Julian at the Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheer joy from cover to cover.

Inch and Grub

Inch and Grub
Alastair Chisholm and David Roberts
Walker Books

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

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

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

technological devices and more,

reach their tipping point – uh-oh!

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

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

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

Superb!

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

Here are two terrific young fiction titles from Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honey for You, Honey for Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Cook Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ride the Wind

Ride the Wind
Nicola Davies and Salvatore Rubbino
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellie’s Dragon

Ellie’s Dragon
Bob Graham
Walker Books

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

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

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

on outings and even to the cinema.

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

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

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

Catch That Chicken!

Catch That Chicken!
Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank
Walker Books

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

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

brother Bilal is brave with bulls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roxy & Jones: The Great Fairytale Cover-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Red Hat / Sometimes Cake

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

My Red Hat
Rachel Stubbs
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes Cake
Edwina Wyatt and Tamsin Ainslie
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaia and the Bees

Kaia and the Bees
Maribeth Boelts and Angela Dominguez
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Walloos’ Big Adventure

The Walloos’ Big Adventure
Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere
Elise Gravel
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugo / Cat Ladies

Hugo
Atinuke and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cat Ladies
Susi Schaefer
Abrams Books for Young Readers

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Count On Dinosaurs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grow

Grow
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

and that leads neatly into DNA.

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

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

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

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

Buy for home and for KS2 primary classrooms.

Follow Me, Flo!

Follow Me, Flo!
Jarvis
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Brown’s Bad Day / Bunnies on the Bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bunnies on the Bus
Philip Ardagh and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

The Stars Just Up the Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midge & Mo / Judy Moody Super Book Whiz

Midge & Mo
Lara Williamson & Becky Cameron
Little Tiger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agents of the Wild Operation Honeyhunt

Agents of the Wild: Operation Honeyhunt
Jennifer Bell, illustrated by Alice Lickens
Walker Books

Returning home one day, 8 year old Agnes Gamble, daughter of the sadly no longer alive, renowned botanists Ranulph and Azalea, discovers a creature clad in a safari uniform awaiting her in her bedroom. He informs Agnes that he’s an elephant shrew (species Rhynchocyon petersi) , a field agent for SPEARS (the Society for the Protection of Endangered and Awesomely Rare Species). He gives her a pair of knee pads covered in a sticky green goo (slug mucus) and says she’s to accompany him on a mission. He’s even brought a replacement chimp trained to mimic her so that her Uncle Douglas won’t notice her absence.

The recruiter who’s also known as Attenborough or Attie for short, says that not only did her erstwhile parents know of SPEARS but that they too were field agents for the society. This persuades Agnes to go along with Attie who leads the girl up inside a hidden passage to where eventually they board the SPEARS dragoncopter that takes them to HQ to meet the organisation’s Commander, a turkey.

He tells Agnes that she’s been scouted and if after training, she’s deemed ready, she’ll be sent on a mission with a view to becoming a permanent agent.

Needless to say the training is pretty rigorous

but Agnes scores well and along with Attie, is assigned to Operation Honeyhunt tasked with rescuing a young bee left behind during a hive relocation to a protected sanctuary the previous week. Said bee is at even greater risk due to the fact that the dastardly Axel Jabheart has been sighted in the Atlantic Forest, the place where the bee was left.

Eventually they locate the apis in the rainforest.

He then informs the agents that he’s called Elton and that he’s choreographer in chief of the hive colony. Agnes amasses a wealth of additional information about Elton but is she up to the difficult rescue task, after which she’ll become a full SPEARS agent?

With its exciting mix of adventure and wildlife conservation, Jennifer Bell has created a terrific story for those around Agnes’ own age. Alice Lickens’ wonderfully offbeat illustrations sprinkled throughout the book, break up the text; and at the end of the story are several pages providing facts about the endangered wildlife of the Atlantic Forest in which the mission is set, as well as information on how readers can get involved.

I look forward to reading more of young Agnes and her adventures.

Where’s Baby?

Where’s Baby?
Anne Hunter
Walker Books

In this delightfully playful book whose story really begins on the front endpapers, Papa Fox searches for his little one. “Have you seen Baby, Mama Fox?” he asks on the first page and the response, “Why, Baby must be somewhere, Papa Fox” leads the male parent off, walking stick in paw, searching high and low in the countryside – up in the tree, inside a log, over the hill, down a hole, under the water and around the bend.

In each location he comes upon a decidedly un-foxy animal. Some respond politely to his question “ Ba-by! Are you … up in the tree?” for instance …

Whereas others such as a grumpy skunk with its “I am inside the log, but I am not your baby. Go away!” are rather rude and on occasion Papa Fox gets the shock of his life.

Totally at a loss, back goes Papa Fox empty pawed; and by this time if your audience hasn’t already yelled out, “Behind you” at the top of their voices they certainly will when he reaches Mama Fox again. Once reunited, it’s down to Baby to utter a final throwaway line …

Inevitably this will lead to cries of ‘Read it again” and you – like that Papa Fox, will happily oblige.

There’s so much to love about this hide-and-seek book: the dramatic irony of the whole tale; the entirely speech bubble text with its question and answer format; Anne Hunter’s superb, finely drawn pen and pencil, cross-hatched illustrations with that limited colour palette that grace every spread, the fact that youngsters will perceive that Mama Fox is playing along with her offspring and the unobtrusive lesson in prepositions.

Simple literary entertainment of the first order, methinks.

Just In Case You Want To Fly / Read to Your Toddler Every Day

Just In Case You Want To Fly
Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson
Walker Books

All parents and carers want to do their best to ensure that their little ones have what they need in any eventuality and so it is here in author Julie Fogliano and illustrator Christian Robinson’s second collaboration.

It begins ‘just in case you want to fly, here’s some wind / and here’s the sky’ going on in rhythmic rhyme to provide such uplifting words about potential needs as ‘here’s a cherry if you need a snack/ and if you get itchy / here’s a scratch on the back’

as readers and participants move through the day perhaps pausing and ‘just in case you want to sing / here’s a la la la’ and to pick up a book or two …

getting ever closer to bedtime,

while in the bedroom there awaits ‘a pillow, a song and a tissue’. Before that though come a warm bath and  a honey-sweetened drink.

Christian Robinson’s final collage and paint, bedtime tuck-in spread shows the young child safely snuggled beneath a cover patterned with most of the items mentioned in the text.

With its reassuring messages that no matter where you journey, or what you try to do, something or somebody will be there for you, this is a tale to share with youngsters at bedtime or any other time of the day,

Also just right for sharing with that same young audience is:

Read to Your Toddler Every Day
Lucy Brownridge and Chloe Giordano
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Following on from their nursery rhyme book Read to Your Baby Every Day, the same team have collaborated on a collection of twenty folk and fairy tales and fable retellings from around the world – from Scandinavia to Syria

and Cambodia to China to read to slightly older children.

Once again Chloe Giordano has created gorgeous hand-embroidered illustrations and there’s at least one for every story. You’ll find animals of all kinds, shapes and sizes including mice and elephants from India,

Anansi the spider and a turtle from the Caribbean, as well as humans such as the couple whose snow girl came to life in the Russian “Snowflake, the Snow Child’, and the Stonecutter named Haru from Japan.

Each of Lucy Brownridge’s retellings is just the right length for bedtime reading providing an enriching way to end the day with your little one (s).

Welcome to Your World

Welcome to Your World
Smriti Halls and Jaime Kim
Walker Books

Strangely enough this gorgeous book arrived in the same week as my nephew’s wife had a new baby girl so it was particularly timely. I can already imagine her seven-year-old sister reading Smriti’s, lyrical, almost prayerful text to her and showing her the beautiful scenes of the natural world. That though will have to wait until the next time I see them.

‘Welcome, little baby, / round your mother curled. / Welcome, little baby. / Welcome to your world.’ begins the exhortation to the infant to use every sense to experience the delights of nature from morning to nightfall: the warm rays of the sun; the flora and fauna of the forests, the splashing ocean with its fish and turtles; the sound of the eagles as they soar and swoop; the wondrous sight of the Arctic light;

to feel the water from the rain and the waterfall as the elephants do. There are juicy berries waiting to be tasted (though not just yet and not without adult say so) as well as sweet-smelling blossoms and many other wonderful experiences.

When the sky darkens there are twinkly stars far out and closer, the moon to shine upon your lovely face.

The mother concludes by repeating ‘Welcome to your world’ continuing – ‘it loves you through and through. / Welcome to your world … // will you love it too?’

Just beautiful!

Make Time for a Board Book

Where’s My Llama?
Kate McLelland and Becky Davies
Little Tiger

Capitalising on the current vogue for all things llama, Becky Davies has written a board book. Herein a llama has gone missing and it’s up to little ones to follow the trail of brightly coloured footprints to track her down.

Along the way tiny detectives will encounter a long-necked Giraffe, a cute tailed fox

and a long-eared rabbit, all of which have similar characteristics to the llama.
But where is the errant ungulate? Rest assured her fluffy tail will finally give the game away.

With its final flap reveal, Kate McLelland’s alluring scenes – each with a touch and feel animal body part – on softly patterned pastel backgrounds, simple descriptive text with the repeat refrain, ‘Where’s my llama?’ to chant, there’s plenty to keep the attention of tinies throughout this touch and feel, search and find book.

Maisy’s Science
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Toddlers’ favourite mouse Maisy is in investigative mode in this STEAM First Words tabbed book.

Out and about, she encounters some very windy weather that is perfect for kite flying; seasonal snow as she feeds the birds; enjoys a relaxing break from vegetable gathering to enjoy watching the minibeasts close by. Then it’s time for a bit of seed watering – perhaps she’s planted sunflower seeds – followed by observing some seasonal changes.

The arrival of her friends gives an opportunity to look at various parts of their bodies and hers and once she’s alone again, she and cuddly Panda can investigate a variety of textures; make some rather noisy musical sound with her percussion; don her painting apron and experiment with her paints, perhaps trying colour mixing and after all that activity it’s time to sit and read a book (or choose from one of the other learning tools shown on the opposite page).

Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop!
Todd Tuell and Tad Carpenter
Abrams Appleseed

This is a fun, rhyming tale of an energetic would-be little ninja whom we first meet looking terrified of the rather large family dog.

Creeping away, he comes upon his younger brother happily playing with a balloon. Not for long though. With a deft ‘chop’ Ninja  removes the balloon from little bro., then proceeds to snatch his chocolate-chip cookie and with a further chop – delivered with his foot this time – destroys his block-built castle leaving the long-suffering toddler howling.

A change of heart caused by an unseen force calling ‘Ninja, Ninja, would you stop?’ sees our Ninja then pause and help to reconstruct the building before whizzing off once more into the great outdoors.

It’s there that he receives his comeuppance, discovering – much to his surprise – that little brother is actually a highly observant pupil. Time to join forces it seems, for two Ninjas may well be better than one, certainly when it comes to scheming.

There’s a slight retro feel to Tad Carpenter’s bold, bright scenes from which the black-clad Ninja leaps out – literally! I can see little ones joining in, enthusiastically chanting along with adult readers aloud of debut author, Todd Tuell’s staccato text, as they turn the pages.

Smell My Foot!

Smell My Foot!
Cece Bell
Walker Books

If you happen to be looking for a book for readers who might have struggled a little or want something funny and a tad pungent in graphic novel style then Cece Bell’s bonkers book will tick those boxes.

Without further ado let me introduce its comedic duo: Chick is the pedantic, manners obsessed one; The socially inept Brain, despite appearances, can’t quite get the hang of such niceities as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and simple greetings, despite Chick’s modelling them for him. Instead of copying, his response is direct action. For instance Chick says, “ But I will not smell your foot until you say PLEASE.’ … ‘Like this ; please smell my foot.’ ‘Oh! OK!’ comes Brain’s response followed immediately by …

and so it goes on until finally the pair have smelled each other’s feet.

Chapter two sees the arrival of Spot the dog and a lot more social behaviour modelling and foot sniffing ensues until Spot invites his tutor home for lunch – UH! OH!

Chapter 3 demonstrates beautifully how clueless Chick really is: will he become a dog’s dinner or might his supposedly daft counterpart come up trumps by stepping in at the crucial moment? Polite, Chick-pleasing foot sniffing might not be his forte but sniffing danger could be an altogether different matter.

I’ll leave you to surmise and move rapidly on to the final chapter: oops that’s a bit of a giveaway but this hilarious saga does have a happy ending just about!

I absolutely love the way the author sends up the awful reading scheme language of yesteryear books such as Janet and John, Peter and Jane or the US equivalents Dick and Jane, the latter just happen to rhyme with this book’s delectable duo.

Super, slightly stinky spluttersome silliness of the first order, a friendship you won’t forget in a hurry, priceless comic-strip sequences with a dialogue only text, and short, bite-sized chapters: what more can a perhaps less than eager reader ask? Once anyone samples this, I suspect the demand will be “More of Chick and Brain please!”

 

 

Money-Go-Round

Money-Go-Round
Roger McGough and Mini Grey
Walker Books

Well-loved poet, Roger McGough has penned a witty picture book inspired by characters from Kenneth Grahame’s classic story The Wind in the Willows.

Illustrated by the award winning Mini Grey this longish tale follows transactions made with a shiny gold coin.

It begins when Mr Toad hands it over to Miss Lavender Mole in payment for a room in her Tree House Hotel.

As a result Miss Mole is able to pay Sam Stoat what she owes him for painting the hotel’s front door the week before. He in turn can thus pay his debt to Basil Badger who is thus in a position to pay young Walter Water Rat for the boat trip he took the badger’s family on the previous weekend.

Walter hastens off to pay the rest of what he owed the otters

and so it goes on until finally … that golden coin comes full circle right back where it started.

But that isn’t quite the end of this exceedingly clever story as we discover by reading the lead article in the local rag – The Wild Wood Bugle –  the latest edition of which the final pages of the book comprise.

Mini Grey does the author’s tale proud with her superb art. Both her bordered and unbordered pictures are an absolute delight: full of humour and wonderful details to feast upon.

Not An Alphabet Book: The Case of the Missing Cake

Not an Alphabet Book: The Case of the Missing Cake
Eoin McLaughlin and Marc Boutavant
Walker Books

If ever there was a book that immediately snares the attention it’s this one.

A serious crime has been committed, so the bear narrator of this intended ABC would have us believe on page 1: the enormously tempting creamy, lavishly sprinkled chocolaty cake meant to represent the letter C on page 5 has been stolen. Poor bear is beside himself and entreats readers to assist in tracking down the perpetrator of the act whose hiding place is somewhere between the covers of the book.

Off we go then, to interrogate potential suspects; first stop the letter A where the response is ‘no comment’.

Even at this early stage, if you’re sharing this story with little ones, the clues are evident and they’ll be relishing their inside knowledge.

Okay, on we go again, whizzing past Bear’s B page – uh-huh! – and we know C won’t yield anything helpful so the next stopping point is D where fearful Dog has an alibi, so we see.

We move on and there’s a wonderful cross-questioning of a couple of traditional tale characters to relish on F and G.

Bear’s narrative is superb, as tongue-in-cheek, he thinks aloud rather than quizzing H, I, and J before receiving a lightning blow on the next page and down he plunges for a spot of restorative TLC from the character representing N.

Octopus however is far less tender-hearted, indeed it’s downright suspicious but Bear hastens on to P where there’s a wrongful arrest of an unsuspecting porcine creature …

all of which takes us onwards letter by letter to V and W where a certain character is almost, but not quite, rumbled and we might leave him basking in his own glory but that is not quite the end of the story …

What an absolutely tongue-tingling, delightfully delicious book author Eoin McLaughlin and illustrator Marc Boutavant have conjured up between them. Everything about their delectable detective daftness is brilliantly done and I’ll guarantee any audience you share it with will immediately demand second or even third helpings.

Weird Little Robots / A Super Weird Mystery: Danger at Donut Diner

Weird Little Robots
Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Walker Books

Science lover, Penny Rose moves to a new neighbourhood and spends much of her time in the shed creating little robots – robots with character – using found bits and pieces. What she really wants as a newbie though, is a human friend.
When she meets bird watcher and birdhouse maker extraordinaire, Lark, who also lacks a friend, the two girls become kindred spirits.

At Lark’s suggestion they create an entire roboTown in the shed from discarded oddments and lava lamps. But their friendship is tested to its limits when Penny Rose (but not Lark) is invited to try out for the Secret Science Society. She breaks a promise made with Lark by showing some of the robots to the society members (who are popular pupils at school) in order to prove her worth. Can their friendship survive?

With its message that girls can do anything, this story of friendship, forgiveness and being true to yourself, is an absolute gem – compassionate and funny. There are sufficient twists and turns in the plot to ensure readers remain engrossed; and the language of Crimi’s telling is apposite: ‘Her cheeks burned hotter than a Bunsen burner’ for example. Both main characters are wonderfully divergent and their dialogue really reflects their personalities.

Corinna Luyken’s illustrations are great too – especially those robots.

A Super Weird Mystery: Danger at Donut Diner
Jim Smith
Egmont

This is the first of a new hilarious detective mystery series from the Lollies award-winning creator of the popular Barry Loser books. If you like your books SUPER WEIRD then this one is definitely for you.

Melvin has just moved from the city to Donut -a circular island with a hole in the middle – and he’s shall we say, underwhelmed.
However when he meets Rhubarb, creator of her own school newspaper and a total obsessive where mysteries are concerned, things become rather different.

To date Rhubarb hasn’t actually had anything mysterious to write about but Melvin notices that the children at school are acting very strangely indeed. This couldn’t by any chance be connected with the Donut Hole Monsters that everyone is so keen on collecting, or could it?

It’s not long before the two of them scent a mystery and are hot on its trail. The trouble is, this trail is going to plunge them slap bang into the centre of the donut hole.

If only the two can get back out safe and sound, then perhaps at last Rhubarb will have something to report on in her newspaper. That assumes that they solve the mystery before the entire population of the town is brainwashed. No easy task then …

Packed full of laugh-making moments and crazy pictures, Jim Smith has another winner here, methinks.

Dandelion’s Dream

Dandelion’s Dream
Yoko Tanaka
Walker Books

Let me say at the outset, this dreamlike wordless story is an absolute beauty.

It begins one night in a field with a dandelion bud that unfolds into a flower upon which appears a lion’s face: indeed the entire plant morphs into a lion with a corolla of a mane and limbs where once were leaves. A veritable transformation has taken place.

Full of joy, the creature sets out to see the world.

Dashing across the field he leaps onto the funnel of a passing train,

then after a sudden bend in the line, is pitched off again. He lands safely, hitching a ride on the back of a sheep that’s heading for the harbour.

There the lion boards a ship whereon he receives shelter from a rainstorm ‘neath a gull’s wing. The craft is bound for a skyscraper city where he’s dwarfed by the sheer size of both humans and buildings.

Seeking some respite from the overwhelmingness of the big city, our adventurer enters a cinema.

The events of the film sweep him away and in his imagination he becomes pilot of one of the toy planes being flown by a child character.

From up high above what look like fluffy clouds, but are fluffy balls of white seeds, he looks down –

and here reality returns – as he heads towards his very own dandelion field now full of mature seed heads.

There he too sets seed and almost immediately his plethora of parachute seeds are blown skywards, coalescing along with those of his fellow plants, into

Cinematic in feel, this story is superbly paced by the clever use of panelling on some of Yoko Tanaka’s spreads. The graininess and greyness of her illustrations add to the dreamlike quality of ‘dandy-lion’s’ joyful adventure, underlying which is the life-cycle of a dandelion plant.

Out of this world incredible this utterly enchanting book surely is. It’s absolutely amazing where imagination can take you, be you author, illustrator, story character or reader.

King Mouse

King Mouse
Cary Fagan and Dena Seiferling
Walker Books

As softly spoken as this fable is, its message is powerful, its theme highly pertinent.

The story begins with a wordless spread rendered in soft silvery graphite to which has been added very gentle digital colour.

Turning the page reveals a just woken hungry mouse discovering not food but a tiny crown in the grass.

The mouse dons the crown; it fits perfectly and very soon a bear comes along. “Are you a king?” he asks. The mouse considers briefly before replying in the affirmative. “Hail to the king!” comes the bear’s response.

Before long a crow and a tortoise have come along and they all set about collecting food for the ‘king’.

Up comes a fox suggesting they create a dramatic offering to alleviate the mouse’s boredom and the mouse voices his approval.

In the meantime a snake too discovers another crown in the grass and puts it on her head. The other animals decide she’s a queen and show due respect, all but mouse; he’s less than pleased.

Then it’s the fox’s turn to discover a crown – that’s two queens and before you can say ‘ruler’ the other animals all declare themselves either a king or a queen.

All that is except the bear and off he goes in search of a crown. Unsuccessful, the bear is downcast as he watches the others prancing round showing off their regality and then he shambles away.

The mouse notices his absence and seeks bear out. Then the little creature fashions a special gift for the bear

and together the two share and savour what is really important.

Who is the real leader here and what makes him/her so? These are questions you could invite the children you share this poignant book with to consider and talk about.

The thoroughly engaging story of inclusion and friendship ends with a beautiful balance  created by a final wordless page …

Throughout, Dena Seiferling’s illustrations provide additional visual interest with details you need to search for, as well as in the form of tiny playful vignettes on many of the pages of text.

Flights of Fancy

Flights of Fancy
Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Browne, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Lauren Child
Walker Books

Now in paperback, here’s a truly special gem of an anthology subtitled ‘Let your imagination soar with top tips from ten Children’s Laureates’. It brings together the ten awesome authors and illustrators who have held the title (given in celebration of their outstanding achievements) and first awarded to Quentin Blake in 1999.

To open, Michael Morpurgo explains how the original idea of the role (each person holds it for two years), was first thought up by himself and Ted Hughes, the then Poet Laureate.

You might be especially interested in poetry, rhyme and wordplay, if so head first to the sections from Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. Michael in Poetry Belongs to Everyone talks about playing around with a word to create a poem. Julia Donaldson’s Plays to Read and to Write discusses one of her own plays that she based on the Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, offering a fun, lively 6-parter

If you’d rather be playful in the visual sense then Anthony Browne’s The Shape Game could be your starting point: having talked about how to play it, he showcases some examples from 3 other famous illustrators to whom he gave the same shape to play as the one of his own shown in the book. The potential with this one is endless. Probably that is the case with most of the chapters however.

In The Only Way to Travel, Quentin Blake writes with reference to  Dahl’s stories, about how when illustrating someone else’s texts it’s important to ‘put yourself inside their story’ and capture the atmosphere before diving in and drawing those fabulous illustrations of his.

More about how other fabulous illustrators approach their drawing and what provides their inspiration comes from Chris Riddell –

make sure you check out his brilliant cartoons of all ten Children’s Laureates in the final section – and Lauren Child.

How fantastic and moving is Michael Morpurgo’s Find Your Own Voice that tells children how to do so in ‘I Believe in Unicorns’.
I thoroughly enjoyed too, Malorie Blackman’s Taking a Word for a Walk using SEA as her example,

before she moves on to discussing from whose viewpoint a story is being told when one writes.

If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom; not only will it do just that, but it will also ignite or add fuel to a passion for reading, writing and illustrating. (BookTrust, which manages the Children’s Laureate gets 50p from every sale.)

Books For Babies And Beyond

Ducky’s Bathtime
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Quack! Quack! Hooray! – it’s Ducky’s bathtime day. In a lovely squishy waterproof, wipe- clean format, this delightful Ducky adventure is totally irresistible.

Not only does it provide the perfect opportunity to introduce Lucy Cousins’ adorable Ducky to babies, they can also meet the quacky duckling’s friends including fish, ducks, frog and newt.

Who Said Woof? / Who Said Moo?
Yi-Hsuan Wu
Little Tiger

Four animals in each book make their characteristic sounds but they’ve all hidden themselves away beneath flaps depicting four other animals each with a tactile die-cut shape on its back.

So, it wasn’t Bunny who said ‘Woof!, nor Guinea Pig who said ‘Meow!; neither did Goldfish ‘Squeak!’ nor Tortoise ‘Squawk!’ but lifting each flap wlll reveal the sound-creating creatures.

As you might expect. Horse did not ’Moo!, Llama certainly didn’t ‘Baa!’, Dog definitely didn’t ‘Quack and Rabbit wasn’t responsible for that ‘Oink!’

Toddlers will enjoy discovering the hidden culprits that they’re likely already to have guessed, beneath the flaps in Yi-Hsuan Wu’s jolly illustrations.

The final spread of each book collects together the entire cast of animal characters with a question “What sound do you say?’ – anything goes!

With their predictable repeat refrains, both books are just right for older siblings beginning to read for themselves, to share with a toddler brother or sister and everyone can enjoy making the animal noises.

You Complete Me
Thomas Elliott
Caterpillar Books

‘Better together’ (a wider, hidden meaning perhaps?) is the message in this tasty, playful, peek-a-boo board book where partnerships prove paramount.

Set against vivid backgrounds, bright, eye-catching toddler foodie favourites such as milk and cookies, and peanut butter and jelly, unite to make the point loud and clear in Thomas Elliott’s delicious die-cut piece of daftness.

With its puns and clever design, adults will savour the pleasure along with their little ones as they share this one.

Karate Kids

Karate Kids
Holly Sterling
Walker Books

Holly Sterling teaches karate and competed for England in karate, winning many medals, so it was almost inevitable that she would eventually create a picture book on the topic and here it is.

Let’s meet Maya who narrates the book, announcing before the story starts that she aspires to be a karate kid.

We then join her one Saturday morning as she dresses in her special suit (a gi) and sets off with her dad and soft toy lion to the dojo.

There she and her friends are greeted by their sensei or teacher, and then having removed their footwear, they bow to her and the class begins.

They warm up, practise blocks, then try out

and perform a patterned sequence of moves called ‘kata’ and conclude with mokuso (meditative breathing).

It’s evident that Maya as well as the other learners thoroughly enjoy participating in the session

and as she leaves Maya pauses to watch and admire one of the older children, a black belt wearer practising her kata.

In addition to showing Maya and her friends’ joyful enthusiasm for what they are learning, Holly’s lively art reflects her own enthusiasm both for karate and for portraying young children.

Be sure you check out the end papers of this karate-enticing book.

Some Dinosaurs are Small

Some Dinosaurs are Small
Charlotte Voake
Walker Books

Can you EVER have too many dinosaur books? Definitely not if one of them is this, the latest offering from Charlotte Voake.

Charlotte weaves opposites – big/small, fast/slow, flat/pointy, (as well as showing both carnivorous and herbivorous creatures), into an exciting and amusing picture book story where the action and feelings are shown in the art, while the words are pretty much descriptive: it’s the amalgam of the two that makes this book such a tasty offering.

It begins with one very small dinosaur foraging for fruit which goes into a basket.

Lurking in the background are some BIG, sharp-clawed, pointy toothed dinosaurs with their eyes on a tasty snack or two. And seemingly these speedy movers are never satisfied …

While the confrontational drama is taking place between the marauders and one ENORMOUS dino.

little humans will be relieved to see the little dinosaur has found a safe place to withdraw from the action before embarking on some further foraging, which is shown on the final endpapers.

Terrific fun with thrills aplenty, early years audiences will find this irresistible and, like those big hungry dinosaurs, are bound to demand second or even third helpings …

Nop

Nop
Caroline Mageri
Walker Books

Meet Nop resident of Oddmint’s Dumporium, a dusty place piled high with assorted goods all in need of some mending, fixing or fancyfi-ing by those that work by candle light.

When it comes to Nop though, nothing, be it button, ribbon, or spangle quite fits the bill. Seemingly the bear is doomed to remain on the unwanted shelf instead of being placed in a splendidly crinkly paper bag and carried away in the arms of a happy customer.

But then he spies something red on the floor just waiting to be transformed into an exciting adornment and thus embellished with same, an idea floats into his mind.

Come morning, stitch by stitch

the idea becomes the means to start an exciting adventure in the big wide world where, who knows, perhaps a new friendship awaits.

Spendidly whimsical, Caroline Mageri’s Nop with its themes of hope, enterprise and new beginnings is an uplifting, lyrically written delight.

Board Book Delights

Both Walker Books and Nosy Crow publish smashing board books – here are some of the latest:

Little Baby’s Busy Day
Little Baby’s Playtime

Nick Sharratt and Sally Symes
Walker Books

These ‘Finger Wiggle Books’ are full of adorable babies doing everyday things, the action being supplied by inserting a finger through the two die-cut holes that go from cover to cover in each book.

Busy Day portrays wake up time, breakfast, looking smart ready to go out, shopping, having a wee, inviting a tummy tickle, a sudsy bathtime and finally, arms extended for a bedtime cuddle. Nick Sharratt supplies the bright jolly visuals in his unmistakeable bubbly style and Sally Symes has created the brief rhyming ‘One little baby … Wiggle wiggle … ‘ narrative.

Little Baby’s Playtime opens with travelling in a sling, then moves to a playground swing, a wizz down a ‘slippery slide’, a tricycle ride, a dig in a sandpit, a game of peek-a-boo, excitement at the sight of a butterfly and finishes with a farewell wave.

Terrific for sharing; and with their patterned text and inviting scenes, these two spell out loud and clear to tinies that all important ‘books are fun’ message.

If You’re Happy and You Know It!
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow

This addition to the ever -popular ‘Sing along with me!’ series is another established nursery favourite. Here the main characters are bears with other creatures playing the bit parts. We first see the bears cooking together, after which they go out shopping together before returning home. Then small bear then goes out to meet some friends.

As they sing along, little ones can use their fingers to make the small bear clap, stamp, nod and on the final spread, reveal his friends and everyone can join in with the “we are” finale.

There’s a bar code to scan which will provide a version of the song to sing along to. With its cute illustrations, this will become a favourite in the series, I suspect.

Too Small Tola

Too Small Tola
Akinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Walker Books

Small in stature young Tola may be but she’s one determined little girl – a mighty force to be reckoned with. Tola lives with her older, very clever sister Moji, her fleet of foot brother Dapo and her very bossy Grandmummy in a flat in Lagos. There are three stories in this, the first of a new series and we meet not only these family members, but in addition encounter many other residents of the city.

The first episode sees Tola accompanying Grandmummy on a trip to the market. During their journey they find themselves taking on shopping for friends and neighbours in addition to their own, and Tola helps Grandmummy ensure the market vendors don’t cheat her.

In Small but Mighty Tola and Moji cope with no electricity and no water. They go to the nearby pump where Tola and some of the local ladies demonstrate woman power to the stroppy Ododi Brothers.

Easter and Eid are both fast approaching in the final story. It’s a busy time especially for tailor Mr Abdul as everybody wants to celebrate with new clothes. But then the tailor is knocked off his bicycle while out and about collecting measurements; his leg is broken, but not his sewing machine. Can Tola, with her excellent measuring skills, come to his aid so that all his customers are satisfied.

As well as giving an insight into city life in Lagos, Nigeria, these stories are bursting with love for family and friends, warmth and affection for the local community. With delightful illustrations (love the cover art) by Onyinye Iwu on every spread, this is a smashing chapter book for newly confident readers.

Beware of the Crocodile

Beware of the Crocodile
Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura
Walker Books

You can always rely on Martin Jenkins to provide information in a thoroughly enjoyable manner and here his topic is those jaw snapping crocs, which, as he tells readers on the opening spread are ‘really scary’ (the big ones). … ‘They’ve got an awful lot of … teeth.’

With wry, rather understated humour he decides to omit the gruesome details and goes on to talk about how they capture their prey: ‘ Let’s just say there’s a lot of twirling and thrashing, then things go a bit quiet.’ I was astonished to learn that crocodiles are able to go for weeks without eating after a large meal.

The author’s other main focus is crocodiles’ parenting skills; these you may be surprised to learn are pretty good – at least when applied to the mothers.

Not an easy task since one large female can lay up to 90 eggs; imagine having to guard so many  newly hatched babies once they all emerge.

As for the father crocodiles, I will leave you to imagine what they might do should they spot a tasty-looking meal in their vicinity, which means not all the baby crocodiles survive and thrive to reach their full 2m. in eight years time.

As fun and informative as the narrative is, Kitamura’s watery scenes are equally terrific emphasising all the right parts. He reverts to his more zany mode in the final ‘About Crocodiles’ illustration wherein a suited croc. sits perusing a menu (make sure you read it) at a dining table.

All in all, a splendid amalgam of education and entertainment for youngsters; and most definitely one to chomp on and relish.

Stories on My Street / Eric and the Green-Eyed God

It’s great to see the return of some old favourites given new looks.

Stories on My Street
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

This brings together four stories featuring the children and their families, who are all residents of Trotter Street. The tales were originally published with Shirley’s coloured illustrations, herein replaced with black and white ones.

In the first, New Wheels for Carlos, friends Billy and Carlos love to race their old bikes down the hill in the park but both of them are outgrowing their old slow machines. With birthdays fast approaching each would truly love a new bike; will it be a ‘Happy Birthday’ for both boys? …

A heart-warming tale of friendship, longings and surprise.

The Patterson family are the focus of The Big Concrete Lorry. It’s a tight fit with four humans and a dog at number 26, their little home. So, after a family conference it’s decided that they should have an extension. The cost won’t be excessive as Dad, (with help from willing neighbours) will build it himself.

All goes to plan until CRRURK! CRRUCK! CRRUCK! the arrival of a lorry bearing the name JIFFY READY-MIX CONCRETE CO on the side and it’s a day early …

Thereafter a massive effort on the part of the community is called for.

This smashing story with its wonderful illustrations put me in mind of the time years back, when my partner and I were installing an Amtico floor that had to be put on top of a self-levelling screed in our kitchen and the antics that ensued to prevent it setting too quickly.

In Angel Mae and the New Baby, Mae’s mother is expecting a baby, something about which Mae has mixed feelings especially as she is to play the role of the Angel ‘Gave-You’ in her class nativity play very soon. But when Mae wakes up on the day of the play, there’s no sign of either her mum or dad; instead Grandma is in the kitchen cooking breakfast.

The tension mounts as the show proceeds with Mae hoping against hope that at least one of her parents will arrive to see her debut performance …

Warmth and humour as only Shirley can do it, abound in this third tale.

The Snow Lady is what Sam and her friend Barney create one chilly day. It bears a close resemblance to their grumpy neighbour, Mrs Dean, Barney decides, and makes a pebble name ‘Mrs Mean’ at her feet.

Mrs Dean is away to spend Christmas with her son, but she arrives back unexpectedly late on Christmas Eve. Conscience-struck, Sam is concerned that come the morning Mrs Dean will see what she and Barney have done and feel hurt.

Of course, like the others, this gently humorous story has a happy ending and is equally deftly illustrated in Shirley’s exquisite style.

Eric and the Green-Eyed God
Barbara Mitchelhill, illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Eric’s mum is soon to marry but there’s a snag; she’s marrying his teacher known as ‘the Bodge’. That in itself is pretty awful but even worse is that his globetrotting Auntie Rose has sent a wedding present sparkling with emeralds and it’s said to be imbued with magical properties that might result in more than one new addition to his family.

Eric and his friend Wez don’t know the meaning of the words his aunt has used in relation to the gift but their pain in the neck classmate Annie certainly does and she insists such objects work.

Eric and Wez simply have to locate this present among all the others and stow it away somewhere where it can’t work before Mum has a chance to open it on her big day.

Locating it is relatively easy but hiding it away is another matter especially since Eric and his fellow pupils are engaged in the ‘Loving the Earth’ project the mayor has set up. Moreover Eric has failed to clear up the mess made when he and Wez were opening all the presents and now his mum thinks there’s been a break in and the police are involved.

Things just keeping on getting worse: how can Eric get himself out of this increasingly troublesome situation?

Barbara Mitchelhill’s mix of zany humour, magic and emotions will result in giggles aplenty from young readers of this episode in the series especially since the inimitable Tony Ross has supplied plenty of wacky new illustrations.

Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever

Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever
Dawn McNiff and Patricia Metola
Walker Books

This is a totally adorable book despite the sadness of its themes – coping with death and finding a way to express loss. The death is of the beloved pet dog Alfie, now in Dog Heaven.

From there, on ‘The Nicest Cloud’ to be precise, he sends little Izzy letters in the post. This location so he says is ‘BRILLIANT’ – with lots of parks, a surfeit of sticks and dog treats by the million. Moreover scaring wolves and chasing postmen are allowed; there’s a distinct lack of bullying moggies, no need for baths and Alfie can show off his special trick to a highly appreciative, exclusively canine, audience. He can even indulge his taste for cowpats.

Of course Alfie misses all the tickles and huggles from his little human but there are compensatory snuggles with his ‘dog-mum’.

When Izzy reads of the dog fluff Alfie has left behind, she collects it up and puts it into a special ‘I’ll never forget you’ locket, and writes to tell him about it too.

In this way, the little child is helped to grieve and come to terms with her loss.

The author, Dawn McNiff was a bereavement counsellor before becoming a writer and this thoughtfully created story is a real heartstrings tugger that will help young children through the grieving process.

Equally moving are Patricia Metola’s slightly quirky illustrations that show both the human world and Dog Heaven.

Would You Like a Banana?

Would You Like a Banana?
Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books

Take one hungry gorilla and one very tasty banana and what do you get? A smashing read aloud picture book from Yasmeen Ismail that is terrific for audience participation and very funny to boot. Or should that be, to chomp?

Said gorilla having announced its hunger flatly refuses to sample the offered banana deeming it ‘too yellow … too bendy … too wonky.’

Further enticing suggestions as to possible ways of serving and consuming the fruit meet with the same response, “No. I won’t eat a banana.”

no matter how mouth-wateringly tempting the confection is made to sound and appear…

Is that obstinate gorilla destined to remain rumbly tummed? That is the big question …

To find out you’ll need to get your own hands on a copy of the book and when you do, you’ll most certainly relish its brilliant throw away ending.

Having thrown up as a child when participating in a ‘who can swallow a banana whole’ competition with my sister, my sympathies lie with the naysaying primate protagonist of this scrumptious story.

My Pop-Up Body Book

My Pop-Up Body Book
Jennie Maizels and William Petty
Walker Books

Who doesn’t love a pop-up book especially when it includes SO much learning in such a fun way as this one written by William Petty and illustrated by Jennie Maizels.

It contains a wheel, flaps, even a handful of small books within the main book; and all in just five incredible spreads whereon David Hawcock’s paper engineering is awesome. Scattered throughout the spreads are simply masses of bite-sized chunks of information, some hand lettered by the illustrator.

The level of interactive opportunities is incredible: readers can follow the development of a baby in the mother’s womb by rotating the wheel;

the thoracic skeleton positively leaps out of the pages, and the chambers of a heart can be revealed beneath a flap. Did you know that the heart of a girl beats faster than that of a boy?

The central pop-up from each spread reveals in turn, a baby, the head and organs on and within – a nose mini book lets you emit green snot from the nostrils;

the chest, the tummy and intestines (you can even track poo on the move) and finally, the whole skeleton. There is SO much to explore and discover on every one of the spreads.

An absolutely superb introduction to the body and its biology – its form, functions, growth and repair; and a terrific production, creative, clever and totally fascinating. Delve into this and children will see that they share much more in common with one another than any superficial differences.

Strongly recommended for the family shelves and classroom collection.

Dasher

Dasher
Matt Tavares
Walker Books

In what is essentially a prequel, Matt Tavares tells how Santa acquired his ‘eight tiny reindeer’ made so famous in the Clement Clarke Moore poem A Visit from St. Nicholas.

In the beginning Santa’s sleigh was pulled by a horse named Silverbell.

Meanwhile young Dasher and her reindeer family are living a miserable life in a travelling circus and menagerie owned by the unkind Mr J.P. Finnegan. By night Dasher’s Mama would sometimes tell stories of her northern homeland, a magical place where “The air was crisp and cold, and the ground was always covered with a cool blanket of white snow.” Dasher is filled with a longing to visit this wonderful sounding place despite her mother’s warning about what Mr Finnegan would do should any of his animals attempt to escape.

One windy night as she wishes on the North Star, the little reindeer seizes her chance to make a break for freedom.

With the star as her guide she travels far and eventually comes upon Santa in the woods. He’s halted his sleigh in a clearing to allow Silverbell to take a break from pulling so heavy a load.
On hearing of the children likely to be heartbroken if the toys aren’t delivered on time, Dasher offers to help.

All night long they work …

and Santa rewards Dasher with a sight of the North Star and the granting of his “best wish yet.”

With Matt Tavares’ magical snowy present delivery scenes that are a stark contrast to the early circus ones, this is a story of wish fulfilment with a thoroughly satisfying happy ever after ending.

The Shortest Day

The Shortest Day
Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis
Walker Books

In many cultures light is celebrated as a symbol of continuing life and so it is here.

Many years ago Susan Cooper wrote a poem to perform in recognition of the winter solstice, telling how people used to celebrate the changing year by ‘singing, dancing, / To drive the dark away.’ Candles were lit and homes festooned with evergreens, fires burned all through the night ‘to keep the year alive.’ …

Until ‘the new year’s sunshine blazed awake.’

All this is shown in Carson Ellis’ gorgeous gouache paintings for this festive picture book.

We then move forward in time to see modern people with arms outstretched embracing the rising sun, before moving indoors where their home is decorated with a Christmas tree, an evergreen wreath and a mantelpiece on which stand a menorah and holly; carols are sung and children dance.

Both words and pictures powerfully evoke the changing season of then and now, presenting a superb alternative to the often trashy glitz and sparkle that is part and parcel of the festive season in a 21st century location such as the UK.

(There’s a final author’s note wherein Susan Cooper fills in the background to her poem, after which the poem – originally written for the theatre – is printed again.)

Early Years Christmas Books

Maisy’s Christmas Letters
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy is throwing a Christmas party and she’s been busy writing invitations to all her friends. It’s not long before the replies start coming in, along with other surprise items for Maisy such as a calendar(Eddie), a recipe (Cyril), a tiny joke book (Charley) and a special letter.
Interactive fun for little ones and just right to share in the run-up to Christmas. I suspect Maisy will acquire a host of new human friends with this book.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise
Mark Carthew and Simon Prescott
New Frontier Publishing

Thanks to a surprise gift from her mother on the first of December, and her own thoughtfulness, Marigold Mouse is able to bring Christmas happiness to her best friend Marvin.
Mark Carthew’s lively rhyming narrative and Simon Prescott’s expressive illustrations together make for a warm-hearted seasonal story in the Marvin and Marigold series reminding us all that Christmas is for sharing with others.

Winnie the Pooh: The Long Winter Sleep
Jane Riordan, Eleanor Taylor and Mikki Butterley
Egmont

Who or what is making those Scritch! Scratch! Crunch! sounds as Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood bed down for their long winter sleep, shutting out the cold wind blowing through the Forest? One after another the animals venture out into the darkness in the hopes of discovering the source of the weird noises. What they find comes as a wonderful surprise that warms them both outside and inside.

Jane Riordan succeeds in capturing the essence of Milne’s characters in this charming tale while the illustrators give a slightly carton feel to the artwork.
Also in the same series but in a mini edition:

A Pudding for Christmas
The friends all gather to make a Christmas pudding, “A gigantic delicious pudding as big as Pooh,” announces Christopher Robin. Each in turn adds an ingredient to the mix and then one by one they stir the pudding and make a wish until Kanga realises that Roo is missing. Is he or is he not somewhere in the pudding? It’s probably a good idea to defer cooking it – just in case …
Another enchanting episode for tinies, this pocket sized book would make a good stocking filler.

Vegetables in Holiday Underwear
Jared Chapman
Abrams Appleseed

The eagerly anticipated season of holiday underwear has arrived and there’s seasonal excitement in veggie land. So says the green pea announcer at the start of the latest in Jared Chapman’s zany series.

Readers are then treated to a pants extravaganza that displays underwear of the cosy and scratchy kinds, that to wear inside and outside; to accommodate the Christmas meal there are stretchy pants as well as the inevitable tight pair. Some pants are similar while others are utterly unique. And because it’s Christmas even Santa is suitably ‘panted. Festive silliness for sure.

Sarah’s Two Nativities

Sarah’s Two Nativities
Janine M. Fraser and Hélène Magisson
Walker Books

In our world where many people distrust others whom they see as a threat to their way of life, and religious differences are the cause of so many problems, it’s wonderful to see this story that will help children understand that although there are many different beliefs and customs, if we listen to one another and take time to understand our differences, it will help us discover what we have in common.

Sarah has two grandmothers, Grandmother Azar and Grandmother Maria both of whom she loves to spend time with. Grandmother Azar tells her stories from the Holy Koran and when she visits she cooks kofte with Sarah. Grandmother Maria’s stories come from the Bible and together she and Sarah make cupcakes.

Both holy books, full of stories, sit side by side on a shelf in Sarah’s house and her favourite stories are the nativities her grandmothers tell at Christmas.

They are similar in many ways but have differences too. ‘How can they both be true?’ asks Sarah. What she hears in response and what follows, show the little girl that what is most important is a family living together in peace.

What a smashing story showing how similarities transcend differences and that’s what we should focus on and celebrate; it’s ideal for sharing during the Christmas season but a lovely book for any time. Hélène Magisson’s watercolour illustrations are absolutely beautiful, radiating the love and warmth that exists between all the members of Sarah’s family.

We CAN live peaceably together if we listen to one another’s stories.

Early Years Bookshelf: Moon and Me / All Around Me: A First Book of Childhood

Moon and Me
Andrew Davenport and Mariko Umeda
Scholastic

Not being familiar with the TV programmes I watched an episode and with its generous sprinkling of ‘tiddle toddle’s, it certainly does have some of the magic of the Teletubbies and In the Night Garden.

What we have in this book is a sequence of episodes starting with Pepi Nana’s sending of a magical letter to the moon that results in a visit from Moon Baby and his magical kalimba; and thus she makes a new friend.

Once at Pepi Nana’s Toy House he wakes her friends with his music: for the uninitiated they are Mr Onion, Colly Wobble, Sleepy Dibillo, Little Nana, Lambkin and Lily Plant. They create tissue paper flowers from the resources in the curiosity box and one ends up looking like a seed that becomes the inspiration for the next Storyland tale wherein ‘Tiddle toddle’ Pepi Nana’s magical seed grows into a large beanstalk which everybody climbs

and there they see something wonderful.

And so it continues until finally, it’s time for sleep and for their visitor to return to the moon.

There are songs to learn and the repeated “And I think she was right about that’ to join in with, as well as a lot of playing of Moon Baby’s magical kalimba.

If your little ones enjoy the Moon and Me CBeebies series then I suspect they’ll love this attractively presented, whimsical picture book.

All Around Me: A First Book of Childhood
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

Putting together five previously published books, this is the most delightful children’s collection of basic concepts done with genius as only Shirley Hughes can.

Enormous fun and wonderfully engaging for little ones, we’re shown the world of childhood through the eyes of Katie and her smaller brother, Olly.

Whether it’s the rhyming look at Opposites; the story of an outing (Grandpa and Katie) to the park that provides a superb opportunity for Counting; Colours identified through wondrous scenes and accompanying rhymes;

the enchanting visual presentation of All Shapes and Sizes, again with accompanying rhymes; or cacophonous Sounds alongside some gentler ones, each section offers sheer pleasure (and some gentle learning) at every page turn.

If you have a little one or know others who have, then this is for you. Equally it’s a classic to add to a nursery or playschool collection.