Circle.

One day at Circle’s suggestion, the three friends embark on a game of hide-and-seek. Circle stipulates one over arching rule: “No hiding behind the waterfall” because it’s dark there.

Circle completes her counting, only to learn from Square, who has remained static, that Triangle has gone behind the waterfall.

Off goes Circle to find him and as she goes deeper in, the double spreads gradually darken

until everything is black save Circle’s eyes.

Then out of the darkness another pair of eyes appears belonging, Circle assumes, to Triangle. She starts chastising her ‘friend’ but no answer is forthcoming.

There appears a third set of eyes and it’s these, it transpires, that belong to Triangle.

It turns out that the since Square is outside, the other eyes belong to they know not whom. Circle asks the shape before her once again, “Who are you?” and again receives no answer.

Circle and Triangle rush back in fright, back towards the light and the outside where Square is waiting.

Once safely back in the daylight, Circle ponders upon the identity of the shape; perhaps it wasn’t bad after all. “It might have been a good shape. We just could not see it,” she posits.

An important inherent message from Barnett in our xenophobic times no matter which side on the Atlantic we live on.

His story has an open ending, concluding with a question for readers. It does however suggest that we can perhaps overcome our fears by remaining calm and mindful, rather that letting them overwhelm us.

In his watercolour and pencil, digitally worked style illustrations, Klassen portrays the friends’ emotions with his characteristic minimalist, brilliance.

A book to ponder upon and discuss.

For All the Stars Across the Sky

For All the Stars Across the Sky
Karl Newson and Chiaki Okada
Walker Books

If you’re looking for a gorgeous bedtime story then Karl Newson’s new book will surely fit the bill.

It’s time for little Luna to get ready for bed. Mum’s there to bid her goodnight but first there’s time for a wish: “For all the stars across the sky, / Big and little and bright, / Here’s a wish from me to you, / Before we say goodnight.”

They close their eyes and wish as they take off on some amazing adventures. They fly like birds, soaring through the clouds on a trip around the world; they dive deep and swim together to the accompaniment of whale song;

they shrink to ladybird tinyness and gaze at the sky …

and then, normal size restored, stomp giant style all the way back home for lights out, a special goodnight kiss and … sweet dreams.

Mum bear’s love for her little one shines forth from Karl’s gentle telling which sounds like a softly spoken lullaby.

New to me, illustrator Chiaki Okada brings her own magic to every single page in gently glowing soft focus scenes of both the bedtime ritual and Luna’s flights of fancy, elegantly rendered in appropriately muted tones that draw you further into the story.

Everything about this book is special; words, pictures and the design too, all contribute to the sense of peacefulness and the warmth of the parent/child relationship.

Maya & Cat

Maya & Cat
Caroline Magerl
Walker Books

I’m not sure whether it’s the words or pictures of Caroline Magerl’s moggy story that I love better; both are absolute delight.

Through gorgeous poetic language and wonderfully whimsical watercolour and ink illustrations, the author/illustrator conveys the tale of Maya and what happens then she hears Cat ‘rumbling a rumbly purr’ out on the wet roof and decides it needs rescuing.

Having lured it down with a fishy treat, with Cat following behind her, she sets out to discover the whereabouts of its home.

She tries many places but Cat isn’t the right fit and then, with Cat leading the way, they eventually find … home.

It’s time for Maya to hand over her charge: is this story to have a sad ending for the determined little girl?

Maybe not …

With her trailing feather boa, fluffy hat and pompom on a stick, Maya is a delightfully quirky character that readers are sure to fall in love with; and Cat too is adorable, even to this cat-allergic reviewer.

Each spread of the book has a wealth of enchanting detail that’s well worth spending time poring over and when read aloud, the gently humorous tale is a treat for both adult and children.

Nibbles Numbers / Little Fish and Mummy / Where’s Mr Duck?

Nibbles Numbers
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger Press

Emma Yarlett’s little yellow book-eating monster Nibbles is back and now he’s got his teeth into a board book. One might think that chomping through card would be a challenge too far but no. Once released the little fellow immediately starts sinking his gnashers into the pages and even has the audacity to nibble into the numerals leaving fairly sizeable holes.

Moreover he’s sabotaging our counting practice and just when we think we’ve cornered the little munching rascal, he makes a dive for it and disappears through the final spread, only to emerge on the back cover with a satisfied grin on his face.

Smashing fun and what a delight to be able to introduce my favourite little monster Nibbles to a younger audience.

Little Fish and Mummy
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

The latest Little Fish book is narrated by none other than Little Fish who is particularly excited about sharing with listeners a ‘Mummy Fish and me’ day.

This special day is spent on lessons in swimming and bubble blowing, splishing and splashing with all the other fish, a game of hide-and-seek just with Mum and a look inside a deep down cave.

What better way to end such a great day than with a round of kissing – ‘Kiss, kiss, kiss!’

Irresistible if you know a little one who’s a fan of Lucy Cousins’ endearing spotty Little Fish, and I certainly know a lot of those.

Where’s Mr Duck?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

The latest felt flap hide-and-seek board book in this deservedly popular series is set around the pond. In its environs little ones can discover Mrs Butterfly, Mr Frog,

Mrs Worm, Mr Duck and finally as the creatures look on, him or herself.

With its characteristic question and answer format, a wealth of opportunities for developing language, bold bright art and satisfying conclusion it’s no wonder the series is such a success; this one will be as popular as its predecessors.

Bear Moves

Bear Moves
Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyūz
Walker Books

The purple ursine character from I Am Bear returns and, sporting his sweatbands, he’s in groovy mood.

With Bunny on DJ duty it’s time to show off those funky moves. First off it’s Furry Breaking – wow this guy certainly has attitude!

Next we have Running Bear, quickly followed by the Robot and there’s even a spot of limbo.

Should this character be auditioning for the next Strictly Come Dancing series one wonders as he grabs himself a partner and switches to ballroom mode with a foxtrot

This he follows with a doughnut fuelled Belly Dance,

a quickstep – oh no that’s his pal squirrel attempting to beat a hasty retreat – and next, bums a-winding, everybody do the twist.

Even then, this dance enthusiast isn’t quite done but for his grand finale he requires an altogether sweeter partner …

It’s pretty exhausting all this dancing so you won’t be surprised that Bear’s last move is into sleep mode zzzzz …

You can really feel and hear the beat in rapper Ben Bailey Smith’s (aka Doc Brown) rhyming text, while Sav Akyūz shows the action both frenzied and smooth, in bold colours outlined in thick black lines

Great for child participation is this zany offering.

Kiss the Crocodile

Kiss the Crocodile
Sean Taylor and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

Down in the jungle, Anteater, Tortoise and Monkey are in playful mood when they’re spied by Little Crocodile. He’s eager for them to join him in a game of Kiss the Crocodile. The rules are pretty straightforward – the clue’s in the name – but the proviso is that the little croc. pretends to sleep and must not be woken up.

Are they brave enough?

Seemingly so, and first to make a move is Anteater.

Mission successfully accomplished, Tortoise is next

and what a smoocher!

Only Monkey remains and having summoned up all her courage, off she goes – uh oh! She’s in for a big snapping surprise.

The game is over, but will Little Crocodile abide by the rules or is it the end for Monkey?

It’s not only those jungle animals that are in playful mood, so too is Sean Taylor. His present tense telling has just the right amount of mischief, suspense, some delicious onomatopoeia and that frequently repeated imperative title – a perfect storytime recipe for entertaining your little ones.

Equally irresistible are Ben Mantle’s comical, wonderfully expressive scenes of the action – giggles guaranteed on every spread.

Duck!

Duck!
Meg McKinlay and Nathaniel Eckstrom
Walker Books

Not a lot happens in this book until right at the end but nonetheless it’s absolutely hilarious throughout.

So, without further ado, let’s head over to the farm where one afternoon, horse is swishing his tail; cow is chewing the cud; pig is wallowing in mud and sheep is sheeping on the grass (love that).

Into this tranquil setting charges Duck, yelling a single word, “DUCK!”

Needless to say the other animals don’t appreciate this intrusion into their peace and each in turn attempts to explain to the noisy creature that they are not ducks; he is.

However, Duck’s message merely grows more strident.

By the time accusations of rudeness and lack of understanding have been hurled at the little animal, Nathaniel Eckstrom’s deliciously droll illustrations are foreshadowing the impending catastrophe that the chastisers are oblivious to but savvy audiences will be eagerly anticipating. To divulge more about this would spoil the grand finale.

With a simple misunderstanding at its heart, Meg McKinlay’s telling is enormous fun and the self-descriptions of the disgruntled animals absolutely wonderful, while the repeated “DUCK!” exclamation cries out for loud audience participation.

In addition, expect a plethora of giggles when you read this cracking story aloud, and be prepared at the end, for cries of “again!” from listeners.

Non-Fiction Miscellany: Ambulance Ambulance / Weird Animals / Castle Adventure Activity Book

Ambulance Ambulance
Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock
Walker Books

An ambulance crew responds to an emergency call out: a boy has come off his bike and ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar …’ off goes the ambulance to the scene of the accident.

On arrival the paramedics make the necessary checks, put a splint on the child’s broken leg and carefully lift him onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.

Then with horn honking and lights flashing, off they go racing to the hospital, “Quick, quick quick. ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar … ‘

Once the boy is safely inside and the hand-over complete, the crew are ready for a rest, but it’s not long before another emergency call comes and so off they go again …

Team Sally and Brian are already well known for their previous picture books such as Roadworks and Construction. Non-fiction loving little ones delight in these books and will doubtless relish this one with its bright illustrations, especially since its rhyming text comes with opportunities for joining in all those ‘Nee nar’ sounds. Share at home or in a nursery setting and watch the response …

Weird Animals
Mary Kay Carson
Sterling Children’s Books

The world of nature is full of strange and wonderful creatures, large and small, a dozen or so of which are featured in Mary May Carson’s Weird Animals. The author specialises in writing non-fiction for children and those with an insatiable appetite for the fantastically weird will enjoy her latest book.

It explains the whys and wherefores of some amazing adaptations, those odd characteristics that help these creatures survive and thrive.

Take for example the Pink Fairy armadillo with its oversized feet and fluffy underside that helps keep the creature warm through cold desert nights.

The frightening-looking fauna from different parts of the world include insects, reptiles, birds, fish, mammals, with explanations for their appearance. Weird and wonderful they surely are.

Castle Adventure Activity Book
Jen Alliston
Button Books

Children should find lots to explore in this engaging historical activity book. There are mazes, matching games, word searches, colouring pages that include things to spot of a medieval kind. Observation skills are also required for matching games, determining the winner of a joust, searching for rats in the castle kitchen and more.

There are medieval scenes to complete by drawing and adding stickers as well as a number of crafty projects. Some, such as making a sword or a conical hat for a princess, require additional items – paper, card, scissors etc. and may also need adult assistance.

Some simple maths, words to unscramble and a scattering of jokes are also part and parcel of this themed compilation that’s a fun alternative to constant screen use.

Tooth / Big Kid Bed, Bizzy Bear Knights’ Castle, Mix & Match Farm Animals

Tooth
Big Kid Bed

Leslie Patricelli
Walker Books

Baby, the star of several previous board books including Toot returns in two further amusing and appealing episodes.

Tooth begins with the star of the show exhibiting some distress about a strange feeling in the mouth. Before long we discover that Baby is getting a tooth, shiny, white, hard and sharp. Not just a single tooth though, there’s another and then two more follow.
Having shown those shiny gnashers, Baby demonstrates some things good and not so good that can be done with the teeth.

Very important too is taking care of teeth and we see how even one so small is conscientious about dental hygiene.

Brushing twice a day and flossing (with Daddy and Mummy’s help) are part of the little one’s daily routine.

Patricelli’s straightforward first person text combined with scenes of the adorable Baby is irresistible.

The same is true in Big Kid Bed. Here the toddler tells of bedtime preparations for a sleep on ‘my new big kid bed!’ How exciting; but the bed is so big and the toddler so small it’s as well that Mummy and Daddy are on hand to make things easier, piling up pillows around the bed in case of a fall and bringing in Baby’s stuffed animals to snuggle up with.

Comfortable as Baby might be, there’s the possibility of getting out of bed again to investigate what other members of the household are doing during the night, until finally, YAWN; sleepiness takes over and it’s time to return to the warmth and cosiness of that new bed for a good night’s sleep.

Who could ask for more from a bedtime book for the very youngest?

Bizzy Bear Knights’ Castle
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow

In this adventure Bizzy Bear finds out what life as a knight is like when (with a bit of help from small fingers that slide the helmet visor up and down) he dons a perfectly fitting suit of armour and visits a castle.
Once kitted out and inside, Bizzy tries his paw at brandishing a sword

and then on the next spread, at jousting before finally sitting down to participate in a delicious-looking banquet.

As with other titles in the series, the engaging simple rhyming text, brightly coloured illustrations with just the right amount of detail (look out for the dragon) and those interactive features – sliders and tabs that are easy to use, make this well-constructed book ideal for toddlers.,

Mix & Match Farm Animals
Rachael Saunders
Walker Books

With the same innovative design as previous titles in this mix & match series (a tiny board book within a small one) young children are invited to match the larger surrounding page with its ‘Who says …?’ question to the appropriate smaller inset animal spread showing the animal that makes the sound.

The animals featured in the smaller book are all adult while on the surrounding pages young animals are depicted, as well as other appropriate clues, for instance there’s a calf, a bull, a barn and a bucket of milk on the ‘cow’ spread.
On the final ‘sheep’ spread we meet a farmer and sheepdog in Rachel Saunders’ illustration.

A clever format, and a playful and enjoyable way to introduce or re-enforce farm animal sounds to the very youngest

Isle of You

Isle of You
David LaRochelle and Jaime Kim
Walker Books

The unseen narrator invites a sad-looking child to leave all worries behind and take a journey (a sailing boat awaits) to a very special place – the Isle of You. This fantastical land is one bathed in soft llght and on shore are a host of welcoming animals and small humans ready to indulge their visitor.

Choices abound: there’s a waterfall in which to swim, a stallion to ride, mountains to climb or perhaps a ride on the back of an eagle, or a restful stretch in a hammock is preferable.

‘Take your time. The choice is yours.’ That’s the assurance.

There’s entertainment laid on courtesy of dancing polar bears

and a delicious-looking feast to partake of before perhaps, a moonlit stroll on the beach before it’s time to depart, safe in the knowledge that ‘Someone loves you very, very, very much.’

This reads like a guided visualisation in picture book form – mindfulness for little ones after a bad day.

David LaRochelle’s gentle whimsical story is a sweet one (perhaps some will find it overly so) and Jaime Kim’s glowing pastel shades of yellow, pinks, blues and purples help bring feelings of comfort and an otherworldy atmosphere to a fantasy that will help youngster listeners, (safe in the knowledge that it’s sometimes okay to feel sad), to set aside the day’s trials and worries and undertake a mindful journey to a magical place, that’s closer than they think, the ISLE OF YOU.

Flat Cat

Flat Cat
Hiawyn Oram and Gwen Millward
Walker Books

Pampered puss Jimi-My-Jim, living a seemingly idyllic life with Sophie in a flat at the top of a tall block, does his very best to show his appreciation. As a result Sophie has no idea that her pet longs to be a part of the outside world.

When Sophie and her parents leave home each day why, you might wonder, does he merely sit at the window watching life go by? I certainly did.

Little by little his pampered, prison-like existence takes its toll: the creature begins to flatten out until he looks utterly two dimensional – he’s become, in the style of Jeff Brown’s human boy hero Stanley, a FLAT CAT.

Then one day, Sophie and her Mum leave him alone. Now here I anticipated Jimi sliding under the door, but no. In their haste, the two forget the keys giving him the perfect opportunity to take action. He dons his coat, grabs the keys, does a spot of climbing and exits onto the street, destination another feline he’s had his eye on.

Streetwise Blanche introduces herself and offers to show Jimi around. Together they explore the city;

Blanche takes Jimi to meet all her feline friends and a few canine ones as well; but  evening comes all too soon and Jimi doesn’t want to say farewell.

Instead he invites his new friends home and even thows a party for them.

What on earth will Sophie and her parents do when they return? Could it be the end for Jimi’s forays into the big wide world?
Let’s just say it’s a happy ending and not just for the main protagonist …

I’ve always been a rule-breaker so thoroughly enjoyed Hiawyn’s tale of freedom, adventure and friendship, feline style. Gwen Millward’s distinctive naive, flat cartoon illustrations are a purr-fect portrayal of Jimi’s jaunts and underscore the message that freedom, love and friendship not material things are what make people happy.

Pigsticks and Harold: Lost in Time / Pigsticks and Harold: Pirate Treasure

Pigsticks and Harold: Lost in Time
Pigsticks and Harold: Pirate Treasure

Alex Milway
Walker Books

With aspirations to become more like his brilliant inventor Great-aunt Ada Lovepig, Pigsticks is busy preparing for the Tuptown Science Fair – the ideal place to demonstrate his own inventive prowess. There’s a problem though; it’s the day of the competition and his entry for Best Invention is not going at all well, indeed it’s a mess.

But then Pigsticks comes upon a time machine left by said Great-aunt and he enlists a rather reluctant Harold, (fuelled by thoughts of yet to be invented cakes) to accompany him to the future where he’s certain they’ll discover how to build a real spaceship.

However, thanks to some hamfisted handling of the time lever at the start of their travels, the two find themselves not going forwards in time but hurtled way back for a scary encounter with dinopigs.

That though is only the start of their adventure: thereafter they slide straight into Cleopigtra, fall into a flaming London – ‘what’s so great about his fire?’ Harold asks; do a spot of dangling in New York City and bump into Julius Squealer before being captured by one Hamfrida, the Viking chief and her vicious minions.

It looks as though the end is nigh for our time travelling twosome; or, could cake perhaps be their salvation …

Fast paced and full of superbly silly moments, not to mention some very sticky ones, with its delicious wordplay this twisting, turning romp, the fourth of the hilarious Harold and Pigsticks series, is another winner for early chapter book readers especially.

Said readers will relish Alex Milway’s comical illustrations that are liberally scattered throughout the tale.

Another laugh out loud adventure of the two friends is:

Pigsticks and Harold: Pirate Treasure
In their third adventure, Tuptown is under threat from one Sir Percival Snout who claims their much-loved town belongs to him and what’s more, he has the paperwork to prove it. Or so he claims and he plans to destroy the entire town unless the pair can find a vast sum of money by the very next day.

Finding the three million pounds Pigsticks has so recklessly agreed to come up with is totally crazy since the pig is absolutely penniless.

Fortunately though Pigsticks then remembers that his great-great-grandpig was a pirate who’d left a legacy of treasure buried somewhere as yet to be discovered.

All the two friends need to do is to solve the riddle on the map his ancestor had left behind. With clues to follow, there’s little time to discover the whereabouts of that treasure and thus save Tuptown.

As always with these comic capers, there’s a wonderful final twist in the tale.

If your newly independent readers have yet to encounter Milway’s Pigsticks and Harold, I suggest starting at the beginning and binge reading the whole series from the start; those who already know the duo will delight in this cracking adventure.

Dreamland

Dreamland
Noah Klocek
Walker Books

Unlike most young children, Amelie puts up no resistance at bedtime; indeed she loves everything about it – snuggling into her favourite blanket and listening to bedtime stories,

but most of all, she loves to dream.

Her dreams however often prove elusive and she has to search for them.

At this point in the story, (with a nod to Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are) we see a forest growing in her bedroom.
She finds herself in strange landscapes as various items from her room become part of the dreamscape:

is this journey all part of her dreams, is what listeners will wonder.

On Amelie marches taming whatever hides among the shadows,

dancing ‘past the tick and tock of the clock’ as she travels far and wide, through high clouds and deep dark waters until finally sleep embraces her; and a happy sleep it is for she’s ‘found herself in her favourite dreams’.

Dreamily enigmatic is Noah Klocek’s story while his ink and watercolour illustrations chronicle the mysteries of her night-time slumber.

A book for individuals to ponder over as part of their own bedtime routines.

A Year in Nature / My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs

A Year in Nature
Hazel Maskell and Eleanor Taylor
Laurence King Publishing

Subtitled ‘a carousel book of the seasons’, this opens out into a four-part carousel that is sure to engage and impress.
Detailed scenes of a woodland in spring, summer, autumn and winter leap out from finely cut out pages revealing the glories of each season.

These woods are home to a family of foxes and we share the growth of the tiny cubs over a year as they explore their surroundings.
In spring there are nesting birds in the branches of the trees and new life begins everywhere.
Come summer, visiting birds have arrived; there’s an abundance of butterflies recently emerged, as well as bees, dragonflies and grasshoppers to find.

By autumn the young foxes are almost full-grown; now they hunt for their own food among the fungi under the golden brown canopy while squirrels are busy overhead gathering nuts to store.

Winter sees many of the trees without any leaves but berries still add brightness to the forest-scape.

Eleanor Taylor’s lush artwork is absorbing, bringing a place of beauty to life – the next best thing to visiting a forest for real, and Hazel Maskell provides brief snippets of information that are set among the forest branches along with things to hunt for in each scene.

This book would look great as part of a display in schools, no matter the season and would also make a great gift for a young child, particularly an urban living one.

My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs
Owen Davey
Walker Books

Thanks to David Hawcock’s amazing paper-engineering, Owen Davey’s prehistoric creatures literally leap back into life as you open the pages of this sturdy little book. Showcasing fifteen popular and less well known beasts from Pachycephalosaurus to Pterodactylus, Ichthyosaurus to Iguanodon and Ankylosaurus to Tyrannosaurus,

Davey’s illustrations with their designs of spots, splodges and stripes are arresting in their greys, tans, browns, greens and blues.

A smashing introduction to the world of dinosaurs, with the name and pronunciation of each provided for each one. Doubtless adult sharers will delight in the book almost as much as the young target audience of aspiring palaeontologists.

Little Bear’s Big House / There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor

Little Bear’s Big House
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

Tired of his uneventful life in the forest Little Bear leaves his Mama, Papa and Teeny Tiny bear to embark on a big adventure, “far from the forest” so he says.

His exploratory intent means that he turns down invitations from his forest dwelling friends, to keep moving
till eventually, as night falls he comes upon a huge, amazing-looking house in a clearing.
The door is ready to be opened so Little Bear, acting like a little boy, decides to enter.

Once inside the real adventure begins …

“Being on my own is so much fun!’’ comes the cry until there is an enormous BANG! Little Bear dives beneath the bedcovers and his imagination runs riot.

What ensues is something of a surprise but suffice it to say that when Little Bear finally reaches home after an adventure that proves a little too much for the young ursine character, he learns that he isn’t the only one with an exciting story to tell about a big house.

Hilarious scenes of Little Bear and his antics as he seeks a modicum of independence, offer plenty for little humans to pore over.

There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor
Wade Bradford and Kevin Hawkes
Walker Books

Mr Snore, an extremely tired musician checks into the very grand-looking Sharemore Hotel hoping for a good night’s sleep. No sooner has his head hit the pillow however than he discovers that his bed is already occupied. He demands a new room and there are plenty of options starting on the second floor but he has no intention of sharing his slumber time with a pig so he calls the front desk again.

And so it goes on until despite the knowing porter’s unfinished warning, Mr Snore ends up at floor number thirteen. The bed is definitely gigantic and might at last prove satisfactory.

Now however, it isn’t Mr Snore who makes a call downstairs to the front desk …

With its crazy finale, nicely contrasting main characters and Kevin Hawkes’ zany illustrations, this romp of Wade Bradford’s truly is a bedtime tale with a difference.

Josie’s Lost Tooth

Josie’s Lost Tooth
Jennifer K. Mann
Walker Books

Josie shines at pretty much everything she turns her hand to at school, but when it comes to losing a tooth, she’s way behind all her classmates.

Her best friend Richard proudly tells of rewarding visits from the tooth fairy, which makes Josie determined to hasten the falling out of her slightly wobbly tooth. Despite her determined efforts – dangling upside down, chomping a particularly crunchy apple and chewy carrot sticks,

and the rather more drastic string pulling technique – the tooth remains lodged in her gum.

The prospect of having baby teeth for life makes Josie glum so Richard suggests a cheering-up game of sharks and squid chase.
The result is that Josie loses her tooth – literally – leaving her with nothing to hide under her pillow for the tooth fairy.

Richard kindly offers his shark tooth but it just won’t do. Instead Josie writes a note appealing to the Tooth Fairy, leaving it along with the shark tooth under her pillow.

Next morning what Josie discovers isn’t money but a very special surprise gift – a wonderful tribute to friendship, demonstrating the donor’s understanding of what is really important.

Jennifer Mann’s digitally worked pencil, pastel and collage illustrations have a delightful child-like quality and her dialogue is akin to that of children, making this an engaging tale of friendship run through with gentle humour. Those at the first tooth-losing stage in particular will love this.

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse
Mara Bergman and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

There are two residents of the tall house atop the tall hill; one human, the other a mouse. The tall man and the small mouse lead parallel lives, the man doing tall (and often caring) things that need doing, the mouse doing small things that need doing after which she falls fast asleep in a cosy, comfy place.

One day the man has a fixing task concerning the town’s clock – it’s no longer going tick or tock; but try as he might, the tall man cannot get inside that tickless, tockless timepiece and so, silent it remains.

Back home he researches but his books yield nothing so eventually he falls fast asleep.

The mouse meanwhile is up and about creeping hither and thither till she goes off to sleep inside a tall boot.

Next morning when the man discovers not only the mouse in his boot but also a all his missing things, he’s delighted and enlists the little creature’s help.

After searching high and low inside the clock, the mouse finally discovers the source of the problem.

With assorted bits and pieces, she soon has those bells ringing out once more making the two residents of the house on the hill (as well as the townsfolk) extremely happy.

Thus a new camaraderie is forged and a new partnership as well.

Told in rhyme, Mara Bergman’s fable of fixing and friendship is a quirky delight, made all the more so by Birgitta Sif’s adorable illustrations. Full of her wonderful whimsy every one, large or small, is an absolute treat; such a gorgeous colour palette too.

Story Box Animal Adventures / My RSPB Nature Craft Box

Story Box Animal Adventures
Claudia Boldt
Magma for Laurence King Publishing

With the twenty sturdy, double-sided puzzle pieces, users can create endless stories: the pieces are interchangeable and when all are used it’s possible to create an adventure stretching out across 2.4 metres.

Brimming over with narrative possibilities involving a polar bear and his animal friends, wicked pirates, a party throwing tortoise and much more, this is a terrific resource for developing language, especially children’s oral storytelling, either in a classroom or at home. It’s especially good for those (adults included) learning English as an additional language.

Here’s Alesha having fun creating her own stories

The potential is terrific and if used by several children together, turn taking, negotiation and other skills also come into play.

A smashing resource, with illustrations by picture book artist Claudia Boldt, that allows a different story to be told every time it’s used.

My RSPB Nature Craft Box
Sarah Edmonds
Walker Books

This is a collaborative venture with the RSPB. Within the chunky box you’ll find a book full of crafty ideas relating to the natural world: you can for example, discover how to make a nest, birds to sit on it and binoculars for bird watching.

Illustrator/designer Sarah Edmonds also offers minibeast-related ideas, masks to make, instructions to construct a forest diorama, ways to create cards, wrapping paper, baking recipes and more. There’s a ‘you will need’ list for each activity as well as visual prompts.

In the box too, are a dozen activity cards that relate to the activities in the book, 4 mask outlines and 5 metres of pre-cut bunting with natural world images to colour.

All in all it’s a great way to encourage your little ones to get outdoors and explore the natural world.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise
David Ezra Stein
Walker Books

Little Chicken is back and she’s full of what she’s just learned at school. “My teacher told us every story has an elephant of surprise” she says excitedly. Papa puts her right, responding, “She was talking about an element of surprise,” and goes on to explain.
Papa shares stories with her to prove his point but Chicken remains unconvinced and eager to find those surprising elephants.

Needless to say she manages to do so; first in The Ugly Duckling, then Rapunzel and finally, The Little Mermaid.
Each time Papa opens the storybook, Stein changes his illustrative style. Instead of the bright warm tones of their abode, his story scenes are rendered in sepia pen and ink

into which at the appropriate time, he drops a friendly-looking little blue elephant.

In a final story – one penned by Papa and deftly illustrated by Chicken – despite Papa’s best efforts to prevent it, that elephant of surprise puts in an appearance there too. Seems there’s no getting away from the little pachyderm.

This sequel to Interrupting Chicken had me spluttering with delight from the outset and the fun cleverly built up throughout the story. Who wouldn’t be in fits of giggles over that baby blue elephant, first with feathered swan-like wings, then wearing very long plaits and finally, a grass skirt and coconut bra. (I had to put my coffee aside for fear of sending it flying as hysterics overtook me at that sight.)
Another absolutely cracking metafictive tale to delight both adult story readers and young listeners alike. It also has great classroom potential.

All Except Winston / Good Rosie!

All Except Winston
Rochelle Brunton and Nicoletta Bertelle
Ragged Bears
Young giraffe Winston is left out no matter whether the other giraffes are eating, drinking, playing their favourite game or sleeping. Winston does all these things alone.

Then one day when all the other giraffes are so busy grazing on yummy fruits high in the treetops, he hears a sound. His fellow long-necks ignore the rustle and the snap but Winston lets out a very loud, shrill whistle just in time to warn the others that a lion is on the prowl, hungry for its next meal.

Off they all dash for safety – just in time
Now Winston is ignored no longer; instead he’s a hero.

This seemingly simple story with it’s themes of celebrating difference and finding where you fit into a group is ideal for young children who have just started school or nursery, especially those who like Winston at the start of the book have yet to find out where they fit in.

Nicoletta Bertelle’s richly coloured, textured scenes reflect the glow of the savannah setting adding further warmth to Rochelle Brunton’s gentle telling.

Good Rosie!
Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss
Walker Books

Rosie is a terrier who lives with her owner George. She loves her owner but is eager to find another friend of the canine kind: (her reflection in her empty food bowl never answers).

On their daily walks together George and Rosie look at the clouds and one day George points out a dog-shaped one; this saddens Rosie so George suggests something new.

That something is the dog park but Rosie is overwhelmed by their sheer number and doesn’t know how to make friends; she feels a little afraid. Then she meets first Maurice a large Saint Bernard, then bouncy Chihuahua, Fifi. Initially she doesn’t like either of them, but then something happens to change all that.

Then it’s down to little Fif (what happens results in a name change for the Chihuahua) to demonstrate how to make a friend and before the end of the day, the three dogs are best pals and Rosie has something to look forward to on future walks with her human.

This warm-hearted, thoughtful, gently funny story presented in nine parts, is a neat blend of picture book and graphic novel: Harry Bliss’s humorous illustrations contrast nicely with Kate DiCamillo’s understated text in what is an ideal book for those making the transition to independent reading.

Giraffe Problems

Giraffe Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books

Following on from their Penguin Problems, Jory John and Lane Smith present Giraffe Problems. The giraffe in question being Edward; his problem coming in the form of his neck. A neck that is too long, too bendy, too narrow, too dopey, too patterned, too stretchy, too high, too lofty: in short too necky. Said neck causes other animals to stare at him wherever he goes.

It’s not as though Edward hasn’t tried to improve matters; he’s adorned the thing with all manner of scarves and ties and attempted to hide himself away but without success.

Other animals have enviable necks so why is his the object of attention all the time? He has, assuredly, a long-lasting problem.

Then Edward comes upon a creature that is his polar opposite: Cyrus is a turtle but he too has a neck issue. “I’m basically neckless,” he tells the giraffe.

He also tells Cyrus of his yearning for and futile efforts to obtain, a lone banana dangling alluringly from a tree atop a distant hill. “I’ve felt like such a fool as I stretched my neck toward those greedy branches, only to be limited by my own physical shortcomings.”

Said fruit poses no challenge to Edward; in just a few seconds he causes the desired object to land right in front of Cyrus. (gatefold reveal).

Then it’s down to Cyrus to help Edward with his own neck issue. Is it possible that they can both end up feeling good about themselves – perhaps with the help of a small, strategically placed adornment?

Jory John’s entire wry, comical text is in the form of speech- monologue or dialogue – with occasional touches of bathos, and is perfectly complemented by Lane Smith’s retro style, textured artwork executed in earthy tones that cleverly captures the emotions of the two protagonists and showcases their distinctive patterns.

Courtesy of the John/Lane partnership we’ve visited Antarctica and Africa: whither next for animals with problems, I wonder?

Grumpy Duck

Grumpy Duck
Joyce Dunbar and Petr Horáček
Walker Books

Down at the pond there’s a duck with the grumps but who can blame her since her pond is dry and she’s all alone without a playmate in sight.

Off she goes to seek one, her first request being directed to Dog. Dog is more than willing so long as Duck will join in with some messy hole digging. Duck, having no wish for filthy feathers turns down the offer, thus increasing the size of the little grey cloud that is accompanying her.

Pig’s muddy puddle is deemed too pongy, she doesn’t do ‘cockadoodling’, nor competitive hopping,

peaceful dozing or clothes chomping, so Duck also refuses the suggestions proffered by Cockerel, Rabbit, Tortoise and Goat.

By now, that cloud above her is both black and absolutely ginormous; big enough to cover all those animals whose offers have been rejected and now they, along with Duck, look pretty dejected.

All of a sudden that black cloud, as is the wont of such aerosol masses, decides to burst, precipitating a multitude of BIG SHINY WET SPLASHY RAINDROPS.

Before long the cacophony issuing from their sloshy, sploshy, splashy splishy surroundings is that emitted by seven joyful farmyard residents having the time of their lives.

And the big black cloud? That’s nowhere to be seen; instead the sky is emblazoned with all the colours of the rainbow.

Joyce Dunbar’s patterned text is full of delicious alliteration and a delight to read aloud. I can see this soon becoming a storytime favourite and one that children may well want to try reading for themselves once they’ve heard the story a couple of times.

Petr Horáček’s illustrations are more scribbly delicious than ever. Splendidly expressive and instantly recognisable: I wonder how many listeners, already lovers of Horáček’s vibrant art will bring to mind his Greedy Goat when they see the garment gobbling Goat in this story.

Angry Cookie

Angry Cookie
Laura Dockrill and Maria Karipidou
Walker Books

Who can resist the words of the chief protagonist on the back cover: “Don’t even think about opening this book, you nosy noodle. I’m warning you. I am very angry.”
Of course, like me you will immediately open the book and discover that Cookie IS angry, very angry and causing him to have daylight flooding into the book and thus his bedroom, is quite simply, intolerable.

However since we’ve already committed that outrageous act and are apparently not going anywhere, the biccy feels bound to share the reasons why he’s so aggrieved.

It’s on account of the previous day – a terrible one by all accounts – that began when flat mate Barbra insisted on playing the same tune on her new recorder over and over. (Cookie has my sympathies there.)

Next came running out of his favourite sweet toothpaste and having to use an unpleasant spicy one instead.

Even worse though was the bad haircut that forced our cookie narrator to wear an ill-fitting hat; unsurprisingly nobody makes hats for cookies, hence the bad fit that makes him a source of amusement to others.

If you can believe it though, the day has to throw in an even bigger disaster. Angry Cookie heads to the ice cream parlour, his heart set on his favourite vanilla sundae topped with all manner of yummy sprinkles and served in a tall glass. But – I’m sure you’ve already guessed – they’ve run out. Can you blame the poor thing for his anger?

Then on the way home along comes a bird that almost makes a meal of Angry Cookie himself;

but perhaps there is one consolation. Could our devotion and friendship be the key to a happier Cookie? After all we have stuck around despite all that the self-confessed ‘grumpy lump, horrid humph’ has said and done, so it’s worth waiting around a little longer to see if happiness is lurking somewhere under that tiny titfer.

What a deliciously quirky, witty tale Laura Dockrill has cooked up. Young children will adore this grump of a character and likely identify with his moody moaning.

Maria Karipidou has done a terrific job portraying Angry Cookie, making him, despite all that ranting, a character one cannot help but love right from the start.

Destined to become an early years storytime favourite methinks, and a great starting point for talking about emotions.

Board Book Friends: Guess How Much I Love You:Here I Am! A Finger Puppet Book / Maisy’s House

Guess How Much I Love You:Here I Am! A Finger Puppet Book
Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram
Walker Books

Here’s a super-gorgeous finger puppet board book about everyone’s favourite Little Nutbrown hare and his adoring Big Nutbrown hare.
To delight all little ones and their adults the two engage in a game of hide-and-seek in the environs of their favourite tree.

Little Nutbrown hare likes to play over and over, hiding in different places and eagerly responding to Big Nutbrown hare’s “Where are you …? with a cry of “Here I am!”.

The game continues until Big Nutbrown hare is tired out and in need of a good rest: still though the little one has boundless energy as shown with the final … HERE I AM!”

What better company for a game of peek-a-boo with a baby or toddler, than the adorable plush finger puppet Little Nutbrown hare: total delight throughout.

Maisy’s House
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy’s House is I think, a board book reworking of a much larger pop-up book published some years back.

Ever popular with tinies, Maisy Mouse invites them to visit her house and share her day. It’s a day she spends with Panda and Little Black Cat as they wake up, brush their teeth, dress and have breakfast.

Then Maisy gets creative,

plays and bakes some yummy cupcakes for the visitor due to arrive soon.

Before long, rat-a-tat; there’s Tallulah and it’s time for tea and more fun together.

With its fold-out play scene with pop-out pieces of Maisy and her pal, this simple, brightly coloured story is smashing fun for little ones. They may well need a little assistance manipulating the small removable parts and slotting them together.

Pirate’s Perfect Pet

Pirate’s Perfect Pet
Beth Ferry and Matt Myers
Walker Books

Having performed a dare-devil dive to procure a small blue bottle he spies bobbing on the ocean waves and read the letter and accompanying Perfect Pirate Captain checklist torn from a pirate magazine, Captain Crave discovers he doesn’t quite measure up.
Yes, he fulfils most of the requirements: Ship – tick, Courage and daring – two ticks, Treasure – tick; in fact he meets most of the other must haves too, but there’s one thing missing – a pet.

Captain and crew leave their ship and sally forth up the beach in search of an animal of the perfect kind. Crabs, octopuses and clams are not right so the pirates continue looking. They leap the fence into a farm where too everything falls short of their ideas of pet perfection.

The zoo proves equally useless in the pet search although thanks to a hungry lion, the Captain is able to upgrade peg leg from pending to ‘check’ on his checklist.

Finally they come upon a pet store: surely since, as the Cap’n says “Thar be piles of pets!” something suitable must lie therein.
As luck would have it, a brightly coloured, pooping bird draws attention to itself: could this be the one perhaps …

Replete with buccaneering lingo, repetition aplenty and the occasional dig at the piratical tradition, Beth Ferry’s telling is likely to result in an enormously enjoyable, raucous read aloud.

Matt Myers thick oil and acrylic paint illustrations are a riot showing nipped earlobes, a strangle-holding octopus, pants consumption,

bum prodding and much more: make sure you keep a watch on Cap’n Crave’s hat with its oft changing skull face expressions.

ARRR! Land-lubbers, Ferry’n’Myers ‘ave a salty winner ‘ere.

Big Digger Little Digger

Big Digger Little Digger
Timothy Knapman and Daron Parton
Walker Books

Little Digger is the hardest working machine on the building site.
One day he has a mammoth task: an especially big hole needs digging: is Little Digger up to it? He’ll definitely do his upmost, he thinks.

Suddenly along comes a new machine on the block: “Big Digger dig down DEEP,” he says roaring into action. Little Digger is out of a job but he still wants to find something useful to do.
Off he goes around the site, but he can’t dump, mix cement or move heavy things: seemingly he’s only good for getting in the way. Down in the dumps is how he feels.

By this time Big Digger has dug himself into the deepest hole anyone had ever seen.

There’s a snag though, it’s so deep he’s now stuck inside.

Little Digger hears his cry for help. Now it’s down to him to try and rescue the huge machine.
He certainly won’t be able to manage the job single-handed; but perhaps with teamwork the exceedingly heavy Big Digger can be extricated.

Destined, I suspect, to become a huge hit with construction vehicle-loving children, this tale has echoes of Watty Piper’s 1930’s The Little Engine That Could.

With themes of optimism, determination, teamwork and friendship, refrains (printed in bold) to join in with and just the right amount to tension in the telling, Timothy Knapman’s story makes a splendid read aloud.

Listeners will love Daron Parton’s construction vehicles particularly Little Digger and Big Digger as they trundle their way around the building site setting. Make sure your audience sees the end papers too.

Share with a nursery group, then leave the book, along with small world play construction vehicles on a play mat or rug and observe what happens.

Ten Cars and a Million Stars: A Counting Storybook

Ten Cars and a Million Stars: A Counting Storybook
Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap
Walker Books

Team Heapy/Heap (of ‘Very Little’ fame) have co-created a star-filled, car-filled counting story for young children.
It features big sister Alice who is helping her toddler brother begin to learn some number names and counting skills.
She begins with the familiar items that surround them – their pets

and toys.

Then as the numbers get larger, Alice’s imagination enlarges to encompass silly animals sporting funky hats and shoes,

building blocks and more until the count reaches 100 toys. Wow!
There’s more to learn though, and Alice is eager to take Baby beyond, to mind-expanding bigger numbers …

When their mum arrives on the scene, she too decides to add to the numerical opportunities, but what she provides is way beyond their ability to count.
With its wealth of counting opportunities (there are even 100 square endpapers), Teresa’s warm-hearted story is sure to count among the favourites of very young listeners, especially those taking their early steps in numeracy.
Sue’s enchanting illustrations are super-cute and a joy to look at.

Ten Horse Farm

Ten Horse Farm
Robert Sabuda
Walker Books

WOW! This truly is a work of art and superb craftsmanship. a pop-up extraordinaire from ace  paper-engineer, Robert Sabuda.

As each spread is opened readers are treated to an incredibly intricate equine scene that literally leaps in one direction or another from the page, and is captioned by a single word be that racing, resting, jumping, grazing,

playing, drinking

bucking, sharing, or pulling. And all that happens down on Ten Horse Farm, a place inhabited by other animals too. Look very carefully and you’ll discover all the animal residents in the final scene.

There’s a dog that loves to race, a trio of playful kittens that leap on and over the resting horse; a rooster that’s somewhat startled by a jumping horse; a mischievous billy goat enjoying a tug of war with a dappled horse; ducks, a little grey mouse seemingly awed by a bucking bronco; and they all want to enjoy a ride courtesy of the good natured horse that pulls a cart.

For children and adults, it’s a magical experience from start to finish made all the more enjoyable by Sabuda’s rustic colour palette that complements the mood be it playful, quiet, energetic as well as the camaraderie permeating the whole.
Whether you’re a lover of horses, art or design, or awesome books, this will surely amaze and excite.

Three Cheers For Women!

Three Cheers for Women!
Marcia Williams
Walker Books

Richly detailed, funny illustrations and accompanying information on seventy remarkable women from all over the world is presented in comic strip format in Marcia Williams’ (Dot) signature style.

The amazing achievements of these women are diverse and presented, with their stories, chronologically. We start in ancient times with Cleopatra V11 Queen of Egypt and warrior queen Boudicca, ending with the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, children’s and women’s rights activist.

Along the way we are introduced to among others, Mary Wollstonecraft (radical feminist and writer),

Marie Curie, human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart,

artist Frida Kahlo,

environmentalist and peace activist Wangari Maathai, Mae C. Jemison the first African-American woman in space, and Olympic athlete Cathy Freeman.

Look out for the wonderful tiny animal and bird characters that drift around the margins of the spreads along with narrator Dot and her friend Abe, adding to the fun and biographical information given in the main frames – love that narrative device.

There are also three final spreads – ‘Leaders and World-Changers’, ‘Sportswomen & Creatives’, and ‘Scientists, Pioneers & Adventurers’, containing paragraphs on around sixty other amazing women.

Memorable, inspirational, accessible and enormously enjoyable.
Children reading this, in addition to celebrating these awesome women, will surely come to know that where world changing achievements are concerned, there are, if you have a passion and self-belief, and think beyond the limits, no holds barred.

Want To Play Trucks?

Want To Play Trucks?
Ann Stott and Bob Graham
Walker Books

It’s autumn: Alex and Jack meet at the playground sandpit nearly every morning.
Alex enjoys playing with dolls of the pink sparkly clothed variety; Jack enjoys playing with trucks, especially the wrecking kind.

So what happens when Jack invites Alex to play trucks? A compromise ensues as Alex suggests, “Let’s play dolls that drive trucks.”

While their carers – parents one presumes- sit chatting, the boys play amicably together until Jack’s “You can’t wear a tutu and drive a crane,” announcement, halts things.Tempers flare briefly

but fizzle out when Alex realises that all that’s required is a quick outfit change for the truck driver.

The wonderful details in Bob Graham’s watercolour scenes that pan in and out of the play action, add much to Ann Stott’s light, spare telling. The latter relies on the story’s premise resting on what, one hopes, is a completely out-dated sexist viewpoint about who should play with what.

Be sure to take time over the interaction between the two seated adults; there’s much to wonder about there too,

in addition to thinking about what’s going on between the two main characters, the denouement of which is based on their shared passion for large, dribblesome ice-cream cones.

With messages concerning the importance of allowing children free rein in their imaginative play, compromise and inclusivity, this is a book to share and discuss either at home or in an early years classroom.

Need more suggestions for your children’s reading? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Board Book Beauties: I am Little Fish! / Wiggly Wiggly

I am Little Fish!
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

I cannot imagine any little tot resisting Little Fish’s invitation to join him and play,  on the first page of this wigglesome, rhyming, finger puppet delight.

In addition to a whole lot of tail wiggling -at varying speeds – there’s bubble blowing,

as well as showing off his shimmying, twirling and whirling moves.

Then Little Fish introduces his fishy pals who’ve come to join him in a dipping down diving game of peek-a-boo.

And finally, up swims Mum for a spot of kissing.  Just perfect!

Wiggly Wiggly
Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell
Walker Books

Here’s a selection of the most join-in-able playful Rosen rhymes from the original A Great Big Cuddle, illustrated by Chris Riddell in super-energetic style.

It’s absolutely certain to get your little ones ‘Tippy-Tappy’ ing, ‘Boing! Boing’ing squash, squishing, ‘wiggly wiggly’ing, ‘buzz buzz buzz’-ing, ‘moo moo, moo’ing, ‘squawk squawk squawk’ing ‘splosh, splash, splosh’-ing, ( doesn’t Chris Riddell draw elephants awesomely,

not to mention finger walking, waving, talking, tiring, flattening, buttering, spreading and ‘bed’ding down.
There’s also plenty of munching and crunching as you lunch with a crocodile.

We meet sad-looking Mo being cuddled following a fall in a puddle and then it’s time for monkey business with half a dozen of the cheeky little animals.

After which, I have absolutely no doubt your toddler(s) will demand that you turn back and start all over again.

If this brilliant board book doesn’t give the vital ‘language is fun’ message to both children and adults, then ‘I never writ nor no (wo)man ever loved’ Apologies to the bard. No, not the author!

Cinderfella

Cinderfella
Malachy Doyle and Matt Hunt
Walker Books

I do love a fractured fairy tale and Malachy Doyle has smashed the Cinderella story well and truly with this funky, bang up-to-date rendition.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Cinderfella himself but he has two thoroughly undesirable, enormously lazy, extremely bossy older brothers named Gareth and Gus.

You can just imagine their reaction when an invitation arrives announcing junior karate champion Kayleigh’s birthday bash. Cinders is most definitely not on the guest list, they inform him.
However, once the two have scooted off to strut their stuff at the dance, Ruff comes upon the invitation and all is revealed …

With his brothers out of the way, there’s nothing to prevent Cinderfella from raiding their wardrobe and sure enough, therein he finds the perfect gear to disguise and make himself look the height of cool. Ruff too discovers something that’s just the ticket. Now all they need to do is make sure they get home before Gus and Gareth. Gear and carriage sorted and it’s off they go.

At the party, Kayleigh is singularly unimpressed at the preponderance of Groovy Chicken dancers but then she catches sight of somebody whose moves are altogether different: he and his canine pal are doing the Funky Monkey and she wants to join them …
They dance the night away – well almost

– but then Cinderfella’s watch reminds him that it’s time to scoot and off he and Ruff dash, Cinders dropping his sunglasses in his wake.

No prizes for guessing who picks up those shades and then the search is on.

Will the ace disco boppers be reunited and live as far-out friends ever after.

Matt Hunt is the perfect illustrative partner for Malachy Doyle here: his hip guys and gals are a wonderfully inclusive cast of characters and those party scenes are certain to make you want to get up and swing your hips to and fro, swing those hips and go, go, go as you too join in with that Funky Monkey. You might even be tempted to try a few karate kicks too.
Utterly irresistible.

When the Moon Smiled / Vehicles ABC

When the Moon Smiled
Petr Horáček
Walker Books
Full of twinkling charm is this board book version of a favourite Petr Horáček counting story.

One evening the moon rises to discover that everything down below has gone topsy-turvy. The animals that should have been awake are nowhere in sight while those that ought to have been asleep are still awake.

Time to light the stars and set things right, thinks the moon. And so he does, one by one.

The first star lit sends the dog into the land of nod; the second is for the two cats; they stretch and go out on the prowl.

Then in turn he goes on to light a star, for, the three cows, four bats,

five pigs, six foxes, seven geese, eight mice, nine sheep and finally, the tenth star is for the moths.

Now the entire sky is full of stars shining down over the farm and all’s right with the world.

It’s a perfect bedtime story for little ones, so written in a lyrical manner and illustrated in mixed media by Horáček, as to induce a feeling of somnolence.

Children will love to join in counting the stars and animals along with the moon as he alternates between setting to rights the diurnal and nocturnal creatures, before falling fast asleep themselves.

Vehicles ABC
Jannie Ho
Nosy Crow

Just right for introducing an assortment of 26 means of transport, from ambulance to zeppelin, is this alphabetic array of vehicles that run on land, move across water or fly through the air.

If your child’s at that stage, it’s great for learning letters of the alphabet by name and also the initial sounds; although electric car and ice-cream van, unicycle, Queen Mary and express train will need a bit of extra talking about (one of the snags of phonics).

With bold bright images against equally bright backgrounds to enjoy, the sounds of the various vehicles to make – both you and your toddler can have fun being inventive over this – plus possibilities such as wheels, lack of, who might drive and countless other possible things to talk about, this little board book is simply bursting with a wealth of language learning potential.

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals
Mo Willems
Walker Books

‘This is a board book, no make that a book, like no other – A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals’: this hilarious offering is probably best suited for new parents, despite the fact that the narrator appears to be speaking directly ’THANK YOU FOR JOINING US’ … ’PLEASE ENJOY YOUR STAY’ to a new babe, in the manner of a travel brochure or similar.

It goes on to detail a short list of activities to enjoy such as ‘SLEEPING and WAKING, EATING and BURPING, POOPING and MORE POOPING’ as well as forthcoming highlights: MUSIC, CATS and STORIES – hurrah for that one. – that the infant will encounter in its early life.

Not everything is a bed of roses naturally, but the voice is again reassuring with Willems’ arch humour shining through in its ‘WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU’, that goes on to mention unkindness, fighting, wastefulness and soggy toast and ICE CREAM DISASTERS. This list is countered with upbeat intentions of happy tears, warm embraces and sharing of ice creams.

I’ve no idea what babes, even a couple of years on, would make of the LOG-IN CODE spread, one of the few that doesn’t have road sign like pictograms.
But, they’ll certainly benefit both emotionally and linguistically from the shared reading underlined with the ‘while we read this book together’ refrain; and enjoy particularly the shiny mirror on the inside front cover.

Superbly executed and sturdily built to stand up to those all-important shared readings, this is affirming, thought-provoking, and meta humour notwithstanding, overarched by love.

Next time somebody I know has a baby, this is the book I’ll be buying them.

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